Open Doors, the watchdog organization that monitors Christian religious persecution worldwide, released their annual report on the 50 worst countries in the world back in January, but it’s only gotten some air time recently.
What kind of reactions?
Well, let’s look at an editorial that ran Tuesday in USA Today by Open Doors CEO David Curry with this attention-grabber of a headline: “Global Christian persecution is worsening while American Christian churches slumber.” It opened with the latest anti-Christian outrage in Nigeria, where 3,731 Christians were killed in 2018.
We usually don’t talk about opinion in these blog posts, but the complaint here is directly related to press coverage about persecution.
The bottom line: If people don’t know something’s happening, they can’t very well protest it.
If such violence had occurred in Nashville rather than Nigeria, it would dominate nightly news broadcasts and saturate social media feeds. American churches would be launching fundraising campaigns for victims’ families and addressing it in their weekly gatherings. In this case, however, the American church has barely acknowledged it. Unfortunately, when violence occurs somewhere “over there” instead of in our backyard, it is often dismissed as just another story. American churches must do better…
Yet the leadership of the American church, with its superpastors and megachurches, is whistling through the graveyard. The beast that we have created, which relies on upbeat music and positivity to attract donors to sustain large budgets, leaves little room for pastors to talk about the suffering of global Christians. Like most of the culture, the American church is more concerned about college entrance scandals and "Game of Thrones" than persecution.
Inoculated by entertainment and self-absorption, they are completely detached from the experience of the global church. The American church is feeding itself to death while the worldwide church is being murdered.
You can also substitute “American media” in there, too, although it’s accurate to note that most U.S. readers are notorious for not caring about international news. Christians are basically the same with the possible exception of news about Israel.
What the editorial is asking for is something on the line of what happened in 40 years ago when a quarter million people demonstrated in Washington, D.C., in December 1987 on behalf of Soviet Jews.
NPR documents how Washington Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson personally made the Jewish “refusenik” situation in Russia his personal concern. He singlehandedly pushed the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which denied Most Favored Nation trading status with the Soviets unless they released a certain amount of Jews. Also, whenever President Ronald Reagan met with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan would present Gorbachev with lists of names of jailed Soviet Jews.
Does anyone seriously think that President Donald Trump is doing that today with Chinese President Xi Jinping?
If you wish to read how saving Soviet Jews became such an enormous cause in the United States, click on this link. I think Curry is wishing a similar movement could spring up on behalf of tortured overseas Christians. I have a suggestion at the end of this piece that might help him.
Some media do cover the persecution beat. Back when the Open Doors report was released, the South China Morning Post (SCMP) ran a lengthy report on how the persecution of Chinese Christians is at its highest levels since the Cultural Revolution five decades ago.
Churches in Hong Kong are acutely aware of problems on the Chinese mainline and the SCMP runs stories about their concern. Back in December, worshippers wore black in support of the Early Rain Christian Church in Sichuan Province whose leaders were imprisoned.
Can you imagine that happening here? No.
On Tuesday, I noted that American media weren’t covering the enormous presence of Christians in the massive street demonstrations in Hong Kong these days, even though the movement’s chief anthem is a song composed in the United States during the 1970s Jesus movement.
As if they were listening, the New York Times on Wednesday ran a piece titled “With Hymns and Prayers, Christians Help Drive Hong Kong’s Protests.” It notes:
Christians have been a visible part of the protests this month — among the largest in Hong Kong’s history — providing food and shelter at demonstrations and condemning efforts by the police to break them up. Many protesters, even those who are not religious, have embraced the teachings and messages of Christianity to denounce a proposed law to allow extraditions to mainland China.
Protesters have spoken of “loving thy neighbor” and winning a battle of “good versus evil.” Youth groups have held prayer circles to call for peace and redemption for the police. A hymn called “Sing Hallelujah to the Lord” has become an unofficial anthem of the demonstrations, echoing from bridges and makeshift shelters…
And though Catholics and Protestants make up only about one in nine people in this city of 7.5 million, the influence of Christianity in the protests has been striking, providing a source of inspiration and solace….
The prominence of Christianity in the protests has lent legitimacy and protection to the protesters, helping them go up against government officials like Mrs. Lam who initially dismissed their demands and compared them to spoiled children.
Some protesters who gathered outside the local legislature were advised to sing hymns because religious assemblies are more difficult for the police to break up.
I hope Americans become a lot more interested in what happens in Hong Kong and mainland China. Most are not. The posts on international topics here at GetReligion rarely get comments or high readership — unless an active group (Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example) takes notice.
One outlet that is reporting on Christian persecution is the BBC, which came out with this report last month about persecution being at “near genocide levels.” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt (who is in the video accompanying this blog post) explains that political correctness is the reason so few wish to talk about it.
Mr Hunt, who is on a week-long tour of Africa, said he thought governments had been "asleep" over the persecution of Christians but that this report and the attacks in Sri Lanka had "woken everyone up with an enormous shock".
He added: "I think there is a misplaced worry that it is somehow colonialist to talk about a religion that was associated with colonial powers rather than the countries that we marched into as colonisers.
"That has perhaps created an awkwardness in talking about this issue - the role of missionaries was always a controversial one and that has, I think, also led some people to shy away from this topic.
"What we have forgotten in that atmosphere of political correctness is actually the Christians that are being persecuted are some of the poorest people on the planet."
An opinion column in the Guardian, however, said Hunt was merely posturing as the British government continues to do business with Egypt, China and Saudi Arabia, three of the biggest persecutors on the planet.
There is thoughtful journalism out there on the topic. Reflecting on the April 21 suicide bombings in luxury hotels and churches in Sri Lanka, the Atlantic recently said that Easter was fast becoming known as a day of massacre instead of resurrection.
The deadly bombings in Sri Lanka over the weekend follow a pattern of religious terror that has become grimly familiar around the world. The attackers targeted churches on Easter Sunday, when Christians would be gathered in large numbers and vulnerable during worship. They also chose crowded and exposed public spaces, including hotels likely to be hosting foreign tourists…
It’s only been two years since the Easter Sunday bombings at two Egyptian Coptic Christian churches that killed and injured dozens. Just a few years before that, Christians in Nigeria were killed on Easter by a suicide bomb. Easter is supposed to be a time of celebration, when Christians around the world gather to proclaim that Christ rose from the grave. Instead, it has become an anniversary of death.
Still, the imagination of the typical American is hardly moved by this.
I alluded, higher up in this piece, to how the movement to free Soviet Jews engaged so many Americans in the 1980s. One way they did so is that Jewish 13-year-olds, at their bar or bat mitzvahs, were paired up with a Soviet Jewish teenager who was forbidden to engage in a similar ceremony. These twinning programs gave American teenagers and their families an emotional connection to the Russians.
That emotional, personal, dramatic connection begat media coverage. The only parallel today is the distress of Assyrian Christians in the States who are trying to get persecuted Iraqi Assyrians out of the Iraq before the whole community is snuffed out.
I think media are generally willing to write about persecution if they’re approached in the right way. That’s how I began covering persecution of the Falun Gong in China when I was invited to a House hearing on the matter. There was a corps of people who really cared about what happened to imprisoned Falun Gong members. I can rarely say that about persecuted overseas Christians.