Saturday, January 21, 2012

Myths about anti-Christian persecution

What misconceptions have you heard or had about the persecuted Church?

John L. Allen Jr. recently highlighted in the National Catholic Reporter what he believes are five myths about anti-Christian persecution. Below are excerpts from his article.

Myth #1: Christians are vulnerable only where they’re a minority.

First of all, even if this were true, it would hardly diminish the seriousness of the issue. According to a recent Pew Forum analysis, 10 percent of Christians live in societies in which they're a minority. Given that there are 2.18 billion Christians on the planet, this translates into more than 200 million people, many facing threats such as those in the Gaza Strip.

Any scourge that imperils 200 million people, whatever the cause, would merit concern.
Yet it's palpably false that persecution occurs only where Christians are a minority. According to October 2010 data from the Pew Forum, Christians face harassment in a staggering total of 133 countries, representing more than two-thirds of all nations on earth, including many where Christians are a strong majority.

Myth #2: It’s all about Islam.

A disproportionate share of anti-Christian persecution is, indeed, fueled by radical Islam. Open Doors, an Evangelical group, put nine Muslim states on its "Top 10" list for 2011 of the most dangerous places for Christians, including Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Iran.

Yet simply identifying anti-Christian persecution with Islam is misleading. There are compelling examples of collaboration between Christians and Muslims in many parts of the world.... It also should not be forgotten that the most numerous victims of Muslim extremism are, in fact, other Muslims.

Moreover, radical Islam is hardly the only source of anti-Christian animus. Christians suffer from a slew of other forces, including: ultra-nationalism... totalitarian states, especially of the Communist variety... Hindu radicalism... Buddhist radicalism... corporate interests... organized crime... state-imposed security policies... even, believe it or not, Christian radicalism.

Myth #3: No one saw it coming.

When Christians are targeted, politicians and police often play the role of Capt. Louis Renault in Casablanca, professing shock at what happened but suggesting the violence was an unforeseeable calamity rather than a failure of vigilance. Yet in a disturbing number of instances, the warning signs were all too clear.

Turkey offers an example. On June 3, 2010, Bishop Luigi Padovese, an Italian Capuchin and the Apostolic Vicar of Anatolia, was murdered by his driver, who claimed he had a private revelation identifying Padovese as the anti-Christ. Since the driver had been receiving psychiatric treatment, Turkish authorities announced there was no "political motive" and declared the case closed.

What that failed to acknowledge was the general climate in which a madman might get the idea that a Catholic bishop was evil.

Myth #4: It’s only persecution if the motives are religious.

Scanning the Fides list of pastoral workers killed in 2011, it's tempting to conclude that much of this violence isn't really anti-Christian. In many instances, it seems more like a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time....

Today's risks are hardly limited to classic instances of martyrdom, but a wide variety of circumstances in which Christians are in harm's way. Even if they're not attacked for religious motives, their reasons for being in that spot are usually rooted in their faith....

In identifying Christians who need help, the only thing that should matter is that they're in the firing line – not what's in the head of whoever's pulling the trigger.

Myth #5: Anti-Christian persecution is a right-wing issue.

Of the five myths considered here, this is undoubtedly the most pernicious. If we can agree on anything in this polarized world, it ought to be that persecution of people on the basis of their beliefs – whatever those beliefs may be – is intolerable....

The truth is that persecution against Christians, ideologically speaking, is an equal-opportunity enterprise....

Defending persecuted Christians, in other words, is hardly an effort that should concern the political and theological right alone. Styling anti-Christian persecution as a political football is not only an obscenity, but it's factually inaccurate.

Do you agree with John L. Allen Jr.’s statements? Which myths would you remove or add to his list? Which would you clarify?


  1. Over all, I hope this helps people think through the issue. But a couple of things struck me.

    First was the point about "minority" and all that. Show me a country where Christians are truly in a majority. Perhaps it comes down to definition of "Christian" which I don't think we want to get into. But taking a very broad definition, I believe we'll still find that the majority of people in Canada, for example, would not consider themselves Christian. I think we'd find 200M a gross under-estimate.

    And then there's the one talking about religious persecution that isn't religious in #4 ... I think it's more than just symantics involved there. Sorry, but if someone gets hit by a stray bullet in downtown Toronto and happens to be a Christian on his way to church, that isn't persecution, even though "the reason for being in that spot is rooted in his faith." I think we'd all agree with that. The same goes for robberies when the person is a Christian or diplomats in dangerous countries. Just being killed and being a Christian isn't enough to call it "persecution". I think that does happen a few too many times.

    Those are my thoughts. Overall, very good; definitely worth reading and thinking about. And, in my opinion, commenting on.

  2. "Just being killed and being a Christian isn't enough to call it "persecution". I think that does happen a few too many times."

    AP, can you cite a specific example of the above? Has this sort of thing been reported here on the VOM site? Thanks.

  3. Thank you both for your comments! You are correct, AP, that we ought to be careful when determining whether someone is truly facing persecution for their faith. When faced with situations where it is difficult to determine whether an incident is persecution or general suffering, we find it helpful to ask, “If this individual had other religious beliefs, or was willing to change his/her religion to the majority religion of the country, would things get better for him/her?” This question can help narrow down whether one is suffering because of their Christian faith, or if their suffering is more connected with other issues. For helpful articles about persecution, including a study on why Christians are persecuted, visit Thanks again for taking the time to comment!


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