by Revd Alan Price
Sensational headlines telling us of the latest atrocities performed by Islamic State or other extreme Islamist groups are becoming so frequent, we almost take them for granted. Whilst it must be remembered that more Muslims have been killed than Christians, in this article I want to consider the problem faced by fellow-Christians.
Persecution of Christians can be traced historically based on the biblical account of Jesus in the 1st century AD to the present time. Early Christians were persecuted for their faith at the hands of both Jews from whose religion Christianity arose and the Roman Empire which controlled much of the land across which early Christianity was distributed. Early in the 4th century, Christianity was legalized, eventually becoming the State church of the Roman Empire.
St Perpetua helped the novice gladiator finish her off, her friend St Felicity is already dead in the background, Carthage.
Christian missionaries, as well as the people that they converted to Christianity, have been the target of persecution, many times to the point of being martyred for their faith. This is still true today. The relentless targeted persecution of Christians is driving them away from countries where Christianity has existed for centuries – pleas from bishops and archbishops are heard asking for help and prayer for their beleaguered flocks.
Open Doors is one of the organisations that seeks to spread information on the plight of Christians, as well as supporting them in practical ways. It says that the ‘smash’ type of persecution – the violence and murder that grab the headlines is bad, but there is another more pernicious type, the ‘squeeze’ – the subtle, less obvious pressures of being excluded from the family, losing your job, even being rejected from a more traditional church community. In Pakistan, for example, Christians are socially excluded, and permanently in fear of trumped-up blasphemy charges.ops and archbishops are heard asking for help and prayer for their beleaguered flocks.
Islamic State have now ‘legalised’ the rape of Christian women, and forced marriage and conversion are common in many Muslim countries. The list of injustices and atrocious practices could go on. Yet, as Open Doors points out on its website, it is not all bad news. Li Tien En, a famous house church Christian in China, used to say, “Persecution is two parts opportunity, one part crisis – God always brings opportunities out of a crisis.” So along with the darkness, there is also light; there is violence and injustice, but there is also hope.
What about us, nearer home? Some have experienced the “squeeze” in the UK. There have been incidents where declared Christian faith and/or practice has resulted in prosecution, such as that experienced by the B & B couple who refused to allow a gay couple to share a bed, or the bakers who refused to promote gay-marriage on a cake decoration. There is a negative discrimination practiced in many authorities, meaning that some Christians are denied the right to their opinions and beliefs. Christians have been hounded and branded as ‘stirring up hatred’ simply by expressing what they believe. There is a pressure to conform to the State, for instance over same-sex marriage. The “right to die” is the next such issue facing us. Whereas these issues are real, and need our prayerful consideration, we in the UK cannot really claim to be persecuted. Under pressure, yes, but not persecuted.
There is so much more one could write, and I realise that I may have made some sweeping generalisations. My purpose in writing this article is to ask for concerted action for those under real persecution in other countries, especially our fellow-Christians. In St Mary-in-the-Fields, Carol and I have decided to have 2 minutes each Sunday, dedicated to pray for them. There are several Christian organisations who are willing to provide information and aids to prayer. Perhaps you might care to write and ask for it?
Here are some addresses:
Christian Solidarity Worldwide
PO Box 99, New Malden, Surrey, KT3 3YF
Tel: 0845 456 5464
Open Doors UK
PO Box 6, Witney, Oxon, OX29 6WG
+44 (0)1993 460015
9 Priory Row, Coventry, CV1 5EX
Tel: 024 7623 1923
You may not feel that your prayers can make a difference, but they do. ~ Alan.