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Freedom of belief is good for climate and security, says Bishop of Winchester

19 January 2024

Mounstephen makes moral connection in Lords maiden speech


A mass rally blocks the streets in Jos, Nigeria, earlier this month in solidarity with the victims of the Christmas Eve attack, in Plateau state. Officials said that at least 140 people had been killed by Islamist gunmen, who attacked remote villages. The attack was followed by calls for stronger police and military intervention

A mass rally blocks the streets in Jos, Nigeria, earlier this month in solidarity with the victims of the Christmas Eve attack, in Plateau state. Offi...

THE struggles to combat climate change and violations of religious freedom are linked, because they both “spring from a common concern for the common good”, the Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen, has said.

The Bishop was making his maiden speech in the House of Lords on Thursday of last week, in a take-note debate on the UK’s contribution to international development, with particular regard to the impact of climate change on developing nations.

Bishop Mounstephen, who chaired the Independent Review of Christian Persecution in 2019 (News, 12 July 2019), said that the struggle for freedom of religion and belief (FoRB) was both global — “this is a universal right and a global problem” — and local — “in that it is minority communities that are most under threat from its denial”.

The denial of FoRB to minority communities also hindered their development, he argued. “Its denial can be laid squarely at the feet of both weak government and intolerant, authoritarian, and nationalistic regimes that brook no dissent. This is therefore a growing global problem that requires a global response.”

He continued: “It is vital that we act globally to protect the distinctive and the local, and there is a moral connection between the global struggle for FoRB and the challenge of climate change. In the end, only plural states with a heart for the common global good, rather than their own self-aggrandisement, will truly care about these issues.

“So, action on FoRB and action on climate change spring from a common concern for the common good. In tackling both, we seek the health and welfare of the whole planet, and a common good that, in the end, can be expressed only through flourishing local communities. Promoting FoRB promotes plural, prosperous, and stable states, contributing significantly to international development and global security.”

Diocese of WinchesterThe Rt Revd Philip Mounstephen at a service of welcome for him in Winchester Cathedral, on Saturday

He concluded by calling for the UK to “stand against those regimes that are more concerned with preserving their own power than seeking the local rights of minorities and the global good of the whole planet”.

In the same debate, the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, commended the Government for including “tackling climate change” in the title of its recent White Paper on international development (News, 24 November 2023), and for “advocating for a move away from donor-recipient models of aid towards partnerships built on mutual respect, putting greater value on the voice, perspectives, and needs of developing nations, as well as supporting local leadership”.

The White Paper had also acknowledged the need for the UK to “engage with humility and acknowledge our past”. Bishop Snow asked, with this in mind, whether the Secretary of State had discussed reparations during his meeting with the Barbadian Prime Minister last month. “Responding with humility and honestly acknowledging our past includes such complex issues, which directly affect a country’s ability or inability to respond to climate change.”

The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, the lead bishop for the environment, said that he looked forward to “the urgent return to the Government’s manifesto commitment of 0.7 per cent of GDP being spent on” international aid. He continued, however: “There also needs to be transparency in new funding announcements about whether the funding is new money or comes from salami-slicing existing programmes.”

Aid that was intended to help communities to respond to climate change should be focused on three areas, Bishop Usher said: first, “working both locally and globally to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere” — he drew attention to the Anglican Communion Forest (News, 5 August 2022); second, a “need to build resilience to the impact of more extreme weather events caused by climate change”; and, third, the need for the UK to provide “the right emergency aid to affected nations”. The Bishop referred to analysis by Christian Aid which identified a “global postcode lottery stacked against the poor”.

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