Much of the persecution of Christians in the news today is attributed to radical Muslims, although there are many other groups across the globe also persecuting Christians. Radical Muslims use a particular religion or an ideological view based on an interpretation of that religion to commit horrendous crimes against innocent humans. Whether they capture the essence of their religion or whether they have a skewed and warped view of it is a debate both within the Muslim community and the world at large. The bottom line is that they are persecuting Christians—and often killing Muslims they feel don’t measure up to their ideology—in the name of God.
Recently Time magazine published an essay by a famous American Muslim (a former great basketball player) whom we all hold in great esteem. He argues that terrorists do not represent true Islam but are “goons” who are manipulated to commit terrorism by leadership who purposefully misinterpret and misuse the Quran. He says that terrorism and persecution have nothing to do with religion—nothing at all.
I wish he was right, but he is not. Recently Islamic terrorists burned sixty churches in Niger alone. The leader of Boko Haram has scolded Christians for believing Jesus is God. As far back as the Roman Empire, Christians have been persecuted for not sacrificing to Roman gods or for not calling the Emperor “Lord.” Christians don’t hate Muslims, nor did they hate Romans, even though elements of both civilizations have treated them despicably.
Islamic jurist Bernard K. Freamon of the Seton Hall School of Law says that “religion is the mother of war.” To him, religion is the basis of current terrorism and more specifically of suicide bombings. In an article, he chronicles the development of martyrdom and suicide (self-annihilating martyrdom) within the Shi’ite community from the 1960s onward. Self-annihilating martyrdom has become an accepted mode of military jihad even among Muslim jurists, he says.
The problem with suicide bombers (aside from their self-serving desire for a quick way to paradise) is that they kill indiscriminately. How honorable is that? The point is that persecutors kill for their own reasons and it is often rebellion against the true God, whether they realize it or not. The capacity of evil in a darkened mind is unbounding, except for the grace of God restraining evil in the world. Any sense of self-righteousness or self-justification that may exist among persecutors shows the depths of their anti-God sentiments.
What shocks persecutors is the attitude and spirit of those who face unjust treatment and terrible tragedy as they seek to serve God. Persecutors are not hated but are, in fact, being prayed for, which is difficult for them to comprehend. It is also an open door for the grace of God to enter their hearts. The depth of love and forgiveness among victims of persecution even shocks us who are unfamiliar with the reality of persecution on a personal level. There is no motivation for revenge but a continued desire to do the work of the Lord, which means taking the gospel to persecutors as well. The motivation is not self-serving at the cost of others; it is serving others at the cost of self. That is, in reality, the difference between radical Muslims and Christians.
Roy Stults, PhD, is the Online Workshop Coordinator and Educational Services Coordinator for The Voice of the Martyrs. He graduated from Olivet Nazarene University (BA and MA), Nazarene Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Doctor of Missiology), and The University of Manchester (England) with a PhD (theology). A Vietnam veteran, Dr. Stults served as a missionary for 19 years and pastored U.S. churches for eight years. Prior to joining VOM, he was a Professor of Religion at Oklahoma Wesleyan University.