Persecution

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By Sigrid Fowler

Open Doors posts a “World Watch List,” citing the current persecution of Christians and Christianity. Its findings may surprise you. In fifty countries, Christians are being persecuted right now. In eleven–Afghanistan, North Korea, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, Eritrea, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran, India, and Saudi Arabia–the oppression is labeled “Extreme.” In the other thirty-nine, persecution is “Very high.” Six categories of persecutors are listed–Islamic oppression, Dictatorial oppression, Communist and post-Communist oppression, Religious nationalism, Organized crime and corruption, or Denominationalprotectionism. Christians are killed, tortured, raped; they are arrested and imprisoned without trial. Others are kidnapped, their houses and churches, along with other buildings associated with Christianity, are burned. Eighty percent of Christian executions occurred in Nigeria last year–4650 deaths. And this year, the number increased by twenty-four percent (https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/world-watch-list/). 

 In China, Bible apps are removed from online stores, the social media is purged of Christian content, and that’s just for starters.  The Aquila Report posts an article by Jeffrey Swindoll, dated April 17, 2021, on persecution of Christians in China. He begins with a quote:  “After you’ve been in there a week, death starts to look better than staying there.” Li said he was confined in a windowless room for ‘eight or nine months.’ During that time, he was beaten, verbally abused, and “mentally tortured” by staff”(https://theaquilareport.com/china-reportedly-imprisoning-christians-in-mobile-torture-and-brainwashing-facilities/)

Thank goodness we live in America, you may be thinking. Think again. According to Open Doors, in our own country, Christians are increasingly “disdained, debased, and targeted for their beliefs.” We may endure job loss, fines, law suits, and public disdain, says this source. When I moved from the Washington DC area to South Carolina in the mid-90’s, Edgefield felt like a breath of fresh air when it came to expressing anything even remotely connected with Christianity. In my children’s school, they couldn’t even say, “Merry Christmas”! It amazed to me to realize that these basic freedoms–freedom of speech and freedom of religion–are being forgotten though they are guaranteed us in the Constitution. TheFirst Amendment listed in the Bill of Rights begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech. . ..”  

Something Jesus said adds clarity to the fact of Christian persecution in his day and in ours: “Look,” he said, “I’m sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men because they will hand you over to the courts and beat you in their synagogues, and you will even be brought before governors and kings for my sake as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. . . . You will be hated by all because of my name” (Matt 10: 16-20, 22; also found in Luke 21: 17; my reading). 

Why is this? Why does Jesus say his name is hated? He explains: “[the world] hates me because I testify of it that its deeds are evil” (John 7: 7). He later adds: “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world (but I chose you out of the world) because of this the world hates you. . . . But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their law, ‘They hated me without a cause” (John 15: 18-19, 25). Jesus is making a distinction between those who follow him without reservation and those who do not based on whether they acknowledge him in word and deed–even in the face of public hatred. Given Jesus’s delineation of the two groups, we have a choice. Whose “Well done!” are we hoping to hear?

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