Over the past three years a group of scholars at the University of Notre Dame and Georgetown University have been studying persecuted Christians around the world. They call their project “Under Caesar’s Sword: Christian Response to Persecution.”
I recently learned about the project’s report: “In Response to Persecution.”
Here is a summary of the major findings:
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, nonChristian 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.