- (Photo: Adella Thompson)
A recently released resource anthology chronicling centuries of Christian persecution has exposed the intense suffering and martyrdom followers of Jesus Christ have been subjected to around the world, and the book responds to claims that such accounts have been hyped or propagandized.
The book, Sorrow & Blood: Christian Mission in Contexts of Suffering, Persecution, and Martyrdom, took four years to complete by the editorial team of William Taylor (USA), Tonica van der Meer (Brazil), and Reg Reimer (Canada), and includes 62 writers from 23 nations who collaborated together on the ambitious project to give voice to the stories of remarkable perseverance in the face of persecution Christians have faced throughout the centuries in all corners of the world.
Below is an edited transcript of an email interview The Christian Post did with Taylor, who is the founder and president of TaylorGlobalConsult.com, as well as the senior mentor, Mission Commission, at World Evangelical Alliance. Taylor was born in 1940 in Costa Rica where his parents were serving as missionaries, and he lived for 30 years in Latin America, where he also served as a missionary along with his wife, Yvonne, in Guatemala.
CP: There have been suggestions, primarily from academic and certain religious sources, that during the period of early Christianity, persecution has been hyped and propagandized, that it really was minimal. What do you say to that charge?
Taylor: These claims simply don't stand the test of historical scholarship. While there may have been some excessive estimates of the numbers of martyrs, the reality and quantity of persecution during those first centuries has been firmly established.
Others charge that present-day persecution has been hyped, but this is simply ludicrous. Just read the secular and Christian press for an almost-too-much reporting. Two recent books come to mind on the current situation: Persecuted: the Global Assault on Christians, by Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert and Nina Shea (Thomas Nelson, 2013); The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution by John L. Allen Jr. (Image, 2013).
Some of these charges are dominated by presuppositions that deny the penalty for suffering simply for being fully Christian. The Pew Forum's research reveals that worldwide, 75% of the restrictions against the practice of faith apply exclusively to Christians (http://www.pewforum.org/2012/09/20/rising-tide-of-restrictions-on-religion-findings/). This is especially the case for Christians in nations dominated by Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism.
The Christian has three mortal enemies: the world, the flesh and the devil. In the case of persecution against the disciples of Jesus, Satan himself attacks and uses in particular the world's value systems to bolster his assaults against Christ and His followers. If he can kill them before birth, great! If he can assault them during life, great! Our arch-enemy takes no prisoners. And if he, through diverse and nefarious means can convince people that persecution is the product of a few fanatics, he is delighted.
CP: Can you give us some backdrop on this resource anthology, Sorrow & Blood: Christian Mission in Contexts of Suffering, Persecution, and Martyrdom?
Taylor: The World Evangelical Alliance Mission Commission leadership was commissioned at the 1999 Iguassu, Brazil, missiological consultation to work on these themes. The gestation period took about 9 years, and the actual composition of the book 4 years. My co-editors, Dr. Tonica van der Meer of Brazil and Reg Reimer of Canada, joined the team with deep personal experience in our core themes and it was an honor to work together. We searched for the authors who would speak from both personal experience and authority. We ended with a global panoply of 68 writers from 22 nations. It is a unique publication; it's really a sobering banquet.
Correctly called a "resource anthology," the book starts with an overview of the global realities (for a current world map on persecution, see http://www.worldwatchlist.us/world-watch-list-countries/) plus key definitions; it then grapples with the theological and Biblical issues; from there it moves to the historical overview, with case studies that span the centuries to the present; it dedicates a substantial section to preparing, accompanying and restoring the church through seasons of persecution; it concludes with the call to prayer and advocacy and provides resources.
The six sections are introduced with material that frames those chapters in Biblical and historical contexts. The final section offers a set of invaluable resources – an annotated bibliography, Internet sites, member care commitments and partnering platforms that serve the persecuted.
And don't forget the art. The cover eloquently evokes a dingy and well-used interrogation cell; the photographs, original art, and the graphic portrayal of suffering are unique for this kind of a book.
CP: One of the main themes from the various persecution accounts is that we need to be aware of and stand up against persecution; yet suffering is an inseparable part of the Christian mission. Is this in any way paradoxical, and how can it be explained?
Taylor: Suffering is one of the prime mysteries of life and the Christian faith. While God does not cause suffering, he certainly seems to allow a lot of it. Suffering comes as a result of the Great Rebellion (the Fall), from personal sin, from illness, from sins committed by others, from the evilness of wounded hearts, from nefarious powers, from natural disasters, from DNA gone rogue and from Satanic origins.
However, this book focuses on suffering that comes as a result of following Jesus faithfully; that which comes simply because someone is a Christian; that which comes through intentional disinformation, harassment, persecution and martyrdom.
Ultimately all suffering must be understood through the lens of the God who Himself suffers, for He is the one who sends his only Son to the cross. But this resource anthology affirms that suffering accompanies true discipleship, a teaching given by Christ, confirmed by the apostles, and proven throughout the history of the Church of Christ.
CP: The problem of evil and suffering is addressed in chapter 16 by Isaiah M. Dau. Is this the most difficult question theology faces up to?
Taylor: Perhaps so. And we did not dodge this issue. Hence we invested some 80 pages on theological and Biblical reflections in the book, with writers from both global South and North. In Dau's unique chapter, with deep insight he grapples with the issue from both a Biblical and African perspective.