Author archives: Lela Gilbert

One Christian Family’s Story of Unending Persecution in India

by Arielle Del Turco , Lela Gilbert

May 14, 2020

For many westerners, India is an exotic travel destination, offering colorful cultural sites and warm-hearted hospitable people. However, thanks to the new Hindu nationalist leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), today’s India is increasingly marred by religious conflict and Christian persecution. The Purty family’s double tragedy serves as a sad example of this. And for some Indian Christians, their story is not so unusual.

Chamu Hassa Purty was a Christian pastor from Sandih village in Jharkhand State. Late one night in October 2015, he was asked to pray for a sick child. He rushed to the family’s home, prayed for the boy and helped the parents admit him to a local hospital.

Shortly after Pastor Purty returned to his own home, eight armed men forced their way into his house. He and his wife urgently warned their daughters, Sharon and Neelam, to immediately leave the house through a back entrance.

In an interview with Morning Star News, Sharon recalled, “As we were about to move, two of them held us and brought us back to the front room. They fired at my father many times…”

Pastor Purty died of gunshot wounds that night.

After the murder, the Purty family left their village and rarely returned. But recently, because of the coronavirus, it was necessary that they be reunited in their home.

And very soon thereafter, on April 16, anti-Christian terrorists once again appeared at the Purty house. Sharon and her younger brother answered the door and found themselves confronted by two gunmen.

Is this the house of the pastor who was killed?” one of the intruders demanded.

Sharon stared at him as he ranted, “That pastor was killed but you didn’t learn your lesson. You’re still assembling in large numbers for Christian prayers. And where’s the woman who’s working as a spy?”

There are no spies here…”

At that moment Neelam, hearing angry voices, entered the room. The gunman shouted, “She’s the one! She’s the spy!” He aimed his gun and pulled the trigger.

Our father was shot to death in that same room,” Sharon Purty said later. “We cried for help as the two gunmen jumped on a motorbike and fled.”

Neelam Purty sustained serious injuries and was bleeding heavily. She was rushed to a hospital, where it was determined that a bullet was embedded in her thigh and her thighbone was shattered. Only after major surgery was she able to begin her painful recovery.

The police were notified. Evidence was recorded. But it should come as no surprise that there have been no reports of the gunmen being apprehended.

Attacks like those against the Purty family are on the rise in India due to a dangerous ideology gaining steam in the world’s largest democracy—Hindu nationalism. It asserts that India is a nation for Hindus, marginalizing Christians and other minorities.

This movement often inspires mob attacks against Christians. Such attacks, when committed by Hindus, are rarely rebuked by the present Indian government, and the legal system often fails to bring perpetrators of mob violence to justice.

In one instance earlier this year, an Indian pastor was dragged out of his church mid-service by a mob of Hindu nationalists and beaten for hours. Yet when the police arrived, they charged the pastor with violating a blasphemy law rather than charge the radicals for their violent assault.

Even Indian laws pose a threat to minorities, though according to the constitution, India is a secular country. Yet, anti-conversion laws remain on the books in several Indian states. These laws are intended to prevent forced conversions. In reality, they restrict the right to change one’s faith and discourage conversion away from Hinduism.

Some Hindu nationalist leaders are deeply paranoid about Hindus converting to Christianity or other religions. One former member of parliament and member of the BJP party called Christian missionaries “a threat to the unity of the country.”

Inflammatory rhetoric from national leaders, a growing exclusionary movement that ostracizes religious minorities, and draconian blasphemy and anti-conversion laws form a perfect storm for the persecution of Christians in India.

India’s dire religious freedom problems deserves far more international attention than they receive.

India is the world’s largest democracy and a strategic partner of the United States, so it is disappointing its government is failing to protect the fundamental human right to freedom of religion. This makes advocating for religious freedom in India a sensitive subject for some. But the United States has prioritized religious freedom in our foreign policy and must urge all governments around the world—whether friend or foe—to protect it. The United States has an obligation to speak up on behalf of religious minorities in India, even if it ruffles the feathers of our ally.

Nigeria’s Christians and their Endless Persecution

by Lela Gilbert

May 11, 2020

Christians murdered in Nigeria. Attacks on Christian villages across Nigeria. And, just this week, a Nigerian Christian leader, his wife and children shot. Across the past decade, how many times has West Africa’s largest nation been the subject of Christian persecution reports?

And today the country’s tragedy is going from bad to worse. 

In recent weeks, those of us at Family Research Council who focus on international religious freedom have written about Nigerian bloodshed in articles, discussed the country’s woes in radio interviews, and spoken at length with distressed activists. Violent attacks on homes, churches, and schools never seem to diminish. In fact, we’ve learned that more than a few concerned observers believe that Nigeria is on the verge of a Christian genocide.

In recent months the tempo of attacks on Nigeria’s believers has accelerated. It’s true that such activity is rarely reported in mainstream news broadcasts or in legacy newspapers. However, accounts of murdered, maimed, or kidnapped Nigerian Christians are increasingly headlined in religious freedom publications and on Christian websites.

Generally these stories involve rural villages with mostly Christian populations. And the reports are often much the same: well-armed jihadis suddenly appear in the dead of night. They attack house after house, breaking down doors, shouting allahu akbar. They shoot the elderly and able-bodied men. They rape, mutilate, and murder women. They kidnap young boys and girls. They torch houses, schools, and churches. They leave a handful of horrified survivors.

Over the past couple of weeks, new reports have appeared. They have usually involved victims without identities—unknown rural villagers. But on Thursday May 7, we heard from Lord David Alton, an Anglican friend in England, that one of their church’s clergymen and his family had been attacked.

Surprisingly, the grateful survivor told the story himself.

Yes, I was shot in the head, but the bullet didn’t enter. It’s a miracle,” said Rev. Canon Bayo Famonure, who is often called Uncle Bayo by his many friends at Messiah College in Nigeria’s troubled Plateau State. Canon Famonure went on to say that he was also grateful that bullets in his lower extremities had not broken any bones.
 
The three terrorists that attacked the family were Fulani jihadis—so-called “herdsmen”—armed with AK-47s and machetes. After targeting Canon Famonure, they also shot his wife Naomi in the back and his two children in the feet. The bullet that struck the clergyman’s wife barely missed her spinal cord and lodged in her back, but following emergency surgery she was on the mend. In fact, quite miraculously, so was the entire family. But the trauma will not soon be forgotten.

Nigeria’s Christians, who make up around half of the country’s population, are exhausted and distressed by their endless ordeal. They and their neighbors are also infuriated by the state and federal governments’ inability or, worse, unwillingness to defend them. After reporting on the murderous attack on Canon Famonure and his family, a local news source ended its report with a few words of poignant reflection.

Hapless residents are butchered in their sleep, their houses set ablaze and farmlands destroyed….and the government calls for calm. For many…it’s a miracle to go to bed at night and wake up at the break of dawn.”

When we pray, let’s remember to pray for Nigeria and her brutally mistreated Christians. Although many miles away, those believers belong to our spiritual family.

North Korea’s Horrifying Human Rights Record

by Lela Gilbert

April 27, 2020

In recognition of North Korea Freedom Week, Family Research Council is raising awareness about the plight of Christians in the world’s most secretive country. This three-part blog series highlights the dire human rights and religious freedom situation in North Korea.

Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un rules over the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) with an iron fist. His proudest accomplishment is ownership of a deadly nuclear arsenal. A close second may very well be his horrifying human rights record. The U.S. State Department’s 2019 Country Report on Human Rights Practices features a nearly unbelievable catalog of the Kim regime’s abuses.

Freedom of religion does not exist in North Korea. And the regime is particularly hostile to Christianity. Year after year, Open Doors identifies the secretive “republic” as the world’s worst persecutor of Christians on its annual World Watch List. According to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) 2019 report:

…Anyone caught practicing religion or even suspected of harboring religious views in private is subject to severe punishment. The government has been known to arrest, torture, imprison, and even execute religious believers and their family members, whether or not they are similarly religious. There are an estimated 80,000–120,000 political prisoners currently languishing in North Korea’s notoriously harsh labor camps, as many as 50,000 of whom may be Christians….

Meanwhile, in a shameful demonstration of 21st century idolatry, North Korea’s regime demands that all spiritual devotion be directed to Kim Jong Un and no one else.

Susanne Scholte, longtime Chairman of the North Korea Freedom Coalition, explains that the required worship of the North Korean leader is a well-organized counterfeit of Christianity, called Juche. And although the North Korean regime denies that it is a religion, it contains religious tenets, holy places, holy days—and unholy practices. 

First, if it is known that you’re a Christian,” she continues, “you will most certainly be tortured and likely executed, or sent to prison camp to suffer a slower death. We know from testimonies that if you even confess that you’ve came in contact with a Christian, you’ll likely be imprisoned.”

According to Ms. Scholte’s research, all this is because Kim Il Song, Kim Jong Il, and now Kim Jong Un have set themselves up as gods. Faith in Jesus Christ is perceived as a direct attack on the Kim family.

Right now, the rest of the world is asking a few key questions about North Korea. First, how is Kim Jong Un’s health? Rumors of critical illness and even death are circulating, and not for the first time.

Second, what has been COVID-19’s impact on North Korea? The government has denied its existence in the country. But on April 17, Radio Free Asia reported, “Ruling Party Lecturers Admit COVID-19 is Spreading in North Korea, Contradicting Official Claims.” And on April 22, a New York Times op-ed stated, “There are no cases here, Kim Jong-un’s government claims, while acting as if its survival were at stake.”

Like the coronavirus, DPRK’s nuclear arms are a grave danger to the world. But the political and religious persecution happening inside North Korea are also matters of life and death. Agonizing torture and mass murder are taking place there as we speak. For Christians locked up in the gulag, the threat of annihilation is not a rumor. It is a terrifying reality they face every day.

North Korea’s Christians are members of our spiritual family. And it is high time for us to be interceding for them—for their health, their survival, and their deliverance from despotic abuse.  This week—April 26 through May 2—has been designated as a period of focused prayer for North Korea. And April 28 will be devoted to prayer and fasting.

Will you join us in prayer for North Korea’s Christians?

Why We Remember the Armenian Genocide

by Arielle Del Turco , Lela Gilbert

April 24, 2020

On April 24, 1915, heavily armed troops rounded up hundreds of Armenian professors, lawyers, doctors, clergymen, and other elites in Constantinople (now Istanbul). These highly respected members of the community were jailed, tortured, and massacred. That April date marks the beginning of the annihilation campaign carried out by the Ottoman Empire known today as the Armenian Genocide.

The massacres were carried out in the most brutal ways.

After those first arrests and the subsequent murder of many husbands and fathers, family members who survived—mostly women, children, the ill, and the elderly—were forced to embark upon what has been described as a “concentration camp on foot.” They were told they would be “relocated.” In reality, they embarked on a death march—herded like animals, with whips and cudgels and at gunpoint.

These captives were provided with little or no food and water. Infants and the elderly were the first to die. Surviving mothers were gripped with insanity, helplessly watching their babies suffer and succumb. Eyewitness accounts and heart-wrenching photographs remain today. Corpses littered the roads; nude women were crucified; dozens of bodies floated in rivers. Soldiers proudly posed for pictures with decapitated heads or piles of skulls.

These photographs provide evidence of the gruesome reality forced upon Armenians due to their ethno-religious identity. An estimated 600,000 to 1.5 million Armenians fell victim to the Ottoman government’s determination to eliminate Christian Armenians and to secure Muslim Turkish dominance in the region.

Henry Morgenthau, U.S. Ambassador to Turkey from 1913-16, recounted in his memoir:

The Central Government now announced its intention of gathering the two million or more Armenians living in the several sections of the empire and transporting them to this desolate and inhospitable region… As a matter of fact, the Turks never had the slightest idea of reestablishing the Armenians in this new country. They knew that the great majority would never reach their destination and that those who did would either die of thirst and starvation, or be murdered by the wild Mohammedan desert tribes…. When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race…

Shrouded under the cover of World War I, the genocide changed the region forever. There were once over 2 million Armenians in Turkey. By 1922, only 387,800 remained.

April 24, 2020, marks the first annual Remembrance Day since the United States’ House of Representatives and Senate both passed resolutions officially recognizing that the Armenian massacres were, in fact, a genocide.

Nonetheless, remembering the Armenian Genocide remains a sensitive issue because, unlike other 20th century atrocities, that annihilation continues to be disputed by an influential contemporary government, Turkey. And today’s Turkish strongman, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an open Islamist, adamantly claims that the Armenian deaths were simply the result of World War I casualties. When the U.S. House of Representatives voted to officially affirm the massacres as genocide, Erdogan declared the declaration “worthless” and the “biggest insult” to the Turkish people.

Some historians insist that Armenia’s murdered Christians were “enemies of the Turkish State.” However, most agree that they were not killed because they were Armenian. They were killed for explicitly religious reasons: because they were Christians.

Sadly, even now, massacres due to religious identity are taking place in our world. In Nigeria, a slow-motion genocide is unfolding as Boko Haram and Muslim Fulani herdsmen ramp up attacks against Christians. In Myanmar, the Burmese military’s brutal efforts to drive out the Rohingya Muslim minority in recent years has killed at least 10,000 people and left almost 800,000 displaced. And in 2016, the United States officially declared the 2014 Islamic State attacks on Iraq’s Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities a genocide.

Why remember genocides of the past? Because they remind us how fragile civilizations have always been. Earlier tragedies should spur us to make consistently thoughtful arguments defending the inherent dignity of all human beings. And when attacks around the world fall along religious lines, the fundamental human right of religious freedom must be articulated and protected.

Today, many people are probably unfamiliar with the tragic massacres of Armenians that took place in Turkey over a century ago. However, students of World War II may be aware of it due to an infamous quote attributed to Adolf Hitler: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?” His question implies that the failure to remember atrocities of the past gives ill-intentioned leaders confidence that history will not remember their own misdeeds. Perhaps this is the most compelling reason societies should never forget the atrocities that occurred before their time—including the Armenian Genocide.

Arielle Del Turco is the Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council.

Lela Gilbert is Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom at Family Research Council.

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