The Archbishop of Canterbury has called on politicians, the church and the media to speak out against the “creeping climate of fear and animosity” at the launch of a new partnership to address the growing problem of violence against Christians worldwide.
The Religious Liberty Commission (RLC), launched at Westminster in central London on Feb. 4, is calling on the British government to intervene to prevent religious cleansing and violent persecution.
Giving the keynote address at the RLC’s launch at the Palace of Westminster, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, highlighted the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, attacks against Jews in Europe and the firebombing of mosques.
“That quiet creeping removals of freedom that create a climate of fear and animosity is why we must speak out,” he told an audience of parliamentarians and church leaders. “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.”
The RLC is pressing the United Kingdom Department for International Development to make religious freedom a strategic priority.
It is calling for a special envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to report back on persecution worldwide and wants the FCO to produce an annual report to demonstrate the steps taken by the U.K. to promote religious freedom.
These groups, which have been working for decades to raise awareness of persecution issues, will collaborate under the banner, “One Voice for the Persecuted Church.”
“A staggering 76 percent of the world’s population lives in countries with high restrictions on religious freedom,” said Mervyn Thomas, CEO of Christian Solidarity Worldwide. “The vast majority of those facing persecution are Christians. The situation is simply too important for the world to ignore.”
With the launch of the Religious Liberty Commission, he said, “Our purpose is to amplify the cries of the persecuted so the world can no longer ignore them.”
Christians are subject to violence, intimidation and discrimination in more than 50 countries, according to the RLC.
Some are murdered because of their faith. “In the very birthplace of Christianity, the Middle East, the Christian faith is in danger of extinction,” Thomas said.
Evangelical Alliance general director Steve Clifford called on Christian leaders from all denominations to adopt the International Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians as an annual event in the church calendar.
“We must make sure that the plight of the persecuted church is heard,” he said.
The RLC also urged the media to give greater importance to persecution issues, especially where there was evidence of religious cleansing.
A victim of persecution in Eritrea, one of the world’s most repressive regimes, described the attacks there against Christians.
“Today in Eritrea, Christians are being persecuted,” Berhane Ashmelash said. “Many are imprisoned and regularly subjected to starvation, heavy labor and solitary confinement.”
“Prison could be an underground pit or a metal shipping container. Torture is frequent,” Ashmelash said. “People are tied by both hands and legs and hanged on trees for hours or days. One form of hanging is the ‘Jesus Christ,’ which looks like a crucifix. I was arrested and tortured with ‘Number 8.’ They tie your arms and put a log under your knees. Many years later, I still feel a numbness on the back of my hand.”
“We strongly call for the international community to put pressure on Eritrea for the immediate release of all prisoners of conscience,” Ashmelash said.
Welby said he welcomed the coordination of voices speaking out against persecution under the one banner of the RLC, saying, “I echo warmly the RLC’s encouragement for religious and political leaders to speak out in unison against any violation of freedom of religion.”
Paul Hobson is the editor of The Baptist Times of Great Britain – the online newspaper of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. A version of this news article first appeared in The Baptist Times and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @PaulHobson10, The Baptist Times @BaptistTimes and the Baptist Union @BaptistUnionGB.
Paul Hobson is editor of The Baptist Times of Great Britain, the online newspaper of the Baptist Union of Great Britain.