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.

A US group led by a church minister is fighting against religious freedom laws which protect religious people and organisations from being forced to accept homosexual marriage. If we think present protection in law for Christians who follow the Bible’s teaching on such matters will last long-term we should take careful note. It won’t. Pray against this trend. See http://christiannews.net/2015/07/08/group-launches-national-effort-to-abolish-religious-freedom-laws-protecting-people-of-faith/

When Tim Farron was a candidate for leadership of the UK Liberal Democrat Party, he was criticised for bias because he is a committed Christian. He responded: “Surely you wouldn’t … run a campaign against somebody standing for leader if they were a secular humanist, or Jewish or Muslim. And if you wouldn’t do that, then don’t do this.” Quite! We can see the way things are going in the UK.

Sir Jonathan Evans is a former director-general of MI5 and an expert on counter terrorism wrote in the Daily Telegraph:

“The forthcoming Counter-Extremism Bill aims to crack down on extremism but definitions will be crucial, and implementation of the new powers will be fraught with risk. One can imagine already the powers being used against harmless evangelical street preachers or the like, out of misplaced zeal and a desire to demonstrate that they are not directed against one religion alone.”

Quite! We need to pray about this trend towards persecution.

Pastor James McConnell in Belfast is to be prosecuted for describing Islam as “satanic” and “the spawn of the devil.” Whatever we may think of the details of this case this is a VERY serious development.

I am totally in favour of treating Muslims with respect – of loving our Muslim neighbours. I also believe we should be careful how we speak about other religions in the presence of their adherents. We should express disagreements in ways which do not cause unnecessary distress.

But we MUST be free to express our disagreement just as Muslims disagree with us Christians.

If Pastor McConnell is convicted then the implications for Christians are extremely serious. Presumably they will be forbidden to quote important passages of the New Testament publicly. Let me briefly summarise:

• Jesus said that those who hear the Christian message but don’t continue to believe it have been deceived by the devil (Luke 8:12).

• St Paul says the minds of people who don’t accept the Christian message are blinded by Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4)

• St John says those who don’t believe Jesus is God’s Son are condemned by God already. God’s wrath remains on them. He also says anyone who denies Jesus is the Christ is a liar and an antichrist. His belief is not from God (John 3:18-19, 36; 1 John 2:22; 2 John 7; 1 John 4:2-3).

If we reach a point where Christians will be prevented from quoting such passages publicly then that means we will be forbidden to proclaim crucially important aspects of the gospel. The gospel is good news for those who believe in Jesus as the Son of God, but is a serious matter for any who consciously reject him. The result will be serious persecution of Christians in the UK.

We can learn a number of things from this remarkable event in 2015:

1. It shows how quickly social attitudes can change. Homosexuality was only legalised in Ireland in 1993 (and divorce in 1996). The main factor is the dramatic loss of influence of the Catholic Church and the other the great improvement in Ireland’s economy since it joined the EU which encouraged secular attitudes.

2. It underlines the huge responsibility resting upon the church and the very serious consequences of its failure to meet those responsibilities. The paedophile scandals amongst Irish Catholic priests, the repressive Catholic schools and the failure of the hierarchy to deal with these problems adequately have had a devastating effect. Attendance at mass on Sundays was 90% in the 1970s but by 2013 it was 34% and around 18% in Dublin. The Irish Catholic Church has lost credibility and, although 94% of Irish people identify as catholics, many of them voted for gay marriage. The failures of the Church of England are not as bad as the Irish Church but there have been paedophile scandals and the church has confused the nation over its view of homosexual practice. This contributed to our government suddenly approving gay marriage.

3. The great joy and exhilaration expressed at the result by those who voted yes has a powerful and insidious emotional effect (I found it moving myself). Suddenly gay couples who had been together for years could enjoy the prospect of getting married. One man held a placard saying: “Thank you Ireland. This means everything. At last at the age of 60 I’m an equal citizen.” Another man was moved to tears as he said: “It’s an emotional day. I’m gay and I had two relationships for 20 years each. My partners both died and I would have loved to marry them.” This emotion is dangerous ….

4. The emotion over the gay marriage decision is dangerous because it will have the effect of further marginalising the church and applying pressure to Christians who don’t agree with same-sex marriage. On the other hand, it will lead some Christians to move away from biblical teaching and approve homosexual practice and gay marriage. So, with these Christians it won’t lead to marginalisation but to a partial departure from the faith. Both persecution and departure from the faith were prophesied by Jesus.

5. However, the issue is not one of emotion but of what God has said. We need to go back to the Bible on the issue and ensure we understand what it says about it. The following papers I have written may be helpful

What about Gay Marriage? (a short paper). See http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/Whataboutgaymarriage.html

Homosexuality and the Church: a study guide for churches. See http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/homosexualityandthechurch.pdf

What does the Bible say on Homosexuality (a more detailed study). See
http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/biblehomosexualpractice.pdf

6. We should not only adhere to the clear teaching of Scripture about same-sex relationships but we should also have the right attitude to homosexual people. One of the factors driving the gay lobby is the wrong attitude that all too many Christians have – one of contempt for homosexuals as people. Ironically, the tables are now going to be turned on Christians as the gay lobby gets the upper hand. We are called to love our homosexual neighbour. That means we should respect them as people and be grateful for their companionship and care for one another whilst disagreeing with their sexual behaviour. In other words, we love our homosexual neighbour (like any other neighbour) but we don’t love his/her behaviour. We should also remember that homosexual behaviour is not the only sin! We are all sinners – but that doesn’t justify any wrong behaviour.

We are seeing massive social change at breath-taking speed. The consequences for Christians who uphold the teaching of Scripture will be very serious. We need to watch and pray.

A Christian bakery has been fined £500 plus costs for refusing to make a cake for a customer which bore the logo “Support Gay Marriage.” How should we respond?

1. We have to recognise that society is increasingly secular, including in its laws.

2. We can argue democratically (and strongly) for society to respect God’s law.

3. But we have to accept the reality of what society democratically decides, even though we disagree with it.

4. The balancing of opposing human rights is a complex matter. This is illustrated in the opposing rights present in the Belfast Cake controversy – gay rights afforded by society, on the one hand, and the right to religious freedom, on the other.

5. Society cannot accommodate every religious opinion (for example, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ refusal of blood transfusions for their children) but it was surely possible to prevent the infringement of Christians’ rights in a trivial case like this one.

6. It is sad that the legal case was mounted but the situation is complicated by anti-gay prejudice (as opposed to reasonable disagreement) and the danger of gay people wanting to get their own back.

7. The church should stand firm for God’s law (although always remembering to show compassion and respect for people themselves) but it has given confusing signals over homosexuality. For example, the official position of the C of E is that agreed by a 98% majority of General Synod based on my private member’s motion in 1987 which stated that “that homosexual genital acts … are … to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion.” But since then the church has confused society as to its position on the matter. It has also given the impression that we shall come round to society’s view in the end. The church therefore must bear a very serious responsibility for what is now happening.

8. As various people have said, the Belfast decision opens the way for similar prosecutions such as over:
• A Muslim printer refusing a contract requiring the printing of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed
• An atheist web designer refusing to design a website presenting as scientific fact the claim that God made the world in six days
• A printing company run by Roman Catholics declining an order to produce adverts calling for abortion on demand to be legalised.

9. I wish I could be confident that the government will sort out this situation where the law is an ass but I am concerned that the very beginning of real persecution of Christians in the UK has happened, although it is almost nothing compared with what is happening to Christians elsewhere.

10. I have long felt that approval of homosexual practice would eventually become a test of acceptability in society, failure in which would lead to serious consequences.

11. But how long will it be before the Christians come into much more serious conflict with the anti-extremism laws planned by the UK government? These, of course, uphold “British Values” (whatever they are) and particularly tolerance and avoiding causing distress to others. I anticipate that before long exclusive claims that Jesus is the only Saviour and even sensitive references to judgment and hell will be deemed illegal. Then we will be getting into deep water over persecution. In March 2015 Sajid Javid Culture Secretary made a very significant comment when he opposed the governments revived censorship proposal. He said it would be used “otherwise than intended, not least given the difficulty of defining extremism, and the consequent likelihood of the government being seen to be interfering with freedom of speech without sufficient justification”.

12. Christians need to learn now which are the primary issues of the Christian Faith, and which are secondary issues. If the law requires us to deny the primary issues, we have to obey God rather than the state.

13. We are in a very serious situation and many Christians, churches and church leaders are quietly snoozing through it.

There are some very significant serious things happening in the world today regarding persecution of Christians etc. Persecution is a sign of the End Times:

1. Christians ridiculed and oppressed in modern Britain

Michael Gove, former UK Education Secretary said that British Christians are ‘openly derided’ and ‘coolly dismissed.’ British culture belittles Christianity on a daily basis. He added that “To call yourself a Christian in contemporary Britain is to invite pity, condescension or cool dismissal. In a culture that prizes sophistication, non-judgmentalism, irony and detachment, it is to declare yourself intolerant, naive, superstitious and backward.

“Far from enlarging someone’s sympathy or providing a frame for ethical reflection, Christianity is seen as a mind-narrowing doctrine. Where once politicians who were considering matters of life and death might have been thought to be helped in their decision-making by Christian thinking — by reflecting on the tradition of Augustine and Aquinas, by applying the subtle tests of just-war doctrine — now Christianity means the banal morality of the fairy tale and genuflection before a sky pixie’s simplicities.

“The suspicion was that Christians helped others because they wanted to look good in the eyes of their deity and earn the religious equivalent of Clubcard points securing entry to Heaven. Or they interfered in the lives of the less fortunate because they were moral imperialists — getting off on the thrill and power of controlling someone else’s life and impulses. Or, most disturbingly of all, they were looking to recruit individuals — especially in our schools — to affirm the arid simplicities and narrow certainties of their faith.

“This prejudice that Christian belief demeans the integrity of an action is remarkably pervasive. And on occasion singularly vehement.

“One of the saddest moments during my time as Education Secretary was the day I took a call from a wonderfully generous philanthropist who had devoted limitless time and money to helping educate disadvantaged children in some of the most challenging areas of Britain but who now felt he had no option but to step away from his commitments because his evangelical Christianity meant that he, and his generosity, were under constant attack.

“I suspect that one of the reasons why any suggestion of religious belief — let alone motivation — on the part of people in public life excites suspicion and antipathy is the assumption that those with faith consider their acts somehow sanctified and superior compared with others. ”

Andrew Brown, writing in the Guardian, agrees with Gove and asks why this has happened over Christianity. He puts some blame on militant atheists but adds: “But the real problem is the slow drift of religion into a category separate from the rest of life and thought. Religions that work have nothing to do with faith: they are about habit and practice, and the things that everybody knows. Gove quotes the Book of Common Prayer, which I also was brought up on, and love deeply. But it’s gone now. It will never again be a book of common prayer. The more that any religion becomes distinct from the culture around it, the weaker and weirder it becomes. Of course it can flourish as an embattled and angry sect. But Christianity in England has not been like that for at least 1,000 years. Seventy years ago, TS Eliot could write that dogs and horses were part of English religion, as much as bishops were part of English culture. That’s now very much less true, and it’s hard to imagine a conservatism that could ever bring it back. ”

More recently Victoria Wasteney, a senior NHS occupational therapist, was suspended for nine months for trying to convert a Muslim colleague, Enya Nawaz. Victoria offered to pray for her Enya who spoke of her health problems. Enya agreed and Victoria prayed for her with the laying on of hands. She also gave her a book about a Muslim woman who converted to Christianity. Then Enya complained to their employer. A disciplinary panel accused Victoria of “bullying and harassment.” The case was taken to an employment tribunal which upheld the panel’s verdict.

Don Horrocks, Head of Public Affairs at the Evangelical Alliance, commented on similar cases: “There remains a clear reluctance to tackle infringement of freedom of conscience and the emergent hierarchy of human rights, which has left people of faith firmly at the bottom and often wondering whether in practice religion and belief is a protected right at all. There is a long way to go to achieve parity and equality on a fair playing field with other rights. When rights conflict, the test of equality legislation is whether it results in genuinely fair outcomes for everyone. If one group of protected rights is consistently trumped by others then equality is not working. Equality is important, but unless it is expressed fairly in the context of recognised diversity then it can become oppressive and end up being wielded as a blunt weapon to silence those we disagree with.”

2. The level of persecution of Christians is higher than ever, much of it by Muslims.

There continues to be an increase in the persecution of Christians worldwide and it is becoming more intense in more countries of the world.

According to Open Doors (an international ministry serving persecuted Christians and churches worldwide) “Overwhelmingly the main engine driving persecution of Christians in 36 of the top 50 countries in Open Doors World Watch List is Islamic extremism. The most violent region is the states of the African Sahel belt where a fifth of the world’s Christians meet one seventh of the world’s Muslims in perilous proximity.”

Open Doors continues: “In 80 per cent of the 50 countries in the [Open Doors] World Watch List, Islamic extremism is a key persecution engine. Islamic extremism has two global centres of gravity: one in the Arab Middle East and the other in sub-Saharan Africa.”

We are all aware of the evil activities of extreme Islamists, Isis, Boko Haram etc. But Open Doors makes the following important statement: “The most violent persecutor of Christians in Northern Nigeria in recent years is the Islamic terrorist group, Boko Haram, who have bombed churches and shot pastors. It’s an unsubtle attempt to smash the church. But in fact, for most Christians, the greatest threat comes from a creeping cultural Islamisation which has been stealthily progressing since the 1980’s, until Christians suddenly realise they are second class citizens in a culture that was once hospitable to them, and is now hostile to them. This ‘squeeze’ is as much a denial of freedom of religion and belief but cannot be tracked by monitoring specific incidents.”

Christians have faced increasing levels of persecution in the Muslim world. Muslim nations in which Christian populations have suffered acute discrimination, persecution and in some cases death include the following according to Emily Fuentes, communications director at Open Doors USA:
• Countries with extreme persecution: Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Maldives.
• Countries with severe persecution: Saudi Arabia, Libya, Yemen, Uzbekistan, Qatar, Kenya, Turkmenistan, Egypt, Djibouti.
• Countries with moderate persecution: Palestine, Brunei, Jordan, Comoros, Tanzania, Algeria, Tunisia, Malaysia, Oman.
• Countries with sparse persecution: Mali, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Bangladesh, Tajikistan, Mauritania, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Morocco, Niger, Bahrain, Chad.

It was disturbing to read a Sky News “British Muslims Poll” dated 20th March 2015 which found that 39.8% of British Muslims (and 46% of women) did not believe it was the responsibility of Muslims to condemn terrorist acts carried out in the name of Islam, while 28% of all Muslims (including 33% of women and 32% of under-35s) said that they had a lot or some sympathy with young Muslims who had left the UK to join fighters in Syria.

In the TV programme “Killing Christians” Nadine, a 13 year old Iraqi girl said very movingly (with obvious depth and sincerity): “The Christian religion is about love and peace. I feel very sad because the devil has taken Islamic State over. I will pray to God to enlighten their minds. Whatever happens, we will not give up our religion. We will not abandon Christianity, never.”

3. Islam is projected to be the largest religion in the world by 2100.

The Pew Research Center, an American think tank which provides information on social issues, public opinion, and demographic trends, has recently published the first formal demographic predictions about “The Future of World Religions.” Together with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, it has gathered data from more than 2,500 censuses, surveys and population registers, which has taken six years to complete.

It reports that, at present rates, Islam will grow faster than any other religion (twice as fast as the world population), partly due to fertility rates, and by 2050 will nearly equal the number of Christians in the world. Muslims, which numbered 1.6 billion in 2010, will then number 2.8 billion, or 30% of the population, and Christians 2.9 billion, or 31% of the population. In Europe, where 5.9% of the population are Muslim currently, 10.2% of the population will be Muslim by 2050. By 2070 the number of Muslims will equal the number of Christians (32% of the world population). By 2100 1% more of the world’s population would be Muslim than would be Christian

Between now and 2050, according to present rates, 40 million will convert to Christianity but 106 million will leave Christianity, most of them joining the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated. For example, in the United States, Christians will decline from more than three-quarters of the population in 2010 to two-thirds in 2050. The population of Europe is projected to decline and the number of Christians is expected to decline from 553 million (three quarters of the population) to 454 million (two thirds of the population).

However elsewhere in the world the number of Christians is expected to grow, although as a percentage of the population the number will decline except in Asia and the Pacific.

So Islam will grow increasingly dominant in the world, doubling in numbers by 2070 and becoming the biggest religious community in the world. Muslims will almost double in number in Europe too. Christianity will continue to grow but a massive 106 million are projected to leave Christianity by 2050. Incidentally, this is hardly the love of most [Christians] growing cold (Matt 24:12) but it is a massive turning away from the faith.

4. We must remember that Islam is an antichrist (alternative Christ) religion.

I know I’m on sensitive ground. I’m not agreeing with those who resent Muslims being here or having equal rights and equal respect. Such attitudes are wrong. I am concerned about the implications of the spiritual dominance of Islam.

I always want to show respect to people of other religions and, where possible, to show respect for what they believe. Nevertheless I do believe it is right to make necessary criticisms of their beliefs too. This is the case with Islam. My most serious criticism of Islam is that it is an antichrist religion (“anti” in the original meaning of “in place of”):
• It has a false view of Jesus (Isa): he is not divine, did not die on the cross and so did not rise from the dead.
• But this Jesus will return to kill the Antichrist (as viewed by Muslims) and to set up a short period of peace and justice before dying.
• This Jesus will be a committed Muslim. Christians and Jews will join him in the Islamic faith. All religion other than Islam will be wiped out.
This Jesus is antichrist, i.e. an “alternative” Christ who ends up opposing the true church.

5. Israel under Netanyahu is likely to provoke very strong reactions from around the world isolating her.

Another significant factor in the current situation is the political situation in Israel. Benjamin Netanyahu has been re-elected as Prime Minister of Israel. Just before the election he stated that if he was elected there would be no Palestinian state. His subsequent attempt to back off from that position is not seen as convincing by many people. He has also seriously upset President Obama and the US government. It seems clear that Israel is going to suffer much more political pressure and to become more isolated in the world. The Palestinians are likely to take Israel to the International Court of justice for alleged war crimes. In view of the bleak prospects over the peace process it is also inevitable that violence from some Muslim sources will erupt. Anti-Semitism is growing. The re-establishment of the State of Israel is itself a sign of the End Times but the prospect, prophesied in Scripture, of the nations eventually turning against Israel is, to say the least, increasingly credible. However, one must be aware that one (but only one) factor is Israel’s current political intransigence over Palestine.

6. Conclusion

So we have a situation where:
• Christians are being ridiculed and oppressed in Britain.
• The worldwide level of persecution of Christians is higher than ever, most of it by Muslims.
• Islam, the fastest growing religion, is projected be the largest and most dominant religion in the world by 2100.
• Islam is an antichrist religion.
• The re-established State of Israel is being increasingly isolated, pressurised and in danger of violent attack.

It seems obvious to me that all this mainly recent news has relevance to what the NT predicts about the Signs of the End.

Jesus said that one of the signs of the End and of his return would be that “many will turn away from the faith” (Matt 24:10). Is that beginning to happen today?

Religion “does more harm than good”

The majority of UK citizens now believe that religion does more harm than good. The Huffington Post discovered that only 25% of British people think religion is a force for good. Professor Linda Woodhead (Professor of the Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University) commented “This confirms something I’ve found in my own surveys and which leads me to conclude that religion has become a ‘toxic brand’ in the UK.”

Another survey revealed that only 7% of British people included religion as one of their three main personal values. It was in 11th position after respect for human life, human rights, peace, equality, rule of law, individual freedom, democracy, respect for other cultures, tolerance and self-fulfilment. It is interesting that in the European Union as a whole religion came bottom of the list of values. In most EU countries religion was not seen as an important value (with the exception of Malta and the Republic of Cyprus).

British Social Attitudes (BSA) surveys discovered a large increase in the number of British people who say they have no religion: 31.4% in 1983, 36.8% in 1993, 43.4% in 2003 and 50.6% in 2013. BSA also asked people over a period of 13 years about “Attitudes towards whether being Christian is important for being truly British.” Those who thought it was not very important or not at all important formed a majority of 64.5% in 1995, 64.9% in 2003 and 75.1% in 2008. The percentages saying it was very important were 19.1%, 15.6% and 6.2% respectively.

A study recently published by the UCL Institute of Education found that 54% of men said they were atheists or agnostics and 34% of women.

It is interesting to note that America is becoming less Christian with church membership static or declining. Americans born between 1982 and 2000 are the least religious generation in US history and they are becoming less religious as they get older.

Growing ignorance of the Christian Faith

The Bible Society discovered that:
• 25% of children have never read, seen or heard the story of the Nativity.
• 43% of children have yet to hear, see or read about the Crucifixion.
• 29% of children don’t know that the Nativity story is part of the Bible.
• 30% of secondary school children (aged 12-15) did not know the Nativity story appears in the Bible.

On the other hand, this ignorance can show itself in more creative ways. One firm produced a “British Christmas Jumper” which bears Christmas trees plus symbols of Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Sikh, atheism, Chinese philosophy and also the peace sign. The firm commented: “Britain has never been more multicultural, so we thought we’d create a Christmas jumper with a twist. We think everyone should be able to wear a British Christmas Jumper and celebrate the festive season – however they wish, no matter what their colour, creed or culture.”

Church Decline

Dr Peter Brierley recorded in June 2014 that the number of churchmembers in the UK in 2013 was 4.5% fewer than in 2008. Professor David Voas of the University of Essex wrote: “Two non-religious parents successfully transmit their lack of religion. Two religious parents in Britain have a roughly 50/50 chance of passing on the faith. The generation now in middle age has produced children who are only half as likely as they are to attend church, to identify themselves as belonging to a denomination, or to say that belief is important to them. Institutional religion in Britain has a half-life of one generation, to borrow the terminology of radioactive decay.” In the same year another survey discovered that 69% of the UK population do not trust religious institutions. The church came in 7th position after the NHS, police, social services, local authorities, judiciary and government/parliament. It is, of course, highly probable that the scandals about child sex abuse in a church context have contributed to this.

Secularisation

Assemblies

The National Governors’ Association has called for an end to Christian assemblies in state schools because they are “meaningless” for non-Christian children and because staff are “unable or unwilling” to lead them. The NGA claims that schools are “not places of worship but places of education” ignoring the fact that education should surely include experience of Christian worship which is important in itself and vital to an understanding of British history. The Church of England commented that stopping assemblies would “deny children the opportunity to experience something they wouldn’t experience elsewhere in their lives”.

Faith schools

An Opinium poll for the Observer found that 58% of UK residents believed faith schools should lose state funding or be closed down. Matthew Taylor, chair of the Social Integration Commission said that segregation between people of different classes and ethnic groups is being increased because of the increasing numbers of faith schools. He called on governors to publish regular reports on how pupils are mixing with other groups in society. One of the serious trends in society is that policies with laudable aims can easily lead to unintended damaging consequences. Of course, contact between different faith groups is a good thing but it can easily lead to pressure to avoid appropriately expressing important religious views for fear of causing offence to other groups. This leads to an undermining of religion.

The Church of England responded to Taylor by saying that former Chief Rabbi, Dr. Jonathan Sacks, went to Church of England primary and secondary schools and commented: “We Jews were different and a minority. Yet not once was I insulted for my faith.” In Birmingham some Church of England primary schools have an almost 100% school roll from Muslim families, serving children from local communities in the inner city.

Church Establishment

In April 2014 Yasmin Alibhai Brown wrote in the Independent, calling for an end to the establishment of the Church of England: “Religion is a vital part of a decent, civil society. When archbishops speak up for the poor (and irritate Iain Duncan Smith), when rabbis offer support to asylum-seekers, when Sikh priests give food to the hungry in their temples, when Muslim imams encourage charity, when faith leaders oppose state violence, they are the nation’s conscience. But, bit by bit, religions are demanding special rights and dispensations, and with well-honed piety are emasculating human rights, equality and autonomy. (They actually use the concepts of human rights and equality to get their own fiefdoms, segregation and legal adjustments.)”

However, she concluded: “This column is a song for secular democracy – the only fair, safe and universalising governance system. America, hyper-diverse and the most fiercely Christian nation in the West, is a secular state. Yes, we can be, too. And must be.”

Nick Clegg also called for disestablishment. Arun Arora, director of communications for the Archbishops’ Council responded: “Critics of establishment commonly fail to understand the duties of establishment where priests serve all the people in a parish and not simply their congregations. It certainly provides an identity and spiritual dimension for its own many adherents. But also, gently and assuredly, the Church of England has created an environment for other faith communities and indeed people of no faith to live freely. Woven into the fabric of this country, the Church has helped to build a better society – more and more in active co-operation for the common good with those of other faiths.”

It is interesting that Anil Bhanot, managing director of the Hindu Council UK, also responded, saying disestablishment would “weaken British democracy” and undermine the voice given to faith groups by policy makers.

Mary Warnock commented: “I would not like to live in a country that was entirely secular. As long as no one is in a position to tell me how to interpret it, or that I must believe in the literal truth of holy writ, then I like there to be an established church, a repository of a long-shared cultural heritage, with a ceremonial function, and a source of genuine belief for many people, of whom I am not one.”

David Cameron’s controversial commitment to “Christian values”

David Cameron (who, of course, has upset the church with some of his reforms) reiterated his commitment to “Christian values” in his 2014 Christmas message. Earlier in the year he had written in the Church Times: “I believe we should be more confident about our status as a Christian country, more ambitious about expanding the role of faith-based organisations, and, frankly, more evangelical about a faith that compels us to get out there and make a difference to people’s lives. … Being more confident about our status as a Christian country does not somehow involve doing down other faiths or passing judgement on those with no faith at all. Many people tell me it is easier to be Jewish or Muslim in Britain than in a secular country precisely because the tolerance that Christianity demands of our society provides greater space for other religious faiths, too.”

In response, various well-known humanists wrote to the press objecting to his saying that Britain is a Christian country: “Apart from in the narrow constitutional sense that we continue to have an established Church, Britain is not a ‘Christian country.’ Repeated surveys, polls and studies show that most of us as individuals are not Christian in our beliefs or our religious identities … We are a plural society with citizens with a range of perspectives, and we are a largely non-religious society. Constantly to claim otherwise fosters alienation and division in our society. Although it is right to recognise the contribution made by many Christians to social action, it is wrong to try to exceptionalise their contribution when it is equalled by British people of different beliefs. This needlessly fuels enervating sectarian debates that are by and large absent from the lives of most British people, who do not want religions or religious identities to be actively prioritised by their elected government.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury responded to the secularists’ letter by saying: “Judging by the reaction, anyone would think that [David Cameron] had at the same time suggested the return of the Inquisition (complete with comfy chairs for Monty Python fans), compulsory church going and universal tithes.”

There was also controversy over a backbench bill that will enable local councils to have prayers before its meetings. The National Secular Society had taken Bideford Council to court over the matter. Cameron had appointed Eric Pickles as Faith Minister in August 2014 in succession to Baroness Warsi. His job is to work with religious and community leaders “promote faith, religious tolerance and stronger communities within the UK.” He facilitated the progress of the bill.

The Catholic Bishop of Shrewsbury said: “Christianity is the single most important element in England’s history. From our legal system to our constitution, it is at the very foundations of national identity. There is a danger of airbrushing this from our memory and the intolerant secularism that we are seeing expressed does not allow for acknowledgement of that contribution and its importance to our present life.”

Charles Moore summarised the Christian contribution to Britain: “The United Kingdom has been explicitly Christian for more than a thousand years. Its monarchy, Parliament, morality, law and education; its flag, national anthem, key texts, much of its literature, art and architecture; its health care, many of its charities and endowments, public holidays and festivals, the structure of its week and its place-names – all these and many more are Christian in origin.”

Is Britain still a Christian country?

The historian Simon Schama (himself Jewish) believes Britain is becoming more religious. He said recently: “My generation grew up thinking that religion was completely marginal to British life, which, as for the rest of the world, has been proved more and more wrong. We were arrogantly isolated from that, thinking religion was just an ornamental part of Britishness. Now look at the success of the Alpha Evangelicals, how important Christianity has been to the community of West Indians, the huge place of Islam. Britain is becoming a more religious place, not less.” A poll conducted by OnePoll in April 2014 found that 35% of non-religious people in Britain believe in God and 43% of them pray at times. Also 32% want a religious funeral.

In 2013 the European Social Survey published the results of a 2012 survey on the question: “Regardless of whether you belong to a particular religion, how religious would you say you are?” The results were as follows and show more people regarding themselves as ‘highly religious’ in 2012 than in 2002:

Religiosity score  2002  2004  2006  2008  2010 2012
Low (0-3)              39.7   39.9    46.0    45.9    47.1   44.8
Medium (4-6)       36.1    34.6    31.2     30.5   29.9   29.1
High (7-10)           24.2   25.6    22.9     23.6   22.9   26.2

A 2013 Theos survey reported that:
• 61% of non-religious people believe that “there are things in life that we simply cannot explain through science or any other means.”
• 59% of non-religious people believe in the existence of some kind of spiritual being.
• 52% – think spiritual forces have some influence either in the human world or the natural world.
• 51% believe “prayer works, in the sense that it makes you feel more at peace”.
• 30% believe in God “as a universal life force.”
• 30% believe in spirits.
• 25% believe in angels
• 39% believe in the existence of a soul
• 38% think prayer could heal
• 32% believe in life after death
• 26% believe in heaven
• 16% believe in reincarnation
• 13% believe in hell
• Only 25% of the non-religious – agree with the statement “humans are purely material beings with no spiritual element”.
• 17%) of people said that prayer works “in the sense that it can bring about change for the people or situation you are praying for.”
• 13% of people say they prayed “daily or more often”, 8% say they prayed a few times a week and 34% said they prayed occasionally.
The Report went on to comment: “For all that formalised religious belief and institutionalised religious belonging has declined over recent decades, the British have not become a nation of atheists or materialists. On the contrary, a spiritual current runs as, if not more, powerfully through the nation than it once did.”

It is also a fact that a substantial amount of belief in the supernatural is more superstitious than Christian. A survey conducted by OnePoll on the 27 March 2014 found that belief in the supernatural and superstition ran at 55% against 49% believers in a God. The most popular supernatural beliefs were in ghosts (33%), a sixth sense (32%), UFOs (22%), past lives (19%), telepathy (18%), the ability to predict the future (18%), psychic healing (16%), astrology (10%), the Bermuda Triangle (9%), and demons (8%).

60% of people in the UK think of themselves as Christian, which is more than go to football matches. 23% say they are very or fairly religious. 55% say they believe Britain is a Christian country. 58% say they think Britain should be a Christian country and 50% agreed with David Cameron’s comments on the subject. Also, whereas 39% of people in 2011 agreed that “God created the earth and all life on it”, the percentage in 2014 was 41%.

British Religion in Numbers published a helpful survey of polls ranging back to 1965 over opinions as to whether Britain is a Christian country:

On the question: “Is Britain a Christian country?”

% Agency                      Agree   Disagree   Don’t Know
3/1965 NOP                   80          19                 1
12/1989 Gallup               71           21                8
4/2007 YouGov               39          51                9
12/2007 YouGov             43          57                0
11/2010 ComRes            50          47                3
2/2012 YouGov               56           33               11
4/2014 YouGov               55           33               12
4/2014 ICM                    56           30               14

On the question: “Should Britain be a Christian country?”

% Agency                 Agree   Disagree   Don’t Know
1-2/1968 ORC            81         15                   3
3-4/1984 Harris          67         31                   3
6-7/1987 Insight         69         22                   8
2/2012 YouGov          61          22                 18
4/2014 YouGov          58         23                  19
Linda Woodhead said recently: “In culture and institutions Britain is more Christian than not. What is happening is that people are leaving the churches, not faith.”

The Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, commented: “The evidence is overwhelming that most people in this country by a very substantial margin have religious belief in the supernatural or a deity. To that extent atheism doesn’t appear to have made much progress in this country at all …Our state, its ethics and our society are underpinned by Christian values.” He added: “As I go around and look at the way we make laws, and indeed many of the underlying ethics of society are Christian based and the result of 1,500 years of Christian input into our national life. It is not going to disappear overnight. They (the atheists) are deluding themselves.” He also said that he believed people were hesitant to express their religious beliefs because of the “deep intolerance” of religious extremist in British society.

Lord Williams, the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, said: “A Christian nation can sound like a nation of committed believers, and we are not that. Equally, we are not a nation of dedicated secularists. I think we’re a lot less secular than the most optimistic members of the British Humanist Association would think … A Christian country as a nation of believers? No. A Christian country in the sense of still being very much saturated by this vision of the world and shaped by it? Yes.”

Professor David Voas commented: “There is general agreement that young people increasingly do not regard themselves as belonging to a Christian religion, much less practise it. What is still debated is whether they are prone to ‘believing without belonging,’ in the phrase popularised by the sociologist Grace Davie. Many other scholars echo the view that religiosity is being transformed, not eroded. They point to the persistence of supernatural belief and the relative popularity of ‘spirituality.’ Levels of atheism have not grown a great deal in the past 30 years, and stand at under 20% … people are just less likely to associate with, or relate to, a particular religion.”

Conclusion

The serious decline in church attendance in many places is, of course, a cause of real concern. Although it may seem that there is a massive turning away from the Faith (which will happen in the End Times) the reality is more complicated. It is instructive to keep a sense of history in this matter. An 1851 survey showed only 40% of the population were in church or chapel on any one Sunday. In 1881 another survey showed that only about 33% of the population were attending. So organised religion, although much more important in those days was in decline even then. The Faith will not die out. Spiritual renewal will come. But turning away from the Faith will also happen, as Jesus predicted.

 

This article contains an update to my main paper “Discrimination against British Christian” which is on our Christian Teaching Resources website at

http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/DiscriminationAgainstBritishChristians.pdf

UPDATE 2 March 10th 2015

Oppression of Christian schools

Because of an incident of extreme religious views being taught in a British school there is now an emphasis on schools encouraging knowledge of other religions and tolerance – what are called “British values.” This is a good thing but it has led to most unhelpful results. A Christian school has been told it must invite a Muslim imam to take collective worship. The government seems unaware that many Christians would be willing to accept an imam coming to talk about Islam and answer questions but would have conscientious objections to their children being obliged to be led in Muslim worship. The right of a Christian school not to have Muslim worship must be protected (just as a Muslim school must have the right to refuse to have Christian worship). Schools are being required to “promote” other religions. If this means to learn about them, that is acceptable. But if it means a Christian school has to promote another faith as equally true to Christianity, that is a gross infringement of religious freedom.

Oppression of Christian organisations and individuals

A recent survey by the Evangelical Alliance found that 53% of British Christians believed they thought that they could get into trouble for saying what they believe in a work or professional context.