By Mona Charen, Creators Syndicate
February 1996 – Lai Man Peng was a 22 year-old Chinese Christian evangelist. In 1994, at a meeting of one of China’s “house churches” (a non-government-sanctioned prayer meeting), he and four other evangelists were seized by agents of the Public Security Bureau, China’s KGB.
In front of the congregation, Mr. Lai and the others were beaten severely. The security officers next handed the truncheons to the congregants and ordered them to beat the preachers, on pain of being beaten themselves. Mr. Lai was so badly injured that the security team feared he would die in their presence (leaving too much to explain), so they released him. He crawled and hobbled for several miles attempting to reach his home, but finally collapsed and died on the road.
Such persecution is commonplace in China, where only a fraction of the estimated 30 million to 70 million Christians belong to government-approved sects. Amnesty International reports cases of Christian women hung by their thumbs from wires and beaten with heavy rods, denied food and water, and shocked with electric probes.
Elsewhere in the world Christians face other tortures and persecutions. In Egypt and Pakistan, Christians have been imprisoned and tortured merely for preaching their faith. Pakistan recently passed a blasphemy law that forbids speaking or acting against the prophet Mohammed. The punishment for violators is death. A 12-year-old Christian child was recently sentenced to death under this law and was freed from Pakistan only by international pressure. He is now hiding in a Western country with a bounty on his head similar to that which keeps Salman Rushdie on the run.
Sudan is perhaps the worst violator. Its Islamic government has engaged in a policy of forcible conversion. Many of the black Sudanese in the southern part of the country (the north is Arab) have resisted conversion, in many cases because of adherence to Christianity (a criminal act under Sudanese law). As punishment, the Sudanese government has denied food and medicine to Christians in famine areas and has sold thousands of Christian children – some as young as six – into slavery.
Where is the international outcry? The silence of American Christians is particularly hard to understand since they have been so unstinting in support of others in need. But when Michael Horowitz of the Manhattan Institute published an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal last July on persecution of Christians, the response was a resounding silence.
Steve Snyder of International Christian Concern (1-800-ICC-5441), a human rights group, offers some insights. American Christians, he notes, have been sheltered from persecution themselves for three centuries. While they have supported missionaries overseas, they have not necessarily kept faith with those whom they have succeeded in converting. There has been an unfortunate emphasis on numbers, Mr. Snyder believes. If Christians in one country begin to face persecution, missionaries tend to look elsewhere for converts rather than fight the persecution.
Putting it bluntly, Mr. Snyder says Christians have forgotten how to take care of their own. Almost too focused on loving their neighbor, they’ve lost sight of Christ’s injunction that “the world will know you are my disciples by your love one for another.”
Some Christians justify inaction on spiritual grounds, noting that it is an article of faith that all who wish to live a “godly life” will face persecution. Mr. Snyder doesn’t deny that persecution can yield spiritual dividends but thinks it is one thing to accept such a fate for oneself and quite another to say to your brother, “You go and suffer for your faith. It’s good for you.”
But above all, American Christians are simply ill-informed. If one major TV magazine program aired a segment on what is actually happening to Christians in the late 20th century, the apathy would be gone in a flash.
Child slavery, false imprisonment, torture, murder. It is all happening to Christians in Islamic and other countries. How long will the world’s largest Christian community stay silent?