The ancient Christian expression, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church,” is commonly known. We as American Christians may think of it as an encouraging or awe-inspiring reminder of the courage of martyrs, often in centuries past, and how their witness inspired others and us to live our faith today. But I think few of us realize the extent to which our brothers and sisters are persecuted right now, throughout the world, for the faith we share.
That’s why John Allen’s new book, The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution is such an important read.
The book is divided into three sections: anti-Christian persecution around the world; myths about the global war on Christians; and fallout, consequences, and response. Allen proves that anti-Christian persecution is undeniable. He also shows how the term “war” is not hyperbole in describing this problem. He also shares some of the myths surrounding the victimization of Christians, importantly sharing what’s true and what is not, to help put things in a realistic context.
John Allen, who is a prolific author on all things Catholic, and editor of the Catholic news website cruxnow.com, has a unique perspective. He is himself Catholic, so he has an insider’s view of things. He has a keen sense of how Catholicism interacts with the world culture at large, and so he can and does write about it fairly and comprehensively. He’s written about so many Catholic issues, from papal elections to scandals, from Church politics to theology.
Reading John Allen on any topic can sometimes seen overwhelming, so thorough is he to cover all aspects. And in a book about Christian persecution and martyrdom, that can be even more daunting. But it’s both sobering and uplifting to have such a well-rounded picture of what millions of Christians of the rest of the world experiences.
The Global War on Christians is a 2016 edition of a book originally published in 2013. It’s been updated because in just those three short years, the notion of Christian persecution has become a settled fact, rather than a “stretch” by those of us in the West. That’s because of the dramatic stories from the Middle East, but Allen points out that the Middle East is not the only place where Christians are marginalized or martyred.
In this new edition, Allen shares even more stories and facts to reflect the most recent areas of concern.
Allen tells a ruefully funny story in The Global War on Christians. David Barrett, a pioneer of the study of Christian martyrdom before his death in 2011, spoke to a group of Christian business people. They asked him, “What is the single most effective form of evangelization?” He said that the evidence points to martyrdom as the most effective form of evangelization.
As Allen shares, “The response of the crowd quiet for a minute, until one of the industrialists finally had the nerve to ask, ‘Dr. Barrett, could you tell us what the second most effective form of evangelization is?’”
A highlight of Allen’s writing is how he is able to tell the stories of so many in a detailed, respectful way, so that the reader gets to know many individual stories, rather than the trends. For instance, he explains that one such person was known in his community as “a man of God, trusted by all” before his martyrdom.
“One spiritual fruit of the global war on Christians is providing the contemporary church with more such stories, both those told about the dead by others and those that survivors can tell for themselves,” Allen writes.
I confess that I found the book incredibly depressing at times, and wondered how in the world the average American Catholic can do anything at all about it. I also have a healthy dose of guilt pondering my relatively easy Catholic life in the West. That’s why Allen’s final chapter, “What’s to be Done,” is so powerful. It details the ways that a number of solutions, from prayer, global thinking, “micro-charity,” institutional humanitarian relief, political activism, and refugee resettling, can help to alleviate the sufferings of those most vulnerable to abuse.
There’s a new documentary about the writer and “farmer-philosopher” Wendell Berry and about his life-long advocacy for simple living. The film’s producer/director, Laura Dunn, talked with an interviewer about how making the film overwhelmed her about the state of the world, but Berry’s approach to life helped her reconcile it with her own life. You can read that interview here.
As Dunn shares in the interview, ”What he’s saying to me is, there is no big solution. It’s broken. We’re all complicit in a broken system, and it a broken world. The question isn’t how can I fix it all. But how can I, with my own two hands, do good work, every day. And I find that immensely hopeful.”
In the same way, we Catholics who feel overcome by the state of the world, the evil present, the enormity of what Christians in other places undergo, we can feel hopeless. But by making concrete actions, beginning with prayer, we can create change in the world, with our own two hands.