Enough is enough: Time to change the conversation in Washington
“This conversation begins and ends with nuclear weapons.”
The words hung in the air for a few moments as the audience—a mix of government officials, activists, and survivors of religious persecution—absorbed the statement.
The event on Capitol Hill, hosted by International Christian Concern, focused on the plight of Christians in Iran. Open Doors USA had been invited to serve as a panelist. For hours the speakers, including a prominent U.S. Senator and Christians who had spent time tortured in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison, had decried the state of religious freedom in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Open Doors USA and others relayed reports of scores of Christians arrested each year, with some sentenced to extensive prison terms for alleged crimes they never committed.
Everyone agreed more needed to be done, but it wasn’t until an expert from one of Washington’s preeminent think tanks pointed out the obvious that we began to consider how challenging the road ahead would be.
The fact is, Washington, D.C., is filled with many wonderful organizations and individuals working to address the injustices in our world today. For every story you hear of a disgraced politician resigning over some scandal or some crooked backroom deal taking place, there are hundreds or thousands of stories never reported of women and men putting their hearts and minds into solving some of the most complex issues faced by the United States, especially in the international arena.
Elevating Rights and Freedoms
Yet despite this, it is often the “realists” who drive government policy. Human rights and religious freedom are all fine and good until you’ve got a problem with a dictatorship trying to develop nuclear weapons and threatening to destroy one of your allies. That’s when the “realists” step in and from then on, “the conversation begins and ends with nuclear weapons.” The fact is, it shouldn’t.
It shouldn’t, because what history teaches us, and what we know to be true simply by the foundational principles of the Christian faith, is that how we treat others will ultimately come to define us, for better or worse. These principles don’t just apply to individuals; they apply to nations and specifically to U.S. foreign policy.
Should regimes that support terrorists and threaten genocide against others be confronted whenever possible? Absolutely. But we can never forget that a nation is made up of far more than just its government. In our zeal to stop what may be a very real threat, we must also craft our response in such a way that the rights and freedoms of millions are elevated and protected.
It is these kinds of policies that have the potential to one day turn a seemingly intractable enemy into a steadfast friend. The conversation may begin with nuclear weapons, but it should end with how we safeguard the rights of all, including those of Christians, to follow their conscience and live out their deepest beliefs to the fullest.
A Voice for the Voiceless
At Open Doors USA, we’re committed to advocating for the persecuted church at the highest levels of influence in Washington. At a very minimum, our work is to ensure that the leaders shaping history today cannot say they didn’t know what was happening. With 245 million Christians in 2019 at risk of high levels of persecution—not to mention the many millions of others who don’t even have the basic legal right to choose and express their own faith—global religious freedom is one of the greatest challenges of our time. It is also often one of the most ignored.
At our best, the advocacy efforts of Open Doors USA will bring hope and relief to those who are suffering because of their faith. We will see blind eyes made open, sometimes in the form of foreign government officials who once persecuted the Church realizing their actions for what they truly are.
Other times, we will see captives set free from the darkest dungeons. Ultimately, we may not know the full result of all our efforts until we step from this world into eternity, but we do know that we are called to be a voice for the voiceless and to let our light shine before others, including those in Washington, D.C.
We hope you will join with us in this incredible calling. Help us change the conversation in Washington. Let’s partner together and lift up our voices on behalf of the persecuted until the dialogue no longer begins and ends with weapons, or money, or any other material thing.
Let’s be a light for the gospel in this city, and let’s make sure the message of the inherent worth of every man, woman, and child, including the voices of our persecuted brothers and sisters, is not just an afterthought, but an integral part of every conversation.
Isaac Six serves as director of advocacy for Open Doors USA and is based in Washington, D.C. He has worked on religious freedom issues and Christian persecution in Washington, D.C., for nearly eight years, including inside and outside of government, and has traveled extensively to meet with victims of religious freedom violations around the globe.