April 21, 2017
It was 5:30 a.m. when Friar Najeeb Michaeel looked out his window and saw what every Iraqi Christian feared: trucks filled with ISIS soldiers. Dozens of families were fleeing when the terrorists cut in front of them and stopped. "I gave everybody the last rites," the Friar said. "I thought it was finished for us." Instead, people abandoned their cars and started running. Miraculously, they survived. But, like most Christians in the Middle East, they don't know for how long.
Hunted down, beaten, enslaved, and tortured for their faith, Christians have been crying out for the world's attention since they were first driven from their ancient homelands. Yesterday, a group of American scholars did their best to give them that attention -- at a special event at the National Press Club. Called Under Caesar's Sword, a partnership of Notre Dame, the Religious Freedom Institute, and Georgetown University sounded the alarm for the millions of believers living in terror from the cradle of Christianity to the North Korean underground. "Life has not gotten better" for men and women of faith, said a somber Cardinal Donald Wuerl. In a world where at least one Christian is killed every hour for practicing their faith, the situation is dire.
The group's report, "In Response to Persecution," reads like a horror story, explaining that about 200 million Christians around the world are "at risk of physical violence, arrest, torture, even death simply because they live and practice a faith that is not acceptable to the rulers in that part of the world." Just last year, 9,000 Christians were slaughtered for religious reasons -- a 20 percent jump from the year before. To survive, more families are on the run, going underground, or even showing support for the regimes oppressing them. In Iran and Saudi Arabia, where the punishments are most severe, Christians are desperately trying to "[avoid] the attention of the authorities."
The Hudson Institute's Nina Shea pointed out that Christians still can't go to the U.N.'s refugee camps for safety reasons -- and worse, are not receiving any government aid. That's unacceptable, considering that the U.S. funds over a quarter of the U.N.'s budget. While the Trump administration has its work cut out for it climbing out of the hole Obama dug on the crisis, this is an obvious pressure point the White House can use to bring more relief to the suffering. Even now, we aren't sure that the U.N. Security Council's genocide investigation even includes Christians! The Trump team should lean on them to ensure it does.
As a lot of experts have pointed out, there's also a role for the business community to play. And that starts with putting these basic human rights ahead of their economic interests or good relations. Dollars can speak louder than words, and corporate outrage would go a long way to bringing about change in these war-torn areas. Unfortunately for the White House, the eight years of religious hostility at home has led to a serious culture of indifference abroad. Cleaning up the mess left behind by the Obama administration won't be easy, but it's time for President Trump to pick up the torch and lead the way.
For now, American Christians face nothing like their brothers and sisters overseas, but the report makes it clear that this "subtle persecution" is growing – "particularly with respect to their convictions about sexuality, marriage and the sanctity of life." When secularists turn up the heat on our churches, we can learn a lot from the courageous men and women abroad about how to live as Christians under pressure. After all, if Middle East Christians can face death without denying Christ, we can face name-calling and "hate" lists.
And if our nation wants to revive its reputation as the defender of the defenseless, the church will have to lead the way. We need to call on our pastors to be prepared for the coming persecution in the U.S. and help their flocks stand firm. As the Pope pointed out, the opposition to Christians here and abroad is rooted in the same opposition -- it's just different in degree. If that degree ever ratchets up to the terror we see on beaches in Libya or churches in Egypt, we have to be ready. Until then, we should all make a commitment now to lift up the persecuted, who are suffering for nothing more than confessing Jesus Christ as Lord.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.