Christians around the world suffer persecution at the hands of both state and non-state actors. Among the state actors are Islamist, Communist, religious nationalist, and secular regimes, while non-state actors include violent religious extremists.
Christians’ responses to this persecution fall into three broad categories: first, strategies of survival, through which they aim to preserve the life and basic activities of their communities; second, strategies of association, through which they build ties with others that strengthen their resilience in the face of persecution; and third, strategies of confrontation, through which they openly challenge the persecution levied against them or live out their faith such that they accept the possibility of martyrdom as a mode of witness. These responses are not mutually exclusive.
Under Caesar’s Sword researchers have studied the character of these responses in twenty-five countries around the world in addition to “The West.” Eight findings arise from these studies:
- Christian communities most commonly adopt survival strategies. While these strategies are defined as the least proactive form of resistance to persecution, they often involve creativity, determination, and courage. These strategies include going underground, flight, and accommodation to or support for repressive regimes.
- Strategies of association are the second most common response. In these cases, Christian communities seek to secure their religious freedom by developing ties with other actors, including other Christian communities, non- Christian religions, and secular figures.
- Strategies of confrontation are the least common response. They serve to bear witness to the faith, expose and end injustice, mobilize others to oppose injustice, and replace it with religious freedom.
- Christian responses to persecution are almost always nonviolent and, with very few exceptions, do not involve acts of terrorism.
- Theology—in particular, a Christian community’s theology of suffering, church, and culture—influences the response of that community.
- Protestant evangelical and Pentecostal Christians are more likely to be persecuted than mainline Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox Christians, or other Christians associated with ancient churches. In response to persecution, evangelical and Pentecostal Christians are more likely to engage in strategies of survival or, on rare occasions, confrontation. They are less likely, however, to engage in strategies of association. Mainline Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians, on the other hand, are more likely to respond through strategies of association.
- The intensity of persecution only partly explains Christians’ responses.
- While success is difficult to define, some strategies of response have produced tangible results worthy of emulation.
Overall, the report finds that Christian responses to persecution embody a creative pragmatism dominated by short-term efforts to provide security, build strength through social ties, and sometimes strategically oppose the persecution levied against them. The fact that these efforts are pragmatic should not obscure that they often are conducted with deep faith as well as creativity, courage, nimbleness, theological conviction, and hope for a future day of freedom.
In this spirit, the report closes with policy recommendations for persecuted communities as well as non-governmental organizations, outside governments and multilateral institutions, outside churches and Christian communities, the media, academia, and businesses who seek to lend their support to these Christians.