05 February 2015
'We must speak out for religious freedom’ – Welby condemns silence over 'creeping climate of fear'
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.
The Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) has been launched at Westminster and is calling on the British government to intervene to prevent religious cleansing and violent persecution.
The Most Rev and Rt Hon Justin Welby gave the keynote address at the launch of the RLC at the Palace of Westminster. Highlighting the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, attacks against Jews in Europe and the firebombing of mosques, he told an audience of parliamentarians and church leaders: "That quiet creeping removals of freedom that create a climate of fear and animosity is why we must speak out. 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 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.
It wants the FCO to produce an annual report to demonstrate the steps taken by
the UK government to
promote religious freedom.
The RLC is a Commission of the Evangelical Alliance, comprising Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Open Doors UK and Release International.
These groups, which have been working for decades to raise awareness of persecution issues, will be collaborating under the banner: 'One voice for the persecuted Church.'
"A staggering 76 per cent of the world's population live in countries with high restrictions on religious freedom," said Mervyn Thomas, the 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." Launching the Religious Liberty Commission, he added: "Our purpose is to amplify the cries of the persecuted so the world can no longer ignore them."
According to the RLC, Christians are subject to violence, intimidation and discrimination in more than 50 countries. Some are murdered because of their faith. "In the very birthplace of Christianity, the Middle East, the Christian faith is in danger of extinction," said Mervyn Thomas.
The Evangelical Alliance's general director Steve Clifford called on Christian leaders from all denominations to adopt the International Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians (IDOP) as an annual event in the church calendar. "We must make sure that the plight of the persecuted church is heard," he said.
And the RLC 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. The Rev Dr Berhane Ashmelash said: "Today in Eritrea, Christians are being persecuted. Many are imprisoned and regularly subjected to starvation, heavy labour and solitary confinement.
"Prison could be an underground pit or a metal shipping container. Torture is frequent. 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."
The Archbishop of Canterbury said he welcomed the coordination of voices speaking out against persecution under the one banner of the RLC, adding: "I echo warmly the RLC's encouragement for religious and political leaders to speak out in unison against any violation of freedom of religion."
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Notes to Editors
Stills of the event, audio interviews with members of the RLC, and video clips are available upon request.
The Evangelical Alliance
We are the largest and oldest body representing the UK’s two million evangelical Christians. For more than 165 years, we have been bringing Christians together and helping them listen to, and be heard by, the government, media and society. We’re here to connect people for a shared mission, whether it’s celebrating the Bible, making a difference in our communities or lobbying the government for a better society. From Skye to Southampton, from Coleraine to Cardiff, we work across 79 denominations, 3,500 churches, 750 organisations and thousands of individual members. And we're not just uniting Christians within the UK – we are a founding member of the World Evangelical Alliance, a global network of more than 600 million evangelical Christians. For more information, go to www.eauk.org
The Religious Liberty Commission
The persecution of Christians worldwide has become such a significant issue that Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Open Doors and Release International, have joined together to form the Religious Liberty Commission.
The Religious Liberty Commission (RLC) is a commission of the Evangelical Alliance that brings organisations working on behalf of persecuted Christians together to speak with one voice. Each member organisation has its own distinctive mandate, but all feel the issue of Christian persecution is so important they want to speak together regularly to raise awareness of key developments globally, in a significant and collaborative way. Visit www.eauk.org/rlc.