July 19, 2018
"If I'm still here at Christmas, I'll thank God for sending Jesus to be born. If I'm still here at New Year, I'll thank him for helping me make it through the year. If I'm here on my birthday, I won't be like Job and curse the day I was born. I'll give thanks for the life I've lived." --Pastor Andrew Brunson, from Turkish prison
The story of the Brunson family is a heart-wrenching one -- but it's hardly the only one. While the world waits for news about the American Christian behind bars for a crime he didn't commit, men and women of faith around the globe quietly share his pain. Tortured, raped, jailed, on the run, they wake up every day relieved to be alive. Unlike Pastor Brunson, their nightmares play out almost anonymously, the background noise to so many other first-world problems. Thanks to the president of the United States, that's changing. For the first time in years, they have something in common with the American pastor: a country willing to fight for them.
If there was anyone more grateful for the election of Donald Trump than conservatives, it was almost certainly millions of the world's persecuted. For almost a decade, they watched in dismay as America turned its back on entire populations, leaving faith groups to fend for themselves. When whole villages were wiped out in bloody rampages, they saw an American president who refused to even say the word "genocide," let alone do anything about it. Their hope -- and the hope of the world -- seemed lost. Then came 2016, and the rise of a new administration that picked up the torch where Barack Obama dropped it.
Almost immediately, the message from this White House seemed to be: you are not alone. America will stand by you. It's a mission -- and message -- that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo takes personally. Since the moment he first set foot in his new office in April, Mike has been an outspoken voice for international religious liberty. But, as we've come to appreciate from the Trump administration, talking about the issue is just part of the agenda. Action is the rest.
Next week, Secretary Pompeo, together with Ambassador Sam Brownback, are proving just how serious they are about this global crisis by hosting the first-ever ministerial on international religious freedom. From July 24-26, some of the most powerful foreign dignitaries, activists, and faith leaders from around the world will gather in Washington to put pressure on every country to recognize this fundamental human right. On today's "Washington Watch," the secretary told me that he was "overwhelmed" by the response to what he describes as a "clarion call for religious freedom."
"[The enthusiasm of other countries to this] has been remarkable... As I was traveling this past week -- I think I was in six or eight different places -- I had foreign ministers say, 'I'm going to be there.' ...They're excited to come and be around other people who think religious freedom is important. I was in Muslim countries, I was in places with religion very different to my own Christian faith, but every one of those leaders was excited about the opportunity to gather with like-minded individuals who share their desire -- their quest -- for every individual to practice their faith in their country in the way that they wish to do."
He talked about what an important moment this is for the entire Trump administration. "There are many countries where religious freedom is not available, and we believe that by gathering citizens from around the world -- we'll have over 80 delegations and 40-plus of my counterparts from foreign ministry level and religious leaders like yourself -- all brought together to highlight the central nature of religious freedom... Every country ought to honor that."
Proving just how important this is to the White House, Vice President Mike Pence will also speak. But, as Secretary Pompeo reiterated,
"We expect this to be far more than just talk. We do believe that just putting people together from all across the world in a room and talking about this topic will empower them to go back to their home countries and advocate for religious freedom as well. It's difficult, as you know, in some countries to even speak about religious freedom. And so we hope to provide a support system for some of them to return home to their own countries... We will be laying out a path where we are hopeful the State Department here in the United States can lead a process where religious freedom is raised as a priority for the citizens of every country. We will have our teams in the subsequent weeks and months in the field talking about religious freedom on a regular basis."
In a world starved for America's leadership on issues like this one, next week's event is a historic one. Let's not forget, the Secretary pointed out, that this was a priority laid out in the president's national security strategy. He, like the rest of his cabinet, understands the importance of fighting for religious freedom -- not just because it's the right thing to do, but because of its real-life impact on things like the economy and global security.
In administration that doesn't know the meaning of the phrase "lip service," we continue to be grateful for the intentionality of this president and his team. When Donald Trump promised to make religious freedom a priority, he meant it. And just as significantly, he surrounded himself with leaders who are just as committed as he is. "We'll have just three days there," Secretary Pompeo said, "but this will be a mission of the State Department every day."
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.