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Government must tackle Christian persecution, says report

The Bishop of Truro's report confirms what Christians already know, so what will be done about it?

An independent review of UK support for persecuted Christians has called for substantial changes in how Christians overseas are supported by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The Bishop of Truro’s independent report to the Foreign Secretary highlighted that the persecution of Christians should be considered as a global phenomenon, but one with a wide variety of triggers and drivers. Because of the gradual emergence of this problem and the range of causes, the review found that it has also been significantly overlooked in the West”. 

With wide ranging evidence from key non-governmental organisations, including Evangelical Alliance members Open Doors UK, Release International and CSW, and Foreign Office staff based in the UK and in embassies and high commissions across the globe, the review provides an alarming summary of the situation facing Christians and how little the UK is doing to help. The review focuses on Christianity but makes a number of recommendations applicable to freedom of religion and belief (FoRB) more broadly.

The report found that: Given the scale of persecution of Christians today, indications that it is getting worse and that its impact involves the decimation of some of the faith group’s oldest and most enduring communities, the need for governments to give increasing priority and specific targeted support to this faith community is not only necessary but increasingly urgent.”

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The review team looked at six regions, covering most of the globe, and found multiple sources of persecution for Christians. In the Middle East and North Africa, it noted that a century ago Christians made up 20 per cent of the population; today they are make up less than four per cent. In some countries, such as North Korea and some countries in central Asia, the main threat to Christians come through state restrictions and even criminalisation of religious activities. In other locations, terrorist activities or illegal organisations are the primary threat. 

The report focused specific criticism on the religious illiteracy within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), noting that: The apparent paucity of awareness of the challenges facing the Christian community reveals a lack of religious literacy that undoubtedly impacts the full exercise of all freedom of religion and belief rights.”

Considering the record of the UK government in challenging the persecution of Christians in different regimes across the globe, the review was critical of a seeming hesitation to do so when UK economic interests, or other diplomatic priorities, were at stake. The report called for a director general level champion for FoRB, to support the government’s special envoy and to promote FoRB within the FCO and across the whole of government. The report also suggested that these appointments would be able to provide advice on appropriate sanctions and whether they should be imposed on countries that violate FoRB. 

Welcoming the release of the report, Dr David Landrum, director of advocacy for the Evangelical Alliance, said: The Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is to be commended for initiating and supporting this important review. Such strategic thinking about our country’s responsibilities to promote and protect religious freedom is long overdue. The challenge is immense, but the Foreign Office is an extensive and well-respected diplomatic network that can make a real difference in tackling these human rights abuses. 

It should make this issue a priority, not least because the freedoms to hold, express and change religious beliefs are the bedrock for all our other human rights and civil liberties. If religious freedoms diminish so will everything else. In this endeavour the Foreign Office can certainly count on the prayers and support of the fast-growing evangelical community across the world.” 

Considering the engagement of Christian groups by embassies and high commissions, the review also noted that evidence was presented that there is often very poor follow-up by diplomats to project proposals initiated by the minority’ Christian community: that is to say, in many cases, Pentecostal and evangelical groups who are also significantly poorer than those belonging to mainstream denominations”.

Dr Landrum went on to say: It is particularly worrying that diplomatic officials are failing to take notice of the very Christian groups that are growing the most across the world, often suffering the most, and changing the face of what global Christianity looks like.”

The report makes significant findings and recommendations. It calls for changes to the structure and strategy of handling FoRB and improvements concerning the education and engagement of officials so that a a religiously-literate local operational approach” can be developed and consistency and coordination can be maintained. 

Notable among the recommendations is the need to name the phenomenon of anti-Christian persecution more specifically, Christophobia’. In a news conference announcing the findings, Jeremy Hunt said: I think we do need a term because we need to recognise that there is a specific Christian-related issue that goes beyond the championing of freedom and religious belief that we have always espoused in this building. So, that’s why we decided to adopt that term.”

The afterword to the report includes this summary of the importance of freedom of religion and belief: The freedom to think for oneself and to choose to believe what one chooses to believe, without fear of coercion, is the most fundamental human right, and is indeed the one on which so many others depend: because if one is not free to think or believe how can one order one’s life in any other way one chooses? And yet everywhere in our world today we see this right questioned, compromised and threatened. It is a grave threat which must be resisted – both because it is an evil in itself, and because it threatens so much else.”

Read the full review and report online. 

About the author

Danny joined the Evangelical Alliance in 2008 and has held a range of roles in the advocacy team. He currently looks after media relations and oversees advocacy programmes and projects including public leadership. Before working for the Evangelical Alliance, Danny, who has degrees in politics and political philosophy, worked in parliament for an MP. Danny is passionate about encouraging Christians to integrate their faith with all areas of their life, especially when it comes to helping them take on leadership outside the church. He frequently provides comment on current political issues, both in Evangelical Alliance publications and to the press.

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