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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

"The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution" by John L. Allen, Jr. Book Review

John L. Allen Jr.'s book "The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution" is required reading for all serious Christians, as well as anyone who cares about world peace and human rights. Christians are the most numerous among victims of those persecuted for their religious beliefs; "80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians" (9). Christians face persecution in more countries than the followers of any other religion (34). One estimate: every hour, every day, for the past decade, eleven Christians have been killed. Christianity in the Middle East is experiencing a genuine genocide.

Persecution includes harassment, second class status, denial of employment, individual exile, mass expulsion, imprisonment, torture, rape, crucifixion, and death.

"Does anybody hear our cry? How many atrocities must we endure before somebody, somewhere" pays any attention at all, asks the Catholic Patriarch of Jerusalem (15). "The world remains totally silent. It's as if we've been swallowed up by the night," says a Christian in Iraq (138). "The failure of Christian leaders in the West, and especially in the United States, to speak our more forcefully in defense of beleaguered Christians" is nothing short of scandalous (212).

John L. Allen works for CNN, the National Catholic Reporter, and National Public Radio. He is a superb writer and "Global War" is an excellent read. You may hesitate to read this book because you cringe from accounts of torture and other human rights abuses. Jettison that hesitation. I cried only once while reading this book. For the most part, Allen writes drily, e.g., "So and so was beaten, raped, and killed." He does not linger over the kind of poignant detail that would make this book a very difficult read exactly for the kind of compassionate person who needs to read it. You will be able to get through this important book. There are no graphic scenes of upsetting material.

Read properly, this book won't depress you; it will inspire you. The people in these pages are heroes of unimpeachable courage and faith. They prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it. There is no finer example than the Burundi seminarians. In 1997, African seminarians had taken an Easter retreat on the theme of Christian brotherhood. Shortly thereafter, murderous rebels invaded their seminary and demanded to know who was a member of the Hutu tribe, and who was Tutsi, with the intention of massacring the Tutsi. The seminarians and staff refused to say. They knew full well they all faced death for their refusal to give in to ethnic hatred. They were martyred.

Christians are the most persecuted persons of faith on the planet for a few simple, easy to grasp reasons. First, Christianity is the largest religion on the planet. Second, Christians live on all continents in significant numbers. Third, the ideologies most likely to oppress persons of faith, Islam and the Left, include overt, foundational doctrines opposed to Christianity in particular (Allen does not state this). Fourth, Christian doctrine itself, given its elevation of conscience and compassion over raw power, turns Christians into targets for oppressors. Fifth, the Christian practice of "turning the other cheek" encourages some to conclude that Christians will not cause any trouble to those who harm them. Sixth, Christianity suggests a supra-national identity as a Christian as something greater than ethnic or party affiliation; this threatens nationalists and totalitarians.

Allen amply documents the assertion that there is a global war on Christians with material from easily accessible and respected sources, including secular ones like the Pew Forum, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, and the US Department of Homeland Security. He uses statistics and case studies.

Allen cautions: there is no single enemy or remedy; concerned persons must not respond with sensationalism or violence. Allen thoroughly rejects scapegoating of any group, including Muslims; he honors Muslims who themselves have been martyred in defense of Christians. Members of any or no religion can persecute Christians, including Buddhists. Buddhist monks have participated in acts of violent persecution of Christians. Allen acknowledges that Christians can and do persecute other Christians. He tells the story of Maria Elizabeth Macias Castro, who exposed drug cartel activity in Mexico. In a very Catholic country, drug dealers killed her.

The stories Allen tells, without any hint of sensationalism or sentimentality, are extreme. In Egypt, Muslims pour sulfuric acid on Coptic Christians' cross tattoos in order to remove them. In Orissa, India, mobs carry out a pogrom of Christian homes. In Pakistan, a Christian faces death for drinking from a "Muslim" well. In Ivory Coast, two Christian brothers are crucified. In Afghanistan, a Christian is imprisoned for handing a Bible to someone.

Allen argues that in considering whether or not a victim can be counted as a victim of Christian persecution, one must consider the motives of the victim as well as that of the victimizer. Sister Dorothy Stang was murdered in the Amazon for helping poor farmers to resist land grabs by rich, powerful ranchers, and for raising awareness of the environmental price of deforestation. She read the Beatitudes, "Blessed are the peacemakers" to her killers.

Christophobes will inevitably argue that the persecuted deserved their fates. Nonsense. Christian martyr Shahbaz Bhatti "defended the rights of Hindus, Sikhs, and Muslims." He opened a free school with an entirely Muslim student body (91).

Allen's book ends with suggestions for action. Those concerned for persecuted Christians, Allen recommends, should pray, they should get the word out about persecution, they should come to realize that the Christian church is a global phenomenon, they should donate to existing charitable organizations and create their own innovative charities, they should involve their own political leaders, and they should aid resettled refugees. They should do all this in partnership and consultation with those being persecuted.

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