Near the end of January, I attended a terrific conference in Framingham, Mass. concerning “The Persecuted Church.” When I say terrific, I mean the full riveting, appalling sense of the word. The speakers ranged from young participants of the “Arab Spring” protests to sage professors to political operatives, and each hammered home two distressing points: first that Christians are routinely harassed, intimidated and slaughtered across the Middle East and deep into African continent, and second, that Christians elsewhere are doing very little to help them.
As the conference progressed, it became evident that the prevailing narrative in our mainstream press and academia deliberately misrepresents the situation. History textbooks consistently fail to teach children about the scope of the early Church, which spread from Jerusalem across many continents with amazing rapidity. All Christians should know that there were many tribes and nations who embraced the Gospel, such as Egyptians, Persians, Arabs, Assyrians, Berbers. Many of these peoples are mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, and their ranks only spread and grew over the centuries. Thus, by the time that the Muslim invaders spread through Asia Minor and into Europe, they were attacking centuries-old institutions and native peoples long considered Christian.
The media builds on academia’s myopia in refusing to explain the nature of the “sectarian strife” currently found in the region. The premise offered is that Arabs are native to all of these regions, the lands are Muslim by nature, and that unnamed minorities are causing unrest. Only when one looks at the local [often “subversive”] accounts does one discover that Christians are being dispossessed or killed, Islamicists are waging the usual jihad, and those who try to tell the truth are harassed or silenced.
Surely, even the previous paragraph would be considered “hate speech” on any college campus and in many media outlets. Even the human rights activists so absorbed in Palestinian minutiae ignore the creeping genocide beyond that one place, and even western feminists curiously delight in the very “multicultural” display that marginalizes women and makes a mockery of their “right to choose.”
Sadly, in all the presentations I found two important elements missing that cannot be overlooked. Although Christendom spread widely in the earliest centuries, we have to acknowledge that this broad array of Christians fought constantly — not only over doctrine, which had to be hammered out accurately, but also over primacy and territory, which is a scandalous reality of all ages.
Secondly, and this is a more egregious point, there was no call to prayer. The activists lamented the lack of American support for their protests, which are without a doubt enormously courageous. The scholars called for a better vetting of textbooks and for students to publish papers so that the truth is more widely known. The political advisors stressed the need for stronger agitation in order to make our politicians aware of the real nature of the conflict.
All of these are valuable and practical steps, but they ignore the wider reality that this isn’t merely a matter of “human rights,” but part of the larger Christian narrative: “They will hand you over to persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name” (Mt 24:9). Prayer is needed now as much as ever, because our antipathy towards their persecution within the Mystical Body belies ignorance about our own inevitable challenges. Secular academies and governing bodies will be of very little help if we are inhibited from making the case for Christ and His redemption, for that truth alone will truly set us — and our persecuted brethren — free.
[The Anchor 1.27.12]