Christianity and Freedom – Volume 2 Global Perspectives
Edited by Allen D Hertzke and Timothy Samuel Shah Cambridge University Press 2016 Hardback 504 pp including index. £110
Donald Trump vows to eradicate radical Islamic terrorism from the face of the earth. Those he entrusts with this task should have this book to hand. It is packed with valuable evidence, tables and references to back up the many really helpful nuggets of insight and illumination it brings to the experiences which Christians and other minorities face for example from Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria and ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
Having explored in their first volume the roots of freedom in Christian history and theology, Hertzke and Shah bring sixteen chapters of original research in Asia, Africa and the Middle East on the contemporary experience of Christian communities in some of the 151 countries where 500 million Christians currently experience harassment.
Allen Hertzke introduces the main points in his introduction: the pluralist nature of many societies rests on the fate of the Christians in them because the Christian faith has a conception of human dignity and equality that underlies and promotes freedom.
“In the world you will have tribulation” said the Master. This volume evidences how the tribulations of Christian churches in these very difficult circumstances make an outsize contribution to human freedom and dignity while the very association of Christianity with freedom sparks repression from regimes threatened by an independent and transcendant source of authority which cultivates civil society.
Research by Paul Marshall shows four principal sources of persecution: the Communist remnant states, South Asian religious nationalism, the Muslim majority world and national security states. Because Christianity denies that the state is the ultimate arbiter of human life, it challenges all such attempts to impose one single authority.
Transnational networks of Christian support and advocacy play a major global role in human rights advocacy, humanitarian aid and peacemaking.
In China, Christians form five per cent of the population. They are on the front line in promoting freedom, the rule of law, civic engagement and charitable enterprise because their faith provides one of the most appealing options to address the social anomie and value deficit resulting from rapid and forced modernisation. In Vietnam Christians model democracy with regular elections for church officials and leaders. In India, Christians are forming partnerships with other oppressed minorities, Muslims and secular Hindus. Among ‘untouchables’ women who take part in faith-based networks of microfinance projects do well in saving money for their children’s education and are more likely to enlist community leaders to combat domestic violence.
In Nigeria,insecurity in the poorly implemented democracy, the perception of discrimination and ethnic rivalry have bred religious intolerance and abuses of human rights. But the provision of practical relief to Christian victims of conflict has helped to discourage them from reacting aggressively and thus maintain the cycle of violence.
In the Arab world, relatively repressive policies in the realm of religion are imposed top down by unelected leaders for their own political purposes rather than in response to the will of their populations who are far more tolerant. In Egypt, Copts represent the largest Christian community in the Arab world and the best defence for protecting Egyptian identity against Islamisation.
A most helpful chapter concludes the volume on Syrian and Iraqi Christian communities and the rise of Isis. The overthrow of Saddam Hussein created a security vacuum which allowed extreme Islamist groups to terrorise ethnic and religious communities they regarded as rivals. In Syria, the Asad regime while brutal comprised minority Alawites and therefore accomodated and protected other minorities such as Christians. The strategy of ISIS leadership ( who are former Iraqi Ba’athists) is to consolidate control over territories taken by other rebels, and then turn on them and absorb them. With good reason, Christians have no confidence in any deals offered to them by ISIS, and now only seem able to remain in situations where to some degree they maintain their own self-defence militias. Their complete disappearance from the region altogether, the volume concludes, would be a major setback for other minorities facing the same dilemmas.