As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10)
Large and small scale attacks happen daily to Christian communities around the world. On any day, somewhere around the globe, Christians experience a range of aggressions, including cultural hostility, legislated discrimination, physical assaults, and everything imaginable in between.
Often these stories are ignored by major news outlets — unless they are particularly dramatic or heinous. Given the immediacy of our own domestic issues, it’s understandable for much news of the persecuted church to flow past the Christian’s consciousness without really penetrating it.
However, the Easter Sunday massacre in Lahore, Pakistan, was different.
It was significant certainly for the loss of life and its singular expression of evil, but the Pakistan attack also was a living representation of a years-long international conversation surrounding those who identify with the name of Christ. Many in the human rights community see the Lahore attack as a turning point in global awareness of Christian persecution, functioning (in U.S. civil rights terms) as a Pakistani “Bloody Sunday”; for just a moment, the world’s eyes fell on Christians living under legislated Jim Crow-like oppression at the hands of both the Taliban and the Pakistani government.
Unprecedented Rise in Hostility Against Christians
The massacre came directly after successfully wrestling a genocide declaration from the U.S. State Department to describe what has unfolded among Pakistan’s nearby neighbors at the hands of the Islamic State. The Pakistan massacre, therefore, represented the intersection of several international conversations: terrorism, security, the global rise of radical Islamic groups, the ongoing refugee crisis, and of course the unprecedented rise of the slaughter of religious minorities, including Christians.
The Obama administration’s slow admission of genocide, which finally came just prior to the attack, was perceived as a major victory in human rights circles. It has set a precedent for discussion of crimes against Christians under assault in other regions, such as those perpetrated by Boko Haram in Nigeria, as well as the aggressions of the Taliban in South Asia.
The Islamic State garners major media attention due to its potential domestic security threat, its ravaging of the Middle East, and its role in causing the largest refugee crisis since World War II. The Taliban rose to notoriety for the attack against several schoolgirls in the Sewat Valley in 2012, wounding activist Malala Yousafzai and rocketing her cause for girls’ education to international recognition.
Meanwhile on the African continent, Nigeria’s Boko Haram continues to cut a path of fear and death across that region that makes the Islamic State look like boy scouts in comparison. At least two thousand women and girls have been abducted by Boko Haram since the start of 2014. Under all three, Christians are specifically targeted for forced conversion, and many have been sold into sexual slavery or forcibly used for jihad. In 2014 alone, there were 24-hour-a-day attacks on Christian communities and scores of church buildings destroyed. According to the International Organization for Migration, close to 2.1 million people have been internally displaced by the Boko Haram alone.
World-watchers continue to sound the alarm that we are in the midst of an unprecedented rise in global anti-Christian hostility, yet the plight of Christians in the midst of these conversations is too often overlooked — by Christians themselves.
We Are One Body
I have previously written on the impact of Christ framing us as his body. He has given us helpful and intentional language, since the health and disease of our physical bodies give us tangible and convenient ways to express what is happening in the body of Christ.
Apparently there is a condition called acute (or sometimes congenital) “analgesia,” where the patient remains ambulatory and able to function in everyday life, yet cannot feel pain — not cuts, not the breaking of bones, not even the failure of their own internal organs.
For an analgesia sufferer, all of life becomes a danger.
Perhaps we are like this. And as long as the body of Christ suffers from a spiritual analgesia and the pain of others does not penetrate our consciousness, our lofty preaching about the beauty and diversity of the body is reduced to rubbish. As gross injustices are perpetrated against our body in diverse places like Chibok, Garissa, Lahore, Damasak, Abuja, Aleppo, Cairo, Raqqa, Mosul, Zhejiang, the Kingdom of Saud, the prisons of Pyongyang and beyond, our souls should cry out at these atrocities.
Yet as long as our analgesia continues, we empty Martin Luther King’s words of their prophetic significance and become hypocrites when we utter them: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Stand and Face Outward
The grisly blast on Easter Sunday put the plight of Christian genocide in the international spotlight. For once, international secular media were there. Secular organizations were there. Foreign policy decision-makers were there. Global clergy were there. Our voices should number among theirs.
In this political and cultural climate, the church in the United States finds itself highly polarized. The church is in the midst of vigorous discussions concerning race, politics, ecclesial corruption, doctrinal purity, and more. Yet we must take care not to repeat history’s mistakes. The early North African church was divided against itself and debating internal theological points while Christians were being obliterated by those hostile to the name of Christ. We must guard against focusing inward at critical moments when we should stand and face outward. As one Protestant Syrian sister warned us in a meeting just a few weeks ago, “It was not ISIS that destroyed the Church in Syria; it was our divisions. Be careful; it can happen to you, too.”
To my African American brothers and sisters in particular, the global body of Christ longs for the day when our “we gon’ be alright” and our “how long, oh Lord” consciously include their struggle. God has given us a particular perspective on the discrimination and violence faced daily by global Christians. Our history as black Christians in America not only serves us; it also serves the body.
Internally focused discussions are vital to the health of the body of Christ. Yet in this new age of global anti-Christian hostility, there is a time and place for parochial conversations, and there are strategic times when we must put those conversations aside momentarily, pull together, and represent the larger body.
As lawlessness increases in the world, let us not be numbered among the many, as Jesus prophesied, whose love grows cold. As we deal with our local issues, let us keep our heads on swivel, remaining sober and alert to the world around us.
This unprecedented era for the global body demands no less.
Remember . . . those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:3)