I’m sick of seeing people claiming that ‘Britain is a Christian country’ in order to excuse hatred and vitriol directed at Muslims. Yes, I’m a Christian, and yes, I stuff things up from time to time like we all do. I’d never claim otherwise.
Are Christians being persecuted in many Muslim countries at the moment? Yes. They’re also being persecuted in India (Hindu), China and North Korea (atheist) and many other countries too.
If you’re truly a Christian, what actually is your response to such persecution? Last night, I happened to watch a harrowing hour-long film about the life of Richard Wurmbrand, a Romanian citizen who had dared to preach Christianity during Communist rule. His 14 years in prison included medieval-style torture and beatings, burning and branding, being locked in an ice box, years of solitary confinement and threats to his family; his wife suffered broken ribs when she was thrown into a freezing winter canal by prison guards. After his release from prison, he could never again walk normally due to the brutal beatings to his feet. Others were killed or died in prison. When testifying to the U.S. Senate, he lifted his shirt to show scars from his torture.
Yet throughout, he professed nothing but love for his Communist captors and torturers. Why? Because, as he said, he was “looking at men… not as they are, but as they will be…I could also see in our persecutors…a future Apostle Paul..the jailer in Philippi who became a convert.”
You see, his actions reflected what Christianity actually is: when the Bible says ‘bless those who persecute you’, it means something profound to those who’ve been tortured for their faith. It’s just words to those who wish to use the word ‘Christian’ tribally as though it were ‘us versus them’, the religious equivalent of a Newcastle-Sunderland football match.
Early this month, I happened to meet again with some Christian pastors from Algeria, a majority-Muslim country. I’ve done some work along these lines in the European Parliament, trying to raise awareness of how Christians in that country are being harassed by their government. Churches are being banned or de-registered; licences required to import Christian materials aren’t granted. Some are thrown in jail for daring to insist upon freedom to practice their faith. In Pakistan, Asia Bibi faces the death penalty for a trumped-up charge of insulting Islam.
These are the people actually facing persecution. If you’d expect anyone to be bitter or angry towards Muslims, it’d be them. Thing is, they’re not. I asked the Algerian pastors what more people in churches in the UK could do. Their answer was surprising: they said we should engage more with Muslims, to talk to them, to break down barriers and to show them by example that Christianity means something to us. Perhaps that’s why so many Muslims in Algeria are converting to Christianity; Christians there are so abundantly welcoming of them.
You’d think that Muslims converting to Christianity would be something that those seeking a ‘Christian country’ would applaud, but I’ll tell you now that it won’t be achieved through hatred.
Now, I’m not by any means blind to the serious issues we have as a society. You’ll find no greater advocate than me of serious punishments being handed down by courts to those who commit acts of terror or violence, to those evildoers in grooming gangs who abused our children. Whilst as individuals the hardest thing to do is to forgive, that task is made easier when we have justice and sentences which fit the crime. Far too often it doesn’t; that’s where society often breaks down. Hiding from tough questions (although the majority of child abusers are white British, a disproportionate number of grooming gangs are from mainly-Muslim backgrounds) won’t make matters any better either; society needs to act.
But whilst it’s fair and reasonable and right and true and just to demand that society protects us from injustice, it’s immoral and counterproductive to go in for hatred of a whole religion. If you’re not prepared to love your neighbour as yourself, whether your neighbour is white British or Muslim, then you’ve got no business describing yourself as Christian. Please stop culturally appropriating the word ‘Christianity’ for your own ends.