Posts tagged ‘Persecution’

Religious Persecution in China

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Credit: Magda Ehlers from Pexels

King Solomon writes:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8-9)

Solomon calls us to speak up and speak out against oppression wherever and whenever we see it. And we can see it in spades in China right now. Last week, The New York Times published an exposé on a Chinese government crackdown on minority Muslim groups in that country:

403 pages of internal documents…have been shared with The New York Times in one of the most significant leaks of government papers from inside China’s ruling Communist Party in decades. They provide an unprecedented inside view of the continuing clampdown in Xinjiang, in which the authorities have corralled as many as a million ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs and others into internment camps and prisons over the past three years.

The party has rejected international criticism of the camps and described them as job-training centers that use mild methods to fight Islamic extremism. But the documents confirm the coercive nature of the crackdown in the words and orders of the very officials who conceived and orchestrated it.

Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, has publicly spoken out against what he refers to as the “extremist religious thought” of Muslims, saying:

The psychological impact of extremist religious thought on people must never be underestimated. People who are captured by religious extremism – male or female, old or young – have their consciences destroyed, lose their humanity and murder without blinking an eye.

And, in other speech:

As soon as you believe in it, it’s like taking a drug, and you lose your sense, go crazy and will do anything.

With public statements like these, it is frightening to imagine what might be going on in internment camps like his.

Mr. Xi, of course, has not limited his crusade against religion to Muslims, but has also persecuted Chinese Christians – banning the sale of Bibles, shutting down churches, and even bulldozing some church buildings.

Whether they are Muslims or Christians, Christ calls upon His faithful to speak up for the oppressed. During His ministry, Christ stood up for those who were castigated from their communities – tax collectors, the sick, people of sexual ill-repute, and even those who were theologically out of sync with the kingdom Christ taught and brought. His followers should react similarly when they see people marginalized, and, in the case of these minority Chinese Muslims, tyrannized.

Solomon also writes:

The poor and the oppressor have this in common: the LORD gives sight to the eyes of both. (Proverbs 29:13)

President Xi has the same sight as those he is oppressing. He can see what he is doing. And we can see, too. And so, we must stand up and speak up in defense of those who cannot defend themselves.

Though Christians do not share the same faith as Muslims, Christians can stand with Muslims in their persecution and point them to a way through persecution and a hope beyond persecution – Jesus.

November 25, 2019 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

What If The Culture War Is Lost?

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Credit: Aaron Burden

Over my years in ministry, I have had many conversations with people who are frightened by the path Western society seems to be walking.  Secularization and hostility to Christian claims seem to be on the uptick.  In a recent article for First Things, Sohrab Ahmari described our current situation as a “cultural civil war” and claimed that we must “fight the culture war with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good.”  In order to achieve this “Highest Good,” Mr. Ahmari calls for an offensive attack against the secularizing forces in society based in a realpolitik, claiming that “civility and decency are secondary values” in our fight.  Our opposition, he explains, does not practice civility and decency, so why should we?  In Mr. Ahmari’s view, the “Highest Good” can only be achieved only through baser means.  Any other path is naïve, idealistic, and dangerous, he argues.

Frankly, I do not share Mr. Ahmari’s view – partially because I don’t think we can forfeit what is moral now for the sake of winning a fight and expect to be taken seriously when we try to point people to what is moral later, and partially because I do not believe this is a war we can win, at least using standard political tactics.  This does not mean that we do not argue for Christianity in the cultural mainstream, but it does mean that we should be thinking about new ways to argue for Christianity now that, at least in some areas of the country, we have been pushed to the fringes – if not outside – of the cultural mainstream.

This past week, Alison Lesley, writing for World Religion News, told the story of Wayne Cordeiro, a well-known pastor from Hawaii, who took a recent trip to China.  Christians there are severely persecuted and can be imprisoned simply for owning a Bible.  Ms. Lesley tells the story of a secret Bible study Pastor Cordeiro led with a group of Chinese Christians:

The group was short on Bibles. When Pastor Cordeiro asked them to turn to 2 Peter, he noticed that one of the women had handed her Bible to another leader while managing to recite the entire book.

When he asked her about it during a break, she replied, saying that prisoners have a lot of time in prison.  Pastor Cordeiro then asked if the Bibles were confiscated in prison.  She replied saying that while the Bibles are confiscated, people smuggle in pieces of paper with bits of Scripture on them.

She added that people memorize these scriptures as fast as they can because even if they take the paper away, they can’t take away “what’s hidden in your heart.”

The response of these Chinese Christians to persecution is astounding and admirable.  They have no constitutional protections, no social capital, and no legal resource or recourse to push back against an oppressive and atheistically oriented government.  Yet, the Church in China continues to grow because Christians there understand that Christianity can be lost on a culture while still thriving in the hearts of individuals.  No matter what is happening societally, they can still hold God’s Word in their hearts.

I pray that I never find myself in the same situation as these Chinese Christians.  Yet, I also take comfort in the fact that the Church can withstand any cultural confrontation.  Even if Christians lose their comforts in a particular culture, they never need to lose their souls because of any culture.  Culture wars may be lost, but the battle for our salvation has already been won.  As we struggle in our culture, let us never forget this promise for our souls.

July 1, 2019 at 5:15 am 1 comment

A Little Lesson on Divine Providence

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Credit: SeniorLiving.org

Last week, in my personal devotions, I read through Numbers 26, which recounts a census taken near the end of Israel’s 40 year wandering through the wilderness. Here’s a taste of the bean counting:

The descendants of Gad by their clans were: through Zephon, the Zephonite clan; through Haggi, the Haggite clan; through Shuni, the Shunite clan; through Ozni, the Oznite clan; through Eri, the Erite clan; through Arodi, the Arodite clan; through Areli, the Arelite clan. These were the clans of Gad; those numbered were 40,500. Er and Onan were sons of Judah, but they died in Canaan. The descendants of Judah by their clans were: through Shelah, the Shelanite clan; through Perez, the Perezite clan; through Zerah, the Zerahite clan. The descendants of Perez were: through Hezron, the Hezronite clan; through Hamul, the Hamulite clan. These were the clans of Judah; those numbered were 76,500. (Numbers 26:15-22)

I won’t blame you if you found yourself skimming over these verses. Biblical censuses and genealogies are items we tend to skip so we can get to the good stuff. Names we don’t know and numbers we don’t care about can quickly lull us to sleep. But as snooze inducing as these stilted sections of Scripture might sometimes feel, my commitment to the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible still calls me to see God’s merciful hand at work. And God’s merciful hand is indeed at work in Numbers 26.

Numbers 26 represents the second census in this book. The first one is in Numbers 1, near the beginning of Israel’s wilderness wanderings. From Numbers 1 to Numbers 26, approximately 38 years have passed. These years, it should be noted, have not been particularly pleasant ones. There has been grumbling (Numbers 11:1-6; 14:1-4), dissension among Israel’s leaders (Numbers 12), a refusal to enter the land God had promised to Israel (Numbers 13), defeats in battle (Numbers 14:40-45), rebellions (Numbers 16), and plagues (Numbers 21:4-9; 25). This is in addition to the natural and normal difficulties that come with camping out in a desert for decades on end. Yet, by the time all is said and done, the population of Israel between the first census in Numbers 1 and this census in Numbers 26 has remained remarkably stable. The population has decreased by only .3 percent. It turns out that for all the hardship Israel experienced and for all the sin they committed, God, out of His providence, took good care of His people. They endured even when, by all accounts, they should not have.

As remarkable as God’s providential care for Israel over 40 years of wandering in the wilderness was, it pales in comparison to God’s providential care for His Church. Through persecutions, hostilities, scandals, and political and intellectual assaults, the Church has not only endured, it has grown. As this map elegantly visualizes, what began as a band of twelve now claims nearly a third of the world’s population. Forget a .3 percent decrease. How about an 18.3 billion percent increase?

I realize that in our day and age, the remarkable story of Christ’s Church can sometimes be hard to recognize and remember. I was talking to a friend just the other day who wanted to know what we, as Christians, needed to do to beat back the encroachment of secularism. I understand his concern. If you’re not at least a little unsettled by the state and trajectory of our culture, you’re not paying attention. Still, I think secularism has a lot more to worry about than Christianity. After all, secularism can’t claim the history, the increase, or, for that matter, the truth that Christianity can.

In Luke 4, Jesus is preaching in His hometown of Nazareth. His text for the day is from the prophet Isaiah:

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor. (Isaiah 61:1-2)

The Jews of Jesus’ day understood Isaiah’s words eschatologically. The believed God would set right what was wrong with the world on the Last Day. This is why, immediately after Isaiah talks about “the year of the LORD’s favor,” he speaks of “the day of vengeance of our God” (Isaiah 61:2). Judgment Day, Isaiah says, is coming. But Jesus, when He preached on these words, interpreted them in a way no one expected.  After reading from Isaiah, Jesus announces, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Huh? How could this be?  Judgment Day had not yet come.  The world had not yet been set right.  The poor had not been made rich. Broken hearts remained. Israel was still under captivity to the Romans. Prisons were still open. And the Lord’s favor, though it may have been touted by the Jewish religious leaders as a theological truism, still felt distant as a practical reality. How could Jesus say Isaiah’s words had been fulfilled right then and there? Because Jesus knew the census numbers from Numbers 1 and Numbers 26. Jesus knew that God was taking care of His people even when life felt like a wilderness wandering. Jesus took the long view of history and saw God’s fingerprints all over it. Jesus knew God’s providence. And Jesus knew the setbacks and sin of this world are no match for the promises of God.

May we know what Jesus knew. After all, what Jesus knew not only gives perspective when the world feels tempestuous and hostile, it gives hope.

August 17, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Christian Persecution Under the Stars and Stripes

Cross 9Are rabid secularists persecuting Christians in the United States?  This is the question Robert Boston of Salon takes up.  His answer is an unambiguous and unapologetic “no way.”  He opens his article in an almost combative tenor:

Certain words should not be tossed around lightly. Persecution is one of those words.

Religious right leaders and their followers often claim that they are being persecuted in the United States. They should watch their words carefully. Their claims are offensive; they don’t know the first thing about persecution.

One doesn’t have to look far to find examples of real religious persecution in the world. In some countries, people can be imprisoned, beaten, or even killed because of what they believe. Certain religious groups are illegal and denied the right to meet. This is real persecution. By contrast, being offended because a clerk in a discount store said “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” pales. Only the most confused mind would equate the two.[1]

Boston goes on to rehearse a litany of privileges that religious institutions enjoy in our society along with some examples of what he considers to be true religious persecution:

Go to Saudi Arabia, where it’s illegal to even open a Christian church, and experience the fear of those Christian believers who dare to worship in private homes, aware that at any moment they may be imprisoned.

Visit North Korea, where all religions have been swept away and replaced with a bizarre form of worship of the state and its leader that purports to promote self-reliance but, in reality, merely serves as a vehicle for oppression.

Visit any region under the control of the Taliban, a movement so extreme that, in Afghanistan, they trashed that nation’s cultural heritage by blowing up two sixth-century statutes of Buddha because they were declared false idols by religious leaders who are intolerant of any other faith but Islam.

There is real religious persecution in the world.  Right-wing Christians in America aren’t experiencing it.

On the one hand, there are some things to affirm in Boston’s article.  First, I agree that it is awfully tough to make the leap from someone wishing a Christian “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” to religious persecution.  That is not only a questionable example of persecution, but a silly one.  Second, I wholeheartedly and unequivocally affirm that compared to what Christians are experiencing in other countries, Christians who live “in the land of the free and the home of the brave” have it great.  There is no reason – ever – for Christians in this country to compare themselves to Christians who are, let’s say, awaiting execution in North Korea.[2]

But…

There’s always a “but,” isn’t there?

For all of Boston’s bravado about how Christians in the States are not persecuted, I’m not sure he really understands Christianity or persecution.

Boston rails against what he calls “right-wing Christians” and “religious conservatives.”  Just in case we’re unclear as to what he means, headlining his piece is a picture of Glenn Beck, Phil Robertson, and Michelle Bachmann.  His implicit message seems to be that those who claim that Christian persecution is taking place in the States are nothing more than puppets and parrots of conservative political groups.  But this is not fair to the breadth or the depth of Christianity.  Christian theology is much better defined in terms of “orthodoxy” and “heresy” rather than in terms of “liberalism” and “conservatism.”  After all, Christianity is much more concerned with the right teaching of divine truths than with a particular 21st century political ideology.  This is why there are Christians who are Republicans and Democrats.  No earthly political party can claim a monopoly on the Kingdom of God.

Second, though I understand Boston’s concern with Christians who brandish about the word “persecution” carelessly, I can’t help but suspect that he is guilty of precisely that which he rails against in his article.  I find it strange that while writing about Christian persecution, Boston never pauses to consider what Christ has to say on the subject!  So let’s do it ourselves.  Jesus says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me” (Matthew 5:11).  Notice that Jesus here explains persecution in terms of words rather than actions.  Jesus says that people will both insult and tells lies about His followers.  There can be little doubt that this does indeed happen – even in the United States.  And this, Jesus says, is part of persecution.  Thus, Boston’s stipulations on what qualifies as Christian persecution are far too restrictive – at least according to Christ.

I am aware there is quite a gap between the definition of persecution theologically and the definition of persecution popularly.  It is dangerous to throw out a word like “persecution” without any sort of background on how this word is used biblically and theologically.  Hopefully, the dust up during the Romney campaign over whether or not Mormonism is a cult taught us that not all people define all words the same way.[3]  Thus, if we’re going to apply the word “persecution” to anything that happens to Christians in the States, we need to explain what we mean.

Whatever you may think does or does not qualify as persecution, what is most important is how Christians respond to those who are against them.  Boston says Christians have reacted to that which they perceive to be persecution with “so much carping.”  This, I agree, is tragic.  When Christians are persecuted, our response should not be one of carping, whining, or fretting.  After all, according to Jesus’ Beatitudes, when we are persecuted, we are not victimized, but “blessed.”  This is why, when the apostles experience physical persecution at the hands of the Sanhedrin, they leave “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41).

I like what Robert Morgan of the Huffington Post says about Christian persecution:

The Bible anticipated [persecution] years ago. The founder of Christianity, after all, was tortured to death and His original 12 followers were all persecuted; most were slain. Though His message was a Gospel of peace, His critics nailed Him to a cross but failed to keep Him in the tomb. They hated Him but could not contain Him. They sought to limit His influence, but they only broadened His impact.[4]

Ultimately, no matter how badly Christianity may be persecuted, threatened, belittled, cajoled, and legislatively restricted, it just won’t die.  Why?  Because its Founder lives.


[1] Robert Boston, “The ultimate guide to debunking right-wingers’ insane persecution fantasies,” Salon (3.16.2014).

[2] Cheryl Chumley, “Kim Jong-un calls for execution of 33 Christians,” Washington Times (3.6.2014).

[3] Richard Oppel & Erik Eckholm, “Prominent Pastor Calls Romney’s Church a Cult,” New York Times (10.7.2011).

[4] Robert Morgan, “The World’s War on Christianity,” Huffington Post (1.14.2014).

March 24, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


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