In the last couple of months, we have seen what seems like an unusually high number of cases of extreme violence against Christian believers, particularly in India, Pakistan, Egypt, and Nigeria. Following each incident, I have been struck by the call to public protests by church leaders in each of these countries. As we approach the first anniversary of the terrible eruption of violence against Christian in Orissa on August 24, I am sure that more protests will be held there and abroad, demanding protection and equal rights for religious minorities in India. This call is to be understood and even applauded. I do wonder from time to time, however, if sometimes these events don’t actually result in heightened tensions in local communities and may not be exactly the best way to respond to violence especially when I see angry faces, shouting, and the waving of fists in the air. Somehow I just have a hard time seeing Jesus at such an event. But maybe that’s just me.
Don’t misunderstand me. I am not ruling out the value of public protests across the board. But for many groups here and abroad, it tends to be their first and primary response. The underlying assumption seems to be that the solution to the “persecution problem” lies in the hands of government. Now, there is a “Constantinian” presumption if there ever was one! For the Bible believing Christian, we know that persecution is an inevitable, normal, and expected result of following Christ faithfully. Hence, we should urge government to act justly towards all of its citizens, but we should not expect that the ultimate solution of religious persecution lies in their hands.
But if we are going to protest, either in a rally or through advocacy, I do believe that we need to keep these words in mind that I wrote a year ago:
VOMC founder, Richard Wurmbrand, once spoke at a Christian rally. He asked those in attendance why they were protesting against those whom they opposed. Rather, he said, they should be inviting them into their homes for a warm meal. Their friendship would speak louder than bullhorns.
Jesus did give His followers a most unusual command on how to deal with enemies; they were to love them and do good to them (Matthew 5:44). Not exactly the most strategic way of doing advocacy, some might argue. But advocacy, as important as it is, is not the first call of the Christian. Yes, we are to raise a voice on behalf of our suffering brothers and sisters, but not at the cost of neglecting the call to actively love those who seek our harm.
Our letters of protest, our blogs, our rallies; they must not be marked by hatred or a lack of respect. This is a fine line that is so easy to cross. It seems to me that it would be better not to protest if we cannot hold on to love and concern for those who seek to take away our freedoms and those of our family around the world.
I thank God that one of the priorities of The Voice of the Martyrs is our commitment to reach out to those who persecute the Church with the Good News of Jesus Christ. In projects in the Middle East, Colombia, Sri Lanka, and elsewhere, we are working with local believers in supplying them with literature specifically geared for reaching those who are opposed to the gospel. And to the glory of God, many are responding to this act of love with faith.
In short, let’s be sure that in our protesting that we do not neglect the weightier responsibilities of loving, praying, and reaching out to persecutors. Of course, we must not be naive about this and think that any of this will be easy. But I believe this is the response that God will ultimately hold us responsible for.