The most per­se­cuted peo­ple on earth

The Church of England - - LEADER & COMMENT - JAMES CAT­FORD James Cat­ford is Group Chief Ex­ec­u­tive of Bi­ble So­ci­ety. Fol­low him on Twit­ter or email him at james.cat­ford@bible­so­ci­ety.org.uk

Here’s a stark statis­tic. Eighty per cent of all acts of re­li­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion across the globe are against Chris­tians. Con­trary to pop­u­lar belief, Chris­tians are also the most per­se­cuted re­li­gious group in the world.

Ac­cord­ing to John Allen Jr. in his valu­able book The Global War on Chris­tians, anti-Chris­tian per­se­cu­tion can and should be classed as a global war. This is in spite of the term ‘war’ be­ing seen by many as over-in­flam­ma­tory and a provoca­tive call to arms. This is not how Allen uses it.

In some places the Chris­tians con­cerned are not be­ing per­se­cuted di­rectly, but find them­selves dis­placed and im­pov­er­ished as a re­sult of be­ing driven out of their homes by another re­li­gious com­mu­nity.

Allen’s sta­tis­tics are alarm­ing. He be­lieves that 100 mil­lion Chris­tians cur­rently face in­ter­ro­ga­tion, ar­rest, tor­ture or death be­cause of their faith. These are in coun­tries in places as di­verse as Asia and the Mid­dle East. There has been a seven-fold in­crease in per­se­cu­tion glob­ally in the last 10 years.

In 1991 Iraq had 1.5 mil­lion Chris­tians, but in the last 25 years that has dropped to around 250,000. Of the 65 churches in Bagh­dad, 40 have been bombed at least once be­tween 2003 and 2013.

More than 20 years ago I pub­lished a book by the vet­eran hu­man rights ac­tivist, Emma Ni­chol­son, now a peer in the House of Lords. The ti­tle of the book was ‘Why Does the West For­get?’ and it de­scribed the early days of the bru­tal regime of Sad­dam Hus­sain in Iraq.

The ques­tion Baroness Ni­chol­son posed re­mains unan­swered to­day. It’s not that we don’t know what is go­ing on in these me­dieval, and of­ten col­laps­ing, na­tion states. We see daily the latest atroc­i­ties and war crimes com­mit­ted against vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple.

Where once it was the plight of mil­lions that caught the head­lines, now it is the threat to World Her­itage Sites that prompt the out­rage in ouro news media. Yet wide­spread knowl­edge about what is hap­pen­ing right in front of us has stim­u­lated a woe­fully in­sub­stan­tial re­sponse. Why is this? One rea­son is the con­cern of some that we should not pro­voke a con­flict with Is­lam. This may be a noble mo­tive, but if it dis­guises the facts of the geno­cide then should we re­view our stance on this?

In any case, all the per­se­cu­tion is not about Is­lam. Threats come from mul­ti­ple places, in­clud­ing ul­tra­na­tion­al­ists, to­tal­i­tar­ian states, rad­i­cal Hin­dus and Bud­dhists, crim­i­nal syn­di­cates, state se­cu­rity po­lices, sec­u­lar hos­til­ity and, even, rad­i­cal Chris­tians.

The other rea­son why the West for­gets is that, ac­cord­ing to one com­men­ta­tor, they are too Chris­tian to ex­cite the left and too for­eign to ex­cite the right. This may be un­fair, but there might be a grain of truth in it as a di­ag­no­sis.

Such hor­rors com­mit­ted in our ‘civilised age’ should stir us to make two re­sponses. One is to re­ject the band­wagon of say­ing that per­se­cu­tion against Chris­tians is wide­spread in Bri­tain to­day. Such a claim only triv­i­alises the grim re­al­ity for so many around the world. There is sim­ply no moral equiv­a­lence be­tween the two ex­pe­ri­ences.

The other re­sponse should be to pledge, with deep sin­cer­ity of heart, never to for­get what our Chris­tian broth­ers and sis­ters are fac­ing. This is what they tell us they need most, to be re­mem­bered.

Such is the power of prayer that, to the one pray­ing, can seem so in­ad­e­quate. Yet it re­mains a pow­er­ful force in the world and huge com­fort to those in need. In our churches we can de­vote our­selves to prayer and sup­port all ef­forts to free the brethren, and to heal their wounds.

Our part can be to tell and retell the sto­ries of those worst af­fected. Char­i­ties like Bi­ble So­ci­ety are work­ing in some of the most per­se­cuted places in the world. Our staff can tes­tify that this is not an iso­lated prob­lem that is likely to go away any time soon. Lest we for­get.

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