Will the next government help persecuted Christians?

12 May 2017

Tim Dieppe comments on The Barnabas Fund Manifesto for Persecuted Christians which proposes clear practical policy recommendations for the next government.

Christians are facing extinction from some parts of the Middle East. Villages and churches are being destroyed. Those unable to flee are frequently offered a stark choice: convert to Islam, or be beheaded. This is not just happening in areas controlled by Islamic State, but several other Islamist groups are also explicitly targeting Christians and other minorities. Genocide is the correct term to describe what is happening. Meanwhile our government is effectively turning a blind eye and refusing to take action that would cost very little, yet make a meaningful difference on the ground.

Policies for persecuted Christians

Barnabas Fund issued a Manifesto for Persecuted Christians earlier this week, with clear policy recommendations for the next government. Practical policy recommendations include:

  • Ensure that DfID-funded aid reaches persecuted Christians.
  • Automatically include groups that target Christians and other minorities on the Home Office list of banned terrorist organisations.
  • Eliminate the discrimination against Christians in the selection of refugees.
  • Annual reports to parliament on the main causes of religious persecution and strategies to combat it.
  • Taking action to protect those Christians who have converted from Islam in the UK who are facing pressure to reconvert.
  • Recognise the pressure on Christians in the public sector to affirm beliefs contrary to historic Biblical Christianity.

Government discriminating against Christians

As the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey points out, less than 2% of the refugees accepted for asylum between September 2015 and June 2016 were Christians. The latest figures are less than 1%. This compares to the pre-war Christian population of Syria of 10%. Carey has accused the government of being  ‘institutionally biased’ against Christian refugees. This is in sharp contrast to Australia which is prioritising Christian refugees over their Muslim counterparts. The next government should act to ensure that we are properly helping Christian refugees and not discriminating against them.

Protection starts at home

Religious freedom is precious and valuable. As the Barnabas Fund manifesto notes, the UK has played a leading role in the development of freedom of religion and belief around the world. Various “Test Acts” were abolished, enabling people to hold public office without assenting to a particular set of beliefs.

Now, however, there are proposals for an oath to British values which would require holders of public office to assent to certain beliefs. This would effectively enact a new “Test Act” barring those who hold historic Christian beliefs from office. Meanwhile Christians are already facing pressure to conform their beliefs to a new orthodoxy. A student was expelled from university for expressing disagreement with ‘same-sex marriage’.

A Christian minister was forced out of his job for quoting the Bible in a chapel service. A teaching assistant was disciplined for telling a pupil that she disagrees with ‘same-sex marriage’. The Barnabas Fund manifesto proposes a law to formally state that no one holding or standing for public office should be required to hold particular beliefs or face discrimination for their beliefs. Such a law should also apply to students and people in the workplace.

Time is running out

By the time of the next general election in 2022, there is a very real danger that Christianity will have been genocidally eradicated in large parts of the Middle East. The next government should take decisive steps to ensure that this does not happen. The persecution of Christians today is the largest human rights violation issue in today’s world. In the face of such evil, silence is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.

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