Cardinal Keith O’Brien and Britain’s anti-Christian Foreign Policy

I’ve never had the privilege of meeting Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the Head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, but by all accounts he is a learned and spiritual man. His comments yesterday criticising British aid policy to Pakistan therefore need serious reflection.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien

The Cardinal is reported as saying:

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. 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.

Following the recent murder of Shabaz Bhatti, Pakistan’s Catholic Minister for Religious Minorities, the Cardinal’s comments are entirely understandable. They reflect the deep seated and widely felt dismay at the perilous position experienced by Pakistan’s Christian community. Today’s report in the Guardian that a Christian fighting blasphemy conviction has died in a Pakistani jail only heightens the sense of disquiet. No one would seriously disagree that Pakistan’s Government shouldn’t be doing more to ensure that religious freedom is upheld.

Shabaz Bhatti

It is another thing entirely though to advocate that Britain’s aid to Pakistan should be conditional on such efforts or that Britain’s failure to do so is somehow tantamount to an anti-Christian foreign policy. It is unclear whether the Cardinal’s frustration got the better of him or whether these comments reflect his considered position and that of the Church he leads.

To attach such religious conditionality at a time when Pakistan is at serious and imminent risk of becoming a failed state makes little sense. The priority at this particular moment must surely be to help the government of Pakistan starve of collapse. Building peace and stability accross the region and making democracy stick by improving good governance and strengthening democratic principles and the rule of law is core to this task. A Pakistan that descends further into chaos threatens everyone not least Pakistan’s Christian minority.

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4 Responses to Cardinal Keith O’Brien and Britain’s anti-Christian Foreign Policy

  1. c2drl says:

    I’m not sure that giving unconditional aid because a failed state threatens the west is either unconditional or loving either. Aid given to achieve political ends, such as propping up a failing and morally corrupt government may be valid, but it isn’t really doing much for then people and isn’t unconditional. If the need for propping uop changes or if the government can no longer be propped up the aid would cease. Aid to assist regime change isn’t unconditional either so I think we are falling into the same trap as the Cardinal, a trap that is all to evident in the world today – aid is “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine”. Now where does it say that about love in the bible.

    • Quite agree that we shouldnt be using aid to prop up corrupt governments which is why I’m encouraged that DfID appear to be focusing their efforts on encouraging good governance and the rule of law. This should in theory at least benefit all Pakistan.

  2. Heather Martin says:

    I agree that I felt some disquiet at the Cardinal’s linkage of aid with foreign policy.
    Pakistan has struggled in all areas and we are quick to forget that the country is still trying to recover from devastating floods. It is also involved in conflict with armed extremists too.
    However, it should not mean that we as a nation and a Church (all denominations) shouldn’t voice our concerns for the lack of democracy and human rights that is prevalent in Pakistan’s laws and governance.
    Cardinal O’Brien has at least given some media coverage of a problem that isn’t going to go away and encouraged Christians to voice their concerns via petitions to the government of Pakistan as well as our own.

    • Thanks Heather – Entirely agree with you. The fragile and precarious situation of many christians overseas is a matter of concern and is rightly a priority for the Church. We can and should be doing more to draw political and public attention to the issue. Like you, however, I am not sure that conditionality in aid is the way forward. I also think that in the case of Pakistan the situation affecting the Christain community is a symptomatic of a wider problem that needs to be addressed. In this case I think DfID have got their approach right.

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