Friday, June 03, 2011

Blood of the Martyrs . . . Seed of the Church?

Coptic Christians Protest Persecution
Ed Ou for The New York Times
(Image from New York Times)

The mainstream media might finally have begun to notice the widespread persecution of Christians throughout the world, particularly in Muslim-dominated areas, for I've noticed more articles recently in the New York Times on Christians suffering in Pakistan, Indonesia, and a number of other countries, particularly Iraq, from which Christians are fleeing and which threatens to be emptied of the last remnants of what was once its Christian majority. Now, we're also beginning to hear about Egypt.

David Kirkpatrick, writing for the New York Times, has recently noted that "Egypt's Christians Fear Violence as Changes Embolden Islamists" (May 30, 2011):
"Will Christians have equal rights and full citizenship or not?" asked Sarkis Naoum, a Christian commentator in Beirut, Lebanon. A surge of sectarian violence in Cairo -- 24 dead, more than 200 wounded and three churches in flames since President Hosni Mubarak's downfall -- has turned Christian-Muslim tensions into one of the gravest threats to the revolution's stability. But it is also a pivotal test of Egypt's tolerance, pluralism and the rule of law. The revolution has empowered the majority but also opened new questions about the protection of minority rights like freedom of religion or expression as Islamist groups step forward to lay out their agendas and test their political might.
Crawling out of the woodwork shaken by the revolution are even Islamists as radical as a certain Egyptian Salafi Shaykh Abu-Ishaq al-Huwayni who explains in this You Tube video translated by the site "Translating Jihad":
We are in the era of jihad. The era of jihad has come over us, and jihad in the path of Allah is a pleasure. It is a real pleasure. The companions (of the Prophet) used to compete to (perform jihad). The poverty that we’re in -- is it not due to our abandonment of jihad? But if we could conduct one, two, or three jihadist operations every year, many people throughout the earth would become Muslims. And whoever rejected this da'wa, or stood in our way, we would fight against him and take him prisoner, and confiscate his wealth, his children, and his women -- all of this means money. Every mujahid who returned from jihad, his pockets would be full. He would return with 3 or 4 slaves, 3 or 4 women, and 3 or 4 children. Multiply each head by 300 dirhams, or 300 dinar, and you have a good amount of profit. If he were to go to the West and work on a commercial deal, he would not make that much money. Whenever things became difficult (financially), he could take the head (i.e. the prisoner) and sell it, and ease his (financial) crisis. He would sell it like groceries.
The video of this man's insights into economics breaks off at this point, but I believe that we've heard enough to understand his mentality. Apparently, this statement was made over a decade ago, but in the 'freer' atmosphere of post-revolutionary Egypt, it has recently surfaced, and when the good sheik was questioned about it, he stood by his remarks. I don't know how much support he has in Egypt, but if Islamists of this sort were to take over that country and establish an Islamic state, they might not prove so popular. According to Trevor Persaud, writing "Public Enemy: Iran's Persecution Backfires" for Christianity Today (June 1, 2011), an Islamist state can inadvertently enhance the appeal of Christianity:
Islam is losing credibility after 30 years of theocracy [in Iran]. Resentment against the reigning regime is spreading and deepening -- especially since the disputed 2009 national elections.

"Before the [1979] revolution, the clerics were promising that once Iran becomes an Islamic state, it would be utopia, it would be brotherhood, and everything would be fine," . . . said [Issa Dibaj, an Iranian Christian]. But since then, Iranians "have seen nothing but war and fighting and international isolation and hatred, [and] they are thirsting for change."

"The Iranian public basically doesn't trust the government anymore," . . . said [Abe Ghaffari, executive director of Iranian Christians International], "and they don't trust the Muslim clergy anymore, because they have seen a lot of double standards and hypocrisy."

Converts in smaller communities still risk persecution from their own families, but tolerance is growing in urban areas and among the younger generation. "In fact," said Dibaj, "in places like Tehran and more educated communities, if you say, 'I have become a Christian,' they will respect you because of your courage and your independent thinking."

If anything, government persecution has made Christianity much more attractive, said . . . [Elam Ministries member David Yeghnazar]. "When government officials are on television telling people not to read the Scriptures, that generates more interest in the Scriptures."
I suppose that the Iranian government is worried, for as the article notes:
[M]ore and more Iranian Muslims are converting to Christianity. The house church movement is booming, with converts estimated in the hundreds of thousands. Evangelists are distributing large numbers of New Testaments, and satellite television continually beams Christian programs into the country.
Hundreds of thousands. Impressive, I guess, but out of a population of what, 80 million? That's still a rather minor percentage, so what is the Iranian government worried about?

Or might they have read chapter 50 of Tertullian's Apologeticus and learned of his theory on the growth of Christianity? But then, they wouldn't be persecuting Christians if they had, would they?

Or would they? Think of Iraq, which is being depopulated of Christians as they flee to escape the violence aimed at them by Islamists. Or of Pakistan, where up to 60 Christians each month convert to Islam to escape persecution.

Maybe Tertullian's blood-seed theory is not universally correct. Maybe some kinds of persecution are effective if the violence is brutal enough and if a substitute religion is offered.

I suppose we'll find out . . .

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