Christians at Risk as Nigeria Receives a Pass from U.S.
While closing up shop for the holidays, the U.S. Senate approved a new U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom. And it may not be a moment too soon. The Biden Administration needs loud voices within its ranks for religious freedom now more than ever.
Why do I say that?
Well, around Christmas I cannot help thinking about my place in a much bigger family of faith. And that often brings to my mind brother and sisters in Christ around the world who face existential threats every day — and especially on our holiest days of the year. They need all the support they can get from us and our top officials.
So my heart was saddened when I saw this statement from a leading Catholic bishop in Nigeria. In a video featured at a Religious Freedom Institute event on December 16, Bishop Stephen Dami Mamza testified to the heartbreaking violence continuing against Christians in Nigeria. And he expressed dismay that the U.S. State Department recently cut Nigeria from its list of worst religious freedom offenders.
Mamza wants an explanation. He said, “Give us the data. How is it that Nigeria is different from Nigeria of two years ago?”
That is an important question. And it’s one numerous advocates and legislators want answers to. After all, Nigeria had just been added to the Country of Particular Concern (CPC) list last year by the Trump Administration for its practices related to “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.”
That was a bold move by the Pompeo State Department when you consider that Nigeria has the largest economy and population in Africa. In fact, the United Nations estimates Nigeria will overtake the U.S. as the world’s third most populous nation behind China and India by 2050. It also has a representative government, which means it had the dishonor of being the first democracy to receive a CPC designation — a label that puts it in the company of countries like China, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.
But according to many religious liberty advocates, the CPC listing was warranted. Open Doors USA reports that more Christians are killed in Nigeria just for identifying with Christ than in any other nation. Also, last fall Reverend Johnnie Moore, then a Commissioner on the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), told the Daily Signal that at the height of the genocidal ISIS regime in Syria and Iraq, the religious violence in Nigeria was worse.
So for many religious liberty advocates, the State Department’s removal of Nigeria from the CPC list was a shock. Particularly so when Secretary of State Antony Blinken actually referenced Nigeria’s poor record while rolling out the administration’s annual IRF report — a precursor to CPC designations — in May. USCIRF was “appalled” by the de-listing, and former congressman and long-time human rights champion Frank Wolf (R-Va.) said the move was “a victory for the terrorists.”
Sam Brownback, IRF Ambassador in the Trump Administration, lamented, “This rewards the Nigerian government for tolerating severe religious freedom violations and sends a message to extremists that their actions will continue to go unpunished.”
“People of faith in Nigeria will bear the fallout of this decision,” he said.
And that is what I am especially concerned about.
David Curry, Open Doors USA president, noted in a recent article that Nigerian Christians have received threatening letters since the State Department let their country off the CPC hook. Curry said that those letters — “startling even for Nigeria” — essentially told the Christians to abandon their churches or face “ferocious” consequences.
Curry added, “In addition to physical assault, the country’s radical extremists are now using fear and intimidation tactics to terrify Nigerian Christians and send a clear message: You are not welcome here.”
Will you pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ in Nigeria, particularly during the Christmas season?
Pray, too, that voices of religious liberty advocates, including those insiders like new IRF Ambassador Rashad Hussain, will persuade the Biden Administration to take a stronger stance in defense of Christians and other religious minorities under attack in Nigeria and around the world.
(Aaron Mercer is a Contributing Writer with two decades of experience in Washington, D.C.’s public policy arena. Photo Credit: Getty Images)
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