LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Mike Pompeo became the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit Lambeth Palace on Wednesday when he participated in a round table on religious freedom.
Lambeth Palace is the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the head of the Church of England and worldwide Anglican Communion.
“We are … concerned, and this is very much part of the Anglican tradition going back many generations, that in this country we work very closely together with other denominations and other faiths, and in a sense have, we are an umbrella for the different faith communities here. That starts from the Christian belief that we are all made in the image of God, that Christ died for all, that we belong and are precious to God, every one of us,” Welby said at the beginning of the event.
The round table discussion was attended by various Christian leaders, as well as members of the Jewish and Muslim faiths.
Also at the event was UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who recently launched an independent inquiry into the persecution of Christians around the world. The preliminary report was released last week, with the final document due next month.
According to a statement released by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Hunt said the UK was playing catch-up, having shieded away from freedom of religion and belief in the past.
“Today Secretary Pompeo and I met faith leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, to discuss how we can better protect freedom of religion in a world where people of all faiths – including 245 million Christians – face persecution for practicing their beliefs,” Hunt said after the event. “This is an issue close to both our hearts. The recent atrocities in New Zealand and Sri Lanka remind us just why.”
He also said he was “thankful that today we have a glimmer of light” upon the news that Asia Bibi, the Christian woman who had been fighting a years-long battle against blasphemy charges in Pakistan, “will be able to embark on a new chapter in her life” after she was allowed to leave her homeland for Canada.
Archbishop Kevin McDonald, the emeritus of the Catholic Archdiocese of Southwark, was the representative of the Catholic bishops’ conference.
“Tolerance is not enough,” he told the event. “We must engage inclusively and creatively with all.”
The archbishop said the government leaders’ statements on freedom of religion and belief should inform their policy decisions, and went on to challenge both the UK and US governments on past and current policy issues that have had significant repercussions on religious groups and innocent people across the world.
“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,” McDonald said
After the event, Pompeo said via Twitter that, “Freedom of religion is a pillar of American national security and central to the protection of human rights around the world.”
Last year, the U.S. Secretary of State hosted the first Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, which gathered government representatives, religious leaders, members of civil society, and victims of religious persecution to discuss how to promote freedom of belief in the world. The Second Ministerial is scheduled to take place July 16-18, 2019, in Washington.
Pompeo was on his first official visit to the UK, which comes just three weeks before Donald Trump is scheduled to make a state visit to the country.