While serving at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), I saw the pivotal right of religious liberty constantly endangered worldwide. Since my departure in 2012, the situation has sadly worsened.
According to a Pew Research Center study, three-fourths of the world’s people live in countries that do not protect or respect this freedom. From China to Iran, Iraq to North Korea, Afghanistan to Uzbekistan, Burma to Eritrea, Syria to Vietnam, Pakistan to Russia, violations range from building restrictions to detention, jailing to beatings and torture to murder.
As Christians, we must fully engage this issue. For at least four reasons, we must care and respond.
First, these attacks deny the dignity and worth of fellow human beings.
Second, religious freedom enables people to consider the gospel without fear. God’s message of salvation requires the freedom to choose Christ.
Third, as many studies show, religious freedom positively correlates with national and world security, whereas religious freedom abuses correlate with instability, violence and terror.
Finally, wherever religious freedom is attacked, our Christian brothers and sisters suffer.
Across much of the Middle East, radical Islamist forces seek to obliterate non-Muslim communities, especially Christians. Under the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, churches have been razed, women raped or enslaved and men and boys beheaded or crucified. In Egypt, Coptic Christians have been assaulted. In Iran, Saudi Arabia and Sudan, governments themselves persecute Christians and other minorities, including those from disfavored branches of Islam.
Beyond the Middle East, Pakistan’s Christians face jail under blasphemy laws or slaughter by extremists. Christians refusing to register with China’s Communist dictatorship face arrests, torture, jailing and bulldozing of churches. Nigeria’s Christians endure attacks from Boko Haram. North Korea’s Christians are imprisoned, brutalized and even executed if accused of missionary activity.
In the 1990s, a galvanized American church prodded Washington to enact the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), which created USCIRF and the State Department’s religious freedom office.
Today, let us pray for the persecuted and re-engage this issue. As we approach the 2016 election season, let us press candidates to stand for liberty. Let us press Washington to make religious freedom a top foreign policy priority for this nation.
This article originally appeared in Evangelicals magazine.