July 10, 2019
"This is what it must have looked like to be a part of the crowd for the fishes and the loaves," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo joked, looking out at the impressive audience at this year's Christians United for Israel (CUFI) forum. The two-day summit was full of headliners who all agreed with the State Department chief: "Israel is a friend. Can I get an amen?"
Like Vice President Mike Pence, Pompeo spent a lot of time talking about the administration's fondness for Israel -- and the time this president has dedicated to rebuilding the relationship after Barack Obama. Now more than 70 years into President Truman's decision to recognize Israel as a new state, Donald Trump is just as committed to doing the right thing, Pompeo points out. "[Truman] later said, 'I wonder how far Moses would have gone if he had taken a poll in Egypt?'... It isn't the polls or public opinion of the moment that counts. It's doing what's right and wrong -- and leadership. You have a president like that today too."
He explained what a privilege it is to work on this alliance -- in part because Israel is so unique to other countries in the region. "Compare Israel's reverence for liberty with the restrictions on religious freedom facing Christians and people of all faiths throughout the rest of the Middle East: In many countries, if a Muslim leaves Islam it is considered an apostasy, and it is punishable indeed by death. In Iraq, Syria, and other countries in the region, the last remnants of ancient Christian communities are at near-extinction because of persecution from ISIS and other malign actors. And just one example: before 2003, there were an estimated 1.5 million Christians living in Iraq. Today, sadly, almost a quarter of a million."
Pompeo believes, as we all do, that the "flame of existence of Christians must not be snuffed out. Their unalienable rights -- Christians' unalienable rights in the Middle East -- their right to worship must not be taken away. Persecution of the faithful is especially intense inside the Islamic Republic of Iran. The regime's militant adherence to the noxious tenets of the Islamic Revolution dictates all elements of life -- and especially the suppression of other faiths."
It's so ironic, he explained. "...A lot of people get spun up with the wrong ideas that American evangelicals want to impose a theocracy on America. I wish they would be concerned about the real theocratic takeover that has been happening in Iran for the last four decades. The ayatollahs have grievously deprived the Iranian people of that most basic, simple, fundamental right, their right to worship." At one particularly poignant moment, the former Kansas representative said, "Every day, I pray -- and I'd ask you to, too, to pray for our brothers and sisters in Iran." He paused. "And not just for them, but for people of all faiths who are persecuted there."
When it was the vice president's turn to speak, he took on everything from the growing anti-Semitism in Congress to the threat of Iran. In every instance, every challenge, Pence said, the president has been a man of action. "And he's a man of his word... And from the very first day of this administration, President Donald Trump has been keeping the promises that he made to the American people at home and abroad. It's true. President Trump doesn't apologize for America. He stands up for America every day on the world stage. And under this President's leadership, we're standing with our allies, and we're standing up to our enemies."
That starts with the enemies of freedom. "You know, in the words of the prophet Isaiah," Pence said, "for the sake of Zion, 'I will not be silent,' it was written. And, my friends, this President, for the sake of Zion, has not been silent." Nor will he be. Next week, at the State Department's second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom the administration will remind the world what a high priority it places on these liberties when it comes to our foreign policy.
Late last week, Ambassador Sam Brownback stopped by "Washington Watch" to preview the event in D.C. And when he was asked what he hoped to accomplish at the meeting, he said the goal was to ignite a grassroots movement around the world for religious freedom.
"We'll have a thousand activists, religious freedom activists, religious leaders, civil society [leaders], and we need them to push in their own countries for religious freedom for their people... We also hope to start a discussion on just some basic minimums of what religious freedom looks like in places. You don't just arrest somebody for being a religious minority. You keep people alive if someone is killed because they're a religious minority. You prosecute people who committed the crime. [It's] just really doing some basics to starting your country down a road of protecting minorities."
But, as he was quick to point out, this is not an event where people just come and listen to speakers. It's interactive and there are key takeaways. Last year's meeting prompted several countries to take positive steps to advance religious liberty. "I think probably the most dramatic was Uzbekistan that wanted to really change their trajectory here. And they let 13,000 people out of prison. They're changing their laws dealing with religious actors -- and it really turned a corner." Brownback also watched the UAE, United Arab Emirates, "take on a conference about, um, changing textbooks so that they don't denigrate religious minorities. We had a couple of countries appoint religious freedom ambassadors like Mongolia. So you saw several steps."
And hopefully -- at the kickoff next Tuesday -- several more. For the sneak peak of the second ministerial, check out Ambassador Brownback's full interview below.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.