The Real War on ChristmasNINA SHEA
Christmas is a time of joy for Christians and, for multitudes around the world, a time of suffering.
Over Christmas 2000 in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country and one traditionally renowned for its religious toleration, terrorists bombed churches in 18 cities, killing scores and wounding hundreds. At Wednesday's forum, Catholic Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver observed that "violence against the Christian minority has steadily continued over the past decade." As an example, he cited the beheadings of three Christian teenage girls in Sulawesi in late October. International Christian Concern's Jeff King brought photos of the incident; the girls' heads were left at a church, each with a note that vowed, "We will murder 100 more Christian teenagers and their heads will be presented as presents."
Christmas in Iraq, St. John's Church near Mosul was attacked. Assyrian cultural
expert Eden Naby described the scene: "The Mass begins. It is cold inside the
stone church. Suddenly you hear automatic fire. The doors fly open. The Christian
guards are shot, and in march armed Kurdish Peshmarga who shoot up the church,
beat up the priest and drive the parishioners cowering home." In prior months,
other churches in southern Iraq had been bombed by Islamic militants, some during
worship services. Though the terror came from two different sources, in each case
the purpose was the same — to intimidate and force out the ancient Chaldo
Assyrian Christian community.
Christians face similar repression in Iran. Episcopal priest, Rev. Keith Roderick, representing Christian Solidarity International, reported that as the Christmas season got underway around the world last month, Tehran's tyrannical President Ahmadinejad met with 30 provincial governors and reportedly declared, "I will stop Christianity in this country," avowing to shut down the country's growing house-church movement.
Egypt had been a place of refuge for the Holy Family fleeing Herod's wrath. Today, however, Christians are fleeing Egypt itself. As Fr. Roderick attested, Christians are treated as "second-class citizens" under state-sponsored discrimination and actively persecuted by Islamic militants apart from the government. He cited the week-long riot in October against St. George's Coptic Church in Alexandria by a 10,000-strong mob incensed by rumors of blasphemy.
Christians in Pakistan will be wise to keep their Christmas celebrations low-key this year. One of them, Yousaf Masih, a 60-year-old illiterate janitor from northwestern Pakistan, is among those under arrest for "blasphemy" because he allegedly burned a Koran. As Paul Marshall of the Center for Religious Freedom recounted, three weeks ago in Sangala Hill, after word of his case got out, mobs destroyed three churches, a convent, a Christian school, and Christian homes. Last week a militant mob rallied to demand Masih's public hanging and the eradication of the entire Christian community there.
And while China manufactures and exports Christmas lights and ornaments, it arrests and imprisons Christians who lead worship services, preach, or minister without state approval. Richard Land, director of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, gave as an example Catholic Bishop James Su Zhimin of Hebei, who on December 25 will be observing his 27th Christmas in confinement. Cai Zhuohua, a Protestant pastor in Beijing, was sentenced in early November to three years in the gulag, or laogai as it's called in China, for printing and distributing Bibles. His defense lawyer, the prominent civil rights attorney Gao Zhisheng, also a Christian, has been disbarred and now worries he may become his own next client.
Vietnam, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, India, Cuba, Eritrea, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan were also among the countries cited for violent anti-Christian persecution. And, as the panelists remarked, this list could be extended.
One mark of hope for genuine religious freedom was offered by Marshall at the forum's conclusion. He noted that, this Christmas, many churches in Indonesia will be surrounded by the uniformed Muslim Banser group, a wing of Nahdlatul Ulama, the world's largest Muslim organization. The Bansers will not be there to attack the churches but to help protect them from extremists, to prevent any reprise of the Christmas 2000 bombings. Nahdlatul Ulama has done this for several years, in cooperation with the police and the Christian, Hindu, and Buddhist communities.
Christmas is a time of great suffering for these communities. But as these persecuted Christians commemorate the birth of Jesus from their jail cells, within their house churches, or silently in their hearts, it is also a time of joy. For them, truly, the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
Nina Shea. "The Real War on Christmas." National Review (December 19, 2005).
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