‘Many Christians experience daily affronts and often live in fear because of their pursuit of truth, their faith in Jesus Christ, and their heartfelt plea for respect for religious freedom,” Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his 2011 message for the World Day of Peace. “This situation is unacceptable, since it represents an insult to God and to human dignity; furthermore, it is a threat to security and peace, and an obstacle to the achievement of authentic and integral human development,” he continued. This “global war on Christians is in many ways the greatest story never told about the 21st century,” John L. Allen Jr., Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, writes in his The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution. He took questions from NRO’s Kathryn Jean Lopez about his contribution to unmasking “silence and indifference” surrounding their plight.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: “Christians today indisputably are the most persecuted religious body on the planet, and too often their new martyrs suffer in silence.” Do we really know that?
JOHN ALLEN: Yes, we do know that, in part because there are more Christians in the world than followers of any other religion, 2.3 billion in total, so their numbers on anything, including religious persecution, are naturally going to be larger. In part, too, it’s because Christianity’s greatest areas of growth are coming in some fairly rough neighborhoods where there’s a serious problem with religious freedom.
LOPEZ: So if that’s all as you say, why aren’t we talking about it all the time?
ALLEN: Great question. The answer is complicated, but I think a lot of it has to do with the power of pre-existing narratives in shaping perceptions. The narrative about Christianity in the West is that it’s a massive, rich, politically powerful institution, which makes it tough for a lot of people to get their minds around the fact that Christians can actually be the victims of persecution. In part, too, I think many Americans shy away from the subject for fear of being drawn into faux debates over an alleged “war on Christmas” and similar sideshows.
LOPEZ: You scan the world in The Global War on Christians. Who is worst off?
ALLEN: I’m not really sure how you parse “worst off” when it comes to direct threats to life and limb, but probably the spots on the map today where not just individual Christians are at risk, but entire communities, would be Syria and Egypt.
LOPEZ: Who is most helpable?
ALLEN: I’d like to think the Christians of Iraq, given the massive investment of American resources in that nation, though we’ve been doing a fairly lousy job of making their lives any better so far.
LOPEZ: You quote Tertullian: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” How and why is that so? How is that not lousy of God to allow?
ALLEN: Rule of thumb: Don’t turn to a journalist for theological wisdom. As a descriptive matter, however, it’s true both in the distant past and today that growth cycles in Christianity have tended to coincide with periods of persecution.
LOPEZ: Is there something about Christianity that brings this on?
ALLEN: In many parts of the developing world, Christians are identified with the West, so whatever frustrations people have with Western governments tend to get dumped onto the Christians in their own backyard. Another factor is that Christians are often a “soft target,” in the sense that they typically don’t fight back — they don’t organize militias, etc., to defend themselves in the way that some other minority groups do.
LOPEZ: Is there anything we really can do? Obviously, that’s a big, multi-layered question. How can the average American reading your book do anything besides pray for persecuted Christians throughout the world?
ALLEN: First of all, don’t dismiss the power of prayer. That said, there’s plenty we can do, from supporting organizations that deliver humanitarian aid to Christians at risk to insisting that their voices are brought more thoroughly into Western foreign-policy debates. Fundamentally, we can make sure that suffering sisters and brothers in the faith don’t feel abandoned and alone.