Britain, December 24, 2013
Lord Carey, who was Archbishop of Canterbury until 2002, said he is “worried about the future of faith in the West” as he highlighted an “increasing timidity” among churchgoers, with some fearing to admit faith in their own workplaces.
In a passionate defence of persecuted Christians around the world, he warned the government is failing to speak up for those who endure marginalisation, violence and fear.
Writing in The Telegraph, Lord Carey said western governments have been “strangely and inexplicably reluctant to confront” the deliberate targeting of Christians in the Middle East.
His defence of Christians follows comment from the Prince of Wales, who last week warned the religion was beginning to “disappear” in the face of a wave of “organised persecution”.
Speaking at a reception at Clarence House, the Prince of Wales told assembled guests the world is in danger of losing something “irreplaceably precious” with 2,000-year-old communities under threat from fundamentalist Islamist militants.
Lord Carey, who held the post of Archbishop of Canterbury for 11-and-a-half years and retired in 2002, has now welcomed the “powerful intervention” in his Christmas message, published in the Daily Telegraph.
Hailing the Prince of Wales’ words, delivered after years of attempting to bring leaders of different faiths together, Lord Carey said: “This is something that western governments have been strangely and inexplicably reluctant to confront.
“In a recent House of Commons debate on the issue, the government response was full of denial that this problem was uniquely affecting Christian communities.
“But, then, successive governments have done little to speak up for Christians facing human rights abuses in Africa and the Middle East.”
Last year, a report by think tank Civitas claimed Christians are persecuted “more than any other body of believers” globally, citing a study estimating 200 million, or 10 per cent of Christians worldwide, are “socially disadvantaged, harassed or actively oppressed for their beliefs.”
Open Doors, a charity, currently lists 23 countries where Christians suffer “absolute, extreme or severe” persecution in 2013, headed by North Korea, where possession of a Bible is punishable by death, and followed by Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia.
Lord Carey, who claims the current government is doing “just as much to wash its hands of persecuted Christian communities as any of its predecessors”, has now called on politicians to understand that the religion is “despised” in many parts of the world.
“In Nigeria, churches are firebombed; in Pakistan, churchgoers are prosecuted under draconian blasphemy laws, while in Egypt they are either marginalized or assaulted,” he said.
Speaking of the Christian community in general, he added: “Closer to home, I admit I am worried about the future of faith in the west.
“Many Christians I meet say there is pressure on them to be silent about their faith.
“Though there can be no questions of comparison with the powerlessness and weakness of the church in the Middle East, there is an increasing timidity on the part of churchgoers in the west – about even admitting that they have faith in the workplace.”
In a direct message to Christians, Lord Carey said the name of Jesus would allow churches “in all their weakness” to “become strong once more”.
His words follow interventions from politicians and religious leaders alike.
In October, former Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor argued “not enough is done in the West” to speak out about Christians facing violence, saying they are persecuted “to a greater or lesser extent” in 139 countries.
This weekend, shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander condemned a sense of unwillingness to speak up for Christians, telling the Telegraph public figures should support those who risk their lives to attend churches across the world.
Attacking the “misplaced sense of political correctness” and “sense of embarrassment at ‘doing God’”, Mr Alexander argued the government must do more to address the threat to Christians abroad.
Gary Streeter, Tory MP for South West Devon and chairman of the cross-party group Christians in Parliament, said he welcomed leading figures speaking out about the persecution of Christians, adding the issue is already “moving up the political agenda”.
“The government is certainly aware of the problem,” he said. “We are not doing enough, but in one sense it is a huge issue and there is never enough.
“I do think our government and future governments should be more robust in requiring the governments of the countries in question, particularly those that we pour international development aid into, to focus on protecting their minorities.
“We must require certain minimum standards of protection for all minorities, including Christians.”
Bishop Angaelos, head of Britain’s Coptic Orthodox Church, said speaking out about the persecution of Christians was a matter of conscience.
Saying the height of violence in Egypt this year saw 100 places of worship attacked in 48 hours, he said western governments should now support a system of law and order which held people to account for attacking minorities.
He added that attempts to pressure Christians to be silent in Britain would only lead to them speaking out more on moral issues, saying all faiths should be able to share their views “robustly and openly”.
A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: "This government has elevated religious freedom to a key priority in its human rights brief."
He added Baroness Warsi, the first ever Minister for faith, had "combined her domestic and international roles to make this issue a personal priority since taking on her role in 2012" and had called it a "global crisis".
By Hannah Furness