Christianity has always been a persecuted religion. But recently this has become even more serious, especially at the hands of Muslims throughout the world. That is the conclusion of British writer Anthony Browne in an article entitled, “Church of Martyrs”. Writing in the 26 March 2005 issue of the Spectator, Browne claims that Christian persecution is getting worse by the day, and that no other religion is seeing so much persecution and martyrdom than is Christianity.
“Rising nationalism and fundamentalism around the world have meant that Christianity is going back to its roots as the religion of the persecuted. There are now more than 300 million Christians who are either threatened with violence or legally discriminated against simply because of their faith – more than any other religion.”
Islam is the main source of persecution, says Browne: “Across the Islamic world, Christians are systematically discriminated against and persecuted. Saudi Arabia – the global fountain of religious bigotry – bans churches, public Christian worship, the Bible and the sale of Christmas cards, and stops non-Muslims from entering Mecca. Christians are regularly imprisoned and tortured on trumped-up charges of drinking, blaspheming or Bible-bashing, as some British citizens have found. Just last month, furthermore, Saudi Arabia announced that only Muslims can become citizens.”
It is in the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity, where much of the persecution is taking place. “Fr Drew Christiansen, an adviser to the US Conference of Bishops, recently conducted a study which stated that ‘all over the Middle East, Christians are under pressure. “The cradle of Christianity” is under enormous pressure from demographic decline, the growth of Islamic militancy, official and unofficial discrimination, the Iraq war, the Palestinian Intifada, failed peace policies and political manipulation’.”
Other Muslim nations are cited by Browne: “In the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, most of the five million Christians live as an underclass, doing work such as toilet-cleaning. Under the Hudood ordinances, a Muslim can testify against a non-Muslim in court, but a non-Muslim cannot testify against a Muslim. Blasphemy laws are abused to persecute Christians. In the last few years, dozens of Christians have been killed in bomb and gun attacks on churches and Christian schools.”
Or consider the situation in Africa. “In Nigeria, 12 states have introduced Sharia law, which affects Christians as much as Muslims. Christian girls are forced to wear the Islamic veil at school, and Christians are banned from drinking alcohol. Thousands of Christians have been killed in the last few years in the ensuing violence.”
Of course it is not just Islamic countries that are making things difficult for Christians. “In Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka, religious tension led to 44 churches being attacked in the first four months of 2004, with 140 churches being forced to close because of intimidation. In India, the rise of Hindu nationalism has lead to persecution not just of Muslims but of Christians. There have been hundreds of attacks against the Christian community, which has been in India since ad 100. The government’s affirmative action programme for untouchables guarantees jobs and loans for poor Hindus and Buddhists, but not for Christians.”
Asian Christians are suffering in many places. “Last year in China, which has about 70 million Christians, more than 100 ‘house churches’ were closed down, and dozens of priests imprisoned. If you join the Communist party, you get special privileges, but you can only join if you are atheist. In North Korea, Christians are persecuted as anti-communist elements, and dissidents claim they are not just imprisoned but used in chemical warfare experiments.”
The numbers are staggering: “Dr Paul Marshall, senior fellow at the Centre for Religious Freedom in Washington, estimates that there are 200 million Christians who face violence because of their faith, and 350 million who face legally sanctioned discrimination in terms of access to jobs and housing. The World Evangelical Alliance wrote in a report to the UN Human Rights Commission last year that Christians are ‘the largest single group in the world which is being denied human rights on the basis of their faith’.”
The really interesting thing about this piece is that Browne is not a Christian. In fact, he is an atheist. “As a liberal democrat atheist, I believe all persecuted people should be helped equally, irrespective of their religion. But the guilt-ridden West is ignoring people because of their religion. If non-Christians like me can sense the nonsense, how does it make Christians feel? And how are they going to react? The Christophobes worried about rising Christian fundamentalism in Britain should understand that it is a reaction to our double standards. And as long as our double standards exist, Christian fundamentalism will grow.”
If non-believers can get worked up about the tragedy of the worldwide persecution of Christians, then perhaps we should too.