By Greg Sheridan, Foreign Affairs Editor of The Australian Newspaper

On Sunday, June 5, in the little Catholic church of St Francis in the town of Owo, in southwest Nigeria, a crowd gathered for Sunday morning mass. This was the most offensive thing they could do in the eyes of some fellow Nigerians. Gunmen drove up and opened fire, killing 50 worshippers, injuring many more. Ordinary Nigerian folks, men, women and children, seeking peace with God and neighbour, just saying their prayers, all slaughtered. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the killings so most international reports didn’t mention that they conform to a pattern of Islamist attacks, carried out by Boko Haram and local affiliates of Islamic State. The global media is dominated by the West, and the Western media cannot bring itself to regard Christianity, as a sympathetic subject and therefore avoids awarding them victim status wherever it can. Christianity is the most persecuted religion on the planet.

The attack in Africa occurred just after the US State Department had released its annual report on religious freedom. The US has a roving ambassador for religious freedom. So should Australia. Anthony Albanese has spoken of his commitment to religious freedom within Australia. His government should seriously take up the savage business of international religious persecution. Many religious minorities are persecuted. In parts of the world, Myanmar and China, Muslims are persecuted. Similarly, the Bahai’s in Iran. Islamist extremists just bombed the last Sikh temple in Kabul. We have ambassadors for arms control, counter-terrorism, cyber affairs, the environment, people-smuggling, regional health security, women and girls, and soon Indigenous affairs. Both the US and Britain understand how fundamental a human right religious freedom is, how central it is to human civilisation.

An Australian ambassador for religious freedom would advocate internationally on the issue, demonstrate the government’s seriousness, and help Australians in their public advocacy for religious freedoms internationally. So why have we never taken this obvious step, even under the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments? ‘Even the concept of universal human rights comes from Christianity. “You’ve got St Paul’s famous statement of universalism; ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, you are all one in Christ. I believe in religious freedom for everybody. But focus for a minute on the persecution of Christians. The Christian group Open Doors recently issued its annual study of the persecution of Christians.  Nigeria is the most violent nation for Christians. The violence comes not from the government but from Islamist terror groups. In northern Nigeria, Christians live in daily fear of their lives.

Last year, according to Open Doors, Afghanistan under the Taliban, displaced North Korea as the worst country in the world for Christians. But Christians face serious persecution, either violence or intolerable pressure, in more than 50 countries. More than 350 million Christians live in situations in which they have a good chance of suffering persecution. Open Doors lists the worst countries for Christians in order: Afghanistan, North Korea, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, Eritrea, Nigeria and Pakistan. It’s notable that all of those except North Korea are majority Muslim nations. We hear endlessly, certainly in Britain, Europe and the US, but even in Australia, about Islamophobia. How come we never hear about the far more deadly and widespread scourge of Christophobia? In saying this I don’t for a moment justify pressure against Muslims, who, as I’ve noted, themselves suffer religious persecution in numerous countries, though not in the West.

But Western media, academic and public policy classes have become so acculturated into a bogus view of the West as always the villain and Muslims as always the victim, and they reflexively associate Christianity with the West, so they cannot psychologically make the leap to recognise, much less analyse, the real situation of Christians. Western politicians are absurdly reluctant to defend Christian minorities by name, in case people think they might be saying something favourable about Christianity itself, or still worse defending Western civilisation! This is one of many crippling intellectual deformities brought on by identity politics and woke ideology. In almost every TV drama you will see, most identifiably Christian characters are presented negatively, with honourable exceptions of course. This is frequently conflated with a caricatured view of the alleged evil of Western power, or state power, or social authority.

Christianity and individual Christians are blamed for all Western sins, real and imagined. The West will not survive as the west ‘if it abandons its belief in God’. But while it’s true that Christianity shaped Western civilisation, Christianity comes from the east. The vast majority of Christians alive today are not in the West. Western chattering classes believe the West is uniquely evil, that more traditional societies embody superior human wisdom and justice. The woke folk should apply these strictures to themselves. It’s only in the West that atheism is ascendant. Christianity is on fire in Africa and Asia. It is only the West, in its present cultural confusion and distress, that has wandered down this strange atheist cul-de-sac. Among global civilisations, the Western atheist finds a religious fellow traveller only in the communist government of China.

Beijing continues to ratchet up active restrictions of Christians but it has not been successful. In 1949, when the communists took power, there were about 4 million Chinese Christians. Now it’s between 60 and 120 million. For the past decade, Beijing has intensified surveillance and pressure, shutting churches, making it illegal to sell Bibles in non-church bookshops, banning anyone under 18 from attending Christian worship, severely restricting believers’ careers, kidnapping and imprisoning pastors and subjecting them to psychologically brutal re-education. In the Middle East, the Copts in Egypt, the Maronites in Lebanon, Christians have been mostly chased out or killed. In many locations Christian women are subject to sexual assault, forced marriage, human trafficking. The Albanese government could not perform a better service to humanity than to take up the cause of religious freedom and appoint a high-profile ambassador.

Source: The Weekend Australian

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