Oppressed and Persecuted Christians
Hundreds of Nigerian Christians who in the last months fell victim to the terrorist attacks by the radical Islamic Boko Haram, Copts who were killed in Cairo during a demonstration, attacks by Hindu extremists on Christians in India, and time and again individual cases as e.g. the assassination of the Christian Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's Minister for minorities - such dramatic news were necessary in order to make a wider public aware of the fact that in many countries Christians are harassed or even persecuted.
Two years ago, the then Human Rights Commissioner of the Federal government, Günter Nooke, demanded more public awareness for persecuted Christians, and he called upon politicians, but also religious leaders to defend more courageously freedom of religion. Will this concern now become an issue that goes beyond the narrow circle of human rights activists and committed people of the Free Churches? Or are the churches too shy and politicians and media too uninterested? Much staying-power is certainly needed in order to bring the plight suffered today by millions of Christians home to a secular-minded public. In our days, something like "persecution of Christians" is deemed to be unlikely. But this view, which is also widespread among Christians who are attached to the church, is based on simple ignorance. One can and should correct it.
Besides the churches, the "International Religious Freedom Report" of the U.S. State Department informs every year about the discrimination and persecution of members of every religion. For also Baha'is, Amadis, Muslim minorities and Falun Gong are discriminated and threatened - but most frequently Christians. The International Society for Human Rights reports similarly comprehensively on such human rights violations. It, and not a church, has in January 2012 called for a candlelight vigil in Stuttgart against the persecution of Christians, and recommends a "Ecumenical Day of the Persecuted Christians."
What is done by the churches? Interdenominational or free-church initiatives have been informing for years about the legal minority status of Christians of all denominations, about the devastating abuse of the blasphemy law in Pakistan, the prohibition of change of religion (in Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia it is under penalty of death), about acts of violence which are not subjected to prosecution, and the lacking police protection against them. They propose making petitions and supporting projects by donations - as e.g. the "Relief Agency Martyrs' Church," "Signs of Hope", "Christian Solidarity International", and the relief agency "Open Borders".
The latter describes in detail the changes in the situation of Christians in the problem countries and compiles an annual "World Watch List". In the year 2011 the communist North Korea, where probably up to 70.000 Christians are imprisoned in labor camps, is at the top of this sad ranking list. This is followed by Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and in 15th place Egypt, where in 2011 more than 100.000 Copts left the country, and so a cleansing, a de-Christianization is threatening - as in Iraq. China, with its estimated 80 million Christians, is ranked 21st. Here, every evangelization outside the registered "patriotic" churches is forbidden, and the leaders of the "illegal" house churches are often arrested and sent to labor camps.
The concept of the "Working Group for Religious Freedom of the German Evangelical Alliance" is remarkable: In accordance with the UN Human Rights Declaration, it advocates the "freedom to practice any or no religion". It appeals to the media to report on the worldwide religious persecution with the same seriousness as on other human rights abuses and publishes a yearbook about the persecution of Christians. Every year, the churches should commemorate the persecuted fellow Christians in a Sunday service. The German Bishops' Conference recommends now to observe the St. Stephen's Day as day of intercession for persecuted Christians, and publishes annually a booklet about a problem country. Since 2010 in the EKD the intercessions of the Sunday Reminiscere take up this matter.
The two large churches have, especially due to their relief organizations, reliable information and give also unofficially their view on the situation of the oppressed Christians. Maybe they could achieve even more if they joined their means, and used them more continuously and more effectively to the public by a joint memorial day? If they unambiguously demand religious freedom for everyone, including non-Christians, also irreligious people must recognize that they do not only represent ecclesiastical interests and do not speak out in favour of a "clash of civilizations" but that they claim a human right. If Muslims and members of other religions could be won over for it, such a thing as a joint candlelight vigil for religious freedom and peace could emerge in the world.
And politics? Although the Chancellor and the Foreign Minister make greater efforts in supporting the cause of hard-pressed Christians (and of the Dalai Lama) than the previous governments, more sensitization is still needed. What is needed - in parliament, in discussions of diplomats in affected countries and in the UN human rights reports - is to give more attention to religious freedom and to make shortcomings known to the public. Volker Kauder, Chairman of the CDU faction in the Bundestag, has in Egypt and with Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, talked about this matter. His parliamentary group organized a congress about it and tries to get also other groups interested in the topic - and not least the Muslims living in Germany, so that they promote religious freedom in their countries of origin. He is right, "We must keep on with it."