My mind and my soul, these days, are preoccupied with spiritual matters; and so I ask, "Will anyone speak up?" I have been looking for someone -- anyone -- with some national recognition to speak publicly about the growing persecution of Christians in the world. I'm not talking about just reporting the news; the facts about what is happening. That has been done, albeit with little call for action by fellow Christians. I am talking about someone to call attention to what all Christians should be doing in the face of the slaughter. There are many faithful bloggers who are alarmed and advocating for spiritual intervention. But I have found next to nothing from any National Voice. Sadly, I had to go back nine months to locate an article in The Daily Beast by Kirsten Powers, a political pundit who appears on Fox News, and has written for USA Today, Newsweek, and The Wall Street Journal.
In the past, I have found very little in common with Ms. Powers. We are on opposites sides politically, and disagree on just about every major social issue out there. But I am happy to say that we stand together on the deafening silence of the American Church when it comes to the widespread persecution of Christians.
All across the Middle East and Africa, armies of Islam are separating the Muslims from the non-Muslims. Those who are Muslim or can answer questions about Islam are allowed to go free. Non-Muslims are killed. In her 2013 article in The Daily Beast, Ms. Powers quoted Nina Shea, an international human-rights lawyer and expert on religious persecution. Ms. Shea testified in 2011 before Congress regarding the fate of Iraqi Christians, two-thirds of whom have vanished from the country. They have either been murdered or fled in fear for their lives. Said Shea: “In August 2004 … five churches were bombed in Baghdad and Mosul. On a single day in July 2009, seven churches were bombed in Baghdad … The archbishop of Mosul, was kidnapped and killed in early 2008. A bus convoy of Christian students were violently assaulted. Christians … have been raped, tortured, kidnapped, beheaded, and evicted from their homes …”.
All that was before the uprising of ISIL (or ISIS, if you prefer) in the last few weeks. In their drive to capture Baghdad, these Sunni Muslim terrorists have demanded that everyone convert to Islam "or face the sword". Horrifically, many Christians have held fast to their faith and paid with their lives. Yet, American churches and fellow Christians act as if it was happening to some alien group.
My fellow Christians, it is happening to our brothers and sisters in Christ! It is happening to the Body of Christ! It is happening to people who a part of us!
Lela Gilbert is an author who wrote a book titled Saturday People, Sunday People, which refers to an Islamic slogan which means “first we kill the Jews, then we kill the Christians.” In 2013, Gilbert wrote that her Jewish friends and neighbors in Israel “are shocked but not entirely surprised” by the attacks on Christians in the Middle East. “They are rather puzzled, however, by what appears to be a lack of anxiety, action, or advocacy on the part of Western Christians.” How much more shocked must they be a year or more later!
Think about it. American Christians and Churches have no problem getting involved when it comes to the immigrant children at the border, or helping those who have been devastated by natural disasters, or working to support missionaries taking the Gospel to foreign lands. I agree that these are absolutely all worthy causes, and we should be helping these people. Yet when it comes to acknowledging that our brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering, their voices are silent.
Perhaps the saddest picture of this silence comes from the efforts of Representative Frank Wolf, of Virginia, who wrote a letter to 300 Catholic and Protestant leaders complaining about their lack of engagement. “Can you, as a leader in the church, help?” he wrote. “Are you pained by these accounts of persecution? Will you use your sphere of influence to raise the profile of this issue—be it through a sermon, writing or media interview?” He received very few responses.
Then Wolf and Representative Anna Eshoo (CA) sponsored legislation last year to create a special envoy at the State Department to advocate for religious minorities in the Middle East and South-Central Asia. It passed in the House overwhelmingly, but died in the Senate. Did you even hear about it? Think about the effect we could have had if our legislators had heard from us; if our Churches had educated us about this important legislation? Oh, I forgot, they are all too worried about their tax status from the corrupt IRS.
In his letter challenging U.S. religious leaders, Representative Wolf quoted Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed for his efforts in the Nazi resistance: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” All Christians, whether in leadership roles or not, should take heed of Bonhoeffer's words and pay attention to history. The German Church ignored the growing persecution of Jews across Europe. They turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to it, and they did it at their own peril. In the end, the German Church was taken over by Nazi ideology and the blood of millions of Jews was upon their hands. The American Church is flirting with following the same path. Pastors must throw off the chains of government and speak out about the wave of persecution engulfing Christianity. The tide of torment is growing into a tsunami and history has shown us what can happen when such evil is allowed to foment unchecked.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a handful of pastors stood alone in the German Church. He came to America in 1939, hoping to escape the fall of his Church, gain strength from the American Church, and return to Germany to rebuild the Church from the ashes of war. But he soon became disillusioned with the American Church, writing: "I now wonder whether it is true that America is the country without a reformation? ... There hardly ever seem to be "encounters" [with God] in this great country. But where there is no encounter, where liberty is the only unifying factor, one naturally knows nothing of the community which is created through encounter." (As Bonhoeffer implies, are we so removed from the sufferings of our Middle Eastern brethren because our Freedom has insulated us against similar attacks? And how long is that protection going to last? The ISIL leader announced they're "coming to New York"!)
While attending an American church in June of 1939, Bonhoeffer wrote of the sermon, "Lively and original, but too much analysis and too little Gospel." What would he say today?? And again in June of 1939, he wrote about America: "The separation of church and state does not result in the church continuing to apply itself to its own task; it is no guarantee against secularism. Nowhere is the church more secularized than where it is separated in principle, as it does here. This very separation can create an opposition, so that the church engages much more strongly in political and secular things." (Think the gay marriage issue).
Now, in June of 2014, some 75 years after Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote those prescient words, we find the Church bearing the fruit of his prophecy. I fear that the Church no longer "applies itself to its own task". In Ephesians 4, God calls the leaders of the Church to "equip His people for works of service so that the body may be built up until we reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ."
Is the American Church building up the Body of Christ, which, by the way, includes Christians other than Americans? Have we reached a UNITY in faith with our Christian brethren throughout the world? Or are we sitting smugly and comfortably in our churches, whether small or large, and just taking care of ourselves? Those Christians dying in the Middle East and Africa are our FAMILY! Are you praying for their safety and protection? Are you personally feeling their pain and rejoicing when they stand against Evil and refuse to renounce our Lord? This should be the primary message coming from our pulpits! We shouldn't have to pass legislation to encourage our Leadership to advocate for our fellow Christians. This should be a calling upon the hearts of every Christian around the world!
In the end, I pray that more voices will be heard and more hearts will respond to the cries of our family in faith. Returning to war-torn Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer paid with his life when he determined he must fight Evil, rather than take the conciliatory path of his Church. My fellow Christians, will you follow the American Church and remain silent; or will you let your voice be heard in the heavens? May God forgive us for how far we have fallen as His Nation and His Church.
2 Corinthians 4:13 "And since we have the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, “I believed and therefore I spoke,” we also believe and therefore speak,"