The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has just issued a statement about the slaughter of Christians in Iraq that is both brave and perfectly judged. What an outstanding representative of English Christianity he is turning out to be – in sorry contrast to his predecessor.
Here is the section of Archbishop Welby’s statement that illustrates his keen judgment. It makes clear that he does not think that Christian lives are worth more than those of Yazidis or Muslims. (The ordained Anglican priest Chris Bryant MP accused me of believing this when I asked him on Twitter today why, in common with many liberal Christians, he had remained silent on the plight of his co-religionists.)
The horrific events in Iraq rightly call our attention and sorrow yet again. Christians and other religious minorities are being killed and face terrible suffering.
What we are seeing in Iraq violates brutally people’s right to freedom of religion and belief, as set out under Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is extremely important that aid efforts are supported and that those who have been displaced are able to find safety. I believe that, like France, the United Kingdom’s doors should be open to refugees, as they have been throughout history.
The international community must document human rights abuses being committed in northern Iraq so that future prosecutions can take place. It is important and necessary for the international community to challenge the culture of impunity which has allowed these atrocities to take place.
These paragraphs put the suffering of Christians and Yazidis in the context of the universal dignity of the human person: a concept acknowledged by both religious believers and secular humanists. Most of these boxes have also been ticked by Western statesman, including David Cameron.
I can’t, however, imagine either the Prime Minister or the President of the United States summoning up the nerve to say what the Archbishop said next (my emphases):
With the world’s attention on the plight of those in Iraq, we must not forget that this is part of an evil pattern around the world where Christians and other minorities are being killed and persecuted for their faith. Only this week I received an email from a friend in Northern Nigeria about an appalling attack on a village, where Christians were killed because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Such horrific stories have become depressingly familiar in countries around the world, including Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
Messrs Cameron and Obama have pointedly not drawn attention to the targeting of Christians by Islamic militants. And here is another unsettling thought. Would Archbishop Rowan Williams have highlighted this ‘evil pattern’? I very much doubt it.
Justin Welby has not spelled out that Islamic fundamentalists of various stripes are the perpetrators of this violence. But his words can be read in no other way. Militant Islam wishes to drive Christianity from its holy places in the Middle East and Africa. At long last an Archbishop of Canterbury has acknowledged that this is an international campaign – not centrally co-ordinated but inspired by a specific religious ideology.
Bravo, Your Grace.