Book Review: The Global War on Christians
Title: The Global War on Christians
Author: John L. Allen jr.
Publisher: Crown Publishing
Pages: 308 (including postscript and index)
[Disclaimer: To comply with new regulations introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, please mention as part of every review that Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers has provided you with a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.]
Frankly, it is difficult to to comment on a book of this nature. I mean seriously, who wants to poo-poo a book about Christians being persecuted on nearly every continent on the planet? I say nearly because apparently Christians in certain parts of the world have not experienced any form of persecution in their lives. To wit,
"Part of the reason Christians in the West have been slow to recognize the scope and scale of anti-Christian violence is because they have no personal experience of persecution. Today, however, a growing number of Christians in Europe and North America have come to see themselves as part of an oppressed minority. For our purposes, the extent to which those impressions are merited is almost irrelevant; in terms of popular psychology, they have the potential to make Christians more concerned about, and sympathetic to, persecution in other places." (11)
In my opinion, this is an appallingly shallow point of view. If I may add to Allen's list of 'myths' about persecution that make up the middle section (pt 2) of the book, I might add a statement like this: The Myth that it's only persecution if it includes bloody violence and the loss of life. In other words, the most glaring ommission in Allen's book is a report on what's going on in the United States of America.
Granted, Christians in the United States enjoy levels of freedom unexplored by Christians in other nations around the world, but that in no way mitigates the outright and blatant persecution some Christians have experienced in the USA. And if we think that it is harmless to merely stifle speech and activities, I am reminded that stifling speech and activities were only the first step in Nazi pogram that eliminated millions of Jewish and other people in the 30's and 40's. Silencing speech is only one step away from brutal violence.
And let's not forget a string of religious persecution that took place in the late 90's and early 00's when church buildings were being systematically dismantled through arson:
Nearly 1,000 churches burned between 1996 and 2000 nationwide, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Authorities nabbed about 100 suspects, a pace that has only decreased slightly. (CSM, 2006)
Allen would have done well to include at least a passing glance at what is taking place in this country after all, we, too, are part of the globe. I'm not saying it is altogether absent, it is just glaringly sparse. [Allen does justify his exclusion on pages 9-11. I disagree with his justification on both the political and moral fronts; nevertheless, it is his book and the final decisions are his responsibility.]
Secondly, I do not think that Allen spent enough time detailing persecution of protestant/evangelical Christians in the world. For the most part, this book should have been titled "The Global War on Catholics" given how much energy and pink were expended on their undoing around the world at the hands of violent men. Allen writes from an admittedly biased point of view (he is Catholic after all) and it is all too easy to see that bias coming through. Again, it's not that there is an absence of protestants/evangelicals altogether, it's just that there is very little balance.
Third, it might be me, but I detected at times that Allen was not being entirely objective about American politics either. He devotes some time to anecdotal writing about certain political figures in the USA, but it never seems to me to be evenhanded. For example, it was the "Bush administration" that gave us waterboarding, and it was the "Obama administration" that banned it (29) and it was Bill Clinton that gave us the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (35). Then there was the opening anecdote on page 173 where Allen informs us that "fabled 'weapons of mass destruction'…were never found."
There were other subtle jabs scattered throughout the book that were unhelpful because it made the book far more political than the book needed to be. What I mean is this, there is very little theological reflection in the book. Yes, Christians are suffering and being persecuted around the globe. Yes, those of us who suffer less should pay attention and find ways to help lessen that suffering–either by raising awareness, rallying, praying, through micro-charity, or otherwise. But the bottom line is that persecution is not merely a matter of politics and drug cartels and civil-wars. There is an ultimate theological side to this persecution and suffering that Allen pays little attention to. His concern for the down-here-on-earth reasons almost completely ignored the what-has-God-got-in-mind aspect of persecution and suffering. More theological reflection would have been helpful, but I suppose he is leaving that to others.
The best part of the book came at the end of the last chapter 'What's to be Done?' I appreciated that, however man-centered the solutions may be, Allen did not leave us in the lurch when it comes to offering solutions. Praying is helpful and necessary. The apostles all remind us that we should remember and be in prayer for those who suffer. It is important and necessary for Christians in the soft-West who do not experience physical violence to be more globally minded about the church. I especially appreciated his jab at those who spend more time debating inconsequential issues than investing in weighty matters of God's global economy (285).
I'm going to give this book a three star review and conclude on these two notes.
First, he writes on page 198, "The bottom line is that the global war on Christians will never be won as long as the myths persist that nobody's really responsible for it." I'm not really sure I know what that means. I understand it in Allen's context, but seriously? I am optimistic enough to believe that, yes, we ought to be doing something–as believers, as people–yes, we ought to 'love our neighbor as ourselves.' But this is not a war that we are going to win. And that is optimistic.
Second, he writes on page 279, "That reaction speaks to a couple of basic truths. First, the scope and scale of the global war on Christians is almost invariably news to audiences in the west." I scribbled in the margin 'only to those who are not paying attention.' Spend enough time reading, and you can be aware of this. Spend enough time reading Scripture, and it is hard to come away with the idea that Christians are not being persecuted. Jesus told us we would be. Jesus promised we would be. And Jesus also promised that our suffering would help bring about the fruits of his kingdom.
There is no denying that it happens. We may not know all the names. We certainly do not know all the faces. And maybe even a few of the places will surprise us. But it happens and it will continue to happen until God decides it will not happen any more. Until then, the righteous will move about in this world by faith. And that, my friends, is no small feat.