Christians are experiencing persecution so severe in some parts of the world that it amounts to genocide, according to a new report commissioned by the Foreign Office.
It states that Christians in the Middle East have been forced out of their homes en masse over the last 20 years, with many being killed, kidnapped and discriminated against.
Christians in south east Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and east Africa had also been victims of discrimination, the report by the Bishop of Truro, the Right Rev Philip Mounstephen, found.
The report says: “The rise of hate speech against Christians in state media and by religious leaders, especially in countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia, has compromised the safety of Christians and created social intolerance.”
It states that the “inconvenient truth” is that “the overwhelming majority (80%) of persecuted religious believers are Christians”.
It adds: “The level and nature of persecution is arguably coming close to meeting the international definition of genocide, according to that adopted by the UN.”
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt - himself a Christian - described this oppression as the "forgotten persecution", and said that political correctness was to blame for a widespread failure to confront it.
Speaking in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on his week-long visit to Africa, he said: "I think we've all been asleep on the watch when it comes to the persecution of Christians.
"I think we have shied away from talking about Christian persecution because we are a Christian country and we have a colonial past.
"I think it is partly because of political correctness we have avoided confronting this issue. I think there is a misplaced worry that it is colonialist to talk about a religion that was associated with colonial powers."
Dr Mounstephen said he had been "truly shocked by the severity, scale and scope of the problem.
"It forces us in the West to ask ourselves some hard questions, not the least of which is this: Why have we been so blind to this situation for so long?"
A final report based on this review will be published in the summer.