Religious Liberty and Persecution, a Statement of Concern


“On Religious Liberty and the Persecution of Christians and other Religious Minorities”

Adopted Unanimously by the ABCNJ Council on May 9, 2015

Whereas international law recognizes the right to religious liberty and the right to worship and manifest one’s faith of choice freely without fear of discrimination – rights historically proclaimed and championed by Baptists from the inception of our Baptist movement;

Whereas Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1 states that “everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance”;

Whereas the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) 2 states that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”;

Whereas the Pew Research Center found that as of 2012 3 nearly a quarter of the world’s nations and territories have anti-blasphemy laws or policies, and laws restricting blasphemy and apostasy are most common in the Middle East and North Africa, where 14 of 20 countries criminalize blasphemy and apostasy;

Whereas the rights and safety of Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East have increasingly come under attack over the last several years as a result of violence and instability throughout the region;

Whereas ISIS has brutally massacred, murdered, and enslaved thousands of Christians, Shiites, Yazidis, Druze, Shabaks, Mandeans, and other religious minority groups that do not conform to its radical ideology, including reportedly kidnapping more than 100 Assyrian Christians in northeastern Syria;

Whereas the Syrian Civil War, has led to widespread sectarian violence committed by the Assad regime, ISIS, and other extremist and terrorist groups, with reports of religious cleansing and escalating attacks against Christian minorities;

Whereas a 2014 United Nations report found that the Iranian government continues to arrest and imprison Christians, Baha’is, Zoroastrians, and other religious minorities simply because of their faith, including pastor Saeed Abedini, an American citizen who was imprisoned in 2012 for alleged crimes related to his Christian faith;

Whereas Coptic Christians have been targeted and violently attacked for their beliefs by groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, including a four-day series of attacks in August 2013 that destroyed 38 Coptic churches, 58 Coptic-owned houses, and 85 Coptic businesses, and by ISIS, which kidnapped and viciously murdered 21 Copts in Libya in February 2015;

Whereas Boko Haram in Nigeria repeatedly has targeted Christians and kidnapped Christian women and children, enslaving them and forcing them to convert to Islam;

Whereas in April 2015, the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab terrorist group attacked Garissa University College and targeting Christians, killed 147 people; and Whereas Congress unanimously passed the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998, making it the official policy of the United States “to condemn violations of religious freedom, and to promote, and to assist other governments in the promotion of, the fundamental right to freedom of religion” and to “[stand] for liberty and [stand] with the persecuted, to use and implement appropriate tools in the United States foreign policy apparatus, including diplomatic, political, commercial, charitable, educational, and cultural channels, to promote respect for religious freedom by all governments and peoples”, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the Council of the American Baptist Churches of New Jersey—

  • strongly condemns violence against Christians and other religious minorities and any actions that limit the free expression and practice of faith by these minorities;

  • reaffirms the commitment of ABCNJ to promoting religious freedom and tolerance around the world and helping to provide protection and relief to religious minorities facing persecution and violence;

  • asks for all ABCNJ churches to include intercessory prayers for persecuted Christians in its weekly Sunday services and prayer meetings;

  • requests that the Federal Government of the United States show strong international leadership when it comes to the advancement and protection of religious freedoms and liberties;

  • calls on all governments throughout the world to uphold the internationally recognized human right to freedom from religious persecution and to end all forms of violence and discrimination against Christians and other religious minorities; and

  • urges President Obama to appoint a Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia, as Congress called for in the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act of 2014 (Public Law 113–161)4.

  1. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document in the history of human rights. Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on December 10, 1948. It serves as a common standard for all peoples and all nations. It sets out, for the first time, fundamental human rights to be universally protected. 

  2. Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly as resolution 2200A (XXI) on December 16, 1966. 
  4. This text of this statement of concern is adapted from House RES. 139, Condemning violence against religious minorities in the Middle East and any actions that limit the free expression and practice of faith by these minorities (March 3, 2015). 

Baptist World Alliance: Pray for Egypt's Christians

Muquattan Church in CairoNote from Rev. Dr. Lee B. Spitzer, ABCNJ Executive Minister and Senior Regional Pastor:  During these days of traumatic persecution and distress for Egyptian Christians, and other Christians in the Middle East, I would encourage our region's churches to devote a special time of intercessory prayer for these, our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Pray for their courage and faithfulness under duress, their physical safety, their emotional strength, and the protection of their church facilities.   Below are two Baptist World Alliance pieces that may aid you in sharing about this situation.

Baptists in Egypt are requesting prayer for their nation and its Christian community in the wake of the recent clashes and violence in the North African country. More than 800 persons have reportedly been killed.

Mounir Malaty, pastor of First Baptist Church in Cairo, reported that at least two Baptist churches were attacked, the Baptist Church in El Minya and the Baptist Church in Beni Mazar. In Beni Mazar, Islamic fundamentalists burned the church sanctuary, demolished office and classroom furnishings and fixtures and destroyed Christian emblems outside the church building. The pastor and his family, who live on the church property, escaped injury.

Malaty said "anger, killing, blood... are the words you hear in Egypt now. Innocent people are being killed and large numbers of the protestors are also dying."

Botros Faltaos, president of the Bible Baptist Denomination, based in the city of Alexandria, asked the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) to "please pray for us." Muslim fundamentalists, he said, "are attacking our churches."  He said more than 80 churches of various Christian traditions, including Baptist churches, have been attacked, many of them burned.

Faltaos said there have been attempts by fundamentalists to attack and burn some of his churches but they were thwarted by moderate Muslims from doing so. "There is fear and unrest," he told the BWA. Faltaos claimed that the police are overwhelmed "so we try our best to protect the churches and worshipers. Please pray for us and for the suffering Christians all over Egypt."

BWA General Secretary Neville Callam expressed "profound regret at the injuries and loss of life" and called on Baptists everywhere to place the crises in North Africa and the Middle East as matters of urgent concern on their prayer calendar. Callam urged that Baptists "pray for those who have experienced loss of loved ones and destruction of property." Callam also requested prayer for the many who have been displaced by the violent conflict.

Callam pointed out that "We have Baptists in many of these countries that experience turmoil, and in a special way we want to remember the people of Egypt and Syria."

The BWA leader reiterated a call for peaceful resolution he made more than two years ago when Egypt was in the midst of its 'Arab Spring.'  "We urge the protesters to ensure that their protest is based on the principle of nonviolence and we expect the Egyptian government to take the necessary steps to end the conflict peacefully. We expect no less from a country with as long and proud a history as Egypt, which has contributed so much to the cultural heritage of humankind."

Tony Peck, BWA regional secretary for Europe and general secretary of the European Baptist Federation (EBF), expressed horror at the events in Egypt. The EBF includes Baptist bodies in the Middle East and North Africa. Peck blamed the violence on those who vent anger at Christians for their perceived support for the military crackdown that has led to the most recent escalation in violent clashes. Peck joined Christian leaders in Egypt in "calling for a speedy and peaceful end to the violence."

Violence in Egypt flared after its president, Mohamed Morsi, was removed from power on July 3 by the military and placed under house arrest. The actions of the military were followed by demonstrations and clashes throughout Egypt between supporters and opponents of the move by the military.

Egypt has an estimated population of 84 million. Approximately 90 percent are identified as Muslim, nine percent as Coptic Christians, and one percent as other Christian traditions, including Baptists.

Baptist World Alliance® © August 24, 2013

Resolution Adopted by the BWA General Council in Ocho Rios, Jamaica  July 1-6, 2013

Resolution #10  Crisis in the Middle East and North Africa

The General Council of the Baptist World Alliance meeting in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, July 1-6, 2013:

ACKNOWLEDGES that impact of the “Arab Spring” in the Middle East and North Africa has led to an increase in the persecution of minorities, including Christians;

NOTES that radical police and military actions have gone unpunished by governments of several Middle Eastern Countries;

LAMENTS that Christians have been targeted and persecuted in contexts where they have been perceived to be loyal to specific regimes in several countries;

REGRETS that attacks by Islamic extremists have victimized men, women and children in more than one location;

RECOGNIZES that Lebanon and other countries in the region are having an influx of refugees from Iraq and Syria;

RECOMMENDS Christian ministry to all refugees and pledges to pray for Lebanese Baptists and other Christians in the region who are ministering to refugees in the name of Jesus Christ;

URGES governments of the Middle East to engage religious minority groups located within their borders in the process of pursuing measures to protect them against actions that target Christians and other minorities;

ENCOURAGES Baptists to pray for the safety and well being of our brothers and sisters in the faith;

URGES the United Nations and national governments to work cooperatively to assist those countries in the protection of all the rights of all their citizens;

CALLS UPON governments to refrain from sending or selling armaments to the forces in conflict in Syria and instead support the efforts of those who are working toward a negotiated peace and provide essential humanitarian resources to assist refugees in this situation of conflict; and

COMMENDS and supports the efforts of moderate religious people everywhere who advocate for the just treatment of all citizens throughout the Middle East and North Africa.