The US Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, urged government and faith leaders, and civil society, to work together to enhance global religious freedom, at the opening of the first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in Washington DC yesterday (24 July).
In his opening words, Brownback, who was appointed in January, told the 350 delegates from 80 countries: “The right to live according to the dictates of your own soul is under attack in the world.”
“The lack of religious freedom anywhere is a threat to peace, prosperity, and stability everywhere,” he added.
.@IRF_Ambassador Sam Brownback: The lack of religious freedom anywhere is a threat to peace, prosperity, and stability everywhere. #IRFMinisterial pic.twitter.com/teU9lc5XI8
— Department of State (@StateDept) July 24, 2018
The three-day event, hosted by the US State Department, has brought together representatives from a wide variety of faiths, as well as government leaders, policymakers and civil society.
“We need your faith in action to move the world to not just tolerance of differences – although that’s important – but unfortunately that bar is just too low,” Brownback told the delegates, as reported by the Religious News Service. “We must move to a place where people genuinely care and love one another, no matter our differences. You must help us get there.”
‘Living in horror’
Delegates also heard from some victims of religious persecution. Jamie Powell, the wife a Chinese pastor sentenced to seven years in prison in April for activities involved in the humanitarian work he was doing in Myanmar, said her husband “has lost 50 pounds, he’s not been able to communicate with me and my children … My son and I travelled there, 10,000 miles, and we were not allowed to see him.”
The plight of the Uyghur people living in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang was also highlighted in the story of Tahir Hamut, a Uyghur Muslim. He said how they were “living in horror”.
World Watch Monitor has reported how hundreds of thousands – some reports say it might be over a million – Uyghur and Kazakh men have been rounded up and taken to “re-education camps”, where they are detained for weeks, or even months. Families and communities have been torn apart, with many children ending up in orphanages.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who announced the initiative in May, said last week he wanted the meeting to be more than “just talk”, as reported by the Christian Post.
“We do believe that just putting people from all around the world in a room and talking about this topic will empower them to go back to their home country and advocate for religious freedom as well,” he said. “It’s difficult in many countries to even speak about religious freedom. So, we hope to provide a support system and a basis for some of them to head back to their countries.”