The Persecution of Christians

The bishop of Truro’s report on the persecution of Christians contained no surprises for those who keep au fait with such matters. Unless memory plays me false, I seem to remember someone remarking forty years ago that a couple of lartge jets would be all that would be needed to remove the entire Christian population of Israel. The situation today in parts of the Middle East, North Africa, India, China and many other places, however, is not merely one of petty persecution and decline but of ruthless violence intended to exterminate every Christian. Church leaders can say all they like about how wrong it is, but unless and until politicians recognize both the injustice and the danger it poses to many of the values we hold dear as a free society, it is difficult to see how matters can improve.

To some, Christians are merely reaping the consequences of colonialism and whatever they suffer is justified by reference to that. Identifying Christianity with colonialism has always seemed to me slightly questionable, but I accept that many have shied away from a defence of modern-day Christians because of what happened in the past. The trouble is, our historical perspective is often faulty or, at the very least, partial. We rightly condemn the evil of slavery, for example, while being remarkably ambivalent about the kinds of exploitation that exist today. It is easy to condemn the people of the past, but making those of the present pay is morally dubious. Where does responsibility lie? Can we really judge the past by the standards of the present?

The University of Cambridge is just embarking on a two-year investigation into its connection with slavery and the slave trade. It will be interesting to see what conclusions are drawn. My first reaction was that it was one of those politically correct exercises that fosters guilt but achieves little of substance. It is clearly not meant to be a historical investigation as such, and from what I have read it is not concerned with the modern forms of exploitation many of us find troubling. The nearest parallel I can find is with those public enquiries into the perceived failures of the army, police, medical profession, social workers and others that centre on the sadness and distress suffered by individuals or groups of people whose lives have been turned upside down by what they have experienced, but with this difference — we can’t change the past; we can’t ‘make it better’ for those who were enslaved or who were cruelly mistreated.

In the case of modern-day Christians, I think we face a particular difficulty. There are those who wish to eradicate Christianity and deliberately target Christians. Frequently, and especially if they are Westerners, they have very sketchy ideas about what Christians actually believe, but the one thing they all know is that Christians are meant to be forgiving. No matter how harsh the treatment meted out, no matter what suffering is inflicted, even to the loss of life in the most brutal and painful circumstances, the Christian must forgive. I am, as you may imagine, far from being impartial, but I believe that the forgiveness of Christians enduring persecution — at this very minute, remember — is not only worthy of record but a witness the whole world needs. We pray for them, of course, but perhaps we should glory in them even more for they show Christ to the world in a way that we more lily-livered types never can. They demonstrate by their fidelity and their refusal to hate that there is a better way; that the world can be transformed by grace.

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5 thoughts on “The Persecution of Christians”

  1. I can‘t help but remember C.S.Lewis‘ „The Screwtape Letters“. The world seen through the eyes of a mentoring devil, full of humour but with a serious message. Screwtape concentrates on one victim and shows how the victim‘s own character can be made to cause his downfall. It seems to me that our very desire to right the sins of the past is leading us down the wrong path. We chase our tails in ever decreasing circles, a fruitless occupation full of good intentions – and we know where that road leads- and miss the real wrongs happening under our noses, like exploitation of workers in the Third World etc. I‘m not saying there should never be a reckoning for those who commit crimes against humanity, obviously e.g the Nuremberg trials had to happen. But we must face the front and live life forwards.

  2. I don’t think that it is appropriate to punish people for the sins of their ancestors.
    But at the same time, it is easy for the descendants of the oppressors to say “We can’t do anything about the past.” Here in the US, we see that the failures of the past continue to hurt the groups that we pushed down in our pursuit of ‘manifest destiny’. Native Americans and African-Americans, in particular, have never been able to access the prosperity and security that is rooted in the land and labor that was stolen from their ancestors.
    I was intrigued by Georgetown University’s recent efforts to deal with it’s history of slaveholding by offering free admission to the descendants of the slaves the school once owned. It seems like a genuine, and yet practical, effort to redress an historical wrong. Unfortunately, I can’t imagine a way to translate that effort to society at large.

    • I think the history of slavery is a more complex matter in the USA than it is here because of the part segregation has played. In saying we can’t do anythign about the past, I was being very literal. We cannot ease the sufferings of those were enslaved. As a Hispanist, I am interested in the history of slavery in the Iberian Peninsula where there was a very differnt situation; and the slave trade is something else again — far too much for a brief post about ther bishop of Truro’s report on the persecution of Christians.

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