When a man blew himself up inside a Coptic church in Cairo during Sunday mass, killing 25 worshippers on December 11, 2016, he not only performed a gruesome deed but added another instance to a global trend of recent years: the persecution of Christians.
Within a geographic band that writer Eliza Griswold has identified as the 10th
parallel running from Libya to Indonesia, Christians suffer death,
torture, illegal detention, the burning of their property, heavy
discrimination, and other human rights violations on account of their
By now, the trend is well-documented, including by writers for this
site such as John Allen, who is one of the foremost chroniclers of
Christian persecution, and Inés San Martin.
Although the mainstream
media and human rights groups have under-reported the trend in recent
years, they are now starting to give it more attention.
In March 2016, for instance, Secretary of State John Kerry declared
Christians along with other minorities in Iraq and Syria to be victims
Less well understood, by contrast, is how Christians respond to
persecution. After the Cairo bombing in December 2016, Pope Francis
phoned His Holiness Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Church to express
solidarity in what is known as “ecumenism of blood,” whereby Christian
churches are brought closer together by shared experiences of martyrdom.
After a similar bombing of a Coptic church in Alexandria, Egypt on
New Year’s Day 2011, Muslims and Coptic Christians linked hands around
one another’s houses of worship during services.
Elsewhere in response
to persecution, Christians have fled, worshiped underground, taken up
arms, protested non-violently, built relationships with leaders of other
faiths, pursued redress in courts, and accepted martyrdom.
The Under Caesar’s Sword project is
the world’s first systematic investigation of Christian responses to
persecution. The project commissioned a team of 15 of the world’s
leading scholars of global Christianity to investigate first-hand how
Christians respond to persecution in over 25 countries. They presented
their results for the first time at an international conference in Rome
in December 2015.
The most recent fruit of the project is a piercing 26-minute documentary film, also titled Under Caesar’s Sword.
Produced by Academy Award-nominated director Jason Cohen, the film was
shot in Turkey and India and contains riveting testimony from Christians
who have suffered persecution first hand.
As with the overall Under Caesar’s Sword research project, the film
does not merely tell about persecution but also presents the hopeful
responses to persecution that Christians have undertaken.
In India, Christians, who represent 2.3 percent of the population,
suffered at the hands of Hindu extremists in the Kandhamal riots of
2007-2008 and responded by building bridges to Hindus, Muslims and
Buddhists; sponsoring peace-building initiatives; and invoking India’s
constitution, which provides for religious freedom.
Christians in Turkey are less than 2 percent of the country’s
population and have dwindled sharply in numbers since the 1923
establishment of the Republic of Turkey due to pogroms, harassment, and
the imposition of discriminatory laws. Here, too, Christians have
reached out to the surrounding population and sought to establish their
status as free and equal citizens.
In both countries the film shows that the minority Christian
communities face an uphill struggle in the drive to win respect for
their freedom, but they do not lose hope and are sustained by their
Under Caesar’s Sword also features the testimony of Paul
Bhatti, the brother of Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Federal Minister for
Minorities Affairs, who was assassinated by Muslim militants on March 2,
2011. A Roman Catholic, Shahbaz Bhatti had accepted his government post
out of a calling to protect Pakistan’s “oppressed, down-trodden and
marginalized,” in particular its religious minorities.
After Shahbaz was killed, his brother Paul grew embittered and did
not want to live in Pakistan. Upon attending his brother’s funeral,
however, Paul was moved by the outpouring of support, including among
Muslims, and agreed to accept his brother’s cabinet post. Then,
following the example of his mother, he came to forgive the killers.
The film, along with a discussion guide suitable for use in group settings, is available via the project’s website.
You are invited to watch the film in solidarity with the world’s persecuted Christians.