By Jeff M. Sellers, Editor
LOS ANGELES (Morning Star News) – Today, Sept. 30, marks one year since Morning Star News began distributing news of Christians persecuted for their faith. We had planned to debut the only independent news service exclusively covering persecution of Christians on Oct. 1, 2012, but when a grenade blast at a church in Nairobi, Kenya killed a 9-year-old boy and injured several others on Sunday, Sept. 30, we sprang into action.
Subsequently the news service website went live on Nov. 16, 2012, inaugurated by the following commentary from the editor, republished here for our one-year anniversary – and for the benefit of the hundreds of new subscribers who have signed up since then:
At times some Jewish friends, astonished, cannot help asking me how Christians can be so indifferent toward religiously motivated violence done to Christians. I reply that it seems Christians are largely unaware of persecution of Christians; during my seven-year stint as editor of persecution news service Compass Direct News, I was surprised to learn how few Christians knew their brethren in, say, India, were being regularly attacked.
But the problem goes deeper than that. A recent nationwide poll shows 74 percent of church-goers want to hear more about the persecuted church, but clergy and media believe otherwise – most pastors especially in the United States back away from the “downer” of persecution, and most media assume their audiences want to hear about anything besides religious rights violations. When not highlighting the trivialities that feed their monstrous appetite for website page views, mainstream media will occasionally let religiously motivated aggression come to light, though invariably miscast as “sectarian strife.”
Systemic biases, then, are at work now as they were before, during and after the Holocaust. In his heart-wrenching account of surviving the Holocaust, “Night,” Elie Wiesel shows how even his tightly knit, childhood community of Orthodox Jews in 1942 ignored a co-religionist who was witness to Nazi atrocities. Two years later, 15-year-old Wiesel and his family were rounded up like cattle and taken to Auschwitz.
Very quickly – not long after seeing Jewish children thrown into a fire pit – young Wiesel felt he had entered into a night that, in his soul, would never end. Such darkness is not something that Christians today wish to willingly enter, but Wiesel has devoted his life to showing that to ignore it is to become an accomplice.
When I and other foreign correspondents met with Wiesel in Madrid, Spain in the mid-1990s, our respective newspapers’ response to the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and his message – “Never forget” – was somewhat disparate. A few of the reporters clearly revered him; my editor back in the states, however, seemed to view him as a kind of publicity hound and said not to worry about writing anything up.
Was systemic bias at work against bringing religious freedom violations to light? The answer is nuanced but essentially “Yes,” and it is worth noting that it took decades for Wiesel’s witness to be widely heeded. It was Catholic novelist François Mauriac who helped him get his account published in France, and that took three years. When Mauriac first met Wiesel in 1955, even he had to halt his talk of Jesus long enough to hear the exasperated Holocaust survivor uncharacteristically snap that he had seen hundreds of children suffer more than Jesus did.
Mauriac wept. After he helped get “La Nuit” published – and wrote the preface, which reflects a Christian perspective on what was for Wiesel the death of God – Wiesel’s literary agent in New York then toiled two years before finding a publisher that would overlook U.S. readers’ more optimistic tastes and print 3,000 copies. It took three years to sell those.
Raising awareness about religious persecution is not an easy sell; that’s one reason this news service is a non-profit enterprise. It does not exist to sell information, but to shed light. Its reporters, some of whom risk their lives in the undertaking, regard it as a duty and calling to shine a light on the violators and to be the first glimmer of hope for Christians suffering for their faith. What victims enduring the night of religious persecution need, we believe, is the bright morning star.
As Wiesel – who struggled toward his dawn and rebuilt his view of God – said in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech: “What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs.”
Photo: Auschwitz-Birkenau, main track (C. Puisney)