We start this week’s Recap with an interesting debate that bubbled up on the heels of International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted (Christian) Church. How many Christians are persecuted or “martyred” each year?
The BBC’s Ruth Alexander ripped apart a popular and oft-cited assertion that 100,000 Christians die as martyrs annually. Ninety percent of those who died between 2000 and 2010 were Christians killing Christians in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Estimates from the 1990s included the Rwandan genocide where, again, Christians were killing Christians.
“I would argue for an understanding of martyrdom that is honest and modest. Honest about the messy complexity of human violence and modest about the ability to quantify with any precision the number of people violently killed for their faith.”
Open Doors reports that 1,200 Christians were killed for their faith last year. Two-thirds of those were killed in Nigeria by Islamist group Boko Haram, which the U.S. State Department (finally) labeled a terrorist organization last week. Christianity Today announced the news with this awkward headline: “Christians Welcome World’s Newest Terrorist Organization.” Christian Solidarity Worldwide welcomed the State Department’s decision. They didn’t invite Boko Haram to a potluck.
15 Eastern Orthodox church leaders met with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week to discuss Christian persecution in the Middle East.
In his final address as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Stephen Colbert’s BFF Cardinal Timothy Dolan reminded American Catholics to keep their religious freedom concerns in perspective:
“Our legitimate and ongoing struggles to protect our “first and most cherished freedom” in the United States pale in comparison to the Via Crucis currently being walked by so many of our Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, who are experiencing lethal persecution on a scale that defies belief.”
Reminds me of former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who recently told British and American Christians who claim they feel persecuted:
“When you’ve had any contact with real persecuted minorities you learn to use the word very chastely. Persecution is not being made to feel mildly uncomfortable. For goodness sake, grow up.”
Baroness Warsi, the U.K.’s first minister for faith and the highest-ranking Muslim in British government, continued the conversation at Georgetown University, where she argued that Christianity is at risk of extinction in countries where minority faiths are persecuted.
That seems spot-on in Afghanistan, where apparently no Christians worship openly and the country’s last remaining Jew is having a hell of a time selling kebabs.
In Indonesia, a council of Muslim scholars is demanding that Islam be taught in Catholic schools.
A Christian man in Somalia was reportedly shot dead last month for spreading the “wrong religion.”
In Turkey, religious minorities including Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Alevi Muslims and atheists (not mentioned) are treated as second-class citizens.
So to those of you who think the “global persecution of Christians is the unreported catastrophe of our time,” I give you the preceding 500 words…
In other international news, a (presumably Sunni) suicide bomber killed 22 Shiites at a religious ritual in eastern Iraq.
Denmark’s church minister is arguing that the country’s blasphemy law, which can lead to fines or four years in jail for “publicly mocking or deriding the teachings or worship of a legally existing religious community in the country,” should be scrapped. Blasphemy charges were on the table during the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoon controversy in 2005, but the law hasn’t been successfully invoked since 1946.
In Britain, the National Secular Society said Christian rituals should play no role in the Remembrance Day (think Veteran’s Day) ceremony. The group is also threatening to invoke human rights laws to stop future monarchs from undergoing a Christian coronation. The Church of England is having none of it, calling the group “rather sad” and dismissing what it calls a “flawed publicity stunt.”
Hundreds of Buddhists in Myanmar protested a visit by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Demonstrating just how raw religious tensions in the country are, Buddhist men recently stabbed a 94-year-old paralyzed Muslim woman to death.
India’s Planning Commission wants to delete a column on visa applications that asks tourists to state their religion. Bangladeshis will get a new category for gender on their passports as hijras, a South Asian gender identity some men adopt, are officially recognized.
2) Private schools in Australia can expel kids for being gay or transgender.
At least 119 people have reportedly been fined for exercising their religious freedom in Kazakhstan.
Dutch Jews are worried that an unholy alliance between far-right Dutch and French political parties, both of which are virulently anti-Muslim, could lead to restrictions on religious freedom in Europe.
In Greece, home of the far-far-far-right anti-Semitic Golden Dawn party (whose flag kind of looks like a Nazi flag, no?), Athens will get its first mosque since the Ottomans withdrew nearly 200 years ago.
A Colorado-based Christian group says it’s dropped 50,000 Bibles over North Korea this year using hydrogen balloons. Bibles are heavy. That sounds kind of dangerous.
On a personal note (professional personal, not Zombie Panda personal), I caught up with Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, who told a packed auditorium at the London School of Economics that it’s a mistake for states to codify religious freedom as a right. Confused? Don’t be. Read my interview with her here.
I also trekked up to Scotland, where 40 atheists and religious believers gathered to discuss their shared values and ethics. Yes, haggis was involved.
In the U.S., a new poll suggests that 40 percent of Americans would be OK with an atheist Supreme Court Justice, compared with 38 percent who say they’d disapprove. This scenario might not be theoretical if Justice Stephen Breyer did indeed just out himself as an atheist.
Hawaii became the 15th state to legalize gay marriage. Dozens of Methodist ministers defied their church by attending a same-sex union in Philly, and a retired Methodist bishop in San Francisco faces charges from his church for presiding over a gay wedding last month.
The American Humanist Association is threatening legal action against public schools that ask children to collect money and toys for the evangelical Christian charity Samaritan’s Purse.
A store owner in Iowa who lectured a former employee about the Bible will have to pay the disgruntled woman unemployment benefits, a state judge ruled.
I saved the best (i.e. most ridiculous) news for last. A drunk woman mooned a bar in Wisconsin and told the police officer she could be naked in public “if it was her religion.” Asked if it was her religion, the woman said no.
How ’bout this. You sign up for the Religious Freedom Recap below and I’ll promise not to drunkenly moon you in the name of religious freedom. Deal?