How Do Evangelicals Around the World Respond to Persecution?

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The Story: A landmark new report conveys the findings of the “world’s first systematic global investigation into the responses of Christian communities to persecution.”

The Background: The global persecution of Christians has been frequently documented and reported on over the past decade. But “Under Caesar’s Sword: Christian Response to Persecution” reveals for the first time how Christians around the world respond to persecution. The project is a partnership of the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture, the Religious Freedom Institute, and Georgetown University’s Religious Freedom Research Project.

According to the report, a team of 17 leading scholars of global Christianity carried out the project through qualitative field research, including interviews with persecuted Christians, conducted between October 2014 and November 2015. The purpose of the investigation was to “achieve a better understanding of these responses in order to assist persecuted Christians and those who wish to act in solidarity with them.”

The report defines religious persecution as “any unjust action of varying levels of hostility directed to religious believers through systematic oppression or through irregular harassment or discrimination resulting in various levels of harm as it is considered from the victim’s perspective, each action having religion as its primary motivator.”

The modes of persecution, the study notes, include arbitrary detention, coercive and unjust interrogation, forced labor, imprisonment, beating, torture, disappearance, forced flight from homes, enslavement, rape, murder, unjust execution, attacks on and destruction of churches, and credible threats to carry out such actions.

The Findings: The investigation found that Christian responses to persecution tend to fall into three types, ranging from reactive to proactive: survival, association, and confrontation.

The report defines and explains each of the three types of response and how often they are used. Responses of survival (used 43 percent of the time) are strategies whereby Christians aim to preserve the life and the most characteristic activities of their communities, including worship, education, community life, and sometimes evangelization. Strategies of association (38 percent) are more proactive include engaging in interreligious dialogue, cooperating with other Christian communities, and forging coalitions and partnerships inside countries. Strategies of confrontation (19 percent) are those in which Christians openly challenge the persecuting government or non-state actors. This can include acceptance of imprisonment or martyrdom as a mode of witness or, more rarely, taking up arms against a government or rival social groups

Evangelicals and Pentecostal Christians are more likely to be persecuted than mainline Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, or other Christians associated with ancient churches, the report notes. In response to such 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.

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