On Easter morning, 253 Christians were brutally murdered in the country of Sri Lanka, including 45 children and some 500 more wounded.
These premeditated bombings were scheduled in three Roman Catholic and Evangelical churches in three different cities throughout the island, and at high-end hotels in Colombo. According to Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene, an “extremist group named National Thowfeek Jamaath (NTJ) carried out Sunday's terror attacks in response to terror attacks in Christchurch.”
NTJ, however, has not confirmed their involvement in the attack. Instead, ISIS has claimed responsibility.
The New Zealand shooter, identified as a white nationalist, was a member of the alt-right. But regardless of the aggressor’s allegiances, in either case, these acts of hate specifically targeted groups of people who were doing nothing more than engaging in peaceful worship.
This is evidence of a frightening thing happening in our world – a heightened rise of religious persecution.
Muslims are persecuted at the hands of extremists. ISIS is targeting Muslims in Syria, Iraq, and throughout the Middle East. Christians are also facing increased persecution in Nigeria, China, India, and throughout the world. In Israel, many Jews still face constant threats of missile attacks launched from Gaza and the Hamas government.
Religious persecution – regardless of the target – must be unequivocally condemned. Religious freedom is a fundamental right for all of humanity. It is the foundation of human identity.
Religion gives us the language to wrestle with the question of why we exist. Far from being a regressive force, religion has been a driving force for human advancement. To marginalize groups of people because of their religion is to snuff out this spark of progress. No nation in the world can advance and develop without allowing their people the freedom to wrestle with the question of existence.
Common dignity and value for human life should be enough to inspire widespread condemnation against any extremist or ideological zealots. As recounted by Jesus in the story of the Good Samaritan, we’re reminded of what it truly means to be human: “love your neighbor as yourself.” Certainly, the antithesis of “love your neighbor” is what we saw displayed in Sri Lanka and New Zealand. There is no qualification to loving your neighbor as yourself, even if you believe different.
It is time that the leaders of all Abrahamic faiths and of all major religions speak out against these attacks on this basic human right. Religious persecution is an extreme assault at the core of who we are as a global society. Each incident deepens the wound causing us to question the world in which we live. Is our society truly the accepting and tolerant community that reveres diversity of thought? Is this truly a place that respects and celebrates the beauty of culture, people and religion? Or is the rise of these attacks an indication of a deep hostility that still resides in many dark places throughout our world?
How we collectively respond will largely demonstrate the character of our global community. We must unequivocally condemn rhetoric, policy and explicit violence in all its forms. Instead, we must all do our part in being fierce advocates for justice.