Following the horrendous bomb attacks on hotels, churches and Christian worshippers in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, I am sure the thoughts and prayers of everyone in South Shropshire are with the victims and their families. As with the attack in Manchester almost two years ago, the barbarity of such senseless violence on ordinary people, and in this case on many of those who were peacefully observing their faith, is truly abhorrent.
Sadly, the persecution of Christians around the world is more commonplace than we might think. Nearly a quarter of a billion people are suffering persecution today because of their Christian faith. In fact, 80 per cent of people who suffer persecution because of their faith, are Christian.
This is an issue of great concern, raised by the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, who acted earlier this year to boost the UK's role as a defender of Christians facing persecution overseas. As part of this renewed focus, he asked the Bishop of Truro to conduct an independent review into the UK's response to the persecution of Christians abroad.
The Bishop’s initial report to the Foreign Secretary is expected by the end of this month. This timely review is expected to focus on findings from a wide range of evidence presented to the Bishop, including from survivors and victims, Church groups, civil society institutions, the diplomatic community, governmental and multilateral entities.
The review’s starting point is to map levels of persecution against Christians in key countries around the world. Last weekend’s devastation in Sri Lanka marks a depressingly dangerous spread of murderous discrimination.
In the meantime the UK has played a leading role in bringing together other countries that share our values and giving a voice to those suffering persecution in countries that do not. The Church of England as leader of the Anglican communion also meets the Foreign & Commonwealth Office regularly to discuss freedom of religion and belief across the world.
But the outcome of this review should demonstrate the need for the FCO to do more and better stand up for those oppressed by religious intolerance.
It is right that Britain should take a leading role in combatting the persecution of Christians worldwide, using our considerable influence to ensure people around the world can participate in worship if they choose, without fear of reprisal or persecution