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Pray for new Govt freedom of religion group to change hearts and minds, says Bishop of Truro

by Cara Bentley

A new group, which will meet throughout the year to discuss the progress of freedom of religion in the world, needs prayer according to its Chair. 

The Government is commissioning a UK Freedom of Religion and Belief Forum "to ensure that the UK plays a leading role in global efforts to advance religious freedom or belief around the world". 

The Forum is due to start in September and will raise awareness of religious intolerance and discrimination across the globe. 

The Bishop of Truro, Rt Rev Philip Mounstephen, who wrote the report of the the Foreign Office's response to Christian persecution last year, will chair the forum and told Premier this will need prayer as much as the report did. 

"I honestly believe that it was only through the prayers of God's people that we managed to land the report in the way that we did. I have to say, with days to go before we were due to deliver it, I was very uncertain, I thought we might end up with considerable amounts of egg on our face but we didn't. We delivered something that was substantial. 

"But that wasn't the end of it, then the Foreign Office said they'd accept the recommendations in full and then the Government as a whole said they'd accept the recommendations in full and that again, I think, was an answer to prayer. That was a result of a lot of people getting on their knees and asking for God's favour and God's help with this. There was a following wind of the Spirit and I'd just encourage people to continue to pray that the wind of the Spirit blows and fills the sails of this initiative and gives it some reach and the ability to change hearts and minds where they need to be changed."

The Freedom of Religion and Belief (FoRB) forum will have other faith leaders on it, as well as non-faith representatives from Humanists UK, as it will aim to protect the rights of people not to have a religion nor be forcibly converted as well. 

The group will have regular roundtable meetings and Bishop Philip will lead it for the first year, after which he doesn't want it to be "seen as a Christian initiative or an Anglican initiative." It will also check the Government's progress on the report recommendations after three years. 

Eleven out of the 22 recommendations have been enacted or are in the process of being so according to the Foreign Office and the bishop praised Rehman Chishti MP, the Prime Minister's Special Envoy, saying he "has really approached this with a significant amount of energy and commitment, and he's been doing a lot of networking with international partners on it."

Speaking of what he would like the group to acheive, he said: "The report said that this needs to be put front and centre of the UK's approach to foreign policy and one of the implications of that is saying 'we will not do trade at any price, we will call out abuses even if that is costly for us to do so'. And that's a big ask and I really salute the Government for being willing to take that on and to say there are values that we hold as a country that a non-negotiable, and that's absolutely right."

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