Persecution is one of the signs of the End Jesus speaks of in Matthew 24
PERSECUTION – THE PRESENT SITUATION
80% of all acts of religious discrimination are against Christians according to the International Society for Human Rights (a secular group).
Christians are persecuted in 139 nations (about 75% of the world) according to the Pew Research Center (compared with Muslims in 90 countries and Jews in 68 countries).
Open Doors, which supports persecuted Christians around the world, said in 2013 it had documented 2,123 “martyr” killings, compared with 1,201 in 2012 but that there were probably more. Other Christian groups say the figure may be up to 8,000. (One group claims there are 100,000 a year but this figure has been disputed).
Lord Sacks, former Chief Rabbi, said in the House of Lords that attempts to wipe out Christianity in parts of the Middle East and the killing of Christians across much of Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia amount to the “religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing” and is a crime against humanity.
Pope Francis said “I am convinced that the persecution against Christians today is stronger than in the first centuries of the Church.”
In April 2014 David Cameron said: “It is the case that Christians are now the most persecuted religion around the world. We should stand up against persecution of Christians and other faith groups wherever and whenever we can.”
In the Middle East there is very widespread and terrible persecution of Christians. The so-called Arab Spring has become a Christian Winter. Christians are worse off in Iraq than under Saddam and in Syria than under Assad (before the war). Some of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East have been destroyed. In August 2014 Christians fled from Mosul, the largest Christian town in Iraq, when Isis conquered it. It had a population of 60,000 Christians.
Open Doors now ranks Iraq as No 4 on the list of 50 countries where Christians are under greatest pressure. It commented: “Christians in Iraq are on the verge of extinction. Large numbers of persecuted Christians have fled abroad or to the (until recently) safer Kurdish region, where they face unemployment and inadequate schooling, medical care and housing. The church faces many challenges – members being killed or abducted, and a lack of capable leaders.”
In October 2013 the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning violence and persecution against Christians in Syria, Pakistan and Iran.
In China, Wang Zuoan, director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs, says (hypocritically) “Over the past decades, the Protestant churches in China have developed very quickly with the implementation of the country’s religious policy. In the future, we will continue to boost the development of Christianity in China. The construction of Chinese Christian theology should adapt to China’s national condition and integrate with Chinese culture.” The truth is that China is alarmed by the growth of Christianity in some areas and, as usual, wants to suppress or control it.
The church in the West is not experiencing persecution but there are disturbing trends. It is important to remember that sometimes actions taken for good motives can have seriously bad effects.
Oppression of Christian schools
For example, 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. Many Christians do not regard other religions as equally true to Christianity. They regard Jesus as the divine Son of God and only Saviour. Their right to that belief must be protected. At the same time they should promote understanding of and tolerance for other religions. Tolerance does not mean agreement but respect for those with whom one disagrees. For many Christians, to tolerate another religion means disagreeing with it in various important matters but nevertheless showing respect for its adherents.
To threaten Christian schools with downgrading or even closure because they do not actively promote other religions, including inviting leaders of other faiths to take assemblies, is oppression.
Oppression of Christian organisations and individuals
From time to time reports emerge of Christian organisations in universities being stripped of recognition because they will not open their leadership to non-Christian students. This means they lose free use of university meeting rooms and university funding. Currently this is happening at California State University but it has also happened in the UK. To require Christian organisations to be open to being led by non-Christians is not only ludicrous but intolerant and oppressive.
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.
The danger in all this is that the time could come when Christians are effectively forbidden to express and act upon very important aspects of their faith.