I’ve heard stories on the news of ISIS beheading Christians or forcing them to leave their homes. I’ve heard about underground churches in China. I even have missionary friends who must hide what they are really doing in their country for fear of being arrested. But, sitting here safely wrapped in my First Amendment right to religious freedom, I know I don’t completely grasp the pervasiveness of religious persecution around the world.
Under Caesar’s Sword is a short documentary about the work of 14 scholars who studied Christian communities in over 30 countries, including China, Indonesia, Nigeria, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, and India. These experts all agree that Christian persecution is more real than we could ever have imagined. They all agreed that “we’re seeing religious cleansing, ethnic cleansing on a massive scale.” Though it’s not the most engaging documentary I’ve ever seen, it is well worth the 26 minutes to open our eyes to more true stories of the persecution of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world.
Much like Martin Scorsese’s movie, Silence, the film almost felt unreal, even though I knew I was watching a documentary of real people who are actually being beaten, raped, tortured, and killed for their faith. For me, though I know it to be true, it is just so unimaginable. I can say it out loud and cognitively understand that it is happening, but still… it’s just a foreign news story that I can easily turn off. Which is exactly why I must keep watching, I must keep reading, I must keep educating myself.
According to Under Caesar’s Sword, Christian persecution is much more wide-spread than I realized:
“We’re seeing it at its most vicious right now… You can call it hell on the earth. Always they torture you, they beat you. Churches being broken, houses being burned, there was a huge amount of rapes.” – anonymous voices
“The whole Middle East is without exception engulfed by a nightmare that seems to have no end that undermines the very existence of Christians in many countries of the region.” – Ignatius Youssef III Younan
“What we see in Turkish-occupied Cyrpus is really the erasure of the Christian presence: churches demolished, all the iconography associated with the early church stripped out of these churches – really a perverse effort to erase the historical footprint of the Christians of Turkey.” – Elizabeth Prodromou
The film tells story after story. The pastor of a small church in Turkey who stands firm in his faith even though half his congregation has been arrested and he knows the police are plotting to assassinate him. A gospel singer from Eritrea who was arrested for recording Christian music and imprisoned in a shipping container for over two years, but never denied her faith. Christians in India being raped, beaten, tortured and killed in front of their families because they refused to convert to Hinduism.
I honestly cannot imagine ever having to go through that. I cannot imagine what I would do in their situation. Would I fight back? Would I run, hide, deny my faith to save my life? Story after story, Under Ceasar’s Sword tells us these believers do not retaliate with violence. Though many flee, they do not hide their faith. Their only response has been prayer and working harder for justice for others. Their own persecution, instead of driving them to self-survival mode, has actually increased their concern and compassion for others. That too, is almost unimaginable. But it sounds a whole lot like Jesus.
These incredible brothers and sisters of ours deserve more than our feeling bad for them and then turning off the news. They deserve more than 26 minutes of our time watching this documentary, saying a quick prayer for them, and then moving on to our own stable, safe little lives. It is a disgrace to their stories to not do more.
Yes, we should pray. Absolutely. Not a quick passing word after watching the film before we move on with our lives, but a full-on plea to our Father on behalf of our precious brothers and sisters.
And we should connect with refugees in our local community and find out how we can serve them.
And we should support ministries that are on the ground, helping these precious souls.
And we should contact our elected officials to find out how we can advocate for religious freedom in countries that don’t have it. Instead of just wrapping ourselves up in that safe blanket of religious freedom, we should find a way to share it.
And we should keep watching, keep reading, keep educating ourselves. Don’t just turn off the news in sadness. Let that sadness grow into empathy and that empathy into action. Doesn’t that sound a whole lot like Jesus?