Updated: January 18, 2014 6:13AM
In the coming days we’ll hear many times the story of the birth of Christ with its inspirational meaning for the faithful and the world. Here’s a story not so uplifting, but horrific: Jihadists in Syria slit the throat of a Christian and told his fiance, “Jesus didn’t come to save him.”
That report from the Washington-based Christian Post is a reminder in this Christmas season that Christians are persecuted in more than 60 countries, according to Open Doors, an organization formed to aid oppressed Christians around the globe.
It will come as no surprise that the No. 1 persecutor of Christians on Open Doors’ list is the brutal regime of North Korea, where all religion is outlawed. Christians are jailed, tortured and executed. One prison camp alone houses 6,000 Christians.
Many of the worst places are Islamic countries. That would include Afghanistan and Iraq (No. 3 and 4 on the Open Doors list), where thousands of Americans died in the cause of fighting terrorism and expanding freedom and human rights.
In Afghanistan, Christians can’t meet in public and, according to the understated words of Open Doors, “even gatherings in private houses require extreme caution.” Despite more than a decade of war, the Taliban is regaining strength and vows to purge Christians from the country.
The so-called “Arab spring” and the strife in the Middle East have only worsened the violence for Christians. As I’ve noted in previous columns, tens of thousands of Coptic Christians have been literally running for their lives to escape death, torture and riots in Egypt.
The civil war in Syria descended into sectarian bloodletting between Sunnis and Shiites but “some of the worst atrocities” have been committed against minority Christians, writes Raymond Ibrahim, who regular reports on Christian persecution for the Gatestone Institute.
Ibrahim’s recent postings about Syria included accounts of the murder of four sons of a Christian priest, of jihadists firing rockets and mortars on ancient churches, of 80 Christians killed defending their homes, and of a fatwa issued by Islamic “scholars” legitimizing “the right of the faithful Sunni Muslims to seize and take possession of goods, homes, property belonging to Christians” and other religious minorities.
These stories occasionally get reported in the mainstream media, usually when they reach proportions where they cannot be ignored, such as the riots and church burnings that forced so many Copts out of Egypt.
Still, the response remains muted. President Barack Obama could use U.S. moral authority and foreign aid leverage against countries turning a blind eye to persecution. Time magazine’s man of the year, Pope Francis, could use his Christmas message to highlight the suffering of Christians and make it a recurring theme of his papacy. It would be gratifying if the mainline U.S. Protestant churches that get so worked up every time Israel issues a permit to build a new home in the disputed West Bank could show a similar outrage backed up by a firm commitment to fight oppression of their fellow Christians.
“Save Soviet Jews” signs once stood outside synagogues across America. Why shouldn’t churches demonstrate the same solidarity with the world’s persecuted Christians?