Earlier this year, Islamic State militants murdered 21 Coptic Christians in Egypt in cold blood, and then released a video titled “A Message Signed With Blood to the Nation of the Cross,” depicting the horrific act. The video shows a masked man referencing the killing of Osama bin Laden and his burial at sea saying, “The sea you have hidden Sheikh Osama bin Laden’s body in, we swear to Allah, we will mix it with your blood.”
Many of the victims cried out to Jesus before being beheaded.
Christianity is under attack globally, and particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, where Christian populations are ceasing to exist at astonishing rates due to widespread persecution by Islamists. A recent Pew Research study found that Christians now face persecution in more countries worldwide than any other religious group.
For too long, the world — including the United States — has turned a blind eye to the rampant slaughter, displacement and persecution of Christian groups globally. Recently, heart-wrenching images of men, women and children literally running for their lives have surfaced in Western media, forcing what felt like a distant problem to the forefront of our national consciousness.
Christian populations in the Middle East have steadily reduced over the past few decades, from approximately 20 percent at the start of the 20th century to around 5 percent today. The Islamic State, in particular, has made the eradication of Christianity in the Middle East a top priority.
Most experts believe there are now zero openly practicing Christians left in the city of Mosul, where the Islamic State has made Christianitypunishable by death. The Islamic State is estimated to control as much as 35,000 square miles in the Middle East, with between 31,000-50,000 militants fighting on its behalf.
Throughout Iraq and Syria, Christian homes, businesses and places of worship are marked with the Arab letter “N” symbolizing the pejorative term “Nazarene” and signaling to Islamic State forces that marked properties are open targets for looting, vandalism and destruction.
As the Islamic State has ravaged the Middle East, expanding its reach throughout Iraq and parts of Syria, Christian communities with history dating back millennia have been forced to flee for their lives or face unthinkable persecution. On its quest to eliminate Christianity, the Islamic State has decimated sites of historical significance and slaughtered thousands of Christians.
In 1998, the United States passed the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), signaling its intention to be an international champion of religious freedom. The legislation mandated that the protection of religious freedom abroad would be a cornerstone of American foreign policy, and that it would create the position of “ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom.”
Regrettably, the Obama administration has chosen to take a lackadaisical approach to religious freedom, and allowed IRFA to fade into the background. President Obama left the ambassador-at-large position vacant for almost a year and a half after taking office. That same position was left vacant later in his second term for nearly a year before recently being filled.
Further, the House and Senate passed a bipartisan bill last summer creating the special envoy for religious freedom in the Middle East. A year later, Obama has yet to nominate someone to fill the position.
As a Christian and as an American, my heart breaks seeing this persecution. I call on the president and Congress to consider the plight of displaced Christians fleeing for their lives across the Middle East and North Africa. But it can’t end there. As a nation, we must address the persecution of all religious minorities.
This week, I met with leaders at the inaugural In Defense of Christians National Leadership Convention in Washington, D.C. In Defense of Christians is a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of the persecution of Christians abroad and to urging governments to take in Christian refugees fleeing the Middle East. We have a moral obligation to assist those fleeing religious persecution and to no longer turn a blind eye to the plight of our Christian brothers abroad.