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Theological resources on persecution published for ACC-16

Posted on: March 21, 2016 2:51 PM

[ACNS] A draft report detailing theological resources for times of persecution has been published by the Anglican Inter Faith Network. The report, “Out of the Depths – Hope in a time of suffering” is “an Anglican contribution to ecumenical engagement” and will be discussed during next month’s meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Lusaka, Zambia.

The report begins by setting out the context in which it was written. “We are living in an unprecedented time of religious persecution and martyrdom in the modern world,” it says in its introduction. “There were more recognized martyrs in the 20th century than in the whole of previous Christian history.

“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. 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 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.

The report was written for ACC-16, but the authors say that “we pray that it will be a resource for Christians of all traditions; for those who are under persecution and also for those who support them.”

The draft report 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 report 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 report 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 report 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 report 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 realize that they have to take religion more seriously.”

The draft report has been published on the webpage for ACC-16. It is the third theological resource published by the Inter Faith Network of the Anglican Communion; after Generous Love: the truth of the Gospel and the call to Dialogue; and Land of Promise? an Anglican exploration of Christian attitudes to the Holy Land.