Southern Baptists plan religious liberty office in Middle East

by Onize Ohikere
Posted 6/22/15, 08:04 am

Christians in some parts of the Middle East have three options: move elsewhere, become Muslim, or pay the expensive Christian tax known as jizya.

As Nina Shea, a religious freedom expert with the Hudson Institute explained, the cost of not complying is high. 

“A family fleeing Nineveh, they couldn’t pay, and [the militants] took their 3-year-old daughter,” Shea said.

In response to the persecution, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention is establishing its first freedom office in the region.

“The Middle East is on fire right now with religious persecution,” said ERLC President Russell Moore. “It’s a primary area of concern for the persecuted church, not to mention it’s where our faith began.”

The organization plans to use the office to advocate for persecuted Christians by storytelling, providing training resources on religious liberty, and building relationships with similar-minded organizations in the region. 

“Having a presence there, we’ll be able to immediately respond to concerns,” Moore said. “We’ll be able to equip North American churches with first-hand information of what’s happening.”

Though the ERLC didn’t release the exact location of the office due to safety concerns, it said in a statement Tim Wussow, a former ERLC legal consultant, will be heading the new office. Work on the building will begin later this summer and it should be ready for use by November.

Shea, who is not involved in the ERLC project, explained that while the international Christian community supports persecuted Christians and other exiled groups, more could be done from a political standpoint. 

“The U.S has a lot of leverage with the Kurds, but we don’t ask the Kurds to give legal status to these Christians,” she said, referring to Christians who fled to the semi-autonomous northern region of Iraq. “They’re not going to be able to put down roots there.” 

Moore also believes America can exert some pressure on behalf of persecuted Christians. 

“The U.S can use its diplomatic power to deal with prisoners of conscience,” he said, referencing persecuted Christians like Saeed Abedini, the Iranian-American pastor detained in Iran since 2012.

But Moore knows running an advocacy center from the hub of persecution will come with its battles.

“We anticipate there’ll be people who won’t like an evangelical Christian presence speaking against persecution, but that’s what the body of Christ calls us to do,” he said.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is a reporter for WORLD Digital based in Abuja, Nigeria.

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