It is dangerous to be a Christian in many parts of the world today, and it appears to be becoming more so. Not a day goes by that I don’t get a report about Christians being executed, facing imprisonment, or having to flee their homes in some part of the world.
Meriam Ibrahim was imprisoned and sentenced to death for converting from Islam to Christianity in Sudan. After intense international pressure, she was released and has been granted asylum in the United States. But there are others whose stories have not garnered international press in similar situations.
The ISIS insurgency forced Christians in Iraq, particularly Mosul, to face an untenable choice: flee, pay huge religious taxes or face the death penalty. Christian homes in Mosul have been marked with the Persian letter N for Nazarite, with chilling memories of Nazi requirements that Jews wear the Star of David. The Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako has issued an urgent appeal to the global community to protect the Christian community in Iraq. Many refer to this as a genocide against Christians.
Hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled Syria to escape the violence. Before the recent conflict, 10 percent of Syria’s population was Christian. The Christian population has declined to a tiny fraction. Most recently, news has been circulating of eight converts to Christianity in Syria who have been crucified by ISIS, with photos and video of brutal slayings.
As the eyes of the world are focused on the Israel/Gaza conflict, it is worth remembering that there are Christians on both sides of this. Botrus Mansour recently wrote his perspective as a Palestinian Christian who is an Israeli citizen. He called on the global Church to work towards peace rather than taking sides. But the Christian population has fled the region as well. Hamas represents Muslim Palestinians and Israel is a Jewish state. Who speaks for Christians?
Meanwhile, Boko Haram kidnapped Christian girls in Nigeria in an egregious example of acts that have been occurring in the region for some time. It is a complex situation of ethnicity and conflict between the Christian south and the Muslim north of the country. But Boko Haram is a terrorist organization that has pursued a campaign of terror against Christians.
These are but a few examples of the challenges facing Christians. It is difficult for those on the ground to know what to do. Historically, Christians have not agreed on when to fight back, when to turn the other cheek, and when to simply flee.
It is also challenging for the global church to know how to respond. Those facing persecution most frequently ask for prayer, a responsibility of every Christian. Social media allows Christians to raise awareness of persecution on an unprecedented scale. “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” (Hebrews 13:3)
Unfortunately, our governments do not seem to be effective. Nor has the UN been effective in dealing with any of the above atrocities. One problem lies in that those who are persecuting Christians, and those of other faiths, are not concerned about global condemnation, nor are they involved in rational dialogue. The other is the lack of political will to take strong action.
In Canada, the Office of Religious Freedom is able to at least track these situations and make public statements on behalf of the government to condemn the most egregious situations. In the US, the State Department and USCIRF research and report on both individual situations and global trends. Countries like the UK, Germany, and Italy have been taking a greater interest in religious freedom.
What we’re witnessing in the Middle East right now is the wiping out of close to 2,000 years of Christianity, and sometimes it feels like it’s not politically correct to talk about Christian persecution. That has to end. - Andrew Bennett, Canadian Ambassador for Religious Freedom [quote from The Ottawa Citizen, July 31, 2014]