There was an “impassioned debate” in the House of Commons about the extent of global anti-Christian persecution.
Aid to the Church in Need reported that during a debate in parliament Tuesday calling on the UK government “to do more both in its foreign policy and through its aid work to defend and support people of Christian faith”, MPs accused front benchers of trying to widen it to a general discussion of human rights.
Following remarks from Mark Simmonds, Under Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, that “we should not be standing up for our co-religionists or Christians in particular,” Tony Baldry, MP for Banbury, stressed that the precarious situation of 200 million Christians required a definite response from government.
He said: “This debate is entitled ‘persecution of Christians’ – with all due respect to my honourable friend, there is a risk of the foreign office not appreciating the real growing concern about the global persecution of Christians.”
Sammy Wilson, MP for East Antrim, detailed some of the problems facing Christians around the world, as he expressed disappointment with the response from the front benches.
He said: “Within the last month, hundreds of people, from Nigeria to Eritrea to Kazakhstan to China, have been arrested and put in prison simply because of their faith, and when they go into prison they are denied due process.
“They are denied access to lawyers, they are sometimes even denied knowledge of the charges facing them, they can languish in prison for a long time and in horrible conditions.
“Any other overseas problem on that scale would have been a priority for the foreign office, yet the minister and the opposition front bench spokesman attempted to widen this topic rather than to zone in on the real issue – which is this is a particular group of people who are being persecuted.”
Shadow foreign office minister, Kerry McCarthy had also broadened the debate to include other groups whose human rights are being denied.
She said: “I do not think that we should start carving up human rights by saying that some abuses are worse than others.
“That would be entirely wrong, because there are countries in which people of other faiths are being persecuted and killed, and we see persecution when we look at violence against women and attacks on LGBT communities.”
Complaining that he did not “detect a sense of burning anger about what is happening to Christians” in the foreign office speech, Edward Leigh, MP for Gainsborough, went on to say MPs should “be angry about any persecution of any religion” – but stressed that the overwhelming number of human right violations are directed at Christians.
He said: “The honourable member for Bristol East [Kerry McCarthy] mentioned that Christians were persecuted in 105 countries, or their human rights were somehow limited, but she immediately tried to be relative – I think that there is a danger of relativism in this debate – and said that there were 101 countries where Muslims had their rights affected.”
He later added, “This debate is not a relative debate about human rights. It is a debate about the persecution of Christians.”
The scale of the issue was described by Jim Shannon, one of the MPs who tabled the motion.
He said: “100,000 Christians will be massacred this year because of their beliefs, 200,000,000 Christians will be persecuted due to their faith, 1.5 billion Christians live in what can be termed as dangerous neighbourhoods – that shows the magnitude of the problem of persecuted Christians.”
Responding to the speeches of his fellow parliamentarians, Mark Simmons called it an “impassioned debate outlining many of the horrors and persecutions suffered by Christians around the world”.
The debate, which closed with the house adopting the motion, was informed by research from various bodies, including Aid to the Church in Need’s recent Persecuted and Forgotten? report, which was cited by Angie Bray, MP for Ealing Central and Acton.
Nigel Dodds, MP for Belfast North, said: “I pay tribute to the organisations that are doing their level best to highlight what is going on. Open Doors, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the Barnabas Fund and Aid to the Church in Need are just some of the organisations that highlight the persecution of Christians.”