Mark Twain is reported to have said that “History doesn’t often repeat, but it rhymes.” When it comes to church persecution issues this is a very accurate statement.
When churches are destroyed in Sudan, brave Sudanese Christians and their Muslim supporters are often the lone voices of protest and witness for a long time. Finally their plight goes public and there are demonstrations in various cities around the world.
When Islamic State terrorists and other jihadists ran roughshod in the cradle of our faith back in 2014, the silence of most mainstream Protestant denominations was deafening. It took countless images of people suffering to lead people finally to rise up and cry “enough” and demand that the situation be addressed.
Now its 2018 and once again there are threats against the Church in a region which was instrumental in the growth and spread of the faith. Violations of religious freedom are occurring in the land where St. Augustine was born and became Bishop of Hippo.
Since the first of the year, reports have emerged of churches being closed in Algeria. WorldWatch reports that since December of 2017 many of the 45 Churches belonging to the EPA, the Protestant Church of Algeria, have been closed by state authorities. According to the Algeria country entry in the recently released International Religious Freedom Report compiled by the US State Department it is estimated that there are between 20,000 and 200,000 Christians in the country. Most of that number are believed to be foreign workers.
On February 24th the World Evangelical Alliance called for a week of prayer and fasting for those suffering inside Algeria. The WEA also has issued a statement that called for the government “to ensure that the religious freedom of Christians is safeguarded in accordance to international law.”
In addition, the head of the WEA Religious Liberty Program Godfrey Yogarajah also said: “We also call upon the government, in keeping with the country’s constitution, to take all steps necessary to guarantee the freedom of worship for all religious groups in the country.”
Remarkably, just on June 13, WorldWatch Monitor reported that three churches recently closed down by Algerian authorities in the northern province of Oran, were reopened on Sunday, June 10. Prayer and fasting has come through.
“We are very pleased to be able to resume our activities without fear of new threats,” declared Pastor Rachid Seghir. “We hope that all churches can be regularized and able to work in peace and freedom. Such a thing can only be beneficial to the image of the country,” he added.
What is needed now is more exposure. US embassy staff in Algiers have met with several ministries (Justice, Religious Affairs, Interior and Foreign Affairs) in the Algerian government to raise concerns about the treatment of the Christian community in the country. Topics of conversations included importation of problematic religious texts, acquiring visas, and registration of associations.
Clearly more voices need to rise up to expose the ongoing violations of Christians’ religious freedom in Algeria. The U.S. Congress should take a look at this as well. St. Augustine wrote The City of God in ancient Algeria and in it encouraged suffering Christians to look to the victory of the heavenly City. But he also challenged government and military officials to use their positions to protect and defend Christians and other citizens from the Visigoths! We should do the same for those descendants of Algeria’s early Christian community now under threat.