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August 22nd, 2013

Christian Persecution in Today’s World

 
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A destroyed Protestant church is seen in Mallawi, Egypt, August 17. (CNS photo/Reuters)

A destroyed Protestant church is seen in Mallawi, Egypt, August 17. (CNS photo/Reuters)

Rowan Williams, the erudite former Archbishop of Canterbury, lamented that some Christians in the United Kingdom, the United States, and other Western nations claim “persecution” whenever they don’t get their way.

At the Edinburg International Book Festival, Williams said:

Persecution is not being made to feel mildly uncomfortable. I am always very uneasy when people sometimes in this country or the United States talk about persecution of Christians or rather believers. I think we are made to feel uncomfortable at times. We’re made to feel as if we’re idiots — perish the thought! But that kind of level of not being taken very seriously or being made fun of; I mean for goodness sake, grow up. You have to earn respect if you want to be taken seriously in society. But don’t confuse it with the systematic brutality and often murderous hostility which means that every morning you get up wondering if you and your children are going to make it through the day. That is different, it’s real. It’s not quite what we’re facing in Western society.

The brutality that Williams referenced is on full display for the world to see this summer.

In Syria, 11 people, mostly Christians, were killed near a village where Christians, who have been victims of the brutal violence plaguing that country, have fled for safety. Earlier in the week, a Jesuit priest was kidnapped and killed.

In Nigeria, 53 people, again mostly Christians, were killed in an Islamist attack aimed at the religious minority there.

And in Egypt, the military coup has turned violent, with police and military using deadly force against protesters loyal to ousted Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi. Some Islamists there believe Christians were loyal to ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak and the new regime. As a result, Christians there have been targeted in brutal, systemic attacks meant to instill fear into the religious minority.

The Christian Science Monitor reports that Christians were blamed for initial attacks on protestors, resulting in the first raids on churches:

Hundreds of villagers marched on the Saint Virgin Mary Church. They broke down the gate and flooded the compound, shouting “Allahu akbar” and “Islam is the solution,” according to Christian neighbors.

“First they stole the valuable things, and then they torched the place,” says Sami Awad, a church member who lives across the narrow dirt alley from the church. “Whatever they couldn’t carry, they burned.”

Since that initial attack, authorities report at least six deaths and the destruction of at least 38 churches, as well as attacks on at least 23 more, according to the New York Times.

None of this should fan the flames of anti-Islamic sentiment. In fact, it’s worth noting this viral picture that is said to show Muslim men protecting an Egyptian Christian church, one of what are surely countless acts of common human decency. Also, it’s worth pausing to ask ourselves why reports of Christian persecution seem to affect us more than general violence that is so common around the world.

But I highlight these reports of persecution to show that there are indeed threats to religious liberty across the globe, and that we cheapen the suffering of our Christian brothers and sisters when we yell persecution here at home.

Here at home, claims of religious persecution tend to concern issues that are less, shall we say, weighty, than what’s happening around the world.

This week, a group of mostly Evangelical leaders, along with a smattering of Catholic lawyers, produced a report that claimed the religious rights of ministers are thwarted by the government. The problem, they say, is that the tax exemption enjoyed by churches and other religious institutions prohibits ministers from endorsing candidates for political office. From Religion News Service:

The commission called the regulation of speech of religious organizations “disturbing and chilling.”

“The IRS guidelines are very vague, so ministers and nonprofit leaders are afraid of the (appropriate) line,” said Michael Batts, the independent commission’s chairman. “We think it can be fixed without creating a monster of unintended consequences.”

Some clergy want to endorse political candidates from the pulpit while still maintaining their special tax-exempt status. In effect, they seek taxpayer subsidized political ads. Because current interpretation of IRS codes prevents this, they cry that their religious freedom is in jeopardy. Closer to home, we’ve seen our own leaders speak about threats to religious freedom with sometimes heightened hyperbole.

Christians can be persecuted here at home. And there can be government overreach into the free exercise of religion. But events around the world should put our own fears into perspective. Do we fear for our lives here, that we risk bodily harm or death because of our religious affiliation? What happens when we claim to be persecuted here? How do these claims affect the ability to support those who are actually being persecuted abroad? If Christians here at home convince ourselves we’re a persecuted minority (we’re not), how will that mentality affect our ability to engage culture and society?

 
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The Author : Michael O'Loughlin
Mike O'Loughlin is a writer living in Washington, D.C., covering religion, politics, and culture. In addition to Busted Halo, his writing appears in the Advocate, National Catholic Reporter, Foreign Policy, Religion & Politics, and America. He's also appeared on Fox News and MSNBC. Follow him on twitter at @mikeoloughlin.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Inés Santos

    Bravo, Mr. O’Loughlin; you have taken the time to set the record straight on the overused cry of ‘persecution’. Christ was truly tortured and persecuted, as were many in centuries past, as well as in the present. Those who lay down their lives for their faith are truly persecuted. Suffering through torture for holding fast to your Christianity is persecution.. Christ told his disciples that if they were persecuted, He would have already been persecuted..because they hated HIM, they would hate them (disciples) and consequently, we today may and do face that hatred.” In God have I put my trust. I will not be afraid what man does unto me.”
    Psalm 56:11.

  • B Anne George

    It’s true that we’re not being murdered but still I encounter alot of criticism and misunderstanding about being a Catholic. I feel so sorry for those in mortal danger, but I’m real tired of the outcomes.

  • notIvy431
  • Brian Hurta

    “If Christians here at home convince ourselves we’re a persecuted minority (we’re not), how will that mentality affect our ability to engage culture and society?”

    Just because we do not fear bodily harm or death (yet) does not mean that we are not the object of subtle persecution. If that word is too strong for you, call it bias or discrimination, but you have to be blind to say that it does not exist.

    I’m sure that many Jews in the 1930′s, as well as Christians in more recent times in Egypt and Syria had the same outlook as you.

    • Phil Fox Rose

      Brian Hurta, Christians in America today are in a position that is in any way comparable to that of Jews in pre-Nazi Germany? Seriously? How ridiculous can the rhetoric get? That’s exactly the kind of thing Rowan Williams and Michael O’Loughlin are calling out. And yes, “persecution” IS too strong a word for anything happening in the US.

    • Michael O’Loughlin

      Here’s an article from the US Holocaust Museum chronicling the plight of Jews living in 1930s Germany. Perhaps it will cause some to tone down the sort of incendiary talk exemplified in the comment above.

      http://www.ushmm.org/outreach/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007687

    • Brian Hurta

      Incendiary? Just because I disagree with you? I am certainly not comparing the position of Christians in the USA to Jews in the ’30s. My point was that many choose to deny obvious signs in the world leading to greater social ostracism.

      If the Christians in Egypt and Syria had told you 5 years ago that they fear the type of persecution they are now suffering, would you have believed them?

      • Sheila Kwasek

        I agree. The point is that often, major acts of persecution are preceded by periods of increasing & encouraged discrimination. Heck, I’ve been told to my face that Christians shouldn’t be allowed to vote, that we’re hateful, horrible people, told by my uni professor that my faith is primitive and irrational. My church has been vandalized. Christian foster parents have had their foster kids taken away, and people have been fined & even lost their jobs for sticking to unpopular Christian beliefs. And when I went for counseling to help me cope with the discrimination that I personally was suffering, it took my counsellor two full sessions to get it through his head that I wasn’t bringing it on myself by being belligerent about my faith. That kind of shift in social and legal perspectives creates a breeding ground for more drastic forms of persecution. Sure, we shouldn’t overstate our own trials, but ignoring the warning signs is just as idiotic as pretending they’re worse than they are.

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