The World Watch List Parliamentary launch is taking place on 13 January. MPs can attend digitally, and it’s not too late to invite your MP to hear first-hand from persecuted believers. In this interview, MPs from across the political spectrum share their experiences of attending the launch and the difference it has made.
ANDREW SELOUS (Conservative MP for South West Bedfordshire) It was clear to me throughout my early Christian life that not every Christian enjoys my privilege of exercising faith in a tolerant, democratic society, but it was only once I entered the House of Commons that I became informed of the enormity of the problem.
"Not every Christian enjoys my privilege of exercising faith in a tolerant, democratic society" Andrew Selous
I remember being shocked to find out, in the chamber in 2008, that the number of Christians in Iraq had halved from 1.2 million to 600,000 since 2003 as a result of persecution. Hundreds had been massacred during church services or threatened with execution if they did not leave the country. In subsequent years, I then became more conscious, through more frequent participation in House debates on the issue and the Open Doors World Watch List, that persecution was not just confined to a few countries but had evolved into a ubiquitous phenomenon. The World Watch List map up in my office gives me a sobering daily reminder of this and urges me to pray beyond my own situation.
DAVID LINDEN (SNP MP for Glasgow East): I came to faith when I was about 19 years old, and I heard about the persecuted church as part of going to my church. What really struck home for me, though, was seeing images of Christians forming a ring around Muslims praying in Tahrir Square, Egypt, in 2011. As well as being a really great witness, I remember hoping that I would get the same if I were ever in the position of being persecuted for my faith. I’ve followed the work of Open Doors ever since.
KATE GREEN (Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston): Many of my constituents are deeply concerned about the persecution of Christians around the world, and they have repeatedly drawn my attention to the terrible plight many face, ever since I first became a member of parliament. Constituents have encouraged me to attend World Watch List events in parliament, and I have been privileged to do so.
DAVID LINDEN: I’m lucky that, being the MP for Glasgow East, there are about 40 churches in my constituency. As well as attending one, I have a good relationship with the others – and almost every week, constituents get in touch with me with concerns about religious persecution in many different countries: Pakistan, North Korea, Iraq, Chile, many others. The fact that this is a concern to constituents in Glasgow East gives legitimacy to me raising an issue I also feel strongly about in the House of Commons.
ANDREW SELOUS: Encouragingly, I am not alone in holding a passion about this issue. Many in my constituency alert me to current cases or campaigns, and each year I send the World Watch List map to my local churches, so they can display it in their venues and gather prayer support.
DAVID LINDEN: I’ve been to the World Watch List Parliamentary launch every year since I was elected in 2017 and it’s the highlight of my calendar. It really reinforces when I do what I do in advocating on the issue of religious freedom, and gives great opportunities to table questions afterwards relating to the countries on the list.
There’s a good number of MPs who are really invested in freedom of religion or belief, and I think I can speak on behalf of all of us when I say that the launch and the publication of the World Watch List galvanise us to keep going and keep challenging the issue in Parliament.
"I’ve been particularly struck by the experience of women persecuted for their faith, and how that persecution is often compounded by their gender." Kate Green
ANDREW SELOUS: Last year, I found it heartening to see so many parliamentarians attend the launch. It sent a signal to government that putting a stop to persecution is a cause that a large proportion of the House is actively willing to fight for. The launches are always very informative events, providing detailed information about the global picture and a first-hand insight into the lives of the persecuted church. There are few other opportunities to hear this so directly. The launches also contain practical guidance on how we can make a difference, which is helpful when the diagnosis often seems overwhelming.
KATE GREEN: I’ve learnt so much at these events, and have heard stories of appalling suffering, but also of incredible courage. I’ve been particularly struck by the experience of women persecuted for their faith, and how that persecution is often compounded by their gender. Conversely, I have been immensely impressed at the role that Christians, and Christian women, in some of the most conflict-riven parts of the world play in peace-making and rebuilding in their communities.
ANDREW SELOUS: There are many inspiring stories that I can draw from previous launches, but I am reminded of Sunil’s story from Sri Lanka. His response to the horrendous Easter Sunday church bombing was centred on compassion, faith and forgiveness. I find that truly remarkable amidst the terrible grief.
DAVID LINDEN: When India rose several places in the World Watch List, they really made me sit up and take notice. I’ve spoken about it in various places, right up to the Prime Minister, and high-level conversations have taken place in government. That’s great, and Open Doors should be proud that the launch set off those conversations – I hope we see change soon/
KATE GREEN: I look forward to attending the digital launch in January and I encourage all my parliamentary colleagues to do so!
"The most important thing is that constituents from Land’s End to John O’Groats lobby their MP." David Linden
DAVID LINDEN: I’m impressed by the significant number of MPs who attend who aren’t themselves committed Christians, but know how important the issue of Christian persecution is to their constituents. So I’d certainly encourage MPs to attend, but the most important thing is that constituents from Land’s End to John O’Groats lobby their MP. The launch is a great event for talking about the persecuted church, and to be a witness for Jesus Christ.
ANDREW SELOUS: I would ask my colleagues in the Houses of Commons, along with members of the public, to come along to the digital launch in January 2021. We so easily take for granted our freedom of religion and belief in this country and this list provides an important wake-up call. May it mobilise us to advocate for a better way in the countries where Christians fear to tread.
Father God, thank You for giving Open Doors an opportunity to amplify the voices of persecuted Christians in the World Watch List launch. We pray that You would use the parliamentary launch in 2021 to make sure their stories are heard and understood. Please equip those in power in the UK Government to make changes that will tangibly affect the lives of those who coruageously follow You despite the cost.
You can ask your MP to attend the World Watch List launch on 13 January 2021. It's a crucial opportunity for decision makers to hear first-hand from the persecuted church - you can make a real difference by getting in touch.
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Together, we can reach those where persecution hits hardest.