Worldwide religious freedom should be a priority of American foreign policy, and the White House just gave a hopeful sign that it will be.
Open Doors USA reports that last year was the worst year on record for global religious persecution. Before that, the worst year was 2015, and before that, 2014. One report by the Center for Studies on New Religions put the range of Christians killed for their faith last year in the tens of thousands, and concluded that as many as 600 million were prevented from practicing their faith through “intimidation, forced conversions, bodily harm or even death.”
In other words, persecution is at historic levels and getting worse. Despite North Korea topping the list of offenders for several years running now, Islamic countries still account for nearly all major persecution of Christians. With the continuing Syrian civil war, the aggression of ISIS throughout much of the Middle East, and growing suspicion toward refugees in Europe and the United States, some of the world’s oldest Christian communities are simply going extinct.
So, given U.S. influence in the region over the past decade and a half, having someone in Washington to speak for persecuted religious minorities isn’t just a nice gesture. It’s our duty.
That’s why I was thrilled last week to hear that President Trump had tapped Kansas Governor Sam Brownback to head the Office of International Religious Freedom at the State Department. This post has been vacant for far too long, and filling it with the right person was crucial.
And I agree with President Trump that Governor Brownback is the man for the job. His deep personal faith has shown up in concern for the persecuted for quite some time. When he was on Capitol Hill, he helped craft legislation that created the Office of International Religious Freedom back in 1998. And as a consistent ally of religious freedom here in the states, he’s a strong choice to help safeguard it abroad.
This is also an encouraging signal from the White House, where attitudes on religious freedom have been mixed. I’ll be honest: When I, along with a roomful of other Christian leaders, met with then-candidate Trump during last year’s campaign to talk about religious liberty, I didn’t get the sense that this was his issue.
Governor Brownback’s nomination is a confidence booster for those of us who see the lives and welfare of Christians and other religious minorities as a top-tier issue. I hope the senate will quickly confirm him to this position—a vital one that’s spent more time vacant than filled in the last few years.
Let me give one more reason the U.S. needs to be a voice on this issue: because no other government is speaking up for the victims of religious persecution, internationally. No other country has an ambassador for religious freedom, and frankly, a lot of majority secular countries don’t seem to care.
Religious freedom is a unique part of the U. S.’s national heritage—it’s at the core of who we are and always have been as a nation, all the way back to our founding. From William Penn and Roger Williams, to Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, religious freedom has always been important to Americans, even when we haven’t upheld it perfectly. If we aren’t speaking for those persecuted for their faith, who will?
As Governor Brownback tweeted upon accepting the nomination, “Religious Freedom is the first freedom. The choice of what you do with your soul.” Persecuted minorities, especially Christians, need the space to live out their convictions, not just in private, but in public.
They shouldn’t have to worship or live in fear because of the Name they profess. It’s what our Constitution guarantees for us, and it’s what we should want for those facing persecution around the world.
Protecting religious minorities isn’t a partisan issue. So please, write your senators and urge them to quickly confirm Governor Brownback.
Brownback Tapped as Religious Freedom Ambassador: An Advocate for the Persecuted
Read more about Governor Brownback’s advocacy on behalf of religious freedom. Click on the links in our “Resources” section.