U.S. Vice President Mike Pence spoke to more than 600 invited guests gathered for the World Summit. As an evangelical Christian and a global leader, he offered his unique perspective of the state of the persecuted church. The following has been adapted from his address.
The Bible tells us: “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” And those of you gathered here today are emblematic of millions across the world. You’ve persevered through the crucible of persecution. You refused to be conformed to this world. You have chosen instead to be counted with those outside the city gate for your faith.
The reality is, across the wider world, the Christian faith is under siege. Throughout the world, no people of faith today face greater hostility or hatred than the followers of Christ. In more than 100 countries spread to every corner of the globe—from Iran to Eritrea, Nigeria to North Korea—over 215 million Christians confront intimidation, imprisonment, forced conversion, abuse, assault, or worse, for holding to the truths of the Gospel. And nowhere is this onslaught against our faith more evident than in the very ancient land where Christianity was born.
I’m here on behalf of the president as a tangible sign of his commitment to defending Christians and, frankly, all who suffer for their beliefs across the wider world. I stand here today as a testament to President Trump’s tangible commitment to reaffirm America’s role as a beacon of hope and light and liberty to inspire the world.
Two millennia ago, the disciples of Christ, the forefathers of our faith, fanned out from Israel in every direction to bring the Good News that we proclaim across the globe to this day. And in the valleys of Syria, Palestine, the plains of Nineveh and the Nile, on the banks of the Tigris and the Euphrates, they planted seeds of belief. They watered them with their sacrifice and their courage. They blossomed into fruit, and have borne fruit for the Gospel ever since.
Today, though, the Christian communities where the message of our Lord was first uttered and embraced are often the targets of unspeakable atrocity. In Egypt, just recently, we saw bombs explode in churches in the very midst of the celebration of Palm Sunday. A day of hope was transformed into tragedy.
In Iraq, we’ve actually seen monasteries demolished, priests and monks beheaded, and the two-millennia-old Christian tradition in Mosul virtually extinguished overnight. In Syria, we see ancient communities burned to the ground. We see believers tortured for confessing Christ, and women and children sold into the most terrible form of human slavery.
From al-Qaida to al-Shabab, from Boko Haram to the Taliban, these extremist groups seek to stamp out all religions that are not their own, or even any version of their own that they don’t approve. And believers from every background have suffered grievously at their hands.
The practitioners of terror harbor a special hatred for the followers of Christ, and none more so than the barbarians known as ISIS. I believe ISIS is guilty of nothing short of genocide against people of the Christian faith, and it is time the world called it by name.
Now, Christianity faces unprecedented threats in the land where it was given life. In Syria, the Christian population has plummeted from one-and-a-quarter million to only 500,000 in just the past six years. In Iraq, followers of Christ have fallen by 80 percent in the past decade and a half due to the violence of extremism and acts against Christian communities.
Our brothers and sisters in faith, I can assure you, are being carried by the prayers of the faithful across this nation and across the world.
The freedom to worship God according to the dictates of our conscience is at the very heart of who we are as Americans. In a very real sense, America was founded by people who had the courage to cross the Atlantic, motivated in so many cases to come here so that they might have that freedom of religion.
The truth is—for all the prosperity of the freedom of faith in America and other free societies today—according to the Pew Center, nearly 80 percent of the human family lives in places where restrictions on religion are either “high” or “very high.” It’s a 5 percent increase in a single year.
Too many nations let the mob trample on the rights of the minority. Still more prefer the coercion of the state to conviction of the soul. And the limitations placed on people of belief have become too numerous to count. They range from violence to vandalism—forced conversion to crushed free speech, blasphemy laws to building codes, to detainment, to death.
Across the wider world, Christians face this and more. But to be clear, adherents of other religions across the world have not been spared. And we will speak for them and pray for them as well. For as history attests, persecution of one faith is ultimately the persecution of all faiths.
When I first ran for office … my wife presented me with a framed verse. It hung over our mantle for 12 years when I served in the Congress of the United States. And it hung over the mantle of the governor’s residence in Indiana. Now it hangs over the mantle in the home of the vice president of the United States of America.
It simply reads some ancient words people of faith have clung to throughout the millennia. And as we reflect on the great challenges at this World Summit today that believers in Christ face across the globe, I think we do well to claim this promise again. It simply reads, “For I know the plans I have for you … plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
True words when they were first spoken by the prophet, every bit as true today. And so I want to encourage all of you today, fellow believers in Christ, cling to one another in these challenging times. Be confident because in the midst of it all, He knows the plans He has for us.
And even as history records, even in times of persecution, this church has prospered, it’s grown, it’s had hope and a future.
I know that future is bright indeed, now and in eternity. ©2017 Mike Pence
The Scripture quotation is taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version.