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Can Christians survive in Pakistan?

Can Christians survive in Pakistan?

By Chris Sugden
Evangelicals Now
May 2016

The Easter Sunday bombing in Lahore in which 74 people, mainly women and children, died and 320 were injured, is the latest in a long line of attacks on the Christian community in Pakistan. Not all victims were Christian, but the Taliban have confirmed that they were the intended target. Pakistan has a population of 190 million people with 2 million Christians.

Interviewed on BBC after the bombing, Bishop Nazir Ali said: 'Legal discrimination against Christians was embedded in law in Pakistan 25--30 years ago. There is also social discrimination in employment, housing opportunities and schooling.'

Bishop Nazir Ali, who was in Lahore over Easter for a wedding, wrote: 'We need to address the underlying issues, which are about common citizenship, one law for all, the equality of all under the law and the prevention of the teaching of hate in textbooks, religious schools and by some religious leaders.'

But for this to happen the Christian community is needed as the vital leaven in the lump, the yeast in the dough of Pakistan society. Can it do this?

Fleeing under pressure

Many Christians are fleeing Pakistan, often to Thailand, the nearest border. How long can the Christian community last, here and elsewhere? In March, the Evangelical Fellowship of India reported 177 cases of persecution against Christians. While the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church, what resources do vulnerable Christian communities have, not only to survive, but to resist and even bounce back to be a blessing to their societies?

Research into resilience

The South Asia research centre of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life has launched a research programme to identify the conditions of vulnerability and the status of resilience of Christian communities in areas where they have faced persistent persecution for several decades. It notes that the concept of resilience has become a prominent feature of contemporary discourse in business, psychology, and disaster management.

The American Psychological Association defines resilience of an individual as the 'process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress -- such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors'. The Community Resilience and Research Institute defines community resilience as the 'capability to anticipate risk, limit impact, and bounce back rapidly through survival, adaptability, evolution, and growth in the face of turbulent change'.

This definition focusses on: 1) Foresight and apparatus to 'anticipate risks'; 2) Networks and infrastructure needed to 'limit impact'; 3) Ability to 'bounce back'; 4) Leadership and perspective needed to analyse the rapidly-changing environment, learn and plan for the future.

A Christian approach

Spiritual communities have more resources for resilience. Numerous Bible verses call Christians to be a resilient community.

Joseph named his second son Ephraim as a sign of God blessing him with resilience. He proclaimed in Genesis 41.52: 'It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.' Paul in Romans 5.3--5 says that 'suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope'. And in Romans 8:28 he says that '...we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose'. James 1:12 promises: 'Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.' 2 Corinthians 4: 8,9 declares that, 'We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.'

Thus Christians are called to be resilient in the face of persecution; to love the Lord and hope for deliverance.

Resilience as a capability

A more holistic understanding of resilience adds Amartya Sen's and Marta Nussbaum's Capability Approach to the above definition.

Freedom to achieve well-being is about what people (known as 'functionings') are able to do (doings) and be (beings) and thus the kind of life they are able to lead. 'Doings' include travelling, caring for a child, voting, etc. and 'beings' include being well-nourished, well-educated, etc. According to the capability approach, ends of well-being such as freedom, justice, and development should be conceptualised in terms of people's 'capabilities'. These 'capabilities' are the opportunities that enable 'functioning' to achieve those values. Other accounts of well-being focus exclusively on subjective categories (such as happiness) or on the material means to well-being (such as resources like income or wealth). Rather 'resilience' is a capability that allows functionings to achieve their values. For Christians in India and Pakistan, these values should be a) security from threats and persecution and b) freedom to worship as guaranteed in the constitution.


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