Foreign office must know about religion, Lords told

31 May 2019

CHURCH IN PARLIAMENT

The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Tim Dakin, addresses the Lords

The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Tim Dakin, addresses the Lords

IT IS vital that the UK’s foreign policy should include “expertise and engagement with what motivates billions of people”: religion, the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Tim Dakin, has said.

Speaking on Tuesday of last week, in a House of Lords debate on the report, UK Foreign Policy in a Shifting World Order, Bishop Dakin urged the Government to consider that “religious literacy is a language that could be invested in as part of this new openness to international relations.”

The report concludes that foreign affairs are in a state of upheaval, with challenges to the UK’s international relationships, including those with the United States and China, and that the UK should strive to maintain the rules-based international order, despite threats from the US and Russia.

One part of maintaining and building relationships is using soft power, the report said. Bishop Dakin argued that an important part of this was the UK’s higher- and further-education institutions.

He said: “I advocate for a more informed approach to the PR impact of including student numbers in the immigration figures. We lose the chances of sharing, through higher education, our liberal democratic perspectives if students are put off from coming earlier on.

“The numbers are going in the wrong direction, and the influence we might have had is diminishing. Our world-class education might therefore not be accessed by some of the best minds in the world.”

On religion, Bishop Dakin welcomed the recent interim report on Christian persecution worldwide, which came out of an independent review led by the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen (News, 3 May).

He said: “This not only points up a key dimension of human rights, but shows the need for greater religious literacy about what people are prepared to live and die for in the contexts of their countries and nations.

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“People seek change and vote for change mostly on the basis of deeply held convictions. Our understanding of politics and how these shape our global economics cannot be separated from the tap-roots of the religious beliefs that people who construct these imaginations draw on and express.”

Bishop Dakin continued: “I was a little surprised not to see an emphasis on the importance of the voluntary or charitable sector’s contribution to international relationships, particularly in connection with the UN sustainable development goals. . .

“I would like to have seen in the report and the Government’s response a greater recognition of the sustainable development goals in connection with the references to NGOs.”

Lord Chartres, formerly Bishop of London, also contributed to the debate. He said: “Behind the turbulence, the growth of great powers, and the decline of others, two great factors have led to profound shifts in human history: climate change and human migration.”

He also praised the UK’s commitment to a “really substantial” international aid budget: “The various great wisdom traditions and religions of the world have under-exploited potential in the work of peace building, just as they are at the same time certainly, and often for ill, at the very centre of intrastate conflicts, especially those that are about the identity of threatened groups.”

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