The longer I have been involved in this ministry, the less I am inclined to use statistics. I made that fairly clear in an earlier blog this spring, which I would encourage you to read. The fact is, many of the statistics that are thrown around in religious liberty circles are difficult, if not impossible, to verify with confidence. This is not to deny to to minimize the extent of the problem. I am still absolutely convinced that religious persecution is the leading human rights abuse in today’s world. But I would rather that we, as an organization, say what we know to be true rather than to have our staff or volunteers quote statistics that are impossible to verify with greater certainty.
I did mention last spring that If statistics play any role, they tend to be in capturing the attention of the hearer/reader. One of our volunteers suggested that it has helps people see the magnitude of the problem. But, I noted, it often ends there too, as the large numbers tend to overwhelm, leaving one with a sense of hopelessness in actually being able to make a difference.
Recent studies seem to show just how true this is, suggesting that when we seek to overwhelm people with shocking statistics related to our cause, the only result is that people become overwhelmed. Eric Foley, my friend and colleague, address this in his recent blog, “The more who die, the less we care” citing a July 8 op-ed column in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof. Kristof points to studies that show that the larger the problem was perceived, the less inclined people were to help.
There’s growing evidence that jumping up and down about millions of lives at stake can even be counterproductive. A number of studies have found that we are much more willing to donate to one needy person than to several. In one experiment, researchers solicited donations for a $300,000 fund that in one version would save the life of one child, and in another the lives of eight children. People contributed more when the fund would save only one life.
Richard Wurmbrand knew this instinctively, I think. From the very beginning, our monthly newsletter has focused on telling the stories of the individuals who are persecuted rather than focusing on the masses. As a ministry, we need to make meaningful connections between Christians in Canada and those worldwide suffering violent persecution; putting a face on the figures, a story on the statistics, and a individual voice to the demographics. Only then, rather than having averting their eyes and hurrying away in the face of such overwhelming need, will people perhaps pause and realize that persecution impacts individuals lives that are not all that dissimilar to their own.