The State Department just released its annual report on religious freedom across the globe. It noted that in Syria “hundreds of thousands (of Christians) fled the country to escape ongoing violence from the government and extremist groups alike.” In fact, in the city of Homs the population of Christians collapsed from 160,000 to 1,000 over the past three years.
Meanwhile, recent reports from Iraq indicate that the jihadist terror group ISIS has forced tens of thousands of Christians to recant their faith, pay a faith tax penalty, abandon their homes, or suffer execution. As a result of these threats the city of Mosul, which once had as many as 60,000 Christians, now has none. They have all fled the area.
China continues its oppression of Christians who refuse to register with the federal government and follow its approved theology. Believers in Egypt and Libya remain the target of violence from groups that have increased their brazen attacks as new governments operate in those countries. Converts to Christianity in most Muslim countries are subject to the death penalty. And the list of countries persecuting the church continues to grow.
So when I learned of a recently released movie that addressed the topic of Christian persecution, I eagerly made my way to the theater to watch it. With the church suffering so much painful and dramatic persecution worldwide, I wondered where the film would concentrate its attention.
Imagine my surprise when I realized a few minutes into the movie that its focus was not on the actual persecution currently borne by the global church but rather on the fictional persecution of the American church. Instead of using the opportunity to raise awareness of the plight of real believers suffering real persecution and the real trauma that accompanies it, the director, Daniel Lusko, chose to create a production that is as preposterous as it is fictitious.
His plot revolves around the premise that a powerful U.S. senator needs the support of an evangelical minister to secure passage of a bill aimed at eliminating biblical Christianity. (Since the evangelical community exercises little power on Capital Hill these days it is a silly supposition). When the minister refuses to extend his support, the senator has the man framed for a teenager’s murder. We later learn the president (who bears a remarkably ridiculous resemblance to President Clinton) was in on the plot but washes his hands of any involvement when it unravels.
The movie is painful to watch. The plot is disjointed, the script nonsensical, and the acting terrible (except for Fred Thompson’s solid performance as the minister’s father).
But what really saddened me as I left the theater was not the seven dollars I wasted on the movie but that it did a tremendous disservice to the persecuted church. By pretending Americans suffer persecution the movie shifts the discussion away from the need to work tirelessly on behalf of our suffering brethren overseas and instead directs it at ourselves and the risk that persecution may come our way. It reflects the same parochial and insular view often adopted by the American church in the use of its resources and neglecting the needs of the global church.
The director seems to believe the American church needs to understand the risk of persecution arriving in this country and organize to stop it. Before we do that, though, I recommend we consider the benefits persecution has brought to the church in other nations. It sharpens their commitment to the Lord, eliminates those activities and objects that distract them from Him, purifies the church, removes the chaff from uprooting it, and sparks revival that drives church growth. In view of such significant and exciting results, perhaps a little persecution is exactly what we need.