The persecution of Christians will be debated today in the House of Commons.
In just a few weeks time the country will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.
Jesus spent his time on earth, telling those who would listen to love their neighbours as themselves; he warned of the dangers of laying up treasures on earth “where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal”; and he called on us all to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.
Yet despite such peaceful teachings, his words proved controversial, and he was ultimately put to death on the cross.
Fast forward to today, and the persecution of those who seek to follow Christ will be debated today in the House of Commons thanks to a motion tabled by the Democratic Unionist Party.
It is thought that somewhere in the region of 200 million Christians around the world face persecution of one form or another because of their faith, 100,000 of whom are believed to be killed each year as a result.
Whilst the figures are truly shocking, it is compounded by the blind eyes that constantly get employed when Western leaders meet with the leaders of those countries who actively practice persecution. Little wonder that in a recent Westminster Hall debate on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East the Democratic Unionist Party MP Jim Shannon said: “the global war on Christians remains the greatest story never told of the early 21st century”.
But what practically does persecution mean around the world?
According to the World Watch List for 2013, which lists the worst 50 countries for the persecution of Christians, top of the list remains North Korea, a country where “Christians are classified as hostile and face arrest, detention, torture, even public execution.” Just last month, reports emerged of 80 prisoners having been executed across the country for ‘offences’ which included possessing a Bible.
Second on the list is Saudi Arabia, a country that makes conversion from Islam to another faith punishable by death and forbids Christian worship. Those who do so risk imprisonment, lashings, deportation or torture. Last year, the UK government approved £112 million worth of arms exports to the Saudi government that is responsible for such persecution.
Number three on the list is Afghanistan, which treats Muslims who convert to Christianity as a “hostile manner”. No churches exist and expatriates along with both local and foreign Christians “are subject to kidnapping, abduction, killing” and sometimes face having to flee the country. In September, Nazir Ahmad Hanafi, a member of the Afghan Parliament, was quoted as saying:
“Afghani citizens continue to convert to Christianity in India. Numerous Afghanis have become Christians in India. This is an offense to Islamic laws and according to the Qur’an they need to be executed.”
All this from a country that the West sought to liberate from the shackles of Taliban rule.
Moving down the watch list, at number 12 comes Syria, a country where civil war has seen Christians finding themselves between a rock and a hard place. A brutal dictator in President Assad on the one hand against opposition forces that eye Christians with suspicion for being, in their eyes, too close to the Syrian government. As Open Doors explains:
“Before the civil war, although meetings were monitored, Christians were respected in society, but this is rapidly changing…Now a clear religious motive has been added by the influx of these foreign radicals. Many Christians have been abducted, physically harmed and killed, churches damaged or destroyed, and tens of thousands of Christians have fled.”
This includes the story of 15 year old Syrian Christian, Mariam from al-Qusair, previously reported on by Left Foot Forward. She was seized by one of the opposition groups, raped by a different man each day for 15 days, culminating in her eventually being killed. Earlier this year Britain came close to siding with such rebels by preparing to bomb Syrian government targets.
Such stories and profiles provide an all too brief overview of the sort of difficulties that Christians worldwide face. Whilst the Book of James makes clear that suffering is part of the Christian faith, declaring as it does to “count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness”, that does not mean that we as a country should sit on our hands.
Whilst welcome moves have been made by the Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi to address the issue, today’s debate in the Commons provides an opportune moment, before Christmas, for the UK government to outline how it can better use its diplomatic and trade muscle to enable Christians worldwide to pursue and celebrate their faith without fear of the consequences.
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