Reactions to FCO announcement on persecution of Christians

During the Christmas break Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt announced a global review into persecution of Christians: “I have asked the Rev’d Philip Mounstephen, Bishop of Truro, to lead an independent review of whether we are doing all we can. I would like this exercise to consider some tough questions and offer ambitious policy recommendations: Britain has – in my view – the best diplomatic network in the world, so how can we use that to encourage countries to provide proper security for minority groups under threat? Have we been generous enough in offering practical assistance, and does the level of UK support match the scale of the suffering? Have we always got our foreign policy priorities right in terms of advocating for and expressing solidarity with this group?”

In the Daily Telegraph, under the heading We must not allow a misguided political correctness to stop us from helping persecuted Christians he wrote “Yesterday my family and I walked a short journey to our local church, and enjoyed an uplifting Christmas service. We attend as a simple matter of personal choice, but since being appointed Foreign Secretary, it has struck me how much we take that choice for granted: others around the world are facing death, torture and imprisonment for that very right.”

With Christianity on the verge of extinction in its birthplace, it is time for concerted action that begins to turn the tide.

He concluded “Britain has a strong history of standing up for the rights of all religious communities. I am proud of the way the UK has led the world in condemnation of the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim Rohingya community in Burma; as well as our response of passionate anger to the recent resurgence of anti-Semitism in our own society. It is not in our national character to turn a blind eye to suffering. All religious minorities must be protected and the evidence demonstrates that in some countries, Christians face the greatest risk. We should be willing to state that simple fact – and adjust our policies accordingly… It is time to echo that message of hope to the persecuted church around the world; with our deeds as well as our words.”

While the Telegraph op ed emphasised that “So often the persecution of Christians is a telling early warning sign of the persecution of every minority,” there were criticisms of the focus on Christians:

Under the heading The pick-and-choose problem with the U.K.’s efforts to protect persecuted Christians H.A. Hellyer, a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London and the Atlantic Council in Washington, wrote that it reflected “a trend in the United Kingdom and in Europe more generally, and a profoundly problematic one, too; at best, it apologizes for autocrats overseas, and at worst, it leads to condemning non-Christian refugees to die in boats in the Mediterranean Sea, while airlifting Christian ones to our lands… where Christians face problems overseas, they invariably do so in the context of autocratic rule, repressive policies and war. All of those issues are deeply felt by all in those regions – and that while there are specific challenges faced by minorities, including Christians, it is important to address them within the framework of addressing the lack of fundamental rights writ large. The rights and freedoms of Christians in those areas cannot be segmented away from other citizens living under repressive conditions, and it should be those conditions that define how we as a country respond. If we are selective about which vulnerable groups get our support, the likely end results range from ignoring other groups, to supporting repressive regimes.”

The Guardian stated that the report “will be specifically directed at the persecution of Christians, and not religious minorities in general, reflecting the foreign secretary’s view that since Christianity is the established faith in the UK, it is legitimate for the state resources to be devoted to the review.”

Lord Alton wrote Jeremy Hunt’s promised Foreign Office Review into Persecution will have no credibility if it simply seeks to justify the indifference that led to the mass graves of Nineveh.

Others welcomed the announcement. Ewelina Ochab wrote on “It is noteworthy that in countries where Christians are persecuted, they normally represent a minority group. It is also noticeable, that in many of these countries, other religious minorities are subject to persecution. Addressing the persecution of Christians will also help to address the persecution of other religious groups.”

But she underlined “The challenges faced by Christians around the world, not only those which manifest in mass atrocities, need urgent consideration and action. This independent review takes place very late but represents an important step taken to address the persecution of Christians worldwide, with potential benefit for other religious minorities as a result. Other states, and also international actors should follow in the footsteps of the UK.”

Benedict Rogers wrote on “Hunt’s review of British policy on the persecution of Christians is crucial and courageous…  [it] is extremely welcome. We will see what comes out of the review when the Bishop of Truro, appointed to lead it, reports next Easter. I hope that at a minimum it will lead to the British government being more consistently outspoken, using its diplomatic networks to better defend persecuted Christians, ensuring our aid policy genuinely does not discriminate on religious grounds, for or against any religion, but recognises that faith-based aid groups can be part of the solution, and co-ordinates better with like-minded governments – particularly the United States Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, the EU’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion or Belief and the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief – to ensure that the crisis facing Christians worldwide is no longer ignored.”

In Ireland Michael Kelly was prompted to write his own op ed in the Irish Independent: Persecution of Christians is worse than at any time in history – and Ireland’s silence on it is shameful 

But there was an acidic response from Jules Gomes in FrontPage Magazine, headed Britain’s blindfolded investigation of persecution of Christians, arguing that “government reviews are instruments of inertia, damage control, public relations, virtue signaling, obfuscation and a surrogate for action.”

Having stated that “Britain has done little to help persecuted Christians since the 17th century,” he continued by accusing the current governemt of being itself anti-Christian: “In the first quarter of 2018, Britain refused to give asylum to a single Syrian Christian, but let in 1,112 Syrian Muslims…” He argues that the report is an attempt to draw attention away from the government’s refusal to offer asylum to Asia Bibi, and at odds with the government’s unwillingness to defend Christians facing persecution in the UK.

Foreign Secretary’s speech
Hunt: postcolonial guilt hindering fight against Christian persecution
Christian persecution inquiry not anti-Muslim, says head
The Foreign Office’s toothless review into Christian persecution
Jeremy Hunt hopes for international coalition to tackle poor levels of religious freedom
Terms of Reference
Questions: House of Commons
Questions: House of Lords
Foreign Secretary’s Lent message