Copyright (c) 1997 First Things 74 (June/July 1997): 53-55.
Their Blood Cries Out: The Growing Worldwide Persecution of Christians. By Paul Marshall with Lela Gilbert. Word. 304 pp. $12.99
Reviewed by A. J. Bacevich
This book bears all the earmarks of being a loser. The title alone will induce a cringe from prospective readers for whom detachment and irony comprise the reigning hallmarks of sophistication. The imprint suggests a firm that specializes in devotional tracts. Were that not enough, the publishing house is located in Dallas, a city far better known for its professional football franchise than for intellectual ferment. People like me—fancying themselves to be religious but comfortably ensconced in the secular world—are loath to take books like Their Blood Cries Out seriously. But does the problem lie with the book? Or with people like me?
In fact, the authors of this very important volume tell a compelling story and they tell it extraordinarily well. The essence of that story is this: In an age notorious for the widespread abuse of human rights, the murder, torture, imprisonment, and victimization of Christians because they are Christians constitutes "the largest pattern of persecution in the world." Furthermore, due to apathy among believers and bias among the enlightened, this epidemic of persecution "is allowed to pass in a ‘deafening silence.’"
Paul Marshall and Lela Gilbert amass an impressive body of evidence to substantiate their case, supplementing facts and figures with anecdotes that describe in harrowing detail the experiences of actual victims. In doing so, they assemble a compendium of anti-Christian oppression that is painstaking, comprehensive, and unsettling in its implications.
They begin their survey with the Islamic world. Careful to emphasize that Islam as such is not inherently hostile to Christianity, they nonetheless describe repression on a vast scale: in the Sudan, where in the past decade "Islamization through genocide" has caused the death of between 1.5 and 3 million Christians; in Iran, where Christians endure conditions of "religious apartheid"; in Saudi Arabia, a valued strategic partner of the United States, where "Christian worship is banned" and where it is "illegal to wear a cross or to utter a Christian prayer"; in Egypt, another stalwart U.S. ally, where "militant Islamic groups are targeting Christians for murder, assault, theft, and destruction of property"; in Algeria, where violent attacks on Catholic clergy have become routine; and in Pakistan, where blasphemy laws provide the rationale for "a reign of private terror against Christians."
Yet government-sanctioned intolerance for Christianity is by no means confined to the Islamic world. In the shabby surviving outposts of the former Communist world, official animus directed at Christians remains undiminished. In Cuba, Vietnam, North Korea, and especially in China, where today "there are more Christians attending regular church worship services . . . than there are in all of Western Europe combined," government determination to avert the collapse of authoritarian structures inspires campaigns of terror and intimidation designed to suppress the resurgence of Christianity.
Elsewhere in Asia—in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Mongolia, Bhutan, Burma, and Cambodia—a similar pattern holds. Even in less likely quarters—in Russia, central Europe, and Latin America, where the population identifies itself as Christian—nonconformists or adherents of minority denominations find themselves subjected to all manner of discrimination and abuse.
Why does this pattern of anti-Christian abuse exist on such a large scale? It does so, according to Marshall and Gilbert, because political elites in many parts of the globe perceive Christianity to be a subversive force, endangering the status quo and threatening their hold on power.
Why does the irrefutable evidence of widespread persecution of Christians provoke such little response, especially from the United States? The authors cite two reasons. First, pulling no punches, they assign substantial blame to American Christians themselves: to mainline churches so clotted with post-colonial guilt and fashionable left-liberalism that they cannot bring themselves to call any non-Western nation to account, however odious its behavior; but also to evangelicals preoccupied with their quest for inner serenity and hence susceptible to a peculiarly self-absorbed and therapeutic variant of Christianity. "Worshipers in air-conditioned buildings, at ease in upholstered pews, eagerly receive the ‘Good News’—but tend to interpret the news as instructions to do well for themselves."
Second, the authors blame the secularized elites who dominate political discourse. On Ivy League campuses, in big city newsrooms, in the conference rooms of the typical Washington think tank, the very notion of Christianity is redolent of things dead, white, European, and male. As a result, afflictions endured by Christians do not inspire the sympathetic attention routinely given to causes certified as progressive—this despite the fact that, as the authors note, three-fourths of the world’s professing Christians are people of color residing in the Third World. When it comes to defending freedom of religion, one human right that does not figure prominently in designs for a postmodern utopia, elites are more likely to offer lip service than effective action.
The authors conclude with their own cry, for an end to indifference by churches, government, and the media. Given the historical record, only an optimist would expect many to heed that call. Still, this is a book that demands to be read and pondered by those of us resting a touch too comfortably in our upholstered pews.
A. J. Bacevich is Executive Director of the Foreign Policy Institute at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C.