For the last several weeks I have been reading alarming reports from Orissa, India, and now from northern Iraq. Canon Andrew White, an Anglican pastor in Baghdad, sent out a prayer alert with the title: “I didn’t think it could be worse, but it is.” He reports that Christians are being killed and are fleeing Mosul, ancient Nivevah. One report said that as Al Qaeda is being forced from Baghdad, they are moving north with increased anger and violence, which is being directed at Christians. The Chaldean Christian archbishop has been killed. My prayers surround these Indian and Arab brethren. This is the hardest kind of persecution. It is a severity many Christians don’t experience and consider with terror-filled thoughts. I call this persecution severe or “hot.”
History tells us that this severe persecution makes some believers more committed. Indeed, as Tertullian has written, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” But it is also true that many leave the faith or minimize their devotion to be safe.
A second form of persecution against Christ’s people occurs in nations and regions where governments are aligned with religions—most often, Islamic and Hindu-dominated cultures. It is also possible for governments to repress Christian faith, as evidenced this past summer in China. There, the government placed restrictions on the propagating of faith during the 2008 Olympics. This form of persecution is more moderate or “warm” persecution.
An example of this is the Abba Love ministry movement in Jakarta, Indonesia. Indonesia is the largest Muslim-dominated country in the world. While the degree of religious persecution differs regionally in Indonesia, some amount of repression is experienced everywhere. Abba Love Ministries has adapted the way they do church based upon this moderate persecution.
On any given Sunday, upwards of twenty thousand Abba Love Christians meet in fifteen worship locations throughout the Jakarta metroplex. The worship centers are rented, and range from space in business complexes to shopping malls. While these gatherings are public, they are also portable.
If the Muslim-based government represses Christians in one area, the Christians adjust meeting places. However, they know that persecution could become more severe. At present, there is a precarious balance between the government and the economic sectors that hold it in check. Many successful businesses are run by Christians, and to persecute them more violently would cripple the economy. If and when persecution moves from warm to hot, Abba Love Ministries is prepared to go underground.
The real strength of the movement are the 1,500 cell groups that meet throughout the metroplex. If the public worship services are shut down, the cell groups meeting in homes and offices will take even more leadership in nurturing faith and evangelizing. You cannot be in Abba Love without being in a cell group.
The third form of religious persecution is what I call sly and “temperate.” Most of the West falls into this category. In such areas, beneath the guise of religious tolerance, Christians are not overtly persecuted. Their meeting places are not closed; their lives are not at stake. Yet an insidious and demonic stupor represses believers. For instance, in my country, being a Christian is fine; however, being a fervent Christian is not. Often in such cultures, academia and media undermine Christian faith at nearly every turn.
One leading Christian stated that to talk about God at a party one time will result in sneers and turned backs. Talk about God a second time, and you will not be invited to the next party. This oppressive atmosphere shuts most Christian’s mouths when it comes to sharing faith as a way of life. We in the West try to adapt. We become educated and rich to gain approval. Or, we focus on deeds of compassion without accompanying verbal proclamation to be affirmed by the secular majority. Either approach makes Christian faith rather toothless and tasteless. I believe we in the West are perhaps most crippled when it comes to religious persecution, even though it is of only the temperate, but oh so sly, variety.
Join me in reading what the authors in this issue of LWP write about concerning Christian persecution. We need their instruction, and we need their courage. Our master declared that he was sending us out as sheep in the midst of wolves (Luke 10:3). He knew our plights; he faced them himself. But he also said, “…whoever is ashamed of me and my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory” (Luke 9:26). Hot, warm, or temperate persecution is not the real issue. Our response as Christ followers is.