The horrific killing of a priest during mass in Normandy this week shook many of us to the core. It was shocking to know that ISIS could do something like this in a Western country. But this attack is uniquely significant compared to other recent attacks in Western countries. Christians were specifically targeted while practicing their faith.
For many Westerners, the church attack in Normandy marks a shift in how they think about the persecution of Christians that's been happening with shocking regularity over the past decade in many places in the world. The attack by the Islamic State on the church in France, and the public execution of a priest at the altar, brings the idea of persecution into sharp focus.
Until the Normandy attack, the persecution of Christians by ISIS happened at a distance. Now Western Christians are confronted with the reality that they themselves can be targets of this kind of heinous treatment. While other terrorists have been arrested while planning attacks on churches, Normandy is the first such notable attack on record by ISIS on western soil. Though it was the first, it will likely not be the last.
Western governments are undoubtedly — and appropriately — scrambling to develop strategies for preventing future attacks. But how are Christians in the West to respond? What should Christians learn from the Normandy attack and what does it mean for the future of Christianity in the West?
As persecution and horrific church attacks like these come to the West, eventually even to America, Western Christians need to learn from the example of their Eastern brothers and sisters.
Like the millions of Christians who have already been persecuted for their Christian faith, we have to learn not to live in fear but rather wholeheartedly embrace the message of Jesus. They live each day with the knowledge that they could be attacked. But rather than living in fear, they are emboldened to live out their faith and love people in their communities as Jesus has called us to do — no matter what the cost.
In northern Nigeria, an average of five churches are attacked every single Sunday. Even so, Christians are still brave enough to attend church. They have chosen not to live in fear but to trust God. And their courage goes beyond church attendance. They continue to reach out to their Muslim neighbors and even their persecutors with Christ's love.
A pastor in Nigeria introduced himself to an Open Doors team by saying "My name is Usman, a Muslim name, which means someone took a chance on me so I could know Christ."
The Bible tells us to be "wise a serpents, but gentle as doves." We are not called to live in fear, but to have a bold faith and to share that with our neighbors — and even our persecutors, depending on God and His wisdom.
The attack on the church in Normandy and the murder of Father Jacques Hamel should not cause us to spiral into fear and dread as we anticipate more targeted attacks against Christians in the West. Instead, let us be empowered to learn from those who have been enduring persecution for years. There is much we can learn from our persecuted brothers and sisters, but perhaps the greatest lesson is how to love our enemies without fear.