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Persecuted Christians: what to do?

Persecuted Christians: what to do?

By Chris Sugden
May 22, 2015

Political Islam is shaking and shaping many countries and societies. Most refugees and asylum seekers coming from Islamic countries are changing the political balance of those countries they enter. At a recent meeting, leaders from Islamic majority countries shared the following reflec

Western governments are at a loss what to do. Only Egypt has successfully addressed this full-scale attempt to impose Islamist violence which is specifically targeting churches and Christians in Nigeria, Pakistan, Kenya, Syria and Iraq. In the UK, Islam is becoming increasingly rigid and political.

Despite this targeting, many Muslim converts become Christian in these areas, but are joining the Orthodox churches of the East because the Orthodox churches bear familiar resemblance to Islamic religious institutions.

Yet Islam is not monolithic, being split at its root between Sunni and Shi'a. Sunni Muslims want to eradicate Christianity from the Middle East. Iranian Shi'as protect Christians and are supported by Russia.

Safe havens and homelands?

Should governments provide political safe havens and protected zones, thus creating 'homelands' for churches in the Middle East? Theologically we should note that there is no Christian homeland: 'we seek a home that is above'. The argument is not about providing homelands but about securing a continuing presence. Otherwise who will bear witness to Jesus in these countries?

The risk in enabling the exodus of Christians is that the logical end point of all pressure on Christians will be to expect them to capitulate and leave Northern Nigeria, Malaysia or Pakistan. If they do stay, do they develop self-protection committees?

But some can do no other than leave. Exodus and exile are also the experience of the people of God. There is nothing to protect them where they live and they become prey to unscrupulous traffickers when they leave. A structure is needed to provide support for them.

There is an urgent need to reconfigure countries to be religiously plural, to recognise that faith is based on individual choice and that religious institutions are voluntary organisations. The main template for providing for religious freedom has been the secular state, but this has tended to margin-alise religion to the private sphere and ban it from public life. This is exactly what radical Muslims in ISIS are objecting to.

Assist reform of Islam

There is an urgent need to assist the reform of Islam. It is still the case that some RE syllabuses include teaching the Islamic practice of killing non-believers to establish a Muslim identity. A new curriculum is needed to teach moderate Islam in schools. This would involve teaching the virtue and practice of reason to all Muslim children. Where this has been done in the Middle East none have gone into terrorism.

It is vital to strengthen the churches in Islamic areas. Most converts from Islam come to the Orthodox churches which provide a religious institution familiar to them. Christianity is not just a matter of faith and doctrine. Christian faith and practice are set in the framework of the life of the church as an institution with an order, practices and recognised leaders. The challenge to the Orthodox churches from Evangelical Protestants is not whether they are to be recognised as truly Christian believers but whether the elites of these churches would allow power to be transferred to the people of the church through access and exposure to the teaching of the Bible.

Bible resources

The Bible has powerful resources for churches under persecution. Throughout Scripture, suffering shapes the people of God, whether in the Exodus, the exile, Saul's persecution, or his imprisonment as Paul, and the exile of John on Patmos. Biblical history includes genocide, persecution and lamentation. But lament is not unrelieved grief: it is a prayer that opens the heavens and brings showers of blessing. The Psalms record God's deliverances in the past which are the basis for hope for the future.

In the world of instant news and communication it is vital to secure reliable information on the persecuted church and to correct misinformation. For example, much takes place in Northern Nigeria that is never reported. In the latest earthquake catastrophe in Nepal, fundamentalist Hindu groups immediately accused Christians of giving aid only on condition of conversion. Even funding agencies which help persecuted Christians can be tempted to shape the news to fit the needs and concerns of their constituencies. And in the West it is often only the testimony of expatriates which is believed and thus the experience of indigenous Christians can be overlooked.


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