The comments by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, in which he used the word “martyrs” to describe the 81 Pakistani Christians killed when their church in Peshawar was targeted by suicide bombers, has raised eyebrows, writes Peter Standford.
- UK Telegraph
It is the sort of language avoided nowadays in the secular, sceptical West, with its taken-for-granted religious freedoms, in case it makes people feel uncomfortable.
Yet in terms of Christian history the Archbishop of Canterbury’s description is surely accurate. These 81 worshippers at All Saints Anglican church, a 19th‑century colonial legacy in the Kohati Gate district of the city, died because they insisted last Sunday on practising their faith, as martyrs in all religions have done through the centuries.
In contrast to some of the more high-profile Christian martyrs, though, they were going about their religious practice quietly and without fuss, as befits a minority community of just 2.5 million (or 1.5 per cent) in a nation of 175 million that is overwhelmingly Muslim. They weren’t evangelising. They weren’t discussing missions to convert Muslims. And they weren’t falling foul of Pakistan’s strict blasphemy laws. They were simply, in the archbishop’s words, 'testifying to their faith in Jesus Christ by going to church.'
The strength of Archbishop Welby’s language reflects a wider frustration: that in the West the present appalling suffering of small, though long-established Christian communities in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and beyond has hardly made it on to the agenda. Perhaps it requires the use of a word like martyr to make people sit up and take notice.
There is, of course, a terrible irony in this apparent Western indifference and hand-wringing, as the Catholic Archbishop of Karachi, Joseph Coutts, has pointed out. He recalls the reaction he faced in Pakistan from otherwise well-disposed Muslim colleagues and friends at the time of America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. 'Why can’t you have a word with your fellow Christian, George Bush,' he was repeatedly asked, 'and tell him to stop.'