Growing up Catholic in England, Candida Moss felt secure in life, yet was told in church that Christians have been persecuted since the dawn of Christianity. Now, as an adult and a theologian, she wants to set the record straight.
Too many modern Christians invoke, to lamentable effect, an ancient history of persecution that didn’t exist, Moss argues in her newly published book, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented A Story of Martyrdom.
Although anti-Christian prejudice was fairly widespread in the church’s first 300 years, she writes, “the prosecution of Christians was rare, and the persecution of Christians was limited to no more than a handful of years.”
We asked Moss, professor of New Testament and early Christianity at the University of Notre Dame, to talk about the travails of early Christians, and how they are misappropriated in the public sphere today. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Most people, Christian or not, know the story of the Good Samaritan. In it, a man, who is presumably an Israelite, is mugged on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. A priest passes by without stopping. So does a Levite. But then a Samaritan — someone who belongs to a radically different socioeconomic and cultural group than the Israelite — stops to help. This is Jesus’ vision for us as we answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?”
So it should shock us, surprise us, and sadden us, when we hear about tragedies like the shooting at the Sikh gurudwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. For the victims of such attacks — whether they are Sikh, Muslim, Hindu — are our neighbors too.
At the corner grocery in our Jabal al-Webdah neighborhood of Amman, a Syrian man in his early 20s now runs the meat and cheese counter. Ahmed (not his real name) is one of more than 150,000 Syrians who have fled to Jordan since his country’s violence began in March 2011.
Young males seeking to avoid mandatory military service are one of the largest groups leaving Syria.
Ahmed wires his wages to his family in Syria and calls them each evening to be sure they are still safe. “The situation inside Syria is even worse than reported in the news,” he laments.
A recent UNHCR report notes that, increasingly, Syrians are arriving in Jordan with only the clothes they are wearing and with few economic resources after months of unemployment.
This week, I and many U.S. Christian leaders signed on to a letter, concerning a re-introduced version of Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill, a bill which perpetuates some alarming and hateful language about the LGBT community in Uganda, and indeed, around the world. When it was originally introduced in 2009, it made homosexuality an act punishable by death. While the most draconian measures have been removed, the bill still calls for life imprisonment for people who are homosexual, and makes even discussions about sexual orientation illegal, stifling any opportunity to build a civil and constructive dialogue. How can we expect to come together to bridge the divides if we cannot even bring ourselves to sit down together and talk? What is even more heartbreaking, so surprising, is that Christian leaders in Uganda continue to support it.
What are we calling for in this letter? It is a simple message, and one that all who profess a Christian faith should be able to agree with:
All human beings have been created in the image and likeness of God, and Christ teaches that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. All acts of bigotry and hatred betray these foundational truths.
Just days before the country’s first democratic election (set for Nov. 28), 27 Coptic protestors were killed for demonstrating against the military’s recent burning of a Christian community center. And despite drawing global attention, which included anti-violence demonstrations in the U.S., Canada, and Europe, the Global Post reports that, "the demonstrations reflect mounting fears in Egypt’s Coptic community and its Diaspora that after the pro-democracy uprising of earlier this year the predominantly Muslim Egyptian society seems as indifferent to the Christian minority’s concerns as ever. “
For every American student, September starts a new year. September was a time to put away the suntan lotion and refocus on studies -- on more serious pursuits. Gone were the carefree days of summer, and in came the weather that lives perfectly in my memory -- those almost orange leaves, crisp blue skies, and the faint smell of autumn in upstate New York.
I remember it like this 10 years ago. Fourteen and gearing up for a Varsity volleyball season, I had it all. I had only one worry -- that my dad would forget to pick me up from practice, which he never did.
My class had just finished homeroom -- it was my friend's 15th birthday. I don't remember singing, but I'm sure we did. I moved into my world history class, I think we were on the Greeks. And then, it changed. My choir teacher rushed in and frantically told us to turn on the television. We saw the hallways fill with teachers.
I have gotten so used to stories of violence in the news every morning that I confess they don't move me as much as they should, or used to. Today: Three straight days of killing in Karachi with 42 dead; Syrian tanks shelling the city of Hama, where more than 100 people have died since Sunday; U.N. peacekeepers killed by a landmine in Sudan; daily deaths in Libya; bombings in Baghdad and assassinations in Kandahar. It goes on and on.
Hassan opened several letters and his eyes filled with tears as he caught the gist of the messages. "People were praying for us?" Hassan asked. "Thousands were praying all over the world," Andrew answered. "That explains it. There were times when I felt I couldn't go on anymore, and then I would feel a power beyond me as though there were others who were taking my suffering and carrying it for me." Andrew was moved by these words. "Hassan, that is exactly what happens. The scriptures say that when one part of the body suffers, all suffer. We are called to share in one another's suffering. When it is more than you can bear, there are others who, prompted by the Holy Spirit, pray for you and somehow remove some of that burden from you."
In that passage from Secret Believers, written by Brother Andrew and Al Janssen, Hassan represents a composite of thousands of Christians in numerous countries persecuted and imprisoned for no other reason than their faith in Jesus Christ.
For half a century the Dutch Christian called Brother Andrew has been ministering to persecuted Christians -- in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, China, and now the Middle East. I met Brother Andrew in Bethlehem, where he asked me to pray for him as he headed to Gaza. At a time when many Christians seem to view Muslims as the ultimate enemy, Brother Andrew sees them as God-seekers who need the love of Jesus manifested through his followers who extend the hand of friendship. He reveals his own sincere love for Muslims -- even extremists -- as he visits them, hears their anguish, and respectfully presents the living Christ to them.
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A recent U.S. Court of Appeals ruling, and the subsequent fallout here in New York, hits close to home for many of us New Yorkers. The ruling, which came down on June 2, allows for the city of New York to restrict religious groups from meeting in schools