US and UK should use foreign policy to help persecuted Christians, say Church leaders

Justin Welby (C) with Mike Pompeo (L) and Jeremy Hunt (R) at Lambeth Palace(Photo: Lambeth Palace)

The Archbishop of Canterbury hosted US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt at a meeting of faith leaders on Wednesday to discuss how Christians can be protected from persecution.

The Most Rev Justin Welby said the meeting also discussed ways to ensure freedom of religion and belief for people of all faiths and traditions.

The Archbishop raised two concerns during the meeting, one being that the UK use its trade links with countries where persecution occurs to promote freedom of worship.

"We have valid and essential foreign policy links around the world. But as you know better than I do, in some of them freedom of religion and belief is not accepted," he said in an address.

"We would like to encourage that, while being culturally sensitive, to say that freedom to worship is an essential part of being a human being."

Commenting on Twitter after the meeting, he said: "In these relationships, we must be clear that freedom to worship is an essential part of being human."

The second area of concern was military intervention. 

"Secondly, that where the interests of minorities are concerned, foreign interventions can often have very serious long term [impacts], as we've seen with the collapse of the Christian population in some parts of the Middle East," he said. 

He later tweeted that military intervention could have "dire" consequences for Christian and other minorities and that this could be seen in Iraq over the past two decades where he said there had been a "terrible collapse" in the Christian population. 

Representing the Catholic Church, Archbishop Kevin McDonald echoed the concerns.

He said: "A concern for religious freedom should not be seen in isolation. It needs to inform policy across government, particularly on Aid and the sale of arms to other countries."

The meeting also brought together leaders from other faith communities, including Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and Imam Qari Asim.

It was convened in light of a review into Christian persecution launched in January by Mr Hunt.  The interim report was released last week and warned that levels of persecution against Christians were close to "genocide". 

The full report is due out in the summer.