The age of the martyrs is upon us…


Why are Christians silent?  Why does the Church fail to speak out about the increasing persecution of Christians and other minorities in Muslim-majority countries? 


Columnist Kirsten Powers is puzzled by the complacency.  Writing in the Daily Beast, she recently gave full vent to her bafflement.


Christians in the Middle East and Africa are being slaughtered, tortured, raped, kidnapped, beheaded, and forced to flee the birthplace of Christianity. One would think this horror might be consuming the pulpits and pews of American churches. Not so. The silence has been nearly deafening.


Powers concluded with a quote from the Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was hanged in 1945 for his role in resisting the Nazis.


Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.


Kirsten Powers’ pointed critique of the Church’s inaction is just one among several such commentaries to come from the secular press or non-Christian sources in recent weeks.  An article in the British magazine, The Spectator, reported on a public discussion of “why the American and British press have ignored or under-reported this persecution [of Christians].”  This article also included dismay at Christian complacency.


The night ended with historian Tom Holland declaring sadly that we are now seeing the extinction of Christianity and other minority faiths in the Middle East. As he pointed out, it’s the culmination of the long process that began in the Balkans in the late 19th century, reached its horrific European climax in 1939-1945, and continued with the Greeks of Alexandria, the Mizrahi Jews and most recently the Chaldo-Assyrian Christians of Iraq. The Copts may have the numbers to hold on, Holland said, and the Jews of Israel, but can anyone else?


Without a state (and army) of their own, minorities are merely leaseholders. The question is whether we can do anything to prevent extinction, and whether British foreign policy can be directed towards helping Christian interests rather than, as currently seems to be the case, the Saudis.


The saddest audience question was from a young man who I’m guessing was Egyptian-British. He asked: ‘Where was world Christianity when this happened?’


Nowhere. Watching X-Factor. Debating intersectionality. Or just too frightened of controversy to raise Muslim-on-Christian violence.


Lord Jonathan Sachs, Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, made similar observations in a recent interview with The Telegraph.  The persecution of Christians in the Middle East is a major concern for Rabbi Sachs—it’s a topic he has address with great passion for several years.  Here’s a quote from The Telegraph article.


“I think this is a human tragedy that is going almost unremarked. I don’t know what the name for this is, it is the religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


“We are seeing Christians in Syria in great danger, we are seeing the burning of Coptic churches in Egypt. There is a large Coptic population in Egypt and for some years now it has been living in fear. Two years ago the last church in Afghanistan was destroyed, certainly closed. There are no churches left in Afghanistan.


“Between half a million and a million Christians have left Iraq. At the beginning of the 19th century Christians represented 20 per cent of the population of the Arab world, today two per cent. This is a story that is crying out for a public voice, and I have not heard an adequate public voice.”


It is striking that this is an issue which does not directly involve Jews at all.


But being Jewish, “you cannot but feel this very deeply and personally”, he says. “I think sometimes Jews feel very puzzled that Christians do not protest this more vociferously.”


What to do? Three things come to mind—things we can all do.


1.       Become informed.  How about a Sunday school class on the suffering Church?  The Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom is a tremendous resource.  Two very important books have been published recently by the Center. 


Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes Are Choking Freedom Worldwideby Paul Marshall and Nina Shea


Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians, by Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Nina Shea


2.      Provide financial support to organizations that aid persecuted Christians around the world.  One such organization is the non-profit Voice of the Martyrs, which seeks to serve “the persecuted church through practical and spiritual assistance while leading Christians in the free world into fellowship with them.”


The Voice of the Martyrs is also a great source of information.


3.      Pray for the persecuted Church.  “Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” (Heb. 13:3, ESV)



Note:  The title of this post is adapted from a newsletter recently sent out by the editor of Touchstone magazine, James Kushiner.  One of the important regular features of Touchstone is “The Suffering Church,” a compendium of news from around the world.




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