Christians in volatile parts of the world were already under attack before the death of Osama bin Laden. Now organizations and missionaries are on high alert for signs of more attacks and retaliation. Christians are not openly celebrating the end the terrorist mastermind, especially in nations with large Islamic populations. Instead, several organizations have issued warnings to Christians living or working on those areas, urging caution.
Bin Laden's terrorist network has made no secret of its plans to retaliate. Squelching rumors that bin Laden had not actually been killed by US armed forces, al-Qaeda confirmed the death of its leader on Friday. On jihadist Internet sites al-Qaida promised continued attacks on the U.S. and its “agents.”
"If the Americans succeeded in killing Osama, that is no shame or disgrace. Are not men and heroes killed but on the battlefields? But can the Americans, with their media, agents, tools, soldiers, and apparatus kill what Sheikh Osama lived and died for? Alas! The sheikh did not found an organisation that lives with his life and dies with his death,” wrote the al-Qauda General Command dated May 3.
Further in the statement under the heading ‘Blood ‘a curse’ al-Qauda leaders write, "Based on this understanding, we in al-Qaeda vow to God the Exalted and seek His support to help us go forward on the path of jihad that was trekked by our leaders, headed by Sheikh Osama.”
Christians in Pakistan Hide Out
As a precautionary measure, many Christian churches and schools closed when news came of bin Laden’s death. Pastors and administrators have since reopened their facilities to continue the various ministries, but some are still hiding out in their homes.
According to UCANews, an Asian Catholic news service, the former head of the Catholic Church in Pakistan issued a statement warning that Pakistani Christians could suffer a backlash after the death of the 9/11 mastermind.
“We are a soft target, as they cannot attack America. We demand security; the government should control any retaliation,” Archbishop Emeritus Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore said. He was, however, cautiously optimistic that the development could bring peace. “Despite the risk of short-term retaliation against Christians, bin Laden’s killing could return balance to the war-torn society of Pakistan,” he added.
Just days before bin Laden’s death, a Christian seminary in Gujranwala was attacked after accusations surfaced of a defiled Quran found in a Christian cemetery. In response to that assault and as a precaution to possible retaliation following bin Laden’s killing, the Pakistan Christian Congress has urged the government of Pakistan to adopt necessary security measures and protections for Christians.
“The Pakistan administration must beef up security of churches, Christian institutions, Christian colonies and life of common Christians after the death of Osama Bin Laden,” said Nazir S. Bhatti, president of the Pakistan Christian Congress told the Pakistan Christian Post.
Church leaders in the West have also tried to raise awareness of the danger their fellow believers face.
The World Mission Council, the overseas department for the Church of Scotland, has already received reports from its partners in Pakistan that communities have been under siege, with many unable to leave their homes for fear of reprisals.
Reverend John Chalmers, Principal Clerk of the Church of Scotland, has written to the Bishop of Lahore assuring him of the Church’s prayers at this difficult time.
“I write today following this event and other events of recent days to express our solidarity and support for the Church of Pakistan and stand together with you, your congregations and the whole Christian community in Pakistan,” said Chambers. “We are aware of your increased vulnerability at this time and are praying for your safety and security. As members of one family, when you are troubled, we too feel your pain.”
Fear of Retribution Spread to Africa
Christians in Northern Nigeria, who have recently been targeted in post-election violence, are also braced for reprisals after hundreds of Muslims staged a protest in Kaduna denouncing the killing of bin Laden. Many Christians fled to military barracks and police stations seeking protection.
“Many Christians are fleeing because Muslims in the past have reacted with killing of Christians and the destruction of their properties when there is a problem affecting Muslims somewhere else, explained Reverend Murpala Bambora, pastor of an evangelical church in Kanu. “When there is a problem against the Muslim community elsewhere, they [the Muslims in northern Nigeria] want to retaliate to Christians in [Nigeria].”
Jonathan Racho, regional manager of African and Asia for International Christian Concern, says officials in Nigeria, a country populated almost evenly by Christians and Muslims, spoke with the Christians for hours to convince them it was safe enough for them to return home.
“There are still several Christians remaining in the barracks, choosing not to take any chance until the situation calms down,” Racho said. "I'm glad nothing has happened so far, and we hope and pray that there will not be any backlash," Racho said.
As reported by the United Kingdom-based Barnabas Fund, Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, who has written extensively about the Taliban and al-Qaeda, explains, the organization’s nature has evolved from "a highly centralized hierarchy - with recruiting, training and orders all scrutinized by its top leaders - to something much more loose and amorphous.
Rashid warns of world-wide revenge attacks by bin Laden followers, in particular suicide attacks in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East.
“The jihad he espoused will not disappear, for it has taken root in far too many fringe groups. Its political ambitions have been curtailed, but at a wider level it is breeding intolerance in some Muslim societies against Christians, Jews and other minority religious groups, and even beliefs within Islam such as the Sufis.”
Photos Could Incite Violence
In recent days President Obama has chosen not to make public post-mortem photos of the al-Qaida leader. White House spokesman Jay Carney announced that the president believes the photos might be used as "an incitement to additional violence or as a propaganda tool.”
A spokesman for Bible League International, who remains unnamed for his protection, agrees with Mr. Obama’s decision.
“I think that it could just stir up more trouble and it could make Osama bin Laden into more of a martyr than he already is,” said the Director of Muslim Ministries. “Some have said ‘give us proof.’ There is a saying, ‘your enemies won’t believe you anyway.’”
Islamists are already inflamed with bin Laden’s killing. The spokesman contends Muslim nations who harbor extremists like Pakistan need little encouragement to persecute Christians. But Bible League International isn’t alone in its concern.
Praying for Those Who Hate
While recognizing the human, political and military significance of bin Laden’s death, especially for those who have suffered at the hand of al-Qaida’s violent acts, Open Doors says it recognizes the biblical call to pray for those who persecute.
For several years Brother Andrew, founder of Open Doors and author of the autobiography “God’s Smuggler,” has challenged Christians with this question, “Have you prayed for Osama bin Laden today?”
Upon learning of bin Laden’s death, Brother Andrew said, “I’m still praying. There are other leaders (of Al-Qaeda) who are even more dangerous. It’s a movement. The question we have to answer is: are we revenge-driven or forgiveness-driven? This is a time for honest reflection. God's call is for us to pursue righteousness.”
This article published on May 6, 2011; updated on May 9, 2011.
Russ Jones is a twenty-year award winning journalist and correspondent. He is co-publisher of ChristianPress.com and media consultant. Jones holds degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and St. Paul School of Theology. As a former NBC TV reporter he enjoys reporting where evangelical Christian faith and news of the day intersect. Jones is a frequent freelance reporter for Crosswalk.com as well as the Christian Broadcasting Network, Total Living Network and American Family Radio. He has also been published in The Washington Times. He may be reached at [email protected]. For more information see russjones.me.