Religious Persecution Abroad

September 29, 1998

Dear Members of the House and Senate:

I have recently returned from a once-a-decade meeting of all Anglican bishops around the world known as the Lambeth Conference. Nearly 750 bishops from every Church of the Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church in the United States is one, met for three weeks to worship, learn, and discuss issues of our experience in God's world. One of the inescapable and profoundly moving realities of the Lambeth Conference is the diversity of experience, of background, of culture, which characterizes the world's 70 million Anglicans, representing 165 countries. I returned to the United States challenged and stretched by stories of differing circumstances and divergent view points.

This amazing richness of experience and faith within the Anglican family causes me to appreciate once again the richness of all faiths here in the United States. While I have chosen a path in the Anglican tradition of Christianity, I celebrate the rich diversity enjoyed in this country, and the freedom that we have to practice our faith. Another lesson learned at the Lambeth Conference was that these freedoms which we so easily take for granted do not exist in many parts of the world. Stories of religious intolerance, restrictions, persecution, and even murder jolted bishops from the West to the stark reality of people's suffering for what they believe.

Bishops from Sudan, our fastest growing church in the world, told how their believers have suffered torture and enslavement. Food and medicine are used to coerce Christians to renounce their faith. Fear of genocide and systematic persecution have forced thousands of people into refugee camps. In Pakistan, Anglicans are often beaten, their churches and villages raided, while women are raped and kidnapped. These and other stories moved the Lambeth Conference to call on governments around the world to "strive for creation of just and free conditions for people of all religions to practice their beliefs." Today, I call on you.

I commend the work of so many in Congress for raising religious persecution abroad before our government and the nation at large. Legislation in both the House and Senate has served to heighten awareness and concern for those around the world who suffer for their faith. Now, it is time to finish the job.

I believe the compromise legislation designed by Senators Nickles and Lieberman takes a positive and meaningful step in the cause of religious liberty worldwide. The Nickles-Lieberman bill requires the Administration to take one of a broad range of options currently available under U.S. law -- from private diplomatic protest to certain economic sanctions -- to respond to countries that engage in religious persecution. The bill asks the State Department to report on the wide range of religious intolerance experienced worldwide. It requires consultation with religious communities, both here and abroad, prior to any action to ensure that any U.S. response will help, not harm, the religious minority on the ground. It gives the Administration a flexible, case-by-case response, because one response cannot fit all circumstances. I believe this is a moderate, flexible response to human rights abuses that strikes the right balance between imposing inflexible sanctions and overlooking serious human rights abuses.

The West cannot impose its way of doing things on other parts of the world. Different conditions require different actions. I do not make this call for religious freedom as a way of imposing our ideals on a resistant world. I carry this message to you as a clear call from our brother and sister Anglicans and other people of faith abroad. I hope that you and I can be faithful to that call.

Thank you for your fullest consideration of this legislation.

Yours sincerely,

The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold
XXV Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA

Tagged in: Religious Freedom