*** DEBUG END ***

Focus on the opposition to all faiths

22 August 2014

Religious people need to decry persecution more widely, says Paul Vallely

CONSIDER two statements. The hate that starts with Jews never ends there, Rabbi Lord Sacks said last week. The persecution of Christians in Iraq has been inexplicably neglected by the British Government, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, wrote in a letter to the Prime Minister. Both men were concerned with universal issues; yet both emphasised specific concerns of their own faith communities.

Likewise, Pope Francis this week stressed universality in his concern for Iraq. Members of religious minorities, "not just Christians", are "all equal before God", he said, suggesting that force could lawfully be used against the so-called Islamic State to end the beheadings and crucifixions of those who refuse to embrace its perverse view of Islam. Yet the Pope's views stood in stark contrast to what he said when the United States was threatening airstrikes on Syria last year.

Then, he vehemently opposed military intervention. Cynics might observe that, at that point, the Christians were largely escaping the violence in Syria's civil war. Today, in contrast, Christians are in the front line of persecution, and are being driven from places throughout the Middle East in which they have lived for 2000 years.

Bishop Baines's accusation against David Cameron's Government was that its policy in the Middle East was incoherent, unstrategic, and merely reactive. Given that it has an approach that seeks simultaneously to oppose both sides in Syria's civil war, there is truth in that - as there is in the accusation that our Government has turned a blind eye to the persecution of Christians around the world.

The International Society for Human Rights estimates that 80 per cent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians. Despite this, Western élites are largely in thrall to an outdated notion that Christianity, with its colonial and ideologically dominant past, is a perpetrator rather than a victim. Until recently, anyone writing to the Foreign Office to complain about Britain's failure to address this has been treated to a pompous politically correct reply, implying that anyone who is bothered about the ill-treatment of Christians must be some kind of religious bigot who is unconcerned at the plight of other minorities.

Even so, it is important that religious leaders do not focus on persecution only when it is their own adherents - in Gaza, Israel, Iraq, Syria, or wherever - who are under attack.

Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism, Lord Sacks says, and yet he decries a "rush to judgement . . . that if people are killed, it is Israel's fault". Bishop Baines laments the Government's lack of "a coherent or comprehensive approach to Islamist extremism . . . across the globe", and yet it is unclear what he wants the broader strategy to be in order to curb jihadi terrorists in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, and elsewhere. Pope Francis should consider whether earlier military action in Syria, or pressure on the Qataris and Saudis who fund salafi jihadism, might have prevented the spread of the savagery that now so repels him. Coherence is not merely the province of governments.

Paul Vallely's biography, Pope Francis: Untying the knots, is published by Bloomsbury.

Letters to the editor

Letters for publication should be sent to letters@churchtimes.co.uk.

Letters should be exclusive to the Church Times, and include a full postal address. Your name and address will appear alongside your letter.

Forthcoming Events

6-7 September 2022
Preaching as Pilgrimage conference
From the College of Preachers.

27-28 September 2022
humbler church Bigger God conference
The HeartEdge Conference in Manchester includes the Theology Slam Live Final.

More events

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four* articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)

*Until the end of June: we’re doubling the number of free articles to eight, to celebrate the publication of our Platinum Jubilee double issue.