Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday pledged his prayers and support
for persecuted Christians around the globe, as well as members of other
religions who are persecuted for their beliefs.
“Your faith inspires me, it humbles me, and it inspires all who are
looking on today.” Pence said, speaking to persecuted Christians
including Fr. Douglas Bazi, a Chaldean Catholic priest from Iraq who
survived a 2006 kidnapping and torture before ministering to Christian
refugees fleeing ISIS in 2014.
“On behalf of the President of the United States, I say from my heart,” Pence continued, “we’re with you, we stand with you.”
The vice president on May 11 addressed the first annual World Summit
in Defense of Persecuted Christians, hosted by the Billy Graham
Evangelistic Association in Washington, D.C.
The summit brings together Christian leaders and groups from all over
the world, including clerics of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman
Catholic churches, current and former members of Congress, and
representatives of Open Doors USA, Samaritan’s Purse, and the 21st
Century Wilberforce Initiative.
It was meant to bring attention to the plight of persecuted
Christians and advocate for their rights in countries where they are
targeted or harassed for their beliefs. In attendance were persecuted
Christians from 130 countries.
Pence honored Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. and
Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States,
from the stage on Thursday. He also honored Metropolitan Hilarion of
Volokolamsk of the Russian Orthodox Church and Metropolitan Tikhon,
Primate of the Orthodox Church in America.
“Each one of you bears witness to the power of truth to transform lives,” Pence told them.
The summit was held at a time when millions of Christians face
violence, harassment, and imprisonment in over 100 countries. Pence
noted recent Palm Sunday bombings of Coptic churches in Egypt and the
destruction of churches in Iraq as examples.
“I believe that ISIS is guilty of nothing short of genocide against
people of the Christian faith, and it is time the world called it by
name,” he said.
Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk of the Russian Orthodox Church,
chair of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church
Relations, also addressed the summit on Thursday.
The 21st century has brought a “new vast wave of persecution of
Christians,” he said, “particularly severe in those countries where the
dominant religion is Islam.”
“Yet the persecutors are not those moderate Muslims,” he added, “but
extremists and terrorists hiding behind Islamic slogans and Islamic
He called on “Islamic leaders throughout the world to condemn
terrorism as something that contradicts the teachings of the Koran,”
asking “may this clear and precise condemnation resound from the lips”
of leaders of countries like Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey.
Metropolitan Hilarion also pointed to the Middle East and North
Africa as areas where Christians are especially targeted, and lie “in
the pathway of the political and/or economic interests of those forces
who are not afraid to use terrorists in pursuit of their goals,
pretending that they are fighting for freedom and democracy.”
Inter-Christian and inter-religious dialogue is key to the
international community uniting to aid persecuted Christians, he
A need for action
Pence pledged his prayers and the support of the Trump administration
for persecuted Christians. And this support extends to persons of all
faiths who are targeted because of their beliefs, he continued.
“Rest assured, in the Middle East, North Africa, anywhere terror
strikes, America stands with those who are targeted and tormented for
their belief, whether they are Christian, Yazidi, Shi’a, Sunni, or any
other creed, the president’s commitment to protecting people of faith,”
“Adherents of other religions across the world have not been spared
[persecution],” he added, “and we will speak and pray for them as well.
For as history attests, persecution of one faith is ultimately
persecution of all faiths.”
However, his pledge comes as religious freedom advocates have decried
the absence of prominent administrative positions that promote
religious freedom in U.S. foreign policy and advocate for persecuted
The Lantos Foundation recently sent a letter to President Trump
asking him to “move swiftly” and nominate an Ambassador at-Large for
International Religious Freedom, as well as a Special Envoy for
Monitoring and Combatting anti-Semitism. These two positions have
remained vacant since Trump took office.
“The perilous state of religious freedom around the globe confirms
the wisdom of America’s leaders in creating a legal framework for
addressing these abuses and ensuring that our foreign policy remains
focused on protecting and advancing these fundamental rights,” the
foundation insisted, saying the ambassador and Special Envoy positions
“are absolutely critical components of the legal framework.”
President Obama did not nominate an Ambassador at-Large for
International Religious Freedom until over a year after he took office.
When his first ambassador, Suzan Johnson Cook, stepped down in 2013, no
other ambassador was nominated until July of 2014, with Rabbi David
Saperstein who served for the rest of Obama’s term.
Russia has also drawn serious concerns for its religious freedom abuses.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom just noted, in
its 2017 annual report, that “in mainland Russia in 2016, new laws
effectively criminalized all private religious speech not sanctioned by
the state, the Jehovah’s Witnesses stand on the verge of a nationwide
ban, and innocent Muslims were tried on fabricated charges of terrorism
Russia’s restrictive laws were reportedly an impetus for the World
Summit moving from Moscow to Washington, D.C., Deseret News reported.
Rev. Franklin Graham noted on Thursday that the summit was originally
set to be in Moscow, where Christians suffered greatly under Communism.
However, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association reportedly moved the
location from Moscow to Washington, D.C. last year.