22 October 2015
'Freedom to Convert' launch
October 21st was an important landmark in Evangelical Alliance Wales' work to raise awareness of the 'freedom to convert'. Some readers may already be aware of this focus, through an article written in the June Idea magazine, outlining a 'joint statement' initiative that has been developing by the Alliance between Christian and Muslim leaders in Wales, supporting the right of the individual to choose their faith.
On October 21st a small but significant event was held in the National Assembly for Wales, launching the Alliance's work on 'freedom to convert' for the upcoming year to important stakeholders. The event was sponsored by Darren Millar AM, a committed Christian who is also chair of the Cross Party Group on Faith. He tabled a statement of opinion to be raised on the same day, stating:
The National Assembly for Wales:
Recognises that the individual's right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion includes the freedom to change a religion or belief;
Believes that this includes the right not to have a religious belief;
Notes the excellent relationships that exist between Wales's faith leaders, facilitated by participation in bodies such as the Faith Communities Forum, the Cross Party Group on Faith and the Interfaith Council for Wales; and
Acknowledges and supports the collaborative and inclusive work being done among faith groups to enable healthy dialogue on this important issue of religious conversion.
Apart from the joint statement initiative mentioned above, consideration will be given by the Alliance in Wales as to what other areas can be developed. Women, for example, probably suffer disproportionately more than men regarding this issue and it would be worthwhile at the very least to hold a meeting between representatives from the women's sector, the faith sector and civil society to discuss this more fully.
Secondly, conversion in prisons may also warrant scrutiny, although this may be more of a UK issue rather than Welsh issue as the lead chaplain in Wales is of the view that there are no problems in this regard in Wales' four prisons.
Thirdly, conversion and asylum is another potential area to look at more fully. While there is skepticism in some circles regarding asylum seekers claims to conversion, arguing that it is merely intended to bolster their asylum claim, genuine conversions nevertheless do take place and people must remain free to choose and change their religion or belief.
As this issue of religious conversion gains more traction as it is talked about publicly, more people will be brought into the conversions. Members of Wales' Ahmadiyya Muslim community were in attendance at the October 21st event, for example. An invitation was extended to them as a result of a recent BBC broadcast from northern England where one of their imams was talking about the tradition of tolerance that Ahmadiyya have with regard to people who leave their faith.
Photo credit- Giovani Racca- used under CC licence