The words of Jesus, “Love one another as I have loved you”, link explicitly love of God and love of neighbour. The two great commandments, found in both the New Testament and the Torah, complement each other. Similar thoughts are found in the holy books of probably all other spiritual communities, certainly including Tibetan Buddhism.
Consider, for example, something His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, said to about 7000 admirers at the Ottawa civic centre last week. The much-loved Nobel Laureate and honourary Canadian citizen stressed that inner happiness comes from doing acts of compassion to enemies. He mentioned a fellow monk who had been imprisoned for years and abused in a Tibetan prison by the Chinese party-state. When finally freed and reaching the Dalai Lama, he told His Holiness that he was deeply troubled because he felt himself in danger of losing compassion towards his oppressors.
Jesus also said, “... love your enemies…” (Matthew 5.44). In this context, and bearing in mind BBC news reports that Christians have been killed last week in both Kano, Nigeria, and Nairobi, Kenya, I thought about the persecution of Christians today. The topic was discussed last week before a packed hall at the synagogue of Rabbi Reuven Bulka in Ottawa.
Like many others in diverse spiritual communities, I’ve long advocated that adherents of all faiths should defend each other when one is under attack. During the terrible siege of Sarajevo in the ‘90’s, for example, many Edmontonians of Christian and other faiths protested at city hall about the appalling treatment our Muslim brothers and sisters in Bosnia. Later, many of the same diverse group gathered to protest the treatment of Christians in Pakistan. An attack on one faith community often becomes an attack on all of them. Hitler, Stalin and Mao persecuted all religions.
There are free countries of many faith backgrounds today. Paul
Marshall, author of books on religion and politics, says Latin America has become one of the most religiously free regions in the world. The nations of Central Europe have in recent years been largely free from religious persecution, as have many in Africa, and several in Asia.
But a 2011 Pew Forum study on Religion and Public Life (http://www.pewforum.org/) estimated that Christians today constitute about 2.1 billion persons, and approximately one-tenth of them are being persecuted in varying degrees by governments or fellow citizens in 131 of the world’s independent countries. Another estimate is that approximately 105,000 Christians are murdered yearly because of their faith. In other words, about one Christian is killed every five minutes somewhere on earth.
Open Doors, a Christian organization, issues an annual listing of the worst-offender countries. Here are a few examples:
Saudi Arabia, home to more than one million Christian foreign workers, bans churches and private acts of Christian prayer. The monarchy permits its religious police to raid private Christian services and to bring participants up on charges of blasphemy. Author David Aikman has noted that there is a “steady drumbeat of anti-Christian propagandizing by Saudi media outlets.”
There is rightly much international concern for Baha’i’s in Iran because they have no legal rights and many have been murdered by the regime. Aikman reports that Iran is probably second only to China in having the fastest-growing Christian house-church community. Dozens have been arrested and jailed for attempting to worship. The regime has recently sentenced a convert to Christianity to death. (The victim, Yousef Nadarkhani, is a pastor of a group, some of whom are converts. Because of the country’s Orwellian penal code, those who seek to leave Islam face the real prospect of death.)
In China the repression of Tibetan Buddhists, Falun Gong and Uighur Muslims in China has gained worldwide attention. The Beijing party-state has also made an unsuccessful effort to bring the burgeoning Christian population to heel. The State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA), which controls all religions in China, manages the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) for Protestants and the “Catholic Patriotic Association”, which does not recognize the Pope. The number of Christians attending state-approved churches totals 20-30 million. The remaining estimated 50-75 million Christians belong to unregistered ‘house churches’.
In my opinion, the West should use the billions of dollars in aid it gives to offending governments as leverage to stop the persecution of minorities, including spiritual ones.
While the world continues to grapple with the issue of persecution of Christians and other faiths, democratic governments must protect our own religious minorities effectively, including those viewed with suspicion by some, and ensure that all can worship, live and work without fear. Author Ayaan Hirsi Ali observes, “the protection of the freedom of conscience and speech, distinguishes free societies from (those that are) unfree….” Presidential candidate John Kennedy made a similar point in 1960: “An attack on one religion is an attack on all.” Human dignity is ultimately indivisible today.