Last Sunday, introducing our lesson from Revelation, I described how persecuted the early church was. I said the book of Revelation, alarming to many of us, was comforting and reassuring to Christians back then. Long ago and far away, right?
Not so much. Let me tell you about the greatest story not being told in the world today. You might not believe it. This is no partisan screed, but a well-known fact. Most acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians for being Christian. Read that again. We have trouble believing it because we’re so used to histories being told of Christian imperialism, where we are cast as the oppressors. We see Christianity as the majority in America and in the world. We are not prepared to hear the story of Christians worldwide among the persecuted.
According to the International Society for Human Rights, 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination worldwide are against Christians. In Eritrea, one of the oldest Christian countries in the world, a military compound has been turned into a prison complex housing 2,000 to 3,000 Christians. Their Protestant community has not been “approved” by the government. By one estimate, as many as 11 Christians are killed each hour somewhere in the world. The Pew Forum guesses that between 2006 and 2010, Christians faced some form of discrimination in 139 countries of the world. If you’re counting, that is nearly ¾ the nations of the world.
Of the 65 churches in Baghdad, 40 have been bombed since the US invasion in 2003. Iraq’s flourishing 1.5 million Christians before are reduced to 500,000 now.
In Egypt 40 Coptic Churches were burned and looted last year in a wave of attacks blamed on Islamic radicals. A month later, a suicide bomber attacked a church in northwest Pakistan, killing 85 people. In Syria, Christians are caught in the crossfire of a civil war and are targeted by radicals on both sides. Persecution occurs not just in the Middle East, but also in Nigeria, Kenya, Burma, India, and North Korea. The latter may be the worst places to be a Christian in the world. It is believed that a quarter of North Korea’s Christians live in forced labor camps.
The global war against Christians is the greatest story not being told in the 21st century. Perhaps I should have mentioned this last Sunday, All Saints Sunday. But I wanted the “saints” to become personal, as we lifted up those closer to us. Anyway, I am mentioning it now, because it would be wrong for us to ignore this.
Of course, we should be concerned when any person of any faith gets targeted. But don’t we also have a special bond with all of the saints beyond tribe or color? We can begin by education. We can hear their stories and repeat them even in the face of resisting disbelief we will surely encounter. And also we can pray. The International Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians is this Sunday, Nov. 9.