Why Christians need to understand religious persecution, by David Daniels, ChristianWeek Columnist

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October 14, 2009

It is hard, given the unparalleled freedom we enjoy in Canada, to truly understand the difficulties citizens face in restrictive societies. This is particularly so in the case of religious persecution.

Though religious repression and persecution are not limited to any specific faith group, the International Institute for Religious Freedom estimates that Christians comprise 75 per cent of all people experiencing religious persecution in whatever form it takes. If that figure is anywhere near accurate, a better understanding of the problem and its implications is critical for Christians everywhere.

The IIRF, an arm of the World Evangelical Alliance, is "a network of professors, researchers, academics and specialists from all continents, which work on reliable data on the violation of religious freedom worldwide." It aims to see religious freedom issues added to higher education programs, particularly in the disciplines of law, sociology, religious studies and theological programs.

The Institute's ambitious aims include publishing long-term, citable literature; providing guidance for teaching and studying religious freedom to Christian and secular universities, seminaries and Bible colleges; developing groundwork studies into the legal aspects of religious freedom; developing a body of theological literature addressing ethics, human rights and persecution; and establishing an international archive of material on the subject.

For those seeking deeper understanding of these issues, the Institute's online home will provide a remarkable resource of substantial literature—much of it freely available for downloading and studying.

In an attempt to provide a "scholarly discourse on the issue of religious freedom in general and the persecution of Christians in particular," the Institute is producing the Religious Freedom Series. These are book length treatments of various themes concerning religious freedom and persecution. Five volumes have been published, and at least three titles are freely available online:

Human Rights: A Christian Primer, by Thomas K. Johnson (World Evangelical Alliance, 2008), examines human rights under five major headings: Why Talk about Human Rights?; Human Rights and the Human Quest; Rights, Religions and Ideologies; Human Dignity and Rights: My Christian Perspective; and Protecting Human Rights in Practice.  

Through a series of biblical studies, along with moral and philosophical analysis, Johnson provide a straightforward, accessible treatise designed to call Christians to make human rights an important aspect of their public witness.

Thomas Schirrmacher's May a Christian Go to Court and other Essays on Persecution vs. Religious Freedom (World Evangelical Alliance, 2008) is an illuminating study of a perennial question faced by Christians the world over. Schirrmacher examines several critical themes. For example, his first essay asks whether or not the fight against persecution of Christians solely benefits Christians, responding with the premise that the cause of religious freedom should be a central political issue for everyone.

His second essay discusses the imperative that missions be ruled by sound ethics—an evangelical code of ethics—in its high calling to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ worldwide. Other essays address persecution, the interface of human rights and the Christian faith and how far the Church's social ethic should reach.As minarets continue to sprout across the Canadian landscape, Islam and Society by Christine Schirrmacher is sure to be of interest to many Canadian Christians. In 13 chapters, readers learn of the unique challenges posed by Muslim immigration, look at whether or not Islam is truly a religion of peace, gain insight into how Muslims view Christians and learn the meaning of terms such as Fatwa, Sharia and Jihad.

As with most religions, Islam is not a monolithic system, and the two major groups within the religion—Sunni and Shiite—are compared and contrasted. Also covered are topics concerning the place of women in Islam and the "mission" of Islam as its adherents move throughout the world.

Christians face significant challenges as they seek to live godly lives in a world at odds with the God of the Bible. We remember the words of our Saviour: "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first….Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also…." (John 15:18,20a NIV).

Where possible, Christians should work to reduce and remove all forms of religious persecution. To do so effectively demands being informed of persecution's presence, nature and implications. The International Institute for Religious Freedom is a great starting point for preparing yourself to make a difference.

Recent articles on this topic:

Church unites to pray for Christians in peril 

Pakistani Christians bludgeoned by blasphemy law 

Our suffering brothers and sisters