Power for the Persecuted

February 23rd, 2011
Photo © Rishi Menon | Used under Creative Commons license.

Most Christians in the United States probably don’t worry much about the threat of persecution. The Constitution guarantees our freedom to worship God. We may hear that American Christians are “being persecuted” when courts rule against school-sponsored prayer or when merchants wish customers “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” But such incidents don’t change the fact that, in this country, we Christians have the right to practice our faith (as do adherents of other faiths) without fear of punishment. We are so fortunate that we may assume “persecuted Christians” are only the stuff of history lessons or movies set in ancient Rome.

Christians Under Fire

Sadly, many Christians around the world today know otherwise. The Christian advocacy group OpenDoors reports that 100 million of the world’s 2.2 billion Christians face threats or persecution ranging from discrimination—such as bans on the Bible or denial of employment—to property destruction, imprisonment, and murder. According to the German magazine Der Spiegel, “in many countries through the Muslim world, religion”—meaning extremist and militant Islamic factions—“has gained influence over governmental policy in the last two decades . . . Even though this Islamization often has more to do with politics than with religion, and even though it doesn’t necessarily lead to the persecution of Christians, it can still be said that where Islam gains importance, freedoms for members of other faiths shrink.” Even so, “the most difficult place in the world to be a Christian” according to OpenDoors is North Korea, where all religious activity is banned as rebellion against the country’s communist principles.

This year has seen many stories of persecuted Christians. From Shoaib Assadullah Musawi in Afghanistan (imprisoned for giving someone a Bible) to Asia Bibi in Pakistan (facing execution on charges of blasphemy); from some Egyptian Christians who reluctantly supported recently deposed President Hosni Mubarak (his government oppressed them, but they fear life under a possible Islamist regime might prove harder still) to Christians whose church buildings were burned in Indonesia—many believers in many lands are experiencing firsthand the truth of Jesus’ words: “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:20b).

What Can We Do?

Such stories may sadden or anger us, but too often we treat them simply as more news stories from remote regions that don’t affect us and about which we can do little or nothing. We count ourselves blessed to be Christians in America, and move on. How different such a mindset is from the truth preached by the apostle Paul! In a Scripture we studied last week, he declared that, in our baptism, we were all joined as members in the one body of Christ; therefore, when “one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26a).

Many members of the body are suffering today. And being Christians in America who can freely practice our religion should compel us to do more, not less, for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. We can speak out on their behalf, adding our voices to international appeals for the safeguarding of human rights. We can organize to raise money and supplies for churches in persecution’s shadow. And, with all Christians everywhere, we can pray. We can lament to God, as did ancient psalm-singers, the plight of those who are persecuted (see Psalm 44:24). We can call on God, as they did, to intervene—even as we know that despite appearances God has not forgotten their affliction, and is calling us to be the willing agents of divine action—not only on behalf of “the family of faith,” but also on behalf of “all” who suffer persecution (see Galatians 6:10).

This article is also published as part of LinC, a weekly digital resource for youth small groups and Sunday school classes. The complete study guide can be purchased and downloaded here.

Photo credit: Rishi Menon via Flickr. Used under Creative Commons license.

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