In interpreting 21st Century religious conflict, newswriters might gain perspective from the bitter Christian schism by the 4th Century “Donatists.” These hardliners refused to recognize the validity of bishops who compromised in order to escape execution during the last wave of vicious persecution by the Roman Empire. That scourge lasted from A.D. 303 until Constantine became emperor of the West (312) and ordered religious toleration in the Edict of Milan (313).
Today, Christians are likewise debating what to do amid the killing, rape, kidnapping, torture and thievery aimed at them -- and others -- by a radical faction within world Islam. Muslim traditionalists insist this mayhem violates teachings of the Quran and of the Prophet Muhammad.
The Mideast dominates the sorrow and the news coverage, but Christianity Today correspondents Jayson Casper in Cairo and Tom Osanjo in Nairobi draw our attention to the African continent.
Case study: During those repellent beachfront beheadings, a Muslim advised a Christian friend named Osama Mansour to escape Libya by growing a beard, carrying a prayer rug and covering a Coptic tattoo on his wrist with a fake cast. Azar Ajaj of Nazareth Evangelical Theological Seminary said pretending to be Muslim was an ethical tactic because Mansour did not lie outright or deny his faith in Christ.
East Africa’s al-Shabaab gunmen have allowed people to escape death if they can prove they are Muslims by recitations in Arabic or answering such questions as the name of Muhammad’s mother. Since the Westgate Mall massacre at Nairobi, Kenya’s Christians have been boning up on Muslim trivia and sharing online tips about pretending to be Muslim in life-or-death emergencies.