The United Kingdom this month held what may turn out to be an historic debate on the topic of the growing persecution of Christians in the world. The debate — and an action agenda — should be picked up in the U.S.
Christians are targeted for persecution more than any other faith in our times. Evidence in the House of Commons debate cites 100,000 killings of Christians a year and millions of refugees. The UK government ministers' response to the evidence presented in the debate was somewhat defensive and certainly unimpressive. But that the Parliamentary debate took place at all should be a goad to complaisant members of Congress in America, not to mention the notably indifferent Obama Administration.
Citizens might want to ask their representatives over the Christmas break what exactly they are doing to spur the U.S. government to act in defense of persecuted Christians. They also might want to ask their pastors what their churches are doing.
Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and a few House members in Washington have made the issue a high priority, but the Senate is inactive on the subject and the White House declines to notice. What the issue lacks therefore is focused leadership.
It is easy, as government ministers in Britain tried to argue, that people of other faiths are persecuted in the world, too, and that by emphasizing the persecution of Christians the Government might hurt the cause of religious liberty. As various other debaters replied to the UK Government ministers, however, that line is a distraction. At some point human rights violations become too numerous to ignore.
One reason for neglect in Washington is probably the continuing secularization of the West. Political forces that demand that domestic religious organizations provide employees insurance for contraception, that Christmas manger scenes be banned from the town park and that graduating high school seniors not be allowed to invoke God in their valedictory addresses are not the kind of people who care much about Christian prisoners in the North Korean gulag or burning churches in Egypt.
But another reason for neglect is the failure of nerve among Christian bodies themselves. To his credit, Pope Francis has spoken up for persecuted Christians, as have Cardinal Dolan of New York and a number of evangelical leaders. But it apparently doesn't even occur to many pastors to seek their congregants' prayers for their persecuted co-religionists, let alone to support financial relief for people being attacked for their Christian faith. Perhaps defense of the faith — for some Christians — is regarded as unseemly.
The debate in Britain should shake up some consciences, however. It ended with this resolution:
That this House is concerned that the persecution of Christians is increasing in the 21st Century; notes that there are reports that one Christian is killed every 11 minutes somewhere on earth for their faith; further notes that Christianity is the most persecuted religion globally; bears in mind that the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is a human right stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; and calls on the Government to do more both in its foreign policy and through its aid work to defend and support people of Christian faith.
What such a declaration does is put the UK government on notice that genial expressions of support for human rights — including religious liberty — are not enough. Diplomatic pressure by Britain and the other EU nations, economic leverage by governments, not to mention legal actions and demarches at international forums, are in order.
The same should be demanded of the U.S. government. The Administration is reluctant to speak up for persecuted Christians or use diplomatic muscle, let alone put strings on economic or military aid. As for Congress, most members would be flummoxed by questions about U.S. government actions to defend persecuted Christians. So, sadly, would most American clergy. At some point, however, all the programs Americans and other Westerners advance for the aid of other peoples should be expanded to include (such an idea!) the Christians whose churches are being bombed or burned, and who are being driven from their homes, imprisoned, killed, prosecuted for "blasphemy" and economically punished for their faith.
For 21st century Christians (and their friends) this is not an argument for war or violence. It is an argument for sharpened public awareness, first, then public pressure, then government pressure. The Christmas season is an excellent time to start.