Last Saturday I had the rare privilege of appearing on national television to speak about the persecution of Christians and others who suffer persecution for their religious or non religious beliefs (http://www.foxnews.com/on-air/americas-news-hq/index.html#/v/5433105417001). Over the past two years, I’ve had over 200 radio, television, and other news media interviews, primarily on immigration but also ranging from the Presidential primaries to refugees, terrorism, healthcare, racial relations, Evangelicalism, and other public policy issues. When you get booked on a talk radio program, you sometimes wind up talking about whatever is hot in the news cycle, whether you are prepared or not. As a result, I try to stay on top of the news pretty assiduously. When my friend Kelly Wright asked me to appear on Fox News to discuss persecution, I immediately accepted. I’ve cared deeply about the issue my whole life long.
Like many Christian families from long ago, my parents had Fox’s Book of Martyrs on our family bookshelf, and as a child, I remember looking at it with my brother and admiring the faithfulness of people long ago who were tortured and died for their faith. As a campus minister at Princeton, I got to speak once to the late Ernest Gordon, who had written of suffering under cruel Japanese oppression in Miracle on the River Kwai, and also to Richard Wurmbrand, who wrote his classic story of persecution under Communists in Tortured for Christ. When I decided to take my family into a civil war in El Salvador as a 28-year-old missionary, I knew that I would be working with people who had suffered for their faith in the crucible of violence and as one of my missionary heroes Paul Brannan used to say, I wanted to tell them they were not alone–that people in America were praying and had sent me to join them in their struggle. As a young missionary I learned to respect the Jesuit martyrs who had been killed in El Salvador as well as others. After many years of interfaith dialogue with Jews and Muslims, I have become very familiar with the fact that people of all faiths can face persecution.
Americans have long understood that no one deserves to die for their faith, regardless of their religion or lack thereof. The violation of anyone’s religious freedom threatens everyone else’s freedom. I thought we all knew that. So, it was shocking last week to read that Matthew Dowd, Chief Political Analyst for ABC News, had criticized Shannon Bream of Fox News, tweeting “Maybe you can talk about the bigger problem which is the persecution of Muslims in America and around the globe. Bigger Issue.”
I hope that Dowd, who identifies himself as a Christian, is merely ignorant, but he is certainly wrong–and not for the reason many might suspect. Persecution of anyone for their religious beliefs is something every American should condemn, whether they are Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, atheists, or any other variety of believer. That is the main point. But Dowd is statistically wrong in claiming that the persecution of Muslims is a bigger issue. As Pew Research has objectively demonstrated, Christianity is the world’s most persecuted religion. But Muslims are the second most persecuted religious group around the world–often suffering death and violence from other [Muslims] as well as [Hindu] nationalists, [Buddhist] nationalists, and yes, even [Christians] and others. (I have bracketed each religious identity to challenge the authenticity of the label.] If Dowd thought Fox meant to focus on the American scene, he didn’t know what he was talking about. Did he mean that Americans should not care about what happens internationally? Whatever.
Everyone’s suffering matters. No one deserves to be persecuted. It is noble and righteous to call attention to the persecution of Christians, and not to ignore the suffering of others who are persecuted for their vision of righteousness.