The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has said she believes Christianity should be celebrated and that it has an important role in making Britain a country that works for everyone.
Speaking at Downing Street reception for religious leaders on Shrove Tuesday, she explained how growing up in a vicarage shaped her upbringing as she witnessed first-hand the “many sacrifices involved and the hard work that so many of you do.”
Among those present were the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols and the Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, who is standing down after more than 20 years.
Mrs May’s anecdotal reference to her own religious background, if brief, is in contrast to the reluctance of some recent occupants of Number 10 to broach the subject of religion. Tony Blair’s Director of Communications, Alistair Campbell, once famously remarked: “We don’t do God.”
The Prime Minister said: “It is right that we should celebrate the role of Christianity in our country. We have a very strong tradition in this country of religious tolerance and freedom of speech, and our Christian heritage is something we can all be proud of. We must continue to ensure that people feel able to speak about their faith, and that absolutely includes their faith in Christ.”
She added that: “I also believe that Christianity has an important role to play in making Britain a country that works for everyone." While the Church and Government will not always agree, Mrs May said there are many areas where they can work together.
One of these is in addressing the persecution of Christians and religious minorities around the world. Millions of Christians in Africa and the Middle East have been forced to flee their homes and there is a pattern of rising religious intolerance across the Indian sub-continent according to Open Doors, a charity that monitors religiously motivated violence and discrimination.
“It is hard to comprehend that today people are still being attacked and murdered because of their Christianity. We must reaffirm our determination to stand up for the freedom of people of all religions to practice their beliefs in peace and safety,” the Prime Minister said.
She added that she hoped to take further measures as a Government to support this.
And in a concluding thought, Mrs May said: “In the weeks ahead, as we look beyond Ash Wednesday to Easter, let us draw confidence in our Christian faith. And let us renew our determination to work together in the service of others.”
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