Friday, February 10, 2012

Newsweek Article on Global Persecution of Christians by Muslims

This morning I received an e-mail from my brother Dan notifying me of this week's cover article in Newsweek magazine. This article, entitled "The Global War on Christians in the Muslim World," was written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a native of Somalia who immigrated to the Netherlands, subsequently serving for three years in the Dutch parliament before taking her current post as a Research Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Ali provides a convenient summary of her argument right at the start:
We hear so often about Muslims as victims of abuse in the West and combatants in the Arab Spring’s fight against tyranny. But, in fact, a wholly different kind of war is underway—an unrecognized battle costing thousands of lives. Christians are being killed in the Islamic world because of their religion. It is a rising genocide that ought to provoke global alarm.
This article is not for the faint of heart. Indeed, the details Ali presents are chilling. Nevertheless, I heartily recommend this piece to all people with an interest in global events. More specifically, this article should be required reading for comfortable, culturally privileged Western Christians who habitually whinge at every perceived slight or violation of their "rights" in societies where Christianity has historically been the predominant religion.

The main question we Christians should be asking is how to respond to this situation as Christians. I believe this response should take three forms. First, we need to pray for our brothers and sisters in the Muslim world. In an ideal world, this should go without saying. But we don't live in an ideal world, Christian or otherwise. Knowledge of such atrocities should cause us to awaken from our slumber of self-absorption and bring our suffering brothers and sisters before the throne of the merciful and sovereign Lord. I, for one, need to commit myself to this intercessory ministry.

Second, we need not despair, no matter how dire the circumstances. Our Lord himself has promised that "the gates of Hades will not overcome" the church he is building (Matt 16:18). As I have argued (here and here), persecution and suffering are to be expected by Jesus' followers as an entail of inaugurated eschatology—those who embody the values of the already-inaugurated kingdom of God must expect persecution during the tribulation or "messianic woes" unleashed by the crucifixion of the Messiah. Indeed, St. Paul was able to rejoice in his sufferings (Col 1:24) in the knowledge that such were every bit as much the gracious gift of God as the faith through which both he and we are saved (Phil 1:29). Furthermore, history has demonstrated the truth of the observation of the Church Father Tertullian, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church" (Apologeticum, 50).

Finally, knowledge of the persecution of Christians should cause us to redouble our efforts to promote religious freedom and tolerance throughout the world—not least in our own societies. We must remember that the symbol of authentic Christianity is not the throne, let alone the sword. It is not the bully pulpit, either. It is the cross. We are the followers of the crucified and risen Lord who has, as St. Paul said, allowed us to "fill up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions" (Col 1:24). Religion cannot be coerced, whether through the sword or the external pressure of majority rule via the ballot box. We can apply pressure through whatever legal means are at our disposal to protect our fellow religionists from the persecution they are experiencing. But, as the saying goes, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. We certainly can't expect others, whose model for religious expansion is symbolized by the sword, to recognize religious liberty for others if we aren't willing to extend it, absolutely, to them as well. It is, I suggest, only in a situation when all religions are tolerated and take their place in the public square, that authentic Christianity's message of the cross can show itself to be the unique message of truth I believe it to be.

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