Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday gave perhaps the most strongly worded and overt defense of persecuted Christians in some time. He joined the Reverend Franklin Graham and more than 600 religious leaders and persecuted Christians from across the globe at the first-ever World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians in Washington, D.C.
Other speakers included Father Douglas Al-Bazi, an Iraqi priest who had been kidnapped by Islamic terrorists; British parliamentarian Lord David Alton; and the Russian Orthodox representative, Metropolitan Hilarion.
“Protecting and promoting religious liberty is a foreign policy priority of the Trump administration.”
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Franklin Graham set the scene at the opening of the summit. He delighted participants with his politically incorrect but truthful words. Graham not only documented the horrors of persecution against Christians throughout the world, but said the “rising tide of secularism is strongly anti-Christian,” with his eyes firmly fixed on the United States and Europe.
Marking the unique and refreshing partnership between church and state, Graham said that now we “have a vice president and administration that cares” about the worldwide persecution of Christians.
Pence said — in words impossible to imagine hearing from the previous administration — that the “Christian faith is under siege “across the world, and that President Trump is a “champion of religious liberty.” Pence was there as a representative of the president and of the new administration, which the vice president said is a “tangible sign of [Trump’s] commitment to defending Christians.”
The attacks on Christians, especially in the Middle East, are seen by the president as “hatred for the Gospel of Christ,” said Pence. He firmly stated that the perpetrators must be named as “radical Islamic terrorists” whose actions are a “genocide against people of the Christian faith.”
The most important line in the speech — and the one that will delight those who have been waiting for such a clear statement — was Pence’s comment that “protecting and promoting religious liberty is a foreign policy priority of the Trump administration.”
At the magnificent and humbling gathering on Thursday, these were fine words and strong promises. But for those who have been waiting for action from the administration in defense of the persecuted, so far there has been little actual evidence of such a “foreign policy priority.”
An initial promise to prioritize Christian refugees from places like Iraq and Syria fell by the wayside early on in this new administration because of the furor over the so-called “Muslim ban”— which was not a ban and which didn’t “target” Muslims.
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So if the administration, in the words of Pence himself, acknowledges that the persecution of Christians in Iraq and Syria is “genocide against people of the Christian faith,” why are they not prioritized? If Jews from Germany had been “prioritized” in 1938, we might have saved millions of people from the death camps.
The post of ambassador for religious liberty has yet to be filled, which is not a strong signal for a policy priority. Also, will the administration upgrade the office and give it some teeth? The government of Hungary is so far the only country in the world to have a specific ministry for the defense of persecuted Christians. While it’s not seen as politically correct, it is nonetheless greatly appreciated by those who are suffering persecution, as I have heard with my own ears.
Reverend Graham prayed for President Trump, prayed for and with Vice President Pence, and declared that they were both Christian men. Let us hope that the promises and expectations inspired by this unique gathering of church and state remain not just words and little action; otherwise, the persecution of defenseless Christians will likely continue unabated, and the confidence those suffering people have in America as a beacon of liberty in a dark world will be shattered.
Fr. Benedict Kiely is a Catholic priest and founder of Nasarean.org, which is helping the persecuted Christians of the Middle East.