Today's post is contributed by Dr. Bill Mefford. Dr. Mefford is Faith Outreach Specialist for Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Prior to that position, he was Director of Civil and Human Rights at the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS). His post takes the form of a litany calling for justice for persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
With great concern and sadness we recognize the persecution of our brothers and sisters in Christ happening throughout the world, particularly in the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity. Like many religious groups in the region, Christians have been forced to endure civil wars and unrest as groups vie for control. In addition, Christians have been targeted for persecution from Islamic extremist groups that have arisen in the chaos across the Middle East.
The percentage of Christians living in the Middle East has declined precipitously in recent years due to regional unrest, the collapse of national governments and ensuing economic turmoil, and targeted persecution from violent Islamic extremists. The factors creating unrest in this area of the world are complex. We doubt there is a single solution that will bring peace.
We are especially aggrieved by the persecution our sisters and brothers in Christ are facing. The United Methodist Church has long stood against religious persecution and urges “policies and practices that ensure the right of every religious group to exercise its faith free from legal, political, or economic restrictions.” (2012 Book of Discipline 162-C)
We call for an end to blasphemy laws that curtail the full expressions of faith for all people including Christians. We call for all nations to abide by article 18 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”
We recognize that in many nations, unrest or even civil war have made protection of religious minorities difficult. Without governmental protections, fair and effective law enforcement does not exist. Thus, religious minorities have become targets of extremist violence. Civil society, including religious and faith-based bodies, thrive under conditions of democratic transparency and inclusion.
We call for all people to promote religious freedom wherever they reside, and to abstain from religious discrimination of any kind. All religions must be wary that their interpretations of their sacred texts and teachings do not allow discrimination and violence.
We urge United Methodists to pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ for “when one member of the Body suffers, all suffer.” (1 Corinthians 12:26)
We urge President Obama, as we do all world leaders, to make religious freedom a prominent part of their diplomacy with all nations, particularly with nations in the Middle East.
We call on all nations to protect religious minorities and to allow for the full expression of religious beliefs for all of their citizens.