IT IS time to stop the rhetoric about religious persecution and address the reality, the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, warned the Government yesterday.
Bishop Mounstephen, who chaired the Independent Review of Christian Persecution in 2019 (News, 12 July 2019), spoke, on Thursday evening, at the 125th anniversary of the National Club, in front of the former Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP, who initiated the review, and the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion and Belief, Fiona Bruce MP.
In his speech, he described persecution as an ancient scourge and a modern crisis, a “monstrous evil”, and told the gathering: “To be religiously illiterate in today’s world is simply to fail to understand how and why others act as they do.” Eighty per cent of global religiously motivated persecution was directed against Christians: an “intolerable” figure. The Government had endorsed all the recommendations, affirmed in its manifesto, but reservations remained.
“The wholesale denial of freedom of religious belief [FoRB] in today’s world is a great evil. . . I was shocked by the scale, scope, and severity of what we found,” Bishop Mounstephen said. “We simply cannot pass by on the other side.”
He made a reference to COP26 in recalling the conclusion of the review: “It seems to me that we currently face two existential threats to human flourishing and harmonious communities: climate change and the systematic denial of FoRB. We are beginning to pay proper attention to the former: it is high time we paid proper attention to the latter.”
The issue was now part of public discourse, and almost 100 civil-society organisations had come together to make common cause. The Government had repeatedly restated its commitment to implementation, but there had been “a signal failure of all Western nations to take the great vulnerability of religious minorities seriously when it came to extracting people from Afghanistan”.
The Bishop said that he “remained disappointed” by the Government’s resistance to the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill in the spring: “Thus business as usual is enshrined — and business as usual is good news only for the perpetrators of genocide.”
There were two significant opportunities to see political will put into practice, he concluded: “The last of my recommendations called for the implementation of them all to be independently reviewed after three years. . . There is much still to do, but there is still time to do it.”
He urged the Government to grasp these opportunities.