A Voice for Freedom from an Unexpected Place


A Voice for Freedom from an Unexpected Place

July 25, 2018

For some people at the State Department's ministerial, the stories of persecution come secondhand -- but they're no less life-changing. One of the most powerful speeches of the day came from a surprising source, Mick Mulvaney, the president's director of the Office of Management and Budget. When he got to the stage, Mulvaney joked, "You're probably wondering to yourself, 'What can the budget director bring to this discussion?'" Turns out, an awful lot. "I've never been a victim of religious persecution," he said from the outset. But he still has plenty in common with the people there: he wants to be a force for change.

Five years ago, Mulvaney explained, he was invited to join a small group of lawmakers outside Rome to talk about the issues facing Catholic Christians. Back then, he said, the world was just starting to hear about ISIS. When priests began talking about the challenges they were facing, Mick (who was a congressman at the time) asked if they wanted help immigrating. He was surprised when they fired back, "That's the last thing we want -- that's what ISIS wants. They want to just remove the Christian presence from Iraq and Syria. We want to stay, we just need some help."

A year later, that all changed. At the opening night dinner, one of the patriarchs got down on his knees in front of the podium and said, "I know what I told you last year. Forget what I told you last year. It's different now. They're going to kill every single one of us if we give them the chance to do so." Mulvaney said he'll never forget what came next. "He told me what real terror is like." Real terror, he went on, is living in the Christian quarter of eastern Syria and hearing a knock at your door and opening it to men saying:

"'We're here from ISIS. We're here to collect the tax... Last year it was $5. This year it's $500,000. Don't feel badly if you can't pay it. We're giving you two choices -- conversion or death. How do you feel about conversion?' And the whole family is standing there. If the father said no to conversion, they'd typically kill the oldest child in front of him. And then they'd wait, ask the same question again, and kill the next child, the next child, and kill the mother, and the father last. Typically, they'd do one or two houses a night. Everybody knew they were coming back the next night. That's terror. Terror isn't not knowing what's going to happen -- it's knowing what's going to happen and not knowing when."

Not everyone's experience is as chilling as that. Persecution, Mick pointed out, often stops short of life and death. He remembers how shocked he was when men and women from sub-Saharan Africa came to talk to him about how our U.S. taxpayer dollars are used to "discourage Christian values in other democratic countries." "It was stunning to me that my government under the previous administration would go to folks in Africa and say, 'We know that you have a law against abortion -- but if you enforce that law, you're not going to get any of our money.' 'We know you have a law against gay marriage, but if you enforce that law, we're not going to give you any of our money.'" That's a different type of religious persecution, but it's one, as an American Christian, he never dreamed he'd see.

Thankfully, a year and a half into his new administration, President Trump is writing a new chapter of real and lasting freedom. He wants to empower other nations, not blackmail them. He wants to give rise to leaders who make religious liberty a priority -- no matter what their government job may be. The White House's budget director may not seem like an obvious choice to speak at a conference on international persecution, but it's a meaningful statement on just how deeply this entire administration cares.

"Why am I here?" Mick asked. "To let you know that there are many, many people in our government who care about the issues that you're talking about... I have two jobs [and] 2,200 people working for me -- I don't have time to do it. But I want to help."

"There are a lot of people here who want to change outcomes. There are a lot of people in this government who just want to see things done differently. They want to do something... I've been talking about this for five or six years. [Congressman Jeff] Fortenberry and I have told each other we're tired of talking about stuff. I think we all know now the scope of this problem -- we're starting to grasp it. What can we do? I have no idea what the answer to that question is. But I trust Ambassador Brownback. And I'm so excited that the president actually made a commitment as part of this administration to put somebody of his credibility and his stature in a role like this."

A global shift on religious liberty won't happen overnight. But it has begun. And in a world where caring is half the battle, this administration has done more than its share.


Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.


Arrested Developments on Brunson

July 25, 2018

Of all the heartbreaking stories told at yesterday's religious freedom ministerial, Pastor Andrew Brunson's still weighs heaviest on the minds of most Americans. The North Carolina dad, who's become the face of international persecution in this country, got some unexpected news Tuesday night: his days in a dark and isolated prison cell were numbered. Just a week after ordering him back to jail until October, the Turkish government announced unexpectedly that it was moving Pastor Brunson to house arrest.

Although no one is quite sure when the transfer will take place, his attorney, Ismail Halavurt, told the media that the report was legitimate. The Brunsons, he explained, were "elated" at the news that Andrew wouldn't have to spend another day alone, behind bars. Instead, they may finally be able to walk through this process together, as a family. For Pastor Brunson, who's struggled through depression and anxiety, being reunited with his wife and children would be a great relief in this nightmarish ordeal. But, as several leaders, including my colleague on the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, pointed out, this is no substitute for Andrew's full and quick release.

"This is welcome news," said USCIRF's Kristina Arriaga, who was in Turkey for the most recent trial. "...But it is not enough. The Turkish government has deprived this innocent man of his due process rights and liberty for too long, and it must completely release him. If it fails to do so, the Trump administration and Congress should respond strongly and swiftly with targeted sanctions against the authorities responsible." She's right. When such a fundamental freedom is trampled on, the United States can't do business with Turkey with any level of confidence. This is a NATO ally that isn't acting like a NATO ally -- largely because of the hardening of the Islamic view there. The more the country clamps down on religious minorities, the more incompatible it is with the NATO mission.

Senators James Lankford (R-Okla.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who've been the most vocal advocates of Brunson, released a joint statement earlier today calling the move "a step in the right direction." It will, they hope, "help alleviate some of the unacceptable hardship and anguish Pastor Brunson and his family have endured over the last 20 months. The government of Turkey should now release Pastor Brunson and immediately return him to the United States, an action that would begin to restore the longstanding friendship between our two nations."

Meanwhile, for the delegations at the State Department this week, the announcement was just another reminder of how important their work is. Pastor Brunson's daughter, Jacqueline, who had just given an emotional speech at the event the day before the news broke, says that her family has been forever changed by what's happened to them. Stopping to wipe the tears off her cheeks, she gathered herself and told the audience how her dad continues to show Christ's love, even under the worst conditions. Choked up, she struggled through his words at last week's trial in Turkey. "Blessed am I as I suffer for Him. Blessed am I as I am slandered. Blessed am I as I am lied about. And blessed am I as I am imprisoned. Blessed am I to share His suffering."

When Pastor Brunson was first put behind bars, he was very concerned that he'd be forgotten by the U.S. Under the last administration, he probably would have been. But this president is working harder than anyone -- not just to free him -- but to bring hope to millions of persecuted people around the world. This president has promised: we will not leave Americans behind. But we will also never leave the hurting without a voice.


Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.


Nude Customer Reveals a lot about Gym

July 25, 2018

If you think you've had a rough month, try being in the PR department for Planet Fitness! First, the gym was slammed for revoking the membership of a woman who complained about a biological man sharing her locker room. Then, in an ironic twist, the same argument they used to defend that outrage came back to haunt them when a 34-year-old man decided to visit a Massachusetts chain and workout in the nude!

I thought it was a "judgment-free zone," 34-year-old Eric Stagno told police. That is, after all, what Planet Fitness told the woman in Florida (and another in Michigan) about sharing private spaces with the opposite sex. If it's okay to let men undress in front of women in their locker rooms, why not out in the open?

"The story we got from witnesses," police captain Brett Morgan said, "was that the guy walked in, stripped down right there in front, left the clothes and belongings at the front desk, walked back and forth across the gym a couple of times and then settled in over at the yoga mats." Other exercisers said they felt "sick," "unsafe," and "disgusted" -- the same words that could have been used by women who were shocked to find out that Planet Fitness's unposted policy was to let men expose themselves in the women's showers or locker rooms any time they wanted!

Unlike Jordan Rice, who was supposedly justified in horrifying "Mrs. H" in Florida, Eric Stagno was charged with "indecent exposure, lewdness and disorderly conduct." Apparently, Planet Fitness isn't always judgment-free -- just when it comes to political correctness. And that's where their logic breaks down. Extremists, like the ones at Planet Fitness, who think it's okay to put women in dangerous situations because "tolerance," don't seem to understand that once you abandon millennia of moral values, it's impossible to draw a line. How can you say to one person that public indecency is wrong if you allow it behind locker room doors?


Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.



Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.


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