People are always saying that ‘religion’ causes problems in the world. I prefer to say that ‘extremists’ of any creed cause problems in the world. At such a time the leaders of peace-loving religious groups need to stand up and be counted.
I’m therefore pleased and relieved to see that our Archbishop, Justin Welby, has not been idle in this regard. He has visited the Middle East recently and knows a lot about its problems at first hand. Last Wednesday he joined Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders along with some MPs at a vigil for peace at Westminster Abbey, organised by Christian Aid, Islamic Relief, and World Jewish Relief. He described the gathering as “remarkable”.
We need to see much more of this kind of get-together, to give the lie to those who betray their own creeds by using violence, terror and death as weapons to gain power.
Justin also hosted leaders and representatives of the Churches of the Middle East and the wider Christian Church in Britain at Lambeth Palace. After discussions regarding the plight of Christians and minority communities in Iraq, Syria and the wider Middle East, a statement was then agreed, expressing solidarity with, and advocating for, all those who continue to suffer gross violations of the fundamental right and freedom to practice their chosen faith.
Flanked by the other church leaders, the Archbishop read the statement to the gathered journalists:
A new situation has arisen which creates a state of emergency in the Middle East for Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities. The recent increase in violence and aggression has resulted in gross violations of fundamental rights and freedoms in the region. We gathered today as Christians including those originally from the Middle East to stand in solidarity and prayer with our brothers and sisters who seek to practice their faith and belief in lands where they have been a continuing presence for centuries.
The Middle East is the birthplace of Christianity, and home to indigenous Christian communities that have been an indispensable part of its history. Despite the challenges, Christians in the region were and are a stabilising and reconciling presence. Today, particularly in Iraq and Syria, they are at great risk from violence fostered by extremist ideologies which no longer see them as being part of the future. The Middle East is in desperate danger of losing an irreplaceable part of its identity, heritage and culture.
We are seeing an extreme religious ideology that knows no limits in its persecution of those who are culturally or religiously different. Those who promote this intolerance must be challenged and the perpetrators of violence held to account. The suffering of those who bear the brunt of its terror requires us to act and bear witness to their plight, whatever ethnic group or religious minority, they come from. We must provide relief and safety for those displaced and in fear of their lives in consultation with our partners in the region. We must also bring pressure to bear on those who can provide security to those affected.
In meeting and praying together, we give thanks for our brothers and sisters as they continue to live their Christian faith with strength and perseverance. We commit to continue to stand with them in prayer, to speak for freedom from persecution for Christians and all other religious communities and those of no faith who live as minority groups across the region. We also continue to urge Her Majesty’s Government to work within the international community to safeguard and provide for all those affected.
To our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, We “share with you in Jesus the persecution and the kingdom and the patient endurance.” Revelation 1:9
Go for it, Justin – our prayers are with you. This is the sort of leadership we need.