Why Are Christians Neglecting Persecution Studies?


More than five decades ago, Eberhard Bethge, a close friend and biographer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, lamented the manner in which Protestants neglected the study of martyrs. He offered two basic reasons for such neglect:

Protestants deplore the martyr worship present in part of the Catholic tradition. And Protestants are a bit squeamish emotionally when it comes to thinking about suffering on account of Christ.

Persecution Study NeglectedObviously, I have over-simplified Bethge’s two points. This post is not attempting to be technically precise concerning why the study of persecution and martyrdom is still neglected by Protestants.  Instead, my aim is simply to show that the problem pointed out by Bethge is still haunting us today.  Recently, John. L. Allen bemoaned the lack of persecution studies among Christians.

While Allen notes the easily explained absence of reporting on Christian persecution by secular outlets, he has a harder time explaining the absence of reporting by Christian sources.  Allen offers four possible reasons Christians aren’t tracking the suffering of brothers and sisters around the world. (1) Christians in America and in the West simply don’t identify with the persecuted church. How can an American Christian relate to someone like Christianah Oluwatoyin Oluwasesin, who was beaten and burned to death because she was a Christian teacher in a Muslim school in Nigeria?  We have a very difficult time relating to what seems so fantastic and so unreal; thus we aren’t sure what to do with the information once we find it. More important, we don’t go looking for it in the first place.

(2) Another reason Christians are silent instead of investigating, reporting, and researching Christian persecution is that the topic itself is disconcerting. By nature, persecution challenges shallow faith and comfortable Christianity.  From my own experience as an advocate for the persecuted church over the past 15 years, I can affirm that many Christians—including pastors—are not comfortable hearing about persecution. While from a doctrinal perspective, we decry health-and-wealth, prosperity preaching, we, too often, actually prefer a Christian experience that is comfortable and safe for the whole family. Why confront a problem if it makes us so uncomfortable? It’s easier to leave the matter alone.

(3) Christian persecution is a neglected topic of study and research because it requires hard work and serious resources to investigate and ferret out the details of the incidents, and, often, incidents happen in places difficult to reach. Christian entities in the West tend to use their resources in other ways and cannot fathom expending exorbitant amounts of cash to study persecution on the islands of Indonesia or in the sub-Saharan countries of Africa. Christian resources are limited.

(4) Christians also suffer the malady of “good cause” fatigue. Because no one is talking much about persecution, it gets displaced by other, more celebrated Christian causes: evangelism, missions, unreached people groups, church planting, church growth, pro-life issues, and other political concerns. In short, persecution isn’t really on the American Christian radar as a church priority.

So, for all these reasons—and probably others which have not been mentioned—Christian persecution research is lacking. What other reasons might explain Christian neglect of persecution studies?

6 thoughts on “Why Are Christians Neglecting Persecution Studies?

  1. Pingback: Why Are Christians Neglecting Persecution Studies? | Reformed Christian Heritage News

  2. I agree that we need to be aware of Christian persecution and even study it. I would like to know what can be done, beyond prayer, to make some difference in the lives of the persecuted?

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    • LCS, stay tuned because I am working on a simple way to fuel a movement. I had a great meeting yesterday, and I have another one tomorrow. Surely, you are correct in saying more needs to be done. Learning about it biblically, praying together for those suffering, and making others aware are all practical responses that are doable for us. In fact, the Bible instructs us to identify with them because we are of one body. So, keep studying. I will keep posting more articles to help people understand why the persecuted church is one with us. There are good ministry opportunities, too. But prayer is no small contribution. The Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 1:5ff that he survived his persecution because of the prayers of other believers on his behalf. We have a remarkable privilege and opportunity to pray for those suffering intense persecution. Thanks for the comment. Blessings to you…

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  3. One reason, not one hopes present in the colleges that the author has in mind, is the contemporary outburst of Christophobia and, frankly, sheer loathing that many, not least academics, have of Christianity. See my “Martyrdom?” at .

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  4. Pingback: Simple Ways to Stay Informed about Christian Persecution | Gregory C. Cochran

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