Global Christian Persecution


January 31, 2019

The Theology of Advocacy for the Persecuted

(See Part One)

(See Part Two)

(See Part Three)

Part Four of Four:

We have seen powerful examples of advocacy in both the Hebrew Scriptures, through Abraham, Moses, Esther, Job, and others, and in the New Testament – particularly through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. God has also provided resources for advocacy that do not spring directly from the Bible. They have been developed through years of experience and Divine inspiration. Here are a few such resources:

  • Advocates UTILIZE EVERY TOOL at their disposal

This past October we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act passed into law by President Clinton. The passage of IRFA was the first time that concern for religious freedom was enshrined in U.S. foreign policy. With all its faults and its implementation failures, IRFA has still afforded us far more opportunities to be strong advocates for persecuted religious believers than ever before. IRFA included such provisions as the creation of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the State Department Office of International Religious Freedom and the Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, as well as the concept of Countries of Particular Concern at both the State Department and USCIRF, and annual scrupulous reports.

Another tool? Social media. When I began my work in advocacy, we were using fax machines! We sent handwritten letters by Return Receipt Requested to prisoners in Soviet labor camps. There was a sweet camaraderie of the committed, but not the kind of efficiency that is now available through social media. Now we have no excuse to not act – we have ready access to information and we have the tools to disseminate our campaigns and calls for prayer through Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, etc. (at least until someone gets offended and has us banned!).

According to Jean Paul Sartre, “Hell is other people.” But for advocates, another vital resource is other people.

  • Advocates value PARTNERS

When we were seeking to create and pass the IRFA legislation and to mobilize the grassroots to care, it was Jewish activists from the Campaign to Free Soviet Jews that came to the aid of advocates for persecuted Christians. They told us their story and encouraged us to persevere. They helped us to model our campaign after theirs. And they continue to do so today, thanks be to God.

In fact, it was a Jewish man, Michael Horowitz, whom we must ultimately thank for the much of the mobilization that led to IRFA, and for recruiting the late, great A. M. Rosenthal, former editor of the New York Times, into our campaign by telling him about the untold news scoop – the fate of the Christians like lambs to the slaughter.

Rosenthal was deeply moved and wrote story after story about persecuted Christians and other persecuted people of faith. When the New York Times dumped him in 1999 – coincidentally, after he began writing these particular columns – he moved to other venues such as the Daily News. In 2002 President George W. Bush gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his “outspoken defense of persecuted Christians.” I say so much about Rosenthal to encourage any potential advocate to find and read his columns! (I probably still have photocopies of every story in my office files, if you need them.) We may never know until we enter Eternity how those columns were used to change hearts.

A new Save the Persecuted Christians coalition began in February of 2018. It was also modeled after the Campaign to Save Soviet Jewry. This coalition, of which I was a founding member, is providing free banners to churches like the Save Soviet Jews banners that sprang up all over America in the 1970’s to raise awareness of persecuted Christians.

Finally, in case it hasn’t been obvious from many of the other points in this article:

  • Advocates are CREATIVE

As with every important issue, advocacy for persecuted Christians is enhanced by the arts. The movement to save our suffering brothers and sisters has used and should continue to use paintings, photography, and poetry; sculptures and plays; movies and songs. In the future, I will explore the use of the arts in advocacy for persecuted Christians more fully, but for now, a few examples:

  • The beautiful icon of the 21 Martyrs slaughtered on a Libya seashore by ISIS (the cover photo for this article) that was created by their fellow Coptic Christian, Tony Rezk.
  • Save the Persecuted Christians coalition has created a photographic exhibit of Christian persecution around the world entitled “People of the Cross.” The exhibit includes Jordan Allott’s powerful photo of the widow of one of the martyrs mentioned above.
  • One of the most moving poems I ever read about Christian persecution in Sudan was written by a young man in Knoxville, Tennessee.
  • One Christian college created a sculpture garden dedicated to the memory of the Christian students slaughtered by al-Shabaab in northern Kenya.
  • Churches and youth groups that are – dare I use it ?! – “woke” to the global persecution of Christians have produced plays, and one of the most powerful stage plays that exposes the persecution not just of Christians, but all people, in North Korea’s horrible labor camp system, was the 2006 Yoduk Story.
  • Filmmaker Jason Jones’ Sing a Little Louder packs a wallop in less than 12 minutes. Watch it online immediately.
  • A new film Christians in the Mirror by filmmaker Jordan Allott and Florida-based ministry, Joshuacord is coming soon. This film profiles persecuted Christians from Iraq, Syria, Egypt, India, and Sudan. According to the website, “The documentary seeks to ask the audience the question what do they see as followers of Christ in the mirror? Does it reflect Christ or is it skewed or distorted?” The creators hope that Christians and churches across America will have screenings that will lead to more prayer and advocacy for persecuted brothers and sisters.
  • Finally, we need songs that express the story of the persecuted Church. Years ago I made it my mission to reach out to every Christian band or musician I could, to ask them to write/sing songs about their persecuted brothers and sisters. The wonderful Michael Card did this, and even invited a Southern Sudanese Christian to travel with him to share with audiences about the Sudan government’s genocide against Christians in the South.

In recent years the most powerful musical tribute to Christian martyrs that I have heard is “The Greater Tide,” by the band Attalus, written by the former lead singer, Seth Davey. Listen to “The Greater Tide.” It describes the martyrdom of “long forgotten men who lost their lives beneath the tide:

Some faced the sword
Some faced the rack
Some burned alive inside the flames
But heroes all
Both great and small
They proved their faith was not in vain
Those humble men
Those children dear
Beneath the crushing wave they cried
That saving name
Of Him who comes
Bringing forth a greater tide.

“Come hear the tale and stand amazed at those who rest beneath the waves,” the song continues. And I am reminded once again of the 21 Martyrs. Although ISIS thought to terrorize and discourage Christians by releasing their horrific video — “the tale” — God used it to “amaze” people all over the world. In fact, the Body of Christ has grown and been strengthened, especially in Egypt, where many rededicated their lives to Christ as a result.

Davey’s song finishes triumphantly with a powerful instrumental section to reinforce the lyrics. “Come hear the tale and stand amazed at those who dance upon the waves. Their minds are new, their hearts are safe, upon that Sea beyond the grave.” Not only the 21 dance upon the waves, but millennia of martyrs, who in the Book of Revelation are identified as “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language.”

In Philippians, St. Paul tells us to think about whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. The advocate has to focus on such sadness, heartbreak, evil, and destruction. But the artist helps the advocate to see beauty in spite of all that.

The man or woman who becomes an advocate for their persecuted brothers and sisters sees what is true and right and excellent as something to be defended at all cost. But art reveals the pure and lovely and noble in what only appears to be broken and violated and victimized. It proclaims admirable and praiseworthy those whom only appear to be poor and downtrodden. And it helps us to see the end – the ultimate destiny – for both those for whom we are advocates and for ourselves: dancing upon the waves on that Sea beyond the grave.

(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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