Skip to main content

Mindy BelzVoices Mindy Belz

Unbreakable bonds

Why ISIS targets churches

Unbreakable bonds

A Sri Lankan couple mourns next to the coffins of their family members, victims of the Easter bombing in Colombo, Sri Lanka. (Eranga Jayawardena/AP)

By one count there are 138 Islamist terror groups in the world specifically targeting Christians and Jews. One hundred thirty-eight. 

They range from the better-known ISIS affiliates in the Middle East to the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, the Caucasus Emirate of Russia, and the Jemaah Islamiyah affiliates of the Far East. 

That helps to explain why grotesque attacks on worshippers celebrating Easter are becoming ritual. Since 2012, about 500 Christian worshippers have been killed in six terror attacks during the Easter season, including the bombings in Sri Lanka this Easter that left more than 300 killed and 500-plus injured. The local group National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ) appears to have linked with ISIS to coordinate the simultaneous bombings at three churches and three hotels.

The persistent threat of violence to Christians is so poorly comprehended that we must keep talking about it.

This latest came less than a week after a blaze at Notre Dame reminded us that church buildings in an instant—along with the life, testimony, and history they represent—may be reduced to ashes. Sri Lanka with its bloody pews and endless parade of caskets reminded us what we were spared in Paris: carnage.

Christians are “hardly the only religious constituency at risk,” pointed out journalist and persecution expert John L. Allen Jr. The New Zealand mosque shootings in March that killed 50 people in Christchurch are a pointed example. But the persistent threat of violence to Christians is so poorly comprehended—and so pitifully addressed by many in authority—that we must keep talking about it.

While thought leaders in the United States fumble, let’s hand it to one British paper, The Guardian, which ran a day-after-Easter editorial titled, “The Guardian view on religious freedom: protect believers.” It summarized the awful implications well:

“To target Christian churches on their holiest day of the year is not only an attempt to kill as many families as possible, but also to maximise the shock and demoralising effect of the attack, a tactic familiar from the sectarian wars in Iraq. If this atrocity was perpetrated by jihadis, as seems likely, it is also an attempt to bring about a clash of civilisations.”

Even the non-Christian must acknowledge the jihadists want to destroy the foundations they live by. Yet for politically correct thinkers in the West, it’s hard to see another important reason Christianity is a target: It brings unity where division once reigned. 

One news account made this observation: “Only a small fraction of mainly Buddhist Sri Lanka is Catholic, but the religion is seen as a unifying force because it includes people from both the Tamil and majority Sinhalese ethnic groups.”

This is significant because Sri Lanka endured a brutal civil war for 26 years between these two ethnic groups, the majority Sinhalese and the Tamils. The mostly Hindu Tamil Tigers fought for independence against government forces mostly composed of Sinhalese, who are Buddhists. 

The three churches attacked on April 21 appear carefully chosen: St. Anthony’s Catholic church in Colombo was in the midst of a Tamil language service. St. Sebastian’s in Negombo draws an international and mixed group of worshippers in a tourist area, and Zion Church in Batticaloa—an evangelical Protestant congregation—includes Tamils, former Sinhalese Buddhists, and Muslim converts. Such coming together can’t coexist with the terrorists’ mission to conquer by stirring strife.

Where can torn-apart people come together and be healed except in worship? Consider the brick-kiln laborers and London-educated lawyers of Pakistan who assemble in Peshawar’s Kohati Gate churches. Or the Kikuyus and Luos of Kenya who marry one another in Nairobi megachurches. Or the Sunni Muslim and Orthodox Christian who sit side by side in a Damascus cathedral because, after a dozen centuries of warring, both have been won to Christ.

It is through the church the “manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the rulers and authorities,” Paul wrote to the Ephesians, urging Christians to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

That is why ISIS and a hundred-plus terror groups attack churches. And that, my friends, is a bond not even a thousand suicide bombers can take away.