Whilst eating my breakfast, I was watching BBC Breakfast News, and picked up on the following story: “Cardinal brands UK aid foreign policy ‘anti-Christian’”
Essentially, Cardinal Keith O’Brien ‘has attacked plans to increase aid to Pakistan to more than £445m, without any commitment to religious freedom for Christians.’
The key points of his argument, as reported by the BBC, are as follows:
Cardinal O’Brien said: “I urge William Hague to obtain guarantees from foreign governments before they are given aid.
“To increase aid to the Pakistan government when religious freedom is not upheld and those who speak up for religious freedom are gunned down is tantamount to an anti-Christian foreign policy.
“Pressure should now be put on the government of Pakistan – and the governments of the Arab world as well – to ensure that religious freedom is upheld, the provision of aid must require a commitment to human rights.”
He said the report’s [see article] estimate of persecution against Christians was “intolerable and unacceptable”.
“We ask that the religious freedoms we enjoy to practice our faith, will soon be extended to every part of the world and that the tolerance we show to other faiths in our midst will be reciprocated everywhere,” he added.
Now, I am not suggesting that any form of religious persecution is a good thing… it isn’t… it’s very bad. But, from my limited understanding of the basics of Christian teachings I am pretty baffled by the language utilised by the Cardinal… and the fact that he has made this statement at all.
One of the core teachings of Christianity is not only to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (as Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins et al commonly reduce it to – attacking Christianity for having an inward looking love), but is, in fact, to love your enemy. Take some of the following cherry-picked teachings from the New Testament (NIV translation):
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
People may attack me, saying that these are cherry-picked… but they are quite simply summations of universal core teachings of Christianity.
Persecution was seen in the early church as a prime sign of faith, and something to be celebrated:
2 Thessalonians 1:4
4 Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.
Those believers whose faith withers in the face of persecution are castigated in the famous parable of the sower:
20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.
I would counter Cardinal O’Brian with the following: it might just be that Britain’s foreign policy is too Christian for your diluted, decadent twenty-first century Western Christianity. I would maintain that the policy of giving aid to countries where Christians are persecuted is a supreme example of the Christian virtue of loving your enemy.
Personally, I wouldn’t be giving aid to a country which actively, systematically persecutes any people… and, personally, I think the government probably shouldn’t either. However, I am cynical, secular, and don’t have much faith in humanity’s ability to change without a bit of a push.
I would have expected a more ‘Christian’ response from a prominent leader of the Catholic church.