When faced with persecution, Christians worldwide employ more strategies than just fight or flight.
Today at a DC symposium, 17 researchers released the final version of a $1.1 million study exploring how Christians respond to persecution in 25 of the hardest places for them to live. The findings of Under Caesar’s Sword (UCS), funded by the Templeton Religion Trust, were previewed orally in Rome in December 2015.
Persecution can be difficult to measure. (For example, should Christians who weren’t murdered for their faith count as martyrs?) But by all counts, religious freedom violations are on the rise worldwide. Islamist extremism and ethnic nationalism have pushed persecution to record levels three years in a row, according to Open Doors research.
Christians bear the brunt, experiencing between 60 percent to 80 percent of religious discrimination, UCS researchers concluded.
And evangelicals and Pentecostals bear the brunt of that. They are more likely to be persecuted than mainline Christians, Catholics, or Orthodox Christians, according to the UCS report. That’s because in most places, evangelicals and Pentecostals are the relative newcomers, without the long relationships and history that older Christian groups have.
Evangelicals and Pentecostals are also more likely to be seen as Western. And they “tend to understand evangelization and conversion as verbal, urgent, and sometimes dramatic processes and, consequently, expect and are prepared to endure persecution,” the report stated.
It’s correlation, not causation, the researchers acknowledge. But it’s there. And as non-Christian governments are more likely to see them as a threat, evangelicals and Pentecostals in turn are less likely to build associations with others and more likely to head underground or confront their persecutors.
The report did exclude some countries with severe levels of persecution—notably Eritrea, Somalia, and Yemen—because they “fell outside of the project’s logistical capabilities.” North Korea was also left off since it was “inaccessible to research.”
The UCS project was left essentially with the 10–40 Window, a thick latitudinal band stretching from Nigeria to China.
Researchers grouped responses to persecution into three categories: survival, association, and confrontation.
Survival is the most common response of evangelicals. More than 2 out of 5 responses (43%) involved such strategies, including “going underground, flight, and accommodation to or support for repressive regimes.” The majority of Christians in Syria and Iraq, for example, have fled before the terror and executions of ISIS, dropping the estimated 1.5 million Christians in Iraq in 2003 down to 400,000 last year.
“Almost no Christian has remained in IS-held territory,” the report stated.
The response of Christians in Iran and Saudi Arabia hasn’t been mass flight, but still falls in the survival category. They avoid complaining about the government, saying anything that might connect them with the West, or using the language of the Muslim majority when they worship, according to researchers.
Christians in Vietnam and Laos have also reacted to torture and imprisonment by heading underground, though they’ve also had limited success negotiating with authorities and allying with supporters overseas. The long history of stiff persecution in nearby Myanmar (Burma) even prompted Burmese Christians to go to Mosul this fall to serve Iraqi civilians caught in the battle for the city.
In all of those cases, Christians are aiming to “preserve the life and basic activities of their communities,” the UCS report stated.
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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra