LAST night at 6:30pm the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and London Eye turned blood red. Other prominent buildings including many churches, synagogues, mosques and town halls were lit red too, all in support of #RedWednesday, an initiative of Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.
Red Wednesday highlights the impact of religious violence across the world, speaking out against religious intolerance and speaking up for persecuted believers of all faiths. Later today the charity plan to publish a parliamentary report on the state of religious freedom across the world.
— UK Parliament (@UKParliament) November 23, 2016
While social networks and news outlets in the west occasionally flare up over employers curbing cross-wearing, or Starbucks’ supposed ‘war on Christmas’, for millions of Christians across the world today persecution is just as much a part of following Jesus as attending church on a Sunday morning.
According to Open Doors, so far this year over 7,000 Christians have been killed for their faith, almost 3,000 more than last year (and these estimates are conservative as they exclude North Korea, Syria and Iraq, where they can’t obtain accurate records).
And beneath these ‘headline’ events for many there is a constant, low-level and localised persecution to contend with. This year around 2,400 churches were attacked or torn down because of local opposition or mob rule, twice as many as in 2015. Christians are driven out of their villages, shunned by their families or refused burial, welfare, jobs or an education.
For many this has been a year of fear and grief, but for followers of a crucified God, suffering is never the end. Jesus Christ has suffered and is alive at work in the world today, so he can be found right in the middle of the most painful suffering.
“While other worldviews lead us to sit in the midst of life’s joys, foreseeing the coming sorrows, Christianity empowers its people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming joy.” — Timothy Keller
Our faith was born in the furnace of intense persecution, and as we look to Jesus in our persecution we can be refined, like gold in a furnace. As London landmarks turn red to highlight the impact of religious violence, we remember Jesus, red with his own blood, absorbing our violence at the cross.
That’s why we use the symbol of the red cross in our church: it communicates God’s love meeting all of us deeply broken humans, bringing a costly reconciliation.
And Jesus, through his Spirit, extends this costly work to us. Followers of Jesus are those who love their enemies, who stand beside the oppressed, who provide practical aid. Followers of Jesus demonstrate mercy, compassion and forgiveness in place of hatred, segregation and revenge.
In the first century it was followers of Jesus like this who were dragged by a mob in front of the city authorities who protested that they had “turned the world upside down”. (Acts 17:6)
In 360 AD it was followers of Jesus like this about whom Emperor Julian complained so many were turning to join the “godless Galileans” (Christians) because they “support not only their own poor but ours as well”.
All throughout the centuries men and women of faith saturated with the love of God, overflowing with gratefulness and filled with His Spirit, have witnessed to His goodness, reflecting Him through both small and great acts of kindness and self-sacrifice.
Even today, it is followers of Jesus in the vast refugee camps of Lebanon and Jordan who are witnessing to the crucified God, leading to many Muslim refugees finding Jesus. Syria is seeing unprecedented co-operation and kinship between Christians and Muslims working together on the ground.
It was a Syrian pastor from Aleppo who recently said, “We will distribute aid to anyone, and Muslims respect that and come to us, which is a big shift because they used to be taught that Christians would try to kill or poison them.”
While nations churn with religious violence, God is at work in the middle of it all. He is suffering with a broken world through His people. Through his true followers He is showing mercy in a million ways, forgiving the world, reconciling the world and “turning the world upside down”.
“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:16-18)
— CopticMediaUK (@CopticMediaUK) November 23, 2016
— Shaykh Umar Al-Qadri (@DrUmarAlQadri) November 24, 2016
— Ruth Donaldson (@RuthDonaldson) November 23, 2016