There are many disturbing scenes in the powerful 2004 film Hotel Rwanda, which centers on one man’s response to the 1994 genocide of up to 1 million Tutsi and moderate Hutu people. One scene in particular has stayed with me, not because of what it showed of the slaughter, but because of what it revealed about the human heart. The movie’s hero, Paul Rusesabagina, is speaking with a journalist named Jack from an American news network:
Paul Rusesabagina: I am glad that you have shot this footage and that the world will see it. It is the only way we have a chance that people might intervene.
Jack: Yeah, and if no one intervenes, is it still a good thing to show?
Paul Rusesabagina: How can they not intervene when they witness such atrocities?
Jack: I think if people see this footage they'll say, “Oh, my God, that’s horrible,” and then go on eating their dinners.
I am afraid that we believers in America are perilously close to turning away from atrocities all around us as we return to our own relatively minor affairs. Think of the momentous events going on across the globe today, particularly those that affect the lives of Christians.
• In Nigeria, Christians in the city of Jos waited in abject fear after an announcement that over 100 suicide bombers, fully armed, had arrived in their city. Despite the fact that there had been recent attacks in which churches had been burned and many of their fellow believers killed, these Christians bravely decided to participate in Sunday worship. Sixty-five of them were killed.
• In Syria, as law and order breaks down, thousands of Christians are fleeing the country. They fear that if Islamic militants come to power, they will face brutal persecution.
• In Iran, pressure on believers has intensified in recent months, with several home raids and dozens of arrests. Iran’s Revolutionary Court recently sentenced Farshid Fathi, a believer who has been interned at Tehran’s Evin Prison since 2010, to six years in prison.
Not only do we in the West have short attention spans. We are losing the ability to connect with others — including our own brothers and sisters in Christ. Imagine if, while you are watching TV, a neighbor bursts in to inform you that your parents and children are being held hostage. Your response? To turn up the volume and resume watching your program?
While evangelicals are rightly concerned about the economy, the sanctity of human life and other important issues, the topic of religious freedom worldwide almost never comes up.
Unfortunately, we have fallen prey to a materialistic mindset that numbs us to the world around us. This beguiling but ultimately deadly worldview has led us down a path where the only things we care about are those that personally benefit us. It’s not that we have a personal hostility toward others. It’s just that they simply don’t cross our radar screens.
We are ill-equipped to think about issues and trends that require us to step outside of ourselves. We are mentally and emotionally removed from the pain that others experience as a daily fact of their existence because we are fixated on our own pleasures. We are not only spiritually asleep; we are on the verge of becoming comatose.
This is not only a shame; it is shameful. As the French philosopher Blaise Pascal said, “It is not shameful for a man to succumb to pain and it is shameful to succumb to pleasure.”
Now I’m not saying that we are completely numb to persecution — not at all! The fact is, we are beginning to see it right here in the United States, which has always been a beacon for religious liberty — and we are righteously upset about it. But we need to keep this opposition in perspective. Comparatively, we have stubbed our collective toe on a secular society and started screaming. But our brothers and sisters have had their feet chopped off — and we have been mostly deaf to their cries.
This is spiritual deafness of a disturbing order. At the risk of mixing my metaphors, it is like leprosy in our souls: First we become numb to pain, the pain of other members of the Body of Christ; then we become horribly disfigured; then we become a horror to those around us. Friends, we are almost there.
Jesus says our faith is inexorably linked to how we treat “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine.” This is why we at Open Doors are raising the alarm from Revelation 3:2: “Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God.”
We are a materially bloated, spiritually weak church, but all hope is not lost — at least not yet. There are many things we can do right now. Here are some suggestions: We can join the One With Them team, which starts this month; we can take the 5 Minute Challenge to pray five minutes a week for each of country on the World Watch List. There are other action steps, working through Open Doors or other Christian organizations.
But the first thing we must do is both amazingly simple and amazingly difficult: Repent. Friends, will you take that step with me … today?
Carl Moeller is president and CEO of Open Doors USA, based in Santa Ana, Calif. It is the American arm of Open Doors International, a worldwide ministry supporting the religious and humanitarian rights of Christians since 1955. For more information, go to www.OpenDoorsUSA.org.
Publication date: July 31, 2012