While the COVID pandemic grabs headlines, there is a pandemic of persecution impacting billions of people around the world. People face daily repression for what they believe or who they are, with tens of millions fleeing as refugees. Christians should speak up for those experiencing human rights abuses and assaults on their dignity. As 2020 comes to a close, we should reflect upon how we can love our global neighbor by 1) understanding the situation worldwide, 2) educating oneself about the Biblical imperative, and 3) getting involved.
First, violent persecution abounds. The Pew Research Center recently reported that religious restrictions impact almost two-thirds of the global community. Christians of all denominations suffer from repression and violence. But persecuted Christians are rarely alone – oppressors also target persons of different faiths and no faith. And sometimes it is the others who suffer more. For instance, Uyghur Muslims in China or Rohingya Muslims in Burma face genocide-like persecution from the governments. Christians are part of a community of suffering.
Other evils persist. The scourge of modern-day slavery condemns millions – men, women, and children – to a life of bondage. Sex trafficking is rife in the dark corners of the world. People fighting for freedom and democracy face the threat of disappearances, torture, and worse. Close to 80 million people have fled their homes, either displaced or refugees, trying to escape civil wars in the Middle East, Africa, and around the world. Untold numbers of men and women languish in jails for crimes they did not commit.
And in this darkness, Christians are called to seek justice and to love their neighbor as themselves.
The Bible overflows with calls to help our fellow man. Micah 6:8 declares, "He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To seek justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." The call to "seek justice" is universal. It is not time-bound or limited by geography. And we cannot be silent in our efforts. Proverbs 31:8 declares, "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute."
In Luke 4:18, Jesus described part of his anointed mission on earth to "proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free."
Jesus further explained this mindset in his parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10. As we remember, a lawyer tests Jesus by asking, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus responded with the story of a traveler beset upon by robbers and left for dead. The next two who traveled the same road "passed by on the other side" and did not help.
The hero is the third person who came along, the Samaritan, who "went to [the wounded traveler] and bandaged his wounds." Having a Samaritan as the hero was an astonishing twist for the listeners of the day. Samaritans were the ultimate "other," considered religiously and ethnically different. Jews and Samaritans hated each other and would walk miles out of their way to avoid each other's communities. The hero ignored these differences, helping another suffering human being.
Jesus concludes by asking, "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him (and all of us) to "Go and do likewise."
"Go and do likewise" is a call for heroic love of neighbor. It is a call on Christians to fight for human rights and assist the suffering.
Lastly, we must follow the Samaritan's heroic example and take action. The global church should speak out for the persecuted, fighting for their human rights. It's easy to love neighbors who think, look, and believe like us. But heroic love of neighbor demands more. It means serving alongside the oppressed to demonstrate God's unconditional love for all people, regardless of their beliefs or nationality.
Our belief in human dignity – the Imago Dei – means we cannot be silent. In Genesis 1:26, the Bible states that God created humankind in His "image and likeness," bestowing inherent worth in every individual, separating us from other creatures. Because of this divine spark, every person is of infinite value.
Based on this dignity, we should advocate for persecuted Christians, as well as Muslims, Hindus, atheists, or whoever suffers for their beliefs. Based on dignity, we should advocate for the unborn and those on death row. Based on dignity, we should speak out for converts or members of the LGBT community persecuted for who they are. Based on dignity, we should advocate for prisoners and lead in racial reconciliation.
We can get involved directly or by supporting many Christian groups. The International Justice Mission confronts slavery and sex trafficking. The Institute for Global Engagement (where I'm a Senior Fellow) advances religious freedom for all. Redeem International protects widows and orphans from violence. World Relief ministers to and aids refugees. The list goes on.
As Christmas approaches and a tough year ends, we should consider how Christians can be at the forefront of human rights efforts. Why? Because the persecuted are our neighbors, and we believe in all people's inherent dignity, regardless of creed or nationality or beliefs. Fighting for our neighbors, including individuals different from ourselves overseas, is the most tangible testimony of God's love the church can show.
This opinion article first appeared in Baptist News.
Knox Thames is the former Special Advisor on Religious Minorities at the State Department during the Obama and Trump administrations. He is now a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Global Engagement, made possible through a grant from the Templeton Religion Trust. The views expressed are his own.