A grim outlook for Christianity – Editorial in THE AUSTRALIAN, December 26, 2013
RESEARCH showing Christianity is now the most widely persecuted religious group in the world should be an urgent wake-up call to all who value the principles of religious freedom and tolerance enshrined in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted 65 years ago this month. Indeed, Christianity could, after 2000 years, be facing the threat of extinction in its birthplace in the Middle East.
The outlook is unremittingly grim for Christians in many parts of the world. In some of the darker corners, there are Christians for whom attending a church service is no longer an act of faithful witness but, as British Labour MP Douglas Alexander has succinctly put it, “an act of life-risking bravery”.
At last count, according to the Pew Research Centre, religious groups faced harassment in 160 countries. Christians were the targets in by far the largest number of them.
In Egypt, home to what was once a stable Coptic Christian community, but now besieged by Islamic extremism, 207 churches have been attacked this year and 43 destroyed.
Previously thriving Christian communities are under siege everywhere — from Syria, where 450,000 Christians have fled the civil war, to Iraq, where a Christian community of one million has been decimated and now numbers barely 200,000, and on to Iran, where hundreds of Christians have been incarcerated and churches open at their peril. Christians now constitute barely 4 per cent of the Middle East’s population. The Arab Spring, as the writer William Dalrymple has pointed out, is “rapidly turning into a Christian winter”.
In the new, “democratic” Afghanistan, despite the West’s largesse, Christians are compelled to worship in secret.
In neighbouring Pakistan, Christians live under growing fear of persecution and discrimination. In Nigeria, Christians are under constant attack from al-Qa’ida linked Boko Haram Islamic terrorists. In North Korea, between 50,000 and 100,000 Christians are in forced labour camps.
In Myanmar, minority Chin and Karen ethnic Christians are being persecuted by the Buddhist majority.
The inventory of attacks is interminable. The German International Society of Human Rights has concluded 80 per cent of all acts of religious discrimination and vilification across the world are directed at Christians.
To his credit, Prince Charles, the future leader of the Church of England, has spoken of his “outrage”, ignoring the usual woolly-headed tendency in politically correct quarters to skirt around the issue. He has placed the blame for the attacks where it belongs — with “fundamentalist Islamist militants” — and warns of the “acute circumstances” Christianity faces.
Similarly, the Pope, confronted by forecasts of Christianity’s demise in the part of the world where it began, has warned “we cannot resign ourselves to think of a Middle East without Christians”.
Both are right: Christianity is now quite literally under the gun across a large part of the world. If the international community values the principles of religious freedom and tolerance at the heart of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as it should, it is going to have to do much more to defend it.