An event to mark the increasing loss of religious freedom as Christian groups fear the issue will be drowned-out by Brexit
On the 27th November 2019, advocates for religious freedom took part in an event known as Red Wednesday all over the UK.
Organised by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), this year’s Red Wednesday, an event to highlight the loss of religious freedom around the world, included a candlelit Cross procession, leaving Parliament Square.
Across the UK, 120 buildings were lit up with red light, including 13 cathedrals, the Mersey Gateway and the Sir Chris Hoy velodrome, Glasgow. Buildings are going red in solidary with the plight of persecuted Christians in 15 other countries.
Father Dominic Robinson, ACN’s chaplain said: “Christian persecution is on the increase because of the growing issue of religious extremism.
“Christians and Muslims and Yazidis and people of minority religions have lived together [in Iraq] for two thousand years.”
He added: “In the wake of religious extremism which has emerged from Daesh there has been nothing less than a genocide of Christians, Yazidis and other minority religions — even of other Muslims.
“Christian persecution is at the worst it ever has been and Christians are the largest religious group being persecuted.
“What we’re all called to do is to promote building bridges of people of different religions. On Red Wednesday we had an inter-religious presence of members of the Muslim community, of the Jewish community who wanted to come together to stand up for religious freedom.”
The call to highlight religious persecution comes after ACN’s 2019 ‘Persecuted and Forgotten?’ report found that Christianity in parts of Iraq and Syria is approaching the point of total extinction following genocide carried out by Daesh (ISIS).
The Christian populace in Iraq has reduced by over 90 per cent, from 1.5 million before 2003, to less than 150,000 today.
In response to the ‘Persecuted and Forgotten?’ report, Jeremy Hunt MP tabled an early day motion, calling on the government to help Christians in Iraq and Syria. The EDM was signed by 43 leading parliamentarians.
ACN has also been fostering reconciliation of different communities and by supporting and contributing to the research of the Truro Report.
As Foreign Secretary, Mr Hunt, commissioned the Truro Report, an independent review of Christian Persecution, stating: “There is nothing more medieval than to hate someone on the basis of their faith. That it is on the rise should shock us all.”
Mr Hunt, an Anglican, made ending the persecution of Christians a priority during his time as Foreign Secretary, however, Christian groups based in the UK and abroad are fearful the issue of religious persecution will be drowned out by the continuing saga of Britain’s relationship with the EU despite the impact of the Truro report in 2019.
John Pontifex, a spokesman for ACN and a Catholic author, said: “It is a concern that the issue of Christian persecution and the Truro report will get drowned out by Brexit through the sheer force of events.
“There is an urgent need for the scale of the persecution of Christians — and the potential impact of the persecution of Christians — to be made loud and clear.
“If we do not act as a country, and in collaboration with other countries, we could see in our own time, within the next decade or two, the disappearance of the Christian presence from regions where Christians have lived for 2000 years.”
He continued: “That to our mind would mean this report has failed on the potential it had. The way the report has turned out is a statement of intent, and that now needs to be matched with policies of action to enable its recommendations to be realised.
“The clock is ticking against us. Unless action is taken directly we will see the disappearance of Christianity from the place where it first emerged. Christianity runs the risk of disappearing with no one noticing.”
It is still unclear whether the next administration will continue Mr Hunt’s fight for religious freedom with the foreign policy agenda so heavily dominated by Brexit. The loss of Christian populations may cause other problems for the Foreign Secretary or future foreign secretaries later as pluralism in the region declines.
John Pontifex added: “The decline of Christians should matter even if you’re not Christian. The survival of Christianity in these regions is a test case for the survival of plurality.
“Once the Christian presence goes the viability of other forms of different community begins to look very weak. Christians are one of the largest minority groups historically and one of the longest-lived communities.
“If they can’t stay who can?
“We know that will presage a decline to a much more sectarian environment because the Christians have traditionally been great bridge builders providing all sorts of goods, welfare support, education, health care and community integration of sorts between the various other larger Muslim communities.
“If that glue is taken away, fragmentation will ensue all the more rapidly and all the more disastrously.”
Without a commitment to safeguarding the religious freedom of Christians and other persecuted religious persons all over the world, the consequences could be dire; a sectarian Middle East with only one religion — extremist Islam.
Thank you for reading — I hope you found my thoughts interesting. This is the first part in a series on the persecution of Christians and religious persons more generally worldwide. Let me know your thoughts: @Sayde_Scarlett