'Simplistic' and wrong to see Christians in Middle East as victims, says Ed Miliband's former chief of staff

A 'simplistic' view that sees Christians in the Middle East as persecuted victims of terror is misleading and unhelpful.

That is according to Ed Miliband's former chief of staff, Tim Livesey. A former diplomat in the Foreign Office and adviser to Rowan Williams when he was Archbishop of Canterbury, Livesey now runs the Christian charity Embrace the Middle East.


In remarks that will challenge the common perception from many religious freedom charities, he said a 'well meaning' but misguided emphasis on persecution had given a false perception about the reality for Christians in the Middle East.

'We have got into a rather reductive and simplistic view of Christianity in the Middle East,' he said in an interview with Christian Today.

'It could be that we feel rather guilty that the invasions of Iraq in 2003 led to many Christians leaving,' he added.

'It isn't all ISIS. We got in first. So it could be something to do with that.

'It could be something to do with people becoming unduly alarmed and alarmist with the reduction of Christians in the Middle East, which has something to do birth rates not just persecution.'

He added that people were 'rightly concerned' about the 'barbarity' of ISIS but said: 'When you talk to Christians in the Middle East they don't see themselves in these reductive terms.

'They see themselves as playing an incredibly important role in Middle Eastern society. They are very focused on their communities and see themselves as very important to their countries.

'They see themselves as beacons of hope. They accept these are dark time but they see themselves as light and salt in those dark times.'

Livesey urged Western Christians not to see their Middle Eastern counterparts as 'somehow victims who are about to disappear off the Middle Eastern map'.

'That is not how they see themselves,' he said.

Dr Souraya Bechealany, acting general secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches, agreed.

'The reality on the ground in the Middle East is complex and plural,' she said. 'It cannot be reduced to one simple narrative or another. The best way to better comprehend our reality is to come and see. Then you can speak to what you have actually seen, heard and experienced.'

In what appeared to be a deliberate rebuke to religious freedom charities, Livesey added: 'That conflation of an exaggerated notion of persecution with religious freedom is not doing the cause of religious freedom very much good.'

He said: 'It is another example of over simplification and frankly misinformation and misunderstanding.'

Livesey said it was certainly true that Christians were leaving the Middle East in vast numbers, but said they are leaving 'for all sorts of reasons'.

'People are leaving Gaza because of the situation there. People are leaving the West Bank because of the occupation.'

He particularly criticised Christians from the US 'who really know very little about that part of the region'.

'I don't want to call into question Christian Zionism per se but many Christian Zionists from the US do not understand what is really going on in the Occupied Territories,' he said.

'Unfortunately coming out of parts of the church in the US there is rather simplistic take on the region per se but also what it should mean to be a Christian in the region.

'Really if you want to know what it is like to be a Christian in the region, ask Christians in the region, don't ask Christians who have never been there, however well-meaning they might be.' 

Livesey said he 'didn't want to get into politics' when asked about whether US president and vice president, Donald Trump and Mike Pence, had perpetuated this 'simplistic' view. But he said the decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was 'unfortunate at best and deeply damaging at worst'.

'We are fully supportive of the heads of churches in Jerusalem,' he added, referencing their joint statement blasting the decision as 'illegal'.