Members of the National Religious Broadcasters joined government officials, religious leaders, rights advocates, and civil society organizations from around the world last week as they gathered for the U.S. Department of State’s first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom.
The three-day event was hailed by participants as a major breakthrough for religious freedom and a testament to the current White House administration’s commitment to the issue.
“I’m extremely pleased that Ambassador Brownback and the Secretary of State initiated this event,” Michael Farris, president, CEO, and general counsel of ADF International, told NRB Today. “Far too long the United States has promoted just about everything on earth other than religious freedom. And for us to put this much time and attention … shows a commitment to this issue. That is extremely refreshing.”
Dr. Don Sweeting, president of Colorado Christian University, was also among those who participated in the ministerial and agreed that the U.S. government’s recognition of religious freedom as a major issue has “been a long time coming.”
“There’s been lip service to it,” he told NRB Today.
But now, Sweeting added, “there’s a recognition here that realizes it’s a very deep problem.”
“It’s huge,” he continued. “And I’m grateful to the administration for caring about it, enough to do something. Not just having an ambassador-at-large, but bringing people together to consider how to work together, how to create more of a voice speaking out against atrocities that take place around the world, [and] how to promote religious liberty in our lands.”
From July 24 to 26, the ministerial convened a broad range of stakeholders – including foreign ministers, international organization representatives, religious leaders, and civil society representatives – to discuss challenges, identify concrete ways to combat religious persecution and discrimination, and ensure greater respect for religious freedom for all.
More than 175 civil society representatives and more than 100 religious leaders representing every corner of the world were invited to participate in the historic Ministerial – the first-ever such meeting dedicated to religious freedom.
“Religious liberty is a source of strength and stability for societies, and the focus that President Donald Trump and his administration have placed on this core principle sends a powerful message within our nation and to governments abroad,” wrote Dr. Jerry A. Johnson, president & CEO of NRB, in a letter to the Secretary of State ahead of the ministerial. “Indeed, this emphasis is needed now more than ever as affronts to freedom and human dignity grow more severe in many places around the globe.”
The ministerial program included several plenary sessions, panel discussions, and breakout sessions, as well as an interview with television producer Mark Burnett, who encouraged ministerial participants to take advantage of every little opportunity that presents itself, and to speak up more – doing so in a simpler, more effective way to communicate to the masses.
“Try and learn to communicate better to the masses in simple language that will motivate people to take action,” Burnett said.
Side events hosted by other organizations also took place throughout the week of ministerial, including, among others, a panel on “Protecting International Religious Freedom from the Politicization of Human Rights,” co-sponsored by The Heritage Foundation, Concerned Women for America, and ADF International; an exhibit of “The People of the Cross,” sponsored by the Saved the Persecuted Christians Coalition; panels on threats to religious freedom, co-sponsored by ERLC, Religious Freedom Institute, and Boat People SOS; and a panel discussion on parental rights and religious freedom co-sponsored by James Dobson Family Institute and ADF International.
Also present to share their stories at the ministerial were survivors and close relatives of those who suffered persecution due to their religious beliefs. Among them was Jaqueline Funari, whose father is Pastor Andrew Brunson, a North Carolina native who has been brutally and unjustly imprisoned for his faith since October 2016 by Turkey, America’s NATO ally. Notably, the day after Funari’s testimony, Brunson was released from prison and moved to house arrest to await his next hearing, scheduled for October 12.
News of Brunson’s move was met with a standing ovation when it was announced at the ministerial by U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, who told those gathered that the meeting was making a difference.
Tony Perkins, president of Family Research Council and a commissioner for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, credited the Trump administration for the development.
“I know for a fact that the President and the Vice President have been working diligently in the case of Pastor Brunson,” he told NRB Today. “So today’s news that he’s being released to house arrest didn’t happen in a vacuum. It happened because this administration has put a priority on religious freedom and the ability to live and exercise that freedom.”
As for the ministerial, Perkins said the event “is going to pour ‘Miracle –Gro’ on religious freedom around the world.”
“This is a powerful event that the President, through Mike Pompeo, is doing,” he said. “It’s the first-ever. It’s a significant statement of this government that religious freedom is going to be a priority.”
For a full report on the ministerial from NRB’s vice president of government relations, Aaron Mercer, click here.
Click here for NRB’s letter to Pompeo, in which NRB’s president & CEO thanks the Secretary of State for his leadership, pledging: “You will not be alone in this great cause.”
Also, for the latest news on Pastor Andrew Brunson, click here.
By NRB Staff
Published: August 2, 2018