THE Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has said that he hopes to “build an international coalition” of like-minded countries united by concerns about poor levels of religious freedom around the world.
Speaking at the launch of the review of British support for persecuted Christians on Wednesday, at the Foreign Office, he said that he also hoped its findings would ensure that he was well briefed to raise issues concerning religious freedom, “and, in particular, the rights of Christians”, when meeting prime ministers and foreign ministers from around the world.
Addressing an audience of journalists, clergy, and religious-freedom activists, he argued that freedom of worship was not only “a fundamental human right” but also an “invisible line between open and closed societies”.
“Where freedom of worship is hampered or prevented, [you tend to find] lots of other things are going wrong,” he said. Evidence suggested that 80 per cent of religious persecution worldwide was directed towards Christians, he went on; the Foreign Office needed to “go on a journey” in evaluating how to better support them.
The Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, whom the Foreign Secretary had asked to write the independent review, told the audience: “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 this world today. And I suggest that the challenging of absolute power is certainly a legitimate concern and policy objective for any democratic government.”
The Bishop said that he wanted to give Mr Hunt “the tools he needs to make a difference. . . If there are hard things to say, then he has invited me to say them.” He went on, however: “I do think it’s important that the recommendations we make are deliverable. We are unlikely to produce something that meets all your expectations.” He did not want the report to become “a stalking horse for the Islamophobic far-Right”, he said.
When interviewed, the Bishop explained that he hoped to do this by emphasising that anti-Christian persecution was not only a “litmus test” for discrimination against all sorts of other groups, but that the issue could also validly be viewed through the lens of human rights or gender. Recent research suggests that women experience religious persecution in more hidden ways than men.
It is understood that the Archbishop of Canterbury had a private meeting at Lambeth Palace with Mr Hunt before Christmas to discuss the review.
Mr Hunt ended his remarks at the launch by saying to Bishop Mounstephen: “Bon courage to you — and also to me.”