"Due to the continued violence and civil unrest in Damascus and Aleppo, our Churches there have been closed down for the unforseeable future. Your prayers for the congregations and the people of Syria are sincerely requested and greatly appreciated. Please pray for peace throughout the Middle East."
So reads the website of All Saints Episcopal Church in Damascus. While Christians here fret over issues of gender identity and sexuality, those across North Africa and the Middle East are confronted by a momentous crisis that is nothing short of existential. It is not merely that churches are shut, pews empty and pulpits silent; their schools are being bombed, homes ransacked and businesses burned down. From Algeria in the west to Iran in the east, Christians are being kidnapped, terrorised, tortured, raped and murdered. They are being systematically ‘cleansed’ from the very lands where Jesus preached of the coming kingdom, and the Apostles first carried the gospel of salvation. They have returned to the first-century era of intolerable persecution, martyrdom and the coming apocalypse.
It has been observed – though not at all widely – that our eager assistance in the ushering in of various ‘Arab Springs’ has had certain unforeseen consequences for Christians across the region. Or perhaps they were all entirely foreseen by the FCO, but simply brushed aside as acceptable collateral damage; a price worth paying for greater geo-political security, enhanced economic cooperation and the propagation of democracy, liberty and human rights – all laudable objectives of an ethical foreign policy.