Relevant ProMundis Blogposts
The New Ben Hur: “This is Hollywood at its best … sending the best message of all times deep into the heart of a new generation.”
Thomas Schirrmacher took part in a small preview of the upcoming MGM & Paramount film “Ben Hur” together with the producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. Here is his statement:
“To outdo the famous chariot race scene from 1959 might be seen by some as hybris, but having seen the new version, I only can say Hollywood is at its best! But while this scene in the 1959 and earlier and later adaptions of Ben Hur overshadowed the real story of Ben Hur, which had been told by the author, Lew Wallace, so that all those films could have ended with the chariot scene, this time the emotional and personal transformation of Ben Hur is so powerful, that one is eager to go on after the chariot race. It is a timely message of reconciliation and peace in a war-torn world! This is Hollywood at its best, with both outward and inward drama, sending the best message of all times deep into the heart of a new generation. Superb! I hope that faith communities worldwide will use the opportunities the film offers.”
Thomas Schirrmacher, Chair, Theological Commission, World Evangelical Alliance, President, International Society for Human Rights
On the film:
On Mark Burnett and Roma Downey:
- The Christian Post: ‘Hollywood’s Noisiest Christians‘ Roma Downey and Mark Burnett Preview ‘Ben-Hur‘ Movie at MegaFest
- The Gospel Herald: Hollywood Power Couple Roma Downey, Mark Burnett Speak at 2016 National Prayer Breakfast
- The Christian Post: Mark Burnett, Roma Downey: “Friends Said We Were Idiots, Nobody’s Gonna Watch ‘The Bible’”
A Report of the International Communications Team of the Global Christian Forum
Protecting freedom of religion or belief and human rights are not merely secondary matters for Christians. They arise out of the core concepts of the Christian worldview, Creation, Fall, and Redemption.
Placing human rights in their “right place” as core concepts of the Christian worldview was the central tenet of Prof. Dr Thomas Schirrmacher’s speech to representatives from all the major traditions of Christianity at the DPM consultation in Tirana, Albania.
Schirrmacher took pains to clarify that human rights are rooted in God’s creation of humans and not only in their redemption; therefore, all people have equal rights and people from many different faiths may be moved to protect human rights.
Schirrmacher, who is the Ambassador of Human Rights for the World Evangelical Alliance, said it is not only Christians who have rights, and it is not only Christians who want to protect human rights.
Because the ultimate foundation for human rights stands in God’s work as Creator, all people have, and can know something about, human dignity, the basis for human rights.
As an example, he mentioned his work as President of the Council of the International Society for Human Rights. Muslims working for the organization – not least its Secretary – are really eager to protect human rights, though the concept is so deeply rooted in the Christian worldview, and not necessarily, so clearly rooted in the Muslim worldview.
And it is much better to protect human rights in practice, with or without an adequate explanation, than to merely have a good explanation of the source of human rights.
Of course, it is because of sin, so eloquently described in Genesis chapter 3, that human rights and human dignity are always attacked. Cain killed Abel, which has been the story of humanity ever since. Only because of sin is it necessary to protect human rights.
Because of the importance of sin and the Fall in the Christian worldview, Schirrmacher also mentioned that Christians need the role of the state.
The state must enforce laws that restrain sin: according to Romans 13, the sins of Christians as well as the sins of other people. And the level of piety or faith of individual Christians does not set them free from the need for accountability.
Even the Pope has asked people to pray for him, because he could so easily do something wrong that really hurts many people. And if the Pope openly acknowledges this need, how much more for the rest of us!
We remain under the effects of sin, so that all of us need the state to protect our rights from the attacks of others.
For these reasons, Christians should not see protecting human rights as a secondary matter: protecting the rights of our neighbors is deeply rooted in the core concepts that all Christians should believe.
Downloads and Links:
- Full manuscript of the speeches of Thomas Schirrmacher and Godfrey Yogarajah (PDF)
- BQ 385: Historic gathering of global Christian leaders to discuss a common reaction to “Discrimination, Persecution, Martyrdom” (PDF)
Schirrmacher calls for more Solidarity among Christians around the World in Address in Neuss “Cathedral”
Vespers held in the Neuss Cathedral by the Working Group of Christian Churches in and around Neuss broach the Issue of the increasing Discrimination and Persecution of Christians of all Denominations
In light of the world situation, the World Evangelical Alliance’s coordinator for relationships with other churches and religions, the human rights expert Thomas Schirrmacher, has called upon the worldwide Christian community to wake up from its lethargy and demonstrate a heretofore unknown level of solidarity. According to Schirrmacher, there are politicians, journalists, and leaders of non-Christian religions who are standing up publicly for the fate of persecuted Christians more intensively than many church leaders.
There is no Christian and no church able to say that they do not have the time, the personnel, and the financial means for the simplest form of solidarity, prayer. A short prayer for those Christians who are affected by sheer violence should simply have a place in every Sunday worship service, every church event, and in every individual’s morning and evening prayers.
Making reference to both of the passages upon which his sermon was based, Schirrmacher, a theologian and religious scholar, views Paul as only being acquainted with suffering Christians and with those suffering along with them as compassionate Christians. There was no uninvolved group. According to Schirrmacher, “You have forgotten us!” is the most frequent lament he hears from a complete range of countries such as Nepal, Pakistan, Syria, or the Maledives. Christians from all continents should be working against this.
Efforts for persecuted Christians have a positive effect on ecumenical relationships. From Schrirrmacher’s point of view, there is not only ecumenicity among martyrs. Rather, it is often when we first see individuals suffering for Christ that we recognize fellow Christians. Fifty years ago, according to Schirrmacher, most Christians would not have accepted the seven ancient Eastern churches, which are currently suffering most bitterly, as Christian due to their alleged “Monophysitism” (“the teaching that Christ has one nature”). In Schirrmacher’s view, however, that is history since it has long since been recognized that these churches are largely saying the same thing as all other churches thing while different terminology, and that “monophysitism” is a mis-nomer.
Schirrmacher counts as one of the people who is most familiar with the situation regarding religious freedom around the world, and particularly as it also relates to the situation facing all denominations within the church. He has conducted discussions with Pope Francis on this subject and with all patriarchs within the Eastern churches. He also speaks before parliaments and at universities around the world.
The “31st Ecumenical Michael Vespers in the St. Quirin Basilica in Neuss” took place and had as its topic “Ecumenical Solidarity in light of afflicted and persecuted Christians (Hebrews 10:32-35 and 1 Corinthians 12:24b-27).” The worship service was moderated by the heads of the three major denominations in Neuss: District Dean Msgr. Guido Assmann, Senior Pastor at St. Quirin (Münster) and host, Archpriest Panagiotis Tsoubaklis from the Orthodox Church of Holy Nektarios in Neuss, and Pastor Sebastian Appelfeller, Chairman of the Association of Protestant Churches in Neuss.
A reception took place afterwards in the Cardinal Frings House (Kardinal-Frings-Haus). The organizer of the vespers, Dirk v. Hahn, observed that all the orders recognized by institutional churches were represented by delegations and participated in the vespers (Order of Saint John, Order of Malta, Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, Teutonic Order, Brotherhood of St. Michael). Dirk v. Hahn was highly satisfied with the way the vespers were conducted and with the timeliness of the topic of the ceremonial sermon.
The following appeared in a report in the German newspaper Rheinische Post:
“In light of the current stream of refugees, Professor Thomas Schirrmacher gave the attitude ‚That doesn’t have anything to do with us‘ a clear form of rejection. It was at the invitation of the Working Group of Christian Churches in and around Neuss (Arbeitsgemeinschaft Christlicher Kirchen im Raum Neuss, or ACK) that Schirrmacher, the President of the International Commission and Chairman of the World Evangelical Alliance’s Theological Commission headquartered in Bonn, preached on the topic of ‚Ecumenical Solidarity in light of afflicted and persecuted Christians‘ in the Quirinusmünster Basilica in Neuss. There, for the 31st time, Catholics and Evangelicals, Greek Orthodox and Old Catholic Christians together conducted ecumenical Michael Vespers.” (German news report)
The ecumenical vespers have taken place annually since 1984. Leading representatives from various denominations have repeatedly been obtained for the vespers. Thus, individuals who have held the ceremonial sermons have included the Archbishop of Cologne Dr. Rainer Kardinal Woelki in 2010, the Orthodox Archpriest Dr. Georgios Basioudis from Mannheim in 2011, Dr. Bernhard Felberg in 2012 and Dr. Karl Jüsten in 2013, both prelates and representatives of the Evangelical Church in Germany (Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland,or EKD) and the German Bishops‘ Conference (Deutsche Bischofskonkerenz, or DBK) at the seat of the German Federal Government in Berlin, and in 2014 Dr. Athenagoras Ziliaskopoulus, from Frankfurt, Archimandrite of the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate (Istanbul).
The German language 2015 Yearbook on Christian Persecution and Discrimination of Christians and the 2015 Yearbook on Religious Freedom are available for download
The two yearbooks, published in October 2015, are now available for free download and to implemented and offered on other websites.
Every year, the German Evangelical Alliance makes the yearbooks available to members of the Bundestag, Germany’s parliament. Similar initiatives are undertaken in Switzerland and Austria. Additional copies can be requested in order to pass them on to politicians and church leaders.
The two yearbooks are published annually by Thomas Schirrmacher, Max Klingberg, and Ron Kubsch for the International Society for Human Rights, the International Institute for Religious Freedom, and the working groups on religious freedom within the three German-speaking alliances, the German Evangelical Alliance, the Swiss Evangelical Alliance, and the Austrian Evangelical Alliance.
- Th. Schirrmacher, R. Kubsch, M. Klingberg (eds.). Jahrbuch Verfolgung und Diskriminierung 2015. Studien zur Religionsfreiheit Bd. 25. Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft: Bonn, 2015. ISBN 978-3-86269-111-1. Pb. 316 pp.
- Th. Schirrmacher, M. Klingberg (eds.). Jahrbuch Religionsfreiheit 2015. Studien zur Religionsfreiheit Bd. 26. Verlag für Kultur und Wissenschaft: Bonn, 2015. ISBN 978-3-86269-112-8. Pb. 268 pp.
- Both books are published and bound together as one turnaround book with a total of 584 pages for a price of 10 Euros.
Downloads and Links:
- Double Cover (PDF)
- Cover of the Christian Persecution and Discrimination Yearbook (JPG)
- 2015 Christian Persecution and Discrimination Yearbook (PDF)
- Cover of the Religious Freedom Yearbook (JPG)
- 2015 Religious Freedom Yearbook (PDF)
- Both yearbooks can also be downloaded here.
Historic gathering of global Christian leaders to discuss a common reaction to “Discrimination, Persecution, Martyrdom”
(Bonn, 17.11.2015) 75 Christian church leaders from churches and countries that know “Discrimination, Persecution, Martyrdom” were listened to by 75 top global Christian church leaders from other counties, in a recent non-public consultation in Albanian’s capital Tirana. The consultation, organised by the Global Christian Forum, then went from listening to discussing how the church at large should react to discrimination, persecution and martyrdom.
- “The consultation is historic for two reasons.
It was the first ever global meeting of any kind in which representatives of virtually all Christian confessions gathered around the topic ‘discrimination, persecution, martyrdom’ and listened to witnesses from dozens of countries from all continents.
- For the first time ever World Christianity apologised for having persecuted each other in history, as the final document now reads: ‘We repent of having at times persecuted each other and other religious communities in history, and ask forgiveness from each other and pray for new ways of following Christ together.’
Both steps are a historic move both for ecumenical relations between churches as well as for the larger fight for religious freedom worldwide.” (Thomas Schirrmacher)
The delegations from the four global Christian bodies, that worked together under the umbrella of the Global Christian Forum, were represented by their top leaders. The Vatican was represented by Kurt Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the World Council of Churches and the World Evangelical Alliance by their General Secretaries, Rev. Olav Tveit and Bishop Efraim Tendero, and the Pentecostal World Fellowship by board member Rev. David Wells representing the Chairman Prince Guneratnam, who had fallen ill. In a message to the consultation, Pope Francis said,
“I think with great sadness of the escalating discrimination, and persecution against Christians in the Middle East, Africa and Asia and elsewhere throughout the world. In various parts of the world, the witness to Christ, even to point where blood is shed, has become a shared experience of Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, Protestants, Evangelicals and Pentecostals.”
E.g., Bishop Efraim Tendero stated on behalf of WEA:
“We will do whatever possible to help and train our people to overcome prejudices against other Christian traditions, and not to confuse things from the past with present realities.” He especially called for healing memories of past persecution of Christians by Christians, stating: “We are glad that repentance for persecuting each other is part of our message. We see the importance of healing memories wherever this has happened. We will encourage our pastors and churches to do this on a local level and discuss ways with the four bodies behind this consultation, how to facilitate this on a national, regional and global level.”
The equivalents of the four global bodies within the host country Albania were led by the head of the Albanian Orthodox Church, Archbishop Athanasios, the General Secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference, Bishop George Frendo, O.P., and the Chair of the Albanian Evangelical Alliance, Rev. Ali Kurti.
Cooperation and equal sharing between the different confessions was manifested everywhere. The planning committee consisted of 2 representatives from each body plus the General Secretary of the Global Christian Forum, Larry Miller, and his conference director, Joy Lee. It applied to the speakers and witnesses, as well as to the 40 young stewards that came in equal numbers from all confessions in Albania and had spent several days together before the consultation.
The consultation was non-public due to the danger for church leaders from the Middle East and other violent situations. Only after the end of the consultation things became public especially though a reception for all delegates by the Muslim President of Albania, who praised religious freedom and thanked the Global Christian Forum and the four global bodies for having chosen Albania as host country, a country, where all religions had been molested by communism, even destroying every church building or mosque, but which since 1990 has returned to full religious freedom for all the major and minor religions in the country.
Quotations from leaders of WEA present in Tirana
Bishop Efraim Tendero, Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance:
“As Christians, we follow a Lord who was crucified as a criminal. The good news that Jesus brought was a threat both to civil and religious powers of his day, so it should come as no surprise to us that persecution will likely follow for those who follow Jesus. And yet… we come together because the gospel also says NO to persecution. Despite the differences that separate some of our communities of faith, the current crises around the world demand that together we collaborate for those who suffer persecution and martyrdom.”
Bishop Cesar Vicente Punzalan III, D.Min.,Ph.D., vice-moderator of intrafaith and interfaith relations, World Evangelical Alliance:
The conference had provided a venue to share faith stories which moved everyone to pray for one another.
Dr. Wilf Gasser, Associate Secretary General, World Evangelical Alliance:
“I was already encouraged to see how the global church united around this issue of discrimination and persecution of brothers and sisters in faith. But I was most impressed how asking each other for forgiveness for slandering and discriminating each other throughout history has made it into the final message of the meeting. Change in the world has to start within ourselves.”
Brian C Stiller, Global Ambassador, World Evangelical Alliance:
“This Global Christian Forum avoided cerebral niceties and conventional mantras. Resting clearly in the heart of the Gospel and made alive by Christ’s presence, the subject at hand was faced head on. We established a foundation of biblical assumptions which led us together. We acknowledged historical squabbles and in conversation opened the door for further opportunities of clarification and resolution. I was deeply enriched by the homilies and messages of many.”
Rev. Dr. Richard Howell, General Secretary, Asian Evangelical Alliance, board member, Global Christian Forum:
The united voice of the Global Church determined to work for peace and reconciliation in solidarity with one another is a sign of the Triune God at work in the lives of His people. The highlight is the mutual repentance which paves the way for united action in common witness to the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ. May the global Church always remain sensitive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and committed to overcome barriers that have divided us and undermined our witness.
Prof. Dr. Christof Sauer, Co-Director, International Institute for Religious Freedom of WEA, member of consultation planning group:
“The consultation issued a remarkable message to the global church. It has found a language that can be widely accepted. The division of Christians by differing use of language must be overcome. The ongoing production of a glossary on the topic discrimination, persecution and martyrdom by the International Institute for Religious Freedom of WEA can contribute to that.”
Prof. Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, Chair of the Theological Commission of WEA, Moderator of intrafaith and interfaith relations:
“We had not planed to discuss the question of Christians discriminating against and persecuting Christians, even though it came up in the discussions from the very beginning. But than the heads oft he delegation of the Catholic Church proposed, that any call to stop persecution of Christian should mention first, that also Christians in history have persecuted other religions and other churches. The representative of the Pentecostal World Fellowship was very happy about this, but added the apology, that Pentecostals often had a pride and ignorance to those historic churches who carried the gospel through history, often at high costs. The repentance of churches persecuting churches and other religions in the final message is was the unexpected cream on top of a very successful consultation – if one may use such terms in spite of the sad topic of the consultation.”
Rev. Prof. Thomas K. Johnson, Ph.D., Human Rights Advisor to the Theological Commission, World Evangelical Alliance:
“1. In response to the encouragement from Bishop Ef, the evangelical church in which I normally worship already took special efforts on the IDOP, November 8, 2015, to pray for persecuted Christians whose churches were previously unknown to most of our members. It was simply right, and pleasing to God we think, to pray for the heroic believers from the ancient, historic churches, some of whom are now suffering greatly while offering a powerful witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
2. A crucial achievement of the Tirana consultation on the discrimination, persecution, and martyrdom of Christians is that not only have Christians who may have once persecuted each other now pledged to treat each other like brothers and sisters in the faith. They have also pledged multi-dimensional cooperation in responding to religious persecution and extremism, using the tools available in research, education, the media, and government relations. There is a huge amount to do, but altogether these efforts might turn the corner in response to the current flood of religious discrimination and persecution in so much of the world.”
Quotations from other church leaders
Larry Miller, General Secretary of the Global Christian Forum:
“The GCF exists to enable churches of all traditions to face common challenges together. It is highly fitting that the first of these initiatives is to support Christians around the world as they face discrimination, persecution and martyrdom in their communities. But these situations have inspired not only Christian unity. It has also provoked fraternal conflicts or at least mutual suspicions. Yet, awareness of this fact only reinforced the conviction that the time had come for us to address the challenge together.”
Pastor Ingolf Ellssel, board member, Pentecostal World Fellowship Executive, member oft he planning committee:
“I am excited about this initiative of the Global Christian Forum bringing world Christianity together and lifting up the voices of those suffering discrimination, persecution and martyrdom. I hope is the beginning of a new process of unity in the Body of Christ.”
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary, World Council of Churches:
“It is so significant that we start with listening to those whose churches are going through challenging times right now. All of us need to learn from those voices among us that on a daily basis experience the reality of discrimination and persecution. We need to listen to those who know how martyria, witness, and martyrdom are closely interrelated and inter-connected.”
Rev. Dr Hielke Wolters, associate general secretary, World Council of Churches:
“The consultation has turned out to be a unique event, where Christians from different traditions came together in a very effective way to support the churches going through difficult and challenging times.”
“It is a strong sign of hope that churches and ecumenical organisations with such a diverse background are ready to work together to support Christians that go through difficult times. Religious freedom is important for all of us, whether Christian, Muslim or adherent of any other religion. We are grateful that we can strengthen this important work in cooperation with churches and organisations from the Catholic, Pentecostal and Evangelical traditions.”
- Cosultation Message (pdf)
- Final speech of Bishop Efraim Tendero (pdf)
- All Photos © International Institut for Religious Freedom (IIRF)
- Photo 1: The General Secretary of the Albanian Evangelical Alliance Akil Pano welcoming the delegates of the consultation “Discrimination, Persecution, Martyrdom” to Tirana – at the table the representatives of the four global Christian bodies and of their counterparts in Albania
- Photo 2: Three heads of delegations (left to right): Bishop Efraim Tendero, General Secretary of the World Evangelical Alliance, Olav Tveit, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Kurt Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
- Photo 3: Godfrey Yogaraja addressing the plenary of the consultation “Discrimination, Persecution, Martyrdom” as Director of the Religious Liberty Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance
- Photo 4: Thomas Schirrmacher, Chair of the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance
- Photo 5: The General Secretaries of the World Council of Churches, Rev. Olaf Tveit, and the World Evangelical Alliance, Bishop Efraim Tendero, in front of the Orthodox Cathedral in Tirana
- Photo 6: Bishop Efraim Tendero and his wife listening to the Albanian president, together with Thomas Schirrmacher (left) and the president of the Albanian Evangelical Alliance (right)
- Photo 7: The General Secretary of the Global Christian Forum, Larry Miller, and his wife Eleanor talking with the President of Albania
- Photo 8: Speech manuscript copies in different languages