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Editorial: Are persecuted Christians `the elephant in the room' in the UK election?

30 May 2017

Ever heard the expression ‘the elephant in the room’? The subject everybody knows about but no one will mention? In the UK general election the rapidly growing global spread of anti-Christian persecution has become the elephant in the room political parties seem unwilling to talk about, still less make specific commitments to tackle.

Yet this was not always the case. In 1880 William Gladstone fought an election on the issue of government indifference to massacres of Christians in the Ottoman Empire. Thousands of Christians were being massacred, often by beheading, churches burnt down and women enslaved. Gladstone’s opponent, Prime Minister Benjamin D’Israeli, anxious to prop up the crumbling Ottoman Empire to forestall any advance by Britain’s great rival Russia, ignored the atrocities and even at one stage called them “imaginary”.

Today, we face a not wholly dissimilar situation in the Middle East. There is a very real threat that by the time of the next UK general election in 2022 large parts of the Middle East will have been emptied of Christian populations which have lived there since the first century, as Christians flee beheading, enslavement and other forms of religious cleansing by a whole range of jihadist groups. 

This is surely one of the great challenges of the twenty first century that will determine how history judges our generation. Yet this is the issue that politicians of all major parties are largely ignoring and their manifestos are silent on. In fact, if anything the issue is now given less importance than it was in the last UK general election two years ago.

In 2015 two of the 13 parties that won seats in parliament, the Conservatives and the Democratic Unionists (DUP), made specific manifesto commitments to tackle the persecution of Christians. In 2017, no major party has done so, although some of the smaller parties including the DUP have yet to publish their manifestos.

The Conservatives have instead made a more general promise to “expand our global efforts to combat extremism, terror, and the perpetration of violence against people because of their faith, gender or sexuality.”; The Labour Party have repeated their 2015 commitment to “appoint dedicated global ambassadors for women’s rights, LGBT rights and religious freedom to fight discrimination and promote equality globally.”; and the Liberal-Democrats similarly repeat their previous promise to: “Appoint an ambassador-level champion for freedom of belief to drive British diplomatic efforts in this field, and campaign for the abolition of blasphemy, sedition, apostasy and criminal libel laws worldwide.”

But no-one is talking about the elephant in the room which is the likely elimination of entire Christian Communities from large parts of the Middle East before the next election. In fact, it is not even just the Middle East, similar religious cleansing of Christian communities at the hands of jihadists is also happening in West Africa, where it has spread from Northern Nigeria into parts of Cameroon, as well as in East Africa where jihadists are seeking to drive Christians out of parts of Northern Kenya.  Yet, reading the manifestos, one could be forgiven for thinking that western politicians were treating this as if, even if not ‘imaginary’, it is of no great concern.

Whilst we live in a different age to Gladstone and foreign policy of any description rarely wins elections, the fact remains that this is one of the great challenges facing humanity in our generation. In 1942 the Beveridge report which led to the creation of the welfare state in the UK identified five giant evils in society: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease. At the time the world was facing a sixth evil in the form of Nazi ideology which with scientific brutality specifically targeted people on the basis of their religion and ethnicity.

Beveridge had of course only been asked to look at the challenges facing a post war UK society. However, any government that is elected must also deal with international challenges. That is why we are calling on the next UK government, whichever party that may be, to tackle the sixth challenge – of stopping the elimination of entire Christian communities from large parts of the Middle East and elsewhere before the next general election.

We are therefore asking you to use the resources we have made available – such as the Manifesto for Persecuted Christians and Questions to candidates to challenge candidates of all parties to commit to taking specific actions to tackle the rapidly growing spread of persecution of Christians in the world.

Who knows whether you have not been brought to the kingdom for such a time as this? (Esther 4:14)