A few days ago, 29 Christians were murdered by Islamic terrorists in Egypt. This follows the Palm Sunday attacks on Coptic churches that killed almost 40 people, which were themselves just another in a never ending string of brutal assaults on Egyptian Christians, and all Christians throughout North Africa and the Middle East, by Islamists. But the most recent incident was particularly notable for two reasons:
First, the timing. It came just days after the Manchester bombing, and it killed more people, yet it received considerably less than 1/100th of the coverage. There isn’t any acceptable explanation for why the continued eradication of Christians can rarely seem to break into the headlines, yet any terror attack in a European city will be the only thing we talk about for days. I understand why attacks against Americans will obviously receive more attention in America, but why should attacks on the French or the English spark more of our ire than the systematic martyrdom of our Christian brothers and sisters a little further to the east?
There really is no answer to that question that isn’t horrible. Is it because they don’t look like us? Is it because there wasn’t any pop star involved? Is it a matter of geographical distance? Does a thing need to happen within an eight hour plane ride in order for us to care? Why? And what if there were a bombing at, say, the Sydney Opera House? I bet that would get a lot of attention, and it’s about as far away as you can get. Let’s face it: whatever the reason, we simply don’t care that much about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. This is why this latest attack is so notable. It’s notable because of how non-notable it is to us.
Second, the details of this story are especially harrowing. The victims were in buses headed to a monastery in the desert. The Islamist barbarians didn’t just walk onto the vehicles and shoot indiscriminately. Instead, they pulled each person out and interrogated them. The Christian pilgrims were asked first if they were Christian and then told if they abandoned Christ and converted to Islam they would be spared. When each person refused to renounce their faith, they were shot in the head or the throat. Apparently, all of the victims, even the children, died heroically in this way.
They accepted death rather than betray their beliefs. They chose to be martyrs. Real martyrs, I mean. Not the suicidal, nihilistic Muslim sort of “martyr” who dies with a bomb on his chest and blood on his hands. These were actual martyrs. Innocents who died brutally, bloodily, as victims. True believers who drank from the cup of Christ and perished as He did. If we as Christians in America are not stirred deep down in our souls by the stories of these heroes, then our souls must already be dead.
Imagine facing this yourself. Just imagine it. And there are two questions here, remember. You must choose martyrdom twice.
The first question: “Are you Christian?”
You could probably escape death here. All you need to say is “no.” One word. One syllable. One syllable will save your life. That’s all it will take. Imagine the courage required to kneel there on the ground with a gun to your neck and speak the simple truth. “Yes.”
The second question: “Will you renounce Christ and convert to Islam?”
Perhaps you didn’t know there would be a second question. You thought they’d kill you after you answered affirmatively to the first. But now you have another chance to save yourself. Another chance to avoid a violent death out here in the desert, in the middle of nowhere. Imagine the courage required to reject this final temptation and speak those words that you know will be the last you ever speak. “No.”
How many of us have a faith like this? These Christians were willing to give up everything for Christ. How many of us are willing to give up anything, let alone everything? Most so-called believers in this country will lash out angrily if you so much as suggest that they ought to be more discriminating in the shows they watch and the music they listen to. The idea that we should even make sacrifices in our entertainment choices is downright offensive to us. Forget about telling a Christian that they should dress or speak a little differently. You’ll be cast aside as a Puritan by these earnest Bible believing folk. And yet we think we possess the conviction and the faith to give up our very lives for Him? Laughable. Face it: most of us would grovel and weep at the feet of our Muslim captors and recite whatever Koranic prayer they demanded of us. I suspect most of us would probably do that if someone put a gun to our TV, never mind our heads.
Am I being too hard on us? Oh, I’m not being nearly hard enough. You and I both know it. Our persecuted brothers and sisters put us to shame, and we should be ashamed. We are nothing compared to them. We are unworthy to wipe the dust from their sandals. We play pretend Christianity in this culture. They show us the real thing, and it bears almost no resemblance to our pale, pathetic imitation.
Just think of what these martyrs were doing in the first place when they were killed. They were traveling out into the desert on a pilgrimage to pray at a monastery, despite the enormous risk that such a journey entails. What about us? We can’t even be bothered to get up on Sunday morning and drive 12 minutes to church. Our churches aren’t in the desert. There aren’t any Islamic militants patrolling the area, looking to put a bullet in our skulls and turn our children into slaves. So what’s our excuse? We don’t want to get up. It’s a hassle, you see. It’s boring. The air conditioner doesn’t work very well and we might get a little sweaty. We had an argument with someone at church and it might be awkward to see them. We don’t like the sermons. The pastor was rude to us once. Why should we go? We don’t want to. You can’t make us. Our tummies hurt. Waaaaah!
Oh, sure we’ve come up with our theological excuses for not going to church, not changing our lifestyles, not really doing anything at all. We found a verse or two that justifies our laziness, in our minds. Or we came up with a verse that we’ve decided should be in the Bible if we were really supposed to do such and such or not do such and such, and because this verse isn’t in there, it means we’re good to go. This is the one area of religion where we exert some effort: in finding excuses to not be religious. I recently had an argument with a Christian who provided the most impassioned Biblical defense of mini-skirts that I’ve ever heard. I’m sure it was the most energy they’ve invested in a religious discussion in their lives.
But our brothers and sisters to the east know nothing of these excuses. They can’t conceive of why you’d even want to find them. They look at us and ask: “You can be as Christian as you want and nobody will hurt you. Nobody will kill you. Why wouldn’t you proclaim Christ from the rooftops, then? What’s stopping you?”
Well, because we might lose Facebook friends. Someone might accuse us of being weird. And, besides, if we start being really Christian then we might feel guilty about all of the gossiping we do at work, and all the porn we watch on our computers, and the fact that we drink too much, and spend too much of our money on frivolous things, and that we make no sacrifices at all, ever. That’s what’s stopping us. We have it too easy, in other words. We’re fat and lazy and soft and selfish. What’s stopping us is that nothing is stopping us, you might say.
Perhaps, in all of this, I’ve stumbled upon the answer to my first question. Our media pays little attention to the martyrdom of Christians because the martyrs make such a compelling case for Christianity. They’d rather focus on Christians in this country as we complain about not hearing “merry Christmas” from the cashier at JC Penny, and then get back to our divorces and our Netflix addiction.
We are ridiculous and it is, therefore, quite easy to not take us seriously. After all, why should they take our faith seriously if we do not take it seriously? But the Christians in the Middle East do take their beliefs seriously — very seriously — and that makes them extremely convincing advocates for those beliefs, and that makes them dangerous. That’s why the media is afraid to pay attention to them. That’s why even we, as Christians, are afraid to pay attention to them. They show us something about ourselves, and we don’t like what we see. So we look away and find something else to care about.
Oh, hey, Donald Trump tweeted a typo. Good, yes, there’s something safe to focus on. Let’s talk about that instead. Let’s talk about anything instead.