On Monday, September 23, 2019, President Donald Trump delivered a historic address at the United Nations on the issue of religious freedom. Because his message was largely ignored by the mainstream—and Christian!—media, I am posting an excerpt below. I think you will feel the passion of the President's words and intent. What you will read here is administration policy.
The United States is founded on the principle that our rights do not come from government; they come from God. This immortal truth is proclaimed in our Declaration of Independence and enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution's Bill of Rights. Our founders understood that no right is more fundamental to a peaceful, prosperous, and virtuous society than the right to follow one's religious convictions.
Regrettably, the religious freedom enjoyed by American citizens is rare in the world. Approximately 80 percent of the world's population live in countries where religious liberty is threatened, restricted, or even banned...
As we speak, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Yazidis, and many other people of faith are being jailed, sanctioned, tortured, and even murdered, often at the hands of their own government, simply for expressing their deeply held religious beliefs. So hard to believe.
Today, with one clear voice, the United States of America calls upon the nations of the world to end religious persecution.
To stop the crimes against people of faith, release prisoners of conscience, repeal laws restricting freedom of religion and belief, protect the vulnerable, the defenseless, and the oppressed, America stands with believers in every country who ask only for the freedom to live according to the faith that is within their own hearts.
Today, I ask all nations to join us in this urgent moral duty. We ask the governments of the world to honor the eternal right of every person to follow their conscience, live by their faith, and give glory to God. The United States has a vital role in this critical mission.1
This is a clarion call for religious freedom. The President clearly recognizes that we are facing an epidemic of religious persecution worldwide, unlike anything seen in modern history.2 Every day, men, women, and children are being kidnapped, raped, imprisoned, and murdered because of their faith. While this persecution impacts people of all religions, we should not be surprised that Christians are the primary victims of these attacks. A recent report prepared for the British government found that an estimated 80 percent of this persecution is being perpetrated on followers of Christ.3 Indeed, this report found that religious oppression is occurring in 144 countries, and that it was "arguably coming close to meeting the international definition of genocide."4 It further notes that "in parts of the Middle East....Christianity is at risk of disappearing."5
Let that sink in for a moment.
It is natural for us to focus our attention on the situation at hand in the United States. People with religious convictions are increasingly being told to keep their beliefs to themselves and out of the public square. The faith of their children is being undermined in the classrooms, and predictably, young adults who are raised in that hostile environment are walking away from God in record numbers. Hopelessness is pervasive, and our society is reeling from the opioid crisis, mass shootings, fatherlessness, divorce, and so much more. It is distressing to comprehend. Yet, we continue to pray that our nation will regain its moral compass, and that people of faith will speak for truth in their communities. There is still an opportunity for us to return to our first principles. We have a voice, and we must use it.
Many victimized Christians abroad have no such voice. Do you recall the tragic attack on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, that occurred in March of this year? Or a few weeks later when more than 200 Christians were murdered in Nigeria?6 Nearly 300 people were killed in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday, when Islamic extremists carried out a series of bombings at churches and hotels in Colombo.7 Did you hear that eight Christian women were taken hostage in Cameroon by Boko Haram militants? They cut off one ear of each woman before releasing them.8 And just weeks ago, in August, a Bible translator, also in Cameroon, was butchered to death with a machete.9
Believers throughout the world are confronted with the loss of their homes and personal possessions, imprisonment, physical torture, beheadings, rape, and even death, all because of their identification with Christ.10
How can we remain silent? Every month:
• 255 Christians are killed
• 104 are abducted
• 180 Christian women are raped, sexually harassed, or forced into marriage
• 66 churches are attacked
• 160 Christians are detained without trial and imprisoned11
These are not just statistics. They represent individual followers of Christ—husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, children, and friends.
Consider the situation in Nigeria, where Christians are presently facing annihilation by ISIS-affiliated groups. The population of Nigeria is almost evenly divided between Muslims and Christians, with the northern region of the country predominantly Muslim and the eastern and southern areas heavily Christian.12 The "Middle Belt" of this area is ethnically and religiously diverse and has been targeted for "religious cleansing" in an effort to eradicate Christianity from the region.13 In the furtherance of this effort, Boko Haram has killed thousands and displaced countless more in northern Nigeria.14 Indeed, the Christian Association of Nigeria reports that as many as 6,000 Christians were murdered in the Middle Belt during a six month period in 2018.15 In 2014, 276 girls were abducted from their secondary school in the northeast Nigerian town of Chibok. More than five years later, 112 are still missing.16 They are likely to have been murdered or sold into sex slavery. These atrocities are almost incomprehensible.
In North Korea, Open Doors USA reports that those identified as Christians are usually arrested by the police.17 Their spouses, children, and parents may also be taken into custody and suffer guilt by association.18 Once arrested, Christians are locked in small and overcrowded cells, interrogated for hours, or subjected to torture.19 They are not afforded a fair trial, but are simply transferred to political labor camps.20 There they are forced to work 10 to 12 hours a day, receiving barely enough food to survive.21 This treatment is reminiscent of the Nazi death camps of World War II.22
Let me say again that very little is published or reported about the brutalities committed against Christians every day. Have you heard their stories? Do you pray for the families of martyrs who die for their faith? Their plight is desperate!
But there is hope.
Over the last 18 months, America has taken an active role in promoting religious freedom and demanding an end to persecution around the world. The President's address given at the United Nations last month was part of a broad effort within his administration to advance this cause. In July 2017, he nominated former Senator Sam Brownback to serve as the State Department's ambassador at large for international religious freedom. His mission is to lead the charge to "monitor religious persecution and discrimination worldwide, recommend and implement policies in respective regions or countries, and develop programs to promote religious freedom."23 Here is what Ambassador Brownback said about the "core objective" of U.S. foreign policy:
The Trump administration has done exactly what it promised to do about making religious freedom a top foreign policy priority, and it is. We've jumped off the sidelines to fight for people of all faiths.
This is because we believe there is no more important time for the United States to promote religious freedom than now. We will not stop until we see the iron curtain of religious persecution come down; until governments no longer detain and torture people for simply being of a particular faith or associated with it; until people are no longer charged and prosecuted on specious charges of blasphemy; until the world no longer believes it can get away with persecuting anyone of any faith without consequences. We will not stop.24
Ambassador Brownback's inspirational words reflect the State Department's broader commitment to this issue. Indeed, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo confirmed this in no uncertain terms:
The protection of religious freedom is central to the Trump administration's foreign policy, and protecting this human right is an essential part of who we are as Americans.25
Accordingly, in 2018, Secretary Pompeo launched the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, an initiative designed to bring together "leaders from around to world to discuss the challenges facing religious freedom, identify means to address religious persecution and discrimination worldwide, and promote greater respect and preservation of religious liberty for all."26
The 2018 Ministerial was a groundbreaking event that brought together "hundreds of government officials, international organization representatives, religious leaders, civil society actors, and victims of religious persecution."27 This gathering led to "a declaration and plan of action, new programs to respond to persecution and promote religious freedom abroad, and a commitment to hold a second ministerial in 2019."28 This summer, Secretary Pompeo hosted the second ministerial and invited more than 1,000 civil society and religious leaders and 100 foreign delegations to participate.29 This "marked the first time a Secretary of State has convened back-to-back Ministerials on the same human rights issue."30
The administration has laid down the gauntlet, but the effort to advance religious freedom is not simply a governmental initiative. Each of us must embrace our responsibility to advance and defend it. What are we willing to do to ease the suffering of countless human beings, each made in the image of God? The Holocaust and its genocide of Jews serve to remind us of the unrelenting evil that will result if we do not intercede. Remember the words of Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel:
I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.31
First, we must support governmental initiatives that promote religious liberty for oppressed people around the world. President Donald Trump's speech at the United Nations was a powerful expression of that concern. We should let the President know that we stand with him in this defense of human dignity and liberty.
Second, we must bow in earnest prayer for our brothers and sisters in Christ, crying out to the Lord for their deliverance. Matthew 16:18 says, "The gates of hell shall not prevail against His church." Surely those being persecuted must feel they are contending with the forces of evil; yet, the powers of Hell will not prevail against followers of Christ.
Third, those prayers must drive us toward action. I urge you to learn more about and support the ministries that are actively serving on the frontline of this battle, including Samaritan's Purse, Voice of the Martyrs, Open Doors USA, and others. We must speak out on behalf of believers who are experiencing persecution around the globe.
Fourth, if America is to continue being a worldwide voice for freedom, it must also protect freedom within our own borders. Christians can no longer sit on the sidelines when our own constitutional freedoms are threatened. There are powerful political forces in America that are working through the courts and legislatures to limit our rights. Will we watch passively as they are taken from us? Or will we boldly stand in defense of freedom?
We choose to stand. Those of us at JDFI are willing to suffer, if necessary, to defend what we know is right. We will speak the truth in love, even though it brings ridicule and disdain. Our charge is not to seek the approval of man, but to defend righteousness in our great nation.
Will you help us oppose the persecution of people of faith and defend religious freedom? If we speak with one voice and pray fervently to our God, we will be heard.
We pray that the Lord will give us the strength to persevere in these dark days. As the Apostle Paul wrote, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up" (Galatians 6:9).
7. NewYorkTimes.com; NewsWeek.com
27. uscirf.gov, p. 9
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