The media, the State Department, and the American public have all stubbornly ignored the uptick in the persecution of Christians around the globe, especially in Muslim cultures. The Pew Research Center concluded a couple of years ago that Christians are now persecuted in more nations than members of any other faith tradition. One sectarian watchdog organization estimates the annual number of persecuted Christians to be between 100 and 200 million.
The persecution is sometimes carried out by state authorities, sometimes by mobs of anti-Christian religious zealots (often acting with the implicit approval of their governments), and sometimes by al Qaeda-inspired terrorist groups. But under international law it makes no difference who the perpetrators are. Religious freedom is protected by both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and two subsequent UN declarations. So even though they're mostly mute, secular governments have a prima facie obligation to protest just as vigorously when Christians are being persecuted as they do when other human rights are being trampled.
That they largely don't means that the American Christian community, the world's largest and most privileged, must. Bizarrely, some of its members, particularly those in the evangelical tradition, refuse to condemn persecution on the grounds that it's a God-imposed test of faith to be endured rather than an evil to be resisted. But this cracked theology both insults God and displays astounding insensitivity to victims of murder, torture, discrimination, and displacement. Other American Christians, less crass than culpably indifferent, insist it's up to the legal and political authorities in the affected countries do something about persecution. But this turns a blind eye to the unhappy fact that in most of the 87 nations where Christians are a minority, persecution of them is sanctioned and even encouraged by lawmakers and judges.
So from a purely practical perspective, the ball winds up in the court of those American Christians who are themselves free from the horror of persecution and in a position to do something about it. But there's a deeper reason they should take notice: not doing so is contrary to Christ's command to care for the marginalized. Discipleship demands stepping in to help those afflicted by injustice, and the ways in which Christians do so must be compatible with Jesus's ethic of nonviolence. On the night of his arrest, Jesus admonished his defiant followers to put away their swords, clearly indicating that brute force in countering evil wasn't an option. His twenty first-century followers are under the same constraint. Resisting evil, for them, must always be a witness to their commitment to the Prince of Peace.
So: what can American Christians do?
But here's the thing: none of these strategies are possible so long as American Christians complacently refuse to look beyond their own well-fed and absolutely secure churches long enough to take notice of the perilous situation of their brothers and sisters around the world. American Christians have the ability to do something about the accelerating slaughter of their co-religionists. Failing to step up only fuels charges of hypocrisy leveled at American Christians by the cultured despisers of religion.
And rightly so.