Religious freedom, a most pressing global issue

By July 19, 2019

A devastating fire set by Boko Haram militants. (Photo courtesy of World Mission)

USA (MNN) – 2019 is a year pockmarked with religious intolerance, persecution, oppression, and harassment.

On March 15, 2019, a gunman killed 51 worshippers at a New Zealand mosque. On Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019, suicide bombers killed 250 people, including many children in Sri Lanka. On Sunday, May 26, following three previous attacks on churches by extremists, shooters attacked yet another church in Burkina Faso.  Also in May, extremists attacked churches, villages or Christians in Nigeria, India, and Pakistan. June saw much of the same. July also records nearly daily incidents with the most recent attack, July 11, with a car bomb exploding near a church in the Syrian city of Qamishli.

Identifying the problem

In a ten year review, the Pew Research Center found high levels of persecution in 42 percent of countries studied. Christians and Muslims, the most significant and most globally widespread of any group, experienced either government or social and religious persecution in over 140 countries. Research like this, along with the data released in the Open Doors’ annual World Watch List, underscores the chaos unleashed by religious freedom violations.

It’s why the U.S. State Department watches the issue and seeks input from leaders, survivors, and other government entities. One instrument of measure is the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom conference, the second of which ended yesterday.  The hope is that it will mark the beginning of a global human rights movement centered on religious freedom.

Connecting the dots

(Photo courtesy of Open Doors USA)

It also puts violators on notice: the world is watching. Open Doors USA’s President and CEO David Curry says, “It is a factor in cultures (how things are viewed), and we can’t just look at things through nuclear terms or economic terms.  We have to consider the cultural impacts as well.”

He added that there is a clear link between refugee resettlement programs and responses to religious freedom violations. “Religious intolerance is really the nexus of so many crises around the world.  When you look at ISIS five years ago, it started as jihadist rebels attacking churches in the north of Iraq. When there was no response, they built in strength and took over an entire region.”

Among things delegates heard were impact stories from survivors, recommendations on building a better future, the necessity of forgiveness and reconciliation, and the impact of sectarian violence on the stability of the government. On that point, religious persecution is often predictive, explains Curry. “I think when you’re looking around the world, you’ve got to look at Africa, which is indicative of the massive corruption problems that the world is facing, you have a young population with a lot of ineffectual, corrupt governments.”

Looking at you, Africa

Take the impact of collapse in the Horn of Africa, for example. “I think Somalia wants to capture large parts of Somali tribes, (and) would like to take parts of Kenya back,” Curry muses, noting that “wherever you’re looking for violence against religious minorities like you see in Africa, you’re going to have big problems in the future.” Combined with Al Shabaab, a terrorist group entrenched in Somalia with ties to Al Qaeda, and you’ve got a failed state which now affects international trade routes.

(Photo courtesy of Open Doors USA)

Or look at what’s going on in Nigeria. Curry says extremists have targeted Christians in northern Nigeria to the point of genocide. “I think you could see Boko Haram, which is a jihadist group, and the Fulani, another jihadist group, I think you could certainly see Boko Haram try to take over that entire region parts of Cameroon, Niger, northern Nigeria.”

Looking through two lenses

The takeaway: looking at the issue of religious freedom requires different lenses.  One views the impact of religious freedom policy. The other recognizes that for Christians, the question is a spiritual one. As has oft been noted by Curry, spiritual battles require a spiritual response.

In sharing their faith in Christ, Christians often experience pushback, discouragement, and isolation. The number one thing that persecuted believers ask for is prayer.  Ask God to strengthen their faith while under pressure. Pray that the Gospel would spread even farther and that God would raise even more leaders to be His bold witnesses.



Headline image: U.S. Vice President Michael R. Pence–Screen Capture courtesy U.S. Department of State/Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom/You Tube

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