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21 November 2013

Warsi: religious persecution is this century's biggest challenge

Warsi: religious persecution is this century's biggest challenge

Religious persecution is "the biggest challenge we face in this young century". These were the words of Baroness Warsi, minister for faith and communities, in a speech this week at Georgetown University, Washington.

Speaking of the "global crisis" of persecution, her recent speech focused on "a religion which is suffering particularly in the wake of changes to the Middle East: Christianity." This makes her the first senior British politician to have drawn attention to the plight of Christians in the region (The Telegraph).

Warsi reported in The Telegraph that the Christian community in Iraq now numbers just 200,000, decreasing from 1.2 million in 1990. Former chief rabbi Lord Sacks has described continuous attacks on Iraqi Christians by Al-Qaeda as "the religious equivalent of ethnic cleansing".

While some may use religion as a means of division, Warsi asserted in her speech that major faiths are not on an intrinsic collision course. She gave examples of Christians and Muslims defending one another, including during the Egyptian uprising when Christians protected Muslims who were praying in Tahrir Square. Using the Biblical parable of the Good Samaritan, who did not question the faith of the robbed man before helping him, she encouraged Muslims in particular to stand up for persecuted Christians. Drawing on the examples of apartheid and the American Civil Rights movement, she called for unity in the fight against intolerance.

An international summit will be hosted by Baroness Warsi in January 2014 to draw up a plan to end violence against Christians, particularly in the Middle Eastern countries where Christianity originated. Her vision is for a cross-continent and cross-faith response to the issue, emphasising the great benefits that religious plurality brings to societies.

Speaking of the proven link between religious freedom and a society's ability to flourish, she described how freedom to believe allows people to make a greater contribution to society.

The need to build political will was emphasised. This is particularly necessary to ensure that the international Human Rights Council resolution on the treatment of minorities and tolerance towards other faiths leads to actual change. Although 83 per cent of countries with populations over two million do have constitutions guaranteeing religious freedom, this includes North Korea and other countries which blatantly persecute religious minorities.

As senior minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Warsi explained that each of their ministers raises and promotes issues of religious freedom with the countries they oversee. She has already had "very frank conversations" with ministers in Pakistan (where a recent suicide bombing of a church took place), encouraging their politicians to set a standard for tolerance and speak against persecution publicly.

The Evangelical Alliance, Release International, Christian Solidarity Worldwide and Open Doors have joined together to form the Religious Liberty Commission (RLC). The RLC exists to raise awareness of persecution and encourage individual Christians and churches to take action on behalf of the persecuted Church worldwide.

Our fellow RLC members have commented on Baroness Warsi's speech:

"It is very encouraging that a senior UK politician has not only publically acknowledged the global crisis of religious persecution but actually wants to do something about it. What's key here is the call to get moderates in all religions to speak up for the rights of religious minorities in their countries. At the same time Britain and other western governments must make religious rights a key part of their foreign policy, something that Baroness Warsi is advocating."
Paul Robinson, chief executive, Release International.

"I welcome Baroness Warsi's comments drawing attention to the discrimination and violence faced by Christian communities in parts of the Middle East. There is no doubt that Christians are often portrayed as "other" and Christianity described as a foreign religion, despite its ancient presence in the region. This is a plight often shared by other religious minorities in the Middle East, Pakistan, Burma and elsewhere. CSW believes that advocating for civil rights and freedom of religion or belief for all is the best means of ensuring that these Christians are recognised as full citizens, and receive equal treatment before the law."
Mervyn Thomas, chief executive, Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

"We are pleased that Baroness Warsi has spoken out on this important issue. However, because 'we've read the book' we know that the Church will not become extinct, but as part of the body of Christ we all have a role to play both in prayer and practical action." 
Eddie Lyle, chief executive, Open Doors.

Please pray:

  • for the international summit planned for January 2014, that it would have real impact on the lives of persecuted Christians and religious minorities across the world
  • that governments across the globe would work to promote religious freedom
  • for organisations working hard to campaign against persecution and support people persecuted for their faith.

To encourage your church to pray for the persecuted Church you can show the three-minute RLC video in your church service or small group.