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The plight of the persecuted

University representatives lend voice to cause of religious freedom at Rome summit

In early December, Baylor President and Chancellor Ken Starr and a Baylor faculty member participated in the International Conference on Christian Response to Persecution, held at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome.

Convened in connection with the 50th anniversary of Dignitatis Humanae, the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on religious freedom, the summit aimed to draw public attention to the plight of persecuted Christian communities around the world, to promote cooperation among Christian churches in assisting these communities and to encourage active global solidarity among Christians.

"I was honored to be an ambassador for Baylor at this historic conference and serve as an unapologetic advocate for the deeply rooted principles of religious freedom integral to our Baptist heritage," Starr said.

The conference was held Dec. 10-12 as a component of Under Caesar's Sword, a collaborative global research project by the University of Notre Dame's Center for Civil and Human Rights and the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. The project investigates how Christian communities respond when their religious freedom is violated.

During the Rome summit, scholars presented research gathered over the course of three years--made possible by a $1.1 million grant from the Templeton Religion Trust--regarding the responses of 100 Christian communities in 30 countries where Christians have been persecuted in ways ranging from demolished church crosses in China to beheadings in Libya.

Dr. Christian van Gorder, associate professor of religion at Baylor, presented findings on religious intolerance in Iran--where about 10 percent of Christians have experienced persecutions including imprisonment and lashings--during a panel on Findings from the Middle East and North Africa. Van Gorder told conference attendees that despite such hardship, some Christians choose to remain in their homeland instead of leaving. "These Christians take consolation in Christ's words: 'I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it' (Matthew 16:18, ESV)," he said. "They have no other choice but to rely on prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit."

Starr joined other prominent Christian leaders, policy makers, religious freedom advocates and human rights activists--including representatives from the Syriac Catholic Church, the United Nations, the government of Pakistan, the Vatican and the Anglican Church of Nigeria--in serving as speakers and panelists at the conference.

The opening session featured addresses by Patriarch Raphael Sako of Iraq and Patriarch Youssef Younan of Syria, who represented countries where the Islamic State has committed atrocities against thousands of Christians and other religious minorities.

Starr was part of the program for the summit’s second day, serving as moderator of a keynote conversation on The Travail of Religious Liberty in the Americas and Europe.