When three Pakistanis turned machine guns on a church in Bahawalpur, Pakistan, last Sunday, killing 16 Protestant worshippers, many conservative American Christians felt disgusted--and vindicated.
For years now, Christian activists have been pushing to make religious persecution--and especially persecution of Christians--a greater part of American foreign policy. In the days after Sept. 11, the strong message from the White House was that such human rights concerns were going to have to take a back seat to the broader war effort. To fight terrorism, the White House has extended the hand of friendship to precisely the countries the Christian persecution movement has opposed--notably Sudan, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan.
Michael Horwitz, one of the leaders of this movement against religious persecution, stated it bluntly: "If Colin Powell and the State Department think we can have an alliance with regimes that not only are making protests in Pakistan, but that are liberated to slaughter Christians, they've got another thing coming."
Onward Christian Soldiers
On a Sunday morning in late September, Pastor Chris Robinson isdelivering a sermon intended to help his congregation at Grace Bible Church put the events of Sept. 11 in perspective. The church is located in the tiny burg of Marshall, tucked among the rolling hills of northwest Virginia's horse country in the heart of the nation's most active "Christian solidarity" community. Robinson's congregation of 200 consists mostly of young families who have been active in the movement for years. Recently, members returned from relief missions to isolated communities of Christians in Burma and Sudan.
To members of Grace Bible Church, the attack carried special resonance because it brought home an issue that until now had been, quite literally, a foreign concern. "There are Christians being persecuted all over the world today," Robinson told his congregation. "Now that is true in our own country." One by one, churchgoers rose to testify to this issue. Many offered prayers for fellow Christians who'd perished in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Others expressed hope that the sudden interest in hostile religious regimes overseas would bring national attention to their cause.
Quite a few, however, were troubled by the alliance Bush struck with countries like Sudan. "I'm forced to see it as the lesser of two evils," said David Servideo, 24, echoing the comments of others. "But my fear is that it will set back our efforts to help those people."
Robinson's sermon explained how a thoughtful Christian might react to the world that's emerged since the attack. He talked about the Apostle Paul's struggle to revitalize the feuding Christian community in Corinth, and drew a parallel to the need for Christians to revitalize their own faith so they can once again carry their mission to those abroad. Unlike Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, Robinson considers the attack the ultimate confirmation of a worldview that sees Christians as a despised victim group, and the current war as one between Christianity and those who would vanquish it.