This year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s protest which triggered the Protestant Reformation. Here is a link giving more information.
Malta & the EU
The New Year began for me with a visit to Malta. I was there as part of a delegation of church leaders from Brussels who had been invited to meet with the Maltese Government. The European Council of Ministers has a rotating presidency. Each member state takes the chair for 6 months. At the beginning of 2017 it is Malta’s turn. Churches have a statutory role in dialogue with the authorities of the EU under Article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty, so representative leaders of the Christian Churches were invited to Valletta to talk over the Maltese plans and priorities for their presidency. We had a grand sense of arrival going up the steps to the Prime Minister’s office prior to being saluted by pairs of splendidly dressed soldiers.
The Conference of European Churches (CEC) represents some 170 Protestant and Orthodox Churches. I was invited to lead the CEC delegation in partnership with Brother Olivier Poquillon, the new General Secretary of our sister Roman Catholic organisation COMECE. We were hosted by the Archbishop of Malta, and met with the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister.
The meeting lasted one hour. It opened with Prime Minister Muscat publicly welcoming the delegation and setting out the priorities of the Maltese Presidency. Olivier and I responded, setting out the reasons why the churches were meeting him and expressing our support for the work of the Presidency. The extensive press corps were then asked to leave and the meeting continued in closed session.
The priorities of the Maltese Presidency cover six areas: migration, strengthening the single market, security, social inclusion, Europe’s neighbourhood, Maritime governance. The top priority is migration. This accords well with the priority of other EU member states and the EU as a whole.
From the churches’ side, we wanted to propose a balanced approach to migration based on the dignity of the human being as made in the image of God. We reminded the presidency that migration brings benefits to receiving nations as well as costs. We re-iterated a plea for safe and legal pathways for migrants. We pleaded for the importance of uniting families when decisions about asylum are being made. And we hoped that, in the reform of the Dublin process, the EU overall could show solidarity with countries such as Greece and Italy in the handling and relocation of refugees. We encouraged the presidency to foster a strategic and sustainable approach to migration as well as addressing short-term tactical problems. Doris Peschke of the Church’s Commission for Migrants in Europe gave expert views.
Our discussions were conducted in the knowledge that the Maltese Presidency takes place in very challenging times for the EU. Unfolding events (particularly elections in The Netherlands and France and election campaigning in Germany) will inevitably influence the dynamics of the Presidency.
This kind of beginning of term discussion between the Presidency and the churches is something to be treasured. Could we imagine a UK government convening a meeting with the churches to discuss the agenda set out in the Queen’s speech? I hope that, despite Brexit, the Anglican Church will continue to be able to take its place at the table in these kinds of discussions as a member of the CEC.
Open Doors presents World Watch List in parliament
Open Doors has presented its annual report on the persecution of Christians at an event in Parliament.
Hosted by Theresa Villiers MP, the event was attended by more than 80 parliamentarians, as well as by religious leaders.
Alliance member Open Doors, part of the Religious Liberty Commission, monitors the persecution suffered by Christians in different countries and publishes the results in the World Watch List.
Pastor Aminu, from Yobe state in northern Nigeria, spoke at the event of the number of Christians who have been killed by Boko Haram.
The pastor himself has received death threats from the group and described the discrimination that Christians suffer in his state where Christians are regularly prevented from attending university, getting jobs or holding public office.
He asked for prayer that Christians in Nigeria would be able to forgive their persecutors.
Lisa Pearce, CEO of Open Doors, called for parliamentarians to prioritise the human right to freedom of religion or belief, noting how abuses of the right to religious freedom frequently led to shocking violence and breaches of other human rights as well.
A Christian leader, Daniel, who gave a recorded video message from Erbil in northern Iraq described his own experience of being forced to flee Baghdad on his 16th birthday when threatened by al-Qaeda.
He also spoke about the pain of Christians forced to abandon their homes in Mosul, following the rise of Daesh.
Despite all this, he emphasised the need for Christians to be “an example of love and peace”, in Iraq.
He said: “Please do not forget us. Please stay in solidarity with us. Please pray for us.”
The World Watch List is compiled annually by Open Doors. It covers the experience of Christians in the 50 countries of where persecution is considered most extreme, with 200 million Christians estimated to be living in these countries.
The list covers violence against Christians as well as other forms of discrimination, and also notes global trends in persecution and its causes, and makes recommendations for UK Government action.
North Korea is still the most dangerous place to be a Christian with the report estimating that 70,000 Christians are in labour camps. In addition, the report highlighted the role of Islamic militancy, as well as the rise of religious nationalism in Asia, as drivers of persecution in several different countries.
The report noted the recent rise in the deliberate sabotage of homes, churches and villages to force Christians out of their areas and prevent them from returning home, which has given the report its title, The Persecution of Christians and Global Displacement.
The report’s recommendations include a greater focus by government on freedom of religion or belief, especially in the areas of asylum-seeking, diplomatic interactions with other countries and trade negotiation.
The Alliance stands with the persecuted Church, praying for all the parliamentarians who attended the launch, many at the request of their constituents, and that they would act on what the report recommends.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Release International and Open Doors UK are members of the Religious Liberty Commission, along with the Evangelical Alliance. The Commission aims to speak with one voice about the persecution of Christians around the world and to encourage prayer and advocacy on their behalf.
‘It defies description’: Archbishop Justin on visiting Auschwitz
Friday 13th January 2017
After visiting Auschwitz earlier this week, the Archbishop reflects on recognising and responding to evil.
Archbishop Justin Welby stands at the entrance to Auschwitz II-Birkenau Camp in Oświęcim, Poland, 10th January 2017. (Photograph: Richard Frank/LambethPalace)
This was my third visit to Auschwitz/Birkenau, and each time has been even more appalling. In early January the cold is penetrating, between 9 and 14 degrees below centigrade. We were fully equipped with snow boots, layers of clothing, hats, gloves, scarves… yet it worked through layer after layer until we were cold to the core. The prisoners wore the equivalent of pyjamas and clogs. We were out in that cold for five hours in the day. They would be out for 12 hours. We were fed. They were starved.
There are so many statistics about Auschwitz/Birkenau, but it defies description. Eighty-five per cent of prisoners died. Many in just days of arriving. Then there was the industrialized killing of the gas chambers. The vulnerable, the disabled, marginalised minorities, and above all the Jews: children, adults and the elderly, taken from a train to their deaths in as little as 30 minutes. Accounts were kept, profits were sought. No one can deny the reality of what happened. There is simply far, far, far too much evidence.
Our retreat at Auschwitz gathered the first cohort of the Learning Community (a group of Anglican clergy on a programme of in-service training) for three days of prayer and theological and scriptural reflection. We considered the issues of human evil: how we recognise it and how we respond.
Naturally it provoked so many questions:
Having seen this terrible place could we still speak of God? Could we still pray, and if so in what way?
Could we hear the tunes of evil in such a way that we recognise their modern variations?
Even if we recognised evil, how could we know we would have the courage to protest, to lament – and not be silent when horror threatened?
Here are three things that will stay with me:
First is the way that the perpetrators at Auschwitz tried to dehumanise their victims – in a way that actually cost the humanity of both. It worked to some extent. Prisoners killed others in order to live – and were then killed themselves. Others gave their lives, like St Maximilian Kolbe and St Edith Stein.
Second, these atrocities were committed by ordinary people. When one of the priests leading our retreat was asked who was to blame, he said: “People did it to people.”
Third, it was idolatrous and demonic. It was evil in the strict sense of human-created alternatives to the grace and providence of God. It reversed everything good with everything bad. During the retreat the Revd Dr Sam Wells gave three extraordinary reflections on this question.
Meanwhile the Very Revd Pete Wilcox reflected powerfully on Lamentations and Revelation – speaking of protest, hope and the call to endure.
I’ve come away with too much to write, and no words to write it. We must protest to the limit against evil: before it occurs, as it happens, and in its aftermath. But there is also a need for silent reflection – in which we honour the victims, mourn our capacity for evil, and learn to beware
Please watch this important link – our prayers are needed.
Please see the following link for the Bishops’ messages: