Privilege and Persecution

Yesterday I popped along to the evening service of the church I went to on my gap year.  I don’t tend to go back there these days; my church-hood and spirituality have changed a lot over the last 3 years, but I didn’t go to a morning service and I try and pop in once a summer holiday to see which folk I recognise.

Not quite in this language, but in essence the preacher touched on Christian privilege and persecution and, sadly, I was horrified by what he said and the position from which he spoke.

His starting point was that the Church is to expect persecution; something I wholeheartedly agree with.  He also did not fall into the trap of claiming the British church is persecuted.  He acknowledged we have it easy for which I was very grateful.  (He didn’t quite go as far as saying we sometimes abuse our privilege, but oh well!)  So he started well, and many in his place would have done a lot worse.  I am sick and tired of being told the Church in the UK, or the Gospel, is being persecuted.  Bishops sit in the House of Lords, Schools are obliged to carry out acts of Christian Worship etc etc but explaining in utterly labourious terms how the Christian community in this country has it easy will have to wait for another time.

The preacher’s attention then turned to the genuinely persecuted church.  We were told an horrific tale of police brutality and institutional mis-treatment. My paraphrase  follows below:

In a central Asian country there was the daughter of a pastor. When the rest of her family was out she was visited by 3 police officers.  She refused them entry to her home, the police went to her family’s car, and fearing they would plant incriminating material to provide a pre-text for arresting her/them she tried to stop them.  In response the police grabbed the girl and repeatedly smashed her head against the vehicle causing brain damage.

Her parents returned home to find her body.  They sought medical attention for her at a state hospital but they were reluctant to treat her because her injuries were dealt by the police. When the hospital found out she was a Christian they discharged her.  She tried a few other hospitals but all were reluctant to treat her.  Eventually her parents decided to go private but even the private sector was reluctant.  She is currently in a Russian hospital being treated and is slowly regaining use of her limbs.

This is a horrifying story of vicious persecution, but also of oppression.  It is not a tale of a one-off attack against a woman, but a snap-shot of a police force without due care for its countries citizens, a state that permits its law enforcement agencies to commit civil right abuses, it includes state medical institutions that fear the state more than they care about providing quality care (not that I can blame them).  It is also, therefore, a reasonably safe bet that it is not just Christians who are subjected to this treatment.

I hear stories like this and I become angry, I guess some people might say my heart breaks.  Not because a Christian sibling is being persecuted but because fellow humans are being oppressed.  I get angry because a chain of humans in this central Asian country failed to see anything of themselves in this woman and so abused and then neglected her.  I get angry because countless other humans, my self included stand by and allow it to happen.  I think that God gets angry too.  I think he gets angry that anyone, Christian or not, is treated this way.

The preacher wasn’t best pleased by this story either.  He said it broke his heart. But institutional violence and systematic abuse didn’t anger him, what angered him was that a Christian was a victim of these things.

When will we wake up?

When will we see the bigger picture?

When will we stop caring about ourselves?

When will we start being people’s neigbours and “the creed and the colour and name won’t matter”?

As he told us how his heart broke, the preacher spoke from a very privileged position, and us in the congregation (predominantly, but not solely, white and middle-class)listened from one.  Christians in the UK do not suffer from religious persecution and we live in countries with a National Health Service who’s mission is to provide free, accessible health-care at the point of need, and do so without fear.  We in countries where our human rights and civil liberties are protected.  Yes, things could be better.  There is police violence, there is institutional discrimination, the privileged continue to oppress the less-privileged.  But he and we have it OK.  Our neighbour is unlikely to have their head smashed in by the police.

I think this blinds us slightly.  I think our privilege blinds us slightly.  We struggle to acknowledge the wider travesty that the story points to, because we cannot relate to living in a country where such things could happen.  So instead we focus in on how outraged we are that it should happen to someone we like because they share the same faith as us.

The Church needs to stop.  And it needs to wake up.  We cannot claim that God makes all humans with value, worth and dignity and yet only be angry when Christian’s rights are curtailed or only when Christians are abused.  Jesus came to “proclaim freedom for prisoners and …. set the captives free“.  We need to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and start opposing the wider, deeply-rooted injustices.  It won’t be easy, it won’t be fun.  We might look political, we might look to be buying into the agenda of modern, democratic liberalism, it might look as if we like civil liberties and like human rights, it might mean challenging earthly authorities.  SO WHAT?!  If challenging a country is political, so be it.  Human rights and civil liberties are good; they are one way of giving people value and worth; something Christians believe is important and Godly.  Yes, we’ll challenge authority, but Jesus did that too.

So, please, please can we stop feeling sorry for Christians and start protecting humans.  Rather than looking at stories of persecution as one-off attacks against a person’s faith and start seeing the real depth of the problems and the way the affect all of a country’s society and please, please can all of these injustices, regardless of the victims, break our hearts in the same way the cause God to grieve.