LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Britain’s foreign secretary says the world should use “Christophobia” to describe anti-Christian persecution and said the UK’s efforts to help persecuted Christians around the world has not always “matched the scale of the problem.”
Jeremy Hunt was speaking on Monday during the presentation of a report he commissioned studying the issue of Christian persecution, and the response of the UK Foreign Office to the problem. The independent review was headed by Anglican Bishop Philip Mounstephen of Truro.
“Perhaps because of a misguided political correctness – or an instinctive reluctance to talk about religion – British governments have not always grappled with this problem,” Hunt said.
The report records widespread persecution Christians face worldwide, and notes that Christianity is by far the most persecuted religion on the planet.
“If one minority is on the receiving end of 80 percent of religiously-motivated discrimination, it is simply not just that they should receive so little attention,” Mounstephen said.
The bishop issued an interim report in May, detailing in depth the abuses faced by Christians in different regions of the world, but refrained from making recommendations until issuing the final report.
In his final report, Mounstephen made several recommendations for the Foreign Office:
— To seek a Security Council Resolution urging all governments in the Middle East and North Africa to protect Christians, and other persecuted minorities, and allow UN observers to monitor the necessary security measures;
— To identify a label for Christian persecution, to better inform and develop tailored Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) policies in response;
— To consider imposing sanctions on perpetrators of serious human rights abuses against religious minorities, including Christians;
— To establish a stream of the Magna Carta Fund, dedicated to helping persecuted Christians;
— To give mandatory training on religious literacy to all Foreign Office staff, at home and abroad;
— And a request for all British embassies in relevant countries to deliver tailored responses to any violations of freedom of religion or belief.
In the report’s introduction, Mounstephen said the Christian faith “will always present a radical challenge to any power that makes absolute claims for itself, and there are plenty of those in the world today.”
“And I suggest that confronting absolute power is certainly a legitimate concern and policy objective of any democratic government. Indeed the Christian faith’s inherent challenge to absolutist claims explains why it has been such a key foundation stone of Western democratic government – and explains too why we should continue to support it vigorously wherever it is under threat,” the bishop said.
In his remarks, Hunt noted the report says “that for too long,” governments have preferred the vague language of general condemnation rather than face the specific problem of anti-Christian discrimination and persecution.
“The report recommends that I instruct my officials to define this abuse, and I believe we should do that by calling it out clearly with the label Christophobia,” added the foreign secretary.
Hunt gave the example of Nigeria, where there are several factors at the root of the conflict between largely Muslim herders and Christian farmers in the country’s “Middle Belt” – where the Muslim north meets the Christian south.
“But whether or not the bloodshed is driven principally by competition over land and water, it would be a mistake to overlook religious hatred as an important factor,” the foreign secretary stated. “Indeed, it’s hard to avoid concluding that the gunmen who raided a church in Benue state last year, murdering 2 priests and 17 worshippers, just one of the atrocities highlighted in the report, were motivated by anything else.”
The British government has stepped up its engagement on the issue of religious liberty, and 2018 saw the appointment of Lord Tariq Ahmad as the prime minister’s first Special Envoy on Freedom of Religion or Belief. In comparison, the United States legislated for an Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom in 1998, a position currently held by former Kansas governor and senator Sam Brownback.
“Both strategically and through a focus on priority countries, we have not only raised the profile of religious persecution and abuse, but also acted on the rising tide of Christian persecution across the world with some success,” Ahmad said in a statement. “We therefore note the findings of this independent report and will consider the recommendations carefully and how they may further enhance our work in tackling Christian persecution specifically and in strengthening our work on Freedom of Religion or Belief.”
Hunt noted the new report did not always paint the Foreign Office in the best light when discussing how it has handled anti-Christian persecution, but the foreign secretary said the country’s diplomats “must accept such criticism in the constructive spirit in which it was intended.”
He said that Britain has “always championed freedom of religion or belief for everyone” in its affairs.
“As the Christian doctrine of Original Sin reminds us, the capacity for wickedness is inherent in the human condition. We will never be able to extirpate anti-Christian bigotry,” Hunt said. “But nor must we shrug our shoulders and walk on the other side of the road. As a country that has always been a beacon for freedom and tolerance, the United Kingdom will not shirk its responsibilities and I am determined we will look up to them.”
Follow Charles Collins on Twitter: @CharlesinRome
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