Persecution of Christians continues in certain parts of the world, mostly in the Middle East and throughout South and Southeast Asia, but it rarely gets much attention even in the Western media. Even many churchmen in the West turn a blind eye.
Pope Francis, who like many Protestant clerics in the West is more concerned about the social issues of the left, has spoken out only occasionally against discrimination, which sometimes includes imprisonment and worse. In April the pope visited as a token of solidarity the leader of Egypt’s indigenous Christian Coptic Church, whose parish includes 20 million Egyptian Christians. But Protestant churchmen in the West, preoccupied with social issues to the neglect of articles of the faith they espouse, have largely left opposition to oppression to the Western democratic governments, led by the United States.
The persecution statistics are horrific: More than 300 people are murdered monthly throughout the world because of their Christian faith. Two hundred houses of worship are destroyed monthly. Almost 800 incidents of violence are committed monthly. These are truly hate crimes, though rarely prosecuted as that.
The Pew Center, an American secular research organization, estimates more than 75 percent of the world’s population lives in areas of rampant religious persecution, mostly against Christians.
The State Department keeps an accounting of more than 60 countries where religious discrimination is practiced and encouraged. In many of these places, Islam is the dominant and sometimes official religion, and affiliated Muslim organizations persecute religious minorities, sometimes Jews and particularly Christians.
The Middle East, the cradle of the three great religions, has the highest toll of martyrs. On Palm Sunday, preceding Easter by a week, two suicide bombings by Muslim fanatics killed 45 persons and injured many more in two Egyptian Coptic churches. Egypt, with the largest Christian minority in the region, counts the largest number of victims.
The Center for the Study of Global Christianity, an academic research center that monitors worldwide demographic trends, estimates that in the decade ending last year thousands of Christians were killed annually. This does not include statistics from North Korea and large areas of Iraq and Syria.
Persecution of Christians is part of a general pattern of repression in many of these areas, but it takes on a peculiar character because to oppose repression is sometimes inhibited by a lack of understanding of the nature of Islam. Islam is one of the Abrahamic religions and it has borrowed from both Judaism and Christianity. But unlike those two religious faiths, it has not broken its ties to secular power and has endowed those ties with the authority of the state. Indonesia, for example, briefly tried a break with secular power after independence in 1945, but is now beset with radical Islamic groups attempting to establish Islam as state-imposed belief.
This conflict besets most majority-Muslim societies, even though they have borrowed lightly from European legal codes from their colonial past. This conflict will likely intensify if present trends continue.
Indeed, in much of the Islamic world the concept of faith as understood in the West is not something voluntarily held in the human heart, not to be imposed by the state by birth or by law, but a political ideology. Therein lies the fundamental conflict between Judaism and Christianity in the West, and Islam elsewhere. Short of an Islamic reformation, like the reformation that transformed both the Jewish and the Christian faiths, there is probably scant hope for authentic reconciliation.