*Please note that the video referenced in the article is extremely violent, and should only be viewed by adults.*
Last week I saw something gruesome, but then something beautiful.
I forced myself to watch the execution of 21 Coptic men by ISIS members in Libya. It was one of the most nightmarish things I have ever witnessed. I did not do this because I relish violence in any way, but because I felt it was important to be reminded of what true persecution is. Contrary to the conception that I often hold, persecution is not when someone scoffs at my beliefs or smirks when I pray before a meal. That is “aggravation.” “Persecution” is someone pressing a knife to your throat because you follow Christ. And as much as it hurt my soul to watch that video, I needed that reminder.
But over the week that followed, I witnessed something truly beautiful take place. First, the Coptic church stood quickly in solidarity with their fallen sons. The men were officially canonized by the church as martyrs. One slain man’s brother thanked ISIS for including their final cries to Jesus in the video, saying that by doing so, ISIS had inadvertently “strengthened our faith.”
But these tributes were not limited to the Coptic church. From all around the world, Christians from diverse traditions stood in solidarity with those 21 men. Facebook and Twitter profile pictures were changed to the number “21,” honoring the 21 lives that were lost. Many Western evangelicals voiced their support, including Russell Moore and Ed Stetzer. Ann Voskamp wrote a powerful tribute and initiated a prayer campaign for persecuted Christians around the world. And Pope Francis gave this stirring statement:
“The blood ...1