Guest: John Allen Jr.
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John L. Allen, Jr. is the Senior Correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and author of, “The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution.” Allen tells us why the current Pope is rising in popularity. He adopted a tough new anti-money-laundering law and discusses its impact.
Allen believes Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world. He gives some representative examples of the kinds of suffering Christians around the world endure and common myths about the global war on Christians.
Visit the National Catholic Reporter at www.ncronline.org.
ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the Solomon Success Show, where we explore the timeless wisdom of King Solomon and the Bible, as it relates to business and investing. False prophets and get-rich-quick schemes are everywhere; let’s not be distracted by these. Instead, let’s go to the source: the eternal principles that create a life of peace, power, and prosperity. Here’s our host, Jason Hartman.
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JASON HARTMAN: It’s my pleasure to welcome John Allen Jr. to the show! He’s a senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, and author of The Globar War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution. John, welcome. How are you?
JOHN ALLEN JR: I’m great, Jason. Thanks for having me on the air.
JASON HARTMAN: Well, the pleasure is all mine. Where are you located, by the way? I just like to give our listeners a sense of geography.
JOHN ALLEN JR: Well, the honest answer to that question is a series of airport departure lounges, Jason. But my American base is in Denver. I spend about a third of every year in Rome.
JASON HARTMAN: Okay, fantastic. Well, you wrote the book The Global War on Christians. I think this is a subject that gets far too little attention. What inspired you to write the book? What was behind it?
JOHN ALLEN JR: Well, I can tell you precisely when the idea first occurred to me. It was in 2001. I was covering John Paul II’s trip to Ukraine, and I met a young woman who told me that her grandfather had been a Greek Catholic priest who was arrested during the Soviet era and shipped off to the Gulags, and given a choice between renouncing his faith or dying in jail. And he chose not to renounce his faith, so they killed him, and they didn’t just put a bullet in his head, they actually crucified him upside down on the prison wall and left him to die over a period of several agonizing days. And it really smacked me in the face, Jason, that we’re not talking about a martyrology from the second century. I mean, we’re talking about something that happened within the arc of lifetimes of people who are still around today. This is contemporary martyrdom. And I had experiences like that. My day job, of course, is covering the Vatican. As I would move around the world I would continually have experiences like that, where I would meet people who were either themselves the victims of anti-Christian hatred, or who knew people who had experienced it. And at first I thought these were tragic but isolated instances. The more I look into it, the more I realize there’s actually a massive global pattern here, and it’s a story that is very rarely told. And so, part of the hope for this book is to break the wall of silence that often surrounds the reality that Christians around the world, on a large scale, are getting their teeth kicked in.
JASON HARTMAN: And I agree, I think that’s true. So, who is the culprit here? Is it just, everybody is ganging up on Christians? Is it the Muslims? Is it the secularists? Or is it just coming from all sides?
JOHN ALLEN JR: Well, I wish there were a simple answer to that question. But the truth of it is, that Christians face a sort of bewildering variety of threats. In some parts of the world, particularly in the Middle East, it’s radical Islam. That’s probably what we hear about the most. But in other places, such as India, which statistically speaking is one of the most dangerous places on the map to be a Christian today—the Global Council of Indian Christians estimates there’s one violent assault against a Christian in India every other day. It’s radical Hinduism. In other parts of the world—China, North Korea, Russia, Eritrea, other places—you’ve got police states that are basically hostile to all religious mi—Christians in particular. In other parts of the word, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa in many places, the threats come from paramilitary groups and armed gangs, thugs that are on the payroll of ranchers and mining companies that don’t like the fact that Christians are standing up in defense of social justice and human dignity. So, the truth of it is, it’s all over the map, and therefore, no single strategy, no simplistic solution is going to work to bring this to a halt.
JASON HARTMAN: Yeah. Well, what are some of the solutions, or things that we can do as Christians, to help minimize this problem?
JOHN ALLEN JR: Well, you know, when I move around the world, and I talk to Christians who have experienced persecution, this is of course the practical American question I always ask. You know, what can we do? And I usually expect them to say things like, give us money, or help us get exit visas, or rebuild our churches. And if you press them, they will get to all of that stuff. But where they begin, the first thing that they always say, by far, is, don’t forget about us. Quite often, Christians who are in the firing line have this profound sense that they’re walking this experience all by themselves; that the rest of the world doesn’t care, has abandoned them, has forgotten about them. So I think the threshold response, Jason, is we simply gotta make enough noise around this issue that no one can miss the point that Christians, particularly in the west, are concerned about their suffering sisters and brothers in other parts of the world. The other thing I would say—we can talk practical stuff if you want, but the other thing I would say is that we dare not forget about prayer! We dare not forget the power of prayer. I will tell you, from a Catholic point of view, you know, way back in the 1950s, we used to pray for the conversion of Russia in mass every Sunday. Now, this is kind of an un-ecumenical thing to do, because Russia is actually a profoundly Christian country. But nevertheless, it had the effect of reminding Catholics all over the world that there was a church of silence, a church of the catacombs behind the Iron Curtain that needed our concern. I think prayer for persecuted Christians today, not just in the Catholic Church but in all the different branches of the Christian family, could have the same effect in terms of creating consciousness.
JASON HARTMAN: Well, that’s certainly a good thing. So it’s these Christians that are in small groups—and what you said, by the way, surprised me about India. Does that surprise other people?
JOHN ALLEN JR: Well, usually. But I’ll tell you, the big surprise usually is just how vast the scale of anti-Christian persecution is. I mean, let’s just run out a couple of numbers.
JASON HARTMAN: Sure.
JOHN ALLEN JR: The low-end estimates of the number of Christians killed for their faith every year in this world is about 9,000. The high-end estimate is around 100,000, which works out to somewhere between 1 and 11 Christians being killed every hour of every day. Midrange estimates in the number of Christians who are at threat of physical harassment for their belief—that is, who face threats of arrest, torture, beatings, and you know, worst case scenario being death? The mid range estimate for the number of Christians in those sort of circumstances is around 100 million. I mean, it’s a staggering scale.
JASON HARTMAN: Wow.
JOHN ALLEN JR: And that is usually the surprise for people.
JASON HARTMAN: Yeah. Wow. That is—that is—
JOHN ALLEN JR: Now, that’s the bad news. The bad news is, people haven’t heard these stories. The good news is, I will tell you from personal experience, that when you tell people this is going on, there’s no debate about whether we should be concerned about this. People move immediately past that to what can we do. So, I do think there’s an enormous reservoir of potential concern, in places like the United States for these sorts of issues. We just have to find a way to light a fire under it.
JASON HARTMAN: It just seems like in the United States the media is so skewed against Christianity. I mean, you know, like, if a Muslim were attacked, in the United States, or a Jewish person, it would be just all over the news. But a Christian, not so much. It’s so unfair, the way the leftist media covers these stories.
JOHN ALLEN JR: Well, listen. I think left right and center, everybody’s got their blind spots when it comes to this issue. For different reasons. I mean, the left, I should say, often has a kind of built-in allergy to Christianity that makes it difficult for them to understand what’s going on. The right tends to have a selective focus. They’ll play up every Muslim outrage, but they often don’t want to talk about the way, for example, Israel security policies are sucking the life out of Arab Christianity in the Holy Land. So I think we’ve all got our problems. When it comes to the media, I will say this. You and I are both media people. We know the power of narratives in shaping the way the media covers a story. I think the media narrative about Christianity in the west is that it’s this massive, rich, politically connected institution, which makes it very hard for a lot of media people to understand that Christians can actually be the victims of persecution. The problem with that narrative is that it just doesn’t do justice to reality. In the early 21st century, there were 2.3 billion Christians in the world. 2/3 of them live outside the west. Most of them are poor. Many of them are also ethnic, linguistic, and cultural minorities. They’re living in places like Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, in some pretty rough neighborhoods. That’s the reality of who Christians today are, and that’s the new narrative that we’ve got to create if we are going to wake people up to what’s happening to Christians.
JASON HARTMAN: Yeah. Well, that’s a very good point. It really is a very good point. Talk a little bit about the pope, if you would. This current pope we have is pretty cool and popular, huh?
JOHN ALLEN JR: [LAUGHTER] Listen, I mean, if you cover the Vatican for a living, which is what I do, this pope is a dream come true, okay? I mean, this pope is a newsmaker extraordinaire. And you’re right, he has captured the imagination of the world. I mean, every place that public opinion can be scientifically surveyed, this guy has approval ratings that most celebrities or politicians would crawl across hot coals to earn, you know? I mean, I was in Brazil when he went there in July for his first overseas trip, and of course, he drew more than 3 million people to Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, breaking, by the way, the attendance record previously held by the Rolling Stones. And I was also there when this group of nuns just sort of rushed him like teenage girls at a Justin Bieber concert. There is something magical about this man that has sort of taken the world by storm.
JASON HARTMAN: Yeah. So, what is it? I mean, that’s good though, that’s what the Catholic Church needs, is a more contemporary face, doesn’t it?
JOHN ALLEN JR: Well, I mean, listen. It’s above my pay grade to decide what the Catholic Church needs, but as a journalist, I can tell you what the Catholic Church has got; and what it’s got, is a completely different storyline. I mean, listen. In the final days of the reign of Benedict XVI, who by the way is a man I admire a great deal. But there’s no doubt that the media storyline about the Catholic Church back then were things like, the churches sex abuse scandals, and the Vatican weakness, and bruising political controversies. And I mean listen, none of those things have gone away. But today, the dominant storyline about the Catholic Church is, rock star pope takes the world by storm. My read would be, the Catholics around the world feel that they’ve somehow gotten a new lease on life with this man.
JASON HARTMAN: And I mean, I would agree with that.
JOHN ALLEN JR: And so, one of the things I hope, Jason, is that Pope Francis—I mean, basically, what he’s done is, he’s put this enormous sort of deposit of good will and political capital into the bank. The question now is, how is he gonna spend it? And I hope one of the issues he decides to spend it on is precisely this issue of solidarity with persecuted Christians around the world. He did give a very powerful talk on this subject on September 25th during one of his Wednesday audiences, in which he addressed this crowd of tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square, and asked them to look into their own hearts and ponder whether when you hear stories of Christians being persecuted, does that affect you? Does it reach you, or do you just sort of blow it off? But I hope he builds on that, because I think he could be an extraordinarily effective point person and advocate on this issue, precisely because of the global sympathy that he’s already earned.
JASON HARTMAN: Yeah. Well, that’s a very good point. He really—he really could. Tell us about this anti-money laundering law that he’s adopted. It’s a really tough, tough stance on it, right?
JOHN ALLEN JR: Yeah, well actually the clean up on Vatican finances, what a lot of people talk about as the glasnost in Vatican finances, began under Benedict XVI. He is the pope who for the first time opened the Vatican to outside secular inspection in the form of the Council of Europe’s anti-money laundering agency, an outfit called Money Vault, and he also adopted the first anti-money laundering law in the Vatican. But that’s now been refined and strengthened by Pope Francis. He promulgated a new statute on October 8th. One of the things it does, is it beefs up the role of the Vatican’s financial watchdog unit, an outfit called the Financial Information Authority, giving them the power not just to review transactions, but they actually have to approve anybody now who wants to do business in the Vatican. So they’re gonna do due diligence to make sure we knew where their money is coming from, and then we know where it’s going. The Vatican Bank also, for the first time in its 125 year history, recently published an independently audited financial statement, and that was kind of a breakthrough in the Vatican, because people used to think that having independent auditors poking around in the Vatican’s business would be a sacrifice of its independence and its sovereignty. But all that under Benedict and now under Pope Francis has given way. So, listen. I think the transparency effort remains a work in progress, but I think anybody with eyes would tell you the Vatican finances are a lot cleaner today than they were even a decade ago.
JASON HARTMAN: They’ve been more transparent than our Federal Reserve. I wish we could get that from the Federal Reserve, you know?
JOHN ALLEN JR: Well, Jason, I’ve lived in Italy full time for almost 10 years. What I tell people is, before you want to start complaining about a lack of transparency in the Vatican, you ought to look at the Italian financial sector, you know what I mean? By comparison, they are a black house.
JASON HARTMAN: Right, right. That’s great, good point, good point. What do you think we have in store with this pope? What are some of his initiatives, and things that he’s doing, besides the money laundering? That’s a great one.
JOHN ALLEN JR: Well, one very practical thing he’s signaled some flexibility on is the very difficult pastoral question in the life of the Catholic Church, which is the idea of access to the sacraments, and especially communion at Sunday mass, for Catholics who are divorced and remarried without getting an annulment, which of course is a church declaration that the first marriage was null and void. There are millions of Catholics around the world who are in that situation, and it’s very painful for them, because while they can come to mass, they’re not supposed to take communion. And Francis has indicated an openness to maybe a more generous position on that question. But listen. I think the big picture you asked, what is he sort of shooting for—well, I think he gave that to us three days after his election. Of course, he was elected on the 13th of March. On March 16th he had a session with journalists in the audience hall on the Vatican grounds in which he said that his core dream is of what he called a poor church for the poor. So, I think he wants church that is visibly more committed to simplicity and humility, to living the life of an ordinary person, not a Renaissance prince. And he wants that simpler and humbler church above all to devote itself to solidarity with the poor of the world. I think that’s the big picture that he’s trying to work towards, and I think all these other steps he’s taking are in some sense intended to sort of get us there.
JASON HARTMAN: Wow. Yeah. Well that’s good. So, back to the Christian persecution problem, which is certainly a big one, are there are more action steps? I mean, like you said, Americans always want to ask that practical what can we do question, right? And you talked about prayer, you talked about not forgetting those affected. I was wanting to see something maybe media, or politically, or something—something there, I just wanted to see if there’s any more resources you can share.
JOHN ALLEN JR: Well, listen. At a very practical level, the first thing I would say is that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are a lot of great organizations out there that do [unintelligible] work to try to bring aid to Christians who are in the firing line. In the Catholic world there’s groups like The Catholic Near East Welfare Association, and Aid to the Church in Need; in the Protestant world there is Open Doors, and other groups. So I think, the first thing I would say is, find those groups, see which one seems to align best with your own interests and your own background, and support the hell out of them. But you asked for something political we can do. Here’s something. We can try to be sure, using all the political tools in our tool box, try to be sure that our decision makers take the voices of Christians on the ground in various parts of the world into better consideration when they have to make foreign policy choices. Let me give you a practical example. Not so long ago, the United States and other western countries was on the brink of going to war in Syria, right? And we may still do that, depending on which way the winds blow. I’m telling you right now, Jason, that if you ask Christians in Syria about how wise it is to use force to engineer a regime change, that is, to bring down the government—
JASON HARTMAN: They will say no, don’t do it, right?
JOHN ALLEN JR: They’re gonna tell you no. Because they’re gonna tell you, the alternative to Assad is not a thriving democracy. It’s complete chaos, in which Islamic radicalism is gonna metastasize, and Christians are going to become the primary victims. I think we can insist that our leaders do a much better job of listening to those folks.
JASON HARTMAN: I agree with you. That’s a very good point. I just kind of loved it when Vladimir Putin stepped in a while back and stopped that war. I mean, it was like Obama and McCain, everybody’s on the warpath, and what do we need another war for? And all we’re doing is making these people hate us, and all we’re getting out of it is something worse than what we have already, it seems! Every time! Every time! I mean—
JOHN ALLEN JR: Well, listen. You talk to Christians in Syria. Or in Egypt. Both of those spots of the map right now. They will tell you that they are terrified they’re gonna be the next Iraq. And we all know what happened to Christians in Iraq. In ’91, at the time of the first Gulf War, there were somewhere between a million and a half and two million Christians in Iraq. It was the second largest Christian community in the Middle East; it was a thriving church that traced its roots back to the era of the apostles. Today, the high end estimates on the number of Christians left in Iraq is about 400,000, and realistically most people think it’s closer to 200, 250,000. Most of those people have gone into exile, but a staggering number of them have been killed, and of course, it’s because what happened, after the two US-led wars, is that we didn’t export democracy. What we did is, we lift the lid off sectarian tensions, created an environment in which Islamic radicalism could grab the upper hand, and a situation in which Christians are walking around with bulls eyes on their back. I mean, this church has been absolutely gutted. And Christians in Syria and Egypt today will tell you that they feel that if their regimes fall—that is, if Assad were to fall in Syria, or the army was to pull back in Egypt, they’re convinced that they’re gonna walk the same path. Again, I say, you may think that’s right or wrong, but we ought to be listening to those folks, because they’re the ones who are going to have to live with whatever we do or don’t do after we’ve taken off.
JASON HARTMAN: Very good point, very good point. Well, give out your website if you would, and tell people where they can find you, and find the book also.
JOHN ALLEN JR: Sure. Well, my regular work appears in the National Catholic Reporter. I have an online column that is called All Things Catholic, completely free of charge. So, if you just Google or whatever, John Allen All Things Catholic, you’ll find it. The book is The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution, published by Image, available as we say in fine bookstores everywhere. You can also find it on Amazon.com, or the Barnes and Noble website, or wherever you get your literature these days.
JASON HARTMAN: Fantastic. Well, John Allen Jr., thank you so much for joining us today, and I also gotta mention, the book has excellent reviews on Amazon. It’s very important that you’re getting the word out about this very important topic, and keep beating the drum, and getting the word out. Thanks for joining us today.
JOHN ALLEN JR: Appreciate it, Jason. All the best.
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Transcribed by David