Relevant ProMundis Blogposts
The German television network ZDF will commemorate Good Friday by showing a documentary on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East
On Good Friday, 2013, ZDF will use the peak viewing time of 7.30 pm, 29 March, to present a 45-minute documentary on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, emphasizing the situation in Syria and Egypt. (The program will also air at 4.30 the following morning.) The author and director of the documentary is Andreas Oster, who has traveled throughout the Middle East with film crews.
The documentary begins with a question which is suitable for Good Friday. Is it possible that by means of the crucifixion of Jesus, persecution was prescribed for Christianity? The history of the persecution in the Middle East is traced to set the stage for discussions with refugees, church leaders, and experts. These experts included Prof. Heiner Bielefeldt, United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion and Belief; Prof. Thomas Söding, New Testament scholar; and Thomas Schirrmacher, sociologist of religion. Schirrmacher, who accompanied the film crew to some locations, was deeply impressed by both the highly differentiated specialized knowledge and also the sympathy for traumatized refugees shown by the filmmakers: “This will be a truly solid documentary, suitable for Good Friday, which sets a high standard for television productions.” Schirrmacher consults with the Central Council of Oriental Christians in Germany, which helped to arrange many of the interviews for the documentary.
The following text is translated from the website of ZDF:
Dangerous Faith—2000 Years of Christian Persecution
In year 30 of our era, at the place of judgment in Jerusalem, a man was tortured and nailed to a cross. This was the most torturous manner of execution for a condemned man. The official accusation mentioned instigation of the people and resistance to the authority of the state.
His followers saw in him a prophet, indeed the Messiah and Redeemer who had long been awaited by the Jews. They were convinced that he would bring peace and salvation into the world. What began with a dozen disciples became, after the death of Jesus of Nazareth, a movement that gripped the entire Mediterranean world. Nothing was able to stop them. The first three centuries are filled with stories of people who willingly went to their deaths because of their faith in Christ.
According to the chronicles of the time, the cruelty practiced by Roman rulers in Christian persecution can hardly be surpassed. Christians were burned alive in the circus, sewn into animal skins, thrown to the lions, or, like Jesus, nailed to a cross.
Today, with 2.2 billion followers, Christianity is the most numerous religion in the world. Almost every third citizen of the earth is a Christian. Until a few years ago, at least in the western world, Christian persecution was regarded as history from ages long past, at best as the background for novels or action movies. But in recent times the situation has changed dramatically. Ever more frequently the news reports burning churches, along with abused and fleeing refugees, in the Near and Middle East; usually the victims are Christians.
Representatives of the Christian Churches, human rights organizations, and also politicians are increasingly using the term “Christian Persecution” and warn about increasing “Fundamentalization” and “Radicalization” especially in Islamic states. The victims report discrimination and abuse, as well as neglect of the help and protection one would normally expect from a government.
This documentary pursues the question, “What is Christian persecution?” Do the roots possibly lie in the readiness of Jesus to die for his convictions, and that he expects that same readiness from his followers? Why do people persecute each other for the sake of faith? Are there parallels to today’s situation in history? How has Christianity itself dealt with violence and with people who think or believe differently in its 2,000-year history? What happens when politics, the state, and religion are tightly connected?
The ZDF film team visited places in the Middle East where old Christian traditions have been anchored for thousands of years and continue as living communities today. They wanted to hear from people who have suffered with their own bodies, as well as from refugees who have fled from their homes because of fear of the current situation.
For an orientation to both historical and contemporary events, the film team was supported by a team of distinguished scholars, including human rights expert Heiner Bielefeldt from Erlangen, who has been the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion and Belief since 2010, sociologist of religion Thomas Schirrmacher from Bonn, and biblical exegete Thomas Söding from Bochum.
PDF Download: Bonner Querschnitte 251
After my participation at the inauguration of the Pope and my short conversation with the Pope the following day (which was carried live on Italian television and was also broadcast by Phoenix in German), I was interviewed by several media outlets. I also gave some exclusive statements which were referenced by the German and English media:
- Antrim Prish – Interfaith Leaders see hope in Pope Francis
- explizit.net – Privilegien rückt er zu Leibe und die Herzen berührt er
- idea – Evangelikale beim Papst: „Rom“ tritt unter Franziskus demütiger auf
- proKompakt: PDF-Download
I was now asked to make those exclusive statements accessible. The following are English translations of my press statements from March 21, 2013:
The Pope has initiated significant changes, of course largely symbolic at first, which directly relate to other churches. The fact that he openly welcomed the representatives of churches, using the word “church” without further ado, in his inaugural worship service, was a clear break with centuries of tradition, even if the claims of the Vatican declaration “Dominus Iesus” were not set aside. At his official audience with representatives of other churches, he abandoned the traditional red and gold papal throne, which was standing in a nearby room, and even abandoned the tradition of using a chair raised a couple steps above the surrounding floor. He even called the Ecumenical Patriarch “brother.” His affirmation of ecumenical cooperation and of the necessity of continuing discussion of theological agreements and differences was more pointed than has ever been formulated and clearly came from his heart.
As everyone could see from the live broadcast, his reception of Geoff Tunnicliffe, General Secretary of the World Evangelical Alliance, equally came from his heart, as did his greeting for me. The Pope knew exactly whom he was receiving, indicating it is completely alien to him to see evangelicals as a kind of Christian to be treated differently than other Christians are treated.
In my short discussion, I recommended to the Pope to take up the theme of Christian persecution more energetically and to give this concern an institutional home in the structure of the Vatican, which seemed to evoke a positive response. Already in his role as Archbishop, the Pope repeatedly stood behind support for evangelicals who were imprisoned on account of the faith. I hope for real progress in this arena.
As representatives of the World Evangelical Alliance, we held many discussions, in addition to those with the Pope. I spoke with German politicians who came to the papal inauguration as well as with the German cardinals and bishops who attended. I met eleven other cardinals and dozens of staff members of Vatican committees, as well as holding informal and official discussions with several guests from both Protestant and Orthodox churches. Among these were the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople and other patriarchs, archbishops, and general secretaries. For those from the German situation, where the free churches and the evangelical alliance have had only limited constructive contact with the old churches, it is surprising and pleasant that the World Evangelical Alliance is properly received in Rome and Geneva as representing 600 million Christians. This is not the result of any theological changes on the part of evangelicals, which no one expects from us, but results entirely from the existence and size of the evangelical movement.
Within the Vatican there is an optimist mood, which we saw in numerous discussions. Of course the Pope will have to implement his words and symbolic gestures in action, but he is trusted to activate the process of “desecularizing” the church, proclaimed by Benedict XVI, by means of energetically addressing the problems within the Curia, including every type of double morality and especially the problems of sexual abuse.
The Ambassador for Human Rights of the World Evangelical Alliance Calls for Help for Fleeing Syrian Christians
(Bonner Querschnitte No. 250, 27.03.2013) The Ambassador for Human Rights of the World Evangelical Alliance, Thomas Schirrmacher, has challenged the media, governments, and churches to take a serious interest in the fate of the Christians being chased from their homes in Syria. He noted, “I know that many people in Syria are suffering, but Christians are seeing a repetition of the situation in Iraq, that they are largely wiped out between the opposing fronts, and once their survivors are driven out, they seldom have the opportunity to return.” The mass exodus of the 2.3 million Christians from Syria is not a secondary matter. Of the previous 60,000 Christians in Homs, less than 1,000 remain. Christians are being killed and tortured while their women are being raped and their churches destroyed.
Schirrmacher explains that the rebels see Christians as supporters of Assad, while Assad’s loyalists do not trust Christians. Repeatedly refugees report that “terrorists” with green or black headbands beat up Christians and destroy their property while announcing that a similar fate awaits Christians who do not soon flee to other countries. Some Christians are being used as human shields on the battlefields. Yet it is conspicuous that most Christians neither speak negatively about their Muslim neighbors nor mention the religious identity of the terrorists. Rather, they continue to hope that they can return to a peaceful condition in their homeland.
To get a proper overview of the situation, Schirrmacher communicated with leaders of the old eastern churches in Rome, Washington, Geneva, and Beirut. These people included Ignatius Zakka I, Patriarch of the Syrian Orthodox Church; Clemis Daniel Kourieh, Metropolitan of the Syrian Orthodox Church; Melkite-Catholic Metropolitan Cyril Salim Bustros; and Patriarch Gregory III Laham, head of the Melkite Greek-Catholic Church. Schirrmacher also interviewed refugees in multiple countries, partly while traveling with a team from the German television network “ZDF,” which interviewed refugees, church leaders, and the Grand Mufti of Lebanon while preparing a TV documentary.
Many of the senior leaders of the Syrian churches have fled to Lebanon for safety, along with many of their church members. The Grand Mufti of Lebanon, Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, the most important Muslim theologian in Lebanon, has articulated his interest in and desire for peaceful life together among Muslims and Christians. For many years several leaders in the ancient churches in the near and middle east have expressed their deep concerns about being driven out of the region and being forced to resettle in the west, leaving the middle east entirely Muslim. Many of them see this situation is a result of the lack of a separation between religion and government and of the imposition of Muslim law (sharia) on a multi-religious society in which millions of Christians have lived for centuries. The calls of the leaders of the ancient Christian churches for very serious Muslim-Christian dialogue arise from their desire to avoid a destructive clash of civilizations or even a war of religions.
By means of the decision to elect a non-European, the Catholic Church has clearly accepted and given prominence to the fact that the center of gravity of world Christianity has shifted to the global south. Although popes from Poland and Germany were already a step away from Italy, the new step is away from Europe nearly entirely, to the regions where the masses of Christians live. “Nearly”, because the Pope is of Italian decent and earned his theological doctorate in Germany.
It is astonishing that a “bishop of the poor” has been selected, who as a Jesuit would have been expected to be a closet liberal among the cardinals but by means of the selection of his papal name has indicated that his vow of poverty has programmatic significance. At the Catholic synod meetings last year I got to know him as a modest, humble, and friendly man who uses public transportation and goes without a palace or chauffeur. Even before the conclave he lived in a very modest place for priests in Rome, where I have stayed overnight, too, inspite of a better hotel. These are difficult times for all those in the Curia who have tolerated dirty church finances.
We have to expect that the new Pope, perhaps along with Cardinal Turkson from Ghana, who leads the Vatican Commission “Justitia et Pax” (Justice and Peace), will get more strongly involved in social questions. I exspect a closer cooperation with evangelicals here.
The election of a relatively old man, who is only a little younger than Cardinal Ratzinger was at the time of his election, may mean that he is a transitional figure, though he seems to be healthier than Benedict XVI was at the time of his election. But – God willing – he has a decade to solve the ongoing problems in the curia itself.
It must have been self-consciously that a pope who never lived in the Vatican was elected. He his been involved in several high ranking parts of the curia, but none, that made him part of the establishment. This will make resolution of the problems of the Curia both easier and more difficult. One will have to wait eagerly for the selection of his Secretary of State and whether the chosen is willing to clean up the problems left over by Benedikt who felt to old, to the cleaning himself.
We hope that the new Pope will have a greater understanding of evangelicals, since they come so predominantly from the global south. There have been some tensions between evangelicals and Catholics in Latin America, but in Argentina the new Pope has neither been known as someone who concentrates on the needed theological discussions, but does not describe evangelicals as “sectarian.” As an archbishop he spoke at evangelical meetings and saw a commonality between al Christians in opposition to secularism. We can hope for the continuation of truly fair and honest theological discussions of both our differences and commonalities. Some questions will get a bit more difficult compared to Pope Benedikt. Eg coming from Latin America Mary will play a much greater role than under Benedikt. One will have to wait, where the debate over his time under Argentinian dicaturship goes, which the seculkar media surelky will pump up. But having a pope, who does not see evangelicals as a problem first of all, but as a partner in preaching Jesus, is good news for us.
As I accompany our Secretary General Geoff Tunnicliffe to the Pope’s inaugoration, we probably very soon will know, what direction will be taken. And I trust from experience, that our CEO takes the lead to a warm relationship of the three large Christian world bodies on the one side and a clear, direct, fair and open minded theological stand for evangelical distinctives on the other side.
Global Gathering of Evangelicals Co-Hosted by WEA Calls for Urgent Action by Christians to Care for Creation
The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) recently collaborated with the Lausanne Movement in a five-day Global Consultation on Creation Care and the Gospel in Jamaica. 60 participants from 23 countries addressed the issue of creation care and the role of the Church from a biblical perspective and will soon release a ‘Call to Action’ as well as various resources designed to contribute to “the development of a global movement for caring for creation through local churches.”
Dr. Chris Elisara, Executive Director of WEA’s Creation Care Task Force, and Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, Chair of WEA’s Theological Commission, participated in the consultation in which theologians, scientists, specialists, church leaders, and representatives of international Christian development agencies discussed the vital role churches can play in educating and encouraging Christians on how to better fulfill God’s command to care for His creation.
Dr. Elisara summarizes his experience in Jamaica as follows:
“Whenever God’s people come together prayerfully, humbly, and focused on seeking first God’s Kingdom, wonderful things can happen. That occurred at this global consultation where the outcomes, I believe, will have a huge and positive impact not only on global mission and evangelicalism, but ultimately, on the whole of creation.”
Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, Chair of the WEA Theological Commission, issued a strong plea to Christians in the Global South, “to lead the Church on the issue of creation care,” because they are being impacted the most by the negative effects of pollution, ecological degradation, and climate instability.
A ‘Call to Action’ from the Consultation will be released soon, followed by a report in three months’ time and a book next year with papers and reflections from the Consultation.
WEA welcomes this further contribution to Creation Care, and commends both the Call to Action and earlier work to the global Church. Gordon Showell-Rogers, WEA Associate Secretary General, draws particular attention to the ‘excellent statement that came from the consultation on creation care hosted in 2009 by the Micah Network1, a valued WEA Global Partner, and to the statement adopted by the whole WEA membership at its last General Assembly in 20082.’
Dr. Elisara notes:
“While the Micah gathering and its outcomes focused on creation care and climate change, this year’s second global gathering focused on the relationship between God’s mission, the gospel, and creation care. By combining their foci evangelicals who are seeking understanding and guidance on creation care are well served by these two documents.”
Rev. Edward R. Brown, Lausanne’s Senior Associate for Creation Care, says the Consultation has already led to plans for regional Consultations on creation care, including meetings in Southeast Asia, East Africa and North America. WEA’s global, regional and national membership structure will be critical for organizing and facilitating productive outcomes at these regional consultations. From Dr. Elisara’s perspective, “co-hosting these consultations to strengthen the global Church’s capacity to care for creation will be one of the main goals for WEA’s Creation Care Task Force over the next few years.”
Furthermore, Rev. Brown is hopeful that the ‘Call to Action’ and other resources will result in, “the development of a global movement of care for creation through local churches, based on a biblical understanding of our role as caretakers of God’s creation, as well as specific steps Christians can take in their community and goals to measure progress.” He adds that the consultation is issuing an urgent Call for Action because “we believe that the environmental crisis is one that must be resolved in our generation.”