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19 October 2017

The persecuted Church: a time for prayer and action

The persecuted Church: a time for prayer and action

During the election campaign, after a terrorist attack against Coptic Christians in Egypt, we wrote about the right to freedom of religion or belief and its vital importance around the world. In hustings events and elsewhere, many Christians took the opportunity to highlight the suffering of our persecuted brothers and sisters to their parliamentary candidates. 

Today that suffering remains all too real. Last Thursday, a Coptic priest, Father Samaan Shehata, was stabbed to death in Cairo. And on the same day, Aid to the Church in Need published their report Persecuted and Forgotten? A report on Christians oppressed for their faith 2015-2017.

The report's findings make chilling reading – in many countries persecution has greatly increased. In Nigeria, 1.8 million people have been displaced by Boko Haram, and 15,000 children have been made orphans. In Iraq, the attempt to remove Christians from lands held by Daesh is open and explicit. Graffiti scrawled on a wall in Batnaya, Iraq reads: "All the Christians should leave; this land is not for them."

Nor is it just Christians who are affected by global violations of religious freedom. In recent weeks we have heard much about the plight of the – largely Muslim – Rohingya in Myanmar. While we pay particular attention to Christians, all faiths must defend all faiths, and indeed those without faith. When one religion is persecuted, no religion is safe. 

So there remains much to do around the world in support of the right to freedom of religion or belief. As parliament resumes after the conference season, many domestic concerns will compete for attention. So it will be vital to keep asking our government to speak up on behalf of religious minorities, both through our embassies and through international institutions like the United Nations. 

Our Religious Liberty Commission is urging us to use November to pray for persecuted Christians around the world. The Religious Liberty Commission is a coalition of religious freedom charities: Release International, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Open Doors UK, and the Evangelical Alliance. You can find their suggested prayer below. 

This should be a month for action as well as prayer. Why not write to your MP to find out how their party intends to support persecuted Christians worldwide? MPs have an important role here: they maintain pressure on government to make human rights a priority, especially when the suffering of different groups does not always make the headlines.   

Next year we will mark the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which includes the right to freedom of religion or belief. This anniversary will include a great deal of reflection on how far we have come on human rights, and how far there is to go. In that context, now is the time to keep our persecuted brothers and sisters in prayer to God, and in our words to our leaders.

A prayer for persecuted Christians

Father God,
As one Church, united under your holy headship, and knowing that we are all one family in Christ;
We pray for those who suffer in your name all over the world, our brothers and sisters, who share in that same great gift of salvation through your Son,
but who face injustice, oppression and even death because of their faith in you.
We want to walk with them as they journey through the valley of darkness,
and we pray knowing that you are a God of compassion, comfort, and justice;
who always hears their prayers, never leaves them and will forever be their fortress and shield, whatever they face.
We pray that you will grant them strength, courage,
and protection from those who seek to harm them because they follow you;
Guidance and wisdom for when their path seems impossible to tread,
And hope for a future where they have the freedom to worship you without fear.
In the name of Jesus,