Last week, Aid to the Church in Need Ireland launched the organisation’s new report ‘Persecuted and Forgotten’ which examines the persecution of Christians across large tracts of the planet including the Middle East, Nigeria, China, India, North Korea and Vietnam. It is estimated that 80pc of all acts of religious persecution or discrimination are conducted against Christians. Why is that, and why the relative silence about it?
Christians are being persecuted out of all proportion to their numbers on the planet. About 30pc of people globally are at least nominally Christian, so that 80pc figure quoted above (which comes from an official UK report) is about two and a half times what should be expected.
Christians are persecuted where they are a minority. Several hundred million in total are to be found in China, India, the Middle East, Nigeria. Nigeria aside, Christians in the regions listed are greatly outnumbered by those of other faiths and none. They find themselves persecuted by Islamist extremists and Governments, communist governments, and Hindu nationalists. In each case they are seen as a threat to religious, ideological or ethnic purity.
Countries with majority Christian populations (with ‘Christian’ here being broadly defined to include nominal believers), are generally democracies, and while members of religious minorities, for example Muslims, can find themselves subjected to discrimination or violence, it is never with the sanction of the State and it is rare compared with what is happening in places like Iraq or Syria or northern Nigeria or China.
It is true that in the past, Christians could savagely persecute those belonging to other faiths, but that time is increasingly remote.
Why do we seem to care so little in the West about what is happening to Christians elsewhere in the world? One reason is probably the record of persecution by the Churches. Allied to this is our failure to be able to see Christians outside the West as genuine minorities with little or no power.
We seem to think that because Christians were once powerful in our own countries, that they must be powerful elsewhere, which is obvious nonsense when you consider the situation of Christians in places like Syria or Iraq or China.
Political correctness plays its part too, something that is acknowledged in that report commissioned by the UK Government and written under the auspices of Church of England bishop of Truro, Philip Mounstephen. We are reluctant, for instance to point out Muslim persecution of Christians because in the West, Muslims are a minority group and minority groups tend to be protected from criticism.
This is especially invidious for the persecuted Christian minorities in the various countries. They do not receive sufficient attention in the West because … we want to protect minorities.
Another reason given for not giving Christians due attention is, why single them out? Lots of groups are persecuted. But no-one ever asks this question when the persecution of (say) women is pointed out.
But above all, the Churches in the West need to do a lot more to highlight the persecution of Christians, starting at the level of parishes. Aid to the Church in Need promotes something every year at this time called ‘Red Wednesday’. People like Archbishop Eamon Martin did draw attention to it last week. We need far more of this kind of thing.
PS. Breda O’Brien wrote on religious persecution in the Irish Times last Saturday.