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Persecuted Christians: Caught in the cross hairs at home and abroad

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? As the Scriptures say, “For your [Christ's] sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. (Romans 8:35-37)

Iraqi Christians face ultimatum to convert to Islam or be killed
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Christians all over the world face persecution. So, what's new? A wise man once observed, "There's nothing new under the sun." Christians have been persecuted for centuries, killed for their belief and faith in Jesus Christ. However, this may be the first time in recent history that Christians in America are battling persecution at home, at the same time that Christians in Iraq are being brutally persecuted by Islamic extremists abroad. Like deer caught in the cross hairs, Christians are being targeted by religious extremists for execution and extinction.

The recent attacks against Christians in Iraq have once again put religious persecution on the front page of the news. Iraqi Christians are one of the oldest surviving continuous Christian communities in the world with roots traceable centuries back to two of Christ's disciples. Iraqi Christians are fleeing for their lives in the face of unrelenting persecution from ISIS extremists. Long before Islam arrived on the scene, Christianity existed in Iraq. At one time, there were an estimated 1.5 million Christians living in Iraq. The ongoing Islamic pogrom against Iraqi Christians has significantly reduced their numbers in ISIS occupied territory.

In Mosul, which was once home to more than 600,000 Christians, Christians have been forced to either convert to Islam or be killed. Most have fled to Kurdish territory in the northern part of Iraq, where they are being protected by Kurdish military. Many elderly Christians in the city, who cannot leave their homes due to health concerns or out of fear, have already converted to Islam to save their lives. --Sara A. Carter

Iraqi Christians join persecuted Christians in Syria and Egypt where violence and threats against Christians there have resulted in deaths and a mass exodus of Christians from their homeland in search of safe haven elsewhere. The U.S. State Department's 2013 International Religious Freedom Report noted that after three years of civil war in Syria, and in much of the Middle East, the Christian presence is now a shadow of its former self.

It’s an ecumenical cleansing that is forcing people who are Christians, by whatever label, out of countries where their roots are from the beginning. -- Leith Anderson, National Association of Evangelicals

Leith Anderson and 180 other religious leaders have urged the churches and U.S. lawmakers to take action to support persecuted Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East. Open Doors USA publishes World Watch List of the top 50 countries that actively persecute Christians. Surprisingly, Korea tops the list as the #1 extreme persecutor of Christians.

But something's missing from this discussion? Where is the sense of international outrage, as well as deliberate and definitive action from the U.S. and President Obama that addresses the plight of persecuted Christians, especially those in countries that receive billions in U.S. economic and military aid? Should America be using its influence to say to those countries: Stop persecuting Christians or we will stop supplying U.S. aid to you? This may be an over-simplification of the problem, but to say nothing sends the wrong signal to the extremists, namely, that they can do whatever they want to Christians and nobody will care.

One would think that Christians in America are better off than their Christian brothers and sisters who live under more oppressive regimes; but that's only because opposition to the faith in this country hasn't yet reached a level that would constitute persecution. Although, some would disagree with that assessment. The movie, Persecuted, paints an eerily realistic picture of what could happen in America if Christians aren't watchful and prayerful.

Compared to the violence against Christians in many places around the world, the answer is no. Christians in America experience nothing compared to the persecution of Christians in such places as Nigeria, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt or Syria. What is happening in America is an increasing hostility and intolerance toward Christian beliefs and values that many perceive to be an attack on religious freedom.

In current American culture, you are free to be a Christian as long as you don’t actually live out your faith, vote your faith, take a stand in relation to your faith, or believe others should embrace your faith. In other words, it can be privately engaging, but must remain socially irrelevant. --James Emery White

Once considered a bastion of religious freedom, America these days is looking more like a nation that wants freedom from religion. Clearly, atheists and other anti-religious groups have been using the secular courts to deconstruct Christianity in America, and to remove its influence and symbolism from the public arena. For now, Christians in America can at least be thankful that we've won some of those battles; or for that matter, that we've not been herded up, killed or run out of the U.S. However, we can never underestimate the power of the enemies of our faith. And to those enemies, we say, "Never underestimate the power of our God." Christians everywhere need to heed the words of 19th century preacher, Charles Frederic Aked, who spoke about what happens when good men do nothing:

It has been said that for evil men to accomplish their purpose it is only necessary that good men should do nothing.

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