2 July 2022

Reporting omission puzzles 

Nigeria recorded the most deaths of martyrs. Picture: iStock

Barney Zwartz 

10 March 2022

More than one in seven Christians around the world, or some 360 million, are at daily risk, according to Open Doors’ 2022 list of the most dangerous countries in which to be a Christian. 

Yet, oddly, I could not find any mention of this important report in any of Australia’s mainstream newspapers, and not many around the world. Christian media certainly picked it up, but otherwise it was largely ignored. 

It is inconceivable how this persecution escapes the radar of mainstream media. Secularists often see Christianity merely as a colonialist white religion – oppressor, not oppressed – which is unpardonable ignorance, as by far the majority of the world’s Christians are neither white nor privileged. By and large, the Western government have abandoned them. 

Take Nigeria, where by far the most martyrs were killed – 4650, or 79 per cent of martyrs – followed by Pakistan (11 per cent). Mysteriously, the mainstream media seldom recognises the religious nature of the genocide in northern Nigeria, preferring to describe it in terms of nomadic herding culture against agricultural culture. It’s true that this is a factor. But the Fulani Muslim herdsmen and Boko Haram are specifically engaged in jihad, supported and supplied by Islamic State, and the key reason is hatred of Christianity. 

In contrast, the real danger to life and livelihood of so many believers renders it absurd hyperbole when Western Christians complain that they are persecuted – a constant refrain, for example, from Trump’s Christian Right. We certainly face increasing challenges, as Jesus promised all who follow him, but we are not dragged into the street and beaten to death or executed on trumped up blasphemy charges as in Pakistan, nor do we have religious tattoos removed with acid as in Egypt. We can get and keep jobs, an education, and we are not targeted to be denied clean water, food or health care. 

Open Doors ranks the most dangerous countries in which to be a Christian as follows: Afghanistan,  North Korea, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, Eritrea, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iran, India, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Maldives, China, Qatar, Vietnam, and Egypt. The rankings are based on violent incidents but also social and government pressure. 

If you explicitly want to help the persecuted church, three welfare and advocacy agencies I recommend are Open Doors, the Barnabas Fund and Voice of the Martyrs.  

From the persecuted to the not nearly persecuted enough. I can think of only two groups who receive reverential attention despite their manifest imperfections. One is cult leaders, religious or otherwise, and the other is weather forecasters. 

I’m a little obsessive about rain (my favourite weather). I kept a record in January of rainfall promised by the Bureau of Meteorology and the amount actually received in my area. I noted dates when the BOM said there was a 50 per cent or better chance of rain. On five days there was a 90 to 95 per cent chance of rain; our total on four of them was zero. In all, the BOM said the chance of rain was 50 per cent or higher on 13 days; we had no rain on nine of them. 

Now, of course, I believe in science and evidence. So for my weather forecasts I stick my head out the window. But if I’m complaining about the BOM (which I am), I have to concede where the real stupidity lies here. It’s with me, who knows all this yet still fanatically consults the BOM every day, often more than once. As Eliphaz the Temanite tells Job, it is God who sends the rain (not the BOM).  

When not exerting myself to the utmost on behalf of the Anglican Church, I divide a good deal of time between firtling, spoffling and tantling. I’m sure many of you do the same. For the uninitiated, to firtle is to look busy despite doing very little, to spoffle is to be busy on a task of little importance (also to fuss), and to tantle is to be busy but not achieve anything.  

My brief etymological investigations revealed nothing about spoffle or tantle, while firtle comes from ancient Cumbrian dialect. But they are all old English, and it is interesting how important it must have been in the feudal world to at least look busy.  Not, perhaps, unlike today. One of my favourite lockdown internet memes claimed: “I feel sorry for all those husbands who kept telling their wives they’d get round to it when they had time.”  

Barney Zwartz is media adviser to Archbishop Philip Freier and a senior fellow of the Centre for Public Christianity. 

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