Global Christian Persecution

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January 24, 2019

The Theology of Advocacy for the Persecuted

Part Three of Four:

 (See Part One)

(See Part Two)

Now I want to provide a few examples of what we can learn about advocacy from the New Testament.

First, let’s look at the parable Jesus told in Luke 18 about a widow and a judge. The widow has been wronged. She keeps appealing for justice, but the judge is unjust! Eventually though, she wears him down! He gives in, does the right thing, stands up for her, and gets justice for her. The parable is told by Jesus to give an example of persistence to apply to prayer to God, the very Just Judge. But the key word in the text is JUSTICE. Jesus uses the word “justice” four times in seven verses, and He gives no indication that the widow is at fault at all, in any way.

In an essay on “The Ministry of Advocacy,” Ray Ortland says:

Advocacy turns the abstract ideal of justice into a practical reality for an accused person when everything is on the line. To hold back from advocacy, to keep a low profile until the storm blows over, to keep quiet, to adopt a “wait and see” neutrality when an accused person justly needs courageous advocacy – to stand by in silence when we could make a real difference for a person under fire is cowardice.

We recently saw an example of advocacy for an unjustly accused person in the strong actions of the United States government, right up to President Trump, on behalf of Pastor Andrew Brunson. There could have been no more “practical reality,” than achieving justice for an innocent pastor, husband, and father, pressuring the Turkish Government to release him.

We have seen the opposite in the past – in 2014, when the US government held back from advocacy for months in the case of Sudanese Christian wife and mother, Meriam Ibraheem, imprisoned and sentenced to death for apostasy. When Meriam needed “courageous advocacy,” the US Embassy in Sudan declared the situation an internal Sudanese matter (even though Meriam was married to a naturalized U.S. citizen from South Sudan). It took the outrage of concerned citizens around the world to push for the action needed to “make a real difference for a person under fire” and to provide justice in Meriam’s case.

Another way of explaining concern for justice is to say that:

  • Advocates reveal TRUTH

A striking example of the need to reveal truth, not keep quiet or be neutral, was the reality of slavery in Sudan. The truth was, in spite of what the UN and various NGO’s in the 1990’s said, there was actual slavery—not just “tribal abduction” taking place in Sudan. That brutal reality highlighted the racist aspect of the jihad that the Khartoum regime was waging. It opened eyes to how many different weapons of war the National Islamic Front government used against the Southern Sudanese African ethnic groups.

The UN and the others were forced (by exposure of the truth) to admit that the taking of tens of thousands of women and children from Bahr al Ghazal and elsewhere was chattel slavery. But they still condemned the advocates who, following the example of St. John de Matha and the Trinitarian Order of the Middle Ages, sought to redeem people out of slavery. Courageous redemption actions were taken (and, in many cases, are still taken!) by such heroes as Christian Solidarity International’s Dr. John Eibner, the American Anti-Slavery Group’s Dr. Charles Jacobs, Joe Madison, and others. And the work of revealing slavery, by late author/speaker Samuel Cotton (Silent Terror: A Journey Into Contemporary African Slavery), cannot be forgotten.

Many who criticized redemptions had their own agenda. But stories of those redeemed out of slavery helped provide a clear picture of the evil Khartoum regime. Advocacy resulted in the appointment of an Eminent Persons Task Force to investigate Sudan slavery. The task forces’s findings and recommendations had a great impact on that particular evil.

Sometimes euphemisms and understatement are used to create a sense of moral equivalence between the persecutor and the persecuted, but:

  • Advocates expose and confront FALSE MORAL EQUIVALENCE

For instance, to say that in Nigeria there are “clashes between farmers and herdsmen” when what is actually taking place is the systematic extermination of entire Christian villages by radicalized Fulani is false moral equivalence! Similarly, to describe Boko Haram’s attacks on Christians because they are Christians as “ethnic conflict on both sides” is false moral equivalence!

Other times words are used that are insufficient to describe the reality of the situation. For instance, here’s a scenario from something that took place in South Sudan almost 3 years ago:

  1. Dozens of trucks full of armed rebel combatants open fire on soldiers of a nation’s army without warning outside the presidential compound of that nation.
  2. The army begins to fight back, to defend the presidential compound and protect the country from takeover by rebels.
  3. This incident is described by the media and numerous NGO’s and others as reporting that fighting erupted,” and the media described it as “rival factions clashing

Volcanoes erupt. Fighting doesn’t just “erupt.” This avoids naming the instigators of the attack. This is false moral equivalence! And, no, it was not “rival factions.” It was the sovereign government being attacked once again by armed rebel combatants trying to take over the country. This is false moral equivalence!

Countering such deception and lack of clarity is mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting – not to say physically, as well. Thank God, for the help and comfort of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

In the New Testament, the most prevalent references to advocacy are Christological and Pneumatological – speaking of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit as advocates. “Advocate” is the English translation of the Greek word parakletos, or “paraclete.” The first reference is in John 14:16 where Jesus tells His disciples, “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.”

 

In his 1989 Catechesis on the Holy Spirit as Advocate, Pope John Paul II said:

Parakletos means literally: “one who is called or appealed to” (from para-kalein, “to call to one’s assistance”). He is therefore the defender, the advocate, as well as the mediator who fulfills the function of intercessor. When Jesus in the upper room, on the eve of His passion, announced the coming of the Holy Spirit, He did so in the following terms: “The Father will give you another Paraclete.” These words indicate that Christ Himself is the first Paraclete, and that the Holy Spirit’s action will be like that of Christ and in a sense prolong it. . . Jesus Christ, indeed, was the “defender” and remains such.

We as human, Christian advocates need to be empowered by that same Holy Spirit to model our advocacy after His own advocacy, to stand as defenders to the persecuted. The Holy Spirit empowers the advocate to be PERSISTENT, and also, the Spirit Himself is INSISTENT. There are times when we feel the nudge of the Holy Spirit to do or say something. In Christian advocacy, this ability to trust the nudges of the Holy Spirit is in itself a great comfort and a guide.

As Pope John Paul II explained, Christ Himself is the First Paraclete. In 1 John 2:1, John reveals Jesus’ function as an advocate to plead our case before God when we sin, saying, “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” And Hebrews 7:25 adds that Jesus, “is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” Not only is Jesus the advocate who makes intercession when we sin, but 1 John 2:2 says that He is also the propitiation for our sins – “and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”

This Advocate forgives our sin. And because of that:

  • Advocates believe in and understand the power of FORGIVENESS.

 

Advocates for persecuted Christians have to believe in forgiveness, because persecuted Christians exhibit staggering forgiveness for their persecutors on a regular basis!

  • Christians in Iraq have stated that they forgive ISIS.
  • Southern Sudanese Christians forgave the Darfuris who were used by the Khartoum government against them.
  • Bishop Festo Kivengere of Uganda forgave mass murdering dictator Idi Amin – responsible for the torture and death of Festo’s friend and Archbishop, the Most Reverend Janani Luwum. He even wrote a book entitled I Love Idi Amin.
  • The widows and brothers and parents of the Coptic martyrs that were slaughtered on the Libyan seashore have forgiven their loved ones’ killers.
  • And the wife and daughters of Australian missionary doctor Graham Staines, who, with their two little boys, was burned alive by radical Hindus while sleeping in their jeep on a field mission, forgave the killers. (Please DO NOT MISS the new film coming out on February 1 based on this amazing story, THE LEAST OF THESE, with Stephen Baldwin as Graham Staines.)

This is not cheap forgiveness. This is not denial or downplaying of evil – which some people mistake as forgiveness. This is looking evil the evil that has been done squarely in the face, acknowledging it as evil, and saying to the perpetrator, “but I forgive you – because I have been forgiven.” This is the type of forgiveness that transforms the persecuted into advocates for their very persecutors.

(In Part Four of The Theology of Advocacy for the Persecuted, we will conclude with other resources for Biblically-based advocacy.)

(See Part Four)

(This article is based on a speech given at the Providence Journal’s conference on Christianity & National Security: Exploring Church Teaching on Government’s Divine Vocation. The video of the speech and all the speeches at that conference will soon be available.)

 


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