Bearing the Cross

How do Christians behave when they are persecuted? Under Caesar’s Sword is a collaborative global research project aimed at answering just that. It is the first systematic study of its kind which investigates how Christian communities respond when their religious freedom is severely violated. Christians around the world suffer persecution in many different ways which you can find more about the alarming trends here. Christians’ responses to this persecution fall into three broad categories: first, strategies of survival, through which they aim to preserve the life and basic activities of their communities; second, strategies of association, through which they build ties with others that strengthen their resilience in the face of persecution; and third, strategies of confrontation, through which they openly challenge the persecution levied against them or live out their faith such that they accept the possibility of martyrdom as a mode of witness. These responses are not mutually exclusive.

Under Caesar’s Sword researchers have studied the character of these responses in twenty-five countries around the world in addition to “The West.” Eight findings arise from these studies:

  1. Christian communities most commonly adopt survival strategies. While these strategies are defined as the least proactive form of resistance to persecution, they often involve creativity, determination, and courage. These strategies include going underground, flight, and accommodation to or support for repressive regimes.
  2. Strategies of association are the second most common response. In these cases, Christian communities seek to secure their religious freedom by developing ties with other actors, including other Christian communities, non-Christian religions, and secular figures.
  3. Strategies of confrontation are the least common response. They serve to bear witness to the faith, expose and end injustice, mobilize others to oppose injustice, and replace it with religious freedom.
  4. Christian responses to persecution are almost always nonviolent and, with very few exceptions, do not involve acts of terrorism.
  5. Theology—in particular, a Christian community’s theology of suffering, church, and culture—influences the response of that community.
  6. Protestant evangelical and Pentecostal Christians are more likely to be persecuted than mainline Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, or other Christians associated with ancient churches. In response to persecution, evangelical and Pentecostal Christians are more likely to engage in strategies of survival or, on rare occasions, confrontation. They are less likely, however, to engage in strategies of association. Mainline Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians, on the other hand, are more likely to respond through strategies of association.
  7. The intensity of persecution only partly explains Christians’ responses.
  8. While success is difficult to define, some strategies of response have produced tangible results worthy of emulation.

Overall, the report finds that Christian responses to persecution embody a creative pragmatism dominated by short-term efforts to provide security, build strength through social ties, and sometimes strategically oppose the persecution levied against them. The fact that these efforts are pragmatic should not obscure that they often are conducted with deep faith as well as creativity, courage, nimbleness, theological conviction, and hope for a future day of freedom. For the full report which includes recommendations of how to deal with persecution based on the research you can download it here.

Below is a short but powerful documentary which not only covers the research but you also meet some of our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world whom they studied. Their YouTube channel also has more informative video resources on the terrible phenomenon. These are not faceless statics but real lives that are being discussed. We need to lament, pray, hope and act on their behalf.

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