Religious Persecution of Christian Beliefs What is religious persecution? At the beginning of this project, I thought religious persecution was a black and white topic with a clear definition. I thought that religious persecution was simply the persecution of a group because of their religious faith. However, I discovered that there are no simple explanations of religious persecution, and it is a much more complex and controversial issue than I had imagined. In fact, some events categorized as religious persecution reveal only shades of grey and ambiguities and do not neatly fit this simple definition. I wanted others to come to this same understanding. Therefore, I have formulated my own definition of religious persecution. It is the persecution of individuals within a group in the struggle to maintain their religious identity, or the abuse of power by an individual or organization that causes members of a religious group to suffer.
In the case of the Holocaust, there is little argument about who created the extermination camps or what caused the death of approximately 6 million Jews. The Holocaust is probably the most well-known case of religious persecution. But my research shows that the persecution of the Jews extended well beyond simply targeting all the members of a particular faith. Instead, Hitler labeled the Jews as a race, and used his political power to exterminate the entire race.
While violence against Christians has been increasing worldwide, and while Christians in the East are becoming “an endangered species,” according to author William Dalrymple, attention to the crisis in the broadsheets and broadcasts of the West is “occasional and momentary” at best. No doubt this reticence must in part have to do with the West’s tendency to quarantine religion out of public discourse and concern.
The persecution of Christians lays a special injunction on the church in the West to examine modern paradigms and strategies for evangelism. Often Christian missionary approaches are founded on racial and religious assumptions that assign native populations and traditional cultures to an inferior status. The general premise is that prior to the arrival of Christian missionaries, people lived in a morass of darkness and depravity. This traditionally has been the basis for the almost-militant missionary scramble for native souls. Some U.S.-based Web sites include references to India as a “a land of 333 million gods” that is a virtual “Babel” linguistically and the self-identification of missionaries as “warriors of Christ,” “crusading” for the “lost” and “unreached.”
Such attitudes are deeply offensive to non-Christians and are ultimately counter-productive for the exercise of religious freedom. New and constructive understandings of Christian mission are in order. Otherwise, missionary activity can contribute directly, if unwittingly, to the persecution of Christians.
Many churches are from denominations that are members either of the mainline National Council of Churches of Christ, or of the conservative National Association of Evangelicals. Persecution was perceived to be a much greater problem by the evangelical pastors than by the mainline pastors. Among pastors within NEA-member denominations, 70% felt strongly that persecution of Christians is a major problem. This was true for only 37% of all pastors from NCCC-member denominations.
Pastors were divided over the issue of whether persecution of Christians is more severe than it is for many other groups. Forty-five percent of all pastors agreed with the statement “Persecution of Christians in the world is no worse than for many other groups,” while 55% disagreed with this statement. A majority of Democrats (72%), political independents (53%), and pastors from NCC denominations (66%) agreed with the statement, compared to a minority among Republicans (32%) and pastors from NAE-member denominations (29%).
Interestingly, a majority of ministers agreed with the statement “Persecution of Christians because of their faith is a major problem in the United States.” Sixty-one percent of all pastors agreed with this statement, although just 16% agreed strongly, while the rest agreed somewhat with the statement. Although Republicans (72%), political independents (60%), and evangelical pastors (70%) were more likely than other groups to claim religious persecution in the United States is a major problem, a significant proportion of Democrats (35%) and pastors from NCCC-member denominations (46%) also agreed with the statement.
More Christians have died for their faith in the 20th century than in the previous 19 centuries combined. Each year, about 150,000 are martyred, two million are being actively persecuted, and millions more are living with their religious freedoms severely restricted. Religions make claims about the nature of the world, the origin of man, the means of salvation, and so on. The Constitutional freedom of religion gives citizens the right to believe these claims, and freedom of speech gives them the right to make these claims publicly. Freedom of religion is not a prize for governments to award individuals who uphold officially approved beliefs or acceptable religious practices; freedom of religion is a universal human right.
McClare, Scott. “Dead Ron Day” Religious Freedom is not the Issue
(26 Jan. 1998)
Flanagan, Gregory. “Is Christianity a hate crime??” Liberation Journal December 3, 1999
Flanagan, Gregory. “Examples of Anti-Christian Persecution” Liberation Journal Aug.23, 2001
O-Hara, Ninie. “Hate crimes also target Christians” Lexington Herald-Leader October 8, 2000