[ACNS] A new book, designed as a theological resource to help those who are undergoing persecution – and to develop a wider understanding of the issue - has been published by the Anglican Inter Faith Network. At the launch, at the Anglican Communion Office in London, one of its authors, Archbishop Michael Jackson of Dublin said it was “significantly needed” because there are communities of Christians being disappeared worldwide; they feel their voice is not being heard. This book is timely because we live in a period of persecution which is almost becoming acceptable and therefore for people of faith to be part of the structure of a theological understanding of their experience is important. Also the fact that they have held on to significant places of faith is important for the rest of us to honour.” Co-author, Bishop Michael Ipgrave of Lichfield said; “Theology means turning to God: so what is it in our faith that equips us to face trial and difficulty? I hope the book will give some hope as people remember that deep in the story of our faith is a story of suffering; “Out of the depths I cry to you O Lord.” He is with us through everything.”
The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon said the issue of persecution was something close to his heart because of the religious violence in his native Nigeria. He said his prayer was that the book would challenge, inspire and encourage.
Writing a commendation at the start of the book, Archbishop Justin Welby said ;”At a crucial time in world history, when religious persecution and violence are on the rise, both God’s world and Christ’s body, the Church, face enormous pain and suffering. We are encouraged, through engaging with this welcome resource, to renew our commitment to prayer, Scripture, reason and tradition and to be reminded of the true hope in Jesus Christ from whom all comfort, courage, and peace can be found.
The introduction sets out the context in which the book was written. “We are living in an unprecedented time of religious persecution and martyrdom in the modern world. There were more recognised martyrs in the 20th century than in the whole of previous Christian history” it says. “There are some books on the demography and phenomenology of persecution, but currently a lack of theological resources to help those who are undergoing persecution.”
“‘Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord’ is the beginning of Psalm 130:1. Facing the threat of being overwhelmed by the waters of chaos, the Psalmist cries out for help from the depths of his heart. The authors write “ Our title, ‘Out of the Depths – Hope in a time of suffering’, draws on that Psalm and also on Psalm 42:7: “Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts: all your waves and billows have gone over me.” The Psalmist again uses the image of water for being pounded in the midst of trouble and woe, and cries out for help.”
The book outlines the global context through case studies from India, Nigeria, Malaysia, Syria, Sweden and the United States. It has separate chapters looking at scripture, tradition and reason, within which the report explores “how diverse theologies have resourced Christians under pressure through the centuries” and also considers “how people of other faiths have drawn on their own theological resources.” There is also a chapter focusing on worship.
In the case study from Malaysia, the book says that the country’s traditional inclusive approach to religion changed in 2001 when the government declared that Islam was the state religion. “It is not just the non-Islamic minorities that feel persecuted, but also some of the more liberal Muslims,” the book says. “This has led to migration from the country; as the more open and academic Muslims have left, the situation has become more extreme.”
Insensitive activity by visiting missionaries is identified as a source of attacks on local Christians. “There are examples of churches being destroyed after missionaries, from other parts of India, have demonised Hinduism either through the testimonies of recent converts or through distributing pamphlets that demonise Hindu gods,” the report says. “The missionaries doing this then leave the area and don’t suffer any consequences themselves.”
In Syria, the book says that “What was suffered under [Daesh] was horrible, but Muslim neighbours, betraying Christians to [them], was worse. The Nazarene sign, meaning a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, was put on houses. This meant the occupier could be killed and property taken; there is the need to start building trust again.”
The book also looks at persecution in the West; and gives an example from Sweden. While acknowledging that Jews and Muslims face far more serious problems in the country because of “widespread anti-Semitism and Islamophobia”, it says that “If you are religious at all in Sweden, many people tend to think that you are a bit daft. This will mean that children can be bullied at school if they are openly Christian; not only by their peers, but sometimes even by teachers. This, however, is slowly changing as more children with an immigrant background are proud to be Muslims or Christians, and the schools realise that they have to take religion more seriously.”
The authors stress the ecumenical context of their work and highlight “three occasions . . . of particular importance” that took place in 2015: the 50th anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae, the decree on Religious Freedom of Vatican II; the Global Christian Forum’s consultation on persecution in November 2015, in Tirana, Albania; and the centenary of the Armenian Genocide.
Readers are encouraged to reflect on the issues raised; commit to exploring issues more deeply; consider how Christians in other traditions or other parts of the world will have different viewpoints and consider what it means to be part of the suffering Body of Christ.
“I found ‘Out of the Depths’ to be a wonderful resource for the Church worldwide as she tries to respond to those who suffer. I highly recommend it.” The Most Revd Mouneer Anis, Archbishop of the Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa.
The book is available to purchase via the Anglican Communion website at £7.96 in the UK, £11.10 in Europe and £13.60 in the rest of the world.