I have not seen Martin Scorcese’s new movie, Silence. It has not yet come to a theater in our area. According to the synopsis, “A 17th century Portuguese Jesuit priest receives word that his mentor has renounced his faith while on a mission in Japan. Concerned, he travels to the island nation with another clergyman to investigate, only to find that the country's Christian population are being systematically exterminated. Witnessing the inglorious reality of torture and martyrdom committed against Japanese Christians rocks his faith to the core.”
The story is based on historic events. Christianity had been introduced to Japan in the 1540s and quickly took root with more than 100,000 converts. But the government quickly saw the Christian faith as a threat and launched bitter persecution against Christian believers. Many were tortured and killed. The Christian faith went underground for centuries.
In the majority of the world today, faith in Jesus Christ comes at a high price. According to the Pew Research Center over 75% of the world’s population live in areas of severe religious restrictions. Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Russia and Turkey had the highest levels of religious restrictions. The Pew report stated that “When we analyzed religious restrictions imposed by government, China, the world’s largest country by population, had the highest level.”
The U.S. Department of State’s annual International Religious Freedom report noted that “in Russia the government passed a new law limiting activity in houses of worship. The law imposes strict new reporting requirements for religious groups seeking to organize events and ceremonies in public spaces.”
I sometimes wonder what my prayers sound like in God’s ear compared to the prayers of those who suffer imprisonment, torture and discrimination for their faith in Christ. I am afraid that many of my prayers center upon my own convenience and comfort, and that of my family and friends.
Jesus was clear regarding persecution for His followers. “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18-20).
The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. ... Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin.” (Hebrews 11:35-12:4).
Across the centuries, persecution has been the norm for followers of Christ. Our protections for religious freedom in America are unique. We must preserve, protect and extend these freedoms to all faiths and all forms of worship. How then should we pray? And how then should we live?