Every year, we see the same cultural sniping about the expression of Christian faith during the Christmas season, ranging from the ridiculous to the, er, more ridiculous. The arguments are worth debating and the traditions worth defending, but they tend to obscure a more critical war — and one that is actually a war, Juan Williams argued this week:
But even as we debate religion in American life we cannot forget a bigger threat — the violent, global “War on Christians.”
Here are some of the worst examples of Christian persecution around the world:
–An American Christian pastor has been in an Iranian prison for more than a year. The U.S. State Department has confirmed that he is jailed “on charges related to his religious beliefs.” Saeed Abedini set up churches in that country for almost a decade and the government found his work threatening. The pastor’s wife told reporters earlier this week: “My husband is suffering because he is a Christian. He’s suffering because he’s an American… Yet his own government did not fight for him when his captors were across the table.”
– In Egypt fundamentalist Muslims regularly attack Coptic Christians. A House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee heard testimony last week on the sad plight of the Copts. Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Britain spoke of “an unprecedented wave of violence erupted against Christians” that is being “carried out by radical elements in society.”
–And in Syria there are reports of Christians in the northern part of the country being targeted for rape, kidnapping and murder by Muslim groups. Christian churches have been vandalized throughout the country as civil war has torn the country apart for the last two years. The Civil War has forced thousands of Christians to flee the country in droves, seeking refuge in neighboring countries. Earlier this month, more than a dozen Greek Orthodox nuns and Christian orphanage workers were held hostage. One 65-year-old Syrian Christian woman put it bluntly in an interview: “They’re coming after us. All they do is massacre people, all they know is killing.”
Williams is right, and he’s not alone. During my recent leave of absence, I had a rare opportunity to read longer-form material, and raced through John Allen’s The Global War on Christians, released in October of this year. Allen, a highly respected and widely read journalist at National Catholic Reporter, takes a much broader and in-depth look at the war on Christians in practically every corner of the world.
In his introduction, Allen argues that Christians are actually the world’s most persecuted group — by far:
The Internationale Gesellschaft für Menschenrechte (International Society for Human Rights) is a Frankfurt, Germany-based nongovernmental organization (NGO) founded in 1972 to track human rights violations in the Soviet Union. Today the organization has approximately thirty thousand members in thirty-eight countries and has expanded its brief to cover other sorts of human rights issues. In 2011, for instance, the society issued a report documenting how German technology was being used by authoritarian regimes in various parts of the world to monitor and harass their dissidents, including in cyberspace. Notably, this is a secular NGO, not a confessional outfit operated by a Christian denomination or a consortium of churches.
In September 2009, the chairman of the International Society for Human Rights, Martin Lessenthin, estimated that 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed against Christians, citing the results of a survey carried out among staff and members of his organization, and saying those findings dovetail with conclusions reached by his colleagues at other human rights observatories.
Most of the danger comes in the area where Christianity has its historical roots, but more than we know occurs in nations and regions where we assume Christians should be relatively safe — such as South America. Much of the fight comes from Islamist governments, but not all of it does, and some of the war is internecine. Furthermore, the lack of recognition of this global war on Christians comes from several myths, Allen argues as he attempts to debunk them:
- The Myth That Christians Are at Risk Only Where They’re a Minority
- The Myth That No One Saw It Coming
- The Myth That It’s All About Islam
- The Myth That It’s Only Persecution if the Motives Are Religious
- The Myth That Anti-Christian Persecution Is a Political Issue
Allen’s book provides a well-reasoned, well-sourced wake-up call for Christians, especially in the West, where persecution is so rare that we tend to argue more about Christmas creches than the crushing of Christian populations. As Allen writes at the beginning of his introduction:
This book is about the most dramatic religion story of the early twenty-first century, yet one that most people in the West have little idea is even happening: the global war on Christians. We’re not talking about a metaphorical “war on religion” in Europe and the United States, fought on symbolic terrain such as whether it’s okay to erect a nativity scene on the courthouse steps, but a rising tide of legal oppression, social harassment, and direct physical violence, with Christians as its leading victims.
However counterintuitive it may seem in light of popular stereotypes of Christianity as a powerful and sometimes oppressive social force, Christians today indisputably are the most persecuted religious body on the planet, and too often their new martyrs suffer in silence.
Allen’s book shines a much-needed light on those martyrs and the suffering of Christians around the world. If readers are interested in a real war on Christian beliefs and way of life, be sure to pick up The Global War on Christians, and make it a stocking stuffer for your friends and family.
Also, Lee Stranahan has worked tirelessly this year to highlight the war on Christians in the Middle East, especially in Syria’s civil war. He’s working on a new independent film, The Caliphate, which discusses it in the context of the rise of Islamism. Allen notes that this is not the only context in the war on Christians, but it is a major element in it, and not just in the Middle East but in Africa as well. Lee needs to find donors to fund his efforts, and continue his own effort to make this a higher priority than the Merry Christmas vs Happy Holidays debate.
Update: Elizabeth “The Anchoress” Scalia reviewed it a couple of weeks ago, calling it an Advent must-read:
I confess, I have had the book for over a month, but have only just begun to read it. I even contacted Image books, seeking out a review copy, but when it arrived, I found myself facing the thing with dread. There would be, I knew, no merry Christmas stories within its pages.
The book was inspired, Allen writes, by a conversation he had in 2009 with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, of New York. Dolan mused that perhaps Christians had not roused themselves to confront the problem of [of persecution] because we “don’t have our own literature.”
I don’t know if I ever received a review copy, but I bought a Kindle version of the book, which is how I read it while traveling in the beginning of the month. Allen has taken us forward by a large leap in establishing “our own literature” on the subject of Christian persecution. All the rest of us have to do is read it.