‘Suffering, Hope and Joy’
Thursday 29th March 2018: What better time than Easter to pledge support for Christians persecuted and in need because of their Christian faith, says Murdo Fraser MSP*.
It was a timely and appropriate question for Holy Week. At Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons on Ash Wednesday, the Strangford MP Jim Shannon highlighted the plight of Iraqi Christians, “one of the most persecuted religious groups in the world”, and asked Theresa May to pledge her support to help persecuted Christians around the world.
In her reply, the Prime Minister, a vicar’s daughter herself, acknowledged that, at Easter, the message of the Cross and the resurrection help to support Christians around the world. She referred to her recent meeting with Father Daniel from Nineveh and Idlib, who talked about the very real persecution suffered by his congregations. A bible that had rescued after being burned after a church had been set on fire which was presented to her was now in No. 10 Downing Street.
Mrs May went on to say: “We stand with those persecuted Christians. We will be looking to see what more the Government can do to support them.”
The exchange came in a week when we were warned that Christianity was at risk of being all but eliminated in the Middle East, and real concerns that it could disappear altogether from Iraq. Aid to the Church in Need, a Catholic charity, said that worshippers across the region needed urgent aid or Christianity could be reduced to a ‘token religion’ in the part of the world which was its birthplace. They warned that foreign governments were giving ‘no help’ to Christian communities, which had led to tens of thousands of believers to abandon their homelands.
Christians returning home after the defeat of ISIS fighters are finding that their houses and churches have been destroyed – the latter having been a particular target for the Islamist militants. The returning Christians want to live in peace with their Muslim neighbours, but they are going to need our help to do so.
There is a role here for Christian charities such as Aid to the Church in Need and Christian Solidarity Worldwide, but there is a challenge for Western governments too. We have the ability to use our foreign aid spend to help Christians in the Middle East who today need our help more than ever.
The UK’s record on foreign aid is a proud one – we have consistently met the UN target of spending 0.7 per cent of our national income on aid, and today we are the third largest aid donor in the world (after the US and Saudi Arabia). UK aid helps the disadvantaged throughout the world, and at the same time promotes our values of liberal democracy, respecting human rights, and support for the rule of law.
Protection for minority groups like Christians in the Middle East is an objective for our international policy which we should not be ashamed to champion. An Islamic country like Saudi Arabia targets its international support on other predominately Muslim states (research shows that of 149 donations from Saudi Arabia recorded between 200 and 2005, 92 per cent went to countries with at least a 75 per cent Muslim population). When religious guidance states that the zakat (obligatory 2.5 per cent income donation from Muslims) should be based on solidarity with the poor and needy in Muslim countries, this focus should not surprise us. But why should a country like the UK, which is at least nominally Christian, not similarly have a heart for Christian believers suffering in other parts of the world?
If an ethical foreign policy means anything, then it must mean assisting and protecting those across the globe who are the most vulnerable. On any measure, beleaguered Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere must fall within that category.
The Easter message is not just one of suffering; it is one of joy and hope as the risen Christ appears with His message of salvation. What better time of year could there be to pledge ourselves to aid those persecuted and in need because of their Christian faith? We should indeed stand with them, as the Prime Minister says, and look at what more our Government can do to help.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
– Matthew 25 v 37-40
*Murdo Fraser MSP is Member of the Scottish Parliament for Mid-Scotland & Fife and the Scottish Conservative Spokesman on Finance.