Time magazine compares protester who lit himself on fire to Christian martyrs

The Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C.
The Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C. | Wikimedia Commons/APK,_D.C.jpg

A Time magazine article analyzing self-immolation as a form of protest drew comparisons between Christians who were burned alive for their faith during the Roman Empire and the U.S. airman who set himself on fire last month to protest the Israel-Hamas war.

A Feb. 26 Time magazine article details how self-immolation has been used as a form of protest throughout history, including during the Vietnam War and the Arab Spring. 

Aaron Bushnell, 25, an active-duty U.S. Air Force member, filmed himself dousing his body in a clear liquid before lighting himself on fire outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington on Feb. 25, shouting “Free Palestine!” as he burned. Bushnell said that he would "no longer be complicit in genocide." 

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As the article noted, Bushnell is not the first to self-immolate to protest in response to the Israel-Hamas war. In December, an unidentified individual set themself on fire outside the Israeli consulate in Atlanta. Authorities recovered a Palestinian flag at the scene, and Atlanta Police Chief Darin Schierbaum said the action was "likely an extreme act of political protest.”

Time magazine reports that the “practice of self-immolation dates back centuries.” One example the article provided included the Hindu tale of Sati, the wife of a Hindu God who burned herself on her husband’s funeral pyre, an action used to justify the now-banned practice of ritual suicide in India. 

“Self-immolation was also seen as a sacrificial act committed by Christian devotees who chose to be burned alive when they were being persecuted for their religion by Roman emperor Diocletian ​​around 300 A.D.,” The Times article stated. 

In a Feb. 27 X post, Fr. Matthew P. Schneider, a Catholic priest and author of God Loves the Autistic Mind: Prayer Guide for Those on the Spectrum and Those Who Love Us, called on Time magazine to check its sources. 

“Christians in persecutions around 300 AD would choose someone else burning them alive over denying their faith, but it was never Christian practice to light oneself on fire,” Schneider wrote. 

Lila Rose, founder of the pro-life organization Live Action, called on Time magazine to correct the article in a Feb. 28 tweet, explaining that the Romans captured and burned Christians alive for their faith.

The pro-life advocate stated that self-immolation is when a “fanatic” or “mentally ill person” sets themselves on fire, whereas martyrdom is when “a persecutor kills the martyr for their faith.” 

“Martyrdom is when you are killed by another for refusing to deny your Faith,” Rose wrote in a previous tweet on Feb. 27. “Suicide is when you kill yourself — often due to great mental illness and distress, sometimes due to extreme ideology. They could not be more different.”

Time magazine did not immediately respond to The Christian Post’s request for comment. 

As CP previously reported, Roman Emperor Diocletian is often remembered for his persecution of Christians. The emperor issued an edict calling for the destruction of church buildings and the burning of Christian scriptures, the beginning of what many in the early church refer to as the “Great Persecution.” 

The persecution is generally considered to have been the last major persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire, lasting eight years until Emperor Galerius issued the Edict of Serdica. As Providence reported in April 2021, the edict ended persecution and legalized Christianity in the eastern area of the Roman Empire two years before Constantine issued an edict, making it legal throughout the entire empire. 

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: Follow her on Twitter: @Samantha_Kamman

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