Religious Freedom Part 4: The Humanitarian Crisis You Never Hear About

by Rick Love

This is part four in a series on freedom of religion. Click here for part 1part 2, and part 3.

The self-proclaimed “Islamic State” of Iraq (ISIS) warns the Christians of Mosul: convert, pay tax, leave, or die.

A Sudanese judge orders Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag to be hanged for apostasy and given 100 lashes for adultery.

A Pakistani court sentences Asia Bibi to death by hanging for blasphemy against Islam.

Headlines like these infuriate us and break our hearts. But stories like these are merely the tip of the religious freedom iceberg.

Most Americans understand that religious freedom is inextricably tied to our country’s founding and development. Most Americans believe that everyone should have the right to follow his or her conscience without fear. But too few Americans show concern for the plight of other people persecuted for their faith around the world.

Christians should see things differently. Why? Because lack of religious freedom is an attack on God’s image-bearers.

Every person in our global community is created in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-28), and inherent in humanity is freedom to choose. To coerce an image-bearer against his or her will is an affront to a person's humanity. So since all people are created in God’s image, religious freedom must apply universally.

Dr. David Gushee makes this point in his brilliant book, The Sacredness of Human Life: Why an Ancient Biblical Vision is Key to the World’s Future:

“Human life is sacred.... Through God’s revelation in Scripture and incarnation in Jesus Christ, God has declared and demonstrated the sacred worth of human beings and will hold us accountable for responding appropriately.... It includes offering due respect and care to each human being that we encounter. It extends to an obligation to protect human life from wanton destruction, desecration, or the violation of human rights. A full embrace of the sacredness of human life leads to a full-hearted commitment to foster human flourishing” (page 33).

So how is respect for the sacredness of humanity playing out in the world?

Not so good. Burmese Buddhists brutally persecute Muslims. Iranian Muslims violently persecute the Baha’i. Open Doors claims that “100 million Christians in over 60 countries are persecuted for their faith.”

In the annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), 16 countries were singled out as countries of particular concern because of their systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom:

  • Burma

  • China

  • Eritrea

  • Iran

  • North Korea

  • Saudi Arabia

  • Sudan

  • Uzbekistan

  • Egypt

  • Iraq

  • Nigeria

  • Pakistan

  • Syria

  • Tajikistan

  • Turkmenistan

  • Vietnam

But the good news is that we can make a difference. Through much prayer and advocacy, the charges against Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag (noted at the beginning of the blog) have been dropped and she was released (see here and here).

So let’s pray for the release of Asia Bibi! I have contacted my Pakistani Muslim friends about Asia Bibi, urging them to intervene on her behalf. Here’s a petition you can sign asking for her release.

Most of those persecuted for their faith, however, are not high profile cases like Meriam or Asia. Unknown billions around the world are trapped and oppressed. This is the humanitarian crisis you never hear about.