In Church Commissioner's Questions this week (the opportunity MPs have to ask any question about the church in parliament), the topic of Christian persecution worldwide was raised by several MPs seeking to know what the Church is doing to help.
Andrew Selous MP, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, whose job it is to reply on behalf on the Church of England, received questions on what the Archbishop of Canterbury will be doing on his sabbatical this summer and questions about funding for church repairs. However, a number of MPs wanted to know about religious freedom.
The Prime Minister's Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion and Belief, Fiona Bruce MP, asked about whether the Church of England is trying to intervene and help in countries where people are persecuted for their faith.
Andrew Selous replied: "The Church of England has regular meetings with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office about countries where people are persecuted for their faith or belief, so that our Government can raise these vital issues with the Governments of the countries concerned. The Church also engages with our heads of mission, civil society groups and, where possible, with the foreign Governments in question."
She followed it up by asking if the Church of England is doing anything to inform young people on the issue of freedom of religion, saying: "Some 83% of the world’s population live in countries where freedom of religion or belief is not adequately respected. This freedom is essential for societies to secure democratic freedoms, economic development and peace, yet many people, including young people, are unaware of its importance. What is the Church of England doing to help to educate young people about the importance of freedom of religion or belief for all?"
Andrew Selous said: "We are working with schools in the Gambia and, indeed, in Pakistan and Bangladesh to do exactly that, to help young people be advocates for freedom of religion or belief in their schools, families and communities."
The MP Rob Butler raised concerns about Christian charities in India being forbidden from receiving funds from overseas, amid reports of persecution based on faith. He said: "such organisations often help some of the most vulnerable people in Indian society, so will my hon. Friend tell me what steps the Church of England is taking to help Christian charities and to stop faith-based persecution, both in India and elsewhere?"
The Second Church Estates Commissioner encouraged Mr Butler to visit the country and said pressure from outside might make the sitaution worse, saying the FCDO should simply make the Indian Government aware of the impact of such restrictions on Indian citizens.