By Anita Levesque
The persecution of Christians is on the increase around the globe. What doesn’t appear to be matching that increase is the concern among media, or at times even Christians, in ”developed” countries.
The attack, arrest, imprisonment, torture and murder of Christians in nations that demonstrate intolerance for all faiths, or only select faith communities, is not recent news. Persecution has been part of the history of Christianity since its birth; just read Paul’s letters in the New Testament. But after more than 2000 years, one might question the developments in a ‘civilized’, more informed, more educated world’s interaction with Christianity.
Sadly, it seems this “old news” is often considered no longer even newsworthy by the traditional media. Perhaps this is because the unjust suffering of Christians doesn’t attract the same public interest as the latest corporate financial disaster or mass murder. Maybe, it lacks entertainment value. Or perhaps it’s because there is seemingly no direct impact on our “bubble” of reality. Or are we just too tired to care?
Has the suffering of over 200 million Christian human beings in 60 nations become a trouble that would only be added to those we already have daily at home and work?
It seems almost criminal to think we might allow our consciences to be numbed with disinterest. And yet, there are moments of inspired action! Take for instance the recent international protest against the arrest, imprisonment, and pending death penalty of Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. From tweets to texts, emails to blogs, even radio to television; the Western and Christian world seemed to wake up without a smartphone alarm and together declare “not on my watch!” It was inspiring to observe the momentum; to see what could be accomplished using the electronic world that now unites us when we allowed ourselves to be personally impacted by the plight of one Christian man in Iran; a husband and father unjustly sentenced.
He is not the first (or only) to elicit such a response. A quick visit to websites of affiliates of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and partners in its Religious Liberty Commission provides enough inspiring stories of courage and action to assure of that. And, what is changing, what is being used more often as a tool of protest is social media.
The Arab Spring was a moment in time that highlighted the strength of social media. Borders and boundaries were gone and the world was an electronic global village. Concern and passion over injustice was ignited and social media accelerated the spread of the message to millions in a matter of hours. And millions upon millions within a few days.
Used with care and wisdom, social media – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, ReddIt and more – are powerful tools that can influence change. But carefully read the owner’s manual before powering up a ‘hot button’ campaign. There are enough cautionary tales to warn of potential injury both to campaigner(s) and campaign, particularly if not properly informed and prepared.
There are repercussions from a wildfire of interest from a World-Wide-Web audience. Social media can also have an unanticipated negative impact.
With regard to persecution, poor timing can have a negative effect on often tenuous negotiations; negotiations that occur privately behind closed doors between government officials who depend on diplomacy and discernment. These conversations take place through men and women who are knowledgeable about how best to relate with foreign governments that might not share Canadians’ respect or passion for “freedom of religion” and “freedom of speech” (and from which Social Media was born).
When using social media, we need to remember – particularly in cases of persecution of Christians in Muslim majority countries where the primary “Charter” may well be sharia law rather than one of “rights and freedoms” – that the process does not begin from the same ideals and certainly does not promote them. While social media has become universal, the ideals of rights and freedoms are not.
Social Media can bring to light instances of persecution. Increasingly it can be the first source to inform our country’s leaders and diplomats about the existence of acts of persecution, and the need for action. And, certainly, the loud “million-hit”, “liked”, or “viewed” clicks express just how many people care about the issue.
What Social Media does not provide in many cases, is the potentially harmful lack of behind the scenes knowledge about foreign laws or the moment-by-moment developments in sensitive negotiations that may be taking place. An electronic steam whistle sounded at the wrong time has the potential to hinder those conversations.
Social media may be used with enthusiasm but must be used with caution. Simply clicking to forward someone else’s post could make you a “slacktivist” instead of an activist.
Best practices call for knowledge and understanding of the person or group and the government(s) involved in the situation. Foreign governments and their representatives may be personally prepared to negotiate in private, but are at times constrained by the public pressure of their populace just as our leaders on certain issues. Once word leaks out about quiet negotiations, which inevitably seem to reach the ears of contacts on the ground or the Western media, it may well be necessary that the volume and intensity of pursuing the cause be turned down.
How do we know the timing? Again, if you’re attuned to the situation the information will enter the flow of news being reported from the source. And, make every effort to ensure your source is a reliable source.
One place to begin is to join with those who have that developed experience and influence, as well as contacts on the ground in several nations, like The World Evangelical Alliance, Voice of the Martyrs, and Open Doors. These groups have invested years, some decades, in building relationships; they have the developed the ability to consult in difficult situations, as well as an understanding of the cultures and the needs of the persecuted. It is sound advice to coordinate with their efforts.
The alternative is that our well intentioned social media efforts may contribute to an outcome opposite to that for which we were hoping.
Don’t stop using social media. Just think before you post!