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Christians have faced hostility and rejection at some time and in some place ever since the foundation of the Church. Yet special factors, new to our experience, may be mentioned which make the theme of persecution and martyrdom understandable and pastorally necessary at the present time. A recent report of the Vatican on the persecution of Christians throughout the world makes mention of two of these special factors. In part, the report states the following: “Credible research has reached the shocking conclusion that an estimate of more than 100,000 Christians are violently killed because of some relation to their faith every year. Other Christians and other believers are subjected to forced displacement, to the destruction of their places of worship, to rape and to the abduction of their leaders … In addition, in some Western countries where historically the Christian presence has been an integral part of society, a trend emerges that tends to marginalize Christianity in public life, to ignore historic and social contributions and even to restrict the ability of faith communities to carry out social charitable services.”
Groups such as Persecution.org concur with such findings: According to this group, some “two hundred million Christians currently live under persecution.” And the number is rising. Concerning active persecution of Christians, Persecution.org mentions especially places like Africa and the Middle East. In Egypt, the ancient and traditional Coptic Christians face increasing hostility, and according to one observer “what has happened in Iraq and Syria is de facto ethnic cleansing of Christians” (Neil Hicks of Human Rights First).
There are two major threats in the world to Lutheran churches: the rise of an expansionist, jihadist Islam, which is unwilling to give place to Christian communities, and the increasing dominance of Western secular egalitarianism, which claims that traditional Christian thinking and habit are intolerant and discriminatory, and so secularists also are unwilling to tolerate Christian influence in the public square. Those of us who live in Western Europe or in the United States are well aware of the social and even legal forces which intend to define Christian faith as a mere private opinion and rob it of any legitimate public or social role. This is, to be sure, a new phenomenon, and our people are largely ill-prepared for this emerging challenge.