Anti-Christian Persecution: Official Labour Party Response

For many in our local community Easter is not only a time for reflection and prayer but also an opportunity to contemplate the sacrifices made in the struggle to defend faith.

Good Friday is almost upon us but more than 2000 years later, regrettably, sacrifice is once again a part of daily life for millions of Christians around the world today. Christian persecution is once again filling our headlines, dominating our prayers and weighing down our hearts.

2015 has already been a year of real tragedy and suffering. Only this month, suicide bombers attacked two churches in Lahore killing 17 people and setting off a cycle of violence across the city. Those murdered included Christians praying at their place of worship, and those brave volunteer security guards that give up their time, and ultimately their lives, to protect their right to do so.

The Open Doors charity recorded 1,062 churches being attacked in twelve months. Each of these individual tragedies together paints a picture of global suffering that cannot be ignored.

That is why the Archbishop of Canterbury was right to appeal for more to be done. He has called on us all to tackle the climate of fear and animosity that will simply spread further if more is not done. It is our shared task, indeed our shared responsibility to answer the Archbishops call to now “speak out in solidarity” because upholding the dignity of every human being means upholding their right to religious belief.

Today 76 per cent of the world’s population live in countries with high restrictions on religious freedom and the vast majority of those facing persecution are Christians. Christians are subject to violence, intimidation and discrimination in more than 50 countries.

Churches and charities already work tirelessly to amplify the cries of the persecuted. But no one is absolved of the responsibility to speak up. In the face of persecution on this scale, neither ignorance not fear of offence can be an excuse for walking by on the other side in silence.

Pope Francis has warned that “the world seeks to hide” the scale of the suffering. Our shared task is to shed light on this darkest of stories.

Yet, at this time of great peril, I deeply regret that the British Government seems to be stepping back, rather than stepping up. Other governments are showing stronger leadership. The United States and Canada have both appointed international ambassadors for tackling Religious Persecution. The UK, having fallen behind, should now follow suit.

So an incoming Labour Government will appoint a Global Envoy for Religious Freedom, reporting directly to the Foreign Secretary.

The Government should also be doing much more to try and harness the concern, expertise and understanding of faith leaders from across the UK and beyond. So in addition, Labour would establish a multi-faith advisory council on religious freedom within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

So this Easter, together we can strive to realise the promise of the 21st Century as one where we support the building of societies that respect freedom of religion as a universal concern.