The Cost of Christianity
Algeria is changing, but does that change include religious freedom for Christians?
By Claire Evans
This story was originally published in the February issue of the Persecution Magazine.
02/19/2021 Algeria (International Christian Concern) –For the first time in 20 years, Algeria has a new government. They’ve changed the constitution, promised an end to corruption, and agreed to the promotion of human rights. But underscoring each of these promises is the same question that has haunted the Church ever since Algeria gained independence: Is Christianity welcome?
The history of Christianity and Algeria are intertwined. Christianity came to Algeria in the Roman era and the nation was fully immersed in Christianity by the fifth century. St. Augustine, one of the most influential Christian thinkers since St. Paul some argue, was born in Algeria in 354.
Despite its rich Christian heritage, by the time Algeria gained independence in 1962, most Christians in the country felt like foreigners. The Church’s presence evaporated almost overnight as Algeria attempted to recreate its own identity following French colonialism.
The subsequent question of whether Christianity belongs in Algeria was portrayed in the 2010 film Of Gods and Men. The film follows the story of Trappist monks who made the choice to stay in Algeria despite the violence directed at Christians. Nearly 25 years ago, they were murdered for their faith.
Aware of his upcoming death and the hardships that future Algerians would face, one monk left behind a letter that wished for peace and brotherhood for all. “May we find each other happy,” he wrote.
Christians have remained in Algeria, but at great cost. Persecution has never since risen to the violence portrayed in the martyrdom of the Tibhirine monks, but the government has taken every effort to control churches.
Just four years after the end of Algeria’s bloody civil war, the government passed a 2006 ordinance, regulating worship among all non-Muslims. By this point, the traditional church presence was nearly gone because of foreign evacuation. However, the Protestant Christian presence had organically grown among Algerians.
Over the last 20 years, persecution has stemmed from the government’s refusal to acknowledge that it is possible for Algerians to be Christian. The violence of Algeria’s bloody decade of the 1990s is gone, and for that, the Church is thankful. But the current situation is also emptying Algeria’s churches.
The source and summit of Christian life points toward corporate worship filled with thanksgiving. The denial of corporate identity inevitably denies Christians an essential aspect of what it means to fully live one’s faith. Only three years ago, the Algerian government visited every Protestant church, warning them that they were not in compliance with the 2006 ordinance. Then, the authorities began shutting down churches. By the end of 2018, a full campaign to close Algerian churches was underway.
Persecution has slowed the growth of the Church, but in no way extinguished it. In fact, the Gospel has been exploding among the Berbers for the last 30 years and is now moving into the broader population.
There is still hope for religious freedom, or that both Christians and Muslims in Algeria may “find each other happy.” This hope is embraced by most Algerians. When the government closes churches, many pastors are approached by community members who express sadness at the plight of Christians. Sometimes, pastors are told by local officials that they do not wish to close the church, but must follow orders. Algerians are welcoming Christianity into their community and asking for its continued presence.
ICC has conducted multiple advocacy campaigns lifting up the voices of Algeria’s suffering Church. The question of whether Christianity is welcome in Algeria has already been answered by Algerians. It is wanted and welcome. Now is the time for Algeria’s government to respond on whether it plans to welcome freedom of conscience among its citizens.
It is an answer Algerians are still waiting for.