USPG warmly welcomes the call for greater faith literacy in FCO global engagement
A response to the Bishop of Truro’s Independent review for the Foreign Secretary of FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) Support for Persecuted Christians
We welcome this initiative as an important and timely reminder of Article 18 of the UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights), and that Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) is something that must be sought for all, ‘without fear or favour’. In responding to the Bishop’s invitation for comment, we offer the following points for consideration:
1. Persecution At no point does the report set out a clear definition or understanding of what persecution is considered to be. Within the review the idea of persecution operates as ‘catch-all’ description for a wide range of different experiences in radically different contexts. We are not convinced that use of such a broad category is helpful in advancing an understanding of what members of Christian communities around the world are experiencing. In addition, it is essential that clear distinctions are drawn between the variety of actors involved (states, terrorist groups, other religious traditions) and indeed the different forms of discrimination or harm involved. This is fundamental to deepening understanding and putting the British government in a position to promote FoRB. In addition, whilst some churches and Christians in the Global South may wish to be identified and represented as ‘persecuted’, others will not.
2. Context Whilst mentioning intersectionality, the report is framed by an assumption that there is a basic unity brought about by the sharing of Christian beliefs. In reality, the identity of many Christians is deeply tied to a range of other factors, including ethnicity. Crucially, this is also true in the way that communities are perceived by others. Hence much ‘persecution’ of Christians is not on the basis of their faith, but primarily on the basis of their membership of a particular minority group, of which their Christian faith is a characteristic. There will also be those who claim to be persecuted over minor infringements. It is the perception of the individual. In addition, in some cases, certain Christian groups discriminate against or inflict harm on other Christians.
The concern here is that of not wanting to belittle or degrade understanding of the real suffering and pain those who are persecuted for their belief or identity undergo. That suffering needs to be honoured. We have just witnessed commemorations over the genocides in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Rwanda – one of which was perceived as due to religious identity, and the other tribal. But both were brutal, and the cause of trauma which will last for generations.
3. Colonial past The report mentions an ‘embarrassment’ on the part of the British Christian public over a colonial past as being partly, or wholly, behind a lack of willingness to get involved in standing up for the rights of others – particularly Christians – in other parts of the world. It states that Christians worldwide are identified within the British psyche as either being white, or under a continuing patronage of colonialism. Whilst this may be an accurate assessment of the British mis-understanding of global Christianity, the perceptions of others, including Christians in the Global South, some of whom are the subject of this report, is quite different. They may see Britain, as a nation, that has not yet come to grips with the excesses of its colonial past – not least the wholesale torture and slaughter of populaces. And indeed, much current rhetoric harks back to Empire, without acknowledgement of the accompanying shame.
Britain’s imperial engagement across the world has deeply influenced regional and national politics and affected the complex community dynamics of many faith traditions, not least in the Middle East and Indian subcontinent. This report does not touch on the legacies and entanglements of colonialism or other significant interventions. Yet, in many cases the ways in which minority Christian populations are treated today is deeply connected to this history.
4. Reconciliation For those working with survivors of violent conflict, particularly in the area of reconciliation, the priority is to hear their witness, acknowledge their experience, and discover what reparation would mean for them. This entails a long-term process of listening, and to acknowledge that approach for reconciliation may be rejected. There is deep tension concerning the colonial past, and for many of those in the Global South Christians in the UK continue to represent that past. And this is complicated further by issues surrounding visitors’ visas, immigration and the hostile environment. It affects those working in academia, in business, and within religious organisations – not least the asylum system.
5. Conclusion USPG welcomes this report as the start of a wider conversation and a deeper dialogue. In particular, we strongly commend the initiative to strengthen faith literacy within Government and the FCO in particular. Such faith literacy needs to be highly attentive to understanding faith traditions contextually and to promoting an understanding of their plurality and complexity. Christianity worldwide cannot be understood simply through the lens of British Christianity alone.
In engaging in further conversations with the FCO, USPG would seek to bring in partners from other faiths and across the globe to share their perspectives and their voice to widen the perspective and deepen understanding of this complex issue.
United Society Partners in the Gospel (USPG) is an Anglican mission agency founded in 1701 that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential and champion justice.
The Revd Bonnie Evans-Hills, coordinator, UK Coalition – working with the initiative of the UN Office for Genocide Prevention and the Responsibility to Protect, Global Plan of Action for Religious Leaders & Actors to Prevent Incitement to Violence that could lead to Atrocity Crimes. She is an Associate of USPG.
Contact details: Bonnie.firstname.lastname@example.org
The Revd Duncan Dormor is the General Secretary of USPG
Contact details: email@example.com
Tel: 07523 512869
USPG’s recent communiqué on Church and State produced at its triennial International Consultation, June 2019: