The Bible has much to say about persecution, oppression. In Luke 4:18, Jesus reads to the synagogue in Nazareth from Isaiah. He said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.”
In Ecclesiastes 4:1, it says, “Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun. I saw the tears of the oppressed and they have no comforter. Power was on the side of their oppressors.”
America’s first freedom, religious freedom, has never been under more assault at home and abroad than it is today. I think what remains to be seen is whether the people of God will rise to such a time like this. I believe personally that religious freedom is the modern-day human rights issue of our time, both internationally and domestically.
In China, there are Catholic bishops under house arrest. There are hundreds of Protestant pastors in jail. I went to Tibet in the mid-‘90s; 130 Tibetan monks this last year have poured kerosene on their bodies and lit a match to protest what the Chinese government is doing. Christian lawyers have been arrested over the last month, and the church in the West is silent.
In Nigeria, where we visited last month, we spent a week up in the Boko Haram area. Boko Haram is killing Christians, Boko Haram is burning villages, Boko Haram is targeting churches, killing thousands. You remember the outcry of the White House and of the West when 200-some Christian girls of Chibok were kidnapped by Boko Haram. The White House had a weekly breakfast and a radio address, and they said, #BringBackOurGirls. And then there has been silence.
It will be two years that the girls have been gone. The church in the West has said nothing. Said nothing.
COVERAGE: The 2016 Wilberforce Weekend
We met with a missionary from America there who has been there for 30 years, and he said, “We are counseling the families, and here’s what we are telling them: Your daughters may never come back. If they come back, they will have been raped over and over and over. Likely they will be pregnant, may very well carry HIV/AIDS. And lastly — tell this to a Christian parent — they will have been forced to convert to Islam.”
And the church is silent.
In the Middle East, in Syria, 300,000 people have been killed. More biblical activity took place in Iraq than any other country of the world other than Israel. Abraham is from Ur, modern-day Nasiriyah. Rebecca was from northwest Iraq. Jacob spent 20 years in Iraq. His sons, the 12 tribes of Israel, lived in Iraq. Daniel, the great man of the Bible, was buried in Iraq. Ezekiel, who spent most of his life in Iraq, in Babylon, is buried in Iraq.
The revival that took place in the book of Jonah took place in present-day Mosul, that ISIS now controls. Last year, eight months ago, ISIS blew up Jonah’s tomb. Have we said anything?
In 2003 the Christian population in Iraq was 1.5 million. Today, we are at roughly 250,000 . In 1948 the Jewish population of Iraq was 150,000. When we were there, I said, how many Jewish people are left? They said, officially perhaps 10 individuals. The same thing — as the church is silent, the same thing is happening to the Christian community. The Catholic group out of England did a report last month that said if the current trend continues, there will be no Christians left in Iraq in six years.
We were with Sister Diana and the Dominican sisters, who are so wonderful, who speak Aramaic, the same language of Jesus. We had dinner with them, and the question they ask, they said, “Mr. Wolf, does the West care about us?” And then I think perhaps the most profound question Sister Diana asked. She said, “Does the church in the West care?”
To a person, everyone we talked to expressed a pervasive sense of abandonment. They see the emergence of the caliphate in the cradle of Christendom. We went into one refugee camp and we talked to a man, and he told us this story. His wife had breast cancer. ISIS came in, took over his village, then took over Mosul. Several weeks later, he took his wife to the hospital in Mosul to get cancer treatment. ISIS said they would not treat his wife unless she denied Christ and converted [to Islam]. She refused and he refused.
I don’t know what I would do, quite frankly. I’ve been married 55 years. We have had cancer in my family up and down. If they told me that, I would have rationalized and said, “You know, God, you really know my heart, you know I’m not really converting.”
But he did not deny Christ, and his wife did not deny Christ.
We reposition that with when we were in Israel, back in November. We went to the little town of Capernaum and we saw where they said was the site of Peter’s house. And the guide said Peter came and visited here, and Jesus came and visited here, and Jesus ate with Peter. Right over there is where Peter heard Jesus give the Sermon on the Mount, and right over there is the Sea of Galilee, and Peter saw Jesus walk on the water, and yet what happened? Peter denied Christ three times.
And yet a construction worker and his wife in Iraq, who never saw Jesus, they did not deny Christ. And the church in the West is silent.
• Rep. Frank R. Wolf (Virginia Republican) was a member of the House of Representatives (1981-2015), where he authored the International Religious Freedom Act. He is founder and co-chair of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and distinguished senior fellow of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative. This excerpt is from his April 9, 2016, remarks at the Wilberforce Weekend in Arlington, Virginia.