Listen: Mike Gore from Open Doors explains secular-based persecution in a chat with Katrina Roe.
The persecution of Christians is a multi-headed beast that takes many forms.
In the Middle East and Africa, it’s Islamic extremism, while in India, it takes the form of Hindu violence. In North Korea and China, Christians suffer under communist oppression; in Mexico and Columbia, corruption.
But there’s a new pressure now emerging in traditionally free Western nations: secular intolerance. Governments are clamping down on religious expression, and neutralising or removing Christian traditions in the public square.
In Australia, there’s ongoing push-back against scripture in schools, while many conservatives see the Safe Schools Program and the long-running same-sex marriage debate as signs of secularisation.
France and Germany are facing growing tensions due to Islamist attacks on priests and on the public, which some people have linked to the secular government’s attempts to hide the Muslim faith, for example with bans on headscarves.
In Britain, MPs are nervous about a recent ruling from the European Court of Justice that religious symbols may be banned in the workplace if companies give good reason.
Even suffering Christians in the Middle East agree that America’s Christian heritage is under threat from secularisation or, as some call it, ‘dechristianisation’.
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France and Germany Rising on the Persecution Rankings
Each year, the Christian organisation Open Doors publishes its ‘World Watch List’ – a ranking of the 50 nations considered the toughest places in the world to be a Christian. The 2017 list was released last week.
According to Open Doors Australia CEO Mike Gore, if that list were expanded to the toughest 100, some Western nations would begin to appear.
“You would start seeing things like France and Germany pop up on the list, and the UK,” Mike told Hope 103.2. “What we’re finding is that there’s an increasing intolerance for Christianity in developed nations.”
He believes Christians in the developed world will feel the uncomfortable effects of secularisation more and more.
“What I think we’ll see in the coming years is a really interesting shift in persecution,” he said. “The outworking of faith will be more difficult.
“There’s a transition from persecution simply being something in the Middle East-Asia field, to something that’s now encroaching on Europe. And I think in the next three to five years it will encroach more on our own community.”
Jesus Becoming Less Acceptable in Western Society
Secular intolerance, makes it harder for believers to be public about their faith.
“We’re seeing faith removed from schools,” Mike said. “In my daughter’s school they have scripture classes for Buddhism, Hinduism, no religion and so on, and yet the church always seems to be being pushed out.”
“Tolerance has never been higher for things like sex, sexual diversity, minority faiths. You can say ‘I’m into Buddhism or yoga or meditation’ and people are interested. But you throw Jesus’ name into the mix and it’s the opposite.
“In one way, it’s a brilliant outworking and confirmation of the gospel. We’ve been seeing this since the bible was written.”
‘Squeeze Persecution’: a Slow and Steady Oppression
In some parts of Asia, Christians who are all too familiar with the suppression of their faith, compare their experience to being constantly ‘squeezed’.
Chatting to some Asian Christians about what it was like to live under constant social oppression, Mike Gore heard persecution described as a sliding scale, with ‘smash’ at one end, and ‘squeeze’ at the other.
“Smash persecution is like ISIS and what’s happening in the Middle East,” Mike explained. “But in Asia it’s ‘squeeze’ persecution, where normal life is made so difficult because of choosing to follow Jesus, that believers call it ‘civil death’.
“Kids are unable to go to school, unable to get employment, unable to get identification and therefore medical services, they suffer restriction to local water in certain places. That sort of oppressive life style, because of their faith, particularly happens in the more rural and community-based villages, where whole communities are a particular religion like Buddhist or Hinduism, Islam.
“When someone gives their life to Christ, they become so much of an outsider that they are heavily persecuted in those communities.”
What Western Christians can Learn From Asian Brothers & Sisters
Having met with many persecuted believers, Mike said Christians in Australia and other Western Nations can learn a lot from their suffering brothers and sisters: particularly their perseverance.
“I met a girl in Indonesia who had converted from Islam and had been outcast from her family,” he said.
“She told me, ‘In the midst of your troubles and trials, Jesus will be there always giving you reason to live… embrace him as the most expensive possession you have’.”