Western Christians are not helping their persecuted brothers and sisters

written for The Spectator, 23 December 2013

Icons and overturned furniture on the ground at the church of Saint Michael in the Syrian village of Qara

Icons and overturned furniture on the ground at the church of Saint Michael in the Syrian village of Qara

As Christmas Day breaks over Maaloula, one of the last few villages which still speaks the language of Christ, Islamist fighters will patrol the streets. Whether the nuns of its ancient convent are safe depends on who you believe, President Assad or Al Qaeda. The local shrine of St Thecla was built in the cleft of a miraculous rock: there’s a grim irony in the knowledge that the nuns of St Thecla will spend Christmas Day caught between a rock and a very hard place.

That’s why Saturday’s intervention by the shadow foreign secretary, Douglas Alexander, is important. Alexander, like the Prince of Wales, wants the UK to do more to defend the rights of Christians abroad. In a swipe at his old colleague, Alastair Campbell, he diagnoses Western politicians’ reluctance to defend Christianity’s place in the world: ‘perhaps through a misplaced sense of political correctness, or some sense of embarrassment at “doing God” in an age when secularism is more common’.

As if to prove Alexander’s point, the BBC hasn’t even bothered to report his lament. Our media, as much as our politicians, don’t do God.

I don’t have space here to list the litany of persecutions pushing Christians to the brink of extinction in the Middle East. Michael Nazir-Ali does an excellent job for me in this edition of The Spectator. But when he asks why the UN ignores Christian suffering, I can’t help but think of America’s most famous hillbilly, the reality star Phil Robertson.

If you ask Republican congressional candidate Ian Bayne where Christians are being persecuted today, it’s Phil Robertson he’ll name. The star of the inauspiciously named Duck Dynasty, a show about his family duck-hunting business, Robertson was sacked this week over racist and homophobic comments made to GQ magazine. Major Republican figures such as Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin and Bobby Jindal have come to his defence, arguing that Robertson’s right to free speech trumps the network’s right to sack their employees. 207 churches have been attacked in Egypt this year, but in the US, Phil Robertson is stealing the headlines. Or as Bayne wrote to supporters:

In December 1955, Rosa Parks took a stand against an unjust societal persecution of black people, and in December 2013, Robertson took a stand against persecution of Christians. What Parks did was courageous… What Robertson did was courageous too.”

So what form did Robertson’s stand against persecution take? Most notoriously, a highly anatomical explanation of his distaste for homosexuality.  His second comment is more interesting:

All you have to do is look at any society where there is no Jesus. I’ll give you four: Nazis, no Jesus. Look at their record. Uh, Shintos? They started this thing in Pearl Harbor. Any Jesus among them? None. Communists? None. Islamists? Zero. That’s eighty years of ideologies that have popped up where no Jesus was allowed among those four groups. Just look at the records as far as murder goes among those four groups.

Robertson’s rant is clearly abhorrent. It’s one thing to advocate the superior moral virtues of Christianity, it’s another to equate the 2.7 million living adherents of Shintoism with Nazis. And though it’s not clear whether he means Islam or Islamism, I doubt he’s got a solid grasp on its ‘eighty year history’. Or the murder rate in his home state of Louisiana.

Yet there are few in the West who’ll make a case for the importance of Christianity. So bullies and racists like Robertson fill the gap. No wonder that countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia are rarely confronted with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which guarantees freedom to worship. At every level of international diplomacy, the West’s obsession with its colonial guilt sustains the lie that Christianity is the great historical oppressor. Never mind the Pew Centre’s findings that Christians are harassed in more countries than any other group.

When racists like Robertson complain, like Monty Python’s peasant, that they are being oppressed, they trivialize the daily murders in Iraq. Worse, they make Christianity seem the world’s bully. But until educated, articulate Christians are prepared to publicly defend their faith, it will be left to men like Robertson to do so. That’s why Douglas Alexander’s intervention is so important. It is he, not Phil Robertson, who is the advocate the world’s persecuted Christians sorely need.