Relevant ProMundis Blogposts
Source: WEA News
The Director of the International Institute for Religious Freedom, Thomas Schirrmacher, gave a guest lecture entitled “Religious Freedom as a Threatened Human Right in Worldwide Perspective: The Major Factors in the Growing Assault on Religious Freedom,” in the prestigious Tübingen University “Clash of Civilizations” lecture series. The lecture was broadcast live on the internet (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rp5N97qVdhU).
In his lecture he criticized the situation in many Western parliaments: Not all people, and not even all politicians, stand for freedom of religion without “ifs” and “maybes.” Especially among politicians one sees that engagement for this right still too highly being connected with good or bad personal experiences with religion, with religious identity, with personal religious practice, or with the lack thereof.
However, just as the prohibition of torture is independent of the experience of the individual and of where one stands politically or philosophically, freedom of religion should also be an inseparable part of human rights protections that is instinctively supported by all politicians. According to Schirrmacher, article 18, which addresses religious freedom, is the unloved step child among all the articles of the 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Many atheists remain unaware that the freedom of religion and belief, including the right to change religions, particularly protects atheists, because the right to withdraw from a religious community is a classical form of change of religions. In earlier times, even in Europe, leaving the church had negative social consequences for the people involved.
The lecture series, “Clash of Civilizations: Antagonistic Portrayals in Relations among Religions and in International Geopolitics,” addresses the most recent tensions among different cultures and religions, or more specifically, how these are used to serve the power interests of various parties.
Professor Rainer Rothfuß and Yakubu Joseph, from the Geographical Institute of the University of Tübingen, have invited scholars from home and abroad to participate in the lecture series, including, among others, the human rights activist Rania Yusuf, the ambassadors from Russia and Ecuador, as well as the honorary senator Prince Dr. Asfa-Wossen Asserate. The lecture was supported by the International Society for Human Rights, which also provided a book table offering information about assaults against freedom of religion in Germany.
Links and Downloads:
- Facebook page about the lecture series
- Live stream of the lecture series
- University of Tübingen research team in human geography
- Photo 1, Photo 2, Photo 3: © Rolf Schirrmacher / IIRF
Translated from Die Welt, January 19, 2015
Every religion can become the origin of injustice, claims Thomas Schirrmacher. In this interview, the human rights activist speaks about persecuted Christians and fairness for IS terrorists. By Till-R. Stoldt
Every year Christian persecution becomes a major theme in German public life, especially from Christmas until the commemoration days for martyrs in January. But however significant the seasonal impact of these events might be, all too often they have an undifferentiated effect and produce a caricature of Christian persecution. At least this is the opinion of Thomas Schirrmacher in his evaluation of the latest reports. How the Director of the International Institute for Religious Freedom and President of the International Society for Human Rights came to this conclusion is the topic of this interview.
Die Welt: Professor Schirrmacher, in recent days the so-called Islamic State appears to be even more evil than in the past. It became known that the terrorists in Paris understood themselves as IS followers. However, you are researching the questionwhether people are unfair to IS and ascribing atrocities to IS without cause. How is this going?
Thomas Schirrmacher: In my opinion, truthful reporting is important in itself. And if European newspapers show a picture of Christians who were apparently crucified by IS, and if, indeed, the Pope declares that this picture led him to tears on behalf ofChristians who were crucified by IS, then the picture should really show Christians who were crucified by IS.
Die Welt: And this was not the case?
Schirrmacher: No. The people in this picture were clearly already killed in another manner before they were tied to a cross, not nailed to a cross. The victims were also not Christians, but clearly rebellious IS soldiers who were killed by other IS soldiers because of treason.
Die Welt: Also not very nice.
Schirrmacher: It was hideous. But the violence had nothing to do with Christian persecution, yet it was presented as if it were related to Christian persecution. We can be reasonably sure that this deception originates with the propaganda apparatus of Syria’s dictator, Assad. The picture first appeared on the regime’s websites. The same is true of a photo in which an IS soldier is supposed to have decapitated a baby.
Die Welt: How do you know it was falsified?
Schirrmacher: The picture is already several years old, which has, in the meantime, become indubitable. It comes from the time before the IS invasion. Additionally, it does not show an execution. It shows a man with a sabre and a baby seated a short distance away. The International Society for Human Rights and the InternationalInstitute for Religious Freedom have been intensively engaged, working through people who have ties in the region, to find any possible witnesses for decapitations or the execution of children.
Die Welt: Wasn’t there a report from an oriental bishop on this topic?
Schirrmacher: Yes, but he had no documentation. Despite months of searching and good contacts in the area, we could not find any witnesses. Such situations are rather common.
Die Welt: How do you explain this?
Schirrmacher: Christian persecution, at least in parts of the Middle East, has become a theme in the media wars, partly used by the Assad regime. It plays into the hands of the regime, especially if the West is afraid of hostility against Christians coming from IS.
Die Welt: Whoever strikes such differentiating tones runs the risk of being regarded as someone who regards IS as harmless.
Schirrmacher: The indisputably documented cruelty of IS against Christians and other people groups is terrible enough. But it is really grist in the mills of those who regard Christian persecution as truly exaggerated if one tries to document persecution with falsifications.
Die Welt: Is the extent of Christian persecution really exaggerated?
Schirrmacher: One should not really put it like that. On the one hand, there truly is massive discrimination and also persecution of Christians, especially in Muslim majority countries. On the other hand, many attempts to quantify this persecution have been unreliable.
Die Welt: For example?
Schirrmacher: For a long time American researchers have been publishing the “Status of Global Mission,” which has also been used by Roman Catholic mission agencies. According to this source, the number of Christian martyrs in 2010 was around 178,000. But then the number sank, shortly after our criticism of their survey methods, to a rounded 100,000. It has remained at about this level since that time, but this estimate may still be much too high.
Die Welt: How was this number reached?
Schirrmacher: It is an estimated average number over the last decade which is lightly adjusted annually. However, this number includes all of the Christian victims of civils wars and domestic conflicts. For example, the victims of the genocide in Ruanda were included, although both the Hutu and Tutsi are nominally Christians and the genocide was ethnic in character, not confessional. However, even the Papal Nuncio used this number in the UN General Assembly.
Die Welt: Where has the reporting about Christian persecution led us astray?
Schirrmacher: Many reports, with those coming from your publication “Die Welt” as an explicit exception, arouse the impression that discrimination against people of another religion is a Muslim specialty. This is not objective reporting. There are also Jews and Christians, Hindus and Buddhists who increasingly want to limit religious freedom, although with very different levels of brutality.
Die Welt: Violence in the name of the Buddha?
Schirrmacher: Indeed. In Sri Lanka, where Buddhism plays a dominating role as the state religion, every now and then, monks arouse lynch mobs against Christian pastors. And club swinging Buddhist monks beat up Hindu priests and burn down Hindu temples because, they say, the Hindu faith has no place on the holy ground of Sri Lanka.
Die Welt: Don’t we hear similar claims coming from Myanmar?
Schirrmacher: These are not mere claims. There was an outright expulsion of the Muslim minority. Very shockingly, this was led by machete wielding thugs organized by the Buddhist cloisters. The monks roused them to protect the Buddhist culture of Myanmar from the growing Muslim minority. Hundreds of people were killed, and over 100,000 Muslims were driven out.
Die Welt: So, this violence was legitimated in the name of a religious/cultural identity which they believe should be protected in this manner?
Schirrmacher: Yes, religious nationalism is marching on, becoming socially acceptable on a global level. For example, in several states in India, already for several years, it has been illegal for other religions to practice mission work or to invite Hindus to leave the Hindu religion. What is new, however, is that a protagonist of this assault on human rights is so acceptable to the voters that he could be elected Prime Minister of the subcontinent.
Die Welt: And what is the situation in the parts of the world shaped by Judaism and Christianity?
Schirrmacher: The trend is also clear. In Israel, now for the first time, a Prime Minister has proposed a constitution that stipulates that only Jews may be citizens. And now foreign missionaries who promote the Christian faith are being expelled. Here we see the assertive power of a religiously defined society, at the cost of religious freedom.
Die Welt: This assertive power also characterizes the Pegida demonstrators as their driving motivation.
Schirrmacher: Naturally, but Pegida represents the concerns of religious nationalism in a relatively harmless manner. Within Christian circles, the lands with an orthodox orientation are much more known for religious nationalism.
Die Welt: Are you thinking of Russia, where the old connection between church and state has been recently reaffirmed?
Schirrmacher: Yes. Though only 0.3% of the population attends an Orthodox church on a normal Sunday, and only 3% participate in worship services on Christian holidays, nevertheless both church and state emphasize ever more loudly their readiness to defend Orthodox Christian Russia against supposedly dangerous members of other faiths.
Die Welt: Is the Orthodox Church being helped according to law?
Schirrmacher: Religious publications have to be approved by the state before they are printed. Religious communities which are not Orthodox are frequently denied this approval. Catholic or Muslim religious organizations have a very difficult time obtaining the permit to build a house of worship. Such approvals are becoming, year by year, ever more difficult to obtain. Simultaneously, across the land, thousands of Orthodox churches are being built at the cost of the state.
Die Welt: You are continuously seeking to broaden our perspective on offenses against religious freedom so that all religions come into view as offenders. Why?
Schirrmacher: Because narrowing our attention to one supposedly offending religion will blind us to important factors that are driving restrictions on freedom of religion.
Die Welt: Especially religious nationalism?
Schirrmacher: Yes, where a land is no longer ethnically and culturally homogeneous, politicians, the majority religion, and the media play the confessional card in order to unify the population. This corresponds with the desire of many in the majority population to protect their cultural identity against growing minorities of a different faith. And this quickly leads to limitations on the freedom of religion, to offending against human rights.
When the capital was moved from Bonn to Berlin, I thought that it would be better to move to Berlin for parliamentary work relating to religious freedom and the persecution of Christians. Who would have thought that due to trips to parliaments and for multinational representative work I would one day be glad to have remained in Bonn. This is due to the fact that in the meantime I am more frequently in hearings and so-called ‘side events’ at the EU Parliament than I am at the Bundestag (German Parliament). I can reach other European centers of activity more easily from here than from Berlin. Examples include Vienna (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe/OSCE), Strasbourg (European Council, EU Parliament, European Court of Human Rights, Global Christian Forum), Geneva (UN Human Rights Council; World Council of Churches/WCC) and Rome (Vatican; Dignitatis Humanae Institute/DHI).
Here is a small photo gallery of hearings and ‘side events’ where I have recently been able to contribute my thoughts, at least as far as I received a photo, which in most cases is just by chance.
As we just installed the new Secretary General of the World Evangelical Fellowship, Bishop Efraim Tendero, I would like to make my tribute to his predecessor Geoff Tunnicliffe in Theological News available (PDF-Download).
The photo shows our last journey together: This is Geoff and myself together with Behnan Konutgan (Martin Bucer Seminary Turkey) minutes before we called in to the audience of the Ecumenial Patriarch Bartholomäus in Istanbul in November 2014.
Here is the the pure text of the tribute:
A Celebration of Service: Honouring Geoff Tunnicliffe’s 10 years of leadership in the WEA
The Rev Dr Geoff Tunnicliffe’s tenure as Secretary General and CEO of the World Evan- gelical Alliance came to its conclusion on 30th December 2014. After 10 years of service to the WEA Geoff discerned that it was time to step down, to make room for new lead- ership, and to pursue other interests to which God has called him. As a tribute to his years as our colleague and friend, we look back at the last decade of his leadership and are grateful to God for Geoff’s life and for all he has give the WEA family.
At least two things have to mentioned:
First, though he always called himself a ‘generalist,‘ and as CEO he was responsible for everything: projects, networks, staff and an assortment of joys and challenges, he stated again and again that Evangelicals and the WEA must always be ‘theology driven.’ Thus good and sound Biblical theology was not something extra for him, but he expected us, as the Theological Commission, to be in the middle of all activities of the WEA, ground-
ing the work and service in the Bible and in good Evangelical theology. This kept us very busy, but also allowed for our theological work to be very practical and down to earth. A secondary but fundamental result of Geoff’s vision of theology is that it allowed the Bible to ‘read us, as WEA’ and to be guided by its words in our decision-making process, rather than an over-emphasis on pragmatism or even budgets. Geoff never let tensions grow between pragmatism and discussing theology.
That we are theology-driven became especially true in the WEA’s ecumenical relations. Under Geoff’s leadership, the WEA established and made official many formal relations with other Christian traditions and with the United Nations. This catapult- ed the WEA onto the world scene of official dialogues, joint ventures and collaborations for peace and justice. But all these were not achieved by doing less theology, but with more theology. Rather than set aside our Evangelical theology in order to converse with people of other confessions or traditions, we were challenged to think even harder and to offer an even more Evangelical theology that could address the issues at hand and be of service to our constituency and to the church worldwide. An example of this is the cooperation with the Catholic Church, which is built on years of solid work between Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (PCPCU) and the TC examining both what we have in common and where we differ. Geoff’s speech at the Vatican Synod in 2012 was a unique, bold, and thoroughly biblical call to evangelism – that we witness in every- thing we are and do to the salvation we have in Jesus Christ.
Second, Geoff embodied the right mix between a self-confident CEO willing to lead and take over responsibility, with the hu- mility to rely on experts and to listen to others as he prepared speeches or drew plans for a new project. For us in the TC it was joyful and great fun to work with Geoff and to know that in the end, his speeches always carried with them sound Evangelical theology and a good dose of biblical exposition while still mirroring his passion and personality.
One of the most important points of connection between Geoff and the TC was the project that led to the writing of Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World. As early as 2006 Geoff allowed Thomas Schirrmacher to negotiate with the Vatican and the World Council of Churches how the WEA would be involved in the process for this document. This was a great risk because no one knew where the process would lead or what its outcome might be. During the last years of the project the TC played a major role in the drafting group, working with others to ensure that the text was both biblically-based and mission-focused. At the official launch of the document in 2011 it became clear that by God’s grace, not only had we achieved a major document, but that for Geoff, this document echoed some of the profound beatings of his own heart – that we as WEA and as TC are committed to God’s call to mission and to the way of Christ as we follow this call in obedience and grace.
Geoff, we thank you for your years of service and for being an inspiration to us all.
The journal of the dialogue department of the World Council of Churches “Current Dialogue” carries my article “Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World – Three Years On” pp. 67-79