ARTICLE: A Schism for the Modern Era

ukrainian photo

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I handed the tomos of independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine over to its leader, Metropolitan Epiphanius of Kyiv and All Ukraine [Photo Credit UNIAN]

By Erin Rodewald || January 8, 2019
(This article was originally written for and posted to 21Wilberforce)

Readers of history will recall the Great Schism of 1054 as the moment when the western Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church parted ways, a separation that punctuated the end of the Roman Empire. That split, with its religious and political undertones, rocked Christendom in the 11th century and remains a visible wound even today, never fully healed though softened with time.

Ten centuries later, a new schism has formed, this one between the Russian Orthodox Church and the newly formed Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Metropolitan Epiphanius was elected head of the new church in December, a move condemned by Moscow but viewed by many believers in Ukraine as a safeguard against Russian aggression, which began in earnest with Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. This weekend, the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul (the source of authority for the Eastern Orthodox tradition) granted a “tomos,” or decree of independence to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The separation process could take decades, but the fracture has begun.

The news is not good for Moscow. By some estimates, the division will cost the Russian Orthodox Church some 30 to 40 percent of its members, not to mention valuable church property and bragging rights as the “protector” of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide. Yet, while Ukraine’s break with Russia is a dramatic turn of events, an even deeper schism lies between the Russian government and its own people, particularly people of faith. Continue reading

ARTICLE: Tis the season…to pray for persecuted believers


Early Rain Covenant Church pastor

Early Rain Covenant pastor criminally detained
[Photo credit: ChinaAid]

By Erin Rodewald // December 18, 2018

(This article originally written for and posted to 21Wilberforce)

For the world’s 2.3 billion Christians, the week ahead marks the culmination of one of the holiest seasons of the year — the anticipation and arrival of the Christ child. Sadly, the advent period has been marred by persecution, as global headlines make clear.

In China, authorities arrested more than 100 leaders and members of the Early Rain Covenant Church in early December. A week later, finding the church building locked, faithful congregants gathered at a nearby park for worship, where police arrested even more members. ChinaAid founder and president Bob Fu says these arrests represent “a major escalation of religious persecution in China.”

Earlier this year, the Xi regime revised its religious regulations, which has resulted in the closure of many unregistered churches throughout China, as well as persistent harassment and mass arrests of the nation’s minority Christian community. Cell phones are monitored, homes are searched, church leaders are followed, and scores have been detained for their beliefs. Among those imprisoned is Pastor Wang Yi, leader of Early Rain, who has declared that the “Communist regime is filled with fear at a church that is no longer afraid of it.” Continue reading

BLOG POST: Rich History of IRF Act Captured in a Single Volume



Long-time religious freedom champion Katrina Lantos Swett offers remarks at the release of new IRFA historical retrospective

By Erin Rodewald // December 13, 2018

In the fall of 1998, members of Congress made a deliberate and unanimous choice to stand as beacons for the most fundamental of all human rights — freedom of religion or belief. Passage of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) came after months of debate and resulted in a law that has driven considerable human rights initiatives around the world for the past two decades while also codifying the first freedom as a top priority within U.S. foreign policy.

In this 20th anniversary year, human rights organization  21Wilberforce embarked on a legacy project that would commemorate and capture the achievements of this landmark legislation. The result is The 20th Anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act: A Retrospective, introduced this week at an event at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C.

For the first time, valuable IRFA source documents, personal recollections, and scholarly materials from the past 20 years have been collected and thoughtfully archived in a singular place with a succinct timeline. Included are candid conversations and observations culled from more than 55 interviews with prominent international religious freedom stakeholders, from elected officials and foreign policy experts to human rights advocates and academics. Continue reading

Article: A Faith Strengthened in the Face of Persecution

person holding bible with cross

Photo by on

By Erin Rodewald // December 9, 2018
(This article was originally written for 21Wilberforce)


In the early morning hours of Christmas 2010, Iranian government forces arrested scores of Christian home-church leaders in surprise raids around the country. Among those arrested was a newly married couple, Yousef and Rozhin.*

Incarcerated in separate locations, Yousef and Rozhin were repeatedly told by their captors that the other had denounced their faith. In fact, both remained steadfast in their beliefs despite the harsh conditions. On day 23, Rozhin was taken once again to an interrogation room for questioning. This time, when officials removed her blindfold, she saw Yousef seated across from her. In the short time allowed together, the couple cried tears of joy and shared how God had been caring for them while in prison.

“They planned to break us,” says Rozhin of the guards’ strategy for arranging the brief meeting with Yousef. “But God used that time to bless us instead. Because of those few minutes together, we continued stronger than before.” Continue reading

BLOG POST: Extending the spirit of Thanksgiving with #GivingTuesday


#GivingTuesday – November 27 [Photo credit: Mohamed Abd El Ghany]

By Erin Rodewald // November 20, 2018

(This blog post was originally written for and posted to 21Wilberforce)

The spectacles of Black Friday and Cyber Monday have infiltrated our cultural conscience. Thanksgiving, it seems, has become the starting block for the holiday buying season. Just hours after the last slice of pumpkin pie has been served, retailers begin offering deep discounts and shoppers start snatching up deals in a buying frenzy.

What if we changed the script this year and extended the spirit of Thanksgiving beyond our dining tables? Rather than getting deals, what if we set aside a day just for giving instead? That is the goal of #GivingTuesday, a global movement that harnesses the collective power of individuals, communities and organizations to encourage philanthropy and to recognize generosity worldwide. This year, 21Wilberforce has partnered with #GivingTuesday — which falls on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, November 27 — to give support to people worldwide who live under the threat of religious persecution. Continue reading

ARTICLE: The long wait continues for Asia Bibi


Asia Bibi returns to death row to await her fate on blasphemy charges [Photo Credit:]



By Erin Rodewald // October 9, 2018

(This article originally written and posted to 21Wilberforce)

On Monday, a special three-member panel of Pakistan’s Supreme Court heard the final appeal for justice by Asia Bibi, a Christian woman sentenced to death on charges of blasphemy. Following three hours of testimony by Asia’s defense attorney, the panel delayed its verdict indefinitely, again sending Asia back to prison while ordering the media and those present to refrain from discussing the case.

The mother of five already has spent more than eight years in prison, accused of making derogatory remarks against Islam during a 2009 argument with her Muslim co-workers. The argument began when Asia drank water from a communal cup while working in a field alongside the other women — an act that her co-workers charged made the water unclean for them because Asia is a Christian. Continue reading

ARTICLE: Coptic Christians shut out of worship

minya christians

Egypt’s Coptic Christians are finding it harder to worship despite constitutional guarantees [Photo Credit: Reuters/Middle East Eye]

By Erin Rodewald // September 11, 2018

(This article originally written for and posted to 21Wilberforce)

In Egypt, a law designed to open doors has served to close them instead. Dozens of Coptic Christian churches have been shut down since Law 80/2016, also known as the Church Construction Law, took effect two years ago. The reform measure, required as part of the constitution adopted following the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi in 2014, was intended to secure the right of worship by Copts and other religious minorities. Instead, it has become a driver of sectarian violence.

In late August, while congregants worshiped inside the Virgin Mary and St. Mohrael Coptic Orthodox church in Upper Egypt, an angry Muslim mob gathered outside to protest against the legalization of the church. According to an eyewitness, the crowd tried to break down the front door. The police arrived and dispersed the demonstrators then closed the church building, sealed it, and security forces cordoned off the village streets.

This was the eighth such incident in this particular diocese alone. Churches in other regions throughout Egypt have experienced similar attacks as well, several in the past few weeks. All had filed applications under Law 80/2016 to obtain the necessary permits for registration, renovation, or construction. And that’s when the trouble began.

The tensions associated with the current law are underscored in a report issued by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR): “Typically, Copts in villages submit applications for the construction of a church to official bodies after meeting all the required conditions, but the applications are frozen due to objections from the security apparatus or as a result of incitement from local residents opposed to the construction of a church.” Continue reading