A “new” age of Christian persecution?

Ed Jacobs discusses how Christian persecution isn't new and it could be on the rise, looking at attacks on Christianity in Egypt, Nigeria, Iraq and Qatar.

Ed Jacobs is a member of the Christian Socialist Movement and writes in a personal capacity

Christianity is the world’s largest faith, with an estimated 2.1 billion followers around the world, or a third of the global population. Of these followers, however, somewhere between 100 and 200 million Christians worldwide face persecution of one form or another.

It is widely believed that Christians face higher levels of persecution than any other religion. Such is the extent of the persecution of those who put their hope and trust in the Christian God that following the New Year’s Eve massacre of 21 Coptic Christians in the Egyptian town of Alexandria the journalist Mark Seddon wrote in The Independent on New Year’s Day that:

“We may be witnessing a new age of Christian persecution.”

Seddon’s words however hide the fact that the persecution of Christians is not a new phenomenon.

It was Herod who as King of Judea ordered the massacre of newborn babies in Bethlehem, feeling, as he did, threatened by the birth of Jesus. And in AD 64, Nero, dubbed a “brutal leader”, launched a systematic persecution of Christians to divert attention from the blame that many attached to him for Rome being destroyed by fire.

And just as the bible itself and history are littered with examples of harrowing persecution, so too, in the 21st century, acts of horrific persecution remain rife around the would.

As mentioned, on New Years Eve, Egypt’s minority Coptic Christian community came under attack when 21 died and 70 were injured following a bomb attack outside a church in Alexandria, filled by almost 1,000 worshippers. In a harrowing account of what he saw, speaking from his hospital bed, 17-year-old Marco Boutros recalled:

“The last thing I heard was a powerful explosion and then my ears went deaf. All I could see were body parts scattered all over – legs and bits of flesh.”

The atrocity was followed by protests by Christians on the streets of Cairo at which one protestor clearly outlined the problem facing Egypt’s Christian minority. He said:

“It’s driving all of Egypt into a volcano. People need to take initiative, people need to wake up, and people need to look out for our rights. We are not a minority. This is our country just as much as it is the Muslims. We have a presence in the country, and we have to be considered, but we are completely placed on the sidelines.”

In Iraq, following waves of violence and attacks on the Christian community, many are now looking to flee the country they call home out of fear that they will be next, targeted simply for the faith that sustains them and gives them hope.

When FIFA awarded Qatar the 2022 World Cup, it effectively gave the country an international seal of approval, a country in which the bible is banned.

In Nigeria, 32 Christians in the city of Jos were killed in a bomb blast and in North Korea, executions of Christians remain rife by a Government simply intolerant of religion and religious assemblies.

Whilst the sheer scale of the death and distribution should itself be enough for governments around the world to stand up for those Christians who find themselves oppressed, the acts of such brutal atrocity should be a priority for policy-makers for three key reasons.

On a purely legal basis, governments have a duty and responsibility to uphold the basic legal rights provided to each and every one of us, with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights making clear:

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

However, protecting those Christians who face persecution should be much more than simply upholding certain legal rights. It is about allowing freedom of religious belief and practice to be maintained as the core of a civilised society, a case which even the judiciary sees as compelling. In the case of Regina v. Secretary of State for Education and Employment and others (Respondents) ex parte Williamson (Appellant) and others in 2005 for example, Lord Bingham of Cornhill explained:

“Religious and other beliefs and convictions are part of the humanity of every individual. They are an integral part of his personality and individuality. In a civilised society individuals respect each other’s beliefs. This enables them to live in harmony. This is one of the hallmarks of a civilised society.

“Unhappily, all too often this hallmark has been noticeable by its absence. Mutual tolerance has had a chequered history even in recent times. The history of most countries, if not all, has been marred by the evil consequences of religious and other intolerance.”

But standing up for those Christians under constant threat of persecution because of their faith is also about standing up for individuals, individuals whose often sole source of hope, in God and the Gospel, is so cruelly used against them, denied as they are the ability to freely express how they feel.

In an age of economic turmoil, an age in which the pursuit of money above all else has been revealed to be a folly, to deny someone their hope is to deny someone their dignity and liberty. As Hazel Blears once said whilst in Cabinet as communities secretary:

“Even in the darkest times faith will endure and give us hope.

“Jesus knew exactly the kinds of challenges that people are facing today.

“Times were pretty tough for the people that he lived with. Practical matters of work and money and food were never far from his thoughts and indeed his actions.

“In every story and every encounter he always brought hope.”

So standing up for Christians who face persecution by those who misunderstand their faith as somehow a threat to their authority or policy goals is more than simply a case of standing up for a law in an international convention. It is about standing up for people’s right to openly pursue the faith that sustains and strengthens them and that gives them hope in what all too often turns out to be a hopeless world.

And as the now retied Archbishop Desmond Tutu warns in his 1984 publication, “Hope and Suffering: Sermons and Speeches”:

“Freedom and liberty lose out by default because good people are not vigilant.”

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50 Responses to “A “new” age of Christian persecution?”

  1. njslea

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  2. Jock Coats

    RT @leftfootfwd: A “new” age of Christian persecution? http://bit.ly/hiyJsb << meanwhile, what about the many "persecuted" by Christians?

  3. njslea

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  4. conrad

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  5. Christina Fischer

    News on Christianity A “new” age of Christian persecution? http://bit.ly/eTDoHj Holy One

  6. Samuel J. Scott

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  7. Ed Jacobs

    RT @leftfootfwd: A “new” age of Christian persecution? http://bit.ly/hiyJsb

  8. Robert

    It was Herod who as King of Judea ordered the massacre of newborn babies in Bethlehem.

    Did he how do you know, you were around at the time, problem is of course the Stories of Herod are a bit mixed up.

    I would rather take another view that some bloke in a beard started the world off in his imagine, the question of course which image the one of monkeys or the one of humans.

    But the Bible is not really history so much as a book of the Jewish faith.

  9. Youssef

    Reading: A “new” age of Christian persecution? http://bit.ly/gtjIpF

  10. Daniel Elton

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  11. Harriet A. Thug-man

    RT @MostRadicalMan: A “new” age of Christian persecution? http://bit.ly/hGVkd4

  12. Daniel Elton

    RT @leftfootfwd: A “new” age of Christianpersecution? http://bit.ly/hiyJsb @CAFODwire @cnalive @CCJUK @c_of_e @churchnews @christianslive

  13. Daniel Elton

    RT @leftfootfwd: A “new” age of Christian persecution? http://bit.ly/hiyJsb @churchstate @cathyshort @FatherTF @The_Tablet

  14. Daniel Elton

    RT @leftfootfwd: A “new” age of Christianpersecution? http://bit.ly/hiyJsb @churchstate @cathyshort @FatherTF @The_Tablet @churchtimesblog

  15. Daniel Elton

    RT @leftfootfwd: A “new” age of Christianpersecution? http://bit.ly/hiyJsb @JohnSentamu @gavinshuker @Ekklesia_co_uk

  16. Achtung Aeon

    A “new” age of Christian persecution? | Left Foot Forward http://ow.ly/1aZwQk

  17. Joseph Neil Adams

    A “new” age of Christian persecution? http://feedly.com/k/gUMLdd

  18. njslea

    persecutionwatch A “new” age of Christian persecution?: … town of Alexandria the journalist Mark Seddon wrote … http://bit.ly/dQzeW2

  19. Roger

    There is no evidence for Herod’s slaughter of the innocents outside of the New Testament and it is utterly inconceivable that Jewish writers such as Josephus and Philo (who were far closer to these events than whoever actually wrote the gospels) would have ignored such a remarkable event.

    And I am rather flummoxed that anyone could quote Hazel Blears as a moral authority.

    Barring that a really important article.

  20. njslea

    persecutionwatch A “new” age of Christian persecution? | Left Foot Forward: Ed Jacobs discusses how Christian pe… http://bit.ly/fQppNb

  21. Debbie

    The New Testament makes it quite clear that Jesus was born, lived and died as a Jew. His teachings came from strong traditions within Judaism. Christianity did not separate from Judaism until after his death when converts were excused circumcision. Whatever Herod may have done it had nothing to do with Christianity.
    Religion in Nigeria has always been a proxy for ethnic and tribal differences.
    I know less about attacks on Christians elsewhere but I strongly suspect that in many instances they arise because Christians are seen as representing Western capitalist societies. The religion itself is probably irrelevant.
    Any attacks on human beings are despicable and Christians should be defended like any other groups but a religion which produced the Inquisition and pogroms and which has massacred groups within it’s own ranks should beware of playing the victim card too strongly.

  22. Mr. Sensible

    I am not religious, but I think we should tolerate those who are, including Christians.

  23. Fidelma Bourke

    RT @edjacobs1985: RT @leftfootfwd: A “new” age of Christian persecution? http://bit.ly/hiyJsb

  24. Grels

    “It was Herod who as King of Judea ordered the massacre of newborn babies in Bethlehem, feeling, as he did, threatened by the birth of Jesus.”
    Unverified antisemitic mass infanticide, I think would be a more accurate description

  25. Beth

    FINALLY truth – in a world where acceptance is the new catchphrase, Christians are generalized, hated, & targeted http://tinyurl.com/6aff7de

  26. Beth @ To the Fullest

    Thanks for this piece. I know that there are a lot of people out there who call themselves “Christians” who do a lot of non-Christian things (i.e., not modeling life after Jesus as best they can). So I get that people don’t like these “Christians.” BUT, in a world where “acceptance” is the latest catchphrase, the only American group getting hated across the board is Christians. It saddens me. Why not just accept everybody?

  27. Grels

    “reactionary based blogging” is also perhaps a better description.

  28. James Cosgrave

    RT @leftfootfwd: A “new” age of Christian persecution? http://bit.ly/hiyJsb

  29. Day of Prayer for Christians in Egypt – Continentalnews.net

    […] …As the left sides with Muslims, Christians search for supportSydney Morning HeraldA “new” age of Christian persecution?Left Foot ForwardEgypt's Mubarak rejects foreign pressure after church attack (Extra)Monsters […]

  30. Stephen W

    “but a religion which produced the Inquisition and pogroms and which has massacred groups within it’s own ranks should beware of playing the victim card too strongly.”

    People are dying out there every single day you smug woman. They are being threatened, attacked, arrested, tortured, robbed and defranchised for no reason more than being Christians. How dare you make little of their suffering by talking about “playing the victim card” you heartless person.

    These are real people with real lives who have done nothing and are not responsible for the crimes and mistakes of previous centuries. You are a disgrace.

  31. Stuart Mathers

    RT @leftfootfwd: A “new” age of Christian persecution? http://bit.ly/eDcQv8 by @EdJacobs1985

  32. ugomaxy

    RT @MostRadicalMan: A “new” age of Christian persecution? http://bit.ly/hGVkd4

  33. Hugh Southon

    The Bible tells us all these things muct come to pass…another example that Christ – as ever – got it right. These folk are always in our prayers.

  34. Sean O

    If this is a plea for tolerance of individual, private convictions then I think most people would agree.
    However, it seems to me to be an extension of the current (orchestrated?) “radical secularist” agenda being pushed by some Christian high-ups, and some government ministers, who are upset because many countries are no longer blindly allowing them to oppress their own target-of-the-month. To be clear, the vast majority of Christians are far from oppressed, however aggrieved they may feel at the rest of us no longer tolerating their intolerance. Where individuals are oppressed (for whatever reason) we should try and support them. To highlight Christian oppression is to demean the issue.

  35. Ed Jacobs

    RT @leftfootfwd: A “new” age of Christian persecution? http://bit.ly/hiyJsb

  36. CSM

    CSM member Ed Jacobs writing about upholding religious freedom on Left Foot Forward, http://bit.ly/gKA2aA

  37. Rachel Danae Stalker

    RT @CSMovement: CSM member Ed Jacobs writing about upholding religious freedom on Left Foot Forward, http://bit.ly/gKA2aA

  38. Danny Webster

    RT @CSMovement: CSM member Ed Jacobs writing about upholding religious freedom on Left Foot Forward, http://bit.ly/gKA2aA

  39. Stephen W

    Sean O,

    You are frankly wrong and in gross ignorance of the facts. You know nothing about the lives of the “vast majority” of Christians around the world and belittle and propose actively ignoring the suffering of millions of people.

    The vast majority of women, gays, gypsies, Jews, Muslims, Black people, disabled people etc are not persecuted. That is not a good reason to ignore the organised and violent hatred against the people from those groups that goes on round the world. Nor call it out for what it is.

    Whether it is China, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, the entire Middle East, all of North Africa, Thailand, Burma, North Korea, Indonesia or other countries Christians are being harrassed, tortured, murdered and imprisoned.

    In the world today there are almost no Christian countries where non-Christians are persecuted.

    There are Atheist or Secular countries where Christians are persecuted. There are Muslim countries where Christians are persecuted. There are Hindu or (nominally) Buddhist countries where Christians are persecuted.

    Organised Christianity has a bad history of supporting persecution. But in the last 300 years Christianity has massively cleaned its act up. Other religions and ideologies (Secularist/Atheist varieties included) have devolved. Today the vast majority of persecution involves non-Christians persecuting Christians and not the other way round.

  40. Stephen W

    How dare you make utterly sweeping comments about a group that includes people from every nation, race and country of the world, many of whom suffer for their beliefs.

    “To be clear, the vast majority of Christians are far from oppressed, however aggrieved they may feel at the rest of us no longer tolerating their intolerance.”

    You are a bigot and a disgrace. You have no idea of the conditions or beliefs of Christians around the world yet you presume to judge them, people you know nothing about. You should be ashamed

  41. Frank

    This article is nonsense from beginning to end. The Massacre of the Innocents, if it occured at all, cannot have been a slaughtr of Christians as none existed at the time!

    The murder of dozens of Chritstians in Egypt is a cowardly outrage. But how more cowardly and outrageous is the murder of tens of thousands of Muslims in Iraq by US and British forces? And the same in Afghanistan, where The Times reports today that US forces have adopted a Vietnam-style scorched-earth policy?

    All the slaughter is an outrage against common humanity. But to place Christians as the particular victim serves to obscure who are the main victims in this- Muslims, and to line up ‘persecuted’ Christians against them, just as the Tea Party does. Disgraceful.

  42. The Hypocrisy of the Left....

    “The lefts delusion over islam is baffling to middle eastern christians”

    http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/edwest/100063895/the-lefts-delusion-over-islam-is-baffling-to-middle-eastern-christians/

  43. Fabian Vanham

    “Secular countries where Christians are persecuted.” Babble. Secularism isn’t just the belief seperation of religious institutions and state, it’s the belief in freedom of religious belief, including freedom from it. Thus, any nation that claims to be secular and persecutes religious groups is not secular by definition.

  44. Stephen W

    Bullshit. That’s circular, special pleading. You may as well claim that nobody who does bad things is a true Christian, so no Christians do bad things.

    It’s Secular under the widely understood and accepted meaning of the term: that religion should not be brought into the public sphere. If you want to make up your own definitions then fine. But that does not remove the common and widely used definition.

  45. Stuart P M

    This article and the debate which follows does highlight the need for more discussion amongst the left about religious freedom. It seems to be avoided by both sides of the argument, particularly around Christianity. It has to be noted that Christianity is seen as part of the establishment and the establishment is seen by many of the left to be the basis of the injustices of capitalism. Therefore until we separate the two we will struggle to debate purely.

  46. Brian jones

    Stephen W protests too much. If he bothered to check, he would find that there is wdespread and systemic attack on christianity from liberal western democracies as well as the others. The Barnabas Fund estimates that there are over 30 countries where Christians are persecuted for their faith, including in the UK (The Times 7 June 2008). “It is wrong of the anti-christian lobby, whether atheistic, humanist, or secularist, not to afford the same level of tolerance to the Christian faith that they rightly demand for their own world view” (British MP Mark Pritchard)

  47. njslea

    persecutionwatch A “new” age of Christian persecution?: Such is the extent of the persecution of those who put t… http://bit.ly/fPmUv0

  48. 1GoodShepherd

    A “new” age of Christian persecution? – Left Foot Forward http://is.gd/tZhPpb

  49. Shahbaz Bhatti assassination: Who will stand up to the extremists now? | Left Foot Forward

    […] Ed Jacobs wrote on Left Foot Forward in January: “…standing up for Christians who face persecution by […]

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