Welcome + Worship + Witness

A letter to Julian Smith, MP for Skipton and Ripon

12 August 2014

Dear Mr Smith

I write, both as a constituent and a priest in the Church of England, to draw your attention to the horrifying plight of the Christians of Iraq. In a recent statement Patriarch Louis Sako, the  Iraq-based leader of the Chaldean Catholic church, has described how tens of thousands of Christians have fled the brutality of the forces of the Islamic State: ‘They fled their villages and houses (with) nothing but … the clothes on their backs. It is an exodus, a real via crucis; Christians are … facing a human catastrophe and risk a real genocide.’

Archbishop Athanasius Toma Dawod, leader of the Syriac Orthodox church in the United Kingdom, has urged the government of the United Kingdom to offer sanctuary to some of those who have been forced to flee, and his call has been echoed by a number of bishops of the Church of England, including my own diocesan bishop, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, Bishop of Leeds.

I am fully aware that the position of Christians in Iraq is part of a complex, fast moving, and increasingly chaotic situation across Iraq and parts of Syria. I am also aware that, given the choice, most members of this beleaguered community would rather remain in the places in which they and their forebears have lived and worshipped for two millennia, than begin new lives elsewhere. Nevertheless, I believe we have a twofold obligation to offer sanctuary in the way the bishops urge. Firstly, allowing asylum to some members of this ancient Christian community sends out an unambiguous message about our government’s fundamental stance on the rights of all religious minorities in Iraq and the wider Middle East. Secondly, the recent and extensive military intervention by the United Kingdom government in Iraq means that we bear a measure of moral responsibility for assisting those who have become unwitting and innocent victims of the current political, ethnic, and religious instability in Iraq.

I therefore ask you to use your good offices to urge your colleagues in government to consider offering sanctuary to some members of the Iraqi Christian community as part of a wider policy of assistance for those who have faced unspeakable horror and whose future remains so uncertain.

I look forward to receiving your response.

Yours sincerely,

(Revd) Simon Cowling,
Rector of Bolton Abbey