“Christian communities around the world face marginalization, imprisonment, torture and even death on a massive scale. More than 7,100 Christians were killed for their faith in 2015 alone, making it the deadliest year for Christians in modern history. A new documentary looks in-depth at how these communities respond.”
So begins the news release for “Under Caesar’s Sword”, in important new documentary deserving a wide viewership. In just under a half-hour, you’ll find out how persecuted Christian communities in countries around the world deal with persecution and regular violations of religious freedom.
But don’t watch it expecting a sob story. These Christians aren’t beaten down and defeated, cowering in some corner like scared rabbits. As the producer (and in the interests of full disclosure, my good friend) Dan Philpott rightly observes: “What is remarkable about these persecuted Christians is their resilience. They are not just victims. Understanding this is the key to being in solidarity with them.”
The documentary not only relates the stories of the persecution of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world, it reveals their continuing Christian witness in the face of their travails. The stories of these communities are not meant to inspire anger or pity, as so many documentaries about people being victimized seem intended to do. These are stories of the victory of the human spirit in the face of attempts to stifle people’s deepest yearnings to worship God and live the truths of their faith. We see in the lives of these people the truth of Christ’s admonition: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for my name’s sake.”
Undoubtedly many readers will recall that another of Christ’s admonitions was this one: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” There is no point in watching such a documentary simply to get worked up, to feel as though one is in “solidarity” by the degree of one’s righteous indignation. What we need is a clear, calm vision of the problem, and firm resolution to help in whatever ways we can.
One way, of course, is simply to make these stories known and to insist that our government stop ignoring violations of religious freedom when perpetrated against Christians, which has often been the case in the past. We need to inform ourselves and then work to inform our fellow citizens. No religious group should face persecution. But the embarrassment about talking about the persecution taking place in these countries as though it were “indiscrete” to mention it in polite company must stop, as must the persecution of these innocent people whose only crime is that they want to live and worship in accord with their faith in the God who gave himself for the sins of all.
Another way of living in solidarity with them, along with refusing to be silent about their suffering, is to honor their witness with our own lives. To witness their courage in the face of constant danger, to see the creative strategies they employ under the constant watchful eye of government authorities, is to be touched by the power of an authentic Christian witness we in the United States have never had to show to this degree. To be in “solidarity” with them means not only speaking openly about their persecution, it also means imitating their Christian witness. The risks to our lives and our jobs are very minor compared to what these people must face daily. If we cannot be half as courageous or as creative as they are in living out our shared Christian faith, then we cannot claim to be their brothers and sisters in Christ. We cannot claim to be “in solidarity” with them if we will not make their sufferings our own and if we will not make their witness a model for our lives.
What makes modern progressivism’s rituals of righteous indignation so empty is that they require so little by way of sacrifice from those who participate. I get to feel righteous anger protesting in the streets like a peasant storming the Bastille and yet still enjoy my Beef Bourguignon bourgeois comforts back at my McMansion. We cannot be in solidarity with our persecuted brothers and sisters if we are not willing to sacrifice for them and sacrifice with them. Our lives must be as much a witness to faith, as much as sign of contradiction, as theirs.
Near the end of his encyclical on the Christian moral life, Veritatis splendor, Pope John Paul II spoke of the witness of the martyrs, declaring that, “By their eloquent and attractive example of a life completely transfigured by the splendor of moral truth, the martyrs and, in general, all the Church’s Saints, light up every period of history by reawakening its moral sense.”
“Although martyrdom represents the high point of the witness to moral truth,” wrote the Pope, “and one to which relatively few people are called, there is nonetheless a consistent witness which all Christians must daily be ready to make, even at the cost of suffering and grave sacrifice. Faced with the many difficulties which fidelity to the moral order can demand, even in the most ordinary circumstances, the Christian is called, with the grace of God invoked in prayer, to a sometimes heroic commitment.” “In an individual’s words and above all in the sacrifice of his life for a moral value, the Church sees a single testimony to that truth which, already present in creation, shines forth in its fullness on the face of Christ.”
We cannot claim to be Christians if we will not see the face of Christ in those persecuted in his name; nor can we claim to be Christians if we will be cowed and stay silent about the Gospel he entrusted to us.
Watch “Under Caesar’s Sword”. It will scandalize you. Then it should inspire you.