Having mentioned the recurring reminders that he will return to earth – false messiahs, wars, famines, earthquakes etc., “the beginning of birth-pains,” Jesus mentions extensive persecution as one of the later signs. Extensive persecution is an indication that the return of Christ is beginning to draw near. And there certainly is extensive persecution of Christians in the world today. Our first concern should be to pray for and support our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted. But we should also see it as a sign of the End Times.

 

2015 was widely seen as the worst year for persecution of Christians ever.[1]  Estimates vary between 100 million Christians facing persecution (Open Doors[2]) and 200 million (Christian Freedom International). They suffer torture, rape, imprisonment and death.

 

Open Doors reports that 7100 Christians were killed in 2015 (up 3000 from 2014), 4028 of them in Nigeria. These are conservative estimates and exclude North Korea, Syria and Iraq, where accurate records do not exist. 214 churches and similar Christian buildings are destroyed per month and 722 Christians (in addition to the above 7100 figure) suffer violent treatment every month.

 

At least 53 countries place restrictions on religion. Many are Muslim (35 countries) but extreme Hindus also persecute Christians. It is reported that one Pastor is beaten and one church burned every week in Hindu areas.[3] A “Religious Freedom Bill” is being introduced in India to “prohibit conversion from one religion to another by the use of force or allurement or by fraudulent means.” “Force” is defined as “including threat of divine displeasure.” This bill will outlaw basic Christian doctrines, such as salvation, heaven and hell.[4]

 

In India, the Hindutva movement within Hinduism argues that every Indian must belong to a religion which has originated in India. This view has become increasingly popular and is now a dominant force in Indian politics. Mob attacks on pastors and members of congregation, with attempts to force them to convert to Hinduism, have increased greatly, so much so that there was an average of one incidence of violence against India’s Christians for every day in 2015”[5]

 

Russia is now placing serious restrictions on Christians (and other religious groups). Religious activities can only take place on Christian property, not private homes (except private prayers) or secular land. Neighbours are obliged to report any breach of this law. Teaching about Christian beliefs can be carried out by clergy and directors of Christian organisations who have a state permit. Even private prayers in a home must not be said if a non-believer is present. Evangelism is banned even in church buildings. Encouraging an unbeliever to convert to Christ is illegal.

 

Pope Francis describes all the persecution as a third world war. Speaking about the Middle East, he said: “In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place.”[6]

 

Cardinal Nichols and the Bishop of Leeds said that Christians are the most persecuted people.[7]

 

The Roman Catholic organisation Aid to Church in Need said that Christians are fast disappearing from entire regions in Middle East and Africa.

 

In summer 2012 the International Society for Human Rights based in Frankfurt … estimated that 80% of all acts of religious discrimination were against Christians. In terms of outright persecution, the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community (COMEVE) resported that 75% was against Christians. But controversy surrounds reports that up to 150,000 Christians are being killed for their faith every year …

 

In France March 2014 Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I Seko of Baghdada said: “Interventions [by the West] in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya have not helped to solve the problems of their peoples. On the contrary, they have led to chaos and conflict that do not bode well for the future, especially for Christains…. 1400 years of Islam have not been able to take us away from our lands and our churches; now Western policy has scattered us to the four corners of the earth. More and more Christians are being victimized, and their exodus from the Middle East appears upstoppable.”[8]

 

Leaders of the European Parliament commented that the persecution of Christians around the world is not getting the attention it deserves. The President, Martin Schulz, said: Europe cannot afford to continue ignoring the fate of Christians, who are ‘ clearly the most persecuted group’ in the world.” The Vice President Antonio Tajani commented: “No religious community is as subject to hatred, violence and systematic aggression as the Christians. The West must break the silence on the persecution of Christians in the world and Europe must promote a model of society in opposition to religious radicalism and brutal and criminal projects, such as creating an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria and then extending its tentacles into Libya.”[9]

 

We need to pray regularly for our persecuted brothers and sisters, and to support them where we can. We can also remember that Jesus spoke of greater persecution pointing to the drawing near of his return.

[1] Open Doors http://www.opendoorsuk.org/persecution/trends.php

[2] http://www.opendoorsuk.org/news/stories/world_watch_150108.php?ref=storylnk1

[3] http://www.opendoorsuk.org/news/press_releases/pr_160112_worldwatch.php

[4]http://www.christiantoday.com/article/india.plan.to.ban.religious.conversion.sparks.fears.of.heightened.attacks.on.christians/68638.htm

[5] Barnabas Aid Sep/Oct 2016

[6] http://tribune.com.pk/story/918279/third-world-war-pope-deplores-genocide-of-christians-in-middle-east/

[7] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/we-must-stop-shilly-shallying-about-the-fact-that-christians-are-most-persecuted-people-says-a6785211.html

[8] https://issuu.com/acnusa/docs/p___g_2015_executive_summary_webver

[9]http://www.christiantoday.com/article/european.parliament.leaders.call.for.end.to.western.silence.on.worldwide.persecution.of.christians/72573.htm

Sadly, there was an 11% increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the UK in the first half of 2016 compared with 2015. 557 ‘malicious acts’ against Jewish people was the second highest ever recorded for a January-June period, most of them verbal abuse but 41 of them violent. The worst time was in April – June when anti-Semitism in the Labour party was highlighted in the media.

Brexit, the UK’s decision to leave the EU has not helped because it has destabilised the EU and brought right wing views and xenophobia to the fore. Pinchas Goldschmidt, President of the Conference of European Rabbis, told the European Parliament that Jewish people felt they were standing on a dangerous train track with “trains coming at each other with ever increasing speed … One train is the train of radical Islam and Islamic terrorism… The other train is the anti-Semitism of old Europe, the extreme right.” He went on to say that 22% of Jewish people in nine European countries avoided Jewish events or sites because they feared for their safety. 40% of Jewish people in France and 36% in Belgium said they avoided wearing symbols that identified them as Jews for fear of attack. Tens of thousands of Jewish people have emigrated from France and Belgium.

 

Baroness Jenny Tonge spoke in a House of Lords debate on the living conditions of Palestinian children. She accused Israel of “creating a generation of terrorists who will have a justified grudge against Israel and the countries who support her.” Jonathan Sacerdoti, of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, responded: “By suggesting there would be Palestinian terrorists ‘with a justified grudge’ against Israel, she is effectively justifying the terrorism that is aimed at Jewish people in Israel and around the world by Hamas and other terrorist organisations.” Baroness Tong has a history of making anti-Israel comments and was forced to resign from the Liberal Democrat party in 2012.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK Labour Party, claims to be against racism but in 2013 he attended an event organised by Paul Eisen who is a Holocaust denier. Corbyn also praised Sheikh Raed Salah and Islamist who believes in the old ‘blood libel’ (that Jewish people have murdered Christian children and used their blood in rituals).

 

Ken Livingstone, a well-known Labour politician defended Labour MP Naz Shah who suggested Israeli Jews should be transported to the US. He also claimed that Hitler was a Zionist. He said on the Arabic TV station Al Ghad Al Arabi : “The creation of the state of Israel was fundamentally wrong, because there had been a Palestinian community there for 2,000 years …  We should have absorbed the post-Second World War Jewish refugees in Britain and America. They could all have been resettled.” Livingstone was suspended from the Labour Party for these comments.

 

In March Tom Harris, a former Labour MP, wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “Labour does indeed have a problem with Jews. It can acknowledge that problem’s existence, confront it and deal with it. Or it can shrug, mutter something about UN Security Council resolutions and continue to court the support of those on the far Left who are the source of the problem.”

 

The co-chair of the Labour club at Oxford University resigned saying the club had “some kind of problem with Jews”. He said that one club member had organised a group to shout “filthy Zionist” at a Jewish student whenever they saw her. Some National Union of Students delegates applauded speeches opposing the commemoration of the Holocaust.

 

 

In March 2016 Lord Jonathan Sacks, former UK Chief Rabbi, wrote an article entitled “Anti-Zionism Is the New Anti-Semitism” in Newsweek. He said:

 

“Criticism of the Israeli government is not anti-Semitic. …. It is, though, a front for the new anti-Semitism, an unholy alliance of radical Islamism and the political left.

 

“What then is anti-Semitism? It is not a coherent set of beliefs but a set of contradictions. Before the Holocaust, Jews were hated because they were poor and because they were rich; because they were communists and because they were capitalists; because they kept to themselves and because they infiltrated everywhere; because they clung tenaciously to ancient religious beliefs and because they were rootless cosmopolitans who believed nothing.

 

“Throughout history, when people have sought to justify anti-Semitism, they have done so by recourse to the highest source of authority available within the culture. In the Middle Ages, it was religion. In post-Enlightenment Europe it was science. Today it is human rights.”

Jonathan Sacks shows the irrational nature of the evil of anti-Semitism. It makes little sense. I have concluded that the only explanation for it is that it is demonic. God has not finished with the Jewish people and the New Testament predicts a massive turning to Jesus as Messiah by the Jewish people. Satan would love to destroy them to prevent this being fulfilled.

 

The failed Arab Spring

It was in January 2011 that the “Arab Spring” began with the ousting of the President of Tunisia. The overthrow of repressive regimes throughout the Middle East was inspiring. But now, five years later, Islamic State is creating mayhem. There are civil wars in Syria and Yemen. The Sunni-Shia conflict has increased in Iraq which has been destabilised further by the civil war in Syria. There are authoritarian governments in Egypt and Bahrain and the Tunisian government is becoming more dictatorial. The Libyan central government has collapsed. Turkey is attacking the Kurds across its border in Iraq and Syria. Then there is the huge number of migrants fleeing the conflicts.

One of the causes of the failure of the Arab Spring has been the fact that the removal of dictators has not been followed up by the establishment of democracy and a trustworthy state. The Islamic movement was seen as the means for opposition. Initially, the west failed to see that the opposition in Syria and Iraq was becoming dominated by extreme Islamists.

So the Middle East has become more unstable than for at any time in the last century.

The colonial background

One of the factors which has caused tension in the Middle East and which drives the extreme Islamists is what the colonial powers did back in 1916. Britain and France secretly agreed to divide up the old Ottoman Empire between them. They created modern Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine without regard to the people groups and religious affiliations. This did not go down well with the Arabs and led to distrust of the West.

More recently the Western powers have not supported various Middle Eastern countries as well as they should. During the Cold War the US and the Soviet Union supported weak regimes because their collapse could have given an opportunity to one side or the other. That need is no longer relevant. So there are numerous conflicts in the region.

Christianity disappearing

A report has been published by Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), entitled “Persecuted and Forgotten? A Report on Christians oppressed for their Faith 2013-15.” In it John Pontifex, ACN Head of Press and Information, said: “A cultural genocide of Christians is erasing the presence of faithful from large swathes of the Middle East, the very heartland of the Church. Far from laying the entire blame for persecution against Christians at the door of extremist Islam [the report] demonstrates that many of the problems stem from non-Muslim extremist – nationalist – faith groups and historically communist totalitarian regimes.” The Middle Eastern countries where Christians are most at risk include Eritrea, Iraq, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria.

Saudi Arabia

I have written elsewhere about the secret agreement between the UK and Saudi Arabia to ensure that both countries are on the UN Human Rights Council. Yet Saudi Arabia has a bad human rights record and executes one person every two days, normally by beheading. When Malcolm Rifkind, the former Foreign Secretary, was asked if the UK should be urging the Saudis to reform their policies he responded: “That is not the way the world works. You can’t just trade with the countries you approve of, otherwise you would be ruling out trade with China, Russia, and probably three-quarters of the world.” However, that should not involve the UK doing such things as helping Saudi Arabia to be on the Human Rights Council. Little wonder that The Independent carried an editorial in January 2016 which stated: “Britain’s policy towards Saudi Arabia is a disgrace.”

Syria

Saleh Muslim, a Syrian Kurdish leader, warned that if Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, is defeated by the rebels it would be a world calamity because they are dominated by Isis and al-Qaeda terrorists. Yacoub el-Hillo, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Syria, warned that because of the conflict in Syria “Europe will be faced with a refugee situation similar to the one that led to the creation of [the UN Refugee Agency] UNHCR in 1950”.

Egypt

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, President of Egypt, is becoming increasingly dictatorial. There are 40,000 political prisoners in Egypt, half of them supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and many of them sentenced to death. This has encouraged extremists like Isis. Sinai is now as much under Isis control as Egyptian control.

Iran

Despite the agreement that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons (for 10-15 years), it is still a threat. Many countries don’t trust the Iranian regime. Iran backs Assad’s government in Syria, as well as Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, both of which do not accept the legitimacy of Israel. It also backs the Shia Muslim rebels in Yemen. The new freedom which Iran now enjoys could provoke a major Sunni versus Shia conflict throughout the Middle East. This could lead Saudi Arabia and Egypt into a nuclear arms race. Iran’s antagonism to Israel continues with Iranian Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan calling Israel “the world’s centre of evil, espionage and warmongering.”

Conclusion

The Arab Spring has turned into the Arab Winter. There is great instability and ominous rivalry. Amongst the many innocent people who are suffering from the situation in the Middle East are millions of Christians. We need to pray for them and for the Middle East generally.

Anti-Semitism in Europe

37% of British people think anti-Semitism has worsened in the last ten years. A recent poll has discovered that 32% of the population think Jews always defend Israel, even when it has done wrong, and 15% think they talk too much about the Holocaust. However 89% believe Israel has a right to exist. Another British poll found that 21% think Jews have too much power in the business and financial worlds, 15% think they have too much influence in global affairs and 12% that they have too much power over the global media.

Shmuley Boteach, a prominent US rabbi who ministered at Oxford University, said in November 2015 that the “UK is known as a country that is hostile to Israel.” He added: “British academics are arguably the most virulently anti-Israel group in Europe today. It’s quite widespread throughout British academia. They come out constantly with these boycotts.”
The (Jewish) Community Security Trust reported that anti-Semitic incidents in the UK rose by 53% in the first half of 2015 compared with the same period the previous year. The Metropolitan Police reported that there had been a 61% increase in anti-Semitic attacks in 2015. These figures may to some extent be due to more reporting by fearful Jewish victims. John Mann MP commented: “I am confident that the UK is leading the world in efforts to combat antisemitism. However our parliamentary visits to France, Germany, Ireland and Holland last year gave serious cause for concern about European antisemitism. The meetings we had in Paris were particularly worrying, as in some cases members of the community feared for their lives.”
Dr Moshe Kantor, President of the European Jewish Congress said in October 2015 “Over the past few years, tens of thousands of Jews have left [the EU] to seek a safer home elsewhere, and today, one-third of Europe’s nearly 2.5 million Jews are considering emigration.” The EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency reported that 76% of Jewish respondents said that anti-Semitism had risen since 2009.

The President of the World Jewish Congress said recently that anti-Semitism in Europe is as bad as it was in the 1930s and that “European Jews live in fear.” However Jonathan Arkush, Vice President of The Board of Deputies of British Jews, says it is different from the 1930s when Nazis were stirring up anti-Semitism whereas “Today, anti-Semitism is strongly opposed and condemned by governments across Europe.”

Mark Gardner, director of communications at the Community Security Trust, which advises synagogues and Jewish schools, said: “The situation today is very different, but the anxiety felt by many European Jews about antisemitism and jihadist terrorism is real and justified.”

One evidence of the positive attitudes of European governments is the offer from the Spanish government that descendants of the Sephardic Jewish community which was expelled from Spain in 1492 would be granted legal rights to apply for Spanish citizenship. The government stated: “This law acts as a [historic] recognition of the pain and the damage that was suffered in Spain by the Jews after everything they had contributed here.”

ISIS threats

In October 2015 ISIS produced a video in Hebrew for the first time in which a masked member said: “not one Jew will remain in Jerusalem … Do what you want in the meantime, but then we will make you pay ten times over … “look what happens to you after a number of stabbing and car attacks from our brothers in Palestine. You’ve been turned on your head,” he said, using the Hebrew slang for losing control. You’re afraid of every speeding driver and every person holding something in their hand … This is not just talk, this will hit you from every direction, north and south, and our account with you grows daily.”

The New Anti-Semitism

Many commentators believe that anti-Semitism has changed. Irwin Cotler was Member of Parliament in Canada from 1999 to 2015. He was also Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada also Professor of Law at McGill University and a leading scholar of human rights. He speaks of the UN clearly condemning Israel far more than any other country in the world, including those guilty of great crimes against humanity. He wrote:

Globally, we are witnessing a new, sophisticated, virulent, and even lethal anti-Semitism, reminiscent of the atmospherics of the 1930s, and without parallel or precedent since the end of the Second World War … the new anti-Semitism involves the discrimination against, denial of, or assault upon the right of the Jewish people to live as an equal member of the international community, with the state of Israel as the targeted collective Jew among the nations ….
The laundering of anti-Semitism under the protective cover of the UN found dramatic expression in December, when the General Assembly — in yet another annual discriminatory ritual — adopted 20 resolutions of condemnation against Israel, and only four against the rest of the world combined.

And the laundering of anti-Semitism through the culture of human rights occurs each time the UN Human Rights Council singles out Israel for discriminatory treatment. This singling-out is starkly illustrated by the juxtaposition of the Council’s permanent agenda item 7 —“violations by Israel of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories” — and permanent agenda item 8: “human rights violations in the rest of the world.” …..

The UN Human Rights Council, [has condemned] one member state – Israel – in 80% of its twenty-five country-specific resolutions, while the major human rights violators of our time enjoyed exculpatory immunity. Indeed, five special sessions, two fact-finding missions, and a high level commission of inquiry have been devoted to a single purpose: the singling-out of Israel.

Cotler lists nine aspects of the New Anti-Semitism:

1. Genocidal antisemitism: Calling for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people.
2. Political antisemitism: Denial of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, de-legitimisation of Israel as a state, attributions to Israel of all the world’s evils.
3. Ideological antisemitism: ‘Nazifying’ Israel by comparing Zionism and racism.
4. Theological antisemitism: Convergence of Islamic antisemitism and Christian “replacement” theology, drawing on the classical hatred of Jews.
5. Cultural antisemitism: The emergence of anti-Israel attitudes, sentiments, and discourse in ‘fashionable’ salon intellectuals
6. Economic antisemitism: BDS [boycott] movements and the extra-territorial application of restrictive covenants against countries trading with Israel.
7. Holocaust denial
8. Anti-Jewish racist terrorism
9. International legal discrimination (“Denial to Israel of equality before the law in the international arena”): Differential and discriminatory treatment towards Israel in the international arena.

Others stress that the old form of anti-Semitism is very much alive and well in the world. Some dispute that there is a new form of anti-Semitism but it is clear that there is a growing antagonism towards Israel (some of it created by Israel’s failings) and that the UN is comparatively unjust in its treatment of Israel.

The Vatican document on relations between Catholics and Jews

The Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews has published a paper entitled: “The Gifts and the Calling of God Are Irrevocable.” There are many good statements in this document. One thing is clear: the Catholic Church is strongly against anti-Semitism and also against “Replacement Theology” – the idea that the church has replaced the Jewish people because God has no continuing purpose for them. However I am profoundly disturbed by some of the statements it makes.

The document states that Jews are our “elder brothers” and we can’t understand the teaching of Jesus or the disciples without understanding its Jewish context. “Given Jesus’ Jewish origins, coming to terms with Judaism in one way or another is indispensable for Christians” (para 14). “Jews and Christians have the same mother and can be seen, as it were, as two siblings who – as is the normal course of events for siblings – have developed in different directions” (para 15). It goes on to disagree with Replacement Theology (also known as Supersessionism, i.e. the idea that the church has superseded and replaced the Jewish community) (para 17).

So, in these times of growing anti-Semitism it is good to have the Roman Catholic Church speaking very positively about the Jewish community.

However, I have to say that I find the Vatican document disturbing in certain aspects about salvation for Jewish people. It is important to say that it makes some statements I wholeheartedly agree with, e.g. “while it is true that certain Christian beliefs are unacceptable to Judaism, and that the Church cannot refrain from proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Messiah…” (para 13). “The theory that there may be two different paths to salvation, the Jewish path without Christ and the path with the Christ, whom Christians believe is Jesus of Nazareth, would in fact endanger the foundations of Christian faith … Jesus Christ is the universal mediator of salvation, and that there is no “other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved” (Acts 4:12) (para 35).

My problem is that the document goes on to say: “From the Christian confession that there can be only one path to salvation, however, it does not in any way follow that the Jews are excluded from God’s salvation because they do not believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God … That the Jews are participants in God’s salvation is theologically unquestionable, but how that can be possible without confessing Christ explicitly, is and remains an unfathomable divine mystery” (para 36).

It also states: “God revealed himself in his Word, so that it may be understood by humanity in actual historical situations. … For Jews this Word can be learned through the Torah [the Law] and the traditions based on it. The Torah is the instruction for a successful life in right relationship with God. Whoever observes the Torah has life in its fullness … By observing the Torah the Jew receives a share in communion with God. In this regard, Pope Francis has stated: “…. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh in the world; for Jews the Word of God is present above all in the Torah. Both faith traditions find their foundation in the One God, the God of the Covenant, who reveals himself through his Word. In seeking a right attitude towards God, Christians turn to Christ as the fount of new life, and Jews to the teaching of the Torah” (para 24).

It continues: “Judaism and the Christian faith as seen in the New Testament are two ways by which God’s people can make the Sacred Scriptures of Israel their own. The Scriptures which Christians call the Old Testament is open therefore to both ways. A response to God’s word of salvation that accords with one or the other tradition can thus open up access to God … Therefore there are not two paths to salvation according to the expression “Jews hold to the Torah, Christians hold to Christ” (para 25).

I have serious difficulties with the statements in paras 24, 25 and 36. The only way of salvation for both Jew and Gentile is through faith in Christ. The document does not refer to John 14: 6 where Jesus says: “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Nor does it refer to 1 Jn 2:23 “No one who denies the Son has the Father” or 1 Jn 5:11-12 “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” I find it disturbing that the document doesn’t refer to these passages

Jewish people cannot be saved through the Torah. I have no problems with Jewish Christians (who call themselves Messianic Believers) celebrating their Jewish heritage, including festivals, as part of their commitment to Christ. But if they don’t have a faith commitment to Jesus Christ (Yeshua HaMashiach in Hebrew) they do not have eternal life.

The Vatican document goes on to say that in view of its statements in paras 24, 25 and 36: “The Church is therefore obliged to view evangelisation to Jews, who believe in the one God, in a different manner from that to people of other religions and world views. In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews. While there is a principled rejection of an institutional Jewish mission, Christians are nonetheless called to bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ also to Jews, although they should do so in a humble and sensitive manner, acknowledging that Jews are bearers of God’s Word, and particularly in view of the great tragedy of the Shoah [Holocaust]” (para 40).

I’d be the first to agree that because of the dreadful way the church has treated the Jewish people in the past we have to be very sensitive indeed about Jewish evangelism – we are treading on egg shells. But as someone whom God called to head up a mission to Jewish people, I am bound to say I don’t think God agrees with the statements in paras 24, 25 and 36.

So, whereas I’m very pleased by much of what the Vatican document says and its clear witness against anti-Semitism, I think it is also a warning to those of us who are positive towards the Jewish people and believe God has a purpose for them that we must be careful not to compromise the uniqueness of Christ as the only saviour. We must combat anti-Semitism but we must not compromise the Gospel.

Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism September 2006

I will end this paper by pointing out another danger in combatting Anti-Semitism. The All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism stated in it 2006 report: “Broadly, it is our view that any remark, insult or act the purpose or effect of which is to violate a Jewish person’s dignity or create an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for him is antisemitic. This reflects the definition of harassment under the Race Relations Act 1976. This definition can be applied to individuals and to the Jewish community as a whole” (para 4).

Obviously I agree we must combat anti-Semitism but the problem is that Jewish people can easily take offence at Christians who are sensitively proclaiming the Gospel and pointing out that Jesus is the Messiah and only way of salvation. Does this behaviour contravene the Race Relations Act? I fear it will eventually be seen to do so, even if it is not so regarded at present.

Conclusion

Anti-Semitism is demonic and we must strongly oppose it. But the worst form of Anti-Semitism is to deny Jewish people the Gospel.

Britain has joined in the bombing campaign against ISIS. This is a controversial decision. The traditional Christian definition of a Just War includes six conditions:

1. It must be fought by a legally-recognised authority. Government, not private individuals or corporations.

This has been fulfilled because the UN (as well as the UK Parliament) has approved it.

2. The cause of the war must be just.

Combating the Satanic evil of ISIS is a just cause.

3. There must be an intention to establish good or restrain evil.

This is the intention.

4. There must be a reasonable chance of success.

This is more difficult because many people do not believe that bombing alone will defeat ISIS, although it will weaken them.

5. The war must be a last resort.

It is difficult to see how ISIS will be defeated without military action.

6. Only sufficient force must be used and civilians must not be involved.

This is a controversial point as ISIS deliberately mixes with innocent civilians. It seems inevitable that many innocent civilians will be killed in the raids.

However, it is all very well to debate the ethics of the bombing campaign. But how are the nations to defeat this terrible evil? It seems unlikely that western nations will be willing to provide ground troops, having been stung by the difficulties resulting from the invasion of Iraq. If local ground forces were strong enough to defeat ISIS, supported by the bombing campaign and other non-military action by the western nations, that would be the best way forward. But it is not clear that they are strong enough.

The solemn fact is that the western nations don’t really know how to cope with the terrorists. The bombing campaign won’t be sufficient and the security measures at home will not be adequate. Terrorism is now much more sophisticated with modern communications, weapons and many other resources. For example, Detective Chief Inspector Colin Smith, a security expert and adviser to the Home Office Centre for Applied Science and Technology, warned that a small quadcopter could easily be used by terrorists for attacks and propaganda purposes.

War, in the form of terrorism, poses a very serious new threat to the nations. No country can feel secure because even more extensive surveillance (which, in itself, has negative consequences) is not adequate.

Nicolas Henin, who was held hostage by ISIS for ten months, says that ISIS are not superheroes but “street kids drunk on ideology and power.” They see all that is happening as an apocalyptic process towards the defeat of the “crusaders” by the Muslim army. He adds: “They will be heartened by every sign of overreaction, of division, of fear, of racism, of xenophobia.”

Dangers from immigration

I want nothing to do with the idiotic and offensive comments of Donald Trump. Nevertheless, there are dangers in the refugee movement. I have already mentioned the report that a Syrian ISIS operative has said 4000 covert terrorists have infiltrated the refugee movement into Western Europe. Such a report could be propaganda but it is also credible.

On a different level, the huge influx of Muslims is bound to make significant pro-Islamic changes in western nations. Over 2.6 million refugees from Muslim nations entered the US in 2014, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. That compares with 2.2 million in 2010 and 1.5 million before that. European leaders have said the “greatest tide” of refugees is yet to come.

There are now nine civil wars taking place in Muslim nations in the Middle East and North Africa (Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, SE Turkey, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and north-east Nigeria). Five of them have begun since 2011.

The Prime Minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, commented on the influx of refugees: “Most are not Christian, but Muslim. Is it not worrying that Europe’s Christian culture is already barely able to maintain its own set of Christian values?” Donald Tusk, President of the EU, responded: “For me, Christianity in public and social life carries a duty to our brothers in need. Referring to Christianity in a public debate on migration must mean in the first place the readiness to show solidarity and sacrifice. For a Christian it shouldn’t matter what race, religion and nationality the person in need represents.” I agree with Tusk’s response but it would be naïve to ignore that having so many more Muslims, with a higher birthrate, will have a profound effect on western nations. Islam is a missionary religion which aims to win the world. Current events greatly further that mission.

Other threats

Boko Haram

Whilst we major on thinking about ISIS, it has emerged that Boko Haram, the Nigerian-based terror group, also known as Islamic State’s West’s Africa province (ISWAP), is the most deadly terrorist organisation. In 2014 it was responsible for 6644 deaths, as opposed to 6073 for ISIS.

Iran

It is reported that Iran has stopped dismantling nuclear centrifuges in two uranium enrichment plants due to pressures from the hard-liners who complained that the move was too fast. They produce low-enriched uranium for nuclear power plants but this can also provide material for bombs if refined much further.

Russia

Russia, under Putin, is reasserting itself after the US has dominated the world for over 20 years. In 2014 Moscow re-opened 10 former Soviet-era military bases which were closed in 1991. Russia is also flying more long-range air patrols off the US shores.

China

China is also flexing its muscles. I have noted before its reclamation projects on the Spratley Islands in the China Sea. It has built an air strip and harbour there. China is ignoring the territorial claims of Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei over this area. The US has decided to put a missile destroyer to patrol within 12 miles of disputed islands. China responded by saying that it will seek to “convince the White House that China, despite its unwillingness, is not frightened to fight a war with the US in the region, and is determined to safeguard its national interests and dignity.”

However, Xi Jinping, President of China, said recently: “War is like a mirror. Looking at it helps us better appreciate the value of peace. Today, peace and development have become the prevailing trend, but the world is far from tranquil. War is the sword of Damocles that still hangs over mankind. We must learn the lessons of history, and dedicate ourselves to peace.”

Nuclear threat

Russia’s actions in Ukraine and China’s expansionism has caused the US to look again at its nuclear arsenal. There are signs that US adversaries, especially Russia, want to be ready to employ nuclear weapons to deal with any escalating conflict with the United States.

We need to be alert and to pray about these threats.

A group of Jewish students tried to visit the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron (a city divided between Israelis and Palestinians) when they took a wrong turn. The finished up in a Palestinian area.

Fayez Abu Hamdiyeh, a local Palestinian, said: “I heard shouts outside, I left my house and saw the five Jews frantically leaving their car, which was attacked by stones. They were very anxious, one was injured and bleeding from his face. I reassured down. I told them in Hebrew that it will be okay, I gave them water, and I helped the injured man.”

He called police and sheltered them with his family in their flat until soldiers arrived to collect them.

No, I don’t believe the (ultimate) Antichrist predicted in the New Testament has been revealed. But I do believe that many Christians (and others) do live under antichrist rule today. In fact, around a quarter of the world’s population does.

John writes: “You have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come … whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ … is the antichrist – denying the Father and the Son … every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world … many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist” (1 John 2:18,22; 4:3; 2 John 1:7).

In the days when John wrote Rome, which persecuted Christians, would have been seen as an antichrist power. Others through history have been in the same tradition. And today there are many antichrists in the world including those who persecute Christians.

Persecution of Christians has greatly increased

A report presented in March 2015 to the United Nations in Geneva by the World Evangelical Fellowship, a global network of 160 million Evangelical Christians, estimated that over 200 million Christians in at least 60 countries are denied fundamental human rights solely because of their faith.

The Pew Research Center found that Christians face harassment and persecution in 102 countries – more than any other religion. Pope Francis commented: “In this third world war, waged piecemeal, which we are now experiencing, a form of genocide is taking place, and it must end.” John Pontifex, a leader in Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic campaign group monitoring persecution said: “The persecution of Christians is at a level we’ve not seen for many, many years and the main impact is the migration of Christian people. There are huge swaths of the world which are now experiencing a very sharp decline in the number of Christians.” For example, The Chaldean Bishop of Aleppo, has said that “if the war continues, as seems likely . . . all the Christians will leave Syria.”

Lisa Pearce, chief executive of Open Doors UK and Ireland said that in general, persecution of Christians is increasing, “and the rate of increase is accelerating.” She added that the nature of persecution has changed: “It used to mean several years in a forced labour camp. Now it means watching your loved ones being beheaded.”

The Pew Research Center concluded: “Restrictions on religion were high or very high in 39 percent of countries. Because some of these countries (like China and India) are very populous, about 5.5 billion people (77 percent of the world’s population) were living in countries with a high or very high overall level of restrictions on religion in 2013, up from 76 percent in 2012 and 68 percent as of 2007.”

The 10 countries who are the worst persecutors

The 10 most dangerous countries for Christians are
• Laos where the government is openly hostile to Christians.
• Uzbekistan where there are raids on churches.
• Iraq where attacks on Christians are growing.
• Yemen which practises Sharia law.
• Maldives where all citizens must be Muslims.
• Somalia which has no effective central government and Christians are in particular danger.
• Saudi Arabia which has no religious freedom. Public non-Muslim worship is banned and conversion to
Christianity is punishable by death.
• Afghanistan
• Iran
• North Korea where being a Christian is one of the worst crimes possible.

A 2014 Aid to the Church in Need report stated that conditions had deteriorated in 55 countries, and significantly so in six countries: Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Sudan and Syria.

Lord Alton of Liverpool said we will see at least half of the 12 million Christians in the Middle East either gone or killed by 2020.

Persecution in China

Persecution of Christians is at an all-time high in China. One of the reasons is that there are 100 million Christians in China and only 87 million members of the Communist Party. In 1947 there were only 4 million Christians and under Mao tse Tung 500,000 Christians were martyred. Yet the Christian community has grown phenomenally. Since China has a one-child policy for families, this growth has almost all happened as a result of conversions. This seriously worries the Communist government. By 2030 China will have the largest number of Christians of any country in the world.

Persecution in Israel

Sadly, some Israeli extremists have also joined the ranks of persecutors. Benzi Gopstein leads an organisation called Lehava which means “[Organization for] Prevention of Assimilation in the Holy Land. Gopstein has called for the removal of churches from Israel. “We don’t have a place for churches here…. It’s Jewish law. This is what God told us.” He condemned “the state of Israel’s great sin of allowing idolatry – churches and monasteries abounding in the Land of Israel.” In June 2015 the historic Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish at Tabgha, on the Sea of Galilee was burnt. Sixteen religious Israeli Jewish students were arrested on suspicion of involvement in the arson.

Some Muslims also make life difficult for Christians in the West Bank and the Christian sector of the Old City of Jerusalem. Areas which previously had a majority of Christians now have a majority of Muslims and many Christians have emigrated, partly because of persecution.

We need to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. What they are experiencing is a foretaste of what is to come, as Jesus predicted.

There is a debate as to whether things are improving with respect to the incidence of war or not. In May 2014 Dan Smith, Professor of Peace and Conflict studies at the University of Manchester wrote a paper called “The conflict horizon.” He pointed out that since the end of the cold war the number of armed conflicts had declined. There were 50 in 1990 but 30 in 2010. There were 646 peace agreements between 1990 and 2007. However he added that “The growth of peace has slowed.” There were 37 armed conflicts in 2012 and 32 in 2012. He commented: “It’s too soon to talk about a new, negative trend but the old, positive one seems spent.”

He then began to refer to causes of war: inequality (“The 85 richest people in the world owned as much as the poorest 3.5 billion”), climate change etc., and concluded: “In short, the risk of violent conflict is elevated where there has recently been violent conflict, where there are deep and growing inequalities, where basic needs are not met (or where the prospects of continuing to meet them are weak), where authority is based on arbitrary power rather than the rule of law or where institutions to address conflicts fairly are weak or non-existent. Where all these factors apply, violent conflict is likely to be endemic—if not as civil war then predation by armed militias or oppressive governments or large-scale crime.”

People like Saddam Hussein and other Middle Eastern dictators have been removed but now we have Isis, Boko Haram and al-Shabaab. Then there is the Russian threat to Ukraine. We are facing the worst global refugee crisis ever. The UN reports that in 2014 60 million people have been displaced, more than any time since the Second World War. One in every 122 people is either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum. The UNHCR estimates an average of 42,500 men, women and children became refugees every day in 2014 – a four-fold increase in just four years. 86% of these refugees are hosted by poor, developing countries. Other states are failing in their responsibility towards them.

The 2015 Global Peace Index listed the 10 most violent countries in the world: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Somalia, Sudan, DR Congo, Pakistan and North Korea. Six of them are Muslim nations, two are nations where Muslims and Christians are in conflict, one is a nation with Christian tribal conflict and one is Communist.

Sir John Sawers who was chief of MI6 from 2009 to 2014 stated recently that the modern world was “much more dangerous” than it had ever been, even during the Cold War. He added: “The stability that we had during the Cold War, or the predominance of the West that we had in the decade or two after the Cold War – that is now changing,” he said. “It’s a much flatter world, a much more multi-polar world, and there are real dangers associated with that.”

The danger of nuclear war

Dr Seth Baum spoke at the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in December 2014 and pointed out that whereas there were only two nuclear weapons during World War II, there are now 16,000. He said “If a nuclear war happens now, millions of people could die from the initial explosions, and potentially billions could die from the global nuclear famine that would follow … Nuclear deterrence works. The problem is, it does not always work. And when the consequences could be so severe, that’s a big problem … And then there is inadvertent nuclear war. This is when one side misinterprets a false alarm as a real attack and launches nuclear weapons in what it believes is a counterattack, but is in fact the first strike.”

An official statement from the Vienna Conference said: “Today, nine states are believed to possess nuclear weapons, but as nuclear technology is becoming more available, more states, and even non-state actors, may strive to develop nuclear weapons in the future. As long as nuclear weapons exist, the risk of their use by design, miscalculation or madness, technical or human error, remains real. Nuclear weapons, therefore, continue to bear an unacceptable risk to humanity and to all life on earth …. Nuclear weapons continue to pose an existential threat to all humankind. These risks are not abstract. They are real, more serious than previously known and can never be eliminated completely.

In its Report the conference stated: “As long as nuclear weapons exist, there remains the possibility of a nuclear weapon explosion. Even if the probability is considered low, given the catastrophic consequences of a nuclear weapon detonation, the risk is unacceptable. The risks of accidental, mistaken, unauthorized or intentional use of nuclear weapons are evident due to the vulnerability of nuclear command and control networks to human error and cyber-attacks, the maintaining of nuclear arsenals on high levels of alert, forward deployment and their modernization. These risks increase over time. The dangers of access to nuclear weapons and related materials by non-state actors, particularly terrorist groups, persists.”

In a final statement the conference said it was “aware that the risk of a nuclear weapon explosion is significantly greater than previously assumed and is indeed increasing with increased proliferation, the lowering of the technical threshold for nuclear weapon capability, the ongoing modernisation of nuclear weapon arsenals in nuclear weapon possessing states, and the role that is attributed to nuclear weapons in the nuclear doctrines of possessor states…”

In December 2014 ahead of the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, over 120 senior military, political and diplomatic figures from around the world signed a letter saying: “Tensions between nuclear-armed states and alliances in the Euro-Atlantic area and in both South and East Asia remain ripe with the potential for military miscalculation and escalation. In a vestige of the Cold War, too many nuclear weapons in the world remain ready to launch on short notice, greatly increasing the chances of an accident. This fact gives leaders faced with an imminent potential threat an insufficient amount of time to communicate with each other and act with prudence.”

It is estimated 16,300 nuclear weapons, in nine countries, still exist in the world. Pakistan is one of these countries and it is a cause of deep concern that it has had three military coups since the late 1960s and four prime ministers toppled from power since the 1980s. It also has an extreme Islamist group which is determined to remove the government from power.

Another cause of concern is that there have also been examples of the danger of nuclear conflict being started by misunderstanding. In 1960 an American U2 spy plane accidentally strayed into Soviet air space and almost started a war. In 1962 Americans dropped depth charges to force a Soviet submarine to the surface off the Cuban coast and two of the three officers in charge of the submarine voted to respond with nuclear missiles. So one man Vasili Arkhipov prevented a nuclear war. In 1995 Russian radar picked up a scientific weather rocket off the northern coast of Norway and suspected it was a nuclear missile. President Yeltsin decided not to launch a nuclear retaliation.

Another aspect of the danger is that of attacks on satellites in space. The 1967 Outer Space Treaty banned weapons of mass destruction from orbit round the earth. But the situation is now much more complex. Satellites are essential to military reconnaissance, communication and targeting. There is a danger that if a nation’s satellites were attacked or even struck by space debris this could lead to that nation assuming the worst and launching a pre-emptive attack. Some nations have tested anti-satellite weapons and others are thought to be capable of doing so.

The Russian threat

In November 2014 Mikhail Gorbachev, referring to the crisis in Ukraine, said “The world is on the brink of a new Cold War. Some are even saying that it’s already begun.” The President of Finland said that Europe is on the brink of “a new kind of cold war” and in February 2015 Carl Bildt, the former Swedish foreign minister, said a war between Russia and the west was now quite conceivable. David Cameron said Britain might need to accept a new cold war with Russia rather than do nothing about Russia’s actions.

General Joseph Votel, Commander of the US Special Operations Command warned recently that, despite the Cold War being over, Russia continues to be a threat to the US. “Russia is looking to challenge us wherever they can,” he said. He pointed to the recent nuclear energy deals made this year with Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia as showing Moscow is seeking to expand its influence, particularly in the Middle East. He added that President Putin is seeking to divide the 28 members of NATO. “The intent is to create a situation where NATO can’t continue to thrive,” he said.

It is a cause of concern that both Russia and the West have been doing some nuclear “sabre-rattling.” Vladimir Putin said in June 2015 that Russia was buying 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles. A NATO official commented: “The Russian leadership is rhetorically lowering the threshold when it comes to nuclear weapons and this is something which should not be done. It largely wasn’t done even during the cold war.” As a consequence NATO is preparing to re-evaluate its nuclear weapons strategy.

Lord Ashdown wrote an article in February 2015 saying the crisis with Russia is partly of our own making. He explained: “The West lost the greatest strategic opportunity of recent times when we reacted to the collapse of the Soviet Union, not with a long term plan to bring Russia in from the cold, but by treating Russia to a blast of Washington triumphalism and superiority. Putin has chosen to challenge, not just the sovereignty of Ukraine, but the very basis on which the peace of Europe has been founded these last fifty years. When the Second World War ended, Europe determined that it would end a thousand years of warfare driven by the assertion that large powers have the right to subjugate the freedoms (even the existence) of smaller nations, if they believed them to be within their spheres of influence. Instead Europe’s peace would in future be based on the principles of co-operation, peaceful co-existence and the right of all nations, large and small to determine their future based exclusively on the will of their people. By denying that right to Ukraine on the grounds that it is Russia’s sphere of influence, Putin asks us to abandon those principles. We cannot do so.”

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond accused Putin of “acting like some mid-20th century tyrant.” President Obama said at the G7 summit in June 2015 that Putin was deliberately ruining Russia’s economy in order to “recreate the glories of the Soviet empire.”

The danger is that, after the conflict with Ukraine, Russia will act against other countries. Andrej Illarionov, who was Putin’s chief economic adviser, said that Putin will not stop trying to expand Russia until he has “conquered” Belarus, the Baltic States and Finland. He is trying to create “historical justice” with a return to the days of the last Tsar, Nicholas II, and the Soviet Union under Stalin. Tomasz Siemoniak, Poland’s defence minister, said: “We can see that Russia is going in the direction of restoring the influence it had at the time of the Soviet Union.”

Isis and Jihad

Isis, in its propaganda, has spoken of the organisation soon having enough money to buy a nuclear device. It acknowledges that such a weapon being made available does not seem feasible at present but they say with their billions of dollars in the bank “it’s infinitely more possible today than it was just one year ago.” Also UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, said in 2014 that Isis could become the world’s first “truly terrorist state” and she added “We will see the risk, often prophesied but thank God not yet fulfilled, that with the capability of a state behind them, the terrorists will acquire chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons to attack us.” Rao Inderjit Sing, India’s Defence Minister, commented: “With the rise of Isis in West Asia, one is afraid to an extent that perhaps they might get access to a nuclear arsenal from states like Pakistan. A senior United States official, commenting on an Isis attack on Kurdish forces in Iraq in August 2015, said “We have credible information that the agent used in the attack was mustard [gas].”

Australia’s Foreign Minister believes Isis is capable of building chemical weapons. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commanding officer at the Joint Chemical Biological Radiological Nuclear Regiment, said: “It is very evident that Isis are putting much time and effort into training its jihadis in the use of chlorine as a terror weapon and in particular in IEDs (improvised explosive devices).”

In November 2014 Isis and similar groups carried out 664 attacks, killing 5,042 people. In July 2015 a document, believed to be a genuine Isis paper, claims the group is planning attacks on India and also to create a united army with Pakistani and Afghan Taliban. It says the organisation plans to create terror in the Middle East and South Asia in order to draw the US into an “apocalyptic” war.

China

Tensions are growing between China and the US over artificial islands in the middle of the South China Sea. They are called the Spratley Islands, a chain of seven semi-submerged reefs. One of them, Fiery Cross, once was only a metre above sea level. But now the Chinese have made it into about 500 acres (200 hectares) of reclaimed land with a 2 miles long airstrip and a large harbour. The US have detected artillery weapons. There is a dispute over maritime sovereignty over the islands between China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. But China has taken them over. The Spratleys lie on a shipping route which is estimated to carry £3 trillion ($5 trillion) worth of trade per annum. They lie in a rich fishing area and near a major oil reserve. The surrounding sea is also very deep which is good for keeping Chinese submarines hidden.

However, what is happening in the Spratleys is symptomatic of a more serious trend. The US is perceived as retreating from its international role and China (like Russia and Iran) is seeking to fill the void left by the Americans.

China is seeking to dominate the world, as the US has in the past. Its economy has grown very quickly. Many of its neighbours seek US protection against China but are economically dependent on China. In particular, China is aiming at what it sees as rightful possession of almost the whole South China Sea, an area of 1.35 million square miles.

China is developing the largest submarine fleet in the world, including many with nuclear ballistic missiles. It is also building many aircraft carriers and battleships.

Like Russia, China is seeking to regain its place as a preeminent, top rank global power. It was robbed of this position by European imperialism followed by American dominance. It would seem that China’s actions in the Spratleys is aimed at curbing the freedom of the US navy.

China may well seek to achieve its aims as much as possible through diplomacy but some experts believe that confrontations are inevitable.

North Korea

North Korea is thought to have up to 20 nuclear missiles and the ability to increase that number in the coming years. There is a real danger of nuclear accidents in this small, extremist regime. There is also the possibility of political turmoil or chaotic regime change which would make ensuring the safety of the nuclear weapons difficult. Even more serious, some experts have commented that if the leadership becomes financially desperate it could be tempted to sell nuclear assets even to terrorists.

N Korea has massively built up conventional weapons in the demilitarised zone between N and S Korea and it certainly has the ability to fire nuclear weapons into S Korea.

The nuclear attacks on Japan

The anniversary of the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki focus attention on the horrors of nuclear war. Some 140,000 were killed Hiroshima – about 70,000 on the first day. Others followed. Bill Travers, the Born Free star, was amongst the first to visit Hiroshima and he wrote: “The place disintegrated; there were no holes. Bricks became dust. Trees became blackened stubs. Bottles melted and assumed grotesque shapes. Pieces of metal curled and folded like silk. “There were no rags or pieces of paper; those and wooden beams and planks had disappeared as completely as the flowers and human beings who lived there.”

Christians were amongst the dead. Christianity had been banned in 1614 and all missionaries were expelled or killed. Many Christians were burnt to death or crucified. Then in 1868 religious freedom was established and 15,000 Christians emerged from the shadows. In 1914 a huge Gothic cathedral was consecrated in Nagasaki. It ceased to exist on the 9th August 1945 when the nuclear bomb exploded directly above it.

Kazumi Matsui, the Mayor of Hiroshima, recently called nuclear weapons “the absolute evil and ultimate inhumanity” and criticised nuclear powers for keeping them as deterrents. But there was also criticism of the plans by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to reduce the restrictions on the Japanese military which have been in place since 1945. Survivors of the Nagasaki blast said the new policy “will lead to war.”

Conclusion

We live in a world where there is increasing tension between the great powers: China, Russia, the EU/NATO and the US. There is also great instability in the Middle East, largely caused by extreme Islamists such as Isis. But there is a great deal of terrorist action elsewhere, in Africa, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Then there is the continuing threat of nuclear weapons, including of nuclear accidents and the possibility in the long term of terrorists obtaining nuclear weapons. We need to remember Jesus’ prophecies of wars and rumours of wars and to pray both for peace with justice and for those affected by war.

Recently, the US gave visas to Sunni, Shia and Yazidi delegates to advocate for persecuted Muslims and Yazidis but refused a visa to the only Christian delegate Sister Diana, a leading Iraqi Christian. Yet she had been granted a visa in 2012.

Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the US House of Representatives, responded: “I hope that as it gets attention Secretary Kerry will reverse it. If he doesn’t, Congress has to investigate, and the person who made this decision ought to be fired.”

Eventually Sister Diana was given a visa.

In 2014 when the US Institute for Peace brought together the governors of Nigeria’s for a conference in the U.S., the State Department blocked the visa of the region’s only Christian governor, Jonah David Jang.

Yet, more Christians are being persecuted in the Middle East than ever and some people point out that the increase in persecution is not just because of ISIS but also as a result of the US-UK invasion of Iraq. This puts a solemn responsibility on the US (and the UK).

I am definitely not anti-Muslim but it is a cause of concern when Christians, whether in the US or the UK, seem to have to play second fiddle to Muslims. Persecuted Christians and Muslims should be treated equally, i.e. well.

The “Arab Spring”

The so-called Arab Spring was a remarkable series of events including the following:

December 2010 Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor set himself on fire because the authorities had confiscated his produce. This was the culmination of many years of such maltreatment and it sparked protests in Tunisia and elsewhere, including Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Oman, Syria and Yemen.

January 2011 The Tunisian President fled to Saudi Arabia. A few days later protests in Egypt forced the Egyptian President to resign.

March 2011 Protests against President Assad began in Syria leading to a prolonged war with many atrocities.

October 2011 Lybian President Gaddafi was killed after a 9-month conflict.

February 2012 The President of Yemen resigned after protests.

June 2012 Mohammed Morsi of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood was elected President of Egypt.

July 2013 Millions of Egyptians demonstrated against Morsi forcing his resignation.

May 2014 Former army chief Abdel Fatah al-Sisi was elected President of Egypt

Many people saw all this as a positive revolution which would establish democracy in the Middle East. But it was not to be. Instead, there were many sinister developments. One early example happened in August 2013 when Muslims set fire to over 70 Christian churches in Egypt. Since then extreme Islamists have come to the fore, especially in Iraq, Syria and Lybia. The most prominent is, of course, the so-called Islamic State (Isis). The removal of dictators has opened the way to far more extreme leadership taking over. This had happened much earlier when the Shah of Persia (Iran) was overthrown in 1979 and replaced by hard-line Islamists. On June 29th 2014 Isis announced that it had re-established the Islamic Caliphate (global Islamic state) led by the Caliph Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi. One Iraqi politician said that the Arab Spring had become an Islamic Spring.

International chaos in the Middle East

Isis seems to be aiming at weakening Arab states and their armies so that it will be able to gain more influence and make it easier to ‘liberate’ the Palestinians from Israeli control. Turkey, Iran and Israel are the only strong states in the Middle East.

Syria and Iraq

Syria and Iraq are, of course, deeply divided and largely ungovernable. They are well on the way to becoming failed states. Isis (which stands for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is now in control of more than half of Syria and controls all the border crossings between Syria and Iraq. Their intermediate aim is a Middle East Islamic state which includes the territories of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Israel. Syria is crucially important for Isis because they see it as the heart of the Islamic State on the border of Palestine. They see it as the road to Jerusalem. Isis is known to have some chemical weapons but there is fear that they will gain more from Syrian sources. Israel is afraid that Hezbollah, the Islamist group based in Lebanon, also could get hold of Syrian chemical weapons and smuggle them into Lebanon. Some experts are afraid that people could be exposed to biological weapons such as anthrax, plague, and cholera which could cause pandemics that are very difficult to control.

Iraq is divided between a Shia Muslim majority and a more traditional Sunni minority. But Isis (which is Sunni extremist) also holds large areas of the country and at times the Iraqi army has shown it is not up to withstanding it.

Egypt

Egypt initially accepted 300,000 Syrian refugees but since Morsi was deposed has turned against them. President Sisi is authoritarian and there have been unfair trials and an increasing number of executions. Morsi has been sentenced to death and the Muslim Brotherhood has been outlawed.

Militant Islamists have mounted attacks particularly in North Sinai. Hundreds of police and soldiers have been killed. One terrorist group called Sinai Province has links with Isis.

Egypt receives financial support from the Saudis and the Emirates. It is regarded as supporting Israel against Hamas in Gaza which is seen as a terrorist group.

Iran

Iran is an oppressive regime which restricts human rights. It is strongly opposed by the Saudis and the Gulf States. It co-operates with Hezbollah in Lebanon to support President Assad of Syria. The US is, of course, seeking to ensure that Iran cannot develop nuclear weapons. President Obama stated in April 2015 that Iran will accept “the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear programme in history. If Iran cheats, the world will know it. This deal is not based on trust. It’s based on unprecedented verification.” However Israel is very suspicious of the agreement and believes Iran will not keep to it. Clearly the Saudis share this suspicion.

Jordan

Jordan has received 600,000 Syrian refugees. This, together with the surrounding chaos in Iraq and Syria is creating a serious crisis in Jordan and fears that the conflict could spill over into its territory.

Kuwait

Kuwait is an oppressive regime which curtails freedom of speech. David Cohen, Deputy Director of the CIA, once described Kuwait as the “epicentre of fundraising for terrorist groups in Syria” However Kuwait is regarded as an important ally by the West.

Lebanon

Lebanon has suffered by being caught up in battles between countries such as Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia and it fears that the Syrian conflict could spill over into its territory. Fears are also raised by the strong connections between Iran and Hezbollah, which is based in Lebanon and is regarded by many as a terrorist group.

It is a country where citizenship is only available to members of one of 18 approved religious groups. Power is shared out between these groups and, especially in the context of a weak state, this leads to an acceptance of compromise.

Lebanon has one million Syrian refugees, the equivalent of one fifth of the Lebanese population. The presence of the pro-Assad Shia group Hezbollah in the country has caused violent reactions from the Sunni community

Libya

Since 2014 there has been civil war in Libya. Central government has collapsed and the numerous militias are out of control. The country is moving towards being a failed state. Libya is very dangerous and journalists tend not to go there. Isis has moved into territory which is not controlled by the state and set up training centres for extremists. It was from there that the recent massacre in Tunisia was mounted.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is dominated by Wahhabism, a very strict version of Sunni Islam. It is repressive and carries out severe punishments, including many beheadings. No political parties are allowed. The Saudis, assisted by Qatar, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates have funded Sunni rebels in Syria and Iraq. However Saudi Arabia has 25% of the world’s oil supplies so western governments want to maintain good relationships with the country despite its bad human rights record. Hence Saudi Arabia has recently hosted a conference on Human Rights run by the UN Human Rights Council. The country is also the British arms industry’s largest customer.

Although the Saudis have funded Islamic fundamentalists around the region, it has now rebounded on them as extremist groups are threatening the Saudi leadership. They are also very threatened by the extensive influence of Iran in the Middle East, especially in Iraq. They have made it clear that if the US is not successful in preventing Iran developing nuclear weapons they will acquire them too. It is thought that the Saudis funded 60% of the development of the Pakistan nuclear weapons on the basis that they would be allowed to obtain some of those weapons if necessary. Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal has said: “Whatever the Iranians have, we will have, too.”

Tunisia

Many Tunisians have joined Isis to fight in Syria and Iraq.

Turkey

Anxieties in Turkey about growing Islamisation and the authoritarianism of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister led to riots and in 2015 Erdogan did not do too well in the election.

Turkey is very concerned to prevent the establishment of a Kurdish state by both Syrian and Turkish Kurds. They are sending troops to fight against the Syrian Kurds. The Turkish Kurds live in SE Turkey.

Turkey has accepted 1.8 million Syrian refugees.

Yemen

There has been an undeclared civil war in Yemen for some time. Iranian-backed rebels gained control of government institutions. The relationship between Saudi Arabia and Kuwait is close, not least because about half the Saudi army is of Kuwaiti origin. The Saudis are afraid of the Iranian influence in Yemen and they are also afraid that Kuwait will become a failed state controlled by terrorists. So in 2015 a Sunni Muslim coalition of nine Arab countries plus Pakistan invaded Kuwait.

Summary

Much of the conflict in the Middle East is between the more traditional Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims. They are at war with each other in Iraq, Syria and Kuwait. Isis is an extreme form of Sunni Islam.

Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen are torn by war. They are becoming failed states. Egypt is facing serious division. Saudi Arabia is an oppressive, anti-Christian regime. Jordan and Lebanon feel threatened and Turkey intends to prevent the Kurds establishing a state by violence if necessary.

In March 2015 a joint Arab military force was set up to face the unstable situation in the Middle East. The 22 states involved in the Arab League are to combine forces.

Many refugees have fled to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Other refugees are crossing the Mediterranean to find safety in Europe – causing problems within the EU.

The effects on Christians

One thing that complicates the position of Christians in Muslim countries is military action by western nations which are seen as Christian nations. Consequently, Muslim countries persecute Christians. The Arab Spring and the growth of Isis has led to much greater oppression of Christians in the Middle East.

In Egypt, where there is a long-established Christian community, the removal of President Morsi in 2013 led to the worst persecution of Christians in 1400 years. It was against Coptic Christians and 65 churches, Christian bookshops, schools and convents were burned down, looted or destroyed. There has been some similar persecution since then.

In recent years in Syria over 450,000 Christians have fled and hundreds of thousands are in hiding. Christians and Christian leaders have been abducted, ransomed or executed.

Since the 2003 Gulf War over a million Christians have fled from Iraq. In 2014 when Isis captured Mosul and much of the traditional Christian area around Nineveh 200,000 Christians fled to Kurdistan.

The chaos in Libya has meant that persecution has increased, with Christians being afraid to meet together. The only religious gatherings allowed are Islamic. Isis has executed Christians.

Saudi Arabia officially bans churches and Christian meetings, even amongst ex-pats. Sometimes the authorities take oppressive action to enforce this ban against Christians meeting in homes. Bibles are prohibited. Converts from Islam to Christianity face the death penalty. Nevertheless for economic and political reasons the Saudis are treated as respected allies by western countries.

The Israeli perspective

I write as a friend of Israel but I am a genuine friend who, unlike some Zionist Christians, faces up to her failings as well as defending her when appropriate. She is not treating the Palestinians justly and currently she is becoming increasingly isolated in the world through the unwise leadership of her present government.

However, some of the criticism of Israel is unjust and there is some which is based on thinly veiled anti-Semitism. In fact, some Christians have decided that Israel is in the wrong and don’t wished to be confused by the facts. There is a growing movement to boycott Israeli goods but, as Israel points out, there is no such boycott of other countries deemed to be guilty of injustice – Saudi Arabia, for example. It is essential that we seek to look at the world through Israeli eyes, as well as through Palestinian eyes.

Israel is still affected by centuries of persecution and the trauma of the Holocaust. She also knows that a large number of people dispute her legitimacy and would like to see her destroyed. Against that background she looks at the chaos in the Middle East around her – the extreme Islamism, the wars, the advance of Isis (which is now speaking of taking over from Hamas and ‘liberating’ Palestine), the threat of Iran, which wants Israel destroyed, gaining nuclear weapons after all (which is perceived as possible by the Israelis and others) and the danger the Saudis would follow suit. Yes, Israel should provide justice for the Palestinians but she also needs to protect herself. After all, Isis is getting too close for comfort.

It is all very well for the Christian armchair critics in the West to be calling for justice for the Palestinians. But they must also take the fears of the Israelis seriously. Yes, of course, sometimes politicians over-emphasise threats for political reasons but the fact is that Israel is seriously threatened – and things will get worse.

We need to pray for the countries of the Middle East, for Israel and for Christians in that region facing grave difficulties, persecution and violent death. We should also recognise that the growing persecution of Christians and the increasing threats to Israel are in harmony with the New Testament’s teaching on the End Times.