As much of the world celebrated Easter, many people in Sri Lanka went into mourning, for the tragic church bombings that happened there. Sri Lanka is less than 10% Catholic, and this was clearly an act of Muslim terrorism aimed directly at Christians on the most holy day of the year.
But sadly, this type of Christian persecution is not rare; in fact, it is becoming even more commonplace throughout the world. Even Newsweek magazine (no friend of Christianity), in a January article, admitted that “Christian persecution and genocide is worse now than in any time in history.” But we frequently do not hear about it in the West.
The media and many politicians seek to downplay the reality of Christian persecution. For example, as soon as the Sri Lanka bombings happened, Barack Obama tweeted that the bombings were “an attack on humanity” – wait, but wasn’t it almost exclusively targeted at Christians? He and Hillary Clinton would not even use the word “Christian”, preferring rather to call us “Easter worshippers” (…but we don’t worship Easter?…). Many simply do not want to recognize the blatant persecution that many of our Christian brothers and sisters must face to simply practice their Faith.
Pew Research Center noted that in 144 countries in the world, Christians are the most targeted religion (consider that there are currently only 195 countries in the world today). Most of these Christian-hostile countries stretch from Saharan Africa through the Middle East. Very few Christians remain in Iraq, which used to be a bastion of Eastern Christianity. A couple months ago in Libya, a mass grave was discovered with the remains of over 30 Christians slaughtered for their Faith by Muslim extremists.
Even more developed countries such as Bosnia discriminate against Christians for employment and public services.
Of course two of the greatest offenders are China and North Korea. There are over one hundred million Christians in China, but most belong to the “underground” (non-state-sponsored) Churches. These Christians can be detained and put into work camps, their churches destroyed, their property seized. According to “Open Doors” (an organization whose mission is to serve persecuted Christians), North Korea is the most dangerous place to be a Christian, where those who hold to faith in Jesus are routinely imprisoned and executed.
The driving force behind much of the persecution, particularly in Africa and Asia, is twofold. First, the rise of Islamic extremism, which takes literally the verses of the Qur’an regarding “infidels” (non-Muslims) such as “And slay them wherever ye catch them, and turn them out from where they have Turned you out; for tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter; but fight them not at the Sacred Mosque, unless they (first) fight you there; but if they fight you, slay them. Such is the reward of those who suppress faith. And fight them on until there is no more Tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah.” (Qur’an Suph 2:191-193).
Second, though, is the rise of Eastern nationalism. Some countries view Christianity as a “western” import, a remnant of colonialism. Thus, they see expulsion of Christians and Christianity as a way to purify their people from Western influence.
So what can we do about it? Three things. First, pray for our brothers and sisters experiencing persecution. It should make us grateful to have the freedom of worship that we enjoy in America, and we must not forget to pray for courage and steadfastness of faith for those who suffer for their belief in Jesus. Second, raise awareness. Much of the Western World is deaf to the trials that our brothers and sisters in Christ undergo on a daily basis. We must be their voice to a West that does not want to acknowledge that persecution is real. Third, we must courageously live out our Faith and evangelize. In America there is a persecution too, but one of a more subtle kind. Christianity is often mocked by the media, derided by higher education, ignored by politicians. For Christianity to survive in the secular West, we must live our own faith with courage and invite others to come to know the Lord Jesus, too.
Lord, be with those who have suffered for Your Name!