This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

The world’s most persecuted religion

There are two options when a member of any of the world’s major religions hears about persecution of its own members: strike back by persecuting the persecutor or tolerance. Contrary to what many believe about even the most exclusive of the world’s religions, Miroslav Volf contends the world’s major religions have within them the resources for tolerance. We are looking at the new and important book Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World. As I have said, Volf is anticipating the future of our world, and his voice needs to be heard and engaged.

One of the tensions some feel is that tolerant countries tolerate people who are intolerant who use the tolerance as a platform for hatred and acts of persecution, intimidation or terrorism. Thus, some decry the intolerance of intolerance. Some come right back to fight against the intolerance of intolerance as intolerant!

What is the world’s most persecuted religion (the answer ought to have our nation’s leaders fighting for Christian rights and tolerance and it ought to have our electorate more involved in asking, “Which of the candidates will fight for a more tolerant world?”)? Christianity. Read this from Volf:

It is well known that anti-Semitism, in the restricted sense of haifespread. It is perhaps less known that Christians are the leading target of persecution and discrimination globally, with Muslims a close second. Islamophobia, a cumbersome and imprecise term, has now been joined by the even more cumbersome Christianophobia — and for good reason. In the British Report of the All Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom (2013), we read: “It is estimated that there are at least 250 million Christians suffering persecution today, from harassment, intimidation and imprisonment to torture and execution.” In terms of numbers, that’s as if the entire population of Brazil and Argentina combined were under persecution; and that’s one persecuted Christian out of every eight or nine….

Religions are under attack in part because they themselves attack, because the intolerant attitudes and practices that each religion often inspires keep the spiral of animosity toward all religions turning (98).

There can be no question that globalization presses against the rightful dimensions of the intolerance of world religions’ major claims. Religions resist globalizations diminishment of faith. Leading to three major questions:

First, can adherents of a world religion learn to respect adherents of other religious and humanistic ways of life even while strenuously disagreeing with them?

Second, can adherents of world religions embrace freedom of religion and a-religion and support pluralistic democracy?

Finally, can democracies be “religion friendly” — set up such that they are equally fair to religious as to a-religious ways of life — and therefore genuinely pluralistic? (102)

Volf’s big picture is this:

I will advocate not just for freedom of religion but for respect for some aspects of religions other than our own and as well as for toleration of the aspects of religions we find ourselves unable to respect — neither of which stances precludes moral rejection or even legal proscription of what is intolerable (106).

How can we get along in a globalized world where religions make strong claims of truth? Tolerance, not war; respect, not disrespect; affirmation of one’s truth without denying to others their freedom.

The issue is religious freedom as central to all world religions. Volf’s point is clear:

The deduction of religious freedom I have offered here is based not on respect for human dignity and on “personal autonomy” but on the sovereignty of the transcendent call and the responsibility of human beings to heed it (112).

[Thus,] a world religion that curtails the freedom of religion is in deep tension with itself, and it may even be self-contradictory (112).

There are, Volf argues, three dimensions of “respect” of another person’s religion: (1) we honor the integrity of another religion, (2) we critically engage its truth claims, and (3) we recognize its positive moral effects.

Scot McKnight is the author of The Jesus Creed. He blogs at, where this post originally appeared.

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