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Our fellow-Christians are suffering

28 March 2013

WHILE Holy Week ends in the triumph of Easter, many Christians around the world live in a perpetual Holy Week of hostility, persecution, and terror. This is the thesis of one of the most sobering books I have come across this year: Rupert Shortt's Christianophobia (Rider Books; Books, 4 January).

Marshalling factual evidence and personal testimony, Shortt describes the plight of Christian minorities in the Middle East, West Africa, and Asia. We have forgotten that Christianity originated in the East, and was brought to the West by missionaries. Christian communities with ancient roots are increasingly treated as strangers in their own countries, stooges of Western imperialism.

Western Christians find it difficult to acknowledge this. Our ignorance of church history has left us without sympathy for Christians who are different from ourselves. Arab Christians are treated as relics of a failed past by Evangelical enthusiasts for the state of Israel. Chaldean and Assyrian Christians in Iraq received no support from the US invaders, and yet have been subject to arbitrary bombings and murder. Christians are second-class citizens in many Muslim countries, and are increasingly discriminated against.

Christians are hated for a number of reasons, but the common factor is that they are believed to represent a political threat to the societies in which they live. In China, they are feared as the harbingers of a more open society. In some areas of India, they are despised by Hindu extremists for standing outside the caste society; and in other areas they are envied because they tend to be better educated than others.

In many countries of the Middle East, it is easier for the Muslim establishments to dismiss Christians as foreigners than to recognise that their roots in the region lie deeper than Islam. Those who are suffering hostility tend to be reluctant to make much of it. Unlike some of their Muslim counterparts, Christians do not easily become radicalised or seek revenge. They simply leave if they can, often to the West.

We are not blameless. While most British churchgoers accept that we live in a tolerant society, where religious freedom is a given, many of us secretly believe that those countries we think of as less "advanced" are justified in imposing a unity of ethnicity, nationhood, and religion on their citizens. We patronise where we do not understand, and our casual acceptance that others are less equal than ourselves condemns our fellow Christians to a life of misery.

The Revd Angela Tilby is the Diocesan Canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and the Continuing Ministerial Development Adviser for the diocese of Oxford.

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