I’m like a child when it rains … I don’t know what to do with myself. I was channel surfing during recently when I ran across a movie I hadn’t seen – “Paul: Apostle of Christ.” (For total disclosure, I actually picked this movie because Jim Caviezel held a lead role.) Great movie – great acting – great subject matter – then I saw the dedication at the end of the movie: Dedicated to all who have been persecuted for their faith. I thought persecution was old stuff.
Growing up I had heard urban legends of Christians being persecuted in countries where Bibles were banned. State police would raid underground churches during Bible studies demanding all Christians stand up against the wall. It was obvious those believers knew they would face death for their faith if they stood. Legend had it that everyone stood up, then the state police took off their helmets, laid down their guns and announced they were Christians and would only be aligned with the true church. As a little girl I often wondered what I would do in the same situation … would I stand up for Christ and my faith?
History of religious persecution is as old as human life on this earth. Religious history is full of examples of force and violence used in the name of religion by people who had no religion – Christianity especially. It started with Jesus himself. He was asked directly at trial, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” Jesus left no room for ambiguity – His first two words were “I am.” The religious elite in Jerusalem knew what Jesus was saying – It was very clear to them that He was claiming to be God. As such, Jesus was put to death on a Roman cross for the crime of blasphemy, thus becoming the first martyr for what would become the Christian Church.
Christian persecution was a dramatic part of early church history. Eleven of the 12 apostles, and many of the other early disciples, died for their adherence to the resurrection of Christ. This is dramatic, since they all witnessed the alleged events of Jesus and still went to their deaths defending their faith. Why is this dramatic, when many throughout history have died martyred deaths for a religious belief? Because people don’t die for a lie. Look at human nature throughout history. No conspiracy can be maintained when life or liberty is at stake. Dying for a belief is one thing, but numerous eye-witnesses dying for a known lie is quite another.
Christians have been thrown to lions, burned alive as human torches, sawn in half, beheaded, crucified in the name of their faith, and many other horrible acts. Despite horrific persecution, though, the growth of the Christian faith was not deterred during the first few centuries after Christ. Even as its early leaders died horrible deaths, Christianity flourished throughout the Roman Empire and into modern history.
In the 20th century, Christians have been persecuted by various groups, including the Islamic Ottoman Empire in the form of the Armenian Genocide, the Assyrian Genocide and the Greek Genocide, as well as atheistic states such as the Soviet Union and North Korea. During World War II members of some Christian churches were persecuted in Nazi Germany for resisting Nazi ideology.
The persecution and genocide of Christians is “worse than at any time in history” according to several studies on the oppression and murder of Christians worldwide. Although it has not dominated the headlines in mass media, for tens of millions of Christians across the globe, each day they live professing their faith in Christ is one that can end up in violent attack, kidnapping, imprisonment or death.
In more recent times, the Christian missionary organization Open Doors (UK) estimates that over 200 million Christians face persecution, particularly in Middle Eastern countries. “In terms of the numbers of people involved, the gravity of the crimes committed and their impact, it is clear that the persecution of Christians is today worse than at any time in history. Not only are Christians more persecuted than any other faith group, but ever-increasing numbers are experiencing the very worst forms of persecution. It is in this context that this report concludes that in 12 of the 13 countries reviewed, the situation for Christians was worse in overall terms in the period 2015–17 than within the preceding two years. An especially notable example of this was China where intolerance was on the rise, as evidenced by a renewed clampdown on dissident clergy and destruction of churches as well as crosses and other Christian symbols.”
It’s easy to take our freedom of religion for granted, so I am grateful I saw the movie and was inspired to find out about persecution of people of faith. I will continue to ask myself, “Would I proclaim my faith if faced with persecution?” What would you do?
2 Corinthians 4:9 “Persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.”