There has been a deep sense of shock in response to the news stories of Christians and others being beheaded by IS. Perhaps the method of execution is particularly chilling, but the targeting of someone because of their religion is often entangled with issues of race as well. So we grimly watched our news feeds as we learned of Jews being targeted in a French supermarket and heard, as a kind of commentary, of the growing number of anti-Semitic attacks across Europe.
But these events are not all the responsibility of one religion or a single kind of political group. Last Spring, thanks to BMS World Mission, I visited the Palestinian West Bank and heard the stories of how both Christian and Muslim Palestinian families were separated, and the simple task of going to work or to church were disrupted by the security fence. With countless others, I crossed through checkpoints, a process made easier for me by my UK passport, but still an uneasy experience. I visited the Hebron mosque where, a few years earlier, a lone Israeli gunman had massacred people at prayer.
This is the broken world in which we live and which has been redeemed by our Saviour who was publically and painfully executed. Terrible suffering and gruesome atrocities should not lead us to an ‘us and them’ stance but should bring us to our knees in prayer. This prayer is to a God who put himself at the mercy of a sinful and violent world and who hears our prayers as one who knows pain and the suffering of the victim from the inside. Of course, this prayer to which we are led is not only prayer for Christians, but for all who suffer, whether for their faith, in Syria, India, Northern Nigeria, or wherever.
Yet while our prayers must encompass all who suffer, for whatever reason, we also have a particular responsibility to hold in prayer those who suffer for their following of Jesus.
A few weeks ago I was in the Palace of Westminster at the launch of the Evangelical Alliance’s Religious Liberty Commission, a partnership between the Alliance and Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Release International and Open Doors. At the launch, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, argued, "We must speak out in solidarity. Silence is not an option. Treasuring the dignity of each and every human must mean that we treasure their right to religious belief – even when we profoundly disagree with them." This is a sentiment that Thomas Helwys espoused four centuries ago when, on the basis of scripture, he argued for the liberty of conscience for all: ‘Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews, or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure.’
Awareness, fellowship, campaigning and prayer go hand in hand and the commission’s website offers news, stories and themes which can inform and provoke our prayer together.
If you want to think more about worship with Chris, then visit Let's Talk about Worship
where you will find a series of interviews with Chris and some great linked resources for small group study in your church.