Archbishop of Canterbury voices concern over plight of Christians

By Mark A. Kellner

The plight of Christians in Middle Eastern nations such as Iraq, Syria, and Yemen has received new attention from one of Britain’s most prominent Christians, who says he fears the extinction of Christianity in some of its earliest host countries.

“Christians have been in the Middle East for nearly two thousand years—for much of that time at the heart of its life,” Dr. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote recently. “They are the original Christian communities, already old beyond memory when Islam arrived in the region.”

Welby said that while these Christians have been accepted and welcomed as neighbors and fellow citizens for centuries, the picture is different today: “[F]our years ago, a Christian leader commented that the Christians of the region are facing the worst situation since the Mongol invasions of the 13th Century.”

That’s why Welby, spiritual leader of the global Anglican communion—which includes the Episcopal Church in the United States—spoke up about the situation, appearing on BBC television and writing for the Sunday Telegraph newspaper. He also hosted a special prayer service for Christians in the region that was attended by Prince Charles, the future king of England.


The Daily Threat of Violence

While some countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel are accepting of Christians, Welby notes that in other lands, “They face daily the threat of violence, murder, intimidation, prejudice, and poverty. In the last few years, they have been slaughtered by so-called Islamic State, and in many countries they find themselves squeezed between the upper and lower millstones of pressure on them within society and of conflicts that afflict the region.”

Welby pointed to dramatic declines in Christian populations in the region: “The Christian population of Iraq, for instance, is less than half what it was in 2003 and their churches, houses, and businesses have been damaged or destroyed. The Syrian Christian population has halved since 2010. As a result, across the region, Christian communities that were the foundation of the universal Church now face the threat of imminent extinction.”



Will the church go through the tribulation?



1,276 Killed

Such dangers have long been known. In 2014, Canon Andrew White, dubbed the “Vicar of Baghdad” for his work in the Iraqi capital, told a reporter that of a congregation of roughly 6,500, some 1,276 had been killed. “It’s a lot,” he said simply.

White said that while he had previously urged his parishioners to remain in their country, he no longer did so, asking, “Do you know there are now more Iraqi Christians in Chicago than in Iraq?”

Archbishop Welby, focusing more recently on the issue of potential refugees, wrote, “We must support and help them in every way we can. Where they wish to leave, they will be refugees in need of asylum. Where, courageously and by the grace of God, they choose to remain, they need publicity and external, visible support.”


Christian Refugees a Minority

ISIS - The Islamic State

News reports indicate that of four hundred Syrian refugees admitted to Britain last year, only one was a Christian. Welby wants to see more Christian refugees admitted to nations around the world.

That a region in which Christianity laid down its earliest roots would be in turmoil over the presence of a peaceful Christian population might be a sign of things to come for the world’s believers. The “so-called Islamic State” to which Archbishop Welby referred remains a threat in the area, and other insurgents seeking a unitary Islamic nation in their countries are equally opposed to any remnants of Christianity. Co-existence seems dead in Yemen, Syria, and some other nations.

In John 15:18, 19, Jesus had a sobering warning for His disciples and for those who follow Him today: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.”


Take a Stand

Christians who stand for their faith, and don’t bow to current trends or fancies, are likely to encounter more and more resistance in today’s society. Take a stand for the Bible’s definition of marriage and the family, and it can cost you a job or the chance at professional education.

Felix Ngole, a Christian studying for a master’s in social work at Britain’s Sheffield University, lost an appeal to the country’s High Court after he was expelled for posting on Facebook a controversial opinion about homosexuality.

According to a newspaper report, university lawyers argued that Ngole’s biblically based opinion would disqualify him from employment in the social work field: “They said Mr. Ngole had been studying for a professional qualification and said university bosses had to consider his ‘fitness to [practice].’ ”

Ngole’s case is not unique—social work and counseling students in the United States have faced similar challenges—and it’s not the only instance of anti-Christian persecution in today’s world, as the tragic news from the Middle East confirms. In other parts of the world—China, Burma, and Pakistan, for example—living a Christian life can invite attacks, bias, and even death.

Your Bible contains prophecies that tell us this persecution will only get worse as the end draws near. And, no, Christians are not going to be “raptured” away from the time of trouble. How to survive? Pastor Doug Batchelor offers some important insights—offering hope to those facing a difficult future, which might well include all of us.


Surviving the Great Tribulation

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