Hope of Israel Ministries (Ecclesia of YEHOVAH):
James Dobson Speaks Out on Global Christian Persecution
In his April 1997 "family news" letter from Focus on the Family, Dr. James Dobson speaks out on an issue of growing worldwide importance and urgent concern. Yet, as he points out, most modern-day "Christians" in the affluent western nations seem utterly oblivious to the dire extremities to which Christians in Muslim and former Soviet nations are being pushed -- with murder, rape, torture, slavery, imprisonment and confiscation of property growing at an exponential rate. Here are the dire facts.
I want to share a concern this month that has received very little national publicity, despite its tragic and disgraceful implications. It focuses on the unprecedented persecution of our Christian brothers and sisters in countries around the world. More than an estimated 160,000 believers were martyred in 1996, and countless others were subjected to unimaginable horrors.1 And the persecution appears to be escalating exponentially.
It was my longtime friend Michael Horowitz who brought these atrocities to my attention a few months ago. Michael, who is Jewish, was among the first to recognize what was happening to Christians and began a frantic campaign to notify the world. He has lobbied lawmakers on Capitol Hill, written editorials and appeared on numerous television and radio talk shows. He also made an impassioned plea on the Focus on the Family broadcast. Here is the way he described the plight of believers in Muslim, Communist and other totalitarian countries today:
Christians have become the targets of opportunity to the thug regimes around the world, and they are many. What's going on now is monumental, and it's affecting millions, tens of millions, of people. We're talking not about discrimination, but persecution of the worst sort: slavery, starvation, murder, looting, burning, torture.2
I asked Michael why he is working so hard to help Christians in far-flung comers of the world, and he said:
There is a man who lives with us who is the embodiment of Christian faith, and I'm in awe of it. He is from the Ethiopian Evangelical Church where he is the senior pastor. He is trying to get asylum into the United States and is meeting every possible roadblock you can imagine. Here is a man who has been failed over 25 times for his faith. He's been tortured. On one occasion, he was hanged upside down with hot oil poured on his feet. This is a man of abiding faith who will be tortured again and murdered if he is sent back to Ethiopia.
But do you know what happened when we petitioned for asylum? The State Department sent a letter to the Immigration Service and said, 'There's no persecution of Christians in Ethiopia.'3
This has been the attitude of the U.S. government despite overwhelming evidence of atrocities. Through the work of Horowitz and others, however, the truth is beginning to penetrate. Members of Congress are becoming alarmed about reports of brutality and murder on foreign soil. A House resolution passed the fourth week of September 1996, and the original language stated that more Christians have been martyred in the 20th century than in the past 19 combined. The draft of the resolution also noted that China's Communist leaders have called underground evangelical and Catholic congregations "a principal threat to political stability."4
Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., said, ". . . Christians are being sold into slavery. Some are being thrown into prison. Some are tortured. Many are killed. We must do everything we can in our dealings with other countries to end these practices."5
I recently went to Washington, D.C., to meet with Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and others who have also been championing this cause. Rep. Wolf serves on the Helsinki Committee, which monitors human rights abuses in Eastern Europe and the former states of the Soviet Union. He said there is undeniable evidence now of widespread torture, killing, raping and imprisonment of believers in dozens of countries. They include China, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, Pakistan, North Korea, Laos, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Cuba and several countries in the former Soviet Union. What is happening in these blood-stained nations, and elsewhere, is unconscionable.
In some places it amounts to mass murder. Nina Shea, of the renowned human rights organization Freedom House, is an international human rights lawyer who has investigated the persecution of Christians for over ten years and has documented the abduction and death of more than 1 million Sudanese, mostly Christians and non-Muslims, at the hands of the country's Islamic fundamentalist government.6 There has been an effort to address this and related tragedies in the churches of North America, including a designated day of prayer sponsored last September 29th by the World Evangelical Fellowship. But the Christian response hardly matches the scope of the evil. Indeed, a Washington staffer for the National Council of Churches, Albert Pennybacker, recently denied that a problem even exists. He said, "I wouldn't say persecution is raging around the world."7 In testimony before a House Subcommittee meeting, he has also stated, "What may appear as persecution and indeed resistance may in fact be the wish to preserve authentic religious and cultural traditions."8 Victor Hsu, another National Council of Churches staffer, said that religious persecution in China was simply the "overzealousness of local cadres."9
Pennybacker and Hsu's unfortunate comments remind me of the German Lutheran Church, which refused to acknowledge Hitier's genocide, even when it occurred right under their noses. There have always been people in positions of power who found it convenient to ignore the plight of the pitiful.
It isn't just our spiritual leaders who have denied the tragedy. Who can explain the lack of outrage evident among so many Christian churches in Western democracies? A.M. Rosenthal, also a Jew, decried this apathy in his recent column in The New York Times. He wrote:
A few clergymen and their religious organizations try to arouse congregations. But astonishingly few, compared not only with the spread of the persecution, but what could be done to fight it, if the political, religious, business and press leaders of the world had the will and courage.
If I were a Christian, I would complain that Christian leaders, political, religious and business, around the world have failed in their obligations to fight oppression of their co-religionists. I am complaining anyway. 10
Michael Horowitz's original column in The Wall Street Journal should have generated an outpouring of support from outraged believers around the country.11 Inexplicably, it brought little more than a yawn. Shocked and disappointed, Michael said, "I then wrote a letter to the 150 leading mission boards in the U.S. I said to them, 'if I had written a story about anti-Semitism, I would have been overwhelmed with support from the Christian community. But when Christian persecution was involved, the Christian community seemed tongue-tied and embarrassed.' "12 What a disgrace!
I thank God that Rosenthal and Horowitz, among others, are sounding the alarm. Nina Shea of Freedom House is also doing her part. In her upcoming book, In the Lion's Den, she wrote:
Millions of American Christians pray in their churches each week, oblivious to the fact that Christians in many parts of the world suffer brutal torture, arrest, imprisonment and even death -- their homes and communities laid waste -- for no other reason than that they are Christians. The shocking, untold story of our time is that more Christians have died this century simply for being Christians than in the first nineteen centuries after the birth of Christ. They have been persecuted before an unknowing, indifferent world and a largely silent Christian community.13
Columnist Jeff Jacoby, who is also Jewish, and is a syndicated columnist for the Boston Globe, described the scope of the tragedy. He wrote:
. . . for millions of Christians in other lands, fear is ever-present. Never before -- never before -- have so many believers in Jesus been persecuted for their faith . . . . Wherever militant Islam has taken hold and wherever Communist dictators still rule, Christians are in desperate danger. The testimony with which Shea [writing in In the Lion's Den] and [Paul] Marshall [in Their Blood Cries Out] have filled their books is heart-stopping.
"[The Nuba mountains in Sudan] which have had a Christian population since the 6th century, are littered with mass graves Nuba women are systematically raped by Arab soldiers in order to produce non-Nuba offspring. There have been reports, including from Catholic bishops, of crucifixions of Christians by the army." Muslim troops from northern Sudan have sold tens of thousands of Christian children and women from the south into slavery. Many have been branded or mutilated to prevent escape, many more have been tortured, brainwashed or starved until they converted to Islam.
China, Shaanxi Province: "The officers stripped three brethren naked from the waist and forced the women to stand with them. . . . The three men were beaten until they were totally covered with blood and had gaping wounds and injuries all over their bodies. As if such violent beating wasn't enough, the 0fficers then hung them up and began to hit them with rods on their backs. They did this until the three men were unconscious and barely breathing' " The victims were Protestants. Their crime was communicating with foreigners. Pakistan: "The Muslim population of Khan Jajja was incited in May 1994 by the local Muslim cleric to drive the 60 Christian families of the region from the 'land of the pure' and to demolish their church. The Christian men were beaten and the women were stripped naked . . ., while three girls were kidnapped and raped. These Christians' homes were razed and their possessions looted or destroyed." Pakistan's 1986 blasphemy law makes it a capital crime to insult the Prophet Mohammed "by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation." The law has been used repeatedly to justify a reign of terror against Pakistani Christians. 14
And so it goes, day by day, in nations around the globe. Quoting Jeff Jacoby again, he wrote:
This has been a century of unmatched Christian martyrdom. It began with the mass murder of Christians in Armenia; it is ending with the mass murder of Christians in Sudan. Then as now, the world looked away, even as it looked away during the most unspeakable mass murder of all, the Holocaust.15
Five questions must be answered if we are to understand this worldwide phenomenon.
1. Why is the persecution of Christians proliferating around the globe?
The answer is that Christianity is spreading significantly in underdeveloped countries. As the numbers of believers rise in those places, so does the threat they pose to totalitarian regimes. The bullies who rule can't tolerate the prospect of free thinkers and liberated minds. Nor are they willing to have their subjects worshiping any god but their own. Thus, brutality becomes the handmaiden of dictatorship.
2. Why has there been so little publicity about this persecution?
Because the majority of Christians are too preoccupied with living to notice or complain about much of anything, and because our government favors good relations with many of the offending nations, and because the news media has failed to report the crisis. Religious news remains the lowest priority among journalists.
Chuck Colson said, "When I see something like this, my heart aches because the believers here don't even know about it, don't care. We're not expressing moral outrage; we're not indignant of the indifference of the United States government towards this. And we ought to be marching in the streets because our brethren are being persecuted, imprisoned, beaten, sold into slavery, and butchered and we don't seem to care in this country."16
3. Why haven't the Clinton Administration and the Congress done something?
That is an excellent question with a two-pronged answer. It is greed and politics. Corporations desperately want to trade with China and other nations, and they can't let a little matter like murder and mayhem interfere with those business pursuits. If the president criticizes governments for persecuting people, they might retaliate by closing their markets and hurting our economy. The captains of industry would object and punish the politicians by contributing less money to electoral campaigns. As cynical as this sounds, that is what I'm told is occurring. Tragically, our leaders are willing to play hardball with China on pirated CD's and video tapes, but not on the issue of religious persecution. They are putting money ahead of human life in their international policies, even though they know it is wrong. Thus, our country's profile as a nation has shifted from the historic stand for freedom and human rights to the pursuit of profits as the ultimate value.
In the 1992 presidential campaign, candidate Bill Clinton was questioned about his probable policy toward China. The interviewer, Tom Brokaw, asked specifically, "Would you cut [China] off by next year [if you're elected]?" Clinton responded, "Absolutely. Most Favored Nation status, I would. Look, (Bush) let his friendship with the leaders in China obscure our devotion to freedom and democracy when those kids set up in Tiananmen Square, and I think it was wrong."17
Despite this unequivocal response, Mr. Clinton reneged when he got in office. Like his predecessor, he also supported the special trade and tariff provisions of Most Favored Nation status to China. We could have used our economic power to ease the pressure on believers and dissidents in China, as we did in South Africa, Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. But our leaders lacked the resolve to do so. They pretended not to notice the persecution, the forced abortions, the killing of little girls and deformed babies, the persecution of the "house church," and the Naziesque practice of killing prisoners in order to harvest their organs for sale. (I've seen video documentation of that grotesque procedure.) An official Chinese document issued by the Ministries of Justice, Health and Public Security, obtained by the U.S. based human rights group "Asiawatch," said, "The use of the corpses for organs of executed criminals must be kept strictly secret."18 We can all understand why.
But who cares, anyway? It is all so far away and out of sight. Besides, we've been taught, "What's good for business is good for America." Turn a deaf ear and keep the economy strong.
It is an attitude that confused and disillusioned those who were suffering under China's totalitarian regime, especially after the slaughter in Tiananmen Square. Two recent visitors to that land said this on our broadcast, "Dissident after dissident came into our offices saying, 'Please, the United States has got to hold tough; they've got to call Beijing's bluff.'"19
Nevertheless, the U.S. Congress has ratified the president's yearly decision to grant Most Favored Nation status to the butchers of Beijing. Now, perhaps, we are learning another reason why. As of this writing, news stories are breaking almost every day that reveal vast amounts of Chinese money flowing into the recent presidential (and perhaps congressional) campaigns. Who knows how long that has been going on. Three shady characters, each possessing long records of questionable donations and influence peddling, (one brought a gun runner with him) were invited to the White House 150 times in the past five years.20 21 What did they get in return for the $4 million they contributed in "soft" money?22 What did they do with the incredible access granted by the most powerful man on earth? I'm afraid to ask.
But here we go again. As we speak, Congress is considering Most Favored Nation status to China once more. Unless there is a public outcry, it will be ratified again and the persecution will continue. But who is there to care?
In another disturbing editorial by A.M. Rosenthal, he wrote:
Christian theology is not my specialization. I only know all prisoners for freedom are intertwined in their chains. Who can believe that their sufferings will not ease if the chairmen of Boeing, General Motors, Morgan Guaranty and Microsoft, and U.S. presidents and secretaries of state past and present, rise to say that the altar must stand higher than the cash register, and pledge to make it so? And if they fall in their duty to do this, where is it written that the rest of us are absolved from doing ours?23
4. Why is there so much apathy among deeply committed believers on an issue of such significance?
Why, indeed? This and a hundred related questions have plagued me for years. Why is there so little concern about the many moral issues that should be keeping us awake at night? Why was there such a pitiful response when President Clinton vetoed the bill to ban partial birth abortion? Liberal Democratic Senator Daniel Moynihan called the procedure "infanticide"24 and that is precisely what it is. Nevertheless, most Christians were too busy-too unconcerned-to protest when our chief executive used his veto to secure the right to murder near full-term, viable babies by the most horrible means imaginable. The silence from the majority of God's people was deafening!
Ecclesiastes 4:1 says, "Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun. I saw the tears of the oppressed, and they have no comforter. Power was on the side of their oppressors" (NIV).
What has really changed in 2,900 years?
Again we ask, why have so many good people done nothing to stop the persecution of the weak and vulnerable? I'll give you the best answer of which I'm capable. It is because some spiritual leaders have told their flocks not to be concerned about that which is "political" -- as though pouring hot oil on a victim's feet or killing babies are political matters. Another reason is because we have become engrossed in that which is temporal and material -- and because there is so much stress in our lives that we can't invest our energies in that which doesn't touch us directly.
I call this third factor "the principle of limited tears." We do not have the capacity to "cry" about all the tragedies of the world. To do so would be deeply disturbing to us. And since we can't prevent human misery around the globe, we narrow the concerns about which we will worry. Thus, we will weep about that which touches us personally -- hitting near our families, our friends and our work. Everything else will be kept outside our defenses -- ignored -- denied -- rationalized.
Unfortunately, the plight of Christians around the world remains beyond the circle of tears for most believers.
I believe there is one more reason why Christians may be unconcerned about the persecution of their brothers and sisters overseas. It is the expectation of some believers that harsh suffering, and even death, are inevitable for those who live and worship God in dangerous places. Therefore, their discomfort is not an issue about which we should concern ourselves. After all, many first century Christians died for their faith, including most of the apostles and disciples. Perhaps persecution just goes with the territory, so to speak.
That attitude, if it exists, is terribly calloused and selfish. Remember that the government in the United States emanates from the people. Collectively, we are the government. If it implements evil policies, therefore, each of us is partially responsible for them. We have been given freedom of speech and the right to lobby for that which is moral and righteous. Consequently, we are obligated to raise our voices when injustice is being condoned and encouraged. And there is no greater injustice than when elected officials reward and support brutal regimes which kill and torture innocent people. We must come to their defense!
The Apostle Paul was a citizen of Rome, and twice he exercised the privileges of citizenship over the matter of unjust persecution. First, he protested the illegal flogging of Silas and himself in Phillipi (Acts 16) and second, he appealed his case to Caesar rather than to allow another illegal flogging in Jerusalem (Acts 25).
Let me say it again. Here in the United States, we live in the world's most dominant country, one which could, if it desired, exercise tremendous pressure on other nations to bring an end to injustice. Unfortunately, our government has made it clear it has no intention of doing that. It will not act unless we force it to address the needs of the downtrodden.
If believers do not make that demand, no one will do it for them. Neither the news media nor the entertainment industry will take on this cause. They are busy defending sexual perversion and offbeat religion. How interesting, for example, that while 160,000 Christians were being murdered in 1996, 34 Hollywood personalities signed an open letter of protest -- not to the guilty governments but to the leaders of Germany for supposedly criticizing the Church of Scientology..25
5. Finally, what can those of us who are concerned do to help our persecuted brothers and sisters in oppressive countries?
I'll let Michael Horowitz answer this last question, as spoken on the National Public Radio program All Things Considered. He said:
Our model . . . is the . . . campaign against Soviet anti-S emitism. It's got four principle points: One, it asks the president to speak out publicly on the issue and name what's going on, and to use a bully pulpit to tell those thugs that the United States disapproves of that conduct. The second is to appoint a special advisor for religious persecution who will conduct a top to bottom survey of our policies in the Immigration Service and in the State Department, to see whether and to what extent it's lacking and failing. The next would be to ensure that the State Department human rights reports focus on victims of religious persecution ... And the fourth: no foreign aid, no special trade treatment, for those countries that foster or appease persecution of religious minorities, and in particular, persecution of Christian communities . . . For the United States to be utterly silent in the face of budding Holocausts, and actual Holocausts, is obscene and unthinkable.26
I would add the importance of praying for persecuted believers wherever they are being imprisoned, beaten, raped and murdered for their faith. Wouldn't it be encouraging to those precious people in China, the Sudan and all the other bloody countries if they knew believers in North America were holding them before the throne in prayer? How can we not plead their case to the Father?
On November 16, 1997, churches all across America will be asked to do just that. That Sunday has been designated as the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Its theme is "Shatter the Silence." Michael Horowitz, one of the organizers of the event, hopes that at least 50,000 churche will participate. I hope yours and mine will be among them. "With the mighty army of 50,000 thundering pulpits," Horowitz says, "the world becomes a different place."27
You might also want to write one of the three organizations that are trying to defend believers around the world. They are Christian Solidarity, Voice of the Martyrs and Freedom House. (Note: Freedom House is a secular organization.) Write Focus on the Family for details regarding these groups. We also have an information sheet available with more detail on the worldwide persecution of Christians. . . .
Finally, you should know that bipartisan legislation will soon be introduced by Rep. Frank Wolf and Rep. Tony Hall, D-Ohio, that will deal with the issue of Christian persecution. Entitled "The Freedom of Religion Act of 1997," it is expected to be submitted to Congress in the very near future.
Thanks for letting me share what is on my heart in this letter. I know my words have been difficult to read. Forgive my frustration at what appears to me to be continued complacency and disinterest while the world slides into a moral abyss. It isn't too late to help those who are still alive. If only ten percent of the two million people on our mailing list would speak passionately for our down-trodden and abused brothers and sisters around the world, many could be saved. Michael Horowitz says we are "so close to victory" because of the powerful influence of the United States and Canada -- and yet, 400 believers will die today because there is no one to care. Their fate is in our hands. . . .
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EDITOR'S NOTE: If you would like to read the original letter of Dr. Dobson, in full, with the Endnotes, or if you would like an information sheet with more details of the worldwide persecution, then please write to "Focus on the Family," Colorado Springs CO 80995. "And the LORD said, Go through the midst of the city...and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that ne done in the midst thereof...come not near any man upon whom is the mark" (Ezekiel 9:4-6). Does your heart pour out for all the evils in the world today?
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