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Archbishop Welby says defend all faiths – even Stephen Fry's

06 February 2015


"Free choice": Archbishop Welby at the Commission's launch in Westminster, on Wednesday 

"Free choice": Archbishop Welby at the Commission's launch in Westminster, on Wednesday 

CHRISTIANS must also defend the right of people not to believe if they wish to campaign for the persecuted Church, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

If the Church wanted to campaign for the rights of Christians who were suffering for their faith, it must fight for freedom of belief for all, including those who had none, he said.

Archbishop Welby was speaking on Wednesday in the chapel of St Mary Undercroft, in the Palace of Westminster, at the launch of the Religious Liberty Commission, a joint initiative from Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Open Doors, and Release International, who all campaign for persecuted Christians.

"If we believe in freedom of religion, what is good for one is good for all. Taking responsibility for someone else's freedom is as important as protecting our own. It is as much the right of Stephen Fry to say what he said and not to be abused by Christians who are offended as it is the right of Christians to proclaim Jesus Christ."

Actor and writer Stephen Fry hit the headlines earlier this week when he told an Irish TV show that he believed if God existed he was an "utter maniac" and "totally selfish" for creating a world marred by extreme suffering.

He defended himself on Today  on Radio 4 on Friday morning. "I don't think I mentioned once any particular religion and I didn't say anything offensive towards any particular religion," he said.

"I was astonished it had caused so viral and explosion on Twitter and elsewhere - I was only saying things that Bertrand Russell and many finer heads than mine have said for hundreds of years."

Archbishop Welby told the audience of politicians and church leaders: "Free choice is what Jesus gave those he encountered. Look at the rich young ruler or the thieves on the cross on either side of Jesus. One turned to him and the other cursed him."

He acknowledged that the Church did not have a spotless record on this, but urged Christians to fight for everyone's right to believe what they wished. "We must speak out in solidarity. Silence is not an option if we are to stand true to our faith. We must treasure people's right to religious belief, even when we disagree with them."

This might sometimes pose a challenge at home, he warned. One example would be whether they could tolerate a growing mosque that was spilling out of its building on to the street in the same way they would celebrate a growing church.

When asked by reporters after the launch about the religious slaughter of animals as another potential flashpoint, he said that there were no easy answers. "There are all kinds of ways we can persecute a faith or minority group without taking them head on by restricting the way they behave."

"That comes up against our own deeply held understanding of the humane treatment of animals. I don't know what I think about that."

The launch also featured Dr Berhane Asmelash, a pastor from Eritrea, who told the audience of the terrible persecution the Church experienced in his home nation. He had been arrested and imprisoned without charge. Hundreds of other leaders had been incarcerated and tortured, he said.

The launch ended with a call to action from Steve Clifford, general director of the Evangelical Alliance, which is facilitating the Religious Liberty Commission. He urged politicians from all parties to support the appointment of a special envoy for freedom of religion within the Foreign Office, and for the Government to become a "vocal defender" of the right of freedom of religion, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

He also wanted church leaders to back the International Day of Prayer for Persecuted Christians as an annual event in November.

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