2014 has been a year of religious persecution. Meriam Ibrahim in Sudan, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and IS in Iraq have all hit our news screens, highlighting that even today there are medieval levels of persecution around the world.
The reality of this persecution poses two challenges to us as British Christians. The first is that this is a social injustice we cannot choose to ignore. It has always intrigued me that religious persecution is placed in a different category to other more traditional ‘social justice’ issues. Open Doors, a charity who campaign on behalf of the persecuted Church, claim that there are fifty nations in the world where Christians will face religious persecution. 70,000 people are in concentration camps in North Korea alone. Religious intolerance is the act of taking away one of the most fundamental freedoms people have. Freedom of conscience and belief lies at the core of any conception of human rights. Surely if we are going to advocate for the marginalized and the oppressed then securing this right should be a priority?
I am not only talking about advocating for Christians. Sometimes we shy away from taking any action on religious persecution out of fear of being called hypocrites who only look out who only look out for their own. We should take this as a cue to stand up on the part of persecuted religious minorities of all varieties, not as an excuse to do nothing. Jesus spent time with Samaritans, the persecuted minority in his culture, and shows us that we must stand up against all forms of religious bigotry.
The call to action against injustice is not the only challenge posed by religious persecution. The second is that posed to us by the examples of our persecuted brothers and sisters. Here we have people for whom faith comes first and everything else second. Ask many people in the persecuted Church what they want prayer for and they will say ‘God’s kingdom come’ before they say ‘my safety come’. They have counted the cost and found that Jesus is worth it. Is the same true for us? Pause for a moment and ask – how much is Jesus worth for me? Am I willing to risk all for the living God? How would my life change if I was?
So religious persecution poses us two challenges today: First, will we advocate on the part of the marginalised? Will we speak up, write to MPs, and pray for breakthrough so that there might be a change in this arena? Maybe it is time to call on our pastors and ask when the Church is praying for the persecuted. And second, will we learn from our brothers and sisters abroad? In a recent Economist piece, a house-Church pastor in China was quoted as saying, in light of the experiences of the Western Church, that ‘if we get full religious freedom, then the Church is finished…’ How sad it is that members of the persecuted church look at us and say that they would rather be persecuted than be like us. Will we listen to that challenge, make the most of our freedom and bring change in our society? Will we be courageous enough to put our heads above the parapet? The persecuted Church summons the Church in the West to rise up and show its integrity. Are we up for it?
I wrote this for the Just Love Oxford blog