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.