November 20, 2018
Most Americans are too busy bustling around grocery stores or packing their cars for the trip home to stop and think about the significance of this week. But for a handful of people, who, at one point, probably took the season for granted like so many of us, this year's Thanksgiving will be one to remember.
One of those people is Pastor Andrew Brunson. After months of wondering if he'd ever see his family again, the North Carolina native will be enjoying the holiday around a dining room table -- not stuck in a cold Turkish prison cell, alone. The day will probably be just as emotional for Kim Dong-chul, Tony Kim, and Kim Hak-song, freed from North Korean by President Trump in early May. Their days in captivity, which -- for Kim Dong-chul -- included torturous days at a hard labor camp were just as grueling. After three long years, the dream of coming home and being reunited with his family seemed too much to hope for. "We thank God, and all our families and friends who prayed for us and for our return."
In Iraq, where Christians were hunted down by ISIS armies and chased out of villages dating back to Old Testament days, every day is an opportunity for thanksgiving. Along the Nineveh plains, where the prophet Jonah once walked, the reminders of heartbreak are everywhere. Rubble, broken crosses, and shattered picture frames are all that are left of some ancient streets. But thanks to President Trump and tens of millions of dollars in U.S. aid, there are also signs of life: new shops, a school, and churches that look more like construction sites than disaster areas. Even though the rebuilding process will take years, the journey home, almost everyone will tell you, has been worth it.
Unfortunately, not all Christians are so lucky. The world rejoiced at the release of Pakistani Asia Bibi -- only to see the mother of five forced into hiding, while angry Muslims take out their fury on a community of terrified Christians. While she waits for asylum in the West, the country's believers are the nation's new target. "We live under fear, the whole country is under tension. People are afraid and anything can happen in this situation," a retired Christian soldier told reporters. Elsewhere, Islamists began attacking "random travelers in the Muslim country who identified themselves as Christians in the wake of Bibi's acquittal." In certain Islamabad areas, police were warning Christians: lock up your shops and find someplace safe.
Church services were cancelled, and schools were closed while protestors with signs saying, "Hang Bibi," demonstrated in the town streets. For the three million Christ followers in the region, there is very little certainty that what happened to Bibi won't happen to them. "The government protects us, but blasphemy is such a sensitive issue we feel weak and in fear," anonymous believers tell the Telegraph. As FRC's Travis Weber points out, they have plenty of reason for concern. "The abuse of blasphemy laws to settle personal scores is one of the most pressing human rights issues of our time. Often through a mere accusation, lives are put at risk and death threats flood in. Asia Bibi's case has helped us see the injustice of using these laws in this way -- an issue which remains a religious freedom challenge worldwide, and one that demands our attention."
The New York Times, in its criticism of blasphemy laws like Pakistan's, explained that "Iran executed 20 people in 2015 for 'enmity against God,' and in Saudi Arabia, adhering to the wrong branch of Islam can mean death." European international human rights expert Nina Shea writes, "is trying to placate the Islamists by giving in on the blasphemy issue, but Bibi's experience is a case study on how legitimizing religious speech taboos only fans the flames." The EU, she explains, is so desperate to be politically correct that it's adopted "hate speech bans" on anything "deemed Islamaphobic by anyone." That's only empowered the radical Islamists in the Europe and U.K. In fact, they're such a force in the area that some leaders there are retracting their offers for Bibi's asylum, concerned that she might be murdered by their own Muslim extremists. What a tragic commentary on the state of P.C.'s blind acceptance in the West.
Right now, the United States may be the only country with enough commitment to true religious liberty to protect her. "Few Western nations -- which tend to be encumbered by political correctness and a misguided obsession with the separation of church and state -- are bold enough to take a stand for persecuted Christians, despite the fact Christians are the most widely persecuted religious group in the world," Rev. Joseph D'Souza warns. "Americans might not always be aware of it," he explains, "but when it comes to religious freedom, the U.S. holds a unique significance for Christians and other religious minorities across the world."
America, under President Trump, has made religious freedom more of a priority than any other nation on the planet. And for that, we -- along with our brothers and sisters around the world -- have much this week to be thankful for.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.