LONDON – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo participated in a religious freedom round table Wednesday morning with a number of faith leaders from the UK and other countries. The meeting took place at Lambeth Palace, the longtime residence of the Arch Bishop of Canterbury.
“I know that this area of freedom of religion and belief has been a priority of American foreign policy for a long time and that you’ve pushed it forward very hard Mr. Secretary,” current Arch Bishop Justin Welby said during his opening remarks. “One of the things we’re concerned about is that foreign policy takes into account the impact and the importance of freedom of religion and belief.”
Welby expressed concerns about the near elimination of Christians in the Middle East. In 2016, the State Department officially declared ISIS was waging genocide against Christians and other minority groups. He also pointed out the growth of the church in a number of third world countries, while lamenting it's decline in rich, western regions.
“President Trump has made clear that he wants religious freedom to be an essential part of what his administration wants to stand for, so you’ve seen us do that at the America State Department,” Pompeo said to a group made up of Christians, Jews and Muslims. “It’s central to our founding.”
According to a number of studies, Christians are currently the most persecuted religious group in the world.
"Christians remain the most persecuted religious group in the world," figures from the Pew Research Center show. "The Centre’s report on religious harassment in 2016 found that Christians were harassed in 144 countries, up from 128 the year before. The Centre reported that the number of countries with 'high' or 'very high' levels of government restrictions on religion also rose, from 25 per cent of countries in 2015 to 28 per cent in 2016: 55 of the 198 countries examined by the research."
“We’re playing a bit of catch up with the United States on this agenda. I think we have shied away from it for all sorts of reasons, [unintelligible] political correctness in there as well and we want to change that. We strongly support freedom of religious belief. We are strongly focused on the Christian element of that which represents about 80 percent of the [[unintelligible] persecution, about 245 million people across the world,” Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said, noting many countries intolerable of religious differences receive aid from the UK and U.S.
"In terms of foreign policy, the area we’d like to work closely with you is that the countries that we know have the biggest problems in this area – places like Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Sudan – are often relationships, are often countries that we have a strong aid relationship with, we have influence. I’m not always sure that we use that influence to push this agenda," Hunt continued.
Welby followed up, saying while the Church believes in being culturally sensitive, freedom of worship “is an essential part of being a human.”
"The issues of freedom of religion and belief are global, they’re generational, and they’re theological. They’re about how we understand human beings," he said.