The Islamic State-inspired murder of a Catholic priest in France this week, has made it clear that Western nations are not immune from religious persecution.
Father Jacques Hamel, who was forced to kneel as his two killers cut his throat, was 86 years old and said to be one of the most popular, dedicated and humble priests in his community.
According to Open Doors, a global organisation supporting persecuted Christians, his murder was very similar to attacks seen on many Christians and churches in the Middle East.
Mike Gore, CEO for Open Doors Australia, told Hope 103.2 that France is traditionally one the key Western nations that provides support and finances for believers suffering in other parts of the world.
Now, the French church needs support itself.
Persecution Moving Into Western Countries
Open Doors publishes a World Watch List, a ranking of the 50 countries in the world where it’s the most difficult to live as a Christian. Countries like North Korea, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea currently top the list.
But every year as political and social climates change, so does the list, and some Westernised nations are edging their way into the danger zone.
“It’s horrifying but [this kind of murder] is something we’re seeing more and more across the world,” Mr Gore said.
“We’ve been working as a ministry for more than 60 years and we’ve seen this before, but we’re now seeing more instances of this in the West.”
“Each year we release the World Watch List, and one of the astounding things with that is, if you were to dip down into the top 100, you would find countries like France start to appear.
“So we’re really seeing a changing dynamic of persecution across the world.”
Forgiveness a Common Reaction of Christian Victims
While believers in France are likely to be experiencing a lot of fear, he said that one of the most common responses he had seen from Christians in persecuted nations experiencing acts of terror, was that of forgiveness.
He said Jesus’ instruction to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”, was one the majority of suffering Christians tended to follow.
“All the people I’ve met all over the world, in places like Iraq, people who’ve been absolutely wronged, they don’t condone the actions of these people, but this theme of forgiveness seems to undergird all the conversations [I’ve had],” he said.
“They tell me it’s not about being fair, it’s about the gospel of Jesus, and often they tell me, ‘faith comes at a cost’—and that they will try and shine as bright as they can and be the salt and light of the earth.
“In my role as CEO, hearing of people who have been hurt and abused, choosing to love and forgive, is incredible.”
Pray for Both Victims And Their Attackers
Mr Gore said the church in Australia needed to respond by praying—not only for those terrorized in the recent attacks on France, but also for the terrorists themselves.
“Jesus Christ died for Islamic State supporters as much as for everyday citizens,” he said. “We’re all created in the image of Christ so my job as a believer is to pray and believe that Christ would reveal himself to them, change their lives, take them out of the horrific lifestyle and actions they commit, and bring them into a relationship with him.
The third area needing prayer was for Australians, that they would understand what it means to truly love their neighbour.
“We need to assume the best intentions of people in our society and in the world because as Christians we’re called to love our neighbour,” he said.
‘Muslims Aren’t All Enemies’, Say Persecuted Christians
Mr Gore said Christians he has met in the Middle East have urged him to tell Westerners that “there are extremist Muslims, and there are nominal Muslims, and the actions you’re seeing are not indicative of everyone”.
“They say, ‘We live with Muslims and there are more than ever before questioning Islam and asking about Jesus.’
“I think we need to understand the actions of Islamic State are the actions of a minority.”