While we in Australia are looking forward to celebrating Christmas and the holidays, we should spare a thought for the Christians who are suffering persecution in so many countries. Even in democracies such as the US and Canada, Christians can be fined or lose their jobs for imaginary "hate" crimes, i.e. speaking about the health risks of some homosexual practices or declining to provide services for homosexual "marriages".
It is persecution in developing countries that is most distressing to me because Christians there rarely have the financial resources to seek legal redress. Below some news items from the weekly email I receive from Christians in Crisis:
Iran: Two of the seven members of the Church of Iran arrested in Shiraz have been temporarily released on bail.
Indonesia: Church building set ablaze - Unidentified attackers torched a church building in Poso in a series of renewed violence against the local Christian community.
Egypt: A call to pray for an end to the abduction, forced conversion and forced marriage of Coptic girls by Islamist Salafis.
Kasakhstan continues its attempt to make exercising the freedom of religion or belief dependent on state permission.
China: Secret Police Suspected in Attack on Church Pastor in Beijing.
Kenya: Pastor Killed in Church Blast in Garissa, several others injured in attack by suspected Islamic extremists.
Tanzania: Several Christians in Tanzania were struggling to find a place to worship Sunday, November 4, after Islamic militants attacked Christians, torched at least three churches and damaged other Christian properties in the country's largest city.
India: The persecution of Christians has increased by 400% in India. I find these reports particularly painful not only because it is the country of my birth but because it is a democratic, secular country and the federal government has the power to deal with Hindu extremists even if state governments are unwilling to do so.
There is a relationship between religious freedom and economic prosperity. With reports of the increase in persecution in India come articles on the stalling of economic growth in India. Rakesh Ahuja in The Australian (15/11/12) wrote: "India on track to Becoming a Failed State". Ahuja cites corruption and lack of infrastructure, but part of the corruption is the failure of the government to stop the persecution of Christians. Perhaps there is hope for India with the formation of an anti-graft party - the AamAadmi (Common Man) party under the leadership of Arwind Kejriwal, a former tax officer. His political rally drew thousands of supporters in Delhi in November.
Pakistan: A Christian woman forced to marry a Muslim man remained abducted in southern Pakistan, November 5, while a pastor was told he would remain behind bars on charges of "blasphemy". A Pakistani editor is in hiding as he fears for his life for opposing blasphemy laws. Preacher Jailed for Sermon at Funeral - Muslims accuse him of "blasphemy", order relatives to leave village or be set on fire.
US Senator David Vitter (R-La.) said the persecution of Christians is "on the rise, not on the decline.....One of the biggest threats to religious freedom is Islamic extremism which has not been challenged enough by the Obama administration. "
In Nigeria, Christian lawyer Emmanuel Ogebe of The Jubilee Campaign, said that despite the "persecution on steroids" Christians in his country are experiencing at the hands of Boko Haram – a radical Islamist organization – the US government will not label the group as a terrorists.
Dr.Thomas Farr senior fellow at Georgetown's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, and director of the Religious Freedom Project and the Program on Religion and US Foreign Policy, said at the Family Research Council's "Cry of the Martyrs" webcast in November 2012: "The protection of religious freedom worldwide is so essential to democracy and prosperity that it should be considered an issue of national security to the US government."
Created 14 years ago, the US Office of International Religious Freedom works to promote religious freedom as a "core objective of U.S. foreign policy," but Farr said the current administration, as well as its predecessors, has fallen short in promoting this issue as foreign policy: "Protecting religious freedom abroad is in our interest since doing so can help emerging democracies to grow beyond just one generation....... religious freedom can lead to economic development, religious freedom can lead to political development, there's plenty of history and data that suggests this."
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, encouraged support for persecuted Christians through prayer and by petitioning the government to take more action in supporting religious freedom worldwide. "...We as individual believers in this country can take a stand with our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted around the world, and then we can get our government to do the same."
Good news is that Stanford Law School will start the nation's first law school clinic on religious liberty to be directed by James Sonne, formerly of Ave Maria Law School. That a law school of Stanford's prominence is starting a clinic focusing on religious liberty indicates the importance of the issue.
Babette Francis is co-ordinator of the Melbourne-based Endeavour Forum and the Australian representative of the Coalition on Abortion/Breast Cancer - www.abortionbreastcancer.com. She lived in India during the Partition
of the sub-continent into India and Pakistan, a historical event that she believes
was caused by the unwillingness of the Muslim leaders of that era to live in a