Christians: Persecution - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 8:08 pm ar 25 Mawrth 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Curry of Kirkharle Lord Curry of Kirkharle Crossbench 8:08, 25 Mawrth 2024

My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow other noble Lords who have already contributed very passionately to this debate. In particular, I express my appreciation to the noble Baroness, Lady Foster, for sponsoring this important and timely debate—occurring as it does, as has been mentioned already, just before we celebrate the most important event in the Christian calendar—and for her very comprehensive and compelling introduction.

Let me first state, as a Christian, that persecution of any person holding a particular religious or faith belief is unacceptable. I, too, applaud Fiona Bruce MP and others for their valuable work in supporting freedom of religion or belief. It is a huge and critically important work and needs to continue. Sadly, as we know, there are too many historical examples of abuse and persecution of individuals and of whole communities, and ethnic cleansing of thousands of people, because they belong to a particular religious or faith group. We also have to confess that it has happened on occasions throughout history under the cloak of Christianity, to our shame. I contest that any Christian who tries to faithfully follow the teaching of Jesus would not participate in any form of religious persecution; in fact, the reverse should be evident. The teaching of the Good Samaritan story by Jesus is that loving your neighbour, who might be from a different ethnic or religious group—which was the case in Luke, chapter 10—is an essential element of the Christian message.

This evening’s debate is particularly relevant because the data suggests that more Christians are being persecuted today than at any time in our history, and the number is increasing daily. How appalling is that fact? As has been mentioned a number of times in this debate, data from Open Doors World Watch List 2024 has stated that 365 million people worldwide—one in seven—are facing higher levels of persecution and discrimination for their faith: one in five in Africa; one in seven in Asia.

Even more dreadful is the data from Open Doors which estimates that 5,621 Christians were killed for faith-related reasons in 2023, compared to 4,761 in 2021, the majority of these in Nigeria, as stated by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. It has been estimated that, between 2000 and 2020, over a 20-year period, 62,000 Nigerian Christians have been killed by the terrorist group Boko Haram or by Fulani herdsmen, et cetera. These are horrific statistics and mostly occur where Boko Haram has declared Sharia law. Kidnapping is common, as we heard again recently, and thousands of churches have been attacked and burned to the ground.

According to the World Watch List, India, as has been mentioned already, is also becoming very alarming indeed, with the number of Christians being killed increasing dramatically over the past 12 months up to 160 recorded cases. Churches have been attacked, together with Christian institutions and businesses, and 62,000 Christians have been forced to leave their homes in India this past year—a huge number. Eleven out of India’s 28 states have now introduced anti-conversion legislation, and 35 pastors have been imprisoned, all this on the watch of Prime Minister Modi. It is an alarming trend. There have been some very high-profile cases. In Manipur last year, ethnic violence resulted in 400 churches being burned to the ground and 50,000 Christian believers displaced. How does this sit with freedom of religion and belief? It is unacceptable.

The global statistics are alarming. The freedom of Christians to worship and express their faith is being more and more constrained, and many are at risk of persecution and death. I am fully aware that the Government must be as concerned as we all are about these dreadful trends, and that solutions are extremely difficult, if not impossible in some cases. It is particularly concerning, when the world’s attention is diverted to Gaza and Ukraine or whatever the most recent high-profile tragedy happens to be, that many of these cases of Christian persecution go almost unnoticed.

More needs to be done. The UN and other global institutions need to exert much more pressure on countries where abuse and persecution is now endemic. I believe our Government should take a lead, and I hope the Minister agrees that we need to make renewed efforts to harness global support to call out and influence the perpetrators of violence and persecution.

If we are to take a global lead in these matters, as we should, we need to set an example here in our country of tolerance and respect for all who wish to worship and practise their faith, whatever that faith may be. The noble Lord, Lord Moylan, referred to other western countries including Canada and the US where there are increasing concerns. However, there are many Christians here in Britain today who are nervous and fearful of expressing biblical teaching for fear of recrimination, of losing their jobs, of being alienated and ostracised—or cancelled, to use today’s ridiculous jargon. We need to stand firm to defend our Christian freedoms, our ability to promote the Christian gospel. We cannot claim to be a global exemplar if freedom of speech is under threat here. The very thing that we are concerned about globally is at risk in Britain. We must not tolerate intolerance of our freedom to practise Christian faith and values here at home.