The terrible bombings in Sri Lanka hit the headlines and rightly so. But something nags: if the victims had not included western holiday makers (including Britons), would we have heard much?
The bombings follow on the heels of the Notre Dame fire: the cause, as yet, undetermined, but highlighting increasing attacks on churches in France, with more than 10 desecrated or damaged since January. Three churches in Louisiana, USA, were also recently destroyed by arson. These stories are repeating globally and daily but are not widely covered in the media. And it’s not about buildings: according to persecution monitors Open Doors USA, currently over 100 churches are attacked but, more shockingly, nearly 350 Christians are killed for their faith, each month – in India, Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, China, the Philippines etc etc etc.
This largely hidden narrative stands in striking contrast to the blanket coverage of the Christchurch attacks and it is believed the Sri Lankan bombings may have been by way of revenge. It’s a strange and indiscriminate revenge that targets innocent worshippers and tourists who probably bore no sympathy for the philosophy of the Christchurch lone wolf, rather than targeting those who do.
But Christchurch prompted another worrying kind of backlash: not just against the violence itself but, curiously, against any narrative that fosters negative stereotypes of Muslims. The New Zealand PM called for a global fight to “create an environment where it can never flourish”. Will there now be similar calls to weed out anti-Christian or even anti-western narratives? This is as doubtful as the definition of what constitutes a negative stereotype is unclear…
Such responses actually mute genuine dialogue: New Zealand bookshops have withdrawn works by non-violent Canadian academic Jordan Peterson, for example. Is Peterson a right-wing fascist? I seem to remember it was Nazis who tried to stop people reading books!!
One group likely to “question Islam” legitimately are Christians; not because of islamophobia and negative stereotyping, but simply because we hold to another hidden narrative: the wild reports of some grief-stricken women who went to a tomb and found it empty – a narrative that challenges all others. So, paradoxically, a backlash against narratives may promote even greater suppression of Christian voices, thereby actually increasing the very religious hatred (already endemic against followers of Jesus) that it seeks to avoid.
Belief in Christ’s unique claims (vindicated by his resurrection), implies critique of other beliefs (although not violence towards those holding them). To proclaim this sensitively, reasonably, peacefully and humbly is our loving mission to the people of the world.
Some of those people may despise us for it and react hatefully, while powers-that-be may ignore the consequent suffering of Christ’s people… But the Lord of that empty tomb is still alive among them. The women told us so…
Rev Simon Copley