Arab Christians should be free to practise their faith, says evangelical leader

In this Thursday, February 21, 2013 photo, the altar of Judeida church is seen damaged by mortar shell, at the Christian village of Judeida, in Idlib province, Syria.(AP)

The head of the World Evangelical Alliance has called for religious liberty to be upheld in the Arab world.

Dr Geoff Tunnicliffe made the appeal at a conference this week in Amman, Jordan, addressing the challenges facing Arab Christians, particularly those in Egypt and Syria.

The conference was convened by King Abdullah II ibn al-Hussein and was joined by representatives of churches from across the region.

Dr Tunnicliffe highlighted the fact that the suffering and persecution of Arab Christians has increased in recent years "despite the fact that Arab Christians have been loyal citizens in all the countries of the Arab world for two thousand years".

Religious freedom was necessary for a prospering society, Dr Tunnicliffe said, as he called for Christians in the Arab world "to be treated respectfully and with honour".

"All they ask is to be allowed to live in peace and to faithfully practice their faith, in the same way as their neighbors and fellow citizens are able to practice theirs," he said.

Dr Tunnicliffe has sent a letter to the White House and United Nation's Security Council on behalf of the conference making clear that Christians in the region are opposed to any military strike on Syria by the US and other countries.

There has been an exodus of Christians from Syria as a result of the ongoing civil war, while in Egypt Christians have come under attack from supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood who have accused them of colluding in the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi.

"I think I can say that there is a major consensus amongst the Christian leaders in this region that any military intervention by the United States will have a detrimental effect on the situation and in particular for Christians in Syria," he wrote, adding that "Christians have already been threatened in Syria by some of the opposition indicating that a post regime Syria will be Muslim and Christians will not be welcome".

He commended Jordan for "graciously and generously" hosting refugees and vowed the support of Christians around the world.

The conference was also joined by WEA Ambassadors and producers of the hit TV series The Bible, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey.

Downey spoke about her own experience of violence and discrimination during the Troubles in her native Northern Ireland.

She encouraged Arab Christians to remain united in the face of challenges.

"As Christians of all traditions face discrimination, persecution and threat, now is the time to link arms together in a unified love to respond to these challenges together," she said.

"It is our hope and prayer that Christians in the Middle East in spite of their differences will be united together in a common bond of God's love."

Dr Tunnicliffe was due to meet Jordanian officials and visit refugee camps on the Syrian borders.

Members of the World Evangelical Alliance are joining Christians around the world in a day of prayer for peace in Syria on Saturday.