DOES RELIGIOUS FREEDOM APPLY TO CHRISTIANS IN THE STATE DEPARTMENT?
This week the State Department released their annual International Religious Freedom report. But who is reporting on them? The State Department is notorious inside the Beltway as a bastion of left wing, progressive thought that is often hostile to conservatives and, ironically in light of the religious freedom report, to Christians. Although press statements coming out of the State Department appear to indicate an ongoing commitment to the promotion of religious liberty around the world, when we asked Christians inside the State Department how we can pray for them, their answers were heart-wrenching.
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First, we offer a summary of the report and then we share the prayer points for the State Department.
2021 International Religious Freedom Report
Actions speak louder than words — but words are important. On matters of faith and freedom, the White House leaving any clear reference to God out of the President’s National Day of Prayer proclamation wasn’t a confidence-building start to the month.
But more recent words from federal officials may offer some hope, at least in the global arena.
Now, will the action match the words?
The positive words came this week with the State Department’s first report on international religious freedom (IRF) during the Biden administration. Mandated by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, this report is an annual submission to Congress and it is useful as a detailed survey of the global religious freedom landscape. It can also set the stage for particularly egregious human rights violators to face sanctions if they are later formally designated as “Countries of Particular Concern.”
Announcing the new report, U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken called religious liberty a right that “goes to the heart of what it means to be human – to think freely, to follow our conscience, to change our beliefs if our hearts and minds lead us to do so, to express those beliefs in public and in private.”
Pointing to the honored place religious freedom has internationally in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as in our own First Amendment, Blinken said, “Our country’s commitment to defending freedom of religion and belief goes back centuries. It continues today.”
It is noteworthy that Blinken then made sure to emphasize his belief in the “indivisible” and “interdependent” nature of all human rights. “Religious freedom is not more or less important than the freedom to speak and assemble, to participate in the political life of one’s country, to live free from torture or slavery, or any other human right,” he said.
Pressed on this statement by reporters later, Daniel Nadel, who leads State’s IRF Office, suggested this is a “clarification” that the Biden Administration doesn’t believe in a hierarchy of rights. “But that in no way is to indicate that religious freedom is any less important,” he said.
Like Blinken, who called religious freedom “a key element of an open and stable society,” Nadel also highlighted that countries upholding this liberty “are more peaceful, stable, prosperous and more reliable partners of the United States than those that do not.”
Nadel added, “So it has long been recognized that promoting religious freedom is vital to America’s national security interests.”
Certainly, that was believed — and acted upon — in the Trump administration. The selection and empowerment of former IRF Ambassador Sam Brownback, the elevation of a dedicated religious freedom official on the National Security Council, and the incorporation of this right as a formal top tier diplomatic objective — all these actions left no doubt in capitals around the world just how strong America’s commitment was to the honoring of its first freedom.
However, despite potent and, I believe, sincere words honoring religious liberty in years before that, too often that cornerstone liberty seemed to take a back seat to other concerns when the rubber met the road in diplomacy.
So now the Biden administration must decide if its actions will back its words. Will it aggressively build on the momentum of recent years in advancing respect for this liberty abroad? It has taken steps, including the sanctioning of a Chinese official this week. But will it continue to ensure the strength of a voice focused on religious liberty in its day-to-day decision-making? What will become of the International Religious Freedom Alliance spearheaded by the U.S. and joined by dozens of nations? Certainly, the choice (hopefully soon) of key officials like a strong IRF ambassador will be telling.
Prayer Points from within the State Department
Americans across the political spectrum know how important our first freedom is. So too do Christians who work in the State Department, which is notorious inside the Beltway as a bastion of left wing, progressive thought that is often hostile to conservatives, and ironically in light of the religious freedom report, to Christians. How can you pray for the Christians who are working in the State Department? We asked and they answered–
- That religious freedom and freedom of speech guaranteed by the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights will be carried out
- For the Lord’s will to be done here on Earth as it is in heaven
- For the supernatural presence of Jesus to wrap around each person who has stood for Him in the State Department and diplomatic community
- For strength to continue to be a faithful witness for God
- For suffering Christians to have compassion for and favor with leaders and colleagues in the U.S. government (and that these leaders and colleagues would explore Christianity)
- “For movement to free those who are at the end of their rope.” Editor’s note: I want you to see exactly how this was phrased. I started to edit it and realized that the way it is written conveys the heart and reality of what it is like to be a Christian in leadership in the State Department. It is a heartfelt and perhaps desperate cry for God to move significantly in the work they are doing and in his or her life personally. Don’t just breeze through this last prayer point–press into the Father to intercede effectively for your brothers and sisters in Christ who are in need and at the end of their ropes. Can’t you picture the pressure and strain?
- For an effective Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom to be appointed, who will highlight this issue well and leave a God fearing, God pleasing legacy
You are not going to find this anywhere else. Will you share these prayer points with your friends?
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