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Persecution of Christians

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Christians have sometimes experienced persecution during the history of Christianity. Persecution may refer to unwarranted arrest, imprisonment, beating, torture, or execution. It also may refer to the confiscation or destruction of property, or incitement to hate Christians.
Contents

Persecutions in the New Testament

The New Testament reports that the earliest Christians suffered persecution at the hands of the Jewish leadership of the day, commencing with Jesus himself. It also reports the beginning of persecutions by the Romans.

Persecutions by "the" Jews

According to NT accounts, Judas Iscariot was paid by the priesthood and officers of the Temple to lead them to Jesus when he was alone and away from the crowds (Luke 22:4-6). He was then arrested (Luke 22:54) and taken before the Sanhedrin (ecclesiastical court) (Luke 22:66), who then took him before the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, claiming that he was subverting Roman rule (Luke 23:2). According to the NT, Pilate did not want to give Jesus the death penalty, but Jewish crowds convinced him to have Jesus executed (Luke 23:13-24, 33). According to Matthew 27, Pilate's wife told him of a dream warning him against any dealings with Jesus, could have supposedly influenced his judgement.

Historians dispute the picture of Pilate painted in the New Testament. Sources outside the New Testament state that Pilate was known for callous disregard toward public opinion, crucifixions of hundreds of Jews, and brutal suppression of Jewish revolts. Some that the New Testament account may have been purposely distorted by its authors to curry favour with Rome, by switching primary responsibility for Jesus' execution from the Roman authorities to the Jews. However, other historians point out that Pilate's earlier brutalities were committed while he still enjoyed the protection of his patron Sejanus. Following Sejanus's execution in AD 31, Pilate would have been more likely to keep the peace with local leaders, rather than risk civil unrest.

According to the New Testament accounts, persecution of Jesus' followers continued after his death. Peter and John were imprisoned by the Jewish leadership, including high priest Annas, who however later released them (Acts 4:1-21). Another time, all the apostles were imprisoned by the high priest and other Sadducees, only to be freed by an angel (Acts 5:17-18). The apostles, after having escaped, were then taken before the Sanhedrin again, but this time Gamaliel (a Pharisee well known from Rabbinic literature) convinced the Sanhedrin to free them (Acts 5:27-40), which the Sanhedrin did, after having flogged them.

The New Testament recounts the stoning of Stephen (Acts 6:8-7:60) by the members of the Sanhedrin. Stephen is remembered in Christianity as the first martyr (derived from the Greek word "martyros" which means "witness"). Stephen's execution was followed by a major persecution of Christians (Acts 8:1-3), led by a Pharisee named Paul of Tarsus (also called Saul), throwing many Christians into prison. According to the New Testament, this persecution continued until Paul converted to Christianity, after reportedly seeing a bright light and hearing the voice of Jesus on the road to Damascus, where he was travelling to carry out more imprisonment of Christians (Acts 9:1-22). Acts 9:23-25 reports that "the Jews" in Damascus then tried to kill Paul. They were waiting for him at the town gates, but he evaded them by being lowered over the city wall in a basket by other Christians and then escaped to Jerusalem. Understandably, he had difficulty at first convincing the Christians in Jerusalem that he, their persecutor, had truly converted and was now being persecuted himself (Acts 9:26-27). Another attempt on his life was made, this time by "the Grecians" (KJV), referring to a group of Hellenistic Jews (Acts 9:29), whom he debated while in or around Jerusalem.

There is some debate over why Paul, before his conversion, persecuted Christians. One possibility is that he was punishing Jews who no longer observed Jewish Law. This seems unlikely, though, in part because the arrival of the messiah was not at that time a reason for abandoning the law; indeed, some scholars believe it was not until after Paul converted that Christians began preaching this. Moreover, there is evidence that the apostles observed at least parts of Jewish law for some time. Another possibility is that he was punishing Jews who were blaspheming God by claiming God became a man, and who were slandering Jewish authorities by accusing them of killing both God and the prophets who foretold His coming. Another possibility is that he was punishing Gentiles who did not observe Jewish law. This is less likely, since Jews never expected Gentiles among them (even visitors in their synagogues) to observe Jewish law. Another possibility has to do with intense missionary activity on the part of Christians in the years immediately following Jesus' death. Jesus was crucified as a rebel; for Christian missionaries to use synagogue pulpits to preach the claim that he would soon return, leading the armies of Heaven, to establish his kingdom, would have made the Jewish community vulnerable to accusations of treason, and thus to Roman punishment. Jewish leaders would have to suppress any apparent insurrection, or risk Roman wrath.

A separate article exists on Jews in the New Testament.

Persecution of early Christians by Romans

According to the New Testament, Jesus' crucifixion was authorized by Roman authorities and carried out by Roman soldiers. The NT also records that Paul on his missions was imprisoned on several occasions by the Roman authorities. Once he was stoned and left for dead. Finally he was taken as a prisoner to Rome. The New Testament account does not say what then became of Paul, but Christian tradition reports that he was executed in Rome by being beheaded. Christian tradition reports that Peter was likewise executed in Rome, by crucifixion (upsidedown, at his request because he did not feel he deserved the 'honor' of dying in the same way as Christ died).

Early persecutions in Non-Biblical Sources

Aside from the occasional lynching, the first organized, state-supported persecution of Christians is the one initiated by Nero in 64 AD, in a search for scapegoats after the Great Fire of Rome. Though posited by many, the "persecution" of Nero is considered by some to be an anachronism. The only reference we have comes from the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus in his annals. The text refers to the subjects of the persecution as "Christians" though not even Paul or the Earliest Church fathers refer to themselves by this name. The text in question is:

Nero looked around for a scapegoat, and inflicted the most fiendish tortures on a group of persons already hated for their crimes. This was the sect known as Christians. Their founder, one Christus, had been put to death by the procurator, Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. This checked the abominable superstition for a while, but it broke out again and spread, not merely through Judea, where it originated, but even to Rome itself, the great reservoir and collecting ground for every kind of depravity and filth. Those who confessed to being Christians were at once arrested, but on their testimony a great crowd of people were convicted, not so much on the charge of arson, but of hatred of the entire human race.-- Book 15, Chapter 44

It is highly unlikely that such hatred of an obscure sect could have developed so rapidly. It is even more unlikely when you consider the fact that this obscure sect did not have a distinctive name for itself and was considered by outsiders to be part of a much larger sect, Judaism. Although Church Father's emphatically try to make the case for widespread persecution of Christians at their present time and in the past, no Christian (or non-Christian) author quotes the reference to the "Neronian persecution" until the 5th century, when it is quoted by the apologist Sulpicius Severus in a work replete with anachronisms and fanciful miracles. Indeed, some "Christians", if one could call the sect in its early stages of development that, may indeed have been persecuted for their religious ideals, though it would have been mere venting of Roman anti-Semitism at the obscure "Jewish" sect after the costly and foolhardy revolts in Judea, and not particular hatred of these people for worshipping "Christus."

By the mid 2nd century, mobs could be found willing to throw stones at Christians, and they might be mobilized by rival sects. Lucian tells of an elaborate and successful hoax perpretrated by a "prophet" of Asclepius, using a tame snake, in Pontus and Paphlygonia. When rumor seemed about to expose his fraud, the witty essayist reports in his scathing essay Alexander the false prophet (http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/lucian/lucian_alexander.htm),

he issued a promulgation designed to scare them, saying that Pontus was full of atheists and Christians who had the hardihood to utter the vilest abuse of him; these he bade them drive away with stones if they wanted to have the god gracious.

Further state persecutions were desultory until the persecution under Diocletian and more so Galerius that began in 303 AD. The persecution under Decius from the winter of 250 to the following spring of 251 martyred Pope Fabian, Bishop of Rome, involved Cyprian, bishop of Cathage, in controversy, and figures large in the founding myths of the seven bishops sent to Christianize Gaul, but finds no confirmation outside the vita of Cyprian composed by Pontius the deacon and writings in the hagiographic tradition. Gregory of Tours glosses the persecutions in his "History of the Franks" written in the decade before 594:

"Under the emperor Decius many persecutions arose against the name of Christ, and there was such a slaughter of believers that they could not be numbered. Babillas, bishop of Antioch, with his three little sons, Urban, Prilidan and Epolon, and Xystus, bishop of Rome, Laurentius, an archdeacon, and Hyppolitus, were made perfect by martyrdom because they confessed the name of the Lord. Valentinian and Novatian were then the chief heretics and were active against our faith, the enemy urging them on. At this time seven men were ordained as bishops and sent into the Gauls to preach, as the history of the martyrdom of the holy martyr Saturninus relates. For it says: " In the consulship of Decius and Gratus, as faithful memory recalls, the city of Toulouse received the holy Saturninus as its first and greatest bishop." These bishops were sent: bishop Catianus to Tours; bishop Trophimus to Arles; bishop Paul to Narbonne; bishop Saturninus to Toulouse; bishop Dionisius to Paris; bishop Stremonius to Clermont, bishop Martial to Limoges." (Book i.30-31 (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/gregory-hist.html#book3))

Christian sources aver that a decree was issued requiring public sacrifice, a formality equivalent to a testimonial of allegiance to the Emperor and the established order. Decius authorized roving commissions visiting the cities and villages to supervise the execution of the sacrifices and to deliver written certificates to all citizens who performed them. Christians were often given opportunities to avoid further punishment by publicly offering sacrifices or burning incense to Roman gods, and were accused by the Romans of impiety when they refused. Refusal was punished by arrest, imprisonment, torture, and executions. Christians fled to safe havens in the countryside and some purchased their certificates, called libelli. Several councils held at Carthage debated the extent to which the community should accept these lapsed Christians.

It should be noted that today massive numbers of martyrs claimed by the early Church during these persecutions are not generally accepted by scholars. Gibbon, in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, estimates that "the whole might consequently amount to about fifteen hundred ... an annual consumption of 150 martyrs." The Western provinces were little affected, and even in the East where Christianity was recognized as a growing threat, the persecutions were light and sporadic. Claims of martyrdom were exaggerated by the early Church Fathers in order to gain converts.

The career and writings of Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, throw light on the aftermath of the Decian persecutions in the Carthaginian Christian community. (Fuller details are at the entry Cyprian.)

Some early Christians sought out and welcomed their persecutions:

Jesus, too, says John, really committed suicide, and Augustine spoke of "the mania for self-destruction" of early Christians192. Roman authorities tried hard to avoid Christians because they "goaded, chided, belittled and insulted the crowds until they demanded their death.";193; One man shouted to the Roman officials: "I want to die! I am a Christian," leading the officials to respond: "If they wanted to kill themselves, there was plenty of cliffs they could jump off.";194; But the Christians, following Tertullian's dicta that "martyrdom is required by God," forced their own martyrdom so they could die in an ecstatic trance: "Although their tortures were gruesome, the martyrs did not suffer, enjoying their analgesic state."195 [1] (http://www.psychohistory.com/htm/eln09_psychesociety.html)

The conditions under which martyrdom was an acceptable fate or under which it was suicidally embraced occupied writers of the early Christian church. Broadly speaking, martyrs were considered uniquely exemplary of the Christian faith, and few early saints were not also martyrs. However, suicide is murder, and is associated with treason to the faith - the very opposite of martyrdom - the way of Judas the traitor, not of Jesus the savior. This confusion of early Christians over the values of martyrdom led to some breakaways from the Church in Rome, most notably the Donatists. Their was one sect, the Circumcellions, AKA the "agonostici", Latin for "fighter", and root of our English word "antagonist", that is of special regard in this matter. The Circumcellions had come to regard martyrdom as the true Christian virtue (as Church Father Tertullian said, a martyrís death day was actually his birthday), and thus came to disregard chastity, sobriety, humbleness, charity, and most of the other good things we today associate with Christianity. Instead, they focused on bringing about their martyrdom-- by any means possible. Since Jesus had told Peter to put down his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Circumcellions piously avoided bladed weapons and instead opted for the use of blunt clubs, which they called "Isrealites." Using their "Israelites", the Circumcellions would attack random travelers on the road, while shouting "Praise the Lord!" in Latin. The object of these random beatings was the death of the intrepid martyr, who hoped that clobbering someone over the head with an "Israelite" would provoke said person to send the happy Circumcellion straight to Heaven. Since the Circumcellions did not bother themselves with chastity or poverty, they often cavorted with the opposite (or same!) sex and would kill and rob those unfortunate travelers who did not assist their "martyrdom" with a sufficiently potent counter-attack. When the "Israelite" method failed, the determined Circumcellion would obtain his martyrdom through a not-so-quick dip in the pool, or a one way ticket off the nearest cliffside. The 2nd century Martyrdom of Polycarp, records the story of Quintus, a Christian who handed himself over to the Roman authorities, but turned coward and sacrificed to the Roman gods when he saw the wild beasts in the colosseum: "For this reason therefore, brothers, we do not praise those who hand themselves over, since the gospel does not so teach." John the Evangelist never accused Jesus of suicide or self-destruction, but rather says that Jesus chose not to resist arrest and crucifixion.

In 337, a spate in the ongoing hostilities between Sassanid Persia and the Roman Empire led to anti-Christian persecutions by the Persians of Christians who were perceived as potentially treacherous friends to a Christianized Rome under Constantine. Over the next few decades, thousands of Christians died. In the 3rd and 4th centuries, Christian missionaries, most successfully Ulfilas converted the Goths to Arian Christianity, which the Goths saw as an attack on their religion and culture. The Visigoth King Athanaric began persecuting Christians, many of whom were killed. In the 5th and 6th century, Arianism became prevalent among the Goths; during their forays into Italy, Gaul (France) and Spain they destroyed many churches and killed a number of Christian clergy.

In 429 the Vandals (who were Arians) conquered Roman Africa. Catholics were discriminated against; Catholic Church property was confiscated. Thousands of Catholics were banished from Vandal held territory.

The New Catholic Encyclopedia notes that "Ancient, medieval and early modern hagiographers were inclined to exaggerate the number of martyrs. Since the title of martyr is the highest title to which a Christian can aspire, this tendency is natural". Estimates of Christians killed for religious reasons before the year 313 vary greatly, depending on the scholar quoted, from a high of almost 100,000 to a low of 10,000.

Later Jewish persecution of Christians

During the famous Bar Kochba Rebellion of AD 135, Christians refused to fight, as a result of which, according to Justin Martyr, they were "commanded to be published severely, if they did not deny Jesus as the Messiah and blaspheme him."[2] (http://www.livius.org/ja-jn/jewish_wars/jwar07.html)

In pre-Islamic Yemen, a Jewish king called Dhu Nuwas came to power and persecuted Christians in his realm, and massacred Christian communities in Najran in about 524; apparently this was intended as retaliation for Byzantine persecutions of the Jews.[3] (http://www.gospelcom.net/dacb/stories/ethiopia/kaleb_.html) According to Muslim tradition, he was the person cursed in the Quran for burning believers alive (Quran 85:4-8.)

Much of the Christian propaganda about Jews needs to be read with an eye to its intended audience and its intended effect. At the time of Khosrau II's sack of Jerusalem in 614, Antiochus Strategos was a monk at the monastery (lavra) of St Sabas in Jerusalem. His account of the sack claims the Jews took the opportunity to persecute the Christians. But maybe it is just a vivid libel against the Jews of Jerusalem that takes its literary cues from the hagiographic tradition and invented parallels with Scripture. Such kind of propaganda was often designed to inflame anti-semitism. It is quite controversial if there is nevertheless some historic truth in Strategos's account.

In Ethiopia, Queen Gudit, who persecuted Christians around 970 AD and helped bring down the Kingdom of Aksum, is said in Ethiopian chronicles to have been Jewish, though some modern scholars have cast doubt on this, suggesting that she may have been a pagan[4] (http://www.gospelcom.net/dacb/stories/ethiopia/gudit_.html).

Islamic persecution of Christians

Iconoclasm

Ottoman Empire

Murder and Enslavement of Christians in the Sudan today

Over 1.5 million Christians have been murdered by Islamists in northern Sudan since 1984.

Murder of Christians by Islamists in Pakistan

Oct. 28, 2001 - Lahore, Pakistan - terrorists murdered 15 Christians at a church. On 25 September 2002 two terrorists went into the "Peace and Justice Institute", Karachi. They separated Muslims from the Christians, and then executed eight Christians by shooting them in the head.

Murder of Christians by Islamists in Indonesia

Religious conflicts have typically occured in West Papua, Maluku (particularly Ambon), and Sulawesi. The presence of Muslims in these regions is largely due to Suharto's transmigrasi plan of population re-distribution. Often conflicts occur because of a desire by the Muslim population to impose Sharia. The following list is far from comprehensive:

1998 - 500 Christian churches burned down in Java.

November, 1998 - 22 churches in Jakarta are burned down. 13 Christians killed.

Christmas Day 1998 - 180 homes and stores owned by Christians are destroyed in Poso, Central Sulawesi.

Easter 2000 - 800 homes and stores owned by Christians are destroyed in Poso, Central Sulawesi.

May 23, 2000 - Christian fight back against a Muslim mob. 700 people die.

June, 2001 - the Laskar Jihad declares Jihad against Christians. Muslim citizens are recruited by the thousands to exterminate Christians.

May 28, 2005 - A bomb is exploded in a crowded market in Tentena, killing 28. This marks the highest death toll due to bombing after the devestating attacks in Bali.

http://www.persecution.org/news/press2001-03-09.html

Discrimination and persecution in other Arab and Muslim nations

In Saudi Arabia, Christians can be arrested and lashed for practicing their faith in public. No non-Muslims are allowed to become Saudi citizens. Prayer services by Christians are broken up by the police, and people who convert to Christianity can officially be executed, although this has not in fact been done in many years. (cf. US State Department (http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2002/14012.htm))

In Egypt, the government does not officially recognise conversions from Islam to Christianity; because certain interfaith marriages are not allowed either, this prevents marriages between converts to Christianity and those born in Christian communities, and also results in the children of Christian converts being classified as Muslims and given a Muslim education. The government also requires permits for repairing churches or building new ones, which are often withheld. Foreign missionaries are allowed in the country only if they restrict their activities to social improvements and refrain from proselytizing (US State Department (http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2002/13994.htm)). The Coptic Pope Shenouda III was internally exiled in 1981 by President Anwar Sadat, who then chose five Coptic bishops and asked them to choose a new pope. They refused, and in 1985 President Hosni Mubarak restored Pope Shenouda III, who had been accused of fomenting interconfessional strife. Particularly in Upper Egypt, the rise in extremist Islamist groups such as the Gama'at Islamiya during the 1980s was accompanied by attacks on Copts and on Coptic churches; these have since declined with the decline of those organizations, but still continue. The police have been accused of siding with the attackers in some of these cases[5] (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/589977.stm). Nevertheless, high-ranking government officials in Egypt have included Copts like Boutros Ghali and his grandson, Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

There has been a substantial amount of anti-Christian incidents carried out in areas governed by the Palestinian Authority. Many claim that this represents a pattern of deliberate mistreatment by the PA; others hold that these are isolated incidents that reflect the beliefs of the individuals involved, but not the society in general. Two American courts, one in Illinois and the other in North Carolina, accepted the threat of "religious persecution" as grounds for granting asylum to Christians fleeing PA territory. According to some Christian sources, Palestinian Islamists in the West bank are using violence and threats of terror to scare Christians out of Palestinian controlled area.

Though Iran recognizes Christians as a religious minority (along with Jews and Zoroastrians) after the Revolution, Muslim converts to Christianity have been arrested and often executed.

In Malaysia, proselytisation of Muslims is illegal. US State Department (http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2002/13899.htm) For more information, see Christianity in Malaysia.

In the Philippines, the Moro Islands Liberation Front has attacked and killed Christians.[6] (http://www.persecution.org/humanrights/philippines.html)

Persecution in Kosovo

In March 2004, many Albanians, largely Muslim, attacked over thirty Christian churches and monasteries in Kosovo, killed at least thirty Christians, and burned hundreds of Christians' homes, over the course of about five days. One NATO commander said it verged on ethnic cleansing of Serbians. Others compared it to Kristallnacht. Over 150 Christian churches and monasteries were destroyed in the five years prior to this incident. See Unrest in Kosovo, and http://www.kosovo.net.

Discrimination and persecution in the Soviet Union

After the Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks undertook a massive program to remove the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church from the government and Russian society, and to make the state atheist. Thousands of churches were destroyed or converted to other uses, such as warehouses. Monasteries were closed and often converted to prison camps, most notably the Solovetz monastery becoming Solovki camp. Many members of clergy were imprisoned for anti-government activities. These victims are now recognized as the "New Martyrs" by the Russian Orthodox Church, the old martyrs being the victims of the Roman persecutions. Church property, including the icons and other objects of worship (especially those made of precious metals) was confiscated and put to other uses.

Nevertheless, religion was never outlawed in the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Constitution actually guaranteed religious freedom to all Soviet citizens. Persecutions were usually carried out for political, not religious, reasons.

The persecution abated during the World War II, at which time Stalin's government actually made some semblance of peace with the church in order to use it as part of its program to inspire Russian patriotic feeling to fight the German invaders. After that, the Soviet government sought to put the church under control by appointing loyal men as priests, allegedly ending up with the entire upper ranks of the church being officers of the KGB.

A concerted effort was made to prevent or disrupt the social gatherings of Christians. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s the celebration of Christmas and the traditional Russian holiday of New Year was prohibited (later on New Year was reinstated as a secular holiday and is now the most significant family holiday in Russia). Gatherings and religious processions were initially prohibited and later on strictly limited and regulated. In later years, a more subtle method of disrupting Christian holidays involved broadcasting very popular movies one after the other on the major holidays when believers are expected to participate in religious processions, especially during the Easter celebration. Apparently, this was intended to keep those, whose faith was uncertain or wavering, in their homes and glued to their TVs.

An intense ideological anti-Christian and anti-religious campaign was carried out throughout the history of the Soviet Union. An extensive education and propaganda campaign was undertaken to convince people, especially the children and youth, not to become believers. The role of the Christian religion and the church was painted in black colors in school textbooks. For instance, much emphasis was placed on the role of the church in such historical horror stories as the Inquisition, persecution of Galileo, Giordano Bruno, and other heretical scientists, and the Crusades. School students were encouraged to taunt and use peer pressure against classmates wearing crosses or otherwise professing their faith. In the 1920s there were many "anti-God" publications and social clubs sponsored by the government, most notably the scathingly satirical "Godless at the Workbench" ("Bezbozhnik u Stanka" in Russian). Later on, these disappeared because a new generation has grown up essentially atheist.

A "scientific" perspective was used to attack religion extensively. The church was falsely portrayed as obscurantist and opposed to the findings of science. Much has been made of alleged Christian belief in the literal Creation account in the book of Genesis which the pro-Darwinian textbooks ridiculed. Interestingly, as part of the anti-foreign and anti-capitalist propaganda, a not-so-subtle effort was made, especially in the 1920s and 1930s to imprint in the minds of the people an image of the West as dominated by the anti-scientific ignorance of the church, as opposed to the scientifically "progressive" atheist Soviet state.

In general, the church was portrayed as corrupt, hypocritical, a loyal servant of the reactionary czar, obscurantist, "opium for the people" according to Karl Marx, and otherwise evil. This Communist persecution of the church proved enormously successful. Within the span of one generation, the traditionally highly devout Russian people became overwhelmingly atheist. This transformation was, for the most part, complete by the 1950's. As such, it counted as one of the greatest and the most successful persecutions Christianity had ever experienced, on par only with the destruction of Christianity in the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia Minor by the Islamic and Turkish conquests.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the government of Russia openly embraced the Russian Orthodox Church, and there was a reputed renaissance in the number of the faithful in Russia. As of 2004 it is generally noted, however, that whereas a very large percent of Russians today identify themselves as believers and members of the church (up from a very small group in the Soviet days), still relatively few of them actually attend church regularly, read the Bible, or otherwise take their communion with the church seriously. For many, it seems, faith has become a matter of personal identification and readiness to baptize their children or have church marriage and burial ceremonies, and not much else. This is a clear testimony to the completeness and the long term success of the Communist persecution of the Christianity in Russia.

Richard Wurmbrand, author of Tortured for Christ described the systematic persecution of Christians in one East Bloc nation. Many Christian believers in the Soviet Union have told of being imprisoned for no other reason than believing in God - a fate shared no less by Jewish believers. Many have recently been canonized as saints following their death at the hands of Soviet authorities; they are collectively referred to in the Orthodox church as the "new martyrs". (See also Enemy of the people, Gulag, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Varlam Shalamov)

Persecution in other Eastern Bloc nations

Enver Hoxha conducted a campaign to extinguish all forms of religion in Albania in 1967, closing all religious buildings and declaring the state atheist. Albania was the only Eastern Bloc nation that actually outlawed religion. See Communist and post-Communist Albania.

Persecution of Christians in China

Emperor Tang Wu Zong

Tang Wu Zang (of the Tang dynasty) ruled from 840 to 846. Known as a Taoist zealot, he first suppressed Buddhism in China for its perceived excesses. He then attacked all other "foreign" religions, including Christianity. Nestorianism, the only Chinese Christian branch at that time, was virtually wiped out in China.

Qing Dynasty

When Jiaqing Emperor of China declared the close door policy, Christianity suffered the first drawback. After the Opium War, Christians became a target of hatred and many Christians were killed in the Boxer Rebellion.

People's Republic of China

The Communist government tries to maintain tight control over religions, so the only legal Christian Churches are those under the Communist Party's control (see article on Chinese House Churches).

Persecution in Japan

Arrival of Christianity

Following the arrival in Japan of the Portuguese in the early 1500s, Christianity gained much ground.

Edo Period

As the Sengoku period drew to a close in the late 1500s, the reigning kampaku Hideyoshi Toyotomi became concerned with the popularity of Christianity and thus drove out the missionaries and killed 26 Christians as an example. The trade continued, but the tradition of persecution had begun. With the subsequent rise of the Tokugawa shogunate, the government's anti-Christian sentiment grew. In 1614, mostly to curb the Dutch attempts to make inroads into Japan's economy, Christianity was outlawed. The penalty for following Christianity was death. Thousands of Japanese Christians were killed for maintaining their faith despite the ban. A substantial community of Christians in Nagasaki remained, as well as many smaller groups throughout Japan, despite the persecution.

Meiji Revolution and WWII

During the Meiji era and until the end of World War II, the law banning Christianity remained in effect, even though the Meiji Constitution technically allowed freedom of religion. As a result Christianity was still an illegal religion in Japan that remained punishable by death. With the new reforms, Nagasaki became open to trade, but as the ban on Christianity still remained in effect so did the government persecution. Nevertheless, despite this Christianity continued to grow. During WWII, Shinto became the official religion and all others were made crimes with varying degrees of punishment. The persecution, most especially toward Christians (who were seen as sympathetic to the Allies), intensified until the end of the war, as non-Shinto were seen as traitors to Japan.

Cessation of persecution

After the surrender of Japan in 1945, she was forced to enact freedom of religion as part of the surrender, immediately stopping the persecution. After Japan regained her sovereignty, freedom of religion remained as part of the new Constitution of Japan.

Nazi-Fascism persecution of Christians

Although less programmatically hostile to Christianity as such than was the Soviet Union, and far less hostile to Christianity than to Judaism, which the Nazis sought to exterminate in the Holocaust throughout the Third Reich and lands that came under Nazi rule, Nazi totalitarianism demanded that all religious activity conform to the desires of Nazi leadership. Although an attempt by Alfred Rosenberg to restore an "Aryan" paganism came to no fruition except in some inner circles of the party and the SS, Christian churches were obliged to accept the racist doctrines of Nazism. The Gestapo monitored Christian clergy and congregations for any semblance of dissent with Nazi policies, and many Christian clergy and laymen ended up in concentration camps when they asserted opposition to the teachings and practices of Nazism or if they acted upon pacifist convictions (like many Jehovah's Witnesses and some Confessing Church members). During the early part of the Nazi rule, the "German Christians" were an important pseudo-protestant tool of the regime to bring about the Gleichschaltung of the churches.

The expansion of Nazi Germany and the establishment of Nazi rule in occupied countries brought about persecutions ranging from those characteristic in Germany itself to conditions approaching those of the Soviet Union. Catholic priests in Poland preceded even Jews to the concentration camps; many were murdered in the liquidation of the Polish intelligentsia.

In Italy the fascist regime of Mussolini heavily persecuted Pentecostals and Jehova Witnesses during 1936 and 1954, when the Persecution Decree, named Circolare Buffarini-Guidi was revokated due Western nations pressure.

Hitler's relationship with Christianity is ambiguous at best. Hitler professed to be Christian, but references in his personal diaries show that he thought Christianity was a political tool that he could manipulate to his own ends as well.

Hindu persecution of Christians

23 Jan 1999 - Graham Staines, an Australian Christian missionary aged 55 years, and his two sons, aged 8 and 10, were burned to death in the state of Orissa by members of Hindutva Parivar, a Hindu nationalist group. Staines was accused of making derogatory remarks about Hinduism, fraudulently converting local tribals, sexually assaulting a villagers wife and slaughtering cows, the most sacred animal to Hindus.

In Sept. 2002 eight Christian missionaries were beaten during worship services by Hindu fundamentalists.

In Oct. 2002 the governor of the Indian state of Tamil Nadu issued an ordinance aimed at preventing people from converting to Christianity, on the pretext that such conversions occur due to fraud. Christians may be sentenced to up to three years in jail if convicted of such a crime.

However, local Hindus have often criticized missionaries for exploiting the impoverished condition of non-Christians to convert them. In several cases, Christian pastors have publicly made derogatory remarks about Hinduism. In other cases, foreign missionaries have denied medical treatment and food aid to Hindus who refuse to convert to Christianity.

It should be noted that the majority of instances of persecutions of Christians in India do not involve the native Saint Thomas Christians, but rather Latin Rite Catholics and Protestants.

Christian News Source with several articles on persecution of Christians in India (http://www.csw.org.uk/Newsarchive.asp?country=India)

Indians Against Christian Aggression (http://www.kentaxrecords.com/iaca/index.php)

Christian-on-Christian violence

Of all the persecution of Christians throughout history, the greatest in terms of deaths and change in society is Christian persecuting Christians, by their factions and innumerable divisions. After the assent of Constantine in the second Century, "Orthodox" Roman Christianity became the only acceptable form, and the Roman Empire turned its ferocity upon the heretics. More Christians died at the hands of the Christian Empire than had ever died under the reign of pagan Emperors like Diocletian. Of particular note were the Arians, who held, against the "Orthodox", that Jesus had been not "one in unity with the Father", but instead was divine but not on the same level with God, above humans but below Yahweh. They still believed, though, that Jesus had died for our sins. The Roman Church stopped at no ends to bring down the Arians. A brutal "civil war" broke out between the Arian heretics and the Trinitarian Catholics in order to determine "Orthodoxy" for the whole of the Empire. Original Christianity was diverse and varied, with various sects claiming various things about Jesus, God, and the universe. Some held that Jesus had merely been a man, a "son of God" in the manner of King David and other notable figures the Hebrew Tanak. Some held that Jesus had never really existed on earth at all, but was merely the apparition of a man. Some thought that he had died for our sins, others that he had saved humanity through the Revelation of secret knowledge or "Gnosis" to his disciples, other that he had saved us by his incarnation as a man. Marcionites, Monatists, Docetists, Ebionites, Manicheans,Marionites, Antinomians, and many other Gnostic and non-Gnostic Christianities all flourished before the arrival of Constantine to the throne. Only the Manicheans survive, in a very distantly related form, today (see the Mandeans). It has been estimated that before the triumph of Orthodoxy, over 300 Gospels, epistles, apocalypses, and other material about Jesus were in wide circulation. Few outside the 27 books of the canonical Christian Testament and the writings discovered at Nag Hammadi survive today. Foremost in the modern day is Catholics vs Protestants, and the Crusades had shocking effects on the Orthodox. (See history of Protestants) Others include the invention of Mormons or Latter-Day saints, with the resultant that the Mormons make a trek and is now today congregated at UT, USA.

References

  • W.H.C. Frend, 1965. Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church

Let My People Go: The True Story of Present-Day Persecution and Slavery Cal. R. Bombay, Multnomah Publishers, 1998

Their Blood Cries Out Paul Marshall and Lela Gilbert, World Press, 1997.

In the Lion's Den: Persecuted Christians and What the Western Church Can Do About It Nina Shea, Broadman & Holman, 1997.

This Holy Seed: Faith, Hope and Love in the Early Churches of North Africa Robin Daniel, Tamarisk Publications, 1993. ISBN 0952043505

Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century: A Comprehensive World History by Robert Royal, Crossroad/Herder & Herder; (April 2000). ISBN 0824518462

The New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967 (15 volume set)

See also

External links

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