The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Peresecution by John L. Allen, Jr.
Discussion Questions for Individual Reflection or Group Study
John L. Allen Jr. is associate editor at The Boston Globe, specializing in coverage of the Vatican and the Catholic Church. He also serves as senior Vatican analyst for CNN, and was for 16 years a correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. He’s the author of nine books on the Vatican and Catholic affairs, and is also a popular speaker on Catholic affairs both in the United States and internationally. In The Global War on Christians, Allen says it’s time to wake up to the rising tide of legal oppression, social harassment, and physical violence on Christians around the world. Whether it’s Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia, Hindu radicalism in India, or state-imposed atheism in China and North Korea, Christian have become a beleaguered minority. In North America and Europe, Christians face increasing political and legal challenges to religious freedom. In this eye-opening book, Allen offers investigative insight into what is being done to stop these deadly threats, and what more can be done.
Explain the distinction Allen makes between the “global war on Christians” and the “war on religion” in the West. Why is this distinction important?
The author points out that it’s dangerous to describe something as a religious conflict when there are other forces involved. What might such a situation look like? In spite of this, why would it be wise to take a more expansive view of anti-Christian persecution?
In the world at large, why has silence surrounded the war on Christians, like the Me’eter prison camp described by Allen? Why has the Church been so silent?
Allen says that, aside from the moral and spiritual imperatives, there are three reasons to make the global war on Christians a core concern today. List those reasons, and briefly describe them.
PART ONE: ANTI-CHRISTIAN PERSECUTION AROUND THE WORLD
Chapter 1: Overview
The Barnabas Fund came up with a list of ten forms of harassment and persecution against Christians globally. Briefly describe each one. Of these ten, how many were you aware of?
Have you or someone you know personally been the victim of any of these forms of persecution? Describe the situation.
Now that you know such a large percentage of Christians are being so severely persecuted worldwide, what are some ways you personally can combat this persecution?
According to German scholar Thomas Schirrmacher, what are some of the main reasons that Christians are the target of so much persecution?
What is your opinion of the annual “Status of Global Mission” report’s estimate of the number of Christian martyrs per year? Do you think it’s an accurate portrayal of the plight facing Christians, or does it stretch the concept of martyrdom too far? Why or why not?
The Jesuit martyr Fr. Rutilio Grande said, “It’s a dangerous thing to be a Christian in this world.” Do you agree with this statement? Would you say it’s dangerous to be a Christian in the United States today? If so, why?
Chapter 2: Africa
Read the story about the Irish bishop, Kiernan O’Reilly, who has been a long-time African missionary. Why has he made the choice to remain in such a dangerous place? What motivates someone to make such a dangerous choice?
The author details many horrors that have taken place in recent years at the hands of Boko Haram, a jihadist militant organization founded in 2001. Since this book was published in 2013, those horrors have continued. Recently this group kidnapped some 276 Christian girls. Although some have escaped, some are still being held them for ransom, and in the meantime is attempting their forced conversion to Islam. What effect does this have on you? What can you possibly do to help?
Allen notes that in Nigeria, Christians have not only been victims—some have organized themselves into groups and tried to defend churches, homes, and schools by attacking Muslim homes and businesses. What is your response to this?
Read again the story of Bishop Umar Mulinde, the Pentacostal preacher who survived Muslims attacking him by pouring acid on him as he was opening his car door on Christmas Eve 2011. He says he has forgiven his attackers. What does his story teach us about forgiveness?
Chapter 3: Asia
Asia Bibi is still in solitary confinement, her trial having been postponed six times (as of September 2014). There is tremendous global pressure on the Pakistani authorities to release her. Allen says that her release would have no effect on the larger war on Christians, because most suffer without the notoriety that Bibi has. What can be done to help them?
In spite of persecution, Christianity is growing rapidly in many parts of Asia. The author says there is a compelling case that, as Asia goes, so goes the overall fate of religious freedom in the early twenty-first century. How can religious freedom advocates increase their ability to protect Christian populations?
In China, why would Catholics choose not to belong to the Catholic Patriotic Association? Why would Protestants choose not to be part of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement? Describe some of the persecutions Catholics and Protestants face in China today for refusing to submit to these organizations.
Since Christianity has always been a small but generally tolerated minority in India, what is it about the Hindu revival that has caused such hostility toward Christians and Muslims?
Do a little research on the Communal Violence Bill, which would give the federal government the power to intervene directly when religious freedom is attacked in a foreign country. What arguments do opponents of the bill make? What are your opinions?
Re-read the story of Shahbaz Bhatti, the lone Catholic in Pakistan’s cabinet who was assassinated in 2011. What insights can you glean from his story and the words of his brother Paul?
Chapter 4: Latin America
The story of Dorothy Stang is compelling on many levels. What inspired you the most as you read Allen’s account of her life and experience in the Amazon? Consider watching the documentary They Killed Sister Dorothy. How does the fact that even those in secular circles consider her a saint impact you?
Even though Latin America has such a large Christian population, the global war on Christians is in full force there. Briefly describe the three areas of persecution believers most typically experience.
What affect has the atheist Castro regime in Cuba had upon religious freedom there? List some of the most significant persecutions.
Why do you think Castro visited the Vatican in 1996? What effect, if any, do you think St. John Paul II’s visit to Cuba two years later, or Benedict XVI’s visit in 2012?
In addition to Christians being brutally attacked for their faith in Mexico, there is a growing war being waged by traditional Catholics in Mexico against Evangelicals and Pentecostals. What can Catholics worldwide do to prevent this from continuing?
Why has Hugo Chavez referred to Christian missionaries as “imperialists” and feels they are part of a broad conspiracy in Washington, D.C.? How does this add to Christians being persecuted for their faith?
Chapter 5: The Middle East
Although Christianity seems to be nearly dying out in the Middle East, Allen says that there is a burgeoning Christian presence in the Gulf States. What can this be attributed to? What persecutions do these Christians face?
Describe the realities of modern life in Afghanistan for a Christian today. How has the Taliban made life difficult for them?
Samuel Tadros, a research fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, says that Egypt’s new shariah-based constitution is “a real disaster in terms of religious freedom.” Why does he say this and what does he mean?
Have you ever visited the Holy Land? If so, what evidence did you find of Christians being persecuted? If not, do you have a desire to visit some day?
During Saddam Hussein’s regime, Christians were a minority, and they experienced much opposition. However, as Allen details, the situation worsened after Hussein’s fall. Given the rise of ISIS terrorist activity now so prevalent, what new persecutions do Christians face?
Describe what happens to Turkish Muslims who convert to Christianity. What is life like for them?
Some feel that the Vatican should take a more aggressive stance regarding religious persecution in the Middle East. Do you agree? Why or why not?
Chapter 6: Eastern Europe
Social scientists say that the Czech Republic, once home to a large Catholic population, is now a society in which atheism is the “state church.” What factors contributed to this change?
Describe the events and factors that have led to the Catholic presence in Bosnia and Herzegovina being cut in half.
Even though the climate for Christianity in Russia has vastly improved since the Soviet era, threats against religious freedom are still present. Describe the two biggest challenges believers in Russia face now and in the foreseeable future.
PART TWO: MYTHS ABOUT THE GLOBAL WAR ON CHRISTIANS
Chapter 7: The Myth that Christians Are at Risk Only Where They’re a Minority
Allen says whenever Christians profess their faith openly and take controversial stands regarding human rights and social justice, this exposes them to danger. How does the author define majority martyrs? Do you agree with him? Why or why not?
Explain the term martyrs of charity. How do these martyrs differ from the martyrs of previous eras?
Why does the author say it is “toxic” to believe that believers are persecuted for their faith only in places where Christians are the minority?
Chapter 8: The Myth That No One Saw It Coming
In your own words, explain what the author means by a “Casablanca defense” in the global war on Christians.
Allen uses the brutal murder of Catholic bishop Luigi Padovese in Turkey as an example of this particular myth that “no one saw it coming.” What events led to this conclusion?
The author says that there are at least four reasons why debunking this myth is important. In your own words, explain each of these reasons.
Chapter 9: The Myth That It’s All About Islam
In our post-9/11 world, and especially given the recent activities of ISIS, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that radical Islam is the greatest perceived threat to global stability and attacks against Christians. Why is this conclusion be misleading, according to Allen?
Why is it erroneous to identify Islam only with the Middle East and the Arab world?
As you read the four reasons Islam is not the leading threat to Christianity, how does this affect your perception of Islam?
In addition to persecution coming from Islamic radicalism, Allen lists ten other forces that threaten Christians. List these and briefly define each of them.
In what ways do Christians who take a stand against political corruption and organized crime put their lives at risk?
What is the right response regarding the threats facing Christians in Muslim societies? Why is “politically correct silence” an insult to the dignity of those who are fighting for the freedom of the faith?
How might forgiveness be the most powerful weapon of all in the fight against this war on Christians? Explain, using the example of Sr. Leonella Sgorbati and her Muslim bodyguard.
Chapter 10: The Myth That It’s Only Persecution if the Motives Are Religious
Why would someone argue that Christians are being persecuted, but it’s because “they have it coming”? How would you answer such a person?
Skeptics might argue that the persecution that Christians face is inflated to serve some other agenda (usually a political one), or that the persecution that occurs happens only in isolated cases. Has anyone ever expressed this view to you, implying that you’re exaggerating or making things up? If so, how have you responded?
Do you agree with the perception that persecution or violence is only “anti-Christian” if the attacker’s motives are specifically religious? What about the victim’s motives? Why is it important to also understand why the victim was in harm’s way in the first place? Use the example of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in your answer.
Read the example of Eric De Putter, the French Protestant missionary who was murdered in 2012 in Cameroon. In your opinion, do you see his death as anti-Christian persecution? Why or why not?
Explain what the Center for the Study of Global Christianity calls a “situation of witness.” Can you think of other examples of this in addition to that of Sr. Lukrecija Mamic and Francesco Bazzani?
How might the thirty-six Burundi seminarians be classified as victims of anti-Christian violence? Why might someone take the opposite view? Do you see their deaths as a direct result of their Christian beliefs? Why or why not?
Explain why thinking that it’s only persecution if the motives of the perpetrator are religious ones is an inaccurate way of viewing the global war on Christians? Why might this actually do a serious injustice to the victims themselves?
Chapter 11: The Myth That Ant-Christian Persecution Is a Political Issue
Why is it dangerous to think that the suffering of Christians around the world is a political concern How can secular politics, whether left or right wing, distort the way we perceive the global war on Christians?
What lessons can we glean from the life and death of Bishop Gerardi? Why was he celebrated as a “martyr for the truth”?
Describe the differences between Gerardi and Fr. Daniil Sysoyev. How do both of these men’s deaths go beyond political issues, and show that religious persecution is not a political exercise?
Explain in your own words the inaccuracies of the “political issue” myth.
Why does John Allen say that the threat against religious freedom must be framed in terms of universal human rights, not partisan interests? Why is clarity so necessary on this point?
The author says that the examples throughout this book describe people who have in common a “profound conviction that faith matters.” How does this shed light on the idea that they died for their faith, no matter what their political views may have been?
PART THREE: FALLOUT, CONSEQUENCES, AND RESPONSE
Chapter 12: Social and Political Fallout
How can you explain the paradox that, while Christianity is not a political party, it has political implications for societies in which it takes root?
What are the three consequences Allen says will result from considering the political implications of religious persecution? Explain the cumulative effect of these three developments.
Allen asks the question, “What might we expect to hear and see from Christians in the global South when it comes to the intersection of faith and politics?” Answer this in your own words, being careful not to over-generalize.
Do you agree with the statement: “Christianity in the developing world tends to be morally conservative and politically liberal”? Why or why not? What are some of the reasons Allen lists on p. 250 to make this point?
In what ways does the political agenda in the developing world defy the political dichotomies of the West?
Beyond violence and persecution, why is the defense of religious freedom such a concern for Christians today? Take another look at the causes Archbishop Lori cites (see p. 253). Which of these causes are of special concern to you?
Beyond agreeing that religion matters, explain how religion matters—give some examples its influence on current political affairs.
Describe the difference between the Christian reaction to secularism in Europe and the United States and how Christians in the Middle East view it. How did Benedict XVI’s 2008 speech seek to bridge this gap?
Chapter 13: Spiritual Fruits of the Global War
How do you explain the fact that the places where persecution of Christians is the most intense are also the places where Christianity is growing the most dramatically?
What theological breakthroughs has martyrdom stimulated through the ages?
How might today’s global war on Christians actually energize the Church with new missionary zeal and important theological insights?
What ways does the Bad Urach Call suggest that Christians do to take up the cross of Christ actively?
How can the global war on Christians promote ecumenism? Explain briefly in your own words the three compelling reasons Allen suggests.
What impact has hearing stories of martyrs had on you? Have any of the stories in this book changed you in any way? If so, describe how.
Define the terms “high Christology” and a “low Christology.” Which one do you tend to embrace? What value does each of these different angles offer us?
How could a new theological approach impact Christian universities and the coursework offered?
What is the proper Christian understanding of martyrdom, as modeled by St. Thomas More?
Describe what Evangelicals and Pentecostals call “Great Commission Christians,” and what they mean by the “10/40 window.” What similarities does this have to the Catholic’s call to the “New Evangelization”?
Chapter 14: What’s to Be Done?
The author says we should not underestimate the importance of prayer in shaping culture within the Church. Explain in your own words what the phrase lex orandi, lex credenda (“the law of prayer is the law of belief”) means. How might this apply to praying specifically for persecuted Christians?
What are some ways you will pray for the persecuted?
Allen says a concrete response to the global war on Christians is for those of us in the West to do whatever we can to raise consciousness so that the victims of this war are not forgotten. As you think of what this means in your life, what concrete responses do you think you might make?
What ways could you reach out to persecuted Christians directly? How do you think you can make a difference in this way?
What does it mean to have a “global perspective,” and how might you develop this in a deeper way in your own life?
Read the story of Rita Larrivee, the Catholic doctor who started a micro-charity. What two lessons can we learn from Larrivee’s experience?
Name some of the forms getting involved politically can take to combat the global war on Christians, and then share which one or ones appeal to you as something you might consider. How will you begin?
How can organizations help displaced refugees in the US but also be conscious of helping Christians remain in their native countries? What could you do on a local level to help displaced refugees get settled in your community?