‘The years go by, but our vision doesn’t change: somehow always tantalisingly beyond that distant horizon, we picture a world without religious persecution. So, at the beginning of this new year, we fix our eyes on Jesus, and look, with hope, towards a world where all people, everywhere, experience freedom of religion and belief.’
CSW’s CEO, Scot Bower, shares his hopes for freedom.
Freedom is fundamental to our identity as children of God, and it fuels the propulsion of the Gospel. This Gospel compels us to go into all the world and following hard after Jesus.
When Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37) he swept aside the societal conventions and cultural norms and commanded us to love our neighbour, whoever he or she might be. When we step over the threshold of our homes, when we choose to cross the road for the other, we step into our calling to move beyond conventions and expectations and show love to those who aren’t ‘like us’.
Just as in the parable, we at CSW choose to cross the road for all who are facing injustice because of what they believe. Why? Simply put, because it’s what Jesus would do.
Whether we are standing with an Orthodox church in Egypt, with a Pentecostal church in Nigeria, with Uyghur Muslims detained in China, or Christian and Hindu girls forcibly married and converted in Pakistan, we will not stand by silently in the face of suffering. In the words of that parable, we will not ‘pass by on the other side’.
Celebrating every victory in the long march to freedom
It’s incredible to look back over CSW’s 42-year history and see the advances that have been made in the fight for freedom of religion or belief.
Internationally, we are seeing the issue of freedom of religion or belief highlighted to a degree previously unseen. The creation of roundtable working groups and networks of key stakeholders in many countries is serving to keep this vital issue at the forefront of political policy and societal change. Over 140 MPs are now members of the UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group for Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) and I was delighted when Mervyn was elected Chair of the UK FoRB forum, taking over from Rt Rev Philip Mounstephen this year. We celebrate and give thanks for the role that CSW has played over many years in raising awareness of violations of freedom of religion or belief and working to put these issues on the mainstream political, public and media agendas.
The need is becoming more widely understood, and we give thanks for that.
But we will not stop there. We need to see words turned into action: freedom of religion and belief must become a reality for everyone, everywhere.
Stepping towards a new milestone
As I look ahead into this year, I’m excited by the possibilities that lay before us. I can’t wait to get back out again after living so long with cancelled events and under lockdowns. We hope to be in more churches than ever before (please do let me know if you’d like a visit from one of the team). We will be back hosting our stage at Big Church Day Out and I hope we see many of you there. Then, in July, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) will host a global Ministerial to promote freedom of religion or belief in London. This is an invaluable opportunity to raise, discuss and formulate coordinated responses to pressing issues. We’re looking forward to participating in the Ministerial and will be letting you know how you can get involved too.
At the same time, I’m looking forward to seeing the advances our Press and Public Affairs team will make in raising critical issues at the United Nations, in the European Union, and with the UK, US and other governments. Our advocacy teams will be tirelessly raising the cases of Leah Sharibu, Pastor Keshav, Pastor Lorenzo and so many others, until we see their freedom.
Encouragement for the road
One of the great lies of our age is that your voice doesn’t matter, but it truly does. Living as we do, in a democratic nation, we have almost unparalleled access to power. When you sign a petition you are using your voice to gain influence and help others. When we write to our elected representatives, or even to a state governor in Mexico, our voice is heard and is more powerful than perhaps we will ever know.
Your voice matters. Please join us as we pray and campaign for freedom and justice for all people everywhere. In this coming year, we will redouble our efforts to bring freedom of religion and belief to all. I’m so grateful to you for partnering with us in that mission.