When following Jesus is dangerous

Supporting our persecuted family

August 22, 2019

August 30, 2017, is indelibly marked in the minds of the Masih family. It would be the last day Ilyasab and his wife would hear the voice of their 17-year-old son, Sharoon.

After completing lower education in his village, Sharoon began attending MC Model High School in Burewala City, Pakistan. His first day didn’t go well. He wasn’t wearing the correct uniform; therefore, he was not allowed to attend class. To add more insult, the teacher slapped him in front of everyone.

That same day, Raza Ahmed, a Muslim student, stopped Sharoon, a Christian, from drinking water from the same cup he and his Muslim classmates were using. To them, Sharoon was an infidel.

After school, Sharoon told his mother that students hated him “because of his religion” and that “he was not comfortable to go to school.”

Reluctantly, he went back the next day. He was in Islamic Studies class (a course all Pakistani students must take regardless of their beliefs) when Raza began to beat him after their teacher left the room. Raza continued to beat and kick him until he was unconscious. Pakistani media reports allege Raza’s behavior (and possible negligence of school staff) contributed to Sharoon’s death.

245 million Christians persecuted

The Masih family’s story represents more than 245 million Christians worldwide who are persecuted for their choice to follow Jesus. The persecution we read about in Scripture is still happening today. Right now, Christians are under more pressure than in any other time in modern history.

While Christian persecution takes many forms, Open Doors—a Christian ministry focused on advocacy and relief for persecuted believers all over the world—defines it as any hostility experienced as a result of identification with Christ. Throughout the world, Christians like Sharoon and his family continue to risk imprisonment, loss of their homes and possessions (including custody of their children), torture, beheadings, rape, and even death as a result of their faith.

In more than 73 countries, Christians are living and dying for their faith in places like Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran, and North Korea. Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List ranks the 50 most dangerous countries to be a Christian. Pakistan, where Sharoon’s family continues to live, is number five.

Snapshots of persecution

Unfortunately, global persecution against Christians continues to increase. Trends show that countries in Africa, South America, Asia, and the Middle East are intensifying persecution against Christians.

In more than 73 countries, Christians are living and dying for their faith in places like Pakistan, Nigeria, Iran, and North Korea. 

In places like Nigeria, Christians face violent threats from Islamic extremist groups like Boko Haram and militant Fulani herdsmen. In its nine-year insurgency, Boko Haram has reportedly claimed more than 20,000 lives and displaced more than two million people. 

In North Korea, Christians are considered enemies of the government. If their faith is discovered, they are arrested and often sent to hard labor camps where they’re forced to endure daily interrogations, beatings, and inhumane conditions. 

In India, persecution led by radical Hindu nationalists is rapidly increasing as Christians face discrimination and violence against them and their churches. In an effort to make India an all-Hindu nation, nationalists have publicly vowed to wipe out Christianity by 2021. 

And in places like Afghanistan, Iran, and Somalia, following Jesus openly is a death sentence from Islamic extremist groups like al-Shabaab. In other countries like Bangladesh and Tajikistan, Christians are marginalized and ostracized by cultures that treat them like second-class citizens or as part of the “untouchable” caste.

Global persecution is part of the enemy’s plan to defeat the Church. Scripture clearly tells us we have an enemy that prowls like a lion, seeking to kill and destroy (1 Pet. 5:8). When Christians are attacked, ostracized, falsely accused, imprisoned, or killed, it’s because they have chosen to bear the name of Jesus.

One body, one family, one Church

That’s why Scripture is so clear that we are part of one global body, one family, one Church. Together, we are advancing the Kingdom.

Sharoon Masih’s family is our family. And just like our immediate family, we have a responsibility to our brothers and sisters in Christ. God doesn’t mince words over how he has called us to respond to one another, wherever we are. 

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul tells us that “when one part suffers, all suffer together. When one part rejoices, all the parts rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26). In Hebrews 13:3, we’re told to “continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” 

In other words, what happens to believers in Pakistan or North Korea is happening to the entire Church. When we grasp this, we begin to see the power of Jesus’ prayer to the Father in John 17. He asked that we would all be one in him. The call for unity is a call that’s dear to the heart of God.

Connecting to your persecuted family

As part of the body of Christ, we’re compelled to engage and connect with our brothers and sisters. Open Doors offers numerous ways you can engage with persecuted believers around the world.

  1. Pray. The number one request from persecuted believers is prayer—“pray that we will be strong in the face of persecution.” Ask God to give you his heart for believers who endure persecution because they follow Jesus. Learn more at opendoorsusa.org/prayerapp.
  2. Read. The stories of persecuted believers are many. Their faith will inspire you. And throughout many of these stories, we see God’s hand moving over his people. You can connect with thousands of believers at opendoorsusa.org. 
  3. Share. God has invited us to join him on his mission to “make witnesses to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). We do that by sharing what he’s doing in our lives and in the lives of others—both local and global. He has called all of us to “declare to the next generation the praises of the Lord and his might, and the wonders he has performed.”

Fulfilling Jesus’ Great Commission to make disciples to the ends of the earth requires a response from all of us who are part of the family of God. We can’t afford to look the other way when the Church is suffering for their choice to follow Jesus. Together, we are the largest expression of the Son of God on earth.

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Linda Lowry

Lindy Lowry is a writer and editor on staff with Open Doors USA. Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24