Originally published in Church Times
THE persecution of Christians around the world has reached “genocidal” proportions, and needs a response on the scale of the abolitionist or climate-change movements to raise awareness, a conference of politicians, bishops, and charities concluded.
One in every seven Christians is facing discrimination and persecution daily — much of it severe or very severe, which dwarfs the persecution of Christians experienced at any other time in history.
Yet the issue is not getting the attention it needs, and churches are failing to speak about it or support those who are persecuted, the conference on the rise of Christian persecution, organised by the Caucus for the Persecuted Church, heard.
The founder of the caucus and a Methodist lay preacher, Dr Russell Blacker, said that persecution was “taking place on an industrial scale”.
In his conclusions to the day-long conference, held in Truro, he said: “Christians are now identified as the most persecuted religio-ethnic group worldwide, with over 360 million living in conditions of severe to very severe discrimination and persecution.
“Existing efforts to prevent this, to prevent violent attacks and murders, to uplift those who are victims and provide for their families — practically, politically, and spiritually — fall massively short of the level of need.
“As a result, millions of Christians worldwide are left at the bottom of the pile — suffocated through a combination of political correctness, political and economic expediency, and casual indifference.
“The New Testament has a great deal to say about persecution for the sake of Christ, but one thing is clear: the primary responsibility for helping persecuted Christians are other members of the body of Christ — not the State. However, Churches and their leaders in the West, despite some shining exceptions, are currently failing badly in their understanding and commitment to the cause.”
Governments, he said, were ignoring the fact that the majority of persecution of Christians is religiously motivated, because it was “safer and easier to attribute persecution to things like climate change, or grazing rights”.
Christians should speak up loudly about the persecution of their brothers and sisters in the world, he said.
The conference also heard from the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Fiona Bruce MP, and Bishop Philip Mounstephen, whose Truro Review, in 2019, into Christian persecution, commissioned by the then Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, was accepted as government policy.
Ms Bruce said that the UK had convened an international ministerial conference on freedom of religion and belief this summer, which would discuss concerns over restrictions to freedoms, and would also agree “real and practical commitments to change”.
Bishop Mounstephen told the conference that it is “intolerable . . . that 80 per cent of religiously motivated discrimination is directed against Christians”.
Freedom of religion and belief, he said, should not be seen as a “sidebar or special-interest issue”, and he criticised the UK Government and others in the West for failing to take the particular vulnerability of religious minorities into account in the withdrawal from Taliban-occupied Afghanistan.
He called for a theology of persecution to be developed, which recognised that, for many Christians, and for much of the Church’s history, it was normal for Christians to face persecution. Those for whom it is not, should ask themselves how they would react when faced with the same, he said.
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