Sunday, August 16, 2009

Protesting persecution

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 publicchristian_protest 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.

boy_with_crossDon’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.


Arla M. said...

Today I listened to a sermon on the good Samaritan. Samaritans and Jews were enemies, and yet this Samaritan treated the injured Jew like a brother. We are brothers and sisters in the family of God. What an awesome position to be in. We have people near us and around us who are trouble-makers because they themselves are troubled. I agree, that the best we can do is befriend our enemies, and be kind to them. That is about the only way they will see Christ. Isn't that what our lives as children of God are all about?

Paul B. said...

I believe your concerns are very well-founded. First, there has been a sickening amount of brutal persecution reported in recent months, from this layman's perspective.

I feel in my gut that protesting is quite called-for. But the key is that the protests must be done from the moral and spiritual high ground. The idea is to appeal to conscience. The consciences of the guilty must be stricken, and the conscience of the culture must be awakened.

That is not going to happen if the protestors get down to the level of their opponents and merely vent human emotion (as understandable as that is, man's wrath does not outwork the righteousness of God, Scripture tells us, and we have to get over our emotions).

But if we take a balanced approach - turn the other cheek (act non-violently and show an excellent spirit) even as we bear witness to the wrong (for if we didn't do that we would be *guilty* of suppressing the truth) - I think we gain the sympathy of an awful lot of onlookers, and not only win much-needed concessions for our people, but advance the reputation of the Gospel as well.

Be blessed,