Three years have passed since American pastor Saeed Abedini was imprisoned in Iran. Motivated by his Christian faith, pastor Saeed was in Iran organizing a government-sanctioned orphanage. But on September 26, 2012, he was detained on bogus charges. Pastor Saeed’s wife, Nagmeh, continues advocating for her husband, although she daily experiences the “excruciating pain” of his loss while raising their two children alone.
Pastor Saeed’s imprisonment is distressing. Yet, his is just one story amidst hundreds of thousands who are called the “Persecuted Church.” That is, Christians suffering physical abuse, rape, starvation, imprisonment, slavery and death for their faith in Jesus Christ. Awareness of the Persecuted Church is growing, but advocacy is nowhere near mainstream. This is social injustice on a global scale, and it has to change.
The Obama Administration has largely turned a deaf ear towards religious persecution. The State Department came under fire recently for discriminating against Christian refugees from Iraq. My colleague Faith McDonnell at the Institute on Religion and Democracy reported that the State Department has a disturbing pattern of “ignoring the particular targeting of Christians by ISIS while giving preferential treatment for asylum to other groups with expedited processing – like Somalis, Iraqis, and Syrians, some of whom could very well be members of jihadist movements."
More maddening than the Obama Administration are the many American Christians neglecting the Persecuted Church. The challenge is that when advocating on behalf of the Persecuted Church, we must simultaneously highlight the social injustices within the Islamic world and the role radical Islam and Jihad play. This is uncomfortable for many Evangelicals, especially younger Evangelicals, influenced by hip liberal religious authors and teachers who tell us that the hipster Jesus we worship isn’t an Islamophobe and that it’s time for Christians to relinquish our “persecution complex.” Absurd, but this is happening.
In reality, imagine the sphere of influence and resources American Evangelicals can use to bring religious persecution to the forefront of the social justice movement.
During the early 2000s, Christian Evangelicals achieved this when we rallied against human trafficking. Before Evangelical anti-trafficking sermon topics, campus clubs, prayer groups and demonstrations, feminists largely coordinated anti-sexual exploitation and trafficking efforts. As an Evangelical woman, once a leading member of our campus International Justice Mission chapter, we watched anti-human trafficking advocacy move from the sidelines to the premiere social justice concern of our generation.
Our hearts broke as we heard stories of eight-year-old girls sold to sex traffickers by their poor families and brought to brothels on the streets of Bangkok and forced into prostitution.
Thank God for the success of the anti-trafficking movement. However, social injustice doesn’t end there, folks.
Our hearts should break too for the Christian, Kurdish, and Yizidi children crucified by the terrorist group ISIS for not fasting during Ramadan. Or how about the children who are religious minorities living in Iraq and Syria buried alive by ISIS or used as suicide bombers in their despicable “holy war”?
Our rally cries for justice and human rights should extend to North Africa too. Evangelicals should devote sermons and prayers to pastors in Nigeria whose churches are attacked during worship service by Muslims from local mosques. We should demonstrate on behalf of the three Sudanese Christian girls who were walking home from their Baptist church and wrongly detained and stripped naked by police because they dared wear slacks and skirts, defying Sharia law.
A religious cleansing, a faith-based genocide, is occurring right now in the Middle East and North Africa and Christians’ anti-persecution efforts aren’t nearly vast enough. But they could be. They should be. Religious persecution is a leading social justice crisis of our time.
Isn’t it time to start the anti-religious persecution movement?
Chelsen Vicari serves as the Institute on Religion & Democracy’s Evangelical Program Director and is the author of “Distortion: How the New Christian Left is Twisting the Gospel & Damaging the Faith.”