As the Bishop of Truro’s local MP, I am pleased to be able to speak in this debate in support of his excellent report. It has become a custom in this House to give a voice to the voiceless. This enables us to ground our debate in the real-life experiences of our constituents and draw on their expertise. I want to use the short time I have available today to give voice to the Bishop himself, as he cannot speak in this debate. I had planned to read out his personal introduction to his report, but time allows me to refer only to a few extracts from the six reasons for the review.
First, to understand why the review is justified we have to appreciate that today the Christian faith is primarily a phenomenon of the global south, and that it is therefore primarily a phenomenon of the global poor. Western voices that are quick to speak up for the world’s poor cannot afford to be blind to this issue. Secondly, this particular focus is justified because Christian persecution, like no other, is a global phenomenon. Thus Christian persecution is not limited to one context or challenge. Thirdly, Christian persecution is a human rights issue and should be seen as such. Freedom of religion or belief is perhaps the most fundamental human right, because so many others depend on it. If freedom of religion or belief is removed, so many other rights are put in jeopardy too.
Fourthly, this is not about special pleading for Christians, but about making up a significant deficit. In that sense it is an equality issue. If one minority is on the receiving end of 80% of religiously motivated discrimination, it is simply unjust that that minority should receive so little attention. Fifthly, this is also about being sensitive to discrimination against, and persecution of, all minorities. Because the Christian faith is perhaps the one truly global faith, it has become a bellwether for repression more generally. Renewing the focus on Christian persecution is therefore a way of expressing our concern for all minorities who find themselves under pressure.
Finally, historically and theologically, the Christian faith has always been subversive. “Jesus is Lord” is the earliest Christian creed, and those were not empty words. Rather, they explain why the Christian faith attracted persecution from the earliest days. To say “Jesus is Lord” was to say that Caesar was not the Lord, as he claimed to be, so from its earliest days the Christian faith presented a radical challenge to any power that made absolute claims for itself. The Christian faith should make no absolutist political claims for itself, but it will always challenge those who do. Indeed, the Christian faith’s inherent challenge to absolutist claims explains why it has been such a key foundation stone of western democratic government, and why we should continue to support it vigorously wherever it is under threat. The focus of the review’s recommendations is clearly on guaranteeing freedom of religion or belief for all, irrespective of faith, tradition or belief system, and taking full account of the scale, scope and severity of its abuse in various contexts. We must seek freedom of religion or belief for all, without fear or favour. That is something that the whole House can agree on, and I very much support the motion.