By Janet Epp Buckingham – Originally published on Evangelical Focus
For Christians around the world, August 22 should become an important day on the calendar. It is the International Day Commemorating Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief.
We receive reports of violence against Christians from many parts of the world on a regular basis. Almost every week, somewhere in the world, we hear of churches being burned or desecrated, Christians being jailed or killed, and people having to flee from their homes because of their faith.
The mob violence against Christians that occurred in Jaranwala, Pakistan on August 16 is a horrifying example of this type of violence. Two Christian Pakistani brothers are being held on blasphemy charges after pages of the Quran with derogatory comments were found in the street. Some think that the supposed blasphemy may have been staged and the brothers falsely accused as a pretext for mob action. In any case, the allegation sparked 10 hours of violence against the Christian minority, with churches and homes being burned. Christians had to flee for their lives and spent the night hiding in nearby fields.
The global church should be lamenting, praying over, and doing something about these and similar atrocities. They are uncomfortable things to talk about in worship services. But it is even more troubling if Christians who can worship freely do nothing for their brothers and sisters under strain.
I recently heard the testimony of Jalna, a young woman in a sensitive Middle East country. Raised in a strict Muslim family, she came to know Jesus through a friend. When her family found out, they confined her to her room for eight years! Her friend could occasionally pass a Christian book to Jalna through a bedroom window. Whenever her family found out, they beat and kicked her. It was a relief when her family finally disowned her and she could freely practice her faith, at least in the privacy of her room.
Pastor V serves in a sensitive East African country. His entire church leadership was arrested 20 years ago and held in jail without charges. He has experienced solitary confinement in an underground cell. Half of his church was arrested again three months ago, but most have been released. He leaves his home between 5:00 and 8:00 a.m. every day “because that is when the police come to arrest you.”
Speaking up in Nigeria and India
The World Evangelical Alliance regularly raises issues of freedom of religion and belief (commonly known as FoRB) with the United Nations in Geneva and New York. For example, we recently submitted a report to the United Nations concerning Nigeria, the country with the highest number of documented victims of violence based on religion. The Observatory for Religious Freedom in Africa, which is affiliated with the WEA’s International Institute for Religious Freedom, also submitted a report on Nigeria. The reports document the deaths of over 5,000 Christians in one year! Thousands more have been internally displaced and live in refugee camps.
It is important for national and local bodies to speak up. One of our strong national alliances, the Evangelical Fellowship of India, has issued a statement on the violence in the Manipur region of India. However, this violence has continued to escalate and there have even been reports of the beheading of Christians, accompanied by video and photographic evidence.
In Nigeria, India, and around the world, we must stand with the victims of violence and their families—and not only when the victims are Christians. We have also expressed concern over Uighur Muslims in China, Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and Yazidis in Iraq who were violently displaced from their homes and homelands.
One convenient way for churches to promote meaningful action on behalf of FoRB is to highlight the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, which the WEA will hold this year on November 5 and 12. Material will be available in multiple languages at IDOP.org. The theme for this year is “Struck down but not destroyed” from 2 Corinthians 4:9. Some churches recognize International Religious Freedom Day, which will be on October 27.
75 years of Human Rights Declaration
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 18 of the UDHR provided the foundation for the international standard of freedom of religion or belief. The WEA works daily toward achieving a world where Article 18 is respected and religious adherents no longer have to fear acts of violence based on their beliefs.
We urge evangelical Christians around the world to stand with victims of violence based on religion. We further encourage churches to plan now for the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.
Janet Epp Buckingham, Director of Global Advocacy for the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA). She is also Professor Emerita at Trinity Western University with expertise in religious freedom.