Persecution of Christians Overseas

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:06 pm on 18th July 2019.

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Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet 3:06 pm, 18th July 2019

Just a few months ago, this Chamber stood shocked in the aftermath of the appalling Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka. It is so sad to have heard in this debate that that was just one of the most recent of a whole series of terrible atrocities committed against Christians in many parts of the world.

I was struck by the quote from The Times that the Bishop of Truro put at the start of his report:

“Across the globe, in the Middle East, Asia and Africa, Christians are being bullied, arrested, jailed, expelled and executed. Christianity is by most calculations the most persecuted religion of modern times. Yet Western politicians until now have been reluctant to speak out in support of Christians in peril.”

That is a pithy summary of the terrible injustice on which we are reflecting.

Christian persecution is a global phenomenon with multiple drivers. It is very important to remember that Christianity is not just a religion of the west—it is a genuinely global faith. The victims of persecution are, in the main, from some of the poorest and most deprived communities on earth. Open Doors has identified in a succession of “World Watch List” reports the worrying phenomenon that, where Christians are in the minority, they are increasingly portrayed as somehow western or alien, despite the fact that their communities date back hundreds of years in their home countries.

That is a particular problem in the middle east. Christians have been living in the middle east since the earliest days of the faith. They have an unbroken presence of 2,000 years in the middle east, and yet they are under pressure in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen; and, of course, horrific atrocities have been committed against them in the region, including gender-based violence.

The situation is so severe that the very survival of Christianity as a living religion in the middle east is now in doubt. A century ago, 20% of the population was Christian, but now, according to the report, the figure has fallen to 5%. It is distressing to read the Bishop of Truro’s finding that some of Christianity’s

“oldest and most enduring communities” are facing what he calls “decimation”. There are tragic parallels with the situation of the Jewish community, whose connection with that region goes back just as far and who were largely forced out—800,000 of them were forced out—in the years between 1948 and the 1970s. My terrible fear is that history is repeating itself.

In responding to the Bishop of Truro’s report, the Foreign Secretary acknowledged that the efforts made to tackle the problem of attacks on Christians around the world has not matched the scale of the injustice perpetrated. I welcome that frank acknowledgement. I hope that the Bishop of Truro’s report marks a turning point where that inadequacy begins to change. We cannot just stand by and let this continue to happen.

The Open Doors website quotes 1 Corinthians, chapter 12, verse 26:

“If one part suffers, every part suffers with it”.

We have a responsibility to act. As the Bishop’s report says, the vague language of general condemnation must be replaced by action to address the specific problem of Christian persecution. A key task is to spread that message to Governments around the world. The editorial in The Times that I quoted at the start of my speech said:

“We cannot be spectators at this carnage.”

This has been a powerful debate on a hard-hitting report that I hope will change the direction of UK foreign policy in a profound way.