Christians search for belongings after more than 100 homes were torched in Lahore, Pakistan. (ARIF ALI)

Christians search for belongings after more than 100 homes were torched in Lahore, Pakistan. (ARIF ALI)

American Christians have a persecution complex. Whenever a public figure criticizes the Christian movement or offers believers in other faiths an equal voice in society, you can bet Christians will start howling. Claims about American persecution of Christians are a form of low comedy in a country where two-thirds of citizens claim to be Christians, where financial gifts to Christian churches are tax deductible, where Christian pastors can opt out of social security, and where no one is restricted from worshipping however, whenever, and wherever they wish.

But for many Christians, the “war on religion” is no laughing matter.

Let’s be clear: protecting religious freedom is a serious concern, and believers should speak up whenever they feel the free practice of any faith—not just their own—is threatened. But what is happening in America is not “persecution.” Using such a label is an insult to the faithful languishing in other parts of the world where persecution actually exists—places like the Middle East.

Rather than asking pastors to abstain from endorsing presidential candidates from their pulpits in exchange for tax-exempt status, persecution looks more like the recent experience of Saeed Abendini. The American pastor was sentenced to eight years in Iran’s Evin prison, where it is suspected that he is undergoing beatings, torture, and brainwashing techniques.

A 2011 Pew Forum study found that Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world. Followers of the faith are harassed in 130 countries. According to the study, just 0.6% of the world’s 2.2 billion Christians now reside in the Middle East, the cradle of Christianity. To put this in perspective, that number is down from 20% a century ago.

As many as two-thirds of Christians in Iraq have fled the country to escape massacres and church burnings. There are reportedly fewer than 60 Christian churches left in the war-torn country, a fact that adds another level of critique to the prudence of waging such a conflict. Just this month, an angry mob in Pakistan torched 40 Christian homes. And even Lebanon, once a safe haven for Christians, is experiencing a mass exodus.

“Massacres are taking place for no reason and without any justification against Christians,” says Amin Gemayel, the former President of Lebanon. “It is only because they are Christians.”

In a USA Today article titled “Middle East Christians need our protection” by Fox News political contributor Kirsten Powers, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg said he was shocked that Christians aren’t regularly protesting outside embassies drawing attention to this issue. The persecution of Christians in the Middle East, Goldberg told Powers, is “one of the most undercovered stories in international news.”

Goldberg raises an important question: Why isn’t the mammoth Christian community of the world’s most influential nation in a tizzy over the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and around the world?

The answer, it seems, is that many of their attentions have been focused elsewhere. Some are too busy protesting Target employees who wish them “Happy Holidays” and others have been mobilizing to boycott JCPenney over selecting Ellen DeGeneres, an outspoken lesbian, to be their spokesperson. Isn’t it time that American Christians reinvest their energies in addressing the actual persecution of their brothers and sisters happening outside their borders?

Today in the Middle East and elsewhere, Christians huddle together beneath a solitary light bulb to read from contraband Bibles and sing hushed hymns. At any moment, their doors may be broken in and their lives could be snuffed out. Many Christians sit in dank prisons for committing no crime except following Jesus. Tomorrow, they could be executed without due process. This is a true “war on religion,” and it is one that too few American Christians seem willing to enlist in.

41 Comments

  1. Bryan Matthews

    I am always excited when I witness the fulfilling of the Bible right before my eyes! What do I mean? Jesus said that we would be hated above all men for His namesake! Yes this is terrible to happen and the bad news ( or good) depending on how one looks at it, is that things are only going to get worse!! EVEN SO, COME LORD JESUS!

    • Bryan, unless you’re living in the middle of the type of persecution that Jonathan describes, this “excitement” is contemptibly cost-free and verges on eschatological pornography. You may read these events as signs that the end is drawing rapidly near; fine, that’s open to interpretation, and we’ll have to leave it at that. But the Bible’s injunction is pretty clear: don’t try to figure out the date of Christ’s return, because only the Father knows that; in the meanwhile, DO attend to brothers and sisters in the faith who suffer poverty, nakedness, and imprisonment for their loyalty to Christ, because Christ is there with them. To be “excited” at the fulfillment of Christ’s predictions is to be excited at Christ’s own persecution. Blessed are the mourners, brother. Not the titillated.

    • Would it be just as much good news if it were happening to you? Everything you said is true, but only those who are not (presently) being persecuted tend to over-spiritualize persecution. Amen, come, Lord Jesus, but until He does — do some advocacy on behalf of your brothers and sisters.

    • I’m sorry Bryan, how can you be excited that other people are being tortured,imprisoned, and having their homes destroyed? When I read comments like that I am embarrassed and ashamed to call myself a Christian. If anything, we should be praying and looking for tangible ways to help these Christians

    • Marcus Johnson

      Trust me, Bryan, I can guarantee you that nobody hates you, or associates you with the name and mission of Jesus Christ. They might find you incredibly annoying, but that’s hardly persecution.

  2. Absolutely Christian’s ought to be paying attention to the plight of brothers and sisters overseas. American Christians certainly have it good, comparatively speaking. That’s not to say persecution is nonexistent. I know someone who was fired from a job for expressing Christian beliefs in an appropriate setting. Oh, and regarding the photo, Pakistan is not part of the Middle East.

    • Jonathan Merritt

      Riley,

      Actually, there is some debate as to what is defined as the “Middle East” and what is defined as the “greater Middle East.” I lean on Secretary of State John Foster Dulles who defined “the Middle East” as “the area lying between and including Libya on the west and Pakistan on the east, Syria and Iraq on the North and the Arabian peninsula to the south, plus the Sudan and Ethiopia.”

      Thanks for the comment regarding the photo, but I think you are mistaken.

      Jm

  3. Daniel Johnson

    I’ve been leading a group of about 20 people in my congregation for over 15 years that calls itself “Friends of the Persecuted Church.” We write letters to prisoners, to our government leaders and representatives, to leaders in countries where persecution is happening, help financially as we are able, and we PRAY for our brothers and sisters in Christ who are being persecuted around the world. It keeps this painful issue ever before us, and our church. Once I even had the privilege of visiting two of the prisoners we got connected with in their prison in Egypt! Yes, we in the USA don’t know what persecution really is…

    • You do not have to go to the Middle East to find hungry people (or poorly clothed) they walk by every day. They live in tents, dig in dumpsters, sleep under bus stop benches. To some they are invisible. But they exist. To Merritt they are invisible.

  4. To predicate that Christians are persecuted in location A is not to predicate that they cannot also be persecuted in location B. Merritt is using faulty logic to advance his opinion over others and at the expense of others. That is hardly Christian. Christianity is under extreme attack in the U.S. and YES it is persecuted (it is open season on anything Christian .. from the very cabinet office of Homeland Security which circulates anti-Christian bulletins all over the U.S.) Merritt is speaking with a forked tongue.

    • Marcus Johnson

      Under extreme attack? Really? You’re not even kinda blowing that out of proportion? Let’s examine the facts:

      1. Were you able to go to church on Sunday without a legitimate fear of being arrested?

      2. Were you denied any government benefits because of your faith tradition?

      3. Have you been dragged out of your house and beaten because you owned a Bible?

      4. Did any government agency prevent you from reading this article or writing your post?

      Seriously, Old Dude, just because the government prevents your from practicing your faith in a way that impedes on the rights of folk of a different faith tradition, or affirms certain beliefs that are antithetical to yours, doesn’t mean that you are being persecuted. That notion is the wild fantasy of people whose need to feel important prompts them to create these wild, irrational conspiracy theories that affirm their insecurities.

    • Jonathan,
      I think that your article brings up an excellent point about Christians in other countries. You are exactly correct in saying that we do need to pay attention to what is going on with them. I totally agree that they are being persecuted.
      However, “Old Dude” is correct in attempting to use proper logic to display the fallaciousness in your reasoning. There are really two issues to this that I dont think that “Old Dude” expounds upon, so I will help him out.

      (1) It does not logically follow that if you are being persecuted in other countries, you are not being persecuted in the US.
      That proposition is false. Your argument was a little bit more nuanced than that, but, for completeness sake, I need to reiterate this.

      (2) The other issue, which I think is closer to your article, is that you are oversimplifying the term of ‘persecution’. In other words, you are simply attempting to define persecution as ***only*** killing, torturing etc…

      To only focus on one particular aspect and make that the only aspect, and to actively deny what American Christians are facing is persecution, is being fallaciously reducing the argument, and not considering all aspects of the issue of persecution.

      By your logic, then, God shouldn’t really care about my family praying that I should get a good assignment from the Navy when we move to the East Coast, because another family is dealing with the loss of their father. That family is clearly struggling, while my minor concerns and worries about economic security for my family are no struggles at all. (1 Pet 5:7).

      I do agree that there is very very harsh persecution for Christians in other Christians. And for you to lovingly rebuke Christians here is exactly the right thing to do.

      I just think that it is dangerous for you to oversimplify the issue of persecution here in America. People are getting fired for their Christian beliefs, academia today is decidedly anti-Christian, and the Church is already going through a difficult time (socially and legally) due to this homosexual marriage issue.

      Soft persecution is always a precursor to hard persecution. To simply ignore the soft persecution is to allow for that hard persecution to eventually come. Hatred in the heart is murder. That hatred is manifest in what we see today in America. That those actions aren’t actual murder doesn’t mean that they aren’t serious sins in God’s eyes.

      Where do you draw the line between what you define as persecution and what you dont? At what point does it become persecution? Why is your understanding of persecution more authoritative than someone else’s? By what standard are you understanding what persecution is?

      By the standard of the Bible, persecution certainly comes in the form of killing and torture, but it also comes in the form of hatred and slander towards you as a Christian.

      Luke 6:22, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!”

      1 Pet 3:14-16: “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

      Persecution comes in all different forms as these two Bible verse should make clear. To simply not acknowledge that what American Christians have gone through is not persecution, this is not fully understanding the assault on Christianity that we have in our country today.. and the hatred behind the assault.
      The fact that this type of persecution is mentioned by Jesus and Paul would clearly indicate that God does consider non-murder and non-torturous acts to be important and important enough for it to be found in the Scriptures.

      We must continue to pray for our brothers/sisters overseas and those here at home.

      • I am certainly thankful that someone cleared that mess up Christopher. Seems many were leaping in to abuse Bryan and judge him unfit to express a simple feeling that I can understand completely. I have been attacked for being a Christian and I see our elected President of these United States cancelling the National Day of Prayer and holding instead the Muslim Day of Prayer at the White House, stating that this country is not a Christian nation and seemingly avoiding the Christian behavior (out of shame?) of the Christian that he professes to be. He feels from his lofty heights that it is not to his advantage to behave as a Christian, apparently, and it would seem that his message to all Americans is to behave as he in order to be liked. When American taxpayer’s money is used to display the cross in urine, I wonder how many Christians rejoiced to see such a sight. True, in America, the Christain as such has not been abused physically, but mental abuse is also abuse.

      • Marcus Johnson

        Unfortunately, when a response carries such a myriad of ridiculous arguments and non sequiturs, it is impossible to address them all. However, I’m just going to hit the highlights of Christopher Lee’s argument:

        1. By your logic, then, God shouldn’t really care about my family praying that I should get a good assignment from the Navy when we move to the East Coast, because another family is dealing with the loss of their father. That family is clearly struggling, while my minor concerns and worries about economic security for my family are no struggles at all. (1 Pet 5:7).

        Where in Merritt’s argument did he address anything about your personal relationship with God? I didn’t see it.

        To tackle that anecdote, however, I would argue that a) if your personal relationship with God is defined by asking him for stuff, either for yourself or for someone else, you’re doing it wrong, b) if you know that someone is struggling with a family loss, and yet your prayers are still centered on your own personal needs, you’re doing it wrong, and c) although you might find yourself in a naval base that isn’t the best location in the world, you are really stretching the term “economic struggles.” The military benefits your family would receive might not allow you to live like a prince, but you’re not going to starve, so shouldn’t your focus be on those who have a greater need than you?

        2. By the standard of the Bible, persecution certainly comes in the form of killing and torture, but it also comes in the form of hatred and slander towards you as a Christian.

        Luke 6:22, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man!”

        1 Pet 3:14-16: “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

        Persecution comes in all different forms as these two Bible verse should make clear.

        Um, where does the word persecution appear in those texts?

        The reason why Merritt and I call for a stronger definition of persecution is because it eliminates people from complaining because a particular piece of legislation prohibits them from exercising their religion in a way that infringes upon someone else’s rights, or because some nonbeliever expresses an opinion about their faith that is disparaging. Google definitions of “persecution,” and you’ll see words like “harass” and “punish.” Stigmatizing the revile and contempt that nonbelievers might have towards Christianity is not only a dismissal of someone’s constitutional right to use speech and expression, but it also assumes that that the church might not have earned some of that antipathy. Take one quick browse through the history books, and you’ll note that Christian institutions have earned some legitimate contempt.

        3. I just think that it is dangerous for you to oversimplify the issue of persecution here in America. People are getting fired for their Christian beliefs, academia today is decidedly anti-Christian, and the Church is already going through a difficult time (socially and legally) due to this homosexual marriage issue.

        “People getting fired for their Christian beliefs” encompasses a wide range of cases. Some might have legitimate legal recourse; others might have exercised those beliefs in a way that was unprofessional or otherwise inappropriate. Unfortunately, the group you refer to is so broad that it is impossible to delineate between these groups. One thing is certain, however; those folks who were fired as a result of discriminatory action have legal recourse, as opposed to the people in other countries, who become the victims of the legal system, not its beneficiaries.

        Academia needs to be decidely anti-Christian. Christianity begins with a single truth and builds a theology. Academia, through the scientific process, consistently tests and retests and challenges precedent theory to build toward a set of practice and knowledge. Due to the nature of the two institutions, they are inherently incompatible with each other.

        If the Church is going through a difficult time because of issues like the current shift on public sentiment regarding issues like marriage equality, it is only because the Church decided that it needs to play politics, rather than spread the gospel. When marriage equality is legalized, pastors will not be forced to acknowledge those marriages, and I seriously doubt you can find a same-sex couple who would want a pastor officiating their wedding who did not approve of their union, anyway.

        I think we like talking about persecution in the broadest terms possible, because the broader you make the definition, the bigger we can make the problem out to be. The bigger the problem, the better we can feel about ourselves, because we can say, “Look at how bad we suffer.” It is emotional blackmail, it is eschatological pornography, nothing more.

  5. I live in the United States, a place where a widely-reported and recent U.S. Army Reserve training brief on extremism and extremist organizations labelled Catholics and Christians as dangerous extremist groups alongside Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood.

    I applied for a job the other day and noticed that the prospective employer asked for my facebook account– where I frequently state my opinions from a Christian point of view.

    An interviewer who sees that I am a Christian, and is of the opinion that I am an extremist will likely exclude me from consideration for employment.

    This is just one type of situation which is the beginning of a path that leads to the place in which a Pakistan or a Saudi Arabia reside. Christians in the United States can see the end of the path and don’t even want to take the first steps toward that eventuality. Call it “howling,” and “low comedy” if you will, but hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of persecuted Christians want to come to the United States precisely because it has historically been a protected place for Christians.

    Christians here, now, are simply trying to keep it that way.

  6. Thank you for a very good article. As a Humanist and Atheist I would be first in line protecting the right of any religion to worship, or even just exist, anywhere is allowed.
    I would do it mostly because I feel I have an overdeveloped sense of justice and empathy, but also because I know full well that ignoring the marginalization of other religions and worldviews is pretty much a guarantee that one day my own liberties and rights will be trampled on.

    But there is a big difference between genuine persecution and what many US Christians believe is happening to them in the USA.

    For instance, preventing a public body to start their meetings with a sectarian, Christian prayer, is not religious intolerance. It’s the law.
    Telling Christians they cannot place a 10 commandments monument on the courthouse steps is not religious persecution. Once again, it’s the law.
    Last Christmas a nativity scene was banned from a public square and a local Christian business owner took it upon himself to offer his private property to display the nativity. His remarks were clearly hostile to those that requested the nativity be moved and dared them to make him move it from his business.
    Except no one attempted that, in fact, many praised his decision, because it is perfectly fine to have these displays on private property. The whole idea is that if you allow a Christian display, you then have to allow every single display from every single religion. It is simply not practical and thus it is illegal.

    I recently watched a disturbing video where a guest preacher attempted to deliver a opening sermon to the US senate. This is precisely the sort of thing that should not be allowed, except that in this case the preacher was Hindu.
    He was barely able to deliver his sermon because various member of the Senate interrupted him with their own, yelled prayers. This was obviously a concerted effort since as soon as one was escorted outside, someone else started.
    I rarely watched a worse example of religious intolerance. And I will bet that, were the roles suddenly reversed, they would be the first to claim religious persecution. Interestingly, no one else in the senate counter protested those bigots.

    As you ably pointed out, it’s not that Christians are not persecuted. They are just not persecuted here in the US as a rule. And I would hope that any Christian that sees a member of another religion being the victim of persecution they would go to their help. Else one day Christians may very well find themselves persecuted in the US but by then persecuting them will be legal by virtue of the very laws and policies they created when they were in the majority.

  7. Hi,
    I was just looking over the comments and felt I need to say something.
    I think you have all been a little harsh on Bryan Matthews.
    He said that he was excited to see the fulfilment of Jesus words and you all took it that he was saying he was excited about Christians being persecuted.
    I need to say that we are to look forward to Jesus return “for our citizenship is in Heaven from which we EAGERLY (my emphasis) wait for a Saviour Jesus Christ.” –Philippians 3:20
    It is not wrong, as you said, to be excited about Jesus return. We all have struggles and they should be minimised just because of what others in the world are going through and as such we should be excited about Jesus return. We also are to pay attention to the signs of the times that Christ return is close even though we do not know the date. For Jesus Himself said: “Even so, you too, when you see these things happening recognize that He is near, right at the door” – Mark 13:29
    So my friends do not be quick to judge and always answer with love not with harsh words and stay on alert for our Lord’s return. Pray for our brother and sisters here and in the Middle East. We are all persecuted in our own way. Also do NOT forget that they have a mission and the Middle Eastern church has become the fastest growing church in the world, but neverless we should still advocate for them.

    God Bless,
    Daniel

    And Bryan, continue to seek the Lord, brother and you will do great things for His glory.

  8. Stephen Hager

    Probably too late for this-but-Paul, in his last epistle noted that anyone who would live godly in Christ Jesus would suffer persecution. (2 Timothy 3:12). Persecution of American Christians may (and does look very different from Pastor Saeed’s persecution in Iran or Asia Bibi’s persecution in Pakistan, or that of the believers in Dyarbakir, Turkey, or the house churches in China. Here in the West, the enemies of Christ and His people have much more subtle ways of showing hatred.

  9. I wish people like you would dig a little deeper to check the veracity of the claims you keep citing as evidence of the so-called persecution of christians in the U.S.. It is true that Obama didn’t have the whole white house ceremony for the national day of prayer, but it is completely false that he replaced with a ” Muslim day of prayer ” . That event was organized by muslims and was held on capitol hill, NOT at the white house. That’s enough to debunk that nonsense by itself. If you need more, do your own fact-checking. On that note, another fact for you to consider: Reagan only held one NDOP white house ceremony in ’82. Furthermore, Obama,( just as did his predecessors going back to Truman ), acknowledged it by proclamation. Maybe the guy isn’t a dedicated christian just as has been claimed ad nauseam, OR maybe he just keeps his religion personal. Who really knows? Why does it matter? Do you really want to live in a christian theocracy? I can only imagine the state-sanctioned persecution of non-christians that would most likely arise from such a scenario.
    Try being an atheist in small town America. Then you’d truly know what persecution for one’s beliefs ( or lack thereof ) is all about. My personal experience with essentially unchecked christian group mentality in smaller communities has shown me that they have a perverted view of what the religious protections in the 1st amendment are designed to achieve. It is quite clear that govt. shall not be involved in the affairs of religion and vice-versa.
    In conclusion, I implore any christian reading this to consider what the ideas of freedom and persecution really entail and to make a conscious effort to not misuse or otherwise denigrate their true meaning just for the sake of winning an argument. It is possible to make a persuasive argument for the positive role faith can have in a modern society ( even to an atheist, like me ), without resorting to such rhetorical bastardizing of concepts that are so powerful. ( P.S. To anyone who might reply to this; DO NOT waste your time trying to convert or preach to me. It is not my intent to disparage the christian faith or be disrespectful of it’s practitioners convictions. I hope for the same level of respect as I am simply writing on society’s willful ignorance and the fact that many ( but not all ) christians from my experience close themselves off to differing viewpoints. )

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