There seems to be no end to the hyperbole about Christians in this country being ‘persecuted’. I pointed the other day to George Pitcher’s demolition of the notion and felt better for it. Then I keep reading newspapers, emails and letters repeating the same old hysterical claim. Am I wrong to think that
- being told not to wear jewellery (however stupid a thing to order) is not ‘persecution’.
- being given a verbal hard time because of your faith is not ‘persecution’.
- having to negotiate a place for a Christian voice amid the cacophany of other ‘voices’ in the marketplace is not ‘persecution’.
- being asked to justify our views and practices is not ‘persecution’.
Today (Maundy Thursday) Christians remember Jesus re-signifying the Exodus (from real persecution) and opening himself up to betrayal, denial and unjust execution. Now, that begins to sound more like ‘persecution’; but even Jesus himself didn’t complain about that. Tomorrow (Good Friday) we remember that blood got shed and a body got broken – and we note that in some parts of the world Christians are really getting their bodies broken and their blood spilled on account of their faith: that sounds like ‘persecution’.
Isn’t it odd how these things are seen from the outside? In a mixed-bag of a book called Christ and Culture (Canterbury Studies in Anglicanism), one striking contribution comes from the pen of the The Rt Revd Saw John Wilme, Bishop of Taungoo in the Church of the Province of Myanmar (Burma). He describes what it is like to be the church in a country dominated by Buddhists in which there are restrictions on how Christians can proclaim their faith and do evangelism. He describes well the multifaith context and explains how the Christians fulfil their vocation in mission. Then he says this:
However, I was surprised to hear from foreigners that some believe we Christians of the Church in Myanmar are ‘persecuted’, because we truly are not. While we have suffered occasional discrimination and harassment because of our faith, we do officially enjoy freedom of worship.
Now, that is getting things in perspective. Tom Wright, in his contribution on ‘living under Scripture’, makes the point that cheap ‘victim’ language simply exposes how we have been shaped by the very culture we now claim is hurting us. In relation to relativism (not persecution) he describes “a world where the only apparent moral argument is the volume of the victim’s scream” and goes on to observe:
Genuine screams of genuine victims matter enormously, of course, and are all taken up into the cry of dereliction from the cross. But they are to be addressed, not with more screams, still less competing ones, but with healing, biblical wisdom.
He was addressing a different matter, but his expression is equally applicable here where hierarchies of victimhood are invoked and language gets cheapened.
If being subject to muddled bureaucratic and religiously-illiterate edicts from public authorities counts as ‘persecution’, then what word do we reserve for Anglicans in Harare, Christians in parts of Pakistan or the Congo – or all the other victims of brutality, injustice and innocent suffering?