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Mythbusting at launch of independent review of UK support for Persecuted Christians

Mythbusting at launch of independent review of UK support for Persecuted Christians

By Chris Sugden
February 6, 2019

Myths about religion and the Christian faith were busted as Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, and Bishop Philip Mounstephen, former Executive Leader of CMS and now Bishop of Truro introduced the work of the independent review of UK support for Persecuted Christians, held in the Locarno Room of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), a building designed both to impress and intimidate, on Wednesday January 30th.

Christianity is not primarily an expression of white western privilege, said Bishop Philip the review chairman, but a truly global phenomenon, mainly of the global south and the global poor. The claim "Jesus is Lord" has always been a subversive challenge to power, especially absolute power. Archbishop Nicholls of Westminster noted further that the depth of Christian commitment to service was the obverse of its critique of the misuse of power. He noted that religious faith was an important factor in the world which was not becoming more secular. He stressed that the fact that 245 million Christians were currently facing persecution, according to an Open Doors Report, demonstrated the vitality of the Christian faith of people who would rather die than give up their Jesus.

This review appears to have three fathers. The first is Jeremy Hunt, who confessed to being a Christian himself. He credited Lord Ahmed, who comes from a Muslim minority banished from Pakistan, for advising him to look at the issue of persecution of Christians who make up eighty percent of those suffering religious persecution. Bishop Philip stressed that concern for Christians in the review would be a way of showing concern for all minorities under pressure. The third progenitor appears to be the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales who called in July 2018 for the FCO to consider publishing something similar to the US State Department's annual International Religious Freedom Report.

It is not known who will form the review body or how it will operate. But it is understood that in addition to the issues of Freedom of Worship, identified as the line between open and closed societies, the review will be guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and specifically Article 18 which upholds the right to change one's religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or with others and in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Bishop Philip said the review would seek to give the Foreign Secretary the tools he needs to make a difference. It would ask tough questions, not pull punches, and make ambitious policy recommendations that should be deliverable, but probably not meet everyone's expectations.

Asked by the Guardian whether the review would just annoy Islamic countries, Jeremy Hunt said they would be pressing equally hard for all faiths and he was working on the plight of Rohinga Muslims who had been expelled from Myanmar (Burma) because of their faith. Bishop Philip had earlier clarified that the review was not limited to persecution in Muslim contexts and was not a stalking horse for the anti-Islam far right.


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