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
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
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
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
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