Their Blood Cries Out
The mounting persecution of Christians eerily parallels the persecution of Jews, my people, during much of Europe’s history. Today, minority Christian communities have become chosen scapegoats in radical Islamic and remnant Communist regimes, where they are demonized and caricatured through populist campaigns of hate and terror. As ever, shrewd tyrants understand that their survival depends on extinguishing the freedoms of communities that live beyond the reach of the bribes and threats on which their power rests. Modern-day tyrants further understand that terrorizing the most vulnerable and innocent best helps them achieve power over all.
The silence and indifference of Western elites to the beatings, looting, torture, jailing, enslavement, murder, and even crucifixion of increasingly vulnerable Christian communities further engages my every bone and instinct as a Jew. My grandparents and those who lived with them in the ghettos of Poland would well understand the meaning, and the certain effects, of such patronizing hostility.
The ignorance and silence displayed by Western Christian communities toward the suffering of fellow believers completes the litany of parallels to earlier, sordid chapters of the world’s history. This history warns us that evangelical and Catholic communities in the Third World are acutely vulnerable, are profoundly worthy of our actions and prayers, are the people whose present fates can easily become ours if we remain indifferent to their fates.
Despite all, there is a powerful reason why today’s anti-Christian persecutions might continue to be denied, appeased, and silently endured by the world at large—why “but I never knew” excuses will be permitted to serve “civilized” men and women well after the Sudanese holocaust has completed its course, well after Pakistani “blasphemy” and “apostasy” witch-hunts have cut far-deeper swaths, well after the last Saudi Bible study group has been caught and tortured, well after the last Iranian evangelical bishop has been assassinated, well after tens or hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of House Church worshippers in China have been beaten, jailed, and murdered.
The reason is ignorance, and it is fostered by preconceptions and conventional wisdoms that lead many in the West to dismiss the fact of anti-Christian persecution as improbable, untrue, impossible. Here, as so often is the case, truth can become a victim of expectation, reality a casualty of prior beliefs.
For Western Christians, whose faith may at most cause them to be patronized and discriminated against by an agnostic culture, the notion of church attendance as a life-imperiling act may seem far-fetched. Having for so many centuries been the West’s majority religionists, today’s Western Christians are more likely to regard threats to their faith as coming from impolite hostility, not outright oppression. Tales of Christian martyrdom may in the comfortable worlds of Western Christians seem more suited to biblical texts and ancient Roman history than to evening newscasts, more a product of mission-board puffery than hard fact.
Government and media elites—20th-century products of an Age of Politics—are even more conditioned to dismiss allegations of widespread anti-Christian persecution. To them, the notion of Christians as victims simply doesn’t compute. Armed with knowledge of sins committed in the name of Christianity and horridly unaware of Christianity’s affirmative role in Western history, modern-day elites are conditioned to think of Christian believers as the ones who do the persecuting, not its victims.
Contrary to the February 1993 Washington Post description of evangelicals as “poor, uneducated, and easily led,” Christians are great forces for modernity in countries where the call of the 21st century struggles to be heard against shrill demands for an illiberal, unfree, and anti-intellectual new Dark Age. Christians are the heroes of such struggles, as well as the deliberately chosen victims of their Dark Age forces. An elite culture that speaks caringly about Buddhists in Tibet, Jews in the former Soviet Union, and Muslims in Bosnia finds it easy to dismiss the thought of Christians as equivalent victims.
It’s also hard for many elites to believe that thug regimes with a shrewd sense of self-preservation feel at least as threatened by communities of faith as by secular adversaries. To them, political dissidents like the brave young man who stood in front of the tank at Tiananmen Square are the credible heroes, the likely martyrs who most stand in the way of dictatorial hegemony. It’s hard for them to believe that there are, in today’s world, people willing to endure the same certain fate as the Tiananmen Square hero in order to quietly profess a Christian faith. They surely don’t know anyone who would do so, and the instinctive inclination of those whose lives are rooted in our secular culture is to believe that irrationality rather than admirable conviction is at work if Christian believers are being martyred.
There are, of course, many who know the lot of today’s Christians in Vietnam, Ethiopia, Egypt, Cuba, and like places, but choose not to acknowledge it for “base” reasons of bigotry, for the “prudential” reason that public protest might make matters worse, for the “higher” reason that the blood of martyrs is needed to maintain Christian vibrancy. But such people are in the minority in a West whose basic impulses are decent, whose abhorrence of reigns of terror against innocent believers would cause them to speak out and to demand that their governments take steps against regimes that foster or appease such conduct.
It is thus lack of information (and, until recently, the absence of non-utopian, realistic, and achievable political strategies for change) that has for so long caused Western Christian communities to be so inert and inactive about the suffering of their fellow believers.
Likewise, it is ignorance and unconscious class bias, not malevolence, that largely explains the media’s failure to report the story of today’s mounting anti-Christian persecutions. The same factors explain why State Department human-rights reports are often sophisticated in their treatment of political dissidents and profoundly naive when dealing with minority Christian communities. And while less benign causes may be at the root of Immigration Service policies that ignore America’s founding as a haven for religious dissidents, it is also true that this quintessentially bureaucratic institution would rapidly end its shameful bias against Christian refugee and asylum applicants if the truth about Christian persecution were widely known.
Fueled by powerful books such as Paul Marshall’s definitive study of worldwide Christian persecution, Their Blood Cries Out, a powerful American grass-roots movement now gathers growing force. It reflects America at its best and bids fair to forever change the nature of America’s human rights and foreign policies.
Congress will soon be involved in a great debate over whether to grant taxpayer-supported foreign aid to regimes engaged in “widespread and ongoing [acts of] abduction, enslavement, killing, imprisonment, forced mass relocation, rape, crucifixion or other forms of torture, or the imposition of systematic fines or penalties that have a confiscatory purpose and effect.” The debate will amaze Washington cynics by showing that American worshippers care deeply about the use of their tax dollars to persecuting regimes—that they have the will and capacity to trump the business lobbyists, Administration spokesmen, and foreign agents who now avidly seek to defeat the Freedom From Religious Persecution Act of 1998.
The 21st century must become a time when we listen to our better angels and understand history’s deepest lessons. Caring for those whose faith is based on the premise that all humans are equal in the eyes of a living, powerful God fulfills our moral obligation to protect vulnerable victims. It is also our best hope that our children will be spared the horrors of a 20th century whose worship of the God of Politics opened the door to the bloody regimes of Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, and other contemporary, anti-faith murderers.
This year, 1998, must be a year of history—a year in which lessons learned from the successful campaign against Soviet anti-Semitism will ensure hope and justice for all.
We dare not fail.