Review of ‘Christianophobia’ by Rupert Shortt


9780802869852 Rupert Shortt, Christianophobia: A Faith Under Attack (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2012). $26.00, 328 pages.

Christianophobia is the story of “a faith under attack,” in the lapidary words of the book’s subtitle. Around the world, but especially in Muslim-majority countries, Christians are persecuted for their faith by agents of the state, by lawless mobs, and sometimes by the former in collusion with the latter.

Some of the persecution may be blowback for the post-9/11 American invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, but not all of it. As Rupert Shortt writes: “Looking beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, and on a time frame stretching well back before 11 September 2001, we can see innumerable Christian communities on the defensive against rampant forms of intolerance, both religious and secular. The problem has worsened dramatically since the turn of the millennium: about 200 million Christians are now under threat, more than any other faith group” (ix).

Rather than detailing the problem of Christianophobia with abstract statistics, Shortt sketches it with concrete anecdotes drawn from 19 countries. He devotes a chapter each to persecution of Christians in Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Nigeria, Indonesia, India, Burma, China, Vietnam and North Korea, and Israel. A final chapter quickly examines Cuba, Venezuela, Belarus, Sri Lanka, Laos, and Sudan.

The sources of Christianophobia are numerous. The sources can be religious, such as in some Muslim-majority countries, which have a tradition of both jihad and dhimmitude. (This point should be carefully qualified and not overstated, however, since some Muslim-majority countries tolerate religious minorities.) The sources can be ethno-religious, where one’s nationality or caste is tied to a particular religion. In India and Burma, for example, radicalized Hinduism and Buddhism, respectively, drive a nationalistic reaction against Christianity, which is seen as a Western interloper. (Something similar is at work in Belarus, a nominally Orthodox Christian country that makes life difficult for non-Orthodox forms of Christianity.) The sources can also be political, such as in China, Vietnam, and North Korea, where Christian churches are seen as a threat to Communist party control of the state. China sanctions churches in the Protestant Three Self Patriotic Movement (which has Catholic and Islamic counterparts), but not house churches, while North Korea bans all overt religious activity.

Whatever the sources of Christianophobia, the expression of it “seems to pass through three phases”: disinformation, discrimination, and persecution. Here, Shortt quotes Johann Candelin of the World Evangelical Fellowship: “Disinformation begins more often than not in the media. Through printed articles, radio, television, and other means, Christians are robbed of their good reputation and their right to answer accusations made against them.” That is followed by discrimination, which “relegates Christians to a second-class citizenship with poorer legal, social, political, and economic standing than the majority in the country.” Finally, there is persecution “from the state, the police or military, extreme organisations, mobs, paramilitary groups, or representatives of other religions” (174-175).

Christianophobia is an excellent survey of the problem of persecution of Christians worldwide. It provides helpful historical background material alongside individual anecdotes. Its treatment of Muslim-majority countries is nuanced, noting that while theology plays a role in Christian persecution, it does not play the only role. Indeed, Shortt holds out hope that Muslim-majority countries will evolve toward greater religious freedom for religious minorities, just as Christian-majority countries have done.

The one false note in this book is the chapter on Israel. Israel is not perfect, of course, but to include it in a book on Christianophobia is perverse, especially since Freedom House rates Israel as a religiously “free” country. (The inclusion of Venezuela, another “free” country, is also questionable, though it does not receive a chapter-length survey.) Indeed, it seems that Shortt’s real interest in Israel is theological. Of the 16 pages in his chapter on Israel, 5 are given over to a Christian theology of the land. Islam does not come in for a similar Christian theological critique. Whatever the merits or demerits of Shortt’s theological interpretation of Israel, this book is not the right venue to state them.

This reservation aside, Christianophobia is a valuable contribution to the literature on the global problem of Christian persecution. And timely. On Tuesday, May 21, 2013, Iranian security forces arrested Pastor Robert Asserian during a morning prayer service at Central Assembly of God in Tehran. He joins Pastor Farhad Sabokrooh, Sabokrooh’s wife Shahnaz Jayzan, and two church members of their Ahvaz Assemblies of God, Naser Zaman-Dezfuli and Davoud Alijani in jail. They had been arrested originally in December 2011, convicted of “converting to Christianity and propagating against the Islamic regime through evangelism,” sentenced to one year in jail each, and released early. They were rearrested to serve out the remaining time on the original conviction. Also, Pastor Saeed Abedini is serving a term of eight years in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison for his leadership in Iran’s house-church movement. These six Christians put names and faces on the irrational fear and deep hatred—the Christiano-phobia—faced by millions of their brothers and sisters in faith around the globe.

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