Europe and Eurasia: Remarks at Beginning of Religious Freedom Roundtable


Michael R. Pompeo

Secretary of State

United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, and Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
Lambeth Palace
London, United Kingdom
May 8, 2019

ARCHBISHOP WELBY: I know we are under some considerable time pressure, and I’ll move round, and then as we go around, we’ll make introductions as we go around. I’d like to start by formally conveying a warm welcome, if a rather brief one, to our visitors at Lambeth, especially to you, Mr. Secretary. The Archbishops of Canterbury have been here for about 800 years, and I think this is the first time that we have had the privilege of welcoming a U.S. secretary of state, so it’s a big first for us.

I am very grateful, too, to have the Foreign Secretary here as well as the Secretary of State, and particularly would like to mention our gratitude to the Foreign Secretary for commissioning the independent report on the persecution of Christians around the world by the Bishop of Truro, which came out last week and was really quite shocking in many ways. And 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 have pushed it forward very hard, Mr. Secretary. We welcome that very warmly.

We are also concerned – and this is part, very much part, of the Anglican tradition going back many generations – that in this country we work very closely together with other denominations and other faiths, and in a sense have – we are an umbrella for the different faith communities here. And that starts from the Christian belief that we are all made in the image of God, that Christ died for all, that we belong and are precious to God – every one of us.

One of the things as Archbishop of Canterbury and a denomination that’s in 165 countries with 85 million people, and the average Anglican is a woman in Sub-Saharan Africa in her 30s on less than $4 a day and probably in a zone of persecution or conflict, is that we see both the struggles of the Church in some parts of the world, the rich parts very often, but the vibrancy and the development of the Church in the global south particularly.

And that is something that brings me to the two concerns that I would like to put before you, and then we’ll move round to you and then to the Foreign Secretary. One of the things we are concerned about is that foreign policy takes into account the impact and the importance of freedom of religion and belief. We have valued and essential foreign policy links around the world, but as you know better than I do, in some of them, freedom of religion and belief is not accepted. We would like to encourage that, while being culturally sensitive, to say that freedom to worship is an essential part of being a human being.

Secondly, that where the interests of minorities are concerned, foreign interventions can often have very serious long-term consequences, as we’ve seen with the collapse of the Christian population in some parts of the Middle East. We will hear from Archbishop Angaelos, I think, who is Coptic Orthodox, where the Church is flourishing in Egypt, but in many other parts we’ve seen a terrible collapse, I think, if you come from Iraq, where it has been particularly notable in the last 20 years. And we hope that that can be something that can be part of the thinking about the consequences of intervention.

Having said that, I know you are under great time pressure, and it’s the rare thing of brief remarks by an Archbishop, so Mr. Secretary.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you. I’ll do an equally rare feat and make short remarks from a Secretary of State. (Laughter.)

First of all, thank you so much for hosting me in this beautiful place. This is a refreshing journey. Thank you for being with us. Thank you all for joining me this morning as well.

President Trump has made clear that he wants religious freedom to be a central part of what his administration stands for, and so you’ve seen us do that at the American State Department. We’ve held a foreign ministers’ meeting last summer, where we brought in people from all faiths. It was a remarkable event, over 60 countries represented there and many, many religious – people from many, many religious backgrounds, come together to talk about tolerance, faith, and how it is that we can build institutions around that that preserve and protect everyone’s right to worship in the United States. It’s in our Constitution. It’s in the First Amendment, this idea. It’s central to our founding.

We’ll do the ministerial again this summer in the – at the end of the month, and we think this can help every country in the world improve their capacity to allow people to practice their faith in the way they want, or if they don’t want to practice a religion, this should be tolerated, equal as well because as you said, every human being should be treated with the dignity that comes as a result of their (inaudible) created in the image of God.

So thank you, (inaudible) and I look forward to our discussion today.

ARCHBISHOP WELBY: Thank you very much, Mr. Secretary. Foreign Secretary.

FOREIGN SECRETARY HUNT: Well, thank you, Archbishop, and Mike, thank you very much for this – this is a very big program today. The fact that you’ve carved out some time for this is hugely symbolic, very, very important to us.

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. Perhaps now there’s a political preference in there as well, and we want to change that. We strongly support freedom of religious belief. We’re kind of focused on the Christian element of that, which represents about 80 percent of the cases of persecution worldwide, about 245 million people across the world.

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.

And I think from that point of view, the other thing is that a lot of these countries are emerging democracies, and one of the things as more established democracies that we can do is give guidance to politicians not to fan hatred in their countries by fueling religious differences. And this is, I think, an increasing problem that we’re seeing.

So we’re really delighted to have you. Thank you, Mike, for coming.

ARCHBISHOP WELBY: Thank you very much for those remarks, and for those who’ve been listening, 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. And so I think if the press would be kind enough to sit quietly away now, we will continue our roundtable with contributions from the guests from other traditions and (inaudible).