Beliefnet
At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Unsurprisingly, Michelle Obama’s “hashtag” campaign from four years back failed abysmally to prevail upon the violent jihadist group Boko Haram to return the hundreds of Nigerian school girls who it abducted.

And while the American media gave audiences the impression that this attack by militant Muslims against young Christian girls was a one-off, the truth is that Boko Haram has been conducting a reign of terror upon Nigeria’s Christian inhabitants for years.  When men are included, the total number of victims of Boko Haram is estimated to be at 20,000.

Some, like 17 year-old Esther, have managed to return home.

On a day that started like any other in October of 2015, Esther’s life would forever change. Esther’s mother had already passed away.  She lived with her sick father, for whom she cared when she wasn’t in school.  But the day that Boko Haram besieged her town would be the last day that she would ever see him alive.

Esther and her father heard the first gunshots. They tried to escape, but the terrorists already had their home surrounded.  Open Doors shares what happened next:

“The rebel militants struck down her [Esther’s] father and left him in a heap on the ground.  Esther became a Boko Haram captive.  As rebel fighters carried off her and several other young women in their town to their hideout in the Sambisa Forest (where Boko Haram drove thousands of those they kidnapped), she continued to look back, her eyes fixed on her father.”

To this day, two-and-a-half years later, Esther still doesn’t know for sure whether her father is alive or dead. Yet she suspects the latter.

For the next year, Esther endured a nightmare that few people can imagine.  Deep in the Sambisa Forest, Boko Haram corralled their female victims, to whom they initially promised privileges in exchange for renunciation of the girls’ Christian faith.  When this tactic didn’t work, the terrorist thugs resorted to brute violence.

Esther says that several of the girls could no longer resist.  However, she continued to do so.  Esther tells Open Doors that she told herself: “If I perish, I perish. But I will not become a Muslim.

Though Esther is to be commended for her courage and faith, she paid a price for her resistance.  Through tears, she recalls:

“I cannot recall how many men raped me.”

Esther states that every time the men returned from an attack, they would take turns raping their captors.  She adds that they would “defile us [.]”

Regaining her composure, Esther continues, relaying how with each “passing day, I hated myself more and more.”  She “felt that God had forsaken me,” and “was so angry with Him [.]” Nevertheless, “I could not get myself to renounce Him” and “found myself remembering His promise to never leave or forsake me.”

During her year at the mercies of her tormentors, Esther conceived a child.  Given that she was raped by countless men, she remains oblivious to the identity of her child’s father.  Esther recalls her immediate thought upon learning that she was pregnant: “I had no idea how on Earth I would ever be able to love this child.”

In November of 2016, the Nigerian military liberated Esther and her fellow prisoners. Yet upon returning to their communities, where they had hoped to have found support, the girls encountered cruelty of another kind.

The residents of their villages ostracized and shamed them.

Esther and the other victims were ridiculed by their own people as “Boko Haram women.”

Salamatu Umar was only 15 when she was captured by Boko Haram in 2015.  She was forced into marriage with one of her captors.  Pregnant, she escaped while out collecting firewood for cooking.  But when she returned home, her ordeal endured.  As she told NPR: “People call me ‘Boko Haram wife’ to my face.  They say I am the wife of a killer—so how can I be afraid of Boko Haram?  They say my son is a Boko Haram baby.”

In 2016, UNICEF released a report on this phenomenon:

“Women and girls who have been subjected to sexual violence have been returning to their communities…Some are returning with their children who were born as a result of sexual violence.   As they return, many face marginalization, discrimination and rejection by family and community members due to social and cultural norms to sexual violence.”

Supposedly, there is fear that the girls had been indoctrinated and radicalized by their Islamic captors, as well as fear that the offspring of these rapists will grow up to become like their fathers.

According to Esther, her fellow villagers “mocked me because I was pregnant.”  And it wasn’t just the members of her community, but her own family who ridiculed and alienated her. “Even my grandparents despised me and called me names.”

Sobbing, she tells Open Doors: “I felt so lonely.”

Yet Esther was further pained by the way in which her daughter Rebecca was treated.  “What broke my heart even more was that they refused to call my daughter Rebecca.  They referred to her only as ‘Boko.’”

Esther eventually attended an Open Doors trauma care seminar. The caregiver had Esther and the other attendees who had been victimized by Boko Haram write their burdens on a piece of paper that they were then instructed to pin to a hand-carved wooden cross. “When I pinned that piece of paper to the cross, it felt like I was handing over all of my sorrow to God,” Esther recalls. “When the trainer later removed all the pieces of paper from the cross and burnt them to ashes, I felt like my sorrow and shame disappeared, never to come back again.”

Esther continues to seek trauma counseling.  Today she and her daughter live with her grandparents and life has become more tolerable. She claims to have forgiven her enemies and expresses confidence that God will exact vengeance against her tormentors on His own terms.

Neither Michelle Obama nor anyone else associated with the so-called #MeToo movement in the West has uttered a syllable regarding the countless Esthers of the world, young women who have endured, not sexual harassment, but sexual brutality and its aftermath the likes of which are unimaginable to those of us who have the luxury and privilege of living in the United States of 2018.

Esther won’t be asked to speak at the Oscars or the Emmys.  Nor will she be invited to speak at an American or Western university.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why.

Esther is a black African Christian and her persecutors are black African Muslims.

From the vantage of Western leftists, there’s nothing to see here.

 

 

During this Lenten season when Christians are preparing themselves for Easter Sunday, those of us who are living in relative peace and affluence should remember and pray for those brothers and sisters in the faith whose circumstances are not as friendly.

To put it more accurately, Christians the world over should be mindful that at this time in our history there remain legions of Christ’s disciples who are made to endure persecution for their faith the likes of which rival that suffered by the earliest Christians.

While most of the worst environments for Christians are Islamic lands, there are non-Islamic bastions of intense Christian persecution that receive little to no coverage by the world’s media.  One particularly notable example is that of India.

Of a population of 1.3 billion people, there are 64 million Christians who reside in India.  Open Doors, an organization “dedicated to serving persecuted Christians worldwide,” relays the story of “Reena,” a 19 year-old girl who experienced this anti-Christian persecution directly.

“When I was a young child,” she says, “Hindu children did not want to play with me.”  Eventually, “my parents were banned from using the local water supply. They had to walk many kilometers to draw water from the river.”

Things got even worse for this young woman.

When Reena went to work as a school teacher, she was initially promised a salary of 1,500 rupees ($23.13) a month.  Her employers wound up welching: They paid her only 500 rupees ($7.71) for the first two months.  Within six months, they stopped paying her entirely.  So Reena sought work elsewhere.

Her new headmaster invited Reena to a teachers’ meeting.  There he offered her and her colleagues an assortment of Indian pastries.

And it was at this time that Reena was drugged and kidnapped.

Reena doesn’t want to discuss the events that unfolded over the ten days of her captivity.  She claims to have no recollection, but those in the know at Open Doors insist that it is more “likely…that what happened to her was so terrible [that] she doesn’t want to share” her experiences.  After all, literally “millions of girls in India”—many of them Christians and other religious minorities—“are kidnapped and trafficked each year.”

Reena called her parents at one point and informed them that she was being retained in “a terrible place.”  She also admits that when she first awoke, she was in a train car with many other teenage girls who followed her as she made her escape.

Yet Reena expresses suspicions that at least some of the girls were involved in her abduction.

Reena had been taken 14 hours away from her village.

Although she experienced depression and hopelessness for a time following her return to her home, upon attending an inspiring church service, Reena renewed her Christian faith.  While her brother informs us that the headmaster in whose company Reena was drugged desires vengeance for the troubles that he now apparently endures, Reena sounds hopeful:

“My future is very bright.  I will share the gospel with non-believers. I don’t expect more problems.”

But there are many problems for India’s Christians.

Over the last three years, the anti-Christian persecution in India has continued to increase.  Open Doors’ World Watch List ranked India as the planet’s 25th worst persecutor of Christians in 2015.  Yet in 2017 it was found to be the 15th biggest persecutor and, this year, it climbed to 11th place.

An Open Doors spokesperson informs us that before Christians face overt physical violence—in 2016, 15 Christians were murdered in India and many more beaten and threatened—“there [is] often…a long process of ‘re-converting’ them to Hinduism, during which they faced discrimination, social exclusion and other types of pressure.”

A chief cause of the oppression, according to Open Doors, is the resurrection of Hindu nationalism.  The Hindu nationalist holds that only Hinduism should be observed in India.  Some political leaders have even gone so far as to call for the expulsion from India of all Christians and Muslims by 2021.

In any event, although “everyone” is aware that “the churches are being attacked and demolished on almost an everyday basis in India,” as an Open Doors representative puts it, the Prime Minister of the country denies that any such persecution is occurring.

He should speak to people like Chandan Devi.

Chandan and her husband, Aadarsh, an Indian man who converted to Christianity and became a pastor who led a couple of dozen animists to Christ, have four children.  The oldest, a daughter, is married, while the other three were away at boarding school when the unthinkable occurred.

Chandan and Aadarsh were home alone when they were attacked by thirty men, Maoist (communist) Naxalites all of them.  As they grabbed him and proceeded to drag him outside, they were promising to murder Aadarsh.  Chandan clung to her husband, begging the thugs to kill her along with her husband.  Instead, though, they delivered to her a hard blow to the shoulder, dropping her to the ground.

The last thing Chandan recalls having heard is the loud sound of the door slamming shut as her husband was led off into the jungle to be killed.

Shortly afterwards, Aadarsh’s corpse was found.

None of the Christians who Aadarsh had converted attended his funeral for fear of losing their lives, and Chandan, fearing future attacks, fled her home and village with nothing but “the clothes on her back,” as Open Doors reports.

As if it wasn’t terrible enough that the Naxalites murdered Aadarsh. They subsequently threatened his brother Ajay.  In fact, prior to Aadarsh’s murder, the Naxalites abducted Ajay’s son.

Of course, none of this should come as any surprise when it is considered that over the last decade, this same treacherous group, “with the help of local authorities,” has “attacked, beaten, kidnapped, raped and killed thousands of Christians in India” (italics added).

It’s worth noting that when Chandan was asked by Open Doors whether the trauma to which she and her loved ones have been subjected has provoked her to reconsider her faith and denounce Christ, she promptly responded:

“I’d rather die.”

Hindu-on-Christian persecution—not something that we hear, or are likely to hear, talked about by the Western media that has labored tirelessly to depict Christians as the planet’s only purveyors of oppression.

 

 

 

In an essay of mine from last week, I brought to readers’ attention the painful fact—particularly painful from this Catholic’s perspective—that even traditionally religious institutions of higher learning have succumbed to the leftist, Politically Correct ideology that dominates much of the Western academic world.

I mentioned the case of Michael Smalanskas, a Providence College senior and Resident Advisor who, while acting within his job description, created an exhibit on a dormitory bulletin board affirming the Church’s teaching that marriage is inherently heterosexual and monogamous: “Marriage…As God Intended It: One Man, One Woman.”

The theme of the display was buttressed by select Biblical quotations as well as quotations from Pope Francis.

It’s also worth noting that Smalanskas constructed his display approximately a month after other students created a display celebrating “gay marriage.”  Yet while the latter—at this Catholic college—encountered zero unpleasant consequences of any kind for their advocacy of a stance radically at odds with that of the Catholic vision that is the mission of their school to further, Smalanskas was subjected to harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence, including rape.  Things got so bad that at one point security had to move him from his residence on campus to an undisclosed location.

When Smalanskas and his faculty advisor met with the college’s administration and asked for them to publically reaffirm Providence’s Catholic identity, publically underscore that Smalanskas’ perspective on marriage is the Catholic perspective, and publically and unequivocally disavow the treatment to which Smalanskas had been subjected, administrators—including, most tellingly, the school’s president, Father Brian Shanley—refused.

Smalanskas’ parents attempted to arrange a meeting with Providence administrators, but to no avail.

Smalanskas then went to Catholic media.  Consequently, thousands of indignant people flooded Father Shanley’s inbox and Providence College’s phone lines demanding that action be taken to address the indignities suffered by one of his Catholic students for affirming Catholic teaching.

A month or so after the harassment of Smalanskas began, Providence College’s president finally responded.  And while Father Shanley did indeed condemn the treatment that Smalanskas was made to endure, and while he did note that Smalanskas’ position on marriage is that of the Catholic Church (and, thus, of Providence College), Shanley’s statement actually further supports the charge, made forcefully by former Providence faculty member Anthony Esolen, that Providence has essentially abandoned their Catholic mission in favor of a PC “totalitarian diversity cult.”

First of all, Father Shanley didn’t issue a public statement at all.  He sent out a campus-wide email.

Second, that Shanley makes it a point in the second sentence to explicitly note that it is mainly “conservative social media sites” that are responsible for “much” of the “discussion and negative publicity” that “the College” has garnered is telling.  In framing the issue in these terms, one could be forgiven for suspecting that Shanley is adopting a political strategy designed to knock out two birds with one stone:

In subtly shifting the blame from his own inaction onto a bunch of “conservatives” with a political ax to grind, Shanley can give the impression that the controversy under discussion is in effect contrived by a bunch of trouble-making right-wingers. And at the same time, he can just as subtly signal to the leftists that threatened Smalanskas that Shanley is not one of those “conservatives.”

That he follows up by expressly saying that “much” of what is reported in media accounts “is not accurate,” and that the phone calls and emails that he’s received have been “angry, accusatory, and ironically uncharitable,” renders this reading of Father Shanley’s objective all but certain.

Third, it isn’t until the third paragraph of his email that Shanley expresses how “distressed” he’s been “by the way Michael Smalanskas has been vilified and ostracized by many of his peers.”  It’s in this paragraph that Shanley condemns the rape threat against Smalanskas as “odious and reprehensible.”

Yet while this sounds good on its face, what Shanley gives with one hand he takes with another, for his defense of Smalanskas is qualified by what are obviously concessions to the leftists who mistreated the beleaguered student.

For instance, immediately after expressing his “distress” over the injustice that Smalanskas suffered, Shanley adds: “While some might not agree with how he tried to express Church teaching, he is entitled to the same respect, charity, and protection that is due any student.”

Notice, Father Shanley suggests in this sentence that disgruntled students could have grounds for taking issue with the manner in which Smalanskas, a student at a Catholic college, stated the Catholic Church’s position on marriage—as if there is anything objectionable about using a bulletin board to promote marriage.

He also implies, in claiming that Smalanskas deserves the same “respect, charity, and protection” as any other student, that it is Smalanskas’ view on marriage that is a minority or exotic perspective.

In other words, Father Shanley’s defense of Smalanskas and his institution’s Catholic identity is anything but robust.

Fourth, to further elaborate upon this last point, in both the introduction and conclusion to Shanley’s email he identifies as the premiere challenge confronting Providence—as well as “every Catholic campus and…the Church as a whole”—the balancing act of retaining a Catholic identity while simultaneously being “inclusive.”

This is revealing, for “Catholic” means universal.  It is inherently inclusive of a great variety of practices and ideas.  In characterizing the relationship between Catholicism and inclusiveness as one of tension, Shanley endorses the same concept of “inclusiveness” shared by those who labored indefatigably for over a month tormenting a Catholic student at a Catholic college who affirmed the Catholic position on marriage.

Referring specifically to those Providence students who are members of “the LGBTQ+ community,” Shanley writes: “What I hear…is not that they expect us to disavow the Church’s teaching, but rather to find a way to help them feel included in light of our Catholic identity and in a way that recognizes their inherent dignity as created in the image and likeness of God.”

“Our collective challenge,” he insists, “is to find a way to be faithful to our Catholic identity and to be inclusive.”

For some reason, I doubt that Shanley is especially concerned about being inclusive of traditionalist Catholics who reject the Vatican II, Southern students who express pride in their Southern heritage, NRA members, etc.

There’s a final point.  Father Shanley’s remarks concerning the LGBTQ+ community at Providence imply that its members who were irate over Smalanskas’ marriage display had a grievance after all!  Providence, so Shanley evidently thinks, has failed to make homosexual and other students who reject the Catholicism of Providence feel welcome. It has failed to recognize “their inherent dignity as created in the image and likeness of God.”

Presumably, Michael Smalanskas contributed to this exclusionary environment when he championed marriage via a bulletin board.  This is the message that is all too plausibly conveyed when one reads between the lines of Father Shanley’s email.

Ironically, Providence College’s commitment to its traditional Catholic identity is even more in question now that its president has spoken to the victimization of a Catholic student than when he was silent.

 

 

A few days ago, I had a conversation with a neighbor who revealed to me that, insofar as she would like to exercise her right to bear arms, she doesn’t consider herself especially “liberal.”  For this reason, she would eventually like to leave our painfully blue state of New Jersey.

Yet during the course of our exchange, she also shared that her daughter is away at college. I responded: “I hope that she doesn’t come home hating you.”  I was half-joking, of course, but only by half.  It was then that I told her that, being an academic dissident, I make it my mission to inform otherwise uninformed parents of what their children can expect to experience during their time in today’s university.

A glance at a couple of recent events from two schools, one secular, the other Catholic, suffices all too easily to leave an indelible impression of the contemporary academy:

At George Washington University, just days after much of the Christian world celebrated Easter, a training session was held for faculty and students.  The purpose of this “diversity workshop” is to expound upon the thesis that Christians “receive unmerited perks from institutions and systems all across our country.”

The seminar is titled: “Christian Privilege: But Our Founding Fathers Were All Christian, Right?!” According to the seminar description, Christians have “built-in advantages” over non-Christians.

Upon their completion of the workshop, participants should be able to “describe what is meant by privilege overall and white privilege especially;” “describe the role of denial when it comes to white privilege;” “differentiate between equality and equity;” “list at least three examples of Christian privilege;” and “list at least three ways to be an ally with a non-Christian person.”

Over at Providence College, a Dominican-founded, Roman Catholic institution, the school has succumbed to what Anthony Esolen, one of its former faculty members, characterizes as the “Totalitarian Diversity Cult.” Esolen is a practicing Catholic, a scholar who famously translated Dante’s Divine Comedy, who left Providence nearly a year ago because of what he insists is its abandonment of its Catholic Christian mission.

A year later, it no longer seems possible to doubt Esolen’s analysis.

Michael Smalanskas is a senior at Providence and a Resident Advisor.  He is also a conservative Roman Catholic.  Consistent with his job description, Smalanskas, shortly before spring break, placed a flyer on a dormitory bulletin board.  It read: “Marriage: The Way God Intended It…One Man, One Woman.” The flyer also included quotations affirming marriage from both Pope Francis and the Gospel of Mark.

Smalanskas informed National Review that his intention in hanging the flyer was “to expose a double standard on campus that certain positions—mainly conservative and Catholic positions—are not welcome here and are treated with hatred.”

Furthermore, conservative and Catholic views “are just not protected in the same way” as the beliefs of others.

But within hours, Smalanskas was besieged by “all sorts of harassing text messages,” and, according to The College Fix, even his fellow RAs “keyed into his building after hours to undo his work as a Providence employee.”

When a mob began forming outside of Smalanskas’ room, campus security insisted upon escorting him to another building as “a precaution.”  During his interview with LifeSite News, Smalanskas supplied a glaring example of the moral divide separating traditional conservative students from the campus left.  “There had been a pro-lesbian bulletin board up for the entire month of February in one of the female residence halls,” he remarked. “But nobody was rioting outside of the girl’s door.”

Things got so bad for Smalanskas that he “couldn’t even go brush my teeth for several nights without facing a mob” in the hallway.

Smalanskas’ fellow RAs and other students are calling for his termination and, eventually, someone posted on the wall of Smalanskas’ dormitory bathroom a drawing of him about to be raped by a man.

Despite all of this, however, Providence College has allegedly done nothing so far to aid Smalanskas except to offer him “mental health services.”  After he was whisked away in a squad car to an undisclosed location for his own safety from the left-wing mob, Smalanskas called the chaplain’s office for support.  Yet the priest “didn’t even want to come.  When he did finally show up,” Smalanskas recalls, “he basically begged and pleaded with me to ‘graduate in peace,’” and “told me that I was ‘throwing culture bombs.’”

To this priest’s credit, though, Smalanskas says that he is now “overcompensating” for the manner in which he treated the beleaguered student on the evening that he was targeted.

Not everyone has been willing to repent. In March, Smalanskas and his faculty advisor, James Keating, met with the Vice President of Student Affairs, Kristine Goodwin, the Vice President of Mission and Ministry, Father R. Gabriel Pivarnik, and Providence’s attorney.  Smalanskas and Keating asked for the school to publicly condemn the treatment to which Smalanskas had been subjected; publicly reaffirm the Catholic mission of Providence, underscoring that Smalanskas’ exhibit comports with traditional Catholic teaching; and publicly insist that Providence is a safe space for “free speech.”

School officials refused to take any of these measures.

The Vice President of Student Affairs, Ms. Goodwin, did send out a rather lengthy email to the student body imploring for all of its members to treat one another with respect.  She also mentioned that while Smalanskas’ position on marriage was consistent with that of the Church, it is “only a part” of Catholic teaching that, “when taken out of context,” “can have detrimental consequences, especially if it ends up alienating people from the truth that it serves.”

Goodwin then urged students to “walk in solidarity with SHEPARD” as it holds its demonstration to promote “unity, affirmation, and inclusion even amidst controversy.”

SHEPARD, you see, is the organization that called for the Providence community to “stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ*” in a “march against homophobia and transphobia.”

After nearly a month’s worth of outside pressure by those disgusted by Providence’s refusal to publically defend one of their students, the president of the college finally responded to Smalanskas’ request to repudiate the treatment to which the latter has been subjected while reaffirming the Church’s position on marriage.  Father Brian Shanley sent out a lengthy campus-wide email.  Three paragraphs into it he condemned the attacks against Smalanskas as “odious and reprehensible.”

Michael Smalanskas puts the point well.  While he “appreciate[s] that he [Shanley] addressed the issue more thoroughly,” his “hesitation to speak forcefully on the matter speaks volumes [.]”  Smalanskas adds:

“It took the president over three weeks to try and do something that could have easily been addressed immediately. He seems to suggest that his only reason for doing so was in response to the negative publicity and criticism from concerned Catholics, once again insulting anyone who is concerned about Catholic identity as uncharitable and angry.”

The hard left, stories like this should make obvious, has even taken control of many traditionally Christian institutions of higher learning.  Fewer and fewer places are immunized against it.

This being so, parents who wish to send their children to “Christian” colleges should take care to insure that they aren’t the victims of false advertising.

Tragically, the odds are greater than not that they will be.