Pope Francis met with refugees and leaders of religious faiths including Christians, Jews, Muslims, and Hindus who joined him for a day of prayer for peace in Assisi, home of his namesake, the 12th-century friar St. Francis.
But it was the migrants he invited to join him for lunch on Sept. 20 who captured the headlines and illustrated the tangible impact of war and conflict.
I want to encourage us to consider the ways we can engage our neighbors beyond an effort to provide a sense of comfort or peace. I believe we are called, in whatever small way we can, to not only accompany them in their grief, but also to acknowledge, validate, and recognize the injustice or atrocities that occur — and to seek to take action to address this within our own sphere of influence.
THE BASILICA OF St. Bartholomew on the Island in Rome holds the bones of the apostle St. Bartholomew, who delivered the gospel of Matthew to India, southern Arabia, and Syria. Spreading the seditious good news eventually got him killed—crucified upside down in Baku, capital of modern Azerbaijan. Bartholomew proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus until the soldiers cut off his head.
In 1999, this church nestled on an island in the Tiber River was dedicated to modern Christian martyrs. Entering its cool interior, one can walk a global Via Dolorosa—each side altar is dedicated to parts of the world where Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox have been killed for their faith.
The relics include a letter from Franz Jägerstätter, the Austrian farmer beheaded for refusing to serve in Hitler’s army, and the missal of Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero left on the altar when he was assassinated during Mass in 1980.
Christians today fall out over Christian martyrs and persecution in a right/left divide. We fight about numbers. In 2015, Christian Freedom International released an often repeated statistic suggesting that Christians are “martyred for their faith every five minutes.” This has been widely debunked. But it raises questions about definitions, methodologies, and theological perspectives.
Thomas Schirrmacher directs the International Institute for Religious Freedom, which runs a research project with several universities to measure Christian persecution. He estimates that there are 7,000 to 8,000 Christian martyrs each year, a number that roughly matches the Open Doors World Watch List, which reported 7,106 Christians killed in 2015, an increase over previous years and far less than one Christian every five minutes.
As many Christians sat down Sunday morning to celebrate Easter, a suicide bombing targeting Christians halfway across the world in Lahore, Pakistan killed 72 people and injured at least 320. Right as American Christians were shouting, “He is risen, Alleluia!” an entire city cried out in horror and mourning. As American children hunted Easter eggs, a bomb exploded into Pakistani children visiting a neighborhood park.
A Muslim man who shielded Christians after a passenger bus was ambushed by suspected al-Shabab militants is being saluted as a symbol of unity. Salah Farah, a schoolteacher, died Jan.18 in Nairobi, where he was airlifted after being shot in the arm and hip when he resisted militant demands that he identify Christians on the bus during the December attack.
IN 1900, 1 percent of Korea’s population was Christian. By 2010, roughly 3 in 10 South Koreans were Christian, including members of the world’s largest Pentecostal church, Yoido Full Gospel Church, in Seoul. The faith has exploded, and so now have the questions.
Each of the past several summers in Washington, D.C., I’ve met with 50 young Christian leaders from South Korea to discuss biblical social justice as it applies to their Korean context and perspectives on our shared Christian faith. They highlighted challenges they face, such as confusing financial and church growth with God’s favor; the stress that youth face in their ambition for a viable career; and the roles sometimes assigned to women and men in both church and society.
They also posed a critical question: Do you think of yourself as a Christian first or an American first? Out of our deep exploration came three convictions: First, national identity can be a deep blessing, but it cannot be our primary identity. Second, discussion works best without immediately judging our priority lists or our neighbors’ lists harshly. Third, the order of our lists should never be the cause of harm.
These rich dialogues with Korean faith leaders set the stage for an unusual opportunity: attending the Global Forum for the Future of World Christianity held on Jeju, the politically contested island off the coast of South Korea.
It would be nice to consider emigration as a realistic option. But it is not. I would suggest pundits spend that same time and money fighting for a clear and concrete objective, declaring and defending a safe haven on the Nineveh Plain for Christians, Muslims, and Yazidis.
Yes, there are some high-risk situations that demand emigration. But, in general, Western Christians should think hard about how not to be an accomplice to ISIS.
Each day, children on their way to Mount Carmel School pass through gates under the watch of armed security guards, and now city police officers who stop there on government orders after a nearby Catholic convent and school were broken into.
The vandals stole money, tampered with security cameras, and ransacked the principal’s office on Feb. 13.
The crime itself was relatively minor, but it rippled through other Christian schools. The attack was the sixth this year in an ongoing series targeting Christian communities and schools across India.
Basima al-Safar retouches a picture of Jesus on an easel outside her house overlooking the flat Nineveh plains, 30 miles north of Mosul.
The murals she paints tell the story of her people, Christians in Iraq. But with Islamic State militants nearby, she is worried that life in Alqosh and towns like it could soon come to an end.
The Assyrian Christian town of around 6,000 people sits on a hill below the seventh-century Rabban Hormizd Monastery, temporarily closed because of the security situation. Residents of Alqosh fled this summer ahead of Islamic State militants. Around 70 percent of the town’s residents have since returned. Still, a sense of unease hangs in the air.
Below the monastery in the boarded up bazaar a lone shopkeeper waits for customers. At the edge of town local Christian fighters staff lookout posts, checking for danger. With Islamic State fighters just 10 miles away, these men and most residents of the town are scared that they may have to flee again.
A new institute in Jerusalem has been awarded $2.2 million to help Christians and Jews study Jewish texts, launching what’s being billed as a new kind of Jewish-Christian cooperation.
The Herzl Institute was awarded what’s being called the first ever multimillion-dollar grant in Jewish theology by the U.S-based Templeton Foundation, a philanthropic organization that has focused much of its giving on science-related projects. The Herzl Institute is a research institute that focuses on the development of Jewish ideas in fields like philosophy and history.
The institute is named for Theodor Herzl, considered the father of modern political Zionism, ideas that have found much support from conservative and evangelical Christians in the U.S.
Jewish and Christian collaboration has often been relegated to the political level, said Herzl President Yoram Hazony. The partnership reflects a new kind of engagement between Christians and Jews, he said.
We met over email in the spring of 2012. I had just co-launched a literary blog and our mutual friend introduced us as fellow writers. Stephanie and I immediately hit it off. Not only was she a gifted writer, Stephanie and I shared a similar sense of humor and sensibility. As we got to know each other and began to write with each other, we discovered a ridiculous number of similarities and common points of interest, including and especially, our shared Christian faith. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, it was as though every other email was a “you too?” moment.
Then one day I wrote a piece that indicated my progressive political leaning. The 2012 presidential election was heating up and though the piece was not overtly political, it revealed my beliefs. Stephanie, it turned out, was a conservative.
This news wasn’t really a big deal to me — I am used to have friends and family who have different political beliefs, and I even got my first start in the blogging world as the token “progressive” Christian through a conservative friend’s blog. But things were getting heated with the election and we didn’t know each other that well.
Stephanie and I began to email back and forth about politics through the lens of faith, which tested whether we were Christians or ideologues first. We shared two things in common in holding our different political beliefs because: 1) we had both thought a lot about them, and, 2) shockingly, neither of us had an interest in destroying America. Eventually Stephanie and I decided to co-write a bipartisan series for our website, looking at partisanship through the lens of faith (summary: love for Jesus makes for fertile common ground).
After the election it was hard to ignore the mix of apocalyptic expressions of woe and the tone-deaf exclamations of victory. Each came with its own vilification of the other party. I found myself at parties with fellow progressives defending conservatives because the caricatures of them were plainly wrong, and I would be hurt if Stephanie didn’t defend me against caricatures of progressives.
After he said “Christians have no greater ally than Israel,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was heckled off the stage at a Sept. 10 gala to raise awareness of beleaguered Mideast Christians.
Cruz, the keynote speaker at the Washington, D.C., dinner, sponsored by In Defense of Christians, a new organization spearheaded by Catholic and Orthodox Christians, prompted boos and cries of “stop it!” and “enough” and “no!” as an increasingly louder crowd told him to get off the stage.
The incident, first reported by the online news organization The Daily Caller, was captured on video by EWTN, the Catholic television network. The video shows that Cruz tried to continue speaking, but many in the audience, in a hotel ballroom, expressed anger when he included Hamas in the list of militants out to destroy religious minorities in the Middle East.
Iraq’s Christians are begging the world for help. Is anybody listening?
Since capturing the country’s second largest city of Mosul in early June, the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, has ordered Christians to convert to Islam, pay taxes levied on non-Muslims, or die. The extremist Sunni group is also persecuting and murdering Turkmen and Shabaks, both Muslim religious minorities.
Human rights lawyer Nina Shea described the horror in Mosul to me: “[The Islamic State] took the Christians’ houses, took the cars they were driving to leave. They took all their money. One old woman had her life savings of $40,000, and she said, ‘Can I please have 100 dollars?’, and they said no. They took wedding rings off fingers, chopping off fingers if they couldn’t get the ring off.”
“We now have 5,000 destitute, homeless people with no future,” Shea said. “This is a crime against humanity.”
For the first time in 2,000 years, Mosul is devoid of Christians. “This is ancient Nineveh we are talking about,” Shea explained. “They took down all the crosses. They blew up the tomb of the prophet Jonah. An orthodox Cathedral has been turned into a mosque. … They are uprooting every vestige of Christianity.” University of Mosul professor Mahmoud Al ‘Asali, a Muslim, bravely spoke out against the Islamic State’s purging of Christians and was executed.
We’re headed home from Wild Goose Festival, a gathering of artists, activists, musicians, and theologians, in Hot Springs, N.C. It was hot, rainy, and messy. My suitcase smells like my fifth grade gym locker.
I can’t wait to go back next year.
The speakers are remarkable; many of them are walking the talk they’re offering, which is an unfortunately rare phenomenon. The music is fresh and exciting, the art is created before your eyes, and there is an energy of hopeful expectation that renews your soul, flushing out the broken-down-ness of daily life.
But the most important part of the whole four-day event lies in the unexpected moments. Sometimes I would walk along the main dirt road in the middle of the grounds, lined with tables, tents, and makeshift gathering spaces, until I saw something interesting going on and just joined in.
In one moment you’re debating the theological implications of the American food-industrial complex. Half an hour later, you’re laughing with new friends in the beer tent. And then, just when the sun sets and you’re sure you lack the fortitude to go one any more, the music on the main stage cranks up and the very earth beneath you vibrates.
Despite progress in defeating extreme global poverty, most Americans see no end in sight, according to a survey sponsored by Compassion International.
Christians who attend church at least monthly and consider religion very important in their life overwhelmingly (96 percent) expressed concern about the world’s poorest people. But they were skeptical that global poverty could be ended in the next 25 years. Only 41 percent of the group said it was possible.
And yet Scott Todd of Compassion International, the Christian nonprofit agency that sponsors 1.5 million children abroad, remains upbeat. He sees hope in the numbers of “practicing Christians” who express concern about poverty and a willingness to do more.