'High time' Christian persecution given same attention as climate change

Pakistani Christians carry a cross through the streets of Quetta while observing Good Friday.Reuters

It is "high time" that the denial of freedom of religion and belief is given the same attention as climate change, says the bishop behind a major government review into persecution.

The Bishop of Truro, the Rt Rev Philip Mounstephen, said that religious freedom was under "grave threat" around the world, but the global response had typically been "inaction".

"How grave does this situation have to become before we act?" he said.

"It seems to me that we currently face two existential threats to human flourishing and harmonious communities: climate change and the systematic denial of FoRB. We are beginning to pay proper attention to the former. It is high time we paid proper attention to the latter."

The Bishop of Truro is the author of a new report into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's response to persecution.

The report, published last week but formally launched in London on Monday, puts the number of Christians worldwide being persecuted for their faith at 245 million and warns that the situation is coming close to "genocide".

It calls for sanctions to be imposed on the worst perpetrators and recommends that the protection of freedom of religion or belief be set within a broader human rights framework that touches on a range of UK foreign policy areas, including trade and security.

Addressing a diverse audience of MPs, church leaders and human rights workers, Lord Tariq Ahmad, the Prime Minister's Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief, said that the report was "long overdue" and had given the persecution of Christians "renewed focus" within the UK Government. 

Bishop Mounstephen said it was time for freedom of religion or belief "to take centrestage", adding that it was often the "canary in the mine" for other human rights breaches. 

He also said that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office needed to "up its game" when it came to religious literacy.

"We can no longer say this is a sideline issue," he said.  "The time for inaction and indifference is over." 

He added: "We don't want the report to gather dust on the shelves." 

Lord Ahmad promised that there would be a "cross-government effort" to act on the report's findings. 

Bishop Mounstephen was invited to compile the report by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has previously admitted that the Foreign Office's response had been checkered by "misguided political correctness".

"The sense of misguided political correctness that has stopped us standing up for Christians overseas must end," he said following the report's publication last week.

"At home we all benefit from living in a tolerant, diverse society and we should not be afraid of promoting those values abroad. It is a sad fact that Christians are the most persecuted religious group in modern times. I am determined to show that we are on their side."


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