“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)
Firstly there has been the case of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman from Pakistan, who has been sentenced to death for blasphemy. This comes on the back of a case when two Christian brothers on trial for blasphemy were fatally shot in July whilst in police custody. There has been very little of this in the news but you can read an article from the Telegraph here (click on the blue words) and a BBC article on the July shootings here.
Secondly in Iraq, recent weeks have seen increased attacks on Christians and churches with many deaths and injuries. It seems that for Christians, life has become more difficult since the 2003 invasion with many thousands seeking to emigrate.
Thirdly, less seriously but closer to home, we have had the case of Dr Sheila Matthews, a paediatrician who lost her appeal against unfair dismissal on the grounds of religious discrimination. Dr Matthews was dismissed for refusing to recommend same sex couples as suitable parents in adoption cases. This case follows a number of similar cases where those with deeply held religious views are being excluded from employment. There is a BBC report on Dr Matthews’ case here.
The reality of persecution is a factor for us as a church since there are things that we would like to post on the church website or here on the blog but hold back as some Christian workers overseas are working in difficult regions and some workers in the UK are working with people who come from areas that are hostile to the Christian message.
It’s easy to be disheartened and to be fair some Christians talk so negatively you might wonder if they are working as Satan’s spin doctor. The fact is the church is growing at an incredible rate in many parts of the world and that growth is often occurring in the teeth of fierce persecution. Any increase in opposition here is merely a return to the default position; the church has always been persecuted.
Thankfully, the bible has plenty to say about facing opposition and it’s always good to reacquaint ourselves with some of the basic principals;
- Do not be surprised, a large proportion of the New Testament was written from prison, most of the apostles died as martyrs and our Saviour was crucified as a common criminal. If we are being persecuted for the sake of Christ, Jesus said we are blessed.
- Be faithful in prayer, the Lord Jesus instructed us to ask, seek and knock. Paul urges the Roman Christians to be faithful in prayer. We should be praying for Asia Bibi, for the families of Pastor Rashid Emmanuel and Sajid, the two men murdered in Pakistan and for Dr Matthews.
- Remember the suffering, as the writer to the Hebrews put it; “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering”. We may feel powerless but we can write to those in authority and bring pressure to bear.
- Hold on to the word, it always has been under attack so it is hardly surprising that there is such a sustained assault now. We have to resist the temptation to dilute scripture in order to make it more acceptable.
- Do not be afraid, either God is in control or he isn’t. I’ve read the last page of the story and for those who are in Christ there is the ultimate happy ending.