Religious Freedom Is Not a Zero-Sum Game
Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Nina Shea have long experience in drawing attention to the widespread and increasing hostility that religious believers face across the globe. Between them, they have now written so many books, given so many talks, and appeared on so many radio and television shows that their newest contribution, Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians (Thomas Nelson) isn't just an isolated argument. It's a part of a movement.
The book focuses on Christians—and rightly so, they argue, because Christians are, by some estimates, the target of as many as 75 percent of the acts of religious persecution worldwide. But this is not an isolated argument. Nor do the authors make the mistake of imagining Christians are the only victims. In fact, their deliberate appeal to American Christians on behalf of Christians is every bit a strategy for combating persecution in general. Religious freedom is not a zero-sum game.
Part of the problem they are addressing is the persistent myth that Christianity is an essentially Western, or American, thing. But there are more Christians going to worship every week in China than there are in all of Western Europe. Slowly, painstakingly, we are awakening to the realization that Christianity is not, essentially, a Western thing (if it ever really was). If your game is Christianity, the action isn't in America. It's not even in North America.
The average Christian on the planet is likely a Brazilian or Nigerian woman or a Chinese youth. And nowadays, given where most of the world's Christians are, being a Christian, or becoming one, can be a very, very bad choice if peace and security are your goals. In an ironic inversion, the religion of colonialist oppressors is now, by far, the religion of the oppressed. This is why Cardinal Kurt Koch, president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Prompting Christian Unity, calls the increasing waves of global persecution against Christians an "ecumenism of the martyrs."
A Taxonomy of Terrible Crimes
The book is arranged by region, but also by what the authors describe as the three biggest causes of Christian persecution in the world today. First is the total political control exhibited by Communist and post-Communist regimes. During the glory days of these regimes, religious belief of all kinds was often systematically eradicated, and millions were killed. Today, detentions and killings still take place, but the regimes also avail themselves of newly realized technological powers of registration, supervision, surveillance, and control.
Second, there is the desire by some to preserve Hindu and Buddhist privilege, in evidence in South Asia. One must be cautious, when addressing large, global, and extremely diverse movements like Hinduism and Buddhism, not to over-generalize. But one must also be serious about acknowledging the existence of extreme Hindu and Buddhist movements that equate the boundaries of their religion with a national identity, and foment terrible religious violence.