ELECTIONS

Dear Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump, do you pledge to help persecuted Christians if you win?

 (AP Photo/Lekan Oyekanmi)

In April of 2014, 276 women were kidnapped in Chibok, Nigeria by Boko Haram. They were taken from a school and held as prisoners or sold as sex slaves.

In May of that same year, First Lady Michelle Obama posted online a photo of her holding a sign encouraging us to #bringbackourgirls.

Many people at the time sensed that it marked the beginning of something different in foreign policy. But what exactly? Why would the first lady of the United States need hashtag diplomacy to move a country to action when the Obama administration was in power and presumably had the ability to influence action?

Perhaps Mrs. Obama was simply trying to raise public awareness of an important issue. But the question remains: why didn’t the United States government put more action behind the appeal to #bringbackourgirls?

If we get another four or eight years of a laissez-faire attitude toward religious freedom from the next president, we can expect there to be an extinction of Christianity in the Middle East.

One of the key issues this election season is the growing privatization of advocacy for religious rights, filling the gap created by a lack of action and strategy of free nations. In other words, because the governments of free countries have failed to sufficiently leverage their individual or collective influence on behalf of the persecuted and oppressed in other nations, private advocates have stepped in to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Neither of the leading candidates in the 2016 presidential campaign has seriously addressed the issue of the persecution of Christians around the world and its impact on religious freedoms as a whole. Nor have they acknowledged the very real regional instability created by increasing persecution. But the growing privatization of advocacy for religious rights, and how the candidates feel about it, is an important issue that we must be pushing the candidates to take a strong position on.

The current administration, it must be said, has been slow in taking action against the persecution of Christians and for religious freedom in general.

From a position in the State Department focusing on religious freedom that was left open for years, to a shift to the kind of hashtag diplomacy for the Chibok girls, this administration’s lack of action shows that it believes nations need to work out for themselves how religious freedom works within their own societies.

This laissez-faire policy has had disastrous consequences for Christians and others who want the freedom to choose their faith for themselves and not to have it assigned at birth. (In many countries, the religion of babies are registered at birth based on their parents’ faith and cannot be changed later in life).

It has allowed extremists groups like Boko Haram and ISIS to expand its forced conversion at the threat of the sword.

The growth in persecution based upon the data of the Open Doors World Watch List shows a near doubling of incidents against Christians around the world…every year…for the past three years.

If the policies of the current administration are continued, there can be little doubt that this terrifying trend will continue.

There was a time not so long ago when the United States sought to encourage and promote religious freedom, believing that it was a precursor to other freedoms.

During the Cold War, perhaps if only as a reaction to the complete restriction of religious freedoms in the Soviet Union, nearly every U.S. president believed that freedom of religious expression was critical to the freedom of the people of the Soviet Union—and they were right.

The spread of the underground church, and the distribution of Bibles among the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant believers in the Soviet Union was a critical element in the growing gap between the people of the Soviet Union and their leadership.

The people wanted a rich, meaningful spiritual life of their choosing, and the communist leadership wanted a worship of the Communist systems and its icons and ideals.

If we get another four or eight years of a laissez-faire attitude toward religious freedom from the next president, we can expect there to be an extinction of Christianity in the Middle East.

The Christian population in the region has already been reduced from 20 percent of the population some 20 years ago to just 3 percent today. With Christians now nearly extinct in the region, four more years of indifference will surely lead to further declines in other countries and regions as extremists and totalitarian regimes expand their reach unchecked and unfettered.

Freedom of religion is a canary in the coal mine for other freedoms. When this fundamental freedom is extinguished, all other freedoms are at imminent risk.

Sitting idly by while religious freedom is denied to others isn’t just immoral, it is also impolitic. Wherever you see an attack on Christian faith, you’re likely to see that region or nation tip into chaos shortly thereafter.

Will we have a president who will use his or her platform of power to actively encourage religious freedom and to protect the rights of Christians and others around the world to practice their faith?

Now is the time to urge the candidates to speak out and articulate their plans to support religious freedom. My fear is that the Obama administration’s hashtag diplomacy was not the beginning of something, but rather the sad end of generations of U.S. presidents that supported religious freedom through action.

For now, non-governmental agencies alone push, prod and plead for religious freedoms, without the levers of trade, law and good standing with free nations to bring additional pressure to bear on those who would deny their people such freedoms and protections.  

This needs to stop. We need a President Clinton or President Trump to use the tools of statesmanship and diplomacy to encourage religious freedom and all the benefits it brings. -- If they don’t, we will see more chaos and many more innocent people will lose their lives to governments and rogue tribes who will force their ideologies of hate upon their populations.

Americans can make their voices heard by joining Open Doors’ campaign to ask Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to clearly articulate their plans for protecting religious freedom and standing up to those who would deny it to their citizens. Sign the petition today at opendoorsusa.org

David Curry is the President of Open Doors USA. Each year, Open Doors releases its World Watch List, a ranking of the 50 countries where Christian persecution is worst.