I still remember how shocking it was when I first saw the now-infamous image of 21 Christians in orange jumpsuits as they were forced to kneel on the beach. The picture was taken moments before they were beheaded by fighters from the Islamic State. The rawness and violence of it made me sick to my stomach (No way was I interested in watching the actual murder, it was enough to simply see the moment leading up to it).
Just this past week, we had another reminder of the violence visited upon people of faith with the anniversary of Bastille Day, which marked the beginning of a persecution against religion that resulted in the exile or murder of an estimated 30,000 Catholic priests. That wasn’t an isolated historical incident, and there continues to be persecution of Christians around the globe. It isn’t only revolutionary groups, rebels, or violent extremists that perpetrate it — sometimes it’s a seemingly lawful government that turns on its own citizens. For instance, under its dictator, Kim Jong-un, North Korea continues to be relentlessly hostile to Christianity and to basic human rights.
I’m drastically under-qualified to comment on geo-political issues, but I bring them up as a reminder that we will never have a perfect system of government, and there will always be groups or cultures that entirely reject Christianity and persecute it. It isn’t too far fetched to imagine that anyone reading this article right now may end up spending at least part of a life under a repressive regime or a hostile dictator. We think it can never happen to us — until it does.
I wonder how I would react if I were called to give up everything for my beliefs, particularly to defend a just society. If I could find the courage to do so is a matter of speculation, but I find encouragement (and you might, too) in considering saints who lived not too far away and not too long ago and stood up to dictators and persecutors. They never backed down, and in their own way, each one emerged triumphant.