The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released it’s annual report on April 18th. If you’re interested, you can read the full version here, or the abridged version here. If you’re unfamiliar with the work of USCIRF, they are responsible for monitoring the conditions of religious freedom around the globe and submitting reports to the White House, and to the Senate. They also lobby for legislation and other political action related to global religious freedom.
In the style of fellow voices contributor William Thornton, I am going to offer my observations of USCIRF’s annual report. My intent in this post is to provide a break from the two topics dominating SBC life these days; racial unity and Dr. Patterson’s staements. I also want to remind us that while we debate important topics such as racial unity and domestic violence, our brothers and sisters around the globe are being persecuted for their faith. Here are my observations, and beware, I may criticize the Trump Administration.
- There was no ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom for most of 2017: This is disappointing, especially for an administration and a President who was supposed to be a friend to evangelicals. Former Kansas governor Sam Brownback has been appointed as the ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom and has been approved by the Senate. The situation has been rectified.
- The commission has recommend to the Trump administration that the United States resettle vulnerable refugees who are fleeing their countries because of religious persecution. This mean refugees of al religions, and not just Christians.
- The Commission has recommended to Congress that they exercise more oversight of the expedited removal process and press for reforms to address the concrens about the treatment of asylum seekers.
- Pastor Andrew Brunson is still being held as a prisoner in Turkey. I know very little of his story, but the commision has classified him as a prisoner of conscience, a prisoner in a foreign country being held for religious beliefs. His visits had been restricted to family members and government workers, but the authorities did allow USCIRF officials to meet with him.
- The President is allowed to set a ceiling on the number of vulnerable refugees allowed in the country each year. Since 2001, that ceiling has been between 70,000 and 110,000. The Trump administration suspended this ceiling in 2017 until better vetting procedures were put in place and the ceilings for 2017 and 2018 were 50,000 and 45,000 respectively. This is the most troubling part of the report for me. We should protect the vulnerable, but it seems as though the Trump administration has pursued a more isolationist course by cutting those ceiling numbers almost in half.
- There are two categories a country can fall into that will get them mentioned in the annual report. The first category is Countries of Particular Concern. There were very few Countries of Particular Concern that were surprising except for Russia. The conditions for religious freedom in Russia have deteriorated in recent years. The second category is called Tier 2. These countries do not meet all the criteria to be considered a country of particular concern, but they do meet some of the criteria. The surprising countries on this list were Egypt and Turkey. It appears the Islamic spring of 2011 did very little to create an environment for religious freedom, and one of the more tolerant Islamic countries, Turkey, is not a fan religious freedom.
- There are those who claim the mantle of Christianity, but are indiscriminately killing Muslims, especially in the Central African Republic. This is just a reminder that not all religious violence is being committed against Christians.
- I find the section on China particularly disturbing because of their prominence as a global power. Their treatment of religion is becoming more controlling and more brutal as they seek to infuse all religion with Chinese socialism.
- It seems that in most of the Tier 1 and Tier 2 countries, Christians and Muslims are enduring equally harsh persecution. Except, of course, in those countries that are majority Muslim.
- Pakistan was the only country where the media was encouraging religious discrimination.
The conditions for global religious freedom are deteriorating slowly. USCIRF barely reported any improvements and no countries were taken off either list. We should pray for our brother and sisters in Christ who are suffering for their beliefs, and for our IMB personnel who work in those countries. We should continue to support efforts to relocate refugees who are fleeing religious persecution, regardless of religion. Does this report generate any thoughts?
There are my observations. Did I do a good job William Thornton?