CHAMPIONING human rights must be at the forefront of efforts to end to the persecution of religious minorities in the Middle East, the Archbishop of Canterbury has warned.
“If we cherish our own rights, then we must have regard for the rights and sensitivities of others. We have a collective responsibility to each other,” he said.
Archbishop Welby was giving the opening address at a dialogue on integration and religious freedom, organised by the Muslim Council of Elders, in partnership with the Anglican Communion, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on Wednesday.
He was fulsome in his praise of the freedom enjoyed by religious minorities in the country, but he contrasted it with “the increasing marginalisation of and outright hostility to Christian communities within many parts of the world, not least in significant parts of the Middle East”.
The Archbishop drew on the lessons of history, touching on the Holocaust and the 30 Years’ War as examples of the “calculated dismantling” of the rights of people and religious communities to flourish freely.
He suggested that the development of human rights over the past 200 years, leading to the United Nations agreeing the Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, is a result both of reason and repeatedly “testing” our truths.
He spoke of the freedom that existed within Christianity, which believed that people were created by God to respond to his love freely, “not with compulsion or coercion”. People were thus free to sin, though that meant suffering the consequences.
This, he said, was the basis of liberalism. Yet this approach evaded a key question. “If my responsibility is only about me, only I pay the price for what I do, then liberalism works. If my neighbour drinks too much that is his problem so long as it affects only him.
”Yet within the Christian tradition is also the understanding that an evil society both makes it very hard for individuals within it to live well.”
Although Archbishop Welby did not mention the Arab Spring and its aftermath, he touched on a key problem of the past few years: “Democracy without fundamental values around the value of the human being, and, I would say, without the understanding of God’s grace and love for the humanity God created, is a recipe for majority tyranny.”
Even mutual respect, though good, was “entirely inadequate as a foundation for a healthy society” without appreciating the value, identity and integrity of the human being.
“We all have a vested interest in free and flourishing societies, but also in societies where behaviour is righteous, at least in the way that the Abrahamic faiths define righteous.”
But, he said, “There is a real danger of societies legislating against their ideological opponents through fear, and ending up compromising their own moral and spiritual integrity by committing acts of evil against the very people they thought they were protecting the rest of society from,” he said.
He traced this back to criminal punishment for heresy, and the Holocaust; more recently, it had led to “hypocritical laws on sexual morality, usually ending up being used as weapons rather than means of justice”.
It was also apparent in the persecution of Christians and other ethnic minorities in the Middle East today, the Archbishop said. But he praised the interfaith activities between Muslims and Christians in the UK in contrast to other countries.
The Church of England must continue to lead the way in building interfaith relationships around the world, and battle the “crisis in confidence” of human rights born from the Second World War. “These relationships are the building blocks for integrated communities and integrated societies.
“For these relationships to flourish and to have integrity, there must be equal protection in law and civic society for each person and for each community regardless of ethnicity, background, creed or affiliation.”
He concluded: “Faith groups should be at the forefront of advocacy for human rights, because we recognise that ultimately, we are answerable and accountable to God alone who created individuals with dignity and integrity.
“This freedom is integral to the flourishing of our societies, but it does not emerge in a vacuum and neither does it come without responsibility.”