Lately I've been telling people as I enter a room that I'm aware I come bearing the aroma of death. You may be thinking that too, judging what I've written here in recent months, and are turning the page already.
It's true that too many I've come in contact with recently have died, been maimed by roadside bombs, exploded as they began worship, kidnapped on their way to work, forced to close hard-won house churches, or put to flight from their homes by a terrorist's midnight phone call. I have a clutch of stories I've agreed not to tell because the lives that are at risk at this moment dangle by the slenderest thread.
Canon Andrew White also knows about the aroma of death. The vicar of St. George's Church in Baghdad left his ministry at Coventry Cathedral in Great Britain to join Iraqis who reopened the country's only Anglican church after the U.S. toppled Saddam. The church has survived five bombings and the targeted killing of numerous leaders. It has established a clinic and a school, and a feeding ministry that takes care of nearly 4,000.
"We Christians in Iraq feel that we have been left behind, and that we have nothing," White said recently. "President Obama declared, 'We are leaving behind a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government elected by its own people.' But reality is swiftly contradicting the president's words."
Iraq's Ministry of Interior has reported nearly 500 Iraqi deaths per month since the U.S. pullout. White said he didn't think the American departure would make a difference, but "from the day the U.S. military left, Christians felt themselves in total disarray. Violence related to religious sectarianism increased." Now Iraqi Christians face great danger, he said: "Our people have been slaughtered, massacred, and murdered, and we have nowhere to turn."
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its annual report in March, citing 16 countries as the world's worst religious freedom violators. Outgoing commissioner Nina Shea pointed out, "Christians are far from the only religious group persecuted in these countries. But, Christians are the only group persecuted in each and every one of them."
This is a striking trend but perhaps not surprising. Christianity, after all, is the only religion that doesn't play to win. As G.K. Chesterton wrote, it's a faith that's "always at a disadvantage; it is a perpetually defeated thing which survives all conquerors."
The good news is that this perpetually defeated thing does make us defeatists. Through the defeat of Jesus Christ on the cross we become victorious.
But what of those at this moment who endure persecution? They face a triple threat: the threat of harm for what they believe, the threat that those who can speak out-like Canon White or me-will not, and the lack of response from a wider church that has ceased to care.
In a new book, Emancipating the World by Darrow Miller, Miller writes that Christians in recent years "have loved Christ with all their hearts but have failed to love him with all their minds." Secular and jihadist ideologues know what they are about, writes Miller, while far too many Christians do not.
As an example, I hold an 89-page document outlining task force recommendations to imposing Sharia law in Bauchi state, one of 12 states in northern Nigeria to have enacted Islamic law. First come nearly 60 new Sharia courts, then creation of the hisbah. Hisbah is an Arabic word that means "reckoning, counting, or investigation." These are the secret police, whose job is to "work for a good common purpose within a community such as enjoining what is good or right and shunning or forbidding what is wrong or evil." In a bit of irony maybe not lost on the task force, it says hisbah members should be "good Samaritans."
This document represents a serious act of loving religion with all your mind, and I have seen its results-churches torched by Muslim gangs, Christians shunned from jobs and schools, death. These, my friends, are the kinds of serious enemies we face and we should not be unwitting in the face of it.