Evil may issue a challenge one day. We may be asked to renounce our faith, whether it is based in Islam, Judaism, Christianity or any other religion. Only at that moment would each of us know, for sure, whether we would die before denying what we believe to appease a maniac.
For people killed last Thursday at Oregon's Umpqua Community College, it wasn't some distant hypothetical. A deranged gunman asked them, "Are you Christian?" Those who said "yes" were told "you are going to see God in just about one second." Then he shot them in the head.
In other countries around the globe, Christians live in constant fear of being killed for their beliefs. A cover story in July's New York Times Magazine explained how Christians face persecution in more countries than any other religious group. In the Middle East, executions, bombings and exodus have reduced the population of Christians in Iraq by more than 1 million since 2003.
"ISIL has put a spotlight on the issue," said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., as quoted by the magazine. Her parents are from the region and she advocates on behalf of Eastern Christians.
"Christianity is under an existential threat," Eshoo said, meaning the religion may be cleansed from parts of the Middle East.
Bashar Warda, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Erbil, northwest of Baghdad, lives it each day.
"Since 2003, we've lost priests, bishops and more than 60 churches were bombed," Warda told the Times Magazine.
In the information age, anti-religion hostilities are not easily contained within regions. The United States and other Western countries are grappling with the phenomenon of radicalization of young people willing to leave comfortable suburban homes to join distant holy wars.
"Through January this year, at least 100 Americans were thought to have traveled to join jihadists in Syria and Iraq, among nearly 4,000 Westerners who had done so," reported the June 27 New York Times. "The reach of the Islamic State's recruiting effort has been multiplied by an enormous cadre of operators on social media. The terrorist group itself maintains a 24-hour online operation, and its effectiveness is vastly extended by larger rings of sympathetic volunteers and fans who pass on its messages and viewpoint, reeling in potential recruits, analysts say."
We don't know who directly influenced last week's anti-Christian Umpqua College killer. Authorities report he was known for expressing anti-religion hostilities on social media. This was a hate crime in which people died because they associated with a demographic under siege around the globe.
It is not the first hate massacre and it won't be the last. On June 17, a killer took nine lives at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. It wasn't only a crime against Christians, it was a crime against African-Americans. The killer confessed to police he committed the shooting in hopes of igniting a race war.
We live in evil, dangerous times. Martin Luther King Jr., told us only love can conquer hate: "Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." King, like so many others, was killed for his beliefs.
The Bible is replete with scripture that tells us to love our enemies, and to conquer persecution and hatred with love.
Christians, Jews and others throughout the West must stand vigilant and strong against hostile forces that seek our destruction. We must protect ourselves against acts of aggression. But we should do so as a culture that values and respects innocent life. We should do so in a context of love, even for those who hate us. It is the best way to honor those who gave their lives last week to defend their love for Christ.
REPRINTED FROM THE COLORADO SPRINGS GAZETTE