UK Minister of Faith: World 'Cannot Stand Idle' as Christianity Faces 'Extinction'
A senior U.K. cabinet minister has stated that violence against Christian minorities in the world has reached the level of a “global crisis,” to the extent that Christians are facing the danger of becoming extinct in some areas, even in their ancient homelands.
Baroness Warsi, the Minister for Faith in the U.K. Cabinet and Britain’s first female Muslim cabinet member, spoke Friday at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. following an editorial she wrote in The Telegraph. In her article, she said, “Christian populations are plummeting and the religion is being driven out of some of its historic heartlands. There is even talk of Christianity becoming extinct in places where it has existed for generations – where the faith was born.”
BBC reported that in her address at Georgetown, Warsi observed that Syria’s civil war and the political instability in Iraq have resulted in many Christians leaving their homeland. One in ten Christians, she said, were living in countries where they were in a minority.
Warsi said that political leaders had a duty to speak out against the persecution. She told BBC that, in some situations, Christians were being targeted for “collective punishment” by majority groups in retaliation for what they perceive as injustices committed against them by Western nations.
“Politicians do have a responsibility to set the tone, to mark out legal parameters as to what will and will not be tolerated,” she asserted.
According to BBC, Warsi had previously warned about the dangers of “militant secularization” in the U.K.
“I am concerned the birthplace of Christianity, the parts of the world where Christianity first spread, is now seeing large sections of the Christian community leaving and those that are remaining feeling persecuted,” she said.
In The Telegraph, Warsi wrote, "There are parts of the world today where to be a Christian is to put your life in danger. From continent to continent, Christians are facing discrimination, ostracism, torture, even murder, simply for the faith they follow."
Warsi noted, for example, that in Iraq the Christian community has fallen from 1.2 million in 1990 to 200,000 today.
At Georgetown, Warsi made the case for an international response to the persecution of Christians:
I want to call for cross-faith, cross-continent unity on this issue – for a response which isn’t itself sectarian. Because a bomb going off in a Pakistani church shouldn’t just reverberate through Christian communities; it should stir the world.
Warsi wrote that she believes there does exist a “spirit of unity,” observing how: compassionate Muslims donated blood to help the injured Christians at All Saints Church; Christians prayed for Muslims in Egypt’s Tahrir Square during the uprising in 2011; and the followers of various religions in Nigeria and Indonesia protect each other’s houses of worship.
“We need to harness that unity,” Warsi wrote, and urged that people throughout the world not be lulled into complacency through the belief that most countries with over two million people guarantee religious freedom in their constitutions.
“When you learn that these include some of the most oppressive states in the world – like North Korea, which protects ‘freedom of religious belief’ by law while banishing Christians and other believers to labour camps – these legal guarantees become laughable,” she asserted.
Warsi observed that religious freedom is a sign of a healthy economy in a nation and that countries that respect religious freedom are among the wealthiest in the world.
“Religious freedom guards against violence, extremism and social strife, all of which hold back the development of a society,” she wrote.
According to The Telegraph, Warsi has said the attacks against Christians are the result of multiple political issues but “share the common trait of Christians becoming a ‘scapegoat’ for extremists who are insecure in their own religious identity.”
She has observed as well that this is the same mindset that led to the persecution of the Jews by the Nazis and the control over the Russian church by the Communists.
Though the attacks against Christians in the Islamic world have been increasingly dramatic -- even over the past two years -- church leaders have only recently expressed alarm about the extent of the persecution.
In September, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, defined the victims of the bombings of Christian churches in Pakistan as “martyrs” in that “they have been attacked because they were testifying to their faith in Jesus Christ by going to church.”
Lord Sacks, Britain’s former chief rabbi, has described the continuous wave of attacks on Iraqi Christians by Al-Qaeda as “the religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing.”
In late October, Romereports.com reported that Pope Francis met with a delegation from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights group from the United States, during which the pontiff “denounced the persecution of any minority groups ‘because of their religious convictions or ethnic identity.'” He specifically singled out “the suffering of many Christians around the world, living under the threat of persecution.”
In his final address this week as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York urged that his fellow bishops make their priorities both efforts for solidarity with persecuted Christians in the world and religious freedom:
We can also make people aware of the great suffering of our brothers and sisters with all the means at our disposal. Our columns, our blogs, our speeches, and our pastoral letters can reference the subject. We can ask our pastors to preach on it, and to stimulate study sessions or activist groups in their parishes. We can encourage our Catholic media to tell the stories of today's new martyrs, unfortunately abundant. Our good experience defending religious freedom here at home shows that, when we turn our minds to an issue, we can put it on the map. Well, it's time to harness that energy for our fellow members of the household of faith hounded for their beliefs around the world.
Dolan said that while Jews, Buddhists, and Muslims have been persecuted, “Christians are singled out in far more places and far more often.”
Similarly, BBC reported that the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales said he agreed that Christianity’s existence was under threat in some parts of the Middle East.
“There are real challenges for Christians in this part of the world to support and get alongside them and also for politicians to understand that the presence of Christians is a great mediating factor, often for example between different segments of Islam," the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols said.
In another event to draw attention to Christian persecution, Vatican Radio on Monday reported that a prayer vigil was held outside the Indian High Commission in London to speak to the discrimination against Christians in India. Release International, which monitors Christian persecution throughout the world, conducted the vigil, during which a list of attacks against Christians was read aloud, prayers were raised for religious freedom, and a petition signed by 28,000 supporters on behalf of Indian Christians suffering under the anti-conversion law was presented.