I hesitate to make this post, but I feel it’s worth spreading the news. Recent reports from Iraq and from India indicate that Christians in certain areas of these two countries are being targeted for violence and death at least in part because of their religion. I feel it’s important for all of us around the world to pray for their safety, but also that they will show Christ to the world in their suffering.
The Washington Post reports on the situation in Iraq:
The Iraqi government on Sunday ordered security forces to increase protection for Christians in northern Iraq, where thousands have fled their homes after a wave of killings and threats.
Eleven to 15 Christians have been slain in the past few days in Mosul, according to reports from church and political leaders. Fighters from al-Qaeda in Iraq, a mostly homegrown extremist group, have resisted U.S. efforts to oust them from the area, which remains among the most violent in Iraq.
“These attacks have never been seen in Mosul city. Centuries and centuries we were living together,” a parliamentary deputy, Yonadam Kanna, said in an interview before he and other Christian politicians met Sunday with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
The New York Times reports on the persecution in India:
Here in eastern Orissa State, riven by six weeks of religious clashes, Christian families like the Digals say they are being forced to abandon their faith in exchange for their safety.
The forced conversions come amid widening attacks on Christians here and in at least five other states across the country, as India prepares for national elections next spring.
…Here in Kandhamal, the district that has seen the greatest violence, more than 30 people have been killed, 3,000 homes burned and over 130 churches destroyed, including the tin-roofed Baptist prayer hall where the Digals worshiped. Today it is a heap of rubble on an empty field, where cows blithely graze.
Across this ghastly terrain lie the singed remains of mud-and-thatch homes. Christian-owned businesses have been systematically attacked. Orange flags (orange is the sacred color of Hinduism) flutter triumphantly above the rooftops of houses and storefronts.
India is no stranger to religious violence between Christians, who make up about 2 percent of the population, and India’s Hindu-majority of 1.1 billion people. But this most recent spasm is the most intense in years.
It was set off, people here say, by the killing on Aug. 23 of a charismatic Hindu preacher known as Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, who for 40 years had rallied the area’s people to choose Hinduism over Christianity.
Two nights after his death, a Hindu mob in the village of Nuagaon dragged a Catholic priest and a nun from their residence, tore off much of their clothing and paraded them through the streets.
The nun told the police that she had been raped by four men, a charge the police say was borne out by a medical examination. Yet no one was arrested in the case until five weeks later, after a storm of media coverage. Today, five men are under arrest in connection with inciting the riots. The police say they are trying to find the nun and bring her back here to identify her attackers.
Given a chance to explain the recent violence, Subash Chauhan, the state’s highest-ranking leader of Bajrang Dal, a Hindu radical group, described much of it as “a spontaneous reaction.”
He said in an interview that the nun had not been raped but had had regular consensual sex.
My mixed feelings about sharing this information and even broaching the subject touch on several topics:
One, in at least the India situation, there are allegations that the Christian communities took part in actions and reactions that were part of a process that led to violence. I don’t want to paint a picture of a spotless church. More generally, both regions of the world have been subject to the depredations of Western imperialism over the last 100 years that came under the banner of the cross, and we should at least try to understand what difficulties that created both for the non-Christian and Christian indigenous people (no, Christianity did not come to Iraq via the West…).
Two, I am very sensitive to how easily this could be seen as demonizing people of other faiths. This is the last thing I want to do, especially with regard to the situation in Iraq. The members of the Iraq Islamic State are not legitimate representatives of the Muslim faith, nor are they primarily concerned with religion. They are interested in political power and are misusing the symbols of their faith as tests of allegience to their particular kind of revolution.
Three, I do not want to single out people that are in some ways “like me” for special sympathy while ignoring the suffering of others who lack that kinship with me. God loves all people.
Having said all that, it’s important to meditate on the fact that there are places in the world where one must still “count the cost” before becoming or remaining even nominally a Christian. In the United States, the label “Christian” applies to more than 159 million people and identifies you as a member of a dominant social group, conferring a certain kind of privilege on you. In Mosul, claiming to be a Christian could mean a bomb in your mailbox, and in certain parts of India, it can mean your house burned down with you in it. Please remember those who are in this position in your prayers.
Special prayers should also be offered that those in this position will remain loyal to Christ and refuse to return violence with violence, loving their enemies to the utmost, even if it means they give all. I’d commend any of the resources on nonviolent resistance to evil listed on the right hand column of this page for use of any of these Christians reading this blog, but even if you find yourself unable to mount an effective nonviolent resistance, you still have Matthew 5 and the wider Gospels to guide you.
We love you, and we in the Land of Comfortable Christianity need you to teach us something about what it means to take up the cross and follow him.