The Bishop of Leeds has spoken out against the wall of silence surrounding the issue of Christian persecution worldwide, in the face of the ban on Christmas in three majority Muslim countries. But the Bishop himself has ignored the plight of persecuted Christians right here in the UK.
According to the Catholic University of Notre Dame in Paris, Christians suffer 80 per cent “of all acts of religious discrimination in the world”, making them by far one of the most persecuted groups in the world. Yet faith leaders have remained strangely quiet on the subject.
Writing in The Times, the Right Rev Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds has slammed the “embarrassed silence” of the “largely religiously illiterate western intelligentsia,” who have looked away as Christians the world over suffer cruelly at the hands of their tormentors.
“And we are not talking here of a bit of ridicule or silly marginalisation. We are talking about men, women and children being singled out because of their Christian faith or identity and put to an unimaginably cruel death. Or being driven out of home, away from livelihood, deprived of identity and dignity. Or, for women and girls, being forced into sexual slavery and subjected to rape-at-will.”
In just this last week alone, notable cases of Christian persecution have come to light. The sultan of Brunei issued a decree this week, stating that anyone caught celebrating Christmas will face up to five years in prison. The country is 80 percent Muslim, but has a large Christian minority population.
Tajikistan and Somalia have likewise issued similar decrees, telling their people that Christmas has “nothing to do with Islam.”
Christians across the Muslim world have responded by posting pictures of clandestine Christmas decorations on Twitter and Facebook, under the hashtag #MyTreedom.
— Lisa Daftari (@LisaDaftari) December 21, 2015
Meanwhile in Islamabad, Pakistan, the government has just issued a report justifying the clearance of Christian slums in the city on the grounds that they present a threat to the Muslim majority nature of the capital. The Christian population is represented in the most insulting terms, as land-grabbing migrants dwelling in “ugly villages” which are a blot on the landscape.
“[The government] wants them to be removed back to their ‘native areas’, despite some of them having been born in the slums, and many others having lived there for two decades or more,” explained Wilson Choudhry, chairman of the British Pakistani Christian Association.
“These are desperately poor Christians, many of whom have fled to the capital escaping extreme persecution, including blasphemy threats, in their home areas.”
Calling on the Anglian community to speak out against the persecution of their brothers and sisters in Christ, Rev Baines said: “It is remarkable that when Christians are targeted for the most appalling persecution, politicians and media commentators find it difficult to name it for what is. To identify the persecution of Christians is not to diminish the suffering of others.
“Where Christians are being persecuted, the word should be used without embarrassment. When my Christian brothers and sisters suffer in Sudan (and they do), they rely on the rest of us to tell their story and to use what powers we have to bring political pressure for an end to such suffering. The Anglican Communion and the links forged between dioceses across the world are essential in fulfilling this demand and vocation.
“Who will defend Christians in Brunei?”
However, one may ask Rev Baines: “who will defend Christians in Bradford?” As the Bishop of Leeds Rev Baines bears responsibility for the church in West Yorkshire, where just last month Christian convert Nissar Hussain was brutally beaten by his Muslim neighbours who labelled him a ‘blasphemer’. He only escaped with his life thanks to the swift intervention of two Polish neighbours who happened to be passing.
His beating is the culmination of fifteen years of persecution at the hand of the Muslim community in Bradford, where Rev Baines himself was Bishop for three years before taking up his current role. Yet according to Mr Hussain, the church has failed to provide any meaningful spiritual support. Indeed, the family, who were forced out of their last house when Muslim thugs tried to burn it down while they were sleeping, now no longer attend church.
“It was a complete betrayal and they [the Church] are still betraying me,” he said. “I have had nothing, no support, no input, no moral support.”
“I’m not the only convert, there are many in fear. But the church has never spoken out.
“Why can they not just stand up and say: look, this is unacceptable. It is a free country which welcomes everybody and affords all the religious freedom in the world.
“Our brothers and sister in Pakistan are paying with their lives!”
This week the Archbishop of Canterbury took to Facebook to issue a Christmas message. “This year has been an extremely tough one for so many people and communities in this country. In particular I think of our Muslim brothers and sisters who’ve felt pressured to defend themselves in the wake of horrendous attacks carried out so outrageously in their name,” said.
“I think too of the fear among Jewish communities, and among Sikhs, Hindus and those of other faiths. No one in this country should have to feel fear and anxiety as they try peacefully to live, pray and worship in their faith tradition. All who feel that fear will be included in my prayers this Christmas.”
No mention was made of Christian persecution.
When asked for a comment by The Times regarding Rev Baines’ call to action in the face of the ban on Christmas in Brunei, the Archbishop said: “the answer to an upsurge of religious extremism” is not to ban Christmas “but rather to encourage the true spirit of Christmas in hospitality, generosity and respect for each other”.