By Jack Doyle, Associate Editor for The Daily Mail –
Christians are ‘by far the most persecuted’ religious group and are enduring what amounts to genocide in some parts of the world, a report concluded.
They are being driven out of the Middle East in a modern-day exodus that means the religion could be wiped out in parts ‘where its roots go back furthest’, the study commissioned by the Foreign Office found.
And the report by the Bishop of Truro, the Right Rev Philip Mounstephen, found ‘shocking’ evidence that the persecution is worse today than ever.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt last night blamed ‘political correctness’ for a failure to confront the oppression of Christians, which he called the ‘forgotten persecution’.
Mr Hunt said he would use Britain’s diplomatic influence to defend Christians where they were under attack for their faith, and admitted the problem was sometimes neglected due to ‘misplaced worry’ that confronting it would be interpreted as ‘colonialist’.
The bishop said the study found Christians are ‘harassed’ in more countries than any other religious group, and especially in predominantly Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa. His report found 245million Christians now suffer ‘high levels of persecution’ in 50 countries, a rise of 30million year on year.
In particular, they have been attacked by extremist groups in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, north-eastern Nigeria and the Philippines, as well as in India and China. He added that the Middle East is witnessing the ‘decimation of some of the faith group’s oldest and most enduring communities’ and called for ‘urgent government support’.
A final version of the inquiry, commissioned by Mr Hunt last year, will be released this summer and will cover the Easter Sunday massacre in Sri Lanka.
Speaking in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa during his five-day tour of Africa, Mr Hunt – who is a committed Christian – said: ‘I think we’ve all been asleep on the watch when it comes to the persecution of Christians.
‘I think we have shied away from talking about Christian persecution because we are a Christian country and we have a colonial past.
‘I think it is partly because of political correctness we have avoided confronting this issue. I think there is a misplaced worry that it is colonialist to talk about a religion that was associated with colonial powers.’
Dr Mounstephen said: ‘Through my previous experience… I was aware of the terrible reality of persecution. But to be honest in preparing this report, I’ve been truly shocked by the severity, scale and scope of the problem.
‘It forces us in the West to ask ourselves some hard questions, not the least of which is this: Why have we been so blind to this situation for so long?’
He said it is ‘ironic’ that ‘Western secularists, Islamic extremists and authoritarian regimes’ share the same misconception that Christianity is ‘an expression of white, Western privilege’, arguing: ‘In fact, Christianity is primarily a phenomenon of the global South and the global poor.’
Dr Mounstephen added that climate change, along with denying the right to religious belief, are the biggest ‘existential, global threats to human flourishing’. He said: ‘We are quite rightly becoming sensitised to the former. We must urgently attend to the latter.’
He said: ‘Taking this issue seriously will allow the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to do its job better because it impinges on key issues such as trade, security and gender equality.’