New learning series offers insight on how Christians respond to persecution

(Reuters/Alaa Al-Marjani)A priest puts cross on the street of Qaraqosh, near Mosul, during an operation to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq.

A new learning series launched at the University of Notre Dame is offering people the opportunity to examine the lives of persecuted Christians and understand how believers respond to oppression.

Earlier this year, the Religious Freedom Institute teamed up with the University of Notre Dame and Georgetown University's Religious Freedom Project to study the extent of Christian persecution worldwide.

The findings of the study called "Under Caesar's Sword" were turned into different resources, including two educational courses that are now offered online for free via Notre Dame's Satellite Theological Education Program (STEP).

The first program called "Christians Confronting Persecution" is being offered to educators, ministers, pastors and adults, who are interested in encountering "the reality of persecution through the lens of faith."

According to Crux, the six-week course, which takes about 3–4 hours of study each week, features lectures from experts such as Tom Farr, Tim Shah, Daniel Philpott and Kristen Haas. A certificate of completion will be handed out to those who complete the course.

The second program called "We Respond" is offered to adult groups, high school students, parishes, and churches who "wish to engage both intellectually and reflectively with the reality of religious persecution today."

The seven-lecture series aims to address several questions about the persecution of Christians, including: "When do they choose to migrate or to hide? To challenge their persecutors and/or to forgive them? To band together with others in solidarity? What fruits has the Lord wrought through their responses?"

Both programs is aimed at exploring how Christian communities respond to persecution, and include videos, Biblical passages, stories and information on how to cultivate solidarity.

"Under Caesar's Sword," which was conducted over the course of three years by a team of 14 scholars, analyzed more than 30 countries where Christians face the most severe persecution.

The researchers examined the patterns of religious persecution and the different responses of Christians to persecution. Then, they made recommendations for action against persecution.

The project's website indicated that 76 percent of the world's population lived in religiously oppressed countries since 2012. Christians in 102 countries reportedly experienced harassment in 2013.

"We at the Religious Freedom Institute are seeking to be very concrete in providing very specific ways for our churches, our Christian schools, and the members of our churches to both learn about the plight of Christians in harm's way and to become aware of what they can do to be of help," said Kent Hill, the executive director of the Religious Freedom Institute.

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