Andrew Garfield finds Jesus in SILENCE

25 04 2017

     I write a lot about loving your neighbor, or even loving your enemy, in the context of Christian-Muslim relations, where everything from prejudice to outright violent persecution is a daily reality for millions of people of faith. This crucible of the human experience is not lost on Hollywood either.

But rather than make a politically controversial film about Muslims persecuting Christians or vice-versa, Director Martin Scorsese brought to life the horrifying persecution of Christians at the hands of the Japanese shogunate 500 years ago in his film entitled SILENCE.

In the film, Andrew Garfield plays the role of a Jesuit priest tasked with searching for his mentor (Liam Neeson) who is rumored to have abandoned the Christian faith. To prepare for the role, Andrew studied diligently with a Jesuit father, James Martin. In a fascinating interview, Andrew shares that those studies became more important to him than the film, and what transpired through the studies surprised him.

“What was really easy was falling in love with this person, was falling in love with Jesus Christ. That was the most surprising thing,” Andrew says.

Andrew wasn’t a Christian when he started the film. But he recognized a certain pain in his heart. “The main thing that I wanted to heal, that I brought to Jesus, that I brought to the Exercises [the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola], was this feeling of not-enough-ness,” he said. But in meditating on Jesus’ life and words he found himself being transformed.

“I feel like this is what God is showing me,” he said. “I’m praying that I’m freer to offer myself vulnerably…and that these other voices, whether they’re internal or external, don’t have the same power over that flame, over the ability to offer that purest, vulnerable, cracked open heart…in service of God, in service of the greater good, in service of love, in service of the divine….If I can make storytelling a service, if I can be of service, and be as humble as I possibly can while doing it…”

He concludes, “There were so many things in the Exercises that changed me and transformed me, that showed me who I was…and where I believe God wants me to be.”

Meeting Jesus does tend to have that effect on people…

Back to the film…I absolutely loved it! The story presented two levels of religious conundrums. At the first level, Garfield’s character is challenged to deny his faith in Christ or die. He chooses his faith over his own life.

But then a more difficult choice is presented—to deny his faith in Christ, or others will die. This young Jesuit priest has to wrestle with whether it’s more Christlike to publicly bear witness to your faith though it will cost others their lives, or to sacrifice what is most precious to you (your public faith) in order to save others.

I won’t spoil the movie with what choice Garfield’s character makes. But I’m curious which choice YOU think is better—if you’re told to deny your faith or ten people will be executed, what do you think Jesus would want you to do? Post your comments below.

And then, check out the movie SILENCE.





Are Christians Persecuted more than Muslims?

1 04 2017

Indonesian church burned by angry extremists (www.newson6.com)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel thinks so, calling Christianity “the most persecuted religion in the world.” Other Western leaders have made similar statements. But I began to wonder, is it true? So the research began…

The first thing I discovered is that in terms of how many nations persecute those of another religion, Christianity and Islam are neck-and-neck. In measuring both government harassment and social harassment over the last ten years, Christianity and Islam are ranked #1 and #2 every year, frequently changing places, but averaging persecution in about 80 nations of the world. In terms of where they are persecuted, it seems to be a tie.

The major difference I found is in how, or to what extent, they are persecuted. While it may be difficult to get mosque permits in the US just as it is difficult to get church permits in Indonesia, there are other more severe forms of persecution studied that show clearly Christians are suffering more greatly overall than Muslims. These variances are catalogued as “Low, High, Very High” or sometimes “Extreme.” Muslim majority nations have numerous cases of long prison sentences or angry mobs beating someone to death because they questioned a religious teacher, shared any thoughts deemed “anti-Islamic,” or converted from Islam to Christianity, whereas it’s very rare to hear of such cases in Christian majority nations.

For example, in Brian Grim’s insightful TED talk, he notes that the disparity between High or Very High Government Favoritism in the Middle East and N. Africa is 95%, while the rest of the world is only 12 %. Similarly, Sectarian or Communal Violence in the Middle East and N. Africa is 50%, while the rest of the world is only 11%. These regions of High or Very High persecution are almost all Muslim majority nations persecuting their minorities, including smaller Muslim groups but especially Christians. And when the government favors one religion to the detriment of other religions, it tends to result in a higher rate of social hostilities. In many cases, heinous crimes against minorities even go unpunished.

In every list I found of the worst offenders of religious persecution, Muslim-majority nations dominated the list.

  • US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in their 2016 report listed 17 nations of highest concern and 11 of those are Muslim majority, with a 12th nation, Nigeria, devastated by the Islamic extremists Boko Haram. The only Christian majority nation on the list, Central African Republic, has been torn apart by civil war. Of the 10 nations of high concern, 6 are Muslim majority, none are Christian majority.
  • The Pew Forum’s 2014 report showed that the Middle East and North Africa are roughly three times more religiously restricted by governments, and experience roughly five times more social hostility than the Christian majority nations. Combining these two features of persecution and applying it just to the world’s twenty-five largest nations, Pew Forum ranks the large nations with greatest religious persecution as follows: Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Russia and Turkey—again, 4 of 5 are Muslim majority.
  • Open Doors 2017 World Watch List claims that persecution of Christians has, for the third straight year, reached a record high. They count 215 million Christians that suffered high, very high or extreme persecution last year. Of the Top Ten nations with Extreme persecution, all except North Korea are Muslim majority nations.

This is a difficult subject to talk about with my Muslim friends, mainly because much of the media in the West, and many Christians, have concluded that the problem is Islam, that religious persecution and violence is an essential part of the Islamic faith. Most of my Muslim friends do not actively persecute those of other religions, and they would claim persecution and violence are not a part of their faith. So who is right?

I would like to make an appeal to both sides—

  • To my CHRISTIAN friends: Unless you want to claim as part of the Christian faith the KKK, the Serbian Christian genocide of Bosnian Muslims, the Christian-majority Central African Republic’s slaughter of minority Muslim groups, and a host of other historic examples when evil men used religion as an excuse for violence, please don’t assume that your Muslim co-workers and neighbors will support violence in the name of Islam either. Ask about their feelings—they may be more horrified than you are. In fact, they may personally know victims of Islamic extremist violence. Please remember that Muslims are also victims of horrific persecution at times, such as the massacre of the Rohingya in Myanmar. And please speak up for justice for the minorities around you.
  • To my MUSLIM friends: If you live in a Muslim majority nation, it’s time to stand up and demand justice for your minorities. Keeping silent or claiming ignorance of what others do in the name of Islam does not reflect the character of the Most Merciful, Most Compassionate. One of the reasons that extremist groups thrive is that they’re freely allowed to preach their poisonous ideologies. Meanwhile, governments show favoritism to one religion over others. And the majority of peace-loving Muslims turn a blind eye. If you don’t want your religion criticized by others, do something to change this situation.

Let’s work together to stop all types of persecution against all types of people, and work towards a just and true peace.