Successful Responses

While success is difficult to define, some strategies of response have produced tangible results worthy of emulation. 

What strategies of response to persecution have been successful? The question is a difficult one to answer. What is success? Is it ending violations of religious freedom? By this criterion, very few strategies would count as successful. Rare, for instance, was the formidable influence of Pope John Paul II in bringing about the downfall of Communism in Poland during the 1980s. Perhaps success means that a particular episode or dimension of repression was stopped or mitigated. Or perhaps it means simply that a given strategy was carried to completion: a community managed to flee; interreligious dialogue was forged; human rights abuses were documented. Even this criterion can be complicated, though. 

What about martyrdom? Is that a success? While the worldly answer is “no,” in Christian theology it merits a crown, and in places like China and Iran, it has inspired conversions and contributed to the growth of Christian churches.

The clearest examples of success are instances where a strategy of response is linked clearly to an improvement in policy or a reduction in violence. Consider these: 

  • Indonesian Christian leaders point to the 2014 election of Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo, a leader who strongly favors Indonesia’s multi-religious and pluralist tradition, as evidence of the success of their strategy of collaborating with Indonesia’s major Islamic movements around Indonesia’s tolerant vision of Pancasila. Widodo, a Muslim, chose a Christian running mate, much to the chagrin of Islamist voices, yet achieved victory. 
  • Laotian pastor Reverend Khamphone Pounthapanya spent years in a prison/re-education camp where he befriended his jailers. Upon release from captivity, he became the General Secretary of the Lao Evangelical Church (LEC), a position from which he has negotiated and advocated on behalf of the LEC—sometimes achieving improved protection. This success was achieved notwithstanding evangelicals’ general reluctance to engage in political advocacy in this region. 
  • In Pakistan, Christians utilized newspapers to win a government mandate to refer to Christians as “Masihi,” connoting Jesus as the Messiah, rather than “Isai,” connoting disbelief in the resurrection of Christ, as well as an official recognition of Easter as a holiday. Both victories gave Pakistani Christians great encouragement. 
  • In the wake of a 1997 law in Russia that made registration processes for minority religions difficult, small, non–Russian Orthodox churches have formally affiliated with a national umbrella organization of churches and have often found success in registering as a result. 
  • In India, a branch of the All India Catholic Union in Mangalore joined hands with Muslims and secular-minded Hindus to defeat the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in local elections in 2009, in the wake of riots carried out by Hindu extremists against Christians in the state of Karnataka.