On Holy Thursday, the National Geographic Channel aired a three-part series about the rise of Christianity entitled “Jesus: Rise to Power.” For those of us who are familiar with the history of the period, it was a mixed bag. After all, how can you tell the story of Christianity’s “rise” without once using the word “resurrection”?
Still, one of the talking heads made a point well worth noting: many more Christians have died for the faith during our lifetimes than died for the faith between the first Easter and the A.D. 313 Edict of Milan, which ended Roman persecution of Christians.
A very sad example of this pattern took place this past week in Egypt. Coptic Christians protesting the killing of four Christians were attacked by a mob as they left a funeral at St. Mark’s Cathedral.
The mob “pelted them with rocks and firebombs and fired birdshot, forcing them back inside the complex.”
The police response, much like the Western media’s, was to treat the event as an example of “sectarian violence.” Thus, they “fired tear gas, and the gas canisters landing inside church grounds caused a panic among the women and children,” to the delight of the assailants outside the church.
Labeling this event and other attacks on Coptic Christians as “sectarian violence” is the worst kind of moral equivalence. Violence against Christian minorities in the Islamic world is endemic, from Nigeria to Pakistan. And this violence goes largely un-commented upon, except on those rare occasions when Christians tire of turning the other cheek. Then, the tired cliché “sectarian violence” gets trotted out.
What’s being labeled “sectarian violence” is actually an attempt by some Muslims in Egypt to make life so miserable for Christians that they’ll either convert or leave the country. For groups such as the Salafis, who are aligned politically with Egypt’s ruling Muslim Brotherhood, the very presence of Christians in Egypt is an affront.
Thus, while countries like Egypt may be notionally committed to religious tolerance, if not actual religious freedom, their ability and, arguably, their willingness to enforce this tolerance is doubtful at best.
A statement from Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi said that he regarded an attack on the cathedral as an attack on himself. But this leaves the lack of security at the cathedral and the firing of tear gas into the cathedral an even bigger mystery.
So is Morsi being disingenuous, or is Egypt, as presently governed, incapable of extending even the most rudimentary religious freedom to a population whose presence there long predates Islam?
A point made by “Jesus: Rise to Power” was that most of the persecution of the early Church was local in nature. With a few infamous exceptions such as Nero’s persecution and the Diocletian persecution of the early fourth century, Christians suffered at the hands of local officials and mobs. Little has changed in seventeen centuries.
A great deal of the ambivalence toward the so-called “Arab Spring” and the events in Syria comes from the concern over what will happen to the Christians in these countries. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein was followed, in very short order, by open war on Iraq’s ancient Christian community. The ouster of Hosni Mubarak has accelerated the attacks on the Copts. Who knows what might happen to Christians in post-Assad Syria?
While we may not want to prop up autocrats, we should have an ongoing concern not to make things worse for our already-suffering Christian brothers and sisters. And we must pray and speak out on their behalf. And that includes for Pastor Saeed, who has been wrongly imprisoned and physically abused in Iran for months. His wife Naghmeh joins me for an update on her husband on "BreakPoint This Week." To listen, go to BreakPoint.org and click on the "This Week" tab.
John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.
BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.
Publication date: April 19, 2013