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by Paul Goodman

I'm fascinated by dogs that don't bark in the Chamber – in other words, subjects that aren't raised or points which aren't made: indications that there are matters MPs want to avoid, or truths that they don't want to face up to (a characteristic that they share with the rest of us).

No less compelling is the profile of points which are made.  The Commons can be a barometer of national opinion, however unsteadily.  An issue which at one time doesn't show up at all can come forward quite prominently, as circumstances or fashion change.

Here's an example yesterday from Church Commissioners' questions, which will attract less attention from the sketchwriters today than Nick Clegg doing his regular stint a bit earlier.

"Rehman Chishti (Gillingham and Rainham) (Con): What representations the Church Commissioners have made in support of Christians in Pakistan.

The Second Church Estates Commissioner (Tony Baldry): It is a sad and terrible fact that Christian minorities who have lived peacefully in Muslim countries for generations are finding themselves subject to increasingly violent persecution. Churches have recently been attacked in Egypt, Iraq and Nigeria, and the assassination in Pakistan of Salmaan Taseer for defending a Christian woman who had been sentenced to death was particularly horrible. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Bishop of Lahore and, indeed, the Christian community as a whole in Pakistan are working hard to foster inter-faith collaboration in Pakistan during this time of difficulty.

Rehman Chishti: Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the former assassinated Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, for the work that he did on this particular issue? Will my hon. Friend ensure that representations are made to the Government of Pakistan to ensure that the excellent work of Governor Taseer can continue?

Tony Baldry: Salmaan Taseer was an incredibly brave man and his death is a tragedy for Pakistan. We would all do well to remember the words of Jinnah, the father of Pakistan, who said in terms that

    "you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship".

What I suspect every Member of this House hopes for is that there shall be freedom of religion throughout the world, and I am sure that, as a Chamber, we will continue to campaign for that wherever we have the opportunity."

A one-off?  No, here we are a moment later – 

Fiona Bruce (Congleton) (Con): What steps the Church Commissioners are taking to help support Christians in Sudan. [33920]

Tony Baldry: The Church of England supports the Episcopal Church of Sudan. The dioceses of Bradford and Salisbury have diocesan links to Sudan and have done great work in the region to support the Christian community, as has Christian Aid.

Fiona Bruce: I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. It looks as though there will be a new state of Southern Sudan, but it will face enormous challenges. Meanwhile, Christian minorities in the north of Sudan will face continued persecution, as organisations such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide have highlighted during many years of work across Sudan. Will the Church of England do what it can to support and protect Christians and other minorities in the north of Sudan, while also helping, where appropriate, in Southern Sudan?

Tony Baldry: My hon. Friend is absolutely right about this. Minority groups in northern Sudan have faced persecution, which is one of the many problems facing people in the region. Most southern Sudanese live on less than $1 a day, the country has almost no infrastructure-there are just 38 miles of tarmacked road in an area the size of France-and people are traumatised by years of rape and killings. I am sure that the Church of England and non-governmental organisations such as Christian Aid and Christian Solidarity Worldwide will give the people of Southern Sudan all possible support. Indeed, it behoves all of us to do what we can to support what may soon be the newest member of the United Nations as it sets out on the challenging road of nationhood.

My sense is that there's an emerging awareness of the plight of Christians abroad, which until very recently has largely been confined to the Churches.

The terms of traffic between Christians and Muslims aren't all one way – read Peter Oborne's report from Nigeria.  But religious freedom for Christians in Muslim-majority countries is clearly a growing concern.

At one time, Church Commissioner questions were restricted to enquiries about the sale of ecclestiastical property or the status of women priests.

No longer.

38 comments for: Rehman Chisti and Fiona Bruce raise the persecution of Christians abroad

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