IS MY experience unique, is my church unlike all others – or are most local, individual churches simply ignoring the persecution of Christians that is going on all over the world?
In various churches I have attended, the intercessions, prayers, sermons and parish magazines make no reference to the killings, beatings, forced conversions and long-term imprisonments of Christians that are ubiquitous in every other continent but our own, and ever-threatening to descend on European countries.
We hear an awful lot about climate change, poverty, racism, refugees, food banks – the sexually discriminated-against are always with us (and now Ukraine) – but for those who daily suffer harshly for their belief in Jesus Christ, there is not a word.
It is possible that knowledge of this humanitarian crisis is just beginning to dawn on our rulers, thanks to the brilliant work of such as Baroness Cox (though whether they will do anything about it is highly questionable), and even the leadership of some Christian denominations in the West seem to evidence some awareness (not that it appears to be their salient concern, or even one of them). But at local level … you might be forgiven for thinking that it simply doesn’t exist.
Sure, no one would be as naive as to expect the BBC and the rest of the mainstream media to feature it at all (we are more likely to hear reports about the lack of ethnic-minority models in the Italian fashion world – no, really, I have seen such a piece on BBC news), or discrimination against LGBT people in Tajikistan.
But people who inhabit pews have no excuse. There are various organisations which try to raise awareness, lobby Parliament, etc. These include Open Doors (which began life smuggling Bibles into the USSR). It publishes the annual World Watch List of countries where persecution is most severe. For long, North Korea held the No 1 spot, but in the latest list, published February 2022, Afghanistan has supplanted it (there, the security services do house-to-house checks, and anyone suspected of being a secret Christian is, apparently, likely to be shot dead).
In North Korea, it is said of anyone arrested as being a Christian that their life is in effect over, since the remainder of their days will be spent in hideous conditions of concentration camp hard labour.
Another charity is Christian Solidarity Worldwide. CSW has been asked if such bodies are only concerned with Christians (they are quick to point out that almost all persecution, in the world today, is of Christians – but yes, CSW does speak out for the Muslim Uighurs in China, and atheists). Another organisation, Barnabas Fund, is very active as well.
The Indian sub-continent has a complex pattern of Christian persecution. In Pakistan, Christian girls are regularly abducted, raped, forcibly converted to Islam, and married off to men much older than themselves (who may already have several wives); the authorities do not really oppose such things.
In India, it is the burgeoning Hindu nationalism that fuels the burning of Christian villages and abductions. We tend to think of Buddhists as quiet, serene, peace-loving people – but if you’re a Sri Lankan Christian, you might see things rather differently. (In these areas, the British Asian Christian Association is doing good work.)
Chinese communism may have yielded to Western commercialism but Marxist atheism and totalitarianism are still very much present. Eritrea is a particular concern at the moment. There, members of ‘minority religions’ are regularly arrested and imprisoned indefinitely, with no formal charge or trial; some die in jail.
Why do individual churches not make more of all this? Parochial, and individual, support of CSW, Open Doors or Barnabas Fund might make all the difference – the people in the pew might see that the intense suffering of Christians is ultimately that of the whole Church (and Christians in such as Nigeria, regularly butchered by Boko Haram or Fellani Herdsmen, might well herald the future for disappearing Christianity in the West).
I suspect one reason for the silence is the same as that which protected the rape gangs in places such as Telford: clergy and people probably have a fear of being called racists, in particular, Islamophobes (Islamists have it both ways – here, they cry foul, but abroad, and not just abroad, they carry out all manner of persecution).
It’s far easier to fall back on issues that are uncontroversial, or seen as uncontroversial, such as climate change, or those which, whatever peoples’ motives, give a touch of signalled virtue (such as objecting to cost-of-living rises – themselves partly caused, of course, by zero carbon efforts).
If the mainstream churches in the West are to survive (which many doubt) they will do so only by recovering their real raison d’etre, which will require coming to terms with the truth – at all levels – that any church compliant with the culture will quickly wither and die, while that which puts its head above the parapet, and stands shoulder to shoulder with its persecuted brethren (rather than with the idols of our materialist culture) will flourish.
Congregations are happy to sing Graham Kendrick’s Shine Jesus Shine, but are probably not aware of his How Long? which contains the lines: ‘Lord, help us to live worthy of / Our sisters and our brothers / Who love you more than their own lives.’ Quite.
How long will it take to make us all thus worthy, all Christians in the West? How will we reach them?