Today's post is written by Dr. K. Kale Yu. Dr. Yu is a Lecturer in the Religion Department at High Point University, a United Methodist-affiliated institution.
On June 30, 2016, The New York Times reported that ISIS claimed responsibility for the killing of a Coptic Christian priest in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. The Rev. Rafael Moussa, 46, had earlier left a church in the area where he attended a church service before being gunned down on the streets. He died instantly after being shot in the head. In a message distributed on social media, the Islamic State called Moussa as a “disbelieving combatant.” The killing of Moussa represents the latest in a long line of violence against Christians in the Global South. Reports indicate that such violence has intensified in recent years.
In predominantly Muslim Egypt, Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population, live as a minority and endure social prejudice and workplace discrimination. The experience of Coptic Christians in Egypt is not unusual for many Christian communities in the Global South as living as a minority and marginalized faith remains a constant. This means that such Christian communities have to embrace the stark reality that simply professing oneself a Christian courts social and legal discrimination, incarceration, and even death. As the discourse on missiology shifts to non-Western regions, many Christian communities in the Global South are linked by tenuous, existential bonds of Christian affiliation and devotion while enduring at the same time hostility not unlike the conditions facing early Christian communities that were perceived as threats to the governmental and religious authorities. For many parts of the Global South today, declaring oneself a Christian often entails a conscious commitment to a faith that threatens not only their personal security but also the livelihood of their family and relatives.
The recent shooting of Rev. Rafael Moussa exposes the challenges of developing a hermeneutical understanding in the theology of missions. Many Christians in the Global South must learn to navigate the perilous water of being a Christian in a hostile environment where enduring potential persecution remains a crucial element in one’s self-understanding of his or her Christian faith. Often relying on a hermeneutical process tied to human reasoning, Western missiological perspectives, however, generate little discussion on the unwanted yet undeniable offensive reaction the Gospel produces in many communities in the Global South. For Christians living in hostile environments, abiding in Christ comes at a cost. As militants in the Global South marshal their forces—military and ideological—into a combat position against Christian communities, vigilance against attacks has become the benchmark of their Christian experience.
In the shift of focus to the Global South, our missiological understanding of the Christian witness and the missionary nature of the church must explain not only the simple reality of the pitfalls that come with Christian faith but also equip believers with methodologies to navigate through societies that labels them as “disbelieving combatants.” The absence in speaking, clarifying, or guiding believers in what is becoming heightened antagonism toward Christians in the Global South underscores the incomprehensibility of evil, and it also points to the inadequacy of missiological approaches to convey the realities and magnitude of developing events in the Global South. The silence on this topic is not confined to Western missiologists, but extend to Christian leaders in the West who feel discomfort in broaching the issue altogether, as if it undermines the edifice of Christian conceptualization. Perhaps the baggage of colonialism continues to weigh on Western missiologists and engaging the subject does not fit within intellectual framework, but we are reminded that many Christians in the Global South live in a fraught existential nature that demands our attention at a most crucial time.