by M. Francis Mannion
Recently, I picked up in Barnes and Noble a book entitled The Global War on Christians. My split-second reaction was that this was probably a work of hysteria and exaggeration by a “right-wing” Christian author.
Until I saw the author’s name: John L. Allen Jr. Allen is one of the most respected religious journalists in the U.S., having worked for many years as the senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, and now for The Boston Globe. Allen is no purveyor of hysteria and exaggeration, but a sober and thoughtful writer.
Consider the following examples of Christian persecution Allen details:
- In Iraq, fifty-two people died recently when Islamic militants stormed and burned the Syrian Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation; of the sixty-three Christian churches in Baghdad, forty have been bombed; in 1991, the Christian population of Iraq was at least 1.5 million, now most Iraqi Christians have fled the country, leaving less that 150,000 behind. (The Archbishop of Mosul said recently that his diocese has been virtually “wiped out.”)
- In India’s northern state of Orissa, as many as 500 Christians were killed in 2008, many hacked to death by Hindu radicals; an estimated 500 Christian homes and 350 churches and schools were destroyed.
- In Burma, Christians are considered political dissidents, and as many as 5,000 believers have been murdered; the government has given its air force authority to bomb Christians on sight.
- In Nigeria, the militant Islamic group Boko Haram has been responsible for almost 3,000 Christian deaths since 2009. The group is determined to drive Christians out of the country completely.
- In North Korea, considered the most dangerous place in the world for Christians, roughly a quarter of the country’s approximately 300,000 Christians are believed to be living in forced-labor camps because of their refusal to join in the cult of the “dear leader.”
Allen spends 299 pages detailing many more such hostilities toward Christians in China, Laos, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Egypt, the Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Belarus, Russia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, to name but the most flagrant.
He states that his book “is about the most dramatic religious story of the early twenty-first century, yet one that most people in the West have little idea is even happening.” “Christians today,” he says, “form the most persecuted religious body on the planet, and too often its new martyrs suffer in silence.”
Allen refers to the evangelical group Open Doors, devoted to monitoring anti-Christian persecution, which estimates that “one hundred million Christians worldwide presently face interrogation, arrest, torture, or even death because of their religious convictions.”
He reports that Protestant scholar Todd Johnson, an expert in Christian demographics, “has pegged the number of Christians killed each year from 2000 to 2010 at one hundred thousand.” That works out to “eleven Christians killed every hour, every day, throughout the past decade.”
Why are Christians in the West not aware of this terrible holocaust? For one thing the media do not report the persecution of Christians, and consider such news “politically incorrect.” Political leaders, for various reasons, are deaf to cries for help.
I must say that I myself was shocked by Allen’s book, and wondered what Catholics parishes in the U.S could do. I recommend the following: include persecuted and murdered Christians in the Prayers of Intercession every Sunday; encourage parishioners to buy Allen’s book and read it; sponsor parish lectures on the subject, and set up book-study groups; barrage local and national leaders, especially in Congress, to do something about the growing “global war” on Christians.
Msgr. Mannion is pastor emeritus of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Salt Lake City. Reprinted by permission of Catholic News Agency.
I have a better idea. Or two. Let’s not play the victim card at home. Let’s not talk about the rough-and-tumble political reality in our own country and think poor, poor, persecuted us. (“We have to pay for other people’s IUDs and Viagra thanks to our president.”)
Let’s pay special attention to groups persecuted in our own country, and maybe go out of our way to embrace non-Christians. Let’s show we don’t give as good as we get, but we model Jesus instead.
Overseas is difficult. Congress is not the boss of Nigeria or Iraq or even of the US, by their own abdication. Why would we turn so early to government and expect our frozen political masters to thaw for something like this?
Why would we think the media’s not reporting on this? Aren’t they focused on celebrities and American political infighting? I other words: what sells. Labeling this as politically correct is a total misunderstanding of the term. Americans have always been insular. We are isolationists by genetics. We don’t learn foreign languages, let alone speak them. When we travel abroad we are insulted when people don’t understand us. So we keep to gated hotels and nice safe cruise ships with the occasional shopping tour in port.
Pakistani Muslims formed human chains around Christian churches. You have to go to the BBC or UCANews or other such organs to find such news. But it’s all out there.
The problem is that we stick to what’s safe. Praying for overseas people seems safe to me. Opening up one’s community to Christians that speak Arabic or Swahili or Urdu, well, that’s another story. And don’t we have thousands of Christians fleeing gangs, drugs, and corruption south of our border?
The American solution: go into gridlock over innocents on our doorsteps and wring our hands over the Christians safely ensconced in refugee camps in Africa and Asia.
Second last thing: send money to the mission apostolate. Even if some Catholics are telling you you’re paying for contraceptives, which you probably aren’t.
Last thing: urge young people to volunteer overseas for a year or two.
@Todd Flowerday – comment #1:
I didn’t see Msgr. Mannion saying anything about a domestic war on Christians. But maybe I misunderstood your comment.
@Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #2:
“My split-second reaction was that this was probably a work of hysteria and exaggeration by a “right-wing” Christian author.”
I don’t think there’s a domestic war on Christians, but that’s what a lot of “right-wing” authors think. Still, I don’t think many “right wing” Americans are very concerned about the problems of Christians fleeing gangs and such south of the border.
@Todd Flowerday – comment #3:
I think that you may be right that people focus on domestic issues. Leave that to one side as the question posed as to why there seems to be so little concern for those suffering because they are Christian. To focus the question we could note that many in Zimbabwe have a miserable time because of Mugabe but that is not because they are Christian. In Iraq and Pakistan many suffer because they are Christian.
I suspect that the US government could do more to protect Christians as it protects Israel and did protect the Kosovo Albanians.
To rephrase the question: why does the US do so much to protect Jews and so little to protect Christians?
Your comment 1 does point to some of the challenges. There are many more we could list.
Seeing the Stalingrad like devastation in Gaza the consequences of the uncritical and unconditional US support for Israel are visible. Perhaps the US could use its influence to better effect.
@Peter Haydon – comment #4:
It might be more accurate to say that in Iraq and Pakistan as well as other places people suffer because they are not in the majority. Bahais, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists …. It’s not too much different from the suffering perpetrated by Christians on occasion by others. Hence my suggestion we live up to our ideals at home. Atheists. LGBT. LCWR. Difficult theologians.
And why does the US government protect Israel? Oppose Iran? Support the Saudis? Etc. National interest or the perception thereof. People in the US seem to care little for victims worldwide not because they are Christian, but because they are non-Americans.
I respect John Allen as a fine journalist. I haven’t read his book on this, but I would bring a skepticism to it that Msgr Mannion wanted to bring. The so-called global war on Christians is just a part of a larger, age-old conflict to suppress people-who-don’t-think/act/live-like-us.
Maybe most southwest Asian and Third World countries can’t touch First World peddlers of hedonism, consumption, and markets–what many non-westerners object to. But they can scapegoat those in their midst. Christians may or may not be a target. But if they are, they represent a new corporate colonialism, perhaps.
How to bring this to liturgy? That’s a difficult question to which I don’t have an answer.
@Todd Flowerday – comment #5:
Thank you Todd. We are in very close agreement.
If people are suffering for their faith then by treating our seriously we give them some support though it may not seem like it at the time.
Given the extent of the sufferings of Christians it is say to see so few on this thread even if this is primarily a specialised liturgy blog. Nobody even took up my challenge in suggesting that the US is partly to blame for the carnage in Gaza. Are the victims not human? A number are Christian.
While there are many examples of religious intolerance in Burma; especially the the horrific persecution of the Muslim Rohinga people by the Buddhists in the northeast, there are small signs of hope. This past April, on Easter Sunday, the good sized crowd at St. Mary’s Cathedral was warm and welcoming to my daughter and me as we all rejoiced together. But, weeks later, at a much smaller church in a town near Mandalay, the catechist led us on a tour of his crumbling 1900’s church. He spoke about the great obstacles that the Tamil Christians face in the area because of their ethnic difference from the native Burmese. Everywhere, I met good people who were working hopefully for understanding and progress in this very complicated, beautiful country. May that goodness prevail.
I think we should note that pointing out anti-Christian persecution around the globe would probably undermine inter-religious dialogue. Where such dialogue is the order of the day, people typically do not point out the sins of their dialogue partners.
@Maximilian Hanlon – comment #8:
Or the embarrassing cousins of our dialogue partners.