“Soundings” is a series of essays that, like the waves of a sonogram, explore issues in society, culture and the church in light of the Gospel and Christian understanding.
In November 2010, Fr. Christian Mbusa Bakulene and a parish worker were walking to St. John the Baptist Church in Kanyabayonga in the province of North Kivu of the Democratic Republic of Congo, when two armed men in combat fatigue stopped them and asked: “Which one of you is the priest?” They shot Fr. Bakulene and walked away, leaving his companion unharmed.
This is just one of the many random cases of persecution that Christians are facing all over the world today. They are the tip of the tip of a very large iceberg.
Most Christians in the West and in countries like Singapore are not even aware of the extent of the problem and the plight of our brothers and sisters in many countries across the globe.
Here are the facts.
More Christians were killed for their faith in the 20th century than all the previous centuries combined. According to the world’s leading demographers of religion David B. Barrett and Todd Johnson, out of the 70 million martyrs since the time of Christ, about 45 million died for their faith in the 20th century.
About 80 per cent of all acts of discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians. Martin Lessenthin, the chairman of the International Society for Human Rights who made this report in 2009, pointed out that other human rights observatories have confirmed this estimate.
In its September 2012 report, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a highly-respected secular think-tank based in Washington D.C., stated that in the period between 2006 and 2010, Christians were harassed in 139 nations – three-quarters of the nations in the world.
One of the most prominent organisations for tracking anti-Christian persecution is Open Doors, an evangelical advocacy and relief organisation. According to its report, about 100 million Christians today suffer violent persecution for their faith, making Christians the most high-risk group for religious freedom violations.
The annual ‘Status of Global Mission’ report published by the Centre for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary estimates that about 100,000 to 150,000 Christians are killed each year for their faith.
In 2012, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which was established in 1998 by President Bill Clinton, names the following countries with the worst records for the violation of religious freedom: Burma, China, North Korea, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. And the people that suffered the most violations in all these countries are Christians.
It would be a mistake to think that Christians are persecuted only when they are in the demographic minority. Just think of Russia, the Ukraine, and parts of Latin America where persecution is rife even though the majority of the population is Christian.
In his book, The Global War on Christians, John Allen Jr. explains why such a myth is toxic: “It obscures large swaths of the planet from view in thinking about the threats that Christians face, and suggests a false sense of invulnerability for Christians in societies where they represent the majority.”
There are Christian human rights organisations like Open Doors and Christian Freedom International that are helping persecuted Christians in different parts of the world. But religious persecution in the modern world is so complex that there is a limit to what NGOs and non-profit organisations can do to address the problem.
The Church must pray for her persecuted and suffering members. She must pray not only for them to be delivered, but also for them to be faithful.
In his moving account of Catholic martyrs in the 20th century, Robert Royal writes poignantly: “Martyrdom is in a deep sense the paradigm for the Christian life. Any person who starts to follow the Master seriously cannot help but find himself or herself attacked by the same forces that attacked him. Happy is the age that does not produce a large crop of martyrs. But even happier is the age whose people are willing to remain with Christ whether it means martyrdom or not, for from that willingness to die springs everything that makes it worthwhile to live.”
Picture by merydolla/Bigstock.com
Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor to the ETHOS Institute™ for Public Christianity (http://ethosinstitute.sg/).