Is UK foreign aid policy ‘anti-Christian’?


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Scottish Roman Catholic cardinal Keith O’Brien has accused the UK government of operating an “anti-Christian foreign policy” according to a report published on the BBC News website.

O’Brien has attacked plans to increase aid to Pakistan to more than £445m, without any commitment to religious freedom for Christians.

Speaking in Glasgow, O’Brien called on Foreign Secretary William Hague to seek human rights guarantees from governments of recipient countries.  The backdrop to this is the release of a report by ‘Aid to the Church in Need’ which suggested 75% of religious persecution around the world was directed against Christians.  In referring to the recent assassination of Pakistan’s minister of minority affairs and sole Christian member of the cabinet, Shahbaz Bhatti, O’Brien is reported as saying that ‘to increase aid to the Pakistan government when religious freedom is not upheld and those who speak up for religious freedom are gunned down is tantamount to an anti-Christian foreign policy.

He continued: “pressure should now be put on the government of Pakistan – and the governments of the Arab world as well – to ensure that religious freedom is upheld, the provision of aid must require a commitment to human rights.”  O’Brien concluded: “we ask that the religious freedoms we enjoy to practise our faith, will soon be extended to every part of the world and that the tolerance we show to other faiths in our midst will be reciprocated everywhere.” 

You can read the full story for yourself here:

Cardinal O’Brien is often outspoken on issues of social justice and he’s not afraid to court controversy.  Although I don’t always agree with what he says publicly, I admire his forthrightness and the fact that he stands up for what he believes in.  If only more Christians would do the same!

And it does seem to me that he has a point here.  Although I would contend that the government is not being consciously anti-Christian, the situation in Pakistan for minority religions is, as O’Brien says, utterly unacceptable.  But so too is the grinding poverty that many ordinary people find themselves in; if this aid was withdrawn, what effect would this have on the material wellbeing of the voiceless and the marginalised?  It’s a complicated situation.  

O’Brien’s talent for hyperbole is yet again grabbing the headlines; let’s hope that it sparks some sensible debate and prompts the government to take its oft-vaunted ‘ethical foreign policy’ more seriously.  It has a duty to us all to do so.

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