The Suffering Church

Moviegoers who see Amistad are coming out of theaters somber, shaken, even weeping over the movie's dramatic depiction of slavery in the nineteenth century. But ask the same people about slavery as it exists today, and they're likely to give you a blank look. The truth is, slavery is still practiced around the globe. In Sudan, Christians are sold into slavery at $500 a head. And I recently met with Harry Woo, 19 years a Chinese political prisoner. He told me of Christians being forced to perform slave labor in Chinese concentration camps. Parents are jailed for teaching their children about the Gospel. Chinese President Jiang explained euphemistically that state policy is to "actively guide religion so that it can be adapted to socialist society." Other nations seem to be "adapting" religion to their societies as well. In Saudi Arabia since the Gulf War, police have arrested hundreds of Christians. In Pakistan, Christians have been driven from their villages by Muslim mobs, their homes and churches destroyed. In Egypt, converts from Islam to Christianity are arrested, tortured, even murdered. Surprisingly, more Christians have been martyred for their faith in this century alone than in the previous 19 centuries combined. The list of afflictions reads like an alphabet soup of cruelty: amputation, bombing, crucifixion, displacement, flogging, kidnapping, murder, prison, rape, slavery, torture. Just as in the days of Daniel, the presence of people who refuse to bow before state-sanctioned idols sends tyrants into genocidal rage. Even worse, Americans are hedging on whether to extend any political help to these suffering believers. Last spring, Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia and Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania introduced the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act, which would require the U.S. government to monitor religious persecution around the world and to impose economic and diplomatic sanctions on nations that practice it. The act initially won widespread support. But when leaders of industry caught wind of it, they sent lobbyists swarming all over Capitol Hill, anxious to protect their markets in China and their suppliers in Sudan. Members of Congress listened—and it is now uncertain whether the bill will even be brought up for a vote. The bill itself has been badly watered down. Even so, the act remains a test of Western Christians’ commitment to our embattled brothers and sisters in the faith. We cherish a Bible that teaches that when one member of the body suffers, all suffer. Do we really believe that? Will we give up some economic benefits for the sake of our convictions? The Roman poet Juvenal wrote that it is "the greatest of crimes to prefer survival to honor"—in this case, the honor of our Christian convictions. "Out of love of physical life," Juvenal goes on, we may "lose the very reason for living." Are we ready to stand with our brothers and sisters whose very lives are on the line? Will we defend the faith that is our very reason for living, even if it means some physical discomforts? Please call your representatives today and ask them to help the suffering church by supporting the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act. Let the world not say that American Christians turned their backs on those who are being persecuted for the sake of righteousness—for the sake of the Lord we profess to worship.


Chuck Colson


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