14 July 2021, The Tablet

Aid budget should not be ‘faith-blind’, says bishop

Aid budget should not be ‘faith-blind’, says bishop

Bishop of Truro Philip Mounstephen

The bishop who critiqued the then-Foreign Office’s support for persecuted Christians has emphasised the need for all 22 of his recommendations to be put into practice.

Bishop of Truro Philip Mounstephen was speaking at a webinar to mark the second anniversary of his independent review for the Foreign Secretary of FCO support for persecuted Christians, which was commis- sioned by the then-Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt.

During his remarks, Bishop Mounstephen repeatedly stated the need for all 22 of the review’s recommendations to be implemented by next summer, as the government has promised.

The Tablet understands that there are concerns about the government’s commitment, although a government spokesperson has insisted that it is confident that it will meet its target.

At last Thursday’s webinar, Bishop Mounstephen noted steps the government has taken to engage with Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB). He welcomed a decision by the UK government to host an international ministerial conference on FoRB in London next year, and a decision by the government in early 2020 to become a founder member of the International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance when it was set up in February 2020.

Fiona Bruce MP, the government’s special envoy on FoRB – a role created in response to the review – outlined other steps the government has taken. She said that FoRB “was included in the recent integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy, and is a key part of the Foreign Secretary’s Force for Good agenda”. She added that last month FoRB was mentioned in the G7 leaders’ communique´ for the first time.

However, Coptic Archbishop Angaelos of London criticised the government’s cuts to the foreign aid budget. He said aid given to the most vulnerable “empowers them ... against those who persecute them”.

Meanwhile, Bishop Mounstephen restated his criticism of the government’s long-held mantra that aid should be distributed on the basis of “need not creed ... Because that mantra fails to recognise how creed, or indeed not having a creed, creates very significant need. Being faith-blind means we can simply be blind to injustice, and that is not good enough.”

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