If you've ever read VOM's newsletter you've probably seen a picture like this one, a picture where someone's identity has been concealed. But you've also seen pictures of other Christians—sometimes in the same country—with their faces uncovered and clearly visible. What's the deal? In today's post I'd like to take you inside the decision-making process that determines security-related issues in VOM reports about persecution.
We often use pseudonyms for the Christians we report on, and sometimes disguise or leave out crucial details in their story—like specific locations—in order to protect them. In choosing photos, we sometimes choose those shot from behind the person rather than one showing their face. Or we may crop out or blur some identifying detail, like a building number or license plate.
Why is this necessary? First, it is important to understand that VOM reports on persecution, but our staff doesn't ever want to create persecution: we don't want someone to get arrested—or worse—because of something we said, printed or posted online.
The risk is real. Several years ago VOM published a newsletter article about persecution in Saudi Arabia. The author of the article used the term "Seminary in the Desert" to talk about how church leaders were trained and tried in the fires of persecution and came out more prepared to serve Christ and his church. It was a figurative term, a word picture; no actual seminary existed. Yet we heard later that Saudi officials interrogating Christians had demanded to know the location of the seminary training pastors in their country!
The second important truth is that these decisions are driven not by VOM staff members in the US but by our local Christian contacts and workers inside the nation we are reporting on. When our field staff visit with Christians and interview them, we ask them how they want their names, locations, photos and videos to be used. I've been in situations where persecuted Christians noticeably tense up when a camera comes out. And I've been in other situations where believers have said, "Print my picture, and use my real name. The government already knows who I am!" We honor their requests for how they want us to use their information.
Other factors play into these discussions. The security situation in a given country is an important factor.
Before printing, our newsletter is reviewed by our international staff and, where possible, by overseas Christian contacts. We specifically ask them to review the information we've included and the photos to insure that no one is unduly put at risk.
What is your opinion? Are you more likely to pray for a persecuted Christian if you see their whole face? Does it bother you that VOM can't always share the whole story? Please add your thoughts in the comments.
Todd Nettleton has served the persecuted church and VOM almost 15 years. He has been interviewed more than 1800 times by various media outlets. He's the author of Restricted Nations: North Korea, and served on the writing team for FOXE, Extreme Devotion, Hearts of Fire and other VOM books.