WASHINGTON – The United States must make the fight against persecution a priority, religious liberty advocates said recently.
“As the Apostle Paul taught the early church to respond to the needs of fellow believers who were being persecuted in Jerusalem, we here in America today have a responsibility to use our influence and our resources to help fellow Christians in need,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC).
Perkins joined five other religious freedom advocates in a webcast on persecution cosponsored by FRC and Voice of the Martyrs (VOM). As host of the webcast, he discussed the persecution of Christians in countries throughout the Middle East, as well as in North Korea, Eretria, China, Nigeria and more than 20 other countries.
The other spokesmen emphasized the need for action from the United States government to help the persecuted.
“I find it difficult to describe it as merely persecution. This is almost extinction,” said Emmanuel Ogebe, a Nigerian Christian attorney.
During the past year, Nigerian churches have suffered 24 suicide bombings, making it the worst year of the past 30 years of persecution, Ogebe said. Christians in Nigeria are not accustomed to such persecution, he said during the Nov. 14 webcast.
“Christians wear their Sunday best to go to church, and it turns out to be their funeral clothing,” he said.
Nigeria has seen little support from the United States government, Ogebe said.
Last Christmas, three cities were bombed by Boko Haram, a militant Islamic organization based in Nigeria. The State Department, however, said in its latest International Religious Freedom Report only one city was bombed, Ogebe said. He believes this further demonstrates the United States' desire not to label the bombings as terrorist attacks. Part of his belief is based on the fact the State Department refuses to label Boko Haram as a terrorist group.
The president and secretary of State must be willing to take action to help prevent the persecution of Christians, said Tom Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs on the Georgetown University campus.
Also, Congress should deal with the issue as a bipartisan body, but while many are willing to agree, few are willing to act, Farr said. “I've been hearing 'amens' for 14 years, but I haven't seen any policies,” Farr said.
The number of Christians in Iran has risen to anywhere between one and three million, said Dr. Hormoz Shariat, founder of Iran Alive Ministries. Meanwhile, the government has begun cracking down on Christians in a way it has not done before, he said.
“The persecution is a result of God working and people responding,” Shariat said during the webcast.
Shariat recounted the story of a 17-year-old boy who was imprisoned for his Christian faith. He was beaten, his leg broken and the fingers on his right hand broken. In addition, his education was expunged, and he was dismissed from his university. Yet, at the end of the teenager's imprisonment, the guard in charge of his torture asked the young man to continue to share the gospel with him so he could become a Christian, Shariat said.
Iranians are eager to hear the gospel of Jesus, because they see so many flaws in their own Islamic faith, Shariat said. The Christian movement in Iran should not be pitied, he said. Christians should be encouraged to take hold of their opportunity to make Iran a new country, he told the audience.
American Christians don't know enough about the persecution of their brothers and sisters abroad, said Todd Nettleton, VOM's director of media development. Some Christians are increasing their awareness of the plight abroad, but many more are still uneducated on the topic, he said.
“There are a lot of Christians who close the last chapter of Acts and think that is where the persecution stopped,” Nettleton said.
Perkins and Nettleton urged Christians throughout America to educate themselves about the persecution of Christians so they would be able to pray effectively. They also urged them to send Bibles and letters for the persecuted and sign petitions calling for the release of imprisoned Christians.
“There are people losing their lives, and we are doing nothing about it,” Perkins said.
In addition to the speakers who were at FRC for the event, Sen. David Vitter, R.-La., also spoke by video.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Anne Reiner was an intern this fall with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.)