House of Lords debates the plight of Christians in the Middle East

Rowan Williams addresses House of Lords

Rowan Williams addresses House of Lords

Friday of last week, the House of Lords devoted an entire day to debate the plight of Christians in the Middle East.

The debate was opened by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams:

My Lords, many people these days have a short and skewed historical memory. It is all too easy to go along with the assumption that Christianity is an import to the Middle East rather than an export from it.

Lord Mackay was first to respond:

Today I want particularly to mention the position of Canon Andrew White as the vicar of Baghdad. He has played a very important part in maintaining Christian witness in Iraq under extremely difficult circumstances.

He went on to speak of time spent with Andrew White in Israel:

I have to say that the relationships he had with people from right across the community were very remarkable. He has shown in more recent times a fine example of Christian fortitude in the troubles that now beset Iraq.

I wish particularly to pay tribute to Andrew White’s work and I hope that he will be able to continue for a long time in his office.

This was greeted with cries of “Hear! Hear!” from the 80 Lords in the chamber.

Lord Patten urged both their Lordships and the Government to act in response to religious persecution:

There can be no walking on the other side of this road, even in the Palace of Westminster. I hope that our secular leaders in the coalition will restate religious freedom as a human right.

Lord Turnberg and Lord Palmer commended Canon Andrew White’s work, Lord Alton spoke of his “indomitable spirit and incredible courage” and Baroness Cox paid tribute to “his magnificent work in Iraq, especially in improving interfaith relations”.

Lord Carey praised Andrew’s “remarkable work [as] one of the key players in the Alexandria Declaration” bringing together parties for the religious track of the Israel Palestine peace process. He went on to state that Andrew “is currently making a powerful contribution to harmony in Iraq and the Middle East.”

Lord Hylton spoke at length about “my friend Canon Andrew White” and the work with the High Council of Religious Leaders in Iraq. “Lives have undoubtedly been saved as a result.”

The Minister of State, Lord Howell, stated that, in the view of the Government, religious freedom is a basic human right. He confirmed Government support for the Alexandria Declaration and “the High Council of Religious Leaders in Iraq, which seeks to bring together religious leaders and combat sectarian violence, and of course to continue the invaluable work of Canon Andrew White.”

Lord Howell concluded:

I end my comments by saying that, unlike Mr Richard Dawkins, I have faith in the faiths. We will continue to highlight and condemn all instances of violence and discrimination against individuals because of their beliefs, wherever they occur.

Archbishop Rowan Williams wound up the debate by thanking their Lordships for their high calibre contributions to the debate and observed:

Not the least among those was the admiration widely expressed for the work of Canon Andrew White in Baghdad, and I am happy to associate myself with that admiration.

Peter Marsden, FRRME Director, spoke to Canon Andrew White who was in the Lords for the debate:

It was wonderful that the House of Lords debated this issue and took seriously the plight of Christians in the Middle East. What really matters is that we must make sure that the political world gets behind the religious means of working at reconciliation. This is the only hope for all minorities in the Middle East.

It is good that the House of Lords devoted an entire day to the plight of Christians in the Middle East. For far too long churches in UK have turned a blind eye to what is happening to Christians in the Middle East, though they need to take care with their actions as it is the crass stupidity of Western Christian fundamentalists that have put the lives of Christians in the Middle East at risk.

End of Christianity in the Middle East?
Crass stupidity by Christian fundamentalists leads to persecution and massacre of Christians in the Middle East

Christianity is not an alien religion in the Middle East, this was was its birthplace as a Jewish sect.

House of Lords Debate on Christians in the Middle East
Christians in the Middle East: Motion to Take Note
Parliament TV coverage of debate

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