WASHINGTON — Religious leaders in America are being called upon by a U.S. congressman to advocate for those across the globe who are oppressed for their faith.
“We in the West must speak out on behalf of the persecuted Church around the world,” said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., in a Jan. 9 letter to nearly 300 Protestant and Catholic leaders.
“If the faith community in the West isn’t engaged, are we surprised when government leaders turn a blind eye to matters of religious freedom?” he asked.
A longtime advocate of religious liberty, Wolf authored the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998 and currently co-chairs the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. In his recent letter, he said that he plans to reintroduce a bill in the new Congress to create a special envoy in the State Department to advocate on behalf of persecuted religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia.
While such legislation passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support over a year and a half ago, it stalled in the Senate due to opposition from the State Department and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's chair, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, who refused to hold a hearing on the legislation, he said.
While he acknowledged that a special envoy would not “single-handedly solve the problem,” Wolf stressed that it would be very helpful to have a high-level official focusing exclusively on religious minorities.
“Furthermore, to do nothing is simply not an option,” he said.
Christians Under Attack
Calling American religious leaders to action, the congressman decried the “fear of persecution and outright violence or even death” that overshadows the Christmas season for believers in much of the world.
“Every day, around the world, men and women of faith are imprisoned, beaten, detained, tortured and even killed,” he said.
While the faithful have always faced oppression, he explained, there is currently “a historic exodus of Christians from the Middle East” under way, while “the silence of many in the West is deafening.”
Wolf observed that the “once vibrant communities” of Jews in the region have been severely depleted.
Christianity may face a similar fate, he warned, as entire communities are fleeing from Egypt, Iraq and other countries in the region, drastically reducing their numbers in some areas.
This exodus is particularly troubling, the congressman said, because “[t]he Middle East is the very cradle of Christendom,” a part of the history relayed in Scripture.
However, the oppression of believers is not limited to the Middle East, he explained, noting that “Christians are targeted throughout the world in countries like China, Vietnam and Pakistan.”
Arguing that the silence of good people is what allows atrocities such as the Holocaust to occur, Wolf called on religious leaders in the West to speak up for their persecuted brothers and sisters, overcoming indifference, lack of awareness and pressure to be politically correct.
He encouraged the religious leaders, working within their own spheres of influence, to “raise the profile of this issue” through sermons, writings or media interviews.
“The Church globally is under assault,” he stressed, and the proper response is not simply “drowning out the cries for help from our brothers and sisters.”