4 posts categorized “Religion”

December 10, 2013

Five Myths of Persecution

Timothy Samuel Shah, Associate Director and Scholar-in-Residence at the Religious Freedom Project, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs at Georgetown University, recently penned an opinion piece about persecuted Christians around the world that appeared on FoxNews.com. The piece explores five "myths" about Christian persecution, and reasons why it is largely ignored in the West, especially by the media.

Most of these victims [of Christian persecution] will continue to be ignored, however, as long as five myths continue to cloud popular thinking about global Christian persecution. Based on an abundance of new evidence, the experts in Rome will show that the myths don't stand up to the facts.

Shaw then goes on to expore the five myths, including the myth that persecution is only a Middle East issue and the myth that Christians actually bring persecution on themselves by their actions and philosophies.

You can read Shaw's piece here

Do you agree with his positions? Do you feel that the media adaquately and accurately covers stories of Christian persecution? If not, why do you think they don't?

Continue the discussion in the comments section to this post.

February 6, 2013

Tolerance: The Occasion for Persecution

Different regions of the world have different histories and also different traditions about freedom, especially freedom of religion. Some areas of the world have never known freedom, or very little of it, so society’s disapproval of people who turn to Christ or witness for Christ is somewhat expected. The idea of “tolerance” is not in their thinking. In Western thought, however, the idea of tolerance is well known, and it sometimes evokes emotion in Christians who believe it indicates turning one’s back on biblical truth.

Let’s look at how the idea of tolerance developed in Western thought and, later, how the understanding of tolerance today can lead to forms of persecution.

Although the Enlightenment (or Age of Reason, 17th and 18th centuries) is seen as a rebellion against the dominance of the church, the Western world continued to enjoy freedom within a pluralistic culture led by Christian values. The rebellion was against the abuses of church and state (often because they were fused together). Therefore, the Enlightenment was an attempt to establish reason as the basis of truth and knowledge, rather than tradition or faith. Faith was tolerated as long as it was not intrusive and was practiced mostly as a private affair.

Tolerance meant that people of diverse viewpoints (including religious) could express their reasoned beliefs (religious or political) and would defend those rights with reason. So the ideal was civil conversation, with the expectation that reasonable people would come to reasonable conclusions in an atmosphere of fair public debate. It was freedom experienced under the umbrella of Christianity.

Recently, however, there has been a radical change in the meaning of tolerance, with the potential of creating hostility toward the Christian faith and Christians. What is being lost is the ongoing and free public debate based on differing viewpoints, and it is being replaced by the public articulation of only what is “politically correct.” It means that society is free to express publicly only what the dominant cultural spokespersons of our culture allow. Much of what is considered politically correct is in opposition to Christian values and morality. This, in effect, restricts freedom of
religion. And the umbrella of freedom is closing.

Postmodernism is somewhat responsible for this shift. Modernism, which came out of and defines the Enlightenment, put forth the idea that we could come to a rational conclusion based on reason and, for the most part, that which is factually based on science. Modernists believed that anyone anywhere who used reason could come to the same conclusion. Modernist thought was intended to supplement faith and superstition as the universal cultural explanation. The Christian faith believes in the universal conclusion and absolute truth of salvation through Christ alone (John 14:6). VOMClassroom

Postmodernism, however, rejects the idea of absolute truth, proposing that truth is relative—determined by whatever individuals or communities determine is truth for them. The only way to maintain harmony within such diversity is through tolerance. The problem is that tolerance in this case means no one can make a statement about universal truth. So we are faced with the idea that everyone’s “truth” is equally valid and that we should not try to persuade others that our truth is absolute and theirs is wrong.

When we followers of Christ articulate that Jesus is Lord of all creation and that he is the only way to salvation for all people, we are immediately labeled as intolerant, bigoted, narrow-minded, ignorant and (worst of all in their minds) offensive to postmodern thought. They would tell us that everyone should be able to hold their religious beliefs unchallenged, as long as they don’t assert them. While postmodern thinkers challenge Christian belief, we are not allowed to be offended!

In the Western world, we may not be subject to public scourging or physical persecution. But we will be subject to other forms of persecution that fit our culture—censorship, ridicule and lawsuits that result in fines and other forms of harassment. In the Introductory Class in Persecution Studies on the VOM Classroom website (www.vomclassroom.com), we talk about the various levels of persecution. The first level is disinformation, the second is harassment and the next one is discrimination. It is possible for society to move along through these various levels and escalate into the final one, which is outright persecution.

The questions for us in the Western world are the same ones faced by believers in other parts of the world: How willing are we to fulfill Christ’s mandate as we see our society moving through these levels? How much are we willing to suffer and sacrifice? Are we willing to be obedient to Christ no matter the cost? We may be required to decide sooner than we think. What do you think?

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.

January 21, 2013

Surprised by Suffering

Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from a post on Ravi Zacharias International Ministries' web site, reposted here with permission. The post was written by Jill Carattini, managing editor of A Slice of Infinity for RZIM. You can read the full post here.

For those of us who live in far less hostile environments, news of persecution is foreign, frightening, and difficult to fathom. Their experiences bring the words of the early church to life in a way that many of us have never considered. When the apostle Paul wrote that nothing will separate us from the love of Christ—neither "trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword"—he was referring to struggles that were dangerously real to him and the people to whom he was writing. "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies" (2 Corinthians 4:8-10). Peter, too, encouraged believers in their troubling situations. He urged them to stand firm in their convictions regardless of their affliction; he reminded them that discomfort and suffering was a sacred part of following the wounded one. "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ" (1 Peter 4:12-13).

The apostles' words do not take away the injustice of brutal murder. But they do assuage the shock of its occurrence. Jesus told his followers to expect persecution; in fact, he said they would be blessed by it. "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11-12). Peter's words encourage the suffering not to see their painful trials as strange or out of the ordinary, but as something that further marks them as believers and unites them in even greater intimacy with their leader. Persecution may be always jarring, unfair, or lamentable, but it is not strange when it happens to those who follow Christ. Perhaps it is stranger when it is not happening.

Mark Twain once said, "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect." For those of us who live the faith we profess without challenge, trial, or risk, reflection may well be appropriate. Is it possible that we have so shut ourselves up in Christian circles that we have closed ourselves off from the world and hence any chance of suffering for Christ? Is it possible that we are so at ease among the majority that we avoid venturing out as the minority among those who might hate or hurt us? Certainly we experience hostility and persecution indirectly. But how we are personally interacting with the angry, the lost, and the broken masses Jesus once wept over is another thing entirely. How effectively we live as "the salt of the earth" that Jesus described depends on our place and posture within it. Surely salt that remains content within the shaker has lost its saltiness.

The struggles of Christian students on university campuses, the sufferings of Christian aid workers across the world, and the daily trials of believers who live courageously in dangerous places are stories that frighten and sadden us. They are also stories that depict what can happen when the salt of the kingdom is allowed to season the earth. Gayle Williams is said to have been the hand of Christ among some of the world's most forgotten. "Remember the words I spoke to you," said Jesus to his disciples. "'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also" (John 15:20). And then he was led away like a sheep to the slaughter.

January 18, 2013

MOVING TOWARD MUSLIMS: A greeting of peace

Muslims often come to Christ in the context of friendship, and friendship can begin with a simple greeting:  

        "May peace be upon you."

11_2 Muslim WomenIt can be muttered in passing or proclaimed loudly. Accompanying this blessing of peace can be a glance, a head nod, or just a cautious smile. Then a light grip between my pale right hand and her darker one. That handshake can lead to a kiss where cheeks touch, where a veil is shifted to welcome me into her personal space.

In my years of relating with Muslim women, I have found that with some women, it stops there. Pleasantries are exchanged and we move on. It is run-of-the-mill politeness, and I have come to expect nothing less – and sometimes, nothing more.

But there are other women with whom the conversation moves on. Starting with, "What is your news?" it can deepen to "What is your faith?" They may open their homes and, after some time, even their hearts.

Amina was one such open woman I met at a park not long ago. With a quiet "Salaamu alaikum (peace be upon you)," she sat next to me under an awning covered with flowering vines.

We were past formalities when she shared, "I come here to pray, to recite verses from the Quran as I walk." She showed me a little book of surahs and the prayer beads she carried.

Then Amina startled me with her confession: "When I walked into the garden today, I saw you and a voice inside me said, She will be your friend. This is why I came over to talk with you."

My eyebrows raised. A voice inside you? Clearly, this was no chance meeting. This was what I call a divine appointment. And it all started with a simple greeting.

Jesus used a greeting similar to the Muslim "Salaamu alaikum" when appearing to his disciples after his resurrection. His words "Peace be with you," are recorded twice in John 20. His greeting made his friends aware of his presence, resulting in their joy and belief in Him (see John 20:19-29).

"Peace I leave with you," Jesus said (John 14:27). He encouraged his friends who believed in God to "believe also in Me" (John 14:1). With Jesus as our Lord, we can be ambassadors of peace to Muslims who may in turn believe in Him.

It is true that some Muslims persecute Christians. But it is also true that many, many Muslim individuals are peace-loving. Like Amina, they are curious about Jesus, and may even desire a Christian friend.

In the coming year, I hope to share a realistic picture of Muslims and explore ways God is working among them. One of the primary ways Muslims come to faith in Jesus is through the consistent witness of a Christian friend (source).

Although God alone orchestrates "divine encounters," I believe Christians must take the initiative to befriend and reach out to Muslims. That could mean shopping where they shop, sitting down beside someone new on the bus, or greeting your Muslim professor or classmate.

Muslims often come to Christ in the context of friendship, and friendship can begin with a simple greeting. What's more, when the children of God speak those peace-filled words, they are backed by the authority of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. May His peace be upon us all.

"Anna" blogs about friendship, culture, and Kingdom-living from her home in the Middle East. She loves Jesus and wants to see Him cherished by her neighbors and people everywhere. Anna will be posting on the Persecution Blog each month. Feel free to ask questions or suggest future topics in the comments section for this post. Anna is a pseudonym, and all names in her posts are changed for security reasons.

Join the Discussion:   Have you ever tried to befriend a Muslim? What are the obstacles to meeting Muslims in your city?