The Common Good
January-February 1998

Beyond Clan Politics

by Ron Dart | January-February 1998

A consistent stand against persecution.

The shocking, untold story of our time is that more Christians have died this century simply for being Christians than in the first 19 centuries after the birth of Christ. They have been persecuted and martyred before an unknowing, indifferent world and a largely silent Christian community. And as their suffering intensifies, our silence becomes more stark. —Nina Shea

Our modern media have, predictably, tended to ignore the mounting evidence of the persecution of Christians in various parts of our global village. The relative silence of the media about this grim reality speaks volumes about its many unexamined prejudices and deep delusions.

The fact that flares have been thrown up by conservatives on this pertinent issue need not deflect us from the epidemic. When the truth is not spoken by the media pundits, we should welcome with open arms those who come bearing the light. The timely publication this year of Paul Marshall’s Their Blood Cries Out: The Untold Story of Persecution Against Christians in the Modern World and Nina Shea’s In the Lion’s Den: Persecuted Christians and What the Western Church Can Do About It should be greeted with both gratefulness and caution. The conservative community, without much dissent, has lavished these books with many a garland of uncritical devotion.

Marshall and Shea and others involved in the "shatter the silence" movement have sounded the ram’s horn on the persecution of Christians, and this should alert us to our ignorance and apathy on these vital issues. But we need to ask why the persecution of some Christians is frontstaged, and that of others backstaged or ignored? Why are some places targeted and others forgotten? Is there an agenda at work beyond the mere description (selective, at best) of the persecution of Christians?

Marshall and Shea, rightly, highlight how militant and fundamentalist countries (such as Sudan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Nigeria, Iran, and Uzbekistan) and remnant communist countries (including China, North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, and Laos) persecute Christians; these facts should not be denied or rationalized. Soviet refusniks are legitimately offered praise for their valiant and courageous lives. But oddly enough, Palestinian Christians or Israeli prisoners of conscience such as Mordechai Vanunu are never mentioned in these books. Why is Israel never mentioned?

LATIN AMERICA, for the most part, is totally ignored, yet many of the martyrs to the south were also Christians. Does the fact that such Christians lean toward "liberation theology" exclude them from frontstage coverage? Surely the thousands of deaths in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua in the ’80s should receive some coverage. We might want to inquire further about the Irish Catholics or, equally disturbing, the fact that more than a third of the East Timorese people have been killed since 1975, but Indonesia (the largest Islamic state in the world) is scarcely dealt with.

I could, without much difficulty, continue with a litany of inconsistency by conservatives, in which the deaths of some are given greater attention and prominence than others. This does not mean the Left has been free from this sort of selective use of evidence. But as Christians we need to rise beyond the tribalism of Left, Right, or even "moderate center." When the blood of the martyrs cries out, we must allow all the martyrs to speak, not just the ones who pander to our ideological agendas.

We need also to ask how North American aid and trade ties (and the selling of weapons) to states such as China, Indonesia, and Saudi Arabia contribute to the persecution of Christians. Our hands, like those of Lady Macbeth, have blood on them—there can be no flinching from this reality.

If we ever hope to avoid being the dupes of a deep delusion, we need to step beyond the political tribalism that dominates much of the public square these days. True courage will mean refusing to play tricks with our conscience, a willingness to look at our vices, then in honesty leave such prisons behind. There is no doubt Christians are being persecuted, but we must walk the extra mile to allow all their voices to be heard. A genuinely prophetic stance will step beyond the politics of the clan, and only when this is done will true renewal breathe its healing and refreshing breeze across the land.

RON DART is a professor of political science and religious studies at University College of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, British Columbia, and former national religious communities coordinator for Amnesty International in Canada.

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