WASHINGTON — Authors of a new book on the global persecution of Christians warned that Americans must recognize the grave threat that is facing the faithful throughout the world.
“When religious freedom is beginning to be eclipsed, it leads inevitably to genuine persecution,” said panel moderator Eric Metaxas at a talk in the nation’s capital.
Metaxas is known for his books on Christians William Wilberforce and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who worked to fight the oppressions of slavery and the Nazi regime, respectively. He has also spoken on religious persecution at the National Prayer Breakfast and other venues.
Other participants in the March 27 panel were Hudson Institute religious-freedom advocates Nina Shea, Paul Marshall and Lela Gilbert, co-authors of the new book Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians. Metaxas authored the forward to the new book.
The authors mentioned that a wide variety of research organizations and nonprofit institutions have found that Christians face persecution across the globe.
“Christians are the most widely persecuted group in the world,” said Shea, explaining that evangelization and many other activities central to the Christian faith are prohibited in a number of countries.
Shea, an international human-rights lawyer, also asserted that “North Korea is the worst place to be Christian.”
Marshall elaborated upon this claim, saying that, while there are human-rights abuses committed against many within the country, and “North Korea is the worst place to be a person” in general, Christians within the country face particularly harsh treatment.
“There is not a Christian in North Korea who is not persecuted,” he said.
Marshall also explained that the persecution of Christians affects those of other faiths as well — particularly in the Muslim world.
“Muslims who were not radicalized are becoming so,” he said, at the pressure of “Islamist and extremist groups.” Because of these pressures, “freedom-loving Muslims are the ones who are silenced.”
Despite the grave human-rights offenses facing Christians around the globe, “there’s very little awareness of what’s happening around the world,” Marshall continued.
In United States foreign policy, he said, there’s a tendency to use the term “freedom of worship” and “toleration” of belief instead of “freedom of religion.” This change in language, the panelists explained, weakens the ability of American officials to criticize restriction of religious expression.
Furthermore, “the U.S. does not want to be seen as a ‘Christian nation,’” Marshall observed. Therefore, the United States does not intervene in a number of cases where Christians are persecuted for their beliefs.
In addition, U.S. diplomats and policymakers often fail to mention the Christian faith of those who are imprisoned for their beliefs around the world, even though they do mention the faiths of persecuted persons of other religions.
Gilbert said that Christians are so widely persecuted because “Christians bow to a higher authority,” and this allegiance to God over a secular authority poses a threat to regimes and governments, both religious and secular.
Metaxas explained that these offenses ought to concern Americans as well and that American Christians “aren’t talking about this enough.”
In addition, he added that it seems that the international community does not recognize this persecution of Christians as a real problem.
Even though freedom of belief and expression is a fundamental human right, policy issues such as access to contraception and abortion are seen as a more pressing human-rights situation, he said, and “some rights are more equal than others.”