What did you say you wanted for Christmas? Many Christians around the world just wanted safety and justice.
Say “Christmas around the world” and you might think of quaint customs of how different ethnic groups celebrate the holy day. But that’s not at all what I have in mind. I am thinking of the “dark side” of Christmas–that is, how the suffering church experienced Christmas 2010. We Christians in the West seldom think about this, though it is always mentally and spiritually clarifying when we do.
Consider some of the stories coming out of the persecuted church this December. These are stories–seldom picked up by the mainstream media –that come to us from the International Christian Concern website.
Christmas in Nigeria There were multiple attacks by Islamic militants on churches and other Christian sites in several states of Nigeria which claimed 38 lives on Christmas eve. In Borno State, 30 men armed with knives and guns attacked a Baptist church dragging the pastor out of his home and shooting him to death. Choir members were also slain, after which the church and the pastor’s house were set ablaze.
Christmas in the Philippines A bomb exploded during a Christmas service in a southern region of the Philippines. The area is known to be a center of Muslim extremism. The bomb exploded right after the gospel reading. The roof over the church collapsed. The falling beams and debris fell on parishoners wounding ten.
Christmas in Iran This week a story leaked out of Iran about two pastors who will be spending Christmas behind bars. They face the death penalty on charges of “apostasy” (i.e. for abandoning Islam). The incident was sparked when one pastor expressed concerns that Christian children were being forced to receive a Muslim education. This contravenes the Iranian constitution which permits parents to raise children in their own faith.
Christmas in Iraq It will be a Christmas of mourning for many Iraqi Christians. Christmas services were cancelled in Baghdad, Mosul, and Kirkuk following what appears to be a never ending stream of kidnappings, assassinations and mass killings of Iraqi Christians. Attacks seam to spike at Christmas. For many there will be no decorations, no ceremonies and no gatherings because it is too dangerous. This week some churches cancelled services in order to protect their congregations after receiving threats from al-Qaeda.
In Baghdad the fear was especially intense as Sunni terrorist are vowing to kill Christians wherever they find them. Sunni terrorists recently claimed responsibility for bombing churches packed with Sunday worshippers. Church leaders there believe that what happened to the Jews in Iraq in the 1940s and 1050s is now happening to Christians. Meanwhile the Shiite government does nothing to protect Christians and the US government and the Obama administration is silent.
One pastor who was daring to hold services said that in his sermon he was going to focus on the clashes and his people’s fears, but also on the message of hope. He would remind them of the massacre of innocents that was a part of the original Christmas story and yet speak to them of the hope of heaven. He said “Christmas is a time of hope and joy as well as pain and martyrdom.”
Christmas in Jordan Meanwhile, Iraqi Christian refugees in Jordan are mourning. “Christmas is not for us,” they said. This is because some of them just fled Baghdad two months after their homes were stormed by masked men who ordered them to leave, saying “you Christians (will) have no bread in this country; you have two days to leave.” One Iraqi refugee asked, “How are we going to feel the joy of Christmas when our churches were attacked and our own children were killed in front of the church communion table? Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians have had to flee that nation since 2003.
Christmas in China On the day before Christmas there was a report that police raided numerous Christmas eve services, especially of house churches in the southwestern city of Chengdu detaining believers there.
Christmas in Pakistan Christians in Pakistan faced a tense week because of the on-going possibility of violence by Islamists. The tension surrounds an event in the Punjab province regarding a Christian mother of five who has been sentenced to death by the regional court for negative speech to her neighbor that criticized Muhammad.
Christmas in India Hindu fundamentalist attacks on Christians mounted as Christmas approached. Reports came in this week from different parts of India of a half dozen brutal attacks. Said one church leader, “around Christmas and other major Christian festivals, we have noticed a sudden spurt in anti-Christian violence in recent years.” Hindu radicals in Orissa were threatening another Christmas Pogrom against Christians similar to the massacres of 2007 and 2008 where the churches, businesses and homes of Christians were destroyed.
Christmas in Vietnam Authorities there moved to stop Protestant Christmas events. The government was cracking down in Vietnam’s largest cities and Christians found themselves locked out of Christmas celebrations.
Christmas in Indonesia Reports of Islamist raids on house churches were coming out of West Java.
Christmas in Europe In the UK there was a large poster campaign against Christmas launched by a radical Muslim group. The nationwide campaign denounced Christmas as evil and aimed at converting Britons to Islam.
Also this week, one of England’s largest malls blocked the signing of Christmas songs in order to avoid religious bias.
In parts of France this month there has been the usual opposition for wearing a cross or putting up nativity sets.
On the 16th of this month, Roman Catholic Pope Benedict voiced his deep concern over the persecution of Christians worldwide, but saved his strongest words for Europe where he said that the church is under assault by national governments and European institutions. Europe, he said, is taken with “Christianophobia.” According to the pope, there is a growing hostility and prejudice against Christianity in Europe. Legislation under the name of equity aims to force Christian doctors to perform abortions and churches to hire practicing homosexuals. But these things he says are contrary to Christian conscience. He called for an end to this hostility and prejudice saying that this aggressive secularism is as bad as the religious fanaticism we see in other parts of the world which persecutes Christians outright.
All these abbreviated stories can be found in greater length at http://www.persecution.org/.
They remind us that Jesus remains as controversial as ever. The claims of his lordship continue to challenge the powers and the gods of this age. This clash gets very great, especially at Christmas time.
Would you take some time this week to remember the persecuted church and the dark side of Christmas? Pray for them that they might get what most of us have already enjoyed this season— safety and justice –so that they might celebrate the blessings of Christmas season.