Sup­pres­sion of the saints

A mis­sion­ary’s re­turn to free­dom be­lies the wide­spread per­se­cu­tion of Chris­tians

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

An­drew Brun­son, the Amer­i­can Chris­tian mis­sion­ary im­pris­oned for two years in a Turk­ish prison, came home through the good of­fices of Pres­i­dent Trump to an air of cel­e­bra­tion shared by all Amer­i­cans. But it hardly hides the re­al­ity that per­se­cu­tion of Chris­tians has never been more wide­spread, or more se­vere.

The evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian mis­sion­ary was ar­rested on bo­gus charges over sus­pected links to po­lit­i­cal groups, in­clud­ing the banned Gu­lenist move­ment af­ter the failed coup at­tempt in 2016 against the Turk­ish Er­do­gan regime. Mr. Brun­son spent two years in Turk­ish pris­ons and did not waver in the faith.

But de­spite Mr. Brun­son’s cel­e­brated re­lease, for the third year in a row, the per­se­cu­tion of Chris­tians world­wide has hit an­other record. Ap­prox­i­mately 215 mil­lion other Chris­tians ex­pe­ri­ence high, very high, or ex­treme per­se­cu­tion with North Korea re­main­ing the most dan­ger­ous place to be a be­liever.

Is­lamic ex­trem­ism is re­spon­si­ble for ini­ti­at­ing op­pres­sion and con­flict in 34 other coun­tries. There is no equiv­a­lent counter move­ment by church groups in the United States and the West to op­pose it. Western re­li­gious faiths — Jewish, Catholic and Protes­tant — cher­ish tra­di­tions of tol­er­ance and good­will to­ward un­be­liev­ers that are not al­ways re­turned by oth­ers. In the West, per­se­cu­tion of Chris­tians is an anti-es­tab­lish­ment form but in Asia it is usu­ally led by dra­matic re­li­gious na­tion­al­ism and gov­ern­ment in­se­cu­rity. Tot­ter­ing gov­ern­ments try to gain sup­port by scape­goat­ing Chris­tians. Per­se­cu­tion in the top 50 most dan­ger­ous coun­tries has in­creased, with the most vi­o­lent oc­cur­ring in Pak­istan, sur­pass­ing pre­vi­ous higher lev­els in north­ern Nige­ria.

In the “Open Doors” 2018 World Watch List (WWL), an an­nual rank­ing of the 50 coun­tries where ap­prox­i­mately 215 mil­lion Chris­tians ex­pe­ri­ence high, very high, or ex­treme lev­els of per­se­cu­tion, one in two Chris­tians live where Chris­tian­ity is “il­le­gal, for­bid­den, or pun­ished.”

Is­lamic ex­trem­ism re­mains re­spon­si­ble for ini­ti­at­ing op­pres­sion, a part of the Mus­lim em­brace of shariah, or Is­lamic re­li­gious law. In Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity coun­tries shariah is usu­ally used to rad­i­cal­ize the so­ci­ety and cul­ture, or in coun­tries with a large Mus­lim mi­nor­ity, to rad­i­cal­ize the larger com­mu­nity. The Ro­man Catholic Church has sought to ne­go­ti­ate tol­er­ance from gov­ern­ments like the Com­mu­nists in China who pros­e­cute the re­li­gious, but par­tic­u­larly Chris­tians. Just how fu­tile such ne­go­ti­a­tions and agree­ments may be is that even as re­ports emerged that a long-awaited deal be­tween China and the Holy See was im­mi­nent in early Septem­ber, Bei­jing was shut­ting down Zion Church, a large house church in Bei­jing, and fur­ther tight­en­ing re­stric­tions on shar­ing re­li­gious ma­te­rial on­line. In fact, China is cur­rently en­gaged in the most se­vere crack­down on Chris­tians in decades.

Asia News, the of­fi­cial press agency of the Pon­tif­i­cal In­sti­tute for For­eign Mis­sions, re­ports that au­thor­i­ties have been burn­ing crosses on the bell tow­ers, re­plac­ing them with the red flags of China. Slo­gans prais­ing the Com­mu­nists and the val­ues of so­cial­ism have been splashed across re­li­gious build­ings, eras­ing sa­cred im­ages con­sid­ered “too Western.”

Per­se­cu­tion of Ti­betan Bud­dhists and Falun Gong prac­ti­tion­ers con­tin­ues, and in Xin­jiang up to a mil­lion Uyghur Mus­lims have been de­tained in “re-ed­u­ca­tion” camps, a crack­down in China’s most western ar­eas. Mus­lims are de­tained with­out charge, some­times for ac­tiv­i­ties as sim­ple as pray­ing, wear­ing Is­lamic cloth­ing, re­fus­ing to eat pork or drink al­co­hol, or ne­glect­ing to read the Ko­ran as of­ten as in­structed. Fam­i­lies of those sent to re-ed­u­ca­tion camps are not told where their rel­a­tives are be­ing held or when they will be re­leased. There is no ac­cess to le­gal coun­sel or the right of ap­peal.

Chi­nese Com­mu­nists have al­ways re­stricted re­li­gious ac­tiv­ity. In the first three decades of com­mu­nist rule re­sis­tance to the sup­pres­sion of faith was en­forced with vi­o­lence. Af­ter the death of Mao and over the next 40 years, the pol­icy has been one of con­trol rather than out­right re­pres­sion, and there were pe­ri­ods of re­lax­ation in some ar­eas. How­ever, Xi Jin­ping has pur­sued a se­vere crack­down on all hu­man rights, in­clud­ing re­li­gious free­dom, since he came to power in 2013. In March this year, it was an­nounced that re­li­gious af­fairs would now be “Sini­cized” by plac­ing the Com­mu­nist Party’s United Front Work De­part­ment in charge. Vi­o­lent en­force­ment of sup­pres­sion is likely to re­turn.

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