Over the last few weeks, the international community has watched the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in horror. The Biden administration’s catastrophically ill-conceived announcement of full U.S. military withdrawal by August 31st set the stage for a perfect storm of humanitarian disaster. Since mid-August, more than 100,000 people have fled the country through a massive global evacuation effort that is racing against time to meet the August 31st deadline. Adding to the complexity and misery of the situation is the spectre of more airport bombings like those that killed 13 U.S. service members and dozens of civilians on August 26th.
At the eye of the unfolding storm in Afghanistan are the country’s Christians. Although the official count of Christians in Afghanistan is less than 10,000, the number of clandestine believers in unknown and may account for many more. Whatever the actual figures, Christians are indisputably a vulnerable minority, and are at high risk of fatal persecution by the incoming Taliban government. Even before the Taliban’s recent takeover, Christians faced a difficult position in the overwhelmingly Islamic nation. While Afghanistan’s 2004 constitution grants followers of other religions freedom to exercise their faith this freedom is highly circumscribed in practice. Conversion from Islam to another faith is viewed as apostasy according to the Hanafi school of jurisprudence, which applies in the absence of any “provision in the constitution or other laws about a case.”
Fundamentally irreconcilable tension between the Hanafi school – to which the Taliban subscribes – and the country’s constitution has already been noted, and will likely come to a head with full Taliban takeover. As the Taliban unveils its vision for Afghanistan’s future, the nation’s current constitution is anything but secure. Certain hardline elements within the organization are expressing a desire for return to the Islamic Emirate, which governed Afghanistan during the 90s until the 2001 U.S. takeover. Under this religiously fundamentalist model of government, TV and music were banned, women and girls were prevented from working and attending school, men were forced to grow beards and pray, and public floggings and executions were commonplace. Exactly how much of this draconian system will be reinstated in Afghanistan is still unknown, but initial reports are foreboding.
Despite the lengthy history of Christian hardship in Afghanistan, Afghan Christians have not been granted the same special status as other high-risk groups during recent evacuation efforts. The U.S. government has established special designations to prioritize the exodus of journalists, academics, pilots and women – among other groups – but has not expanded this measure to include Christians, ignoring requests from members of Congress and various humanitarian organizations. A State Department statement on August 29th explained that the Taliban has extended a promise of safe exit beyond August 31st to foreign nationals and Afghan citizens with travel authorization from countries who have agreed to receive them. Without special designation, however, this extension will be useless to most Afghan Christians. Frightened into maintaining a low profile within their country and unassured of safe departure even if they can reach Kabul airport, many Afghan Christians will likely remain trapped under the most hazardous conditions.
A light amid this time of darkness for Afghan Christians is shining, however, in the form evacuation efforts by several private humanitarian organizations. One of these is The Nazarene Fund, a non-profit group dedicated to aiding Christians and other religious minorities facing persecution. Although stymied by Taliban checkpoints, general airport chaos, and alleged lack of cooperation by the State Department, the Nazarene Fund has reportedly succeeded in airlifting 5,200 Christians and other Afghans out of the country so far. Sadly, these successes have been somewhat soured by continued concerns about the leadership and financial transparency of The Nazarene Fund and closely allied organization Mercury One. Just how substantial these allegations are is difficult to assess, given the close relationship between these organizations and Glenn Beck, their founder. Beck, a conservative media personality who often draws fire from political opponents, has been perhaps too vocally involved in the evacuation efforts of his darling charity, exposing its commendable work to ad hominem-style attacks.
Putting aside the controversial nature of their rescuers, however, the plight of Afghan Christians and all minorities at risk of persecution remains in sharp focus. I invite you to join me in praying that our government will extend the mantle of special protection to those who are in most need of assistance in fleeing Afghanistan. With God’s grace, those who are truly last in society will become the first to receive the riches of protection, aid, and international welcome.
Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Brandon Cribelar, USAF