Christianity Targeted in Asia, Middle East

by Lyman Stone
Columnist

Our campus prides itself on its philanthropic personality and its global outlook, two features that truly distinguish us. This spirit of social justice and human solidarity would, hopefully, manifest itself in concern for violations of human dignity both foreign and domestic. It is not my intention in this article to offer a policy prescription. Rather, I wish to “raise awareness,” as they say in activism-ese, about an issue that is of great personal concern to me.

As I write this, Sunday, April 10, I have been in prayer for my sisters and brothers in China. A large illegal Christian church (illegal because it refuses to predicate doctrine on party policy) was discovered and evicted from a restaurant where it formerly met, and, in an attempt to demonstrate its liberty, it intends to meet in a public park. For anyone who watches Chinese news, the idea of 1,000 adherents to a dubiously legal religion meeting in a public park in direct violation of Chinese law will seem naturally astounding.

In Pakistan, two different government officials, a cabinet minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, and a governor, have been assassinated due to their opposition to a “blasphemy law,” which is commonly deployed against Christians. (The cabinet member was himself a Christian.) Several days after Bhatti’s assassination, four more Christians were gunned down while going to church in Hyderabad.

In Egypt, while their Muslim countrymen prayed during the protests several weeks ago, Christians joined arms, forming a human wall around their friends and neighbors. Mere weeks before, extremists had blown up these same Christians’ church. Many Egyptians valiantly “returned the favor” for Christians and made a human shield around Christian churches for important services, but on Feb. 28, the Egyptian military assaulted a monastery, wounding six monks while those monks sang hymns.

On March 8, after a local imam in Egypt issued a call to “kill all Christians,” a mob burned a Christian church, defiled the remains of several people buried there, held a prayer service over the scorched site and then began raising money to build a mosque on it.

In India, in the last two weeks, at least six Christians have been arrested for “abetting conversion.” Conversion is not illegal in India. Apparently hatred isn’t either. In Colombia, Christian pastors have been taken hostage by socialist revolutionaries of the “National Liberation Army” (ELN) and ordered to stop “preaching peace” to rebel soldiers. The ELN has also made a blanket prohibition on “preaching Christ” in the areas it controls. In Laos in February, 62 Christians were evicted from their village due to their religion. They have been systematically starved since then, their farms being repeatedly burned until they “abandon the faith.” They have been reduced to begging, and they are joined by new converts each week.

I guess Christianity is just too much of a threat to these nations. Maybe that’s why a 2002 paper published by the Kremlin identified the Catholic Church as its No. 1 security threat, and “Protestants” as No. 2. I think the Kremlin might find some agreement among some American secularists.

My primary point is, as I said, to raise awareness about a crisis of human dignity: the perilous state of religious freedom. Even as many economic and political freedoms are gained around the world, religious freedom has been slow to catch up and, in many countries in the developed world (France, Denmark, England, the Netherlands), seems to be actively regressing with laws targeting and prohibiting many forms of religious expression.

The recent Supreme Court case Snyder v. Phelps, through its protection of even damnable speech, rightly upholds American freedom of expression. We are lucky to live in a country with strong legal protections for religious freedom, and we have good cause to be proud of that legal tradition and to tread carefully around it, as with all fundamental human rights, knowing that, in other lands, brave men and women die for the rights we forget we have.

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