Western Christians have become immune to those suffering religious persecution, Bishop Angaelos, the head bishop of the Coptic Church in the UK, warned on Thursday.
In a statement to mark International Religious Freedom Day 2016, Angaelos said the oppression of faith minorities has become “an all-too familiar occurrence”. But despite the importance of freedom of belief many have become “desensitised or disheartened” by the struggle.
Angaelos has been a long-standing campaigner for persecuted religious groups and called on Christians to “not lose heart” and “speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves”.
He added: “Regardless of what many may want to believe, religion is not only hugely significant but fundamentally core to the vast majority of the world’s population. Accordingly, the opportunity to have and practise one’s religion unencumbered, and without imposition on others, is a right that must be protected for all those who believe and practise peacefully and faithfully.
“The Christian message is one of hope, and at these times of seemingly increasing darkness, that gospel message of hope and promise is most needed. God has graciously and indiscriminately bestowed humanity with the freedom to choose or reject Him, and did not make His image and likeness, the right to dignity or the basic right to exist, conditional upon choosing Him. It is upon that foundation that we must accept one another’s diversity, and advocate for all who are denied the right and freedom to practise their chosen faith, or none.”
Angaelos was speaking ahead of an event in the House of Lords on Thursday to assess the state of religious freedom around the world. Jan Figel, the EU’s special envoy on religious freedom will speak as well as Baroness Berridge.
The Sunday programme on BBC Radio 4 will also focus on religious freedom, with Benedict Rogers from Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) highlighting the case of Alexander Aan, an Indonesian atheist jailed for his beliefs, and Liberal Democrat peer Sal Brinton speaking on the persecution of Shia Muslims in Pakistan.