An Inconvenient Truth: Global Christendom in Crisis I Georgia Leigha Leatherdale-Gilholy
It is a hard fact that we are currently witnessing catastrophic encroachments on religious freedoms, in which seventy-five percent of the world population now live under governments that either restrict or prohibit religious belief and practice to an oppressive degree. Eighty percent of these unfortunates are Christian. Mere days ago, at the funeral of a seminarian abducted and murdered by Daesh-affiliates Boko Haram, Bishop Matthew Kukah of Sokoto in the northwest of the country, warned that his compatriot Christians were “marked men and women”. The Sri Lanka attacks last Easter, in which three churches and three luxury hotels were bombed, killing over 250 people, seem to have provided a brief rude awakening, where Nigerian suffering unfortunately hasn’t, prompting the British government’s commissioning of a long-overdue report on global Christian persecution. Yet, these cases are mere drops in the ocean of horrors facing global Christendom.
The 2019 report found that genocidal acts against Christians in the Middle East risked violent elimination or exodus. In Egypt for example, which possesses relative stability in contrast with wartorn Syria and Iraq, a total of 99 Christians were killed by extremist groups in 2017; 47 of these were killed on Palm Sunday in Tanta and Alexandria. Coptic communities have been taking the brunt of overwhelmingly one-way sectarian violence for decades and centuries.
In parts of East Asia, the suppression of Christianity in its various forms often comes in the form of centralised state coercion. China has issued a five-year plan in which Christianity will be further forced to “comply” with “Chinese values”– in other words, forcing the religion to become another arm of the Chinese Communist Party, denying its freedoms and principles of universal human rights beyond those granted by human government. “Unofficial” churches are subject to demolition, and their members to surveillance and prosecution. Tibetan Buddhists and Uyghur Muslims face similar crackdowns. Moreover, China’s Orwellian use of facial recognition technology to monitor its population should not be of concern to religious dissenters only. Far South West of Beijing, Pakistan’s National Assembly voted to ban Christians from standing for presidential election. Furthermore, the former British colony’s harsh penal code contains blasphemy laws that can prosecute “blasphemers” of recognised religion with punishments ranging from fines to the death penalty, and has been accused of “overwhelmingly being used to persecute religious minorities and settle personal vendettas“, endangering minorities such as Chirstians as well as the broader Muslim population.
If a wave of systemic repression parallel in force arose against a minority in a western nation, it is without a doubt that public uproar would ensure- and rightly so. So why are there no crowds taking to the street? The general indifference to this ongoing crisis does not appear to be down to a western tendency to dismiss the plight of refugees. Lamp Posts across the UK and beyond are plastered with “Refugees Welcome” stickers, and data suggests that British people, for example, are becoming more sympathetic towards foreigners fleeing persecution. A 2015 petition for the UK Government to accept more Syrian refugees, even gained half a million signatures. However, a corresponding petition for the government to prioritise Christians among these refugees- who are demonstrably at a higher risk amongst the warring Islamist factions of the Middle East- gained a measly 196 signatures.
A mere passing glance at European history confirms that Christianity is the bedrock of western arts, literature, law, and the morality that precedes them. Yet, the theology that once underpinned these features has been virtually abandoned, with only 6.3% of the British public regularly attending Church services. Those who maintain adherence to the historic faith are perceived as eccentric, or even scorned as unintelligent or archaic. The late twentieth century “New Atheism” movement capitalised on an already irreligious public, who were no doubt delighted that this position brought all manner of educated and well-spoken people to the soapbox, to tell them why their already spiralling hedonism was not just morally permissible but was, in fact, a brave rebellion against dusty and dangerous tradition.
Of course, this is not true of all non-believers, and haranguing them is not the purpose of this article, but it is important to acknowledge that the shadow that widespread atheism has cast over our culture and institutions has its downside. The UK, where barely 2% of young people identify with the state religion, ranks second-to-last in the global ‘meaning in life index’. Meaning of all the world’s teenagers, ours are some of the least likely to agree with the idea that “life has [any] clear meaning or purpose”.
This trend has demonstrably contributed to a dissociation of “us” in the “enlightened” West with Christianity, which in turn has resulted in an abject lack of concern for the freedoms of overseas Christian populations at risk of elimination, to whom the West surely owes a moral responsibility?
Fr Benedict Kiely, founder of the charity Nasrean.Org admitted that a top media executive had confided to him that the noticeable lack of hysteria in the face of Christian persecution, is in fact due to the unspoken attitude among intelligentsia types (including himself) that because the victims are Christian believers they are in some way “asking for it”. Aided by a general secular apathy, this harsh comment is nothing short of the natural conclusion of the hostile delusions instilled by our education system from childhood through to university, that labels the “white, western” (& thus historically Christian) as the ultimate colonial oppressors; and any other culture or creed as the colonised, inferior “Other” and thus “innocent”. Therefore, the concrete fact of sprawling Christian suffering that subverts this Disney-like “goodies” and “baddies” narrative, is passed up for more on-trend causes such as global warming, animal rights and the alleged oppression of women and minorities in North America and Europe.
My purpose is not necessarily to dismiss these concerns but to highlight the fact that more attention is undoubtedly given to them, as they better fit with modern secular and ‘progressive’ sensibilities. The commonplace labelling of Christianity as inextricably synonymous with white Europeans and historical colonialism is not only inaccurate and unfair, but it is dangerous. It has reduced populations in dire need of refuge and aid to insignificance for not being the “right” type of victims, and neatly fitting into the intersectional pyramid of priorities that allows progressive, cosmopolitan westerners to feel good about themselves.
Various anti-christian governments and militants certainly buy into some idea of a unitary “West” that is an enemy to them, and with whom Christians are deemed as somehow partly belonging to, yet the Western imagination refuses to acknowledge this reality, and thus abandons those who it surely has a duty to protect.
If Western nations are presumed to possess a moral responsibility to threatened peoples, it cannot ignore the group with whom it shares a fundamental historic connection, and who is currently at the highest global risk of oppression and elimination. After the publication of the Truro report, Jeremy Hunt, who had commissioned it while foreign secretary, said he thought governments had been “asleep” over the persecution of Christians. Yet it is his government who has failed to act wisely and compassionately in this time of need. The UK’s willing genuflection to Middle Eastern and Chinese governments for the purpose of short-term economic gain, makes any meaningful advocacy on the part of their Christian minorities unlikely. The idea that any special focus on Christian refugees due to their heightened risk and historic ties with European culture is discriminatory and unnecessary (and the consequent failure to hold the international community to account) leaves suffering Christians abroad exposed for the sake of winning cheap political correctness chips. In the words of Archbishop John Wilson of Southwark: “Freedom to believe is essential and if we do not speak up nobody else will.”
Georgia is a graduate student in Medieval History at University College London. Follow her on twitter @georgia_llg.
Photo by Nicole Lin on Flickr.