By Gordon L. Heath
A common assumption among Western Christians is to think that the displacement of Christianity from the center to the margins is a new phenomenon. A cursory survey of Christian history, however, quickly reveals that there have been many places and times when Christianity faced precipitous decline or even demise.
The vibrant church of North Africa that produced famous martyrs like Perpetua and theological giants such as Tertullian and Augustine is no more – a 500 year old church wiped out post-Arab conquest.
The region of modern-day Turkey (Asia Minor) was for a thousand years the “Bible Belt” of Christianity, with churches that could trace their origins back to the early apostles – now the region is over 99% Muslim.
A similar story could be told from other regions of Africa and Asia.
European Christianity has also its share of dark days.
Successful missionary work and church planting in central Europe in the tenth century was crushed by waves of invading Magyars. As one historian puts it, the church was “stamped into the ground by the hoofs of Magyar horses.”
The French Revolution led to rapid and violent purging of anything Christian, even Notre Dame Cathedral was turned into a Temple of Reason.
Communist attempts to de-Christianize were similar, investing enormous energy (and violence) trying to purge Russia of its Orthodox identity.
Which bring me to one of the reasons for the Centre, that of drawing attention to the plight of Christians in lands that once had a significant Christian presence, but now face a post-Christian reality.
Ancient Christian communities in Iraq and Syria are being brutally displaced by ISIL. Genocide, ethnic cleansing, murder, sexual violence, and the loss of personal property, businesses, and holy places have been common fare for years. In fact, since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 the Christian population in Iraq has declined from 1.5 million to approximately 300,000 (and that number continues to decrease). Present trends continued (and there is no reason to think they will change), we will see in our lifetime the almost complete de-Christianizing of the Middle East.
Not only will the Centre focus attention on historical instances of de-Christianization, but will also draw attention to this clear and present danger to ancient Christian communities in our day.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of McMaster Divinity College or the Centre for Post-Christendom Studies.*