It’s time to support the freedom to worship

By denying Christians their ability to follow their faith, too many countries so cruelly deny them a hope that the world so often lacks. It’s time it ended.

During Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, the Labour MP and former foreign office Minister Meg Munn called on David Cameron to re-commit the government to do all it could to bring a speedy end to the bloodshed that continues to engulf Syria.

No more is action needed than in protecting those Christians who now live in fear that their faith will be used as a reason, quite simply, to kill them.

This week, a petition drafted by the organisation Open Doors with over 300,000 signatures gathered from across the globe, almost 75,000 of which were from the UK and Ireland alone, was presented to governments worldwide.

The petition itself has a simple aim with a complicated solution, calling on the global community to do all it can to safeguard Christians in the country and seek the establishment, through the Geneva 2 talks of a country that respects religious freedoms.

In a nation once thought to have contained some 1.7 million Christians, almost half a million are thought to have been displaced since the violence began, with those who remain in the country under the threat of near permanent danger. Just this week, footage emerged of one Sunni Cleric calling on a group of school boys to “slaughter all Christians for being infidels”.

The last time I wrote on the persecution of Christians just last week, a number of comments left on Facebook sought to attack Christianity with messages including dubbing writing about the subject  as being “standard Zionist propaganda with an Islamophobic edge”, and someone concluding that the problem for Christians is that we put our beliefs in “fairy tales”.

Whilst obviously hurtful, as a Christian, facing hostility such as this is to be expected, as the book of John declares in quoting Jesus himself:

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”

Where we can surely though be united, whatever one’s beliefs may or may not be, is the right for those Christians in Syria and elsewhere to have the freedom to hold and celebrate their faith without fear of death. It’s a freedom that Nelson Mandela himself would, I suspect, have supported the cause of as President Obama eluded to in his tribute to him on Monday.

As we reflect on Mandela’s legacy, perhaps the most important was his ability to speak to a yearning within us all for freedom.

For him it was the struggle to free black South Africa. For Christians, the struggle comes from being able to follow Jesus Christ’s long walk that leads to freedom, a freedom from a world in which we all too often become enslaved by our jobs, money and the excesses of materialism.

The book of Galatians declares so clearly: “For freedom Christ has set us free.”

I ask, as we prepare for Christmas, that isn’t it time that we as a global community, we as a world that has this week celebrated the legacy of Mandela’s walk to freedom, stand up for and shout with one voice that we cannot stand by and watch Christians in Syria and elsewhere across the world face death for their faith?

By denying Christians their ability to follow their faith, too many countries so cruelly deny them a hope that the world so often lacks. It’s time it ended.

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