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THE GLOBAL ASSAULT ON CHRISTIANS
By PAUL MARSHALL LELA GILBERT NINA SHEA
Copyright © 2013 Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Nina Shea
All right reserved.
Chapter One THE CURRENT STATE OF AFFAIRS
"A FORTY-SOMETHING WOMAN, WHO LIVED IN A CITY OF NORTH Pyongan Province [North Korea] was caught with a Bible in her home. She was taken out of her home. An army officer arrived to live there. The woman was publicly shot to death at a threshing floor of a farm." Government officials demanded that there be one witness to the execution, who later said, "I was curious why she was to be shot. Somebody told me she had kept a Bible at her home. Guards tied her head, her chest, and her legs to a post, and shot her dead. It happened in September 2005."
Another firsthand account attests to the pervasive surveillance in North Korea that makes even private house church services almost impossible: "Based on a tip-off, around January 2005, agents from the Central Antisocialist Activities Inspection Unit raided my home in a county of North Hamgyong Province. As a result of their search, they found a Bible. I was taken into custody to a political prison camp alongside my wife and daughter. My son, who was staying in China, entered the North without any knowledge about his family's detention. He, too, was later taken to the camp."
As in Korea, so in Iraq. Nineteen-year-old Sandy Shibib, like many other Iraqi Christians, braved hardship and terror to pursue an education. She faithfully commuted by bus to the University of Mosul where she studied biology. Three buses, operated by the Syrian Catholic bishopric, carried hundreds of students, faculty, and staff to Mosul from Sandy's home area in the predominantly Christian district of Qaraqush. They traveled in a convoy for safety and were escorted by two Iraqi army vehicles.
On May 2, 2010, an explosion struck the buses without warning. Between two checkpoints on the daily route, where the convoy should have been the safest, it was targeted by twin roadside bombs. About 160 students were injured in the blasts.
"This is the hardest attack, because they attacked not only one car, but the whole convoy and in an area that is heavily guarded by the army," said the Syrian Catholic archbishop of Mosul, Georges Casmoussa. The students who were seriously injured received treatment in Erbil, the capital of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region.
Sandy died several days later from shrapnel wounds to her head. Maha Tuma, her schoolmate, said, "As students, we were heading to university, not to a battlefield. We carried no weapons. Nevertheless, we were targeted." The explosion caused nearly one thousand students to withdraw from Mosul University, the only university near the Nineveh Plains. Many never returned.
Western Christians enjoy numerous blessings of religious freedom. Our rights, while sometimes challenged, are many. We speak freely about our faith, our churches, our denominational preferences, and our answered prayers. We treasure, read, and write comments in our Bibles, and share our beliefs with others without fear of danger. Our churches can have religious schools and broadcasts. We wear crosses around our necks, and our bishops, priests, ministers, monks, and nuns dress in a broad array of distinctive styles. Our Christianity doesn't require us to keep looking over our shoulders, unsure if we will be arrested for praying or attacked for having a Bible.
Our churches are well built, well equipped, and promoted by signs. Our pastors are able to concentrate on their ministerial responsibilities without having to worry about threats from hostile police and angry mobs. For our encouragement and entertainment, there are Christian television networks, music industries, websites, and publishing enterprises. Our religious freedom is largely protected by our governments as well as by the cultures in which we live.
Unfortunately, most of the world's Christians don't share these circumstances. Their experiences are not just dissimilar to ours; they are unimaginably different. Clearly we needn't feel guilty for our religious freedoms, which are God-given. But sometimes we have to be reminded about what life is like for Christians in other countries, whose everyday lives bear so little resemblance to ours. These men, women, and children of courage and faith are scattered in large numbers all across the globe. Even now, as these words are being written:
A Christian pastor sat in a squalid prison cell in Iran for three years. Day after day he waited for the final word to come down from the authorities: "Tomorrow morning you will hang." The pastor was condemned for converting to Christianity from Islam, called apostasy in Iran, and sentenced to death. Still, he did not recant his Christian faith. Under international pressure, Iran finally acquitted him of apostasy, sentencing him to the lesser crime of "evangelizing Muslims." Released on September 8, 2012, the loving father and husband remains at mortal risk from Islamist death squads. His name is Youcef Nadarkhani.
In Pakistan, a woman awaits the day of her execution. She is ill, weak, and weary, and she misses her five children intolerably. She, too, has been sentenced to death because of her Christian faith. She has been tried and convicted of blaspheming the prophet Muhammada capital crime in Pakistan. Her name is Asia Bibi.
In China, friends and loved ones await word of an elderly Roman Catholic priest who was abducted, never to be heard from again. He is frail but faithful to his beliefs and his church. But in his faithfulness, he has offended China's Communist Party regime. No one is sure whether he is dead or alive. Nearly eighty years old, his name is Bishop James Su Zhimin, and he is known to all as Bishop Su.
In Nigeria, surviving Christians can still smell the smoke and the burning flesh in their village. At least eleven worshippers were burned to death when terrorists firebombed a church in early 2012. More than twenty others were horribly injured. Christians in the surrounding area are running scared, even while wanting to be courageous and faithful. They are well aware that they also are targets. There are so many victims in Nigeria that only local people know the names of the dead.
THE WORLD'S MOST WIDELY PERSECUTED
Who are these people? Why are they in trouble? How have they offended state authorities or other members of their societies so greatly that their lives are at stake? In the pages that follow, we'll look more closely at these specific stories and many others. We'll examine the cases of those who are persecuted for their Christian faith in the context of their countries, their cultures, and the increasingly dangerous world through which they must navigate while both keeping sacred commitments and surviving.
Our book focuses on an underreported fact: Christians are the single most widely persecuted religious group in the world today. This is confirmed in studies by sources as diverse as the Vatican, Open Doors, the Pew Research Center, Commentary, Newsweek, and the Economist. According to one estimate, by the Catholic Bishops' Conferences of the European Community, 75 percent of acts of religious intolerance are directed against Christians.
This persecution is targeted at all Christian faith traditions from Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant to liturgical, evangelical, and charismatic, including hundreds of small, little-known sects. Christian worship services vary, and traditions are stunningly different, but our churches are united in belief in the same Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
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Contrary to the post-colonial construct that Christianity is a Western, white man's religion, we should pause and remember those for whom we write and pray.
Many people are unaware that three-quarters of the world's 2.2 billion nominal Christians live outside the developed West, as do perhaps four-fifths of the world's active Christians. Of the world's ten largest Christian communities, only two, the United States and Germany, are in the developed West. Christianity may well be the developing world's largest religion. The church is predominantly female and non-white. While China may soon be the country with the largest Christian population, Latin America is the largest Christian region and Africa is on its way to becoming the continent with the largest Christian population. The average Christian on the planet, if there could be such a one, would likely be a Brazilian or Nigerian woman or a Chinese youth.
Why are Christians persecuted? As you'll soon see, there are a myriad of reasons. Persecution can be government sponsored as a matter of policy or practice, as in North Korea, Vietnam, China, Burma, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. It can be the result of hostility within the society and carried out by extremists and vigilantes who operate with impunity or are beyond the government's capacity to control. That is the situation today in Nigeria and Iraq. It can also be carried out by terrorist groups exerting control over territories, such as the Al-Shabab in Somalia and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Or it can come from the hands of combined and even conflicting powers, as in Egypt and Pakistan.
China, Vietnam, and Cuba show us that in some countries Christianity rebounds and rejuvenates when persecution becomes less intense. This, however, is not always so.
In most of the Middle East and North Africa, the percentage of native Christians remains negligible. The Christian church in those places has never recovered from past persecution. Over the past one hundred years, according to a range of estimates, the Christian presence has declined in Iraq from 35 percent to 1.5 percent; in Iran from 15 percent to 2 percent; in Syria from 40 percent to 10 percent; in Turkey from 32 percent to 0.15 percent. Among the most significant factors explaining this decline is religious persecution.
WHAT IS PERSECUTION?
In the countries we've covered in this book, Christians suffer real oppression from serious violations of religious freedom. They are not simply offended in their religious feelings nor are they merely experiencing discrimination or encountering misfortune. Many terms, such as persecution, serious or egregious violations, religious cleansing, and genocide are ill-defined and controversial. As in all human rights reporting, the accuracy, precision, and meaning of the numbers of those persecuted can be equally uncertain.
The US International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998 contains a useful description of what persecution actually means. It helps to determine which countries should be designated the worst offenders of religious freedom, or "Countries of Particular Concern." It defines violations of religious freedom to include arbitrary prohibitions on, restrictions of, or punishment for:
assembling for peaceful religious activities such as worship, preaching, and prayer;
speaking freely about one's religious beliefs;
changing one's religious beliefs and affiliation;
possession and distribution of religious literature, including Bibles;
raising one's children in the religious teachings and practices of one's choice.
Other violations of religious freedom specified by IRFA include:
arbitrary registration requirements;
any of the following acts if committed on account of an individual's religious belief or practice: detention, interrogation, imposition of an onerous financial penalty, forced labor, forced mass resettlement, imprisonment, forced religious conversion, beating, torture, mutilation, rape, enslavement, murder, and execution.
Not all the countries discussed in this book are among the world's worst persecutors. Nevertheless we have taken into consideration the IRFA standard. What we mean by the word persecution in this book is that there are Christians in the countries of focus who are tortured, raped, imprisoned, or killed for their faith. Their churches may also be attacked or destroyed. Their entire communities may be crushed by a variety of deliberately targeted measures that may or may not entail violence. And all of them most certainly experience, as the IRFA puts it, "flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons."
With this in mind, we should point out that persecution can morph into less bloody, more bureaucratic methods of abuse when a government becomes more self-conscious about its human rights reputation. For example, after several years of what some perceived as a thaw in relations with Christians, a crackdown in recent months has once again slammed China's iron fist against believers. As Meghan Clyne wrote in the May 19, 2011, Weekly Standard:
The "thaw" in China's treatment of Christians was nothing more than a savvy and sophisticated new twist on its longstanding assault on religious freedom. While scaling back on bloody crackdowns that stir international condemnation, China has found subtle ways of undercutting independent churches and quietly preempting the spread of free religion. Indeed, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom's report notes that "Chinese officials are increasingly adept at employing the language of human rights and the rule of law to defend repression of religious communities."
LEARNING ABOUT PERSECUTION
It is true that in the West the nightly news rarely reports about Christian persecution unless an unusually shocking case surfaces on a slow news day. But thanks to the success of a largely Christian grassroots movement in the late 1990s and to ever-expanding media sources, there is now a proliferation of reliable, detailed, and real-time information on persecuted religious believers, from both Christian (faith-based) and US governmental sources. Examples of these are cited throughout this book.
One of the great successes of past political mobilization against religious persecution, the IRFA, mandated that the US Department of State publish annual reports on religious persecution throughout the world. These reports include thousands of instances of anti-Christian persecution, along with other violations of religious freedom. They have official stature and are relied upon throughout the world.
It is important for us to seek out all the reliable information we can from trustworthy sources. If we depend entirely on the secular media, we will rarely hear about persecuted believers, and what we hear may not be accurate.
Of course, people of all religionsand those who have no faith at allsuffer persecution. We have protested and written of it, and will continue to do so. Many are persecuted by the same people who persecute Christians. For some, such as Mandeans and Yizidis in Iraq, Baha'is and Jews in Iran, Ahmadis and Hindus in Pakistan, Tibetan Buddhists and Falun Gong in China, Independent Buddhists in Vietnam, Rohingya Muslims in Burma, and Shiites in Saudi Arabia, the persecution is particularly intense and cruel.
But Christians also are persecuted in each of these countries, and in many others. The persecution of Christians is massive, widespread, increasing, and still underreported. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a highly respected source of data on religion, reports that Christians have suffered harassment by the state and/or society in 133 countriesthat's two-thirds of the world's nation statesand suffer in more places than any other religious group.
As reported by Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity relied on by the Vatican, the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the European Community estimates that in many countries, this persecution has worsened in recent years. As Pope Benedict XVI said at the beginning of 2011: "Many Christians live in fear because of their pursuit of truth, their faith in Jesus Christ and their heartfelt plea for respect for religious freedom."
The very scale, scope, and variety of the persecution of Christians make it difficult to bring it into focus. This is only one reason why it is often not reported, or not reported well. Still, there are patterns of persecution that can help us grasp the basic situation and begin to understand it.
CHRISTIAN PERSECUTION: THREE CAUSES
Most persecution of Christians springs from one of three causes. First is the hunger for total political control, exhibited by the Communist and post-Communist regimes. The second is the desire by some to preserve Hindu or Buddhist privilege, as is evident in South Asia. The third is radical Islam's urge for religious dominance, which at present is generating an expanding global crisis.
Excerpted from PERSECUTED by PAUL MARSHALL LELA GILBERT NINA SHEA Copyright © 2013 by Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Nina Shea. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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