Christian children and youth are particularly vulnerable to religious persecution because of their age. Christian boys and girls grow up in the midst of serious challenges, such as poverty and conflict, both in the mud-brick houses of Central Africa and in the cinder-block cities of Southeast Asia. They also face severe and multifaceted religious persecution.
The situation is alarming: the children of God’s persecuted church are not spared from the most sinister and offensive tactics that try to prevent them from growing up in the Christian faith.
Children and youth are a unique population group because they are in the growth phase of their lives. The experiences at this stage can shape their future path. However, we may not always be aware of how persecutors manipulate this sensitive stage of life.
This becomes painfully clear when we examine the religious persecution of the youngest generation of the church. Girls in particular are the most vulnerable and perhaps the worst affected.
Although the tactics of how boys and girls are persecuted is different, girls are particularly vulnerable to targeted seduction. Seduction, used in religious persecution, involves the use of romantic attention, promises of a relationship or sexual attraction to lead a young woman away from her chosen religious path.
This human relationship technology is based on the human need to belong and to be loved. It tries to use the Church’s teaching on marriage and family, especially for young maidens.
Young girls may feel that starting a family is the only way to earn respect in the Christian community.
Many young women in the studied countries have been told all their growing up years that the role of wife and mother gives them the greatest joy in life. It is emphasized that virginity is the greatest gift that must be protected until marriage.
Although we mean well when we as a congregation emphasize the importance of family, a young girl may feel that this is the only way to earn community recognition. This can leave her vulnerable to persecution.
Marriage as a pressure tool
If a young woman feels pressured to marry, a non-Christian man can make her feel special and valuable. When her young heart begins to lean on a non-Christian admirer, she is vulnerable to further pressure.
The man may be asking as gently as possible that “shouldn’t we also be of the same mind in faith?” He may also seem very tolerant of a young woman’s religion when on a date.
When a girl is in a vulnerable situation, sexual violence and social pressure often force her family to favor marriage. This is to preserve the unbiblical concept of honor. Some girls get married without their families present.
A wedding may not necessarily correspond to the image of a bright and happy family event, but it can be a quick and also a secret event. After marriage, the truth about the relationship is revealed: it was just a trick and a purposeful seduction. This results in sexual violence, sometimes house arrest and eventually forced conversion.
Shame isolates from the congregation
After a year of marriage, when a possible pregnancy has begun, the man often divorces the woman and claims custody of the child.
If a woman does not dare to take on the burden of a divorced woman, then she will remain with her husband as a lifelong sex slave and housekeeper. Another possibility is that she is returned to her family in “disgrace”.
However, the end result is the same. Another Christian young woman has been practically removed from the congregation’s shared future.
After that, the young woman is unlikely to be entrusted with any ministry or training to grow in her spiritual gifts. It is also unlikely that she would remarry a Christian man as she would be considered corrupt.
Worse, the dreams of the girl’s own mother and grandmother have thus been indirectly used as a weapon of religious persecution.
The most common forms of persecution of boys are physical and mental abuse and forced military recruitment.
Division of generations
One of the 30 bullying tactics examined in the 2022 Child Persecution Study relates to how religious persecution of children and youth can accelerate the breakdown of intergenerational relationships in the church.
If the ultimate goal is to completely eradicate Christianity from the communities, then the strategic plan is to sever the ties between the older and younger generations. If the generations can be turned against each other, the family will continue to carry out the plan of the persecutors.
Another, even more insidious, way to create animosity between generations is to subtly turn the concept of religious freedom on its head. If a girl’s family protests that her daughter has left her Christian roots after experiencing targeted seduction, the family can be accused of violating their child’s religious freedom.
Responsibility of the congregation and parents
As followers of Jesus, we have a choice. The good news of Jesus is a powerful antidote that has the power to cover and transform these terribly evil moments in the lives of those who have been seduced. A safe and supportive congregation plays an important role in intergenerational relationships.
In hostile environments, the congregation can recognize the inherent value of children and youth, be an encourager and promote intergenerational understanding.
Especially young adults between the ages of 18 and 30 can often act as a bridge between generations and increase their mutual understanding.
Leaders and parents have a responsibility to strengthen their youth’s sense of connectedness and belonging. Despite this, many leaders may not feel they have the tools to fully understand the experiences of their young church members and meet their needs.
One practical way to protect the younger generation from targeted seduction is to help them see the church as a place where their special strengths are valued and where they are given room to flourish.
An edited version of the original article International Day of the Girl Child: Predatory by Helene Fisher and Elizabeth Lane Miller (Missio Nexus 10/11/2022).