In advance of the May 10-13 World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians, in Washington, D.C., Decision interviewed former Virginia Congressman Frank R. Wolf, a longtime champion of religious freedom and human rights. Wolf now serves as distinguished senior fellow at the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, which advocates for oppressed people groups worldwide. The following Q&A is adapted from that interview.
Q: As you look around the globe, what are some of the regions and countries that are especially concerning, and how do you see religious liberty trending globally?
A: I think the trends are mostly bad. China, for example. The level of human rights and religious freedom is as bad now as it’s been there since 1970. You have Catholic bishops under house arrest. You have hundreds of Protestant pastors in jail. The People’s Liberation Army has executed prisoners and then sold their organs.
In Pakistan, you have Asia Bibi, held in prison almost seven years for her Christian faith, with a death sentence.
In Iraq, a group out of England called Aid to the Church in Need is predicting that there’ll be no Christians left there in five years. In Egypt and in Syria, Christians are under attack. We may very well be facing a situation in 10 to 20 years in which there are no Christians left in the Middle East. In Vietnam, there is rising persecution. You’re seeing growing anti-Semitism in Europe. So overall, I think it’s pretty bleak.
Our own organization was in Nigeria last year, where 900 churches have been burned. The most dangerous terrorist group in the world—Boko Haram—is there. They have killed 20,000 people, mainly Christians. The Chibok girls whom Boko Haram abducted, it’s been well over a thousand days and they haven’t come back. Twenty-one got out some way, but more than 200 are still there. The world has forgotten about them, so we’re trying to bring attention to that. We believe you need a special envoy in the Trump administration to advocate on that issue and other critical religious freedom issues in the region.
Q: What are some of your hopes for the World Summit?
A: I think the most important thing is to wake up the church in the West, because everything that takes place in government is downstream from the culture. The stakes are really very high, but I don’t think the problems are only political. They’re not even mostly political; there’s something far greater ailing our country. It is profoundly moral in nature. If you’ve read anything about Alexis de Tocqueville speaking of the American church in the 19th century, he speaks of “pulpits aflame with righteousness.” What if we once again had pulpits aflame with righteousness? Also, young people seem drawn to this issue. Don’t you think this issue would resonate with every college kid at a Christian college or non-Christian college if they heard about Asia Bibi in Pakistan, or some of the courageous examples of faithfulness in history like Bonhoeffer? This could be the issue that wakes up the church in America.
Q: What are your expectations of the Trump administration when it comes to addressing religious freedom?
A: My expectations are high. Last year, Mr. Trump was very sympathetic toward our efforts. And I know Vice President Pence, and I think I know the guy’s heart—I believe he’s going to be very active in speaking out on these things. Of course, there are still many second- and third-level positions in the State Department yet to be filled. And it is really the deputy secretary of state who is influential in the details at the State Department. But I’m very hopeful.
If we shrink back from doing the right thing, I think there are consequences. Remember the famous quotation “Silence in the face of evil is evil itself. Not to speak is to speak, not to act is to act.”
Overall, nations respect America when it speaks and advocates for religious freedom and human rights. It almost always garners respect. You might get anger directed at you along with it, but the world respects you when you’re strong and clear on these issues.
Q: Most Christians see religious freedom as a crucial issue. How do you convince government officials that addressing religious persecution should be a vital American interest?
A: President Reagan said that the words in the Constitution and the words in the Declaration of Independence—“All men are created equal; endowed by their Creator with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”—those words were not just a covenant with the people in Philadelphia in 1776 when the Declaration of Independence was signed or 1787 when the Constitution was ratified, but Reagan said they were a covenant with the entire world.
So that means those words are a covenant with Asia Bibi, the Christian woman who’s under a death sentence—not a charge but a sentence—in Pakistan for blasphemy. They’re a covenant with the 3,900 Yazidi girls who are being held by ISIS. So from a political perspective, it is as imperative as ever for America to speak out and lead the way. We can make a tremendous difference.
Interview by Jerry Pierce, managing editor, Decision.