Friday, August 22, 2014

Religious freedom and a secular Britain

The picture is of the flag of the new Islamist State. I don't know what its designers had in mind, but it's not black by accident. There are reports coming out of Iraq of rapes, beheadings and crucifixions. There are reports of joint suicides after women being raped. There are reports of women and children being buried alive.

Both Barack Obama and David Cameron did little when 200,000 Christians were displaced by IS (Islamist State, formerly ISIS) fighters. It was as though Christians didn't really matter. It was only when some 40,000 Yezidis were trapped on a mountain that they began to take action.

David Cameron said the Government will redouble its efforts to prevent Britons from travelling to join the 500 Britons said to be already with the world's best armed and fastest growing terrorist group. He said Islamist militants could bring terror to the streets of Britain unless urgent action were taken.

He said the terrorists have "murderous intent" and Britain must use its "military prowess" to stop them coming here. Britain had "no choice but to rise to the challenge," but he ruled out a war in Iraq. Britain is not going to get involved in another Iraq war.

Tim Montgomerie highlighted the problem in the Times yesterday.

"June’s mass persecution of Iraqi Christians in Mosul hardly moved any head of government. Barack Obama only acted when the ancient Yazidi sect was threatened with extinction. That, however, may have been only a pretext. The real trigger for action may have been US strategic interests in Arbil. Yet at least America acted. At least Germany and France are offering asylum to Iraqi Christians. Britain, with its proud heritage of providing refuge for those fleeing for their lives, has been almost comatose. . . 

"We’ve learnt in recent days that government inaction has brought some of the Church of England’s most senior clerics to the edge of despair. . . 

"I sent a round of texts to government contacts yesterday, asking whether the intervention of church leaders would spur action. Some replies left me profoundly depressed: “We can’t get bogged down in a another conflict in Iraq so close to an election.” “The public oppose granting large numbers of Iraqis asylum.” “Intervention could be a huge distraction from domestic concerns.” I did get one or two replies of high principle but most were soaked in the language of electoral calculation. I hope the Church of England has begun to realise that religious freedom is not a priority for this government or, for that matter, the opposition. . .

"Britain is becoming one of the most secular countries on earth. Growing hostility to faith schools is of a different order to what we see in the Middle East, but common to the secular mindset is a blindness to the importance of religious faith to people. It begins by wanting to push religion to the corners of the public square and then beyond it. . . 

"I hope the Baines letter [a letter to the Government from the Rt Rev Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds] might be the moment when Church realises that, for all their worthy rhetoric at Christmas and Easter, British politicians will not fight for religious freedom. I hope its underlying mood was not, as one newspaper suggested, bitterness but resolve. Resolve to ensure the Christian voice is heard again in politics. Because religious freedom is a foundational freedom of conscience. If the political class isn’t willing to defend it, other freedoms are at risk in the years ahead."

What should we do in light of what's happening in Syria and Iraq? Pray, act and give, to help people in desperate need. Excuses might be found for election-minded politicians not to be interested, but there is no excuse for Christians to be unconcerned.

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