July 18, 2019
It’s difficult not to be swept up by the horror stories of the Uyghurs, the Yazidis, the Rohingya, and so many other suffering faith groups represented at the State Department this week. But it’s important not to lose sight of another hurting community – the global Christians. Their nightmares are real, and – based on a shocking report – growing.
During one of the small press gatherings with victims, reporters heard one horrifying testimony after another from survivors who grew up equating their faith to fear. One woman, Sabrina, was born into a Syrian Christian family in Iran. Her parents were church leaders, and she remembers being eight years old when her father started bringing home the bloody corpses of pastors who’d been killed so that he could bury them. “It was a normal thing for us growing up,” she said.
And that kind of persecution is a normal thing, tragically, for tens of millions of believers. Like her father, many are imprisoned in dark, bug-infested cells that are barely big enough for a child. They’re tortured, sick, and despondent just like him. They’ve lost mothers, wives, sons. They’ve gone for years without word of their children. They’re disappearing from China, Eritrea, Iraq -- all over the world -- because 80 percent of the persecuted are Christians.
The Anglican Bishop of Truro, Philip Mounstephen, admits that it’s a shocking figure. It came, he told me on Wednesday’s “Washington Watch,” from the International Society of Human Rights 10 years ago. And they believe, after all of their research and monitoring, that 80 percent may actually be a conservative estimate of the situation now. “I don’t want for one minute to ignore the way that members of other faiths are persecuted…. What’s happening to the Uyghur Muslims in China is absolutely outrageous. But… the Christian faith today is the one true global faith, and this is a global phenomenon that we’re facing. So in that sense, it’s not surprising that Christians are more in the firing line than any other faith is,” Mounstephen explained.
When I asked him why more leaders weren’t standing up and fighting these injustices, he blamed political correctness. “I think I think there’s an embarrassment about the Christian faith,” Mounstephen said. “I think there’s a failure to recognize that the Christian faith is predominantly a global faith… And the net effect of that, I think, is that we’ve turned a blind eye when we really shouldn’t have, and we’ve failed to live up to our moral responsibilities in this whole area.”
He touched on this during a ministerial panel I joined in my USCIRF (U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom) capacity: “Monitoring International Religious Freedom.” But if the world’s largest religion can be abandoned, what’s the motivation for reaching out to other faith groups? “Exactly,” he agreed. “…[A]ll governments need to stand up for the freedom of religion or belief for everybody. This is foundational. This is what Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is all about…. And I think from the perspective of us in the United States [and] Britain, we should speak up for those because we have a voice. We have the ability to shape a policy.”
But, he insisted, there are two reasons why we really need to care about this issue.
“There’s a moral imperative to look after people of faith… But there are really important, pragmatic, political reasons why we should do this as well, because there are some really ugly things going on in the world today. And I think religious persecution is often the bellwether. It’s the canary in the mine. Think about how this impacts upon other fundamental human rights where religious persecution is happening. You’re going to [find] people trafficking, you’re going to find forced conversion, forced marriage, terrible gender inequality, gender-based violence, denial of freedom of expression, denial of a shed load of other human rights…”
The freedom of belief is the foundational human right on which every other one depends. If that’s violated, you can be pretty certain there’s some pretty ugly things going on. But if you get this one right, you have a greater chance of seeing the other freedoms established.”
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.