This Easter we should pause to consider what we can do to support those who are persecuted for their beliefs.
This weekend, Christians around the world, myself included, will celebrate Easter, the most central event to our faith.
At the heart of the Easter message is a message of love and of hope.
Love from God for sending his son to be nailed to a cross, blood dripping from his hands that the nails pierced – a punishment for the sins that we committed – a punishment that, in God’s love we need not go through since Christ has done it for us.
And Easter is a time of hope, a hope of knowing that on that first Easter Sunday, Christ overcame death, he conquered our ultimate fear, enabling us to look forward with anticipation not to a life that ends in death, but a life that ends in a place where, as the book of Revelation’s so clearly put’s it “there will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain”.
Many reading this will not believe what I’ve just written, but just imagine the cruelty of denying Christians this weekend the opportunity to express their appreciation to God for the love and hope that he provides in abundance.
Eyebrows within some quarters of Fleet Street were raised last week when David Cameron declared Christianity to be the most persecuted religion in the world. It’s sentiments which echoed those of the Shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, in an article for the Daily Telegraph published just before Christmas.
Research by the Pew Centre in the United States clearly points to Christians being the most persecute faith of any other around the world, persecution which continues to be all too horrific and un-reported.
Over the past few months in Nigeria, more than 100 civilians were killed in one day when Islamic militants attacked three Christian villages and in Syria a Dutch Priest, Rev Frans Van Der Lugt, who moved to the country in the 1970s, has been killed in the city of Homs after refusing to seek refuge somewhere else. He was dragged outside his home and shot twice in the head by a single masked gunman.
In North Korea in March, it was reported that 33 Christians in North Korea face execution simply for associating with missionaries. In Syria too, the beheading of Christians continues unabated. Reports last month detailed one such atrocity:
“A Christian man was captured by Muslims in Syria, and forced him to declare the Shahadatan (“There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his messenger). After he stated the heretical creed, they deemed him an infidel anyway and brutally beheaded him.”
Sadly the stories could go on and on, but the point is that Christians worldwide face real persecution on a scale that is unequalled by any other faith.
Faced with such horror, the West undoubtedly has an obligation to do all it can to shout loudly to those regimes failing to enable Christians, and others, to practice their faith without fear of intimidation or death. One only has to look at all Human Rights declarations to understand the legal obligations we have.
But it goes so much further than that. In a world where death, destruction, famine and war seems to dominate our news headlines so much, the Christian faith provides many with a hope, a sense of light in a dark world. Weather one believes or not in Christ’s death and then resurrection, to deny people the hope that they believe the world cannot provide is simply cruel.
This Easter, I would urge everyone to consider the blessings we have, the freedom to go to church or not, the freedom to believe or not without fear of intimidation, and to then consider what more we collectively can do to stand up for those who do not have a voice, those who’s Christian faith has sadly become a death sentence.
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