Religious freedom is a sociopolitical issue of particular importance to me. Eventually, I’d appreciate the opportunity to fight for freedom of conscience in the legal arena, possibly with an international emphasis. Accordingly, “Persecuted” – an academic study of anti-Christian oppression around the globes, authored by Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Nina Shea – was certain to attract my interest.
The volume discusses, through a series of often-visceral anecdotes, the violence and abuses faced by Christians in specific countries around the globe (about 6-10 pages are spent on each country cited for perpetration or tolerance of abuse). Several categories of persecution are explored, from atheism-fueled intolerance of all religious expression (North Korea, Vietnam), to crimes committed by radical Islamist agitators (Sudan, Nigeria).
Despite its provocative title, the volume never descends into gratuitous sensationalism. The accounts it details are sickening precisely due to the book’s clinical context – an essential requirement for maintaing its academic tone. Gratifyingly, the authors of “Persecuted” are as swift to denounce religious violence against other minority groups (fringe sects, animists, etc) as they are to discuss the persecution of Christians; upon finishing the book, however, even the most jaded reader will be appalled by the abuses Christians are currently suffering.
Especially striking is the volume’s up-to-the-minute analysis (including coverage of the Arab Spring). These accounts of violence and suffering aren’t isolated instances from the 1800s or 1900s; they’re happening right now, to a degree that will no doubt seem unimaginable to readers in affluent contemporary America. In many ways, “Persecuted” is the Foxe’s Book of Martyrs for the 21st century – and in both the Christian church and the world at large, it is critical that such a subject be discussed.
The book suffers, however, from some organizational flaws. Chief among these is its lack of comparative analysis regarding the relative prevalence of persecution of world religions: the book begins by mentioning that “Christians are the world’s most widely persecuted religious group,” but this is never quantified to the appropriate extent (I have no particular reason for doubting this claim, but it should at least be substantiated). The tonal ebb and flow of each segment, due to its anecdotal emphasis, can also be a little jarring (a story detailing the vandalism of a church or the denial of a driver’s license, for instance, might be juxtaposed alongside a horrific account of a child’s beheading). That’s not to say that both are not reprehensible manifestations of persecution, but simply that one probably overpowers the other in terms of journalistic impact. In short, the research underlying “Persecuted” is impeccable and meticulous, but the quality of its writing isn’t up to the same level.
All things considered, these are minor quibbles. “Persecuted” is haunting and well worth reading (if it doesn’t bother you, something’s probably wrong). Without ever lapsing into melodrama or polarizing us-vs-them rhetoric, the volume explores a horrifying global phenomenon in excruciating and well-substantiated detail. Christians and non-Christians alike would be well served by reading this book.
A painful, compelling study of anti-Christian violence around the world.
* I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”