In Theory: Why is the church silent about religious persecution?

Persecution affects some 600 million Christians annually, according to a study by the Hudson Institute, and the Pew Forum says Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world. In countries such as Iraq, Egypt, Pakistan and Kenya, Christians are being murdered, raped and kidnapped.

Writing in the Daily Beast, Kirsten Power says, “One would think this horror might be consuming the pulpits and pews of American churches. Not so. The silence has been nearly deafening.” She wonders why U.S. churches are not doing more — or, in some cases anything — to help their fellow believers.

In a column in Religious News, Jonathan Merritt identifies three reasons for the silence: the media under-reporting persecution; the effect of the economic slump on American congregations; and the “culture war” on such issues as gay marriage. He says, “Some [American Christians] are so worried about the drummed-up pseudo-persecution of the American church that they are ignoring the actual persecution of the global church, particularly in the Middle East.”

Q: Why do you think American congregations are not speaking out about the persecution of Christians across the globe?

Several factors contribute to our silence about world-wide Christian persecution. Most American congregations don’t realize it’s happening because we just don’t hear about it. Secondly, it’s difficult to sort through all of the bad news that bombards us every day. There are countless serious needs all around us and we realize we can personally only help a select few of them. We get overloaded and focus only on those needs that are right in front of us and affect us the most personally. I also believe many people in American churches are overwhelmed by their own difficulties, which include oppressive financial worries, medical problems and relationship problems of their own. It’s hard to ease another’s burden when your own has you pinned down.

What can we do? We can begin by accepting Jesus Christ’s loving invitation to cast our worrisome burdens upon him. We are freed to help others when we trust that Jesus has our back. We can become “alert and sober,” as 1 Thessalonians 5:6 urges, mindful that we are in an ongoing, worldwide spiritual battle. And when we become aware of situations of need, we can pray and ask if, and how, God wants us to get involved. Jesus Christ is the great and sovereign shepherd who cares for every one of his sheep. Ultimately, he himself is the answer to all of our needs.

Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church


Jonathan Merritt has answered the question quite well. He says, “The answer, it seems, is that many of their attentions have been focused elsewhere. Some are too busy protesting Target employees who wish them ‘Happy Holidays’ and others have been mobilizing to boycott JCPenney over selecting Ellen Degeneres, an outspoken lesbian, to be their spokesperson. Isn’t it time that American Christians reinvest their energies in addressing the actual persecution of their brothers and sisters happening outside their borders?”

Actually, denominations such as the Christian Church, (Disciples of Christ), the denomination of which the Little White Chapel is a part, is doing more than only speaking. Our general minister, our regional pastors and many others travel in and outside of countries where Christians are persecuted. They venture forth, preaching, praying and putting their lives on the line in the name of the denomination and the God we serve.

In fact, the Disciples, formed on American soil from various missionary groups, continue to have a passion for worldwide impartiality and even-handedness. If one goes to the international Disciples website,, the very first “quicklink” in the upper right hand corner is entitled justice. Clicking on it will lead you to nearly 50 methodologies and open discussions that the Disciples are employing to promote worldwide fairness and equality. The Christian Church, (Disciples of Christ), though not the biggest spiritual group in the world, and like other spiritual groups finding itself beset by politics within and without, struggles to heed the word of the prophet Micah: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8).”

The Rev. Dr. William Thomas Jr.
Little White Chapel


Is the church silent? The world is silent. The news is silent. And most would like to silence the church. So when the church speaks up, who’s listening? When the news reports, they don’t want to say anything because it would help the church, and we can’t have that (born-again, bigoted, right-wing-nuts all). Better America berate the church and blast its efforts at defending godly morals than have anyone listen when it beckons for justice across the pond. Besides, most of the persecution is coming from politically correct religions and people-groups that our left-leaning society bends over backward not to “profile.” Again, it’s Christian persecution, so does anyone really object?

The “church” is the composite body of true Christians everywhere. If America is mostly Christian, then national blame is due, and not just to its little Sunday morning enclaves. But since true Christians don’t shirk the Sunday gatherings, let me say that there are several times a year when the persecuted church is lifted to center stage, and especially at this upcoming time of Halloween. Yes, Halloween, which was originally the Hallowed Eve of All Saints, the original day of remembrance for all martyred Christians. Because of its fairly recent connection with the ridiculously macabre, Halloween is left to secular goblins, and the church observes the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church three days later. That’s when I usually preach Hebrews 11:37-38: “They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword … the world was not worthy of them.” I’ll also direct parishioners toward the Voice of the Martyrs ministry to participate in their ongoing global efforts.

America currently perpetuates a subtle, insidious Christian persecution that will worsen, unabated, without repentance. America just has different priorities; not our financially poor churches, our spiritually poor populace.

The Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church


One reason is perhaps we haven't been aware of so much persecution going on, so perhaps there has been under-reporting of it. Another is what Jonathan Witt said in Religious News, and that is the pseudo-persecution of Christianity here in the U.S.

Some of my fellow Christians claim there is a “war on Christmas” going on. I totally believe there is not. Also, I believe that most Christians in America are so used to Christianity being the dominant faith in this country that we just can't convince ourselves that persecution exists anymore.

It does, of course, but we are always surprised to hear about it. Usually Christians in America stand up for other faiths being persecuted here, not their own. Also, I believe some of us Christians are so passive because we believe Jesus was passive, rightly or wrongly. And so being militant about our faith, being militant about the Prince of Peace, is almost an oxymoron for some of us. I mean, some of us, myself included, can't conceptualize the idea of “fighting” for Christianity. It's almost like being “tops” in humility. We may be naive, of course, but that's the way a lot of us believe. Perhaps we should protest the fact that any faith is persecuted, anywhere, not just our faith.

The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada Flintridge


Life for Christians in the Middle East has always been difficult, if not perilous. The latest outbreak of violence in the Middle East and parts of Africa is especially frightening because it appears that the intent is to kill or drive away Christians in what a former French president described as a pattern of “religion cleansing.” Worse, in the power vacuum that has followed uprisings and civil war, it seems to be working.

I don't think the Christian community in the United States is fully aware of the problem.  For a number of reasons, Christianity tends to get little sympathy from the Western press. As some of the background articles mentioned, attacks have been underreported, often being categorized as part of the broader sectarian violence that has become commonplace in the region.

This lack of information may be one reason for the silence among U.S. Christians. Another may be that Christian leaders are uncertain about what they can do.

In the past, the U.S. had some degree of leverage with the governments in countries where the attacks are taking place. In that situation, an outcry from U.S. congregations might convince our government to pressure Middle Eastern leaders to intervene on behalf of Christians. The U.S. still might be able to persuade the Egyptian military, a longtime recipient of American aid, to protect Coptic communities. In other countries, finding help for Christians is difficult because no one is in control.

None of this is to say that we shouldn't speak out, even if a solution isn't immediately apparent. The fact is that innocent people are being killed, injured or rendered homeless because of their religious beliefs. We have an obligation to do anything we can to help.

Michael White
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
La Crescenta


Granted, my pew time isn't that extensive, but I'm wondering if “silent” is too strong a word here. In addition to the pulpits, have we checked in the vestibules and fellowship halls for organized activism opposing religious persecution? I suspect a lot of that is happening, based on the Christians I know personally.

At the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America website, for example, I find many recent entries with information, concern and advocacy about persecution of Christians worldwide. “In Theory” pastors answering this question will undoubtedly speak of their denomination’s efforts.

Large and well-respected research and activist groups, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, to name just two, address religious persecution extensively. I feel sure that both atheists and believers of all stripes are well-represented in the staff and membership of these groups. We don't all need to reinvent the wheel.

Religious persecution is not only a concern of believers. Fortunately in the U.S., the source of our freedom from the establishment of religion also bestows the right to exercise one's beliefs. Seems like a good system to me.

These countries mentioned here where life is miserable for Christians are not godless, secular regimes. But they are places where human rights are weak and many groups are oppressed, not just Christians.

Roberta Medford


Since its inception, the Christian church has suffered persecution, so it's no surprise that it is the most persecuted religious faith in the world today. I agree that the institutional church in the United States is often tragically silent in the face of this persecution.

While it might seem that an obvious course of action is political protest and awareness-raising, Christians understand that the true heart of persecution is not political controversy, but spiritual warfare.

Jesus demonstrated how to fight persecution spiritually after his cousin, John the Baptist, was beheaded. Instead of inciting a crowd to protest King Herod’s actions, Jesus in compassion ministered to a large crowd, healing them and teaching about the kingdom of God. That evening he fed 5,000 of them.

While his actions may have looked totally unrelated to the persecution of John the Baptist, they actually struck at the heart of the spiritual evil behind that persecution. Jesus told his disciples, “Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18) Jesus knew that every time the kingdom of God is advanced, hell has to retreat.

In 1995 we began an international outreach called Harvest International Ministries. It is an apostolic network of churches, ministries, mission organizations, church networks and marketplace ministers dedicated to loving and helping each other fulfill the Great Commission. To date, it has planted more than 20,000 churches in 65 countries on five continents, and distributed more than $1.2 billion in medical and food supplies, primarily to needy children. We provide support and training for local pastors, many of whom minister in dangerous situations. I believe with each additional church and pastor, we are advancing God's kingdom and progressively eroding the spiritual evil of religious persecution.

Pastor Ché Ahn
HRock Church

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