We are living in an unprecedented time of religious persecution and martyrdom in the modern world. There were more recognized martyrs in the 20th century than in the whole of previous Christian history. There are some books on the demography and phenomenology of persecution, but currently a lack of theological resources to help those who are undergoing persecution, some of whom are threatened with forced conversions.
These words introduce the new book Out of the Depths: Hope in Times of Suffering (Anglican Consultative Council, 2016). It was launched at the Anglican Communion Office on Feb. 28 and is the third book in a series, following on from Generous Love: the Truth of the Gospel and the Call to Dialogue — An Anglican Theology of Inter Faith Relations (2008) and Land of Promise? An Anglican Exploration of Christian Attitudes to the Holy Land (2012).
These books were written by the Anglican Inter Faith Network (AFIN) of the Anglican Communion (formerly known as the Network for Inter Faith Concerns), of which I have been a member for 10 years.
The writers of Out of the Depths included Stuart Buchanan, voluntary administrator for AIFN (who edited the anonymous contributions of Global Context), the Most Rev. Dr. Michael Jackson, Archbishop of Dublin (Tradition), the Rt. Rv. Dr. Michael Ipgrave, Bishop of Lichfield (Reason), and me (Introduction, Scripture, and Worship).
“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord” is the beginning of Psalm 130. Facing the threat of being overwhelmed by the waters of chaos, the psalmist cries out for help from the depths of his heart. The book’s title draws on that Psalm and on Psalm 42:7:
Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts:
all your waves and billows have gone over me.
The psalmist again uses the image of water for being pounded amid trouble and woe, and cries out for help.
We were conscious of our ecumenical context and cited three occasions of particular importance in 2015:
The 50th anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae, the decree on Religious Freedom of Vatican II, December 1965; the consultation on persecution in November 2015, in Tirana, Albania, organized by the Global Christian Forum, which gathered representatives of all the major streams in world Christianity; and the centenary of the Armenian Genocide. (p. 2)
Methodology and shape
Generous Love referred to the interplay of Scripture (our supreme authority), Tradition, and Reason:
Anglicans hold that Scripture is to be interpreted in the light of tradition and reason, meaning by these an appeal respectively to the mind of the Church as that develops and to the mind of the cultures in which the Church participates. Tradition and reason are shaped by the lived experiences of Christians in their double contexts of Church and society, and they are inseparable as are those contexts. (p. 7)
In Out of the Depths, we resonated with this methodology. There are four central chapters (global contexts, Scripture, tradition, and reason) with an introduction and conclusion. Each chapter ends with group work questions for reflection and response.
Case studies were gathered in November 2014. A draft of the book was introduced at the Global Christian Forum conference in Albania in 2015 by the chair of AIFN, Archbishop Jackson, and was circulated to theologians around the Anglican Communion for comments. It was revised in the light of these, published on the Communion’s website, and discussed at a workshop that I led at the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Lusaka, Zambia, in April 2016. There, further suggestions were made and a resolution was passed to publish it with translations in Urdu and Arabic.
The foreword was written by the Most Rev. Mouneer Anis, the Bishop in Egypt, with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, and Archbishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East. Commendations were written by the Most Rev. and Rt. Hon. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Dr. Josiah Idowu-Fearon, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, and the Rt. Rev. Alwin Samuel, the Bishop of Sialkot, Pakistan.
Chapter outlines and extracts
The introduction outlines the context and shape of the book, gives an exposition of the Lord’s Prayer and then suggests the following spectrum of persecution, which may be delineated from “squeeze” to “smash”:
‘Harassment’, where people have subtle consistent pressure put upon them. ‘Subjugation’, where they are kept down, as a lower class in law. ‘Persecution’, where they are physically and violently attacked, by individuals or the State. ‘Martyrdom’, where they are killed for their faith or for standing for justice. ‘Annihilation’, where whole peoples are wiped out. ‘Obliteration’, where the original existence of the annihilated peoples is denied, or they are ‘airbrushed’ out of the picture, such as the destruction of Armenian churches and artefacts in Turkey, holocaust denial and the destruction of churches by the so-called Islamic State.
The book seeks to provide theological resources in times of persecution. The latter word is expansive in both directions along the spectrum from the centre.
Chapter 2, “Global Context,” is made up of eight short case studies, which aim to provide some sort of catholicity in space and time: four global South studies, from Malaysia, India, Syria, and Nigeria; two Global North case studies, from Sweden and the United States; and two historical case studies, from third-century Carthage and 17th-century Japan.
Following the Shimabara rebellion of 1638, in order to eradicate Christianity, the whole population of Japan were required to register at a family temple and be issued with a temple certificate to confirm that none of them were Christians. To enable this, an annual rite, entitled ebumi (image trampling), required people to trample upon Christian imagery. To encourage apostasy, rather than death, some very long and lingering forms of death had been devised for those who confessed Christianity and refused ebumi. (pp. 35-36)
Chapter 3 “Scripture,” draws on the Hebrew Scriptures, the Apocrypha, and the New Testament. The following is an extract:
The Book of Revelation has a subtle reference to the cult of the Emperor in Pergamum in 2:13 ‘I know where you are living, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you are holding fast to my name.’ Revelation serves as a stimulus to stand firm under vicious pressure from the ‘beast’ of the Roman Empire. It is profound political theology for the persecuted. It is extraordinarily allusive, and reflective, of vast swathes of passages in the Old Testament. If such references were all hyperlinked, the whole book could well become blue in colour. Its original message referred to the politics of its day in the Roman Empire, but persecution is perennial and the Book of Revelation is permanently warning and warming. God is in charge, is fighting to bring justice to his world and this mysteriously includes the suffering of his people, as it did of his beloved Son. (pp. 70-71)
Chapter 4, “Tradition,” considers three periods in the history of world Christianity: the early period; the mediaeval period, including the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Reformation; and the modern era, including the Armenian Genocide, the Jewish Holocaust, Communist persecutions, Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Germany, Janani Luwum in Uganda, and the so-called Islamic State today. The following is an extract:
Genocide refers to the crime of intending to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. In the modern era it is first used with regard to the Armenian Genocide; when, as an instrument of the state, over two thousand Armenian communities across the Ottoman Empire were destroyed within months and eventually in excess of a million and a half people were killed.
This genocide engendered flight from home and the individual accounts of flight by the families of survivors take us to locations once again familiar today as arenas of conflict and war such as Basra in Iraq. Armenians settled as far away as Harbin, China and to this day remain an international diaspora. Many Armenians find deep resonances with their own ethnic experiences in the contemporary events of beheading, rape, starvation of Christians and others in the Middle and Near East.
The Armenian genocide is immortalized in the words of Adolf Hitler, as he transferred the principle and the practice to the systematic annihilation of another ethnic and religious grouping, the Jews: ‘Who today remembers the Armenians?’ (pp. 92-94)
Chapter 5, “Reason,” has two sections. First, four Christian theological responses to persecution: Feminist, Black, Liberation, and Dalit theologies. Second, considerations of how people of other faith, and ideology, have drawn on their own theological resources: Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Secularism. The following is an extract:
Deriving from the Hindu society of Punjab, but with a faith and spirituality which are quite distinctive, Sikhism presents a striking instance of the development of a theology of persecution and of martyrdom. A devotional community gathered around a charismatic preacher of monotheism found it necessary, in response to attacks from oppressive Mughal rulers, to commit itself to armed resistance in defence of freedom and justice. Two of the then gurus who led the community are revered as martyrs, with the sacrifice of their lives being offered for Hindus as well as Sikhs. The spirit of militant resistance has remained a key component of Sikh theology ever since. (pp. 135-36)
Chapter 6, “Worship,” draws on the responses to previous chapters and offers resources of prayers from Scripture and liturgies. The following prayer, used at the end of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer sums up much of the ambiguities of trust under persecution:
Prayer of St. Chrysostom, from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer
Almighty God, who hast given us grace at this time with one accord to make our common supplications unto thee; and dost promise that when two or three are gathered together in thy Name thou wilt grant their requests: Fulfil now, O Lord, the desires and petitions of thy servants, as may be most expedient for them; granting us in this world knowledge of thy truth, and in the world to come life everlasting. Amen.
For all of us who were involved the production of this book it was a profound and moving experience of learning. I hope that it will encourage others also to draw on ancient wells and modern insights for theological and prayer resources in times of persecution.