Under Caesar’s Sword is the fruit of a collaborative research project on the response of Christians around the globe to religious persecution. A number of the essays forcefully argue that there can be no “special pleading” on this matter. The right of religious freedom must be defended universally, and not only in cases where Christians are victims. This concern is not new. Already in the 1990s, when attention to the persecution of Christians was increasing, an initial proposal to pass a resolution in the U.S. Congress against “Christian persecution” was enlarged to cover religious persecution generally. The result was the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (which created an “Ambassador at Large” for religious freedom). Nevertheless, Christians continue to suffer disproportionately from religious persecution. By one 2009 estimate, Christians are the victims of 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination around the globe.
Attention to the global persecution of Christians has indeed increased in recent years. John Allen (The Global War on Christians) and Rupert Shortt (Christianophobia) have written on this topic, as have Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Nina Shea in their book Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians. Under Caesar’s Sword, edited by Daniel Philpott of Notre Dame and Timothy Shah of Baylor and Georgetown, is different in part because of its focus on Christian responses to persecution. Their findings suggest that Christians respond differently based on their political, social, and cultural context. What is possible in India, for example, may not be possible in Saudi Arabia. Their findings also highlight the need for policymakers, church leaders, and Christian activists in the West to be attentive to the lessons and experiences of Christians who have variously endured, fought against, or fled from persecution.
The breadth of coverage of Under Caesar’s Sword helps dispel the “myth” (as John Allen has put it) that the persecution of Christians is “all about Islam.” A detailed chapter by Karrie Koesel and Jekatyerina Dunajeva highlights the struggles and harassment of non-Russian Orthodox churches in contemporary Russia. Reginald Reimer’s chapter on Vietnam and Laos addresses the terrible and ongoing suffering of Christians in those two countries (offering vivid and heartrending details on the imprisonment and even torture of new converts to Evangelical churches). Chad Bauman and James Ponniah describe the situation of Christians in India and Sri Lanka, where Hindu and Buddhist majorities (respectively) have restricted the freedom of Christians. The current dominance of the Bharatiya Janata Party in India has allowed right-wing Hindu groups to harass Christians, or lead campaigns to return Christian converts to Hinduism. In both India and Sri Lanka, Muslims and Christians have sometimes found common cause and worked together. Fenggang Yang addresses the well-known restrictions on religious freedom for Christians (and Muslims) in China, although in this case Christianity has survived, or indeed thrived, under persecution. (Yang compares the situation in China to the growth of Christianity in the Roman Empire after the persecution of Diocletian.) Finally, Paul Freston notes how in certain Latin American countries—especially in Columbia and Cuba—the church has been seen as an enemy of the state, and Christian activists and community organizers have been victims of violence.
Still, readers of Under Caesar’s Sword will note that persecution of Christians is particularly widespread in the Islamic world, and that Christian victims of persecution in the Islamic world often find themselves with few options. In a chapter rich in historical detail, Robert Hefner notes that Indonesia was (and, to a certain extent, still is) distinguished by a commitment to a pluralist ethic enshrined by the country’s “official political ideology”—known as the “Five Principles” (Pancasila)—and official recognition of six religions (Catholicism and Protestantism are counted separately). This ethic is increasingly threatened by the rise of Islamist political parties and militias, whose members have often studied in Saudi Arabia. The spread of Salafi Islam has had dire effects for Christians, who suffered violence from jihadis in the 1990s and 2000s and are now targeted by various fatwas and movements to prevent the construction of churches. Muslim converts to Christianity are especially at risk, but Muslim minorities, like the Shia and Ahmadi communities, have also suffered.