Yesterday, as America’s Christians went to church and sat down with family and friends to celebrate Christ’s defeat of death, tragedy struck our community in Pakistan. Islamic terrorists detonated a bomb at an amusement park in Lahore that killed 70 people and injured more than 300. According to a Pakistani Taliban spokesperson, they “claim responsibility for the attack on Christians as they were celebrating Easter.”
Many of the dead are women and children guilty of nothing more than sharing a faith with so many of us in the United States. But while Americans mourn, fear, and post on social media about attacks in Paris and Brussels, attacks like yesterday’s fly under the radar. They are treated as the natural course of things in territories on fire.
But they are not. They are a careful and constructed attack on Christianity. As such, they are a direct attack on us all.
There But for The Grace of God
Most Christians in the United States are shy about public professions of faith. For every follower of Christ who vocally fights for “Merry Christmas” over “Happy Holidays,” dozens simply keep their head down and practice their religion. This is understandable. Christianity, although by no means the official religion of the United States, has been the dominant religious force throughout its history. It is a good thing America’s Christians are sensitive to that dominant status.
But it is equally important for us to understand that this status is not universal. There are places in the world, including Lahore, where being a Christian can and does get people killed. While they might not look like us or talk like us, as Jesus taught us, they are us. He taught us that what we do unto the least of his, we do unto him.
I’m not sure if Pakistani Christians are the least of his, but frankly they risk a lot more in his name than we do. Ether way, how we treat them and react to their persecution is a test.
Deliver Us from Evil
In our modern English translation of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray that our Father not “lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” In the original Greek, the word we translate as temptation has a broader meaning. It also means a “test.” We are asking the Lord not to test us. But as with the other things asked of God in this prayer—our daily bread, forgiveness of trespasses, the ability to forgive others—we don’t always get what we ask for.
We all pray that abominations like the horrific attack on innocents yesterday may never happen. We pray we may not be tested by such horrors. But just as Christ by himself cannot protect us from these tests, he cannot on his own deliver us from evil. Evil is not part of him. It is part of us. Although we seek deliverance from it through him, it is we who must make the journey through.
These are the times when stark images of violence against Christians, although painful, help us. They shake us out of our relativistic musings into the stark revelation that there is evil. We think of our own children, and tremble at the notion that some want to kill them because we teach them to accept Jesus.
We Can Do More for Oppressed Christians
As Bill McMorris at the Washington Free Beacon pointed out, only 1.5 percent of the 2,000 Syrian refugees allowed into the United States as of November of last year were Christian. Syria’s population is 10 percent Christian, almost all of whom exist under dire threat.
Just as many American Christians are shy about outward displays of faith, many are worried about apparent preferential treatment for Christians. As McMorris shows, in this case such fears are unfounded and dangerous. Make no mistake: white Christian privilege does not extend to Syria or Pakistan.
Awkward though it may feel from our cozy confines, we must face and defeat the aggressive destruction of Christian communities around the world. This is a nuanced situation. We know the vast majority of Muslims would never commit such an act, and do not believe their religion condones such acts.
Atheist activists are wont to remind us of brutal passages in our own Old Testament, and even in the New Testament. So we understand the subtleties at work, and we can face this threat without painting with too broad a brush.
But we must face this concern. We must accept this test. Through our churches, our petitions to our government, and even our votes, we must insist that the persecution of Christians be treated as a unique and deadly phenomenon.
The Complexity of Tribalism
Attacks on white Europeans dominate our headlines for very tribal reasons. We see ourselves more closely resembled in their faces. Just as pretty white women who go missing get much more coverage than minority kidnapping victims at home, pretty Parisians that terrorists kill get more attention than murdered exotic brown people do. This is true for complicated and discomfiting reasons that we must struggle with and better understand.
One step in such understanding is to remember that most of the world’s Christians do not look alike. If Europe, through its cultural and class ties, resembles us, so do the countless third-world Christian communities around the globe. This latter resemblance is very deep. It is a shared understanding of right of wrong. It is a commitment to live by a set of moral standards that apply equally, to everyone, and which we ourselves did not create.
We are tribal, but we are of many tribes. It is only when we define ourselves in superficial ways that we find a primary commonality based on superficial similarities. The more deeply and broadly we consider ourselves, the bigger the tent of our empathy and spirit of brotherhood becomes. Eventually it can contain almost everyone as a member of our tribe. Almost.
Call Evil by Its Name
Christian charity may demand that we pray for the soul of a person who straps a bomb on himself and walks into an amusement park to kill and maim children. But the Christian faith also demands that we recognize the existence of evil. The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia drew mocking scorn from many when he said he believed in the devil — not as an abstraction, but as a figure in the universe as distinct as God.
Such ideas are not fashionable. Surely attacks like the one in Lahore can be understood, if only we try hard enough to walk a mile in their suicide-bomb vest.
Such actions can and have been understood. They are evil. They are not the tragic result of Donald Rumsfeld’s failed policies, they are not the natural result of centuries of colonialism, they are not the deserved result of a history of Christendom replete with terror and murder. They are simply evil.
Evil is a more difficult enemy than Islam. But it, not the religion of Mohammad, is our true enemy. No walls can stop it. It respects no borders. It resides in all of us. The rejection and suppression of evil is why the religious pray and why the non-religious study. But where and when evil thrives until it twists men into murdering children, we must see it for what it is. We must not be too afraid, in the recognition of our own sins, failings, or privileges to destroy it.
Those of us who celebrated Christ’s resurrection yesterday mourn and pray for the victims of this terrible attack. But we must do more. Even as we feel our culture pulling away from us, becoming less accepting of our beliefs, we must use our freedom to protect Christians everywhere. For, as Christ teaches us, it is in protecting others that we find protection for ourselves.