Yesterday morning I slept in for an extra hour while my husband Timothy took the toddler outside for a morning walk. We had breakfast, cleaned ourselves up, and went to church. We met friends, sang worship, listened to a great sermon, and shared coffee and donuts and pizza with friends.
And no one was injured or killed all morning.
But when I got home, I flipped through the news on my phone and learned that my Christian family in Pakistan didn’t have such a peaceful morning.
Persecution in Pakistan
Two bombs almost simultaneously tore through two congregations in Lahore, Pakistan, injuring about 70 people and killing at least 14 more. Suicide bombers coordinated the attacks on Christians during their worship services. A Taliban splinter group claimed responsibility, and promised more would follow.
Christians make up less than 2% of the population in Pakistan, but routinely face discrimination and violent persecution. (You can read more about Christians in Pakistan at Open Doors.)
My heart sank to my stomach as I read the details—and the tugging in my soul for Jesus to come back and put an end to hatred and murder pulled a little bit tighter—but it broke when I read about the response.
Violent protests erupted after the blasts, with a mob killing two men accused of involvement in the attacks. – BBC News Asia
One man was beaten to death, and another was set on fire. One commentator wrote,
Its good to know that Christians in Pakistan are finally fighting back and executing justice in a country where no one cares for them. … This could lead to more fighting between Christians and Muslins in Pakistan. Either way, its good to know that Christians did not just stand as victims after be so horrifically attacked.
I don’t say this lightly—because I am aware that I’m writing from a very privileged position of peace and security—but this is not the response believers are called to.
Vengeance vs Forgiveness
Hatred, anger, vengeance … none of these reflexes are ever prescribed or condoned by Jesus or any of the New Testament writers. It’s true that I personally have no idea what it’s like to live under constant threat of persecution and violence, but Jesus and Stephen and Paul (who was a terrorist himself before he met Jesus) did.
But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. – Jesus
Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. – Jesus
And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” – Acts 7
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. – Paul
It’s not an easy response, but Christians are still doing it.
Last month, ISIS shared a video of the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians. (I haven’t seen it. Don’t watch it. They want you to watch it, don’t play into their game.) They mocked the Christians who, in their final moments, can be heard on the video calling out to Jesus.
But the family of two of those young martyrs have since thanked ISIS for not editing that out, because hearing their sons and brothers confess their undying faith in their darkest hour has strengthened their own faith.
The family has publicly forgiven ISIS, and has said they would welcome them in their homes in hopes that those lost men would know the love of God. A Coptic bishop also answered an interviewer that he has forgiven the terrorists who slaughtered his people.
As a Christian and a Christian minister I have a responsibility to myself and to others to guide them down this path of forgiveness. We don’t forgive the act because the act is heinous. But we do forgive the killers from the depths of our hearts. Otherwise, we would become consumed by anger and hatred. It becomes a spiral of violence that has no place in this world. -Bishop Angaelos via CNN
Persecution and Forgiveness are Not Optional
I’m not making light of persecution. Not at all. As a mother myself, I can only hope without knowing that I would have the grace to forgive a man who murdered my son.
But I do know that persecution and martyrdom and written into the Christian experience. We give our lives to follow a Man whose teaching was and is so contrary to the way of the world that they murdered Him. We should expect no better treatment.
And I know that as much as persecution is part of the Christian journey, so is forgiveness. Neither are optional.
ISIS and the American Church
As believers half-way across the world, it hardly seems to matter most days. ISIS isn’t exploding our churches or stealing our people from their beds at night, but it’s fundamental to our relationship with Christ and our daily journey here at home that we don’t let our hearts grow cold. That we don’t participate in the fear and the hatred.
It’s crucial to our own spiritual formation that we remember that the man whom many today call the greatest of the apostles was himself a religious terrorist before he became a follower of Jesus, and that we ourselves were once enemies of God before we surrendered our lives to Christ. It’s crucial that we remember that those 21 Coptic believers, and the 10+ Christians in Pakistan, and hundreds of other Christians who are martyred for their faith every day are only separated from their friends and family for a moment and present with God forever, while the two unsaved men murdered by an angry mob are cut off for eternity.
… but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Paul
What You Can Do About Terrorism
Want to get involved? PLEASE DO.
- PRAY — It’s not a cop-out, it’s serious. Pray until a terrorist gets saved. It wouldn’t be the first time. Not sure how to pray for someone that you can hardly get over hating? Visit Adopt a Terrorist (no, I’m not kidding) for a lot of great resources … and adopt a terrorist while you’re there. If you’re the competitive type, get some friends to adopt terrorists as well and see who can pray theirs into salvation first. (Now I’m kind of kidding … kind of.)
- GIVE — If you can give financially, please do. There are great organizations like Open Doors and Voice of the Martyrs that are trustworthy, and that are working with persecuted believers all over the world.
- WRITE — Prisoner Alert is a ministry of VOM that helps you send letters of encouragement to Christians who are imprisoned all over the world.
Alexis is an Associate Editor and Researcher by day, and a Redefined Team Leader by night. When she’s not in front of a keyboard (which is almost never), she likes playing with her toddler, reading, and eating too much Indian food.