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Religious Liberties Around the World

Air date 09/01/2015

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Former U.S. Congressman Frank Wolf offers listeners an update on the current threats to religious liberties around the world.

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Episode Transcript

Opening:

John Fuller: On today's "Focus on the Family," you'll hear about the strong faith of persecuted Christians around the world.

Excerpt:

Mr. Frank Wolf: So, here's a hard man with rough hands, who wouldn't deny Christ, and his wife dies, and so, their faith is very, very strong. But we in the West have a moral obligation to speak out and to advocate. If we know their stories, it may very well help us here in this country.

End of Excerpt

John: Welcome to another edition of our program with your host, Focus president, Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and today we're looking at the worldwide importance of religious freedom.

Body:

Jim Daly: John, in North America, we may feel somewhat immune still to religious persecution. I mean, we're at the front edge of that and it's in the form of losing some rights or marriage being redefined, those kinds of things. But around the world, religious persecution, it's like a brush fire. It's happening and whether that's the Middle East of other countries and we want to talk about that today. Why? Because it's important for us as Christians to know what's happening in the world, to be better informed so that we can understand how to pray and what's truly going on.

And to help us understand it better is former congressman, Frank Wolf and he is with us today. He's been on the broadcast many, many times. He's a retired long-time congressman from Virginia. I'd like to say it this way. There are people of integrity in Congress. I know Congress has really low ratings, but there have been good men and women that have served this country well and Congressman Frank Wolf is among them, I'd say top of the heap. Frank, welcome to "Focus on the Family.

Frank: Well, thank you, Jim. It's good to be with you. Let me thank you and thank the employees of Focus. Focus has been playing a major role in my family over the years, so thank you for what you do.

Jim: Well, we so appreciate that and what a blessing. Dr. Dobson, I think, "A Father Looks Back," right, was a big impact in your life.

Frank: "Cat's in the Cradle, silver spoon."

Jim: Yeah, that's the song. That's it and that's great. And you know, let me start, Frank, with Congress and where we're at today, because there's so much despair within the Christian community, but probably the whole country. How do you balance that serving the people in Congress and as you have served for so many decades there, how did you try to get up every day and go into the office and do the right thing?

Frank: Well, I served for 34 years. I think things are at the lowest point I have ever seen. I always got along well. We were in a little Bible study. You know Tony Hall. Tony Hall is my best friend in Congress. Tony was a Democratic from Ohio. We still meet every week and we still do things together. We go around speaking around the country together.

And that doesn't take place very much anymore and I don't know whether it's the Internet, whether it's the 24-hour news cycle, whether it's not cable, but something has dramatically changed and it's very hot and very mean and very divided and frankly, I think the poll numbers show that the American people are not happy with what's taking place in Congress or in the Administration, quite frankly. I think Washington is looking like it's not working.

Jim: Well, you survived all those years.

Frank: I did.

Jim: And you made it out. (Laughter) So, one thing though that is still the passion of your heart and this was true when you were in Congress and it's true today and that's religious persecution. Talk about why that is such a passion for you. What drives you in that way? Being briefed on Capitol Hill the way you were for over 30 years, what did you see and what concerns you today about religious persecution?

Frank: Well, that's a big question. It's a long question. One, there's more religious persecution taking place today than any other time in history of mankind. In China, you have Catholic bishops under house arrest, Protestant pastors, hundreds in jail. They've gone after the house church, the Three-Self Church. They have 140 Buddhists monks and nuns that have poured kerosene on their body and set themselves aflame and you have all over, in Vietnam what's taking place to the Catholic Church, the Evangelical Church.

In the Middle East, we are literally seeing the extinction, the end of Christianity and it's important for people to know more biblical activity took place in Iraq than any other country of the world other than Israel. I mean, Abraham's from Iraq. Esther's from Iraq. Rebecca's from Iraq. [The] 12 tribes of Israel lived in Iraq.

We were in Iraq a couple months ago. They took us to Nahum's tomb. Ezekiel's buried in Iraq. Daniel's buried in Iraq. They just blew up Jonah's tomb. And so, the Christian church is gone for 1½ million down to roughly 300,000 and 17 Iraqi Christian families leave the country every day.

Paul could not go to Straight Street because you couldn't get through to get into Damascus where it is.And so, we're seeing this tremendous persecution and when we talk to the people out there, they feel abandoned. They wonder why isn't the Church in the West more interested? Why isn't the West more interested?

So, we're seeing this and then end with, why am I interested in it? Jesus, the Bible says a lot about persecution, a lot about oppression, a lot about the poor. And what got me interested in it is a trip I took to Romania in 1984 at the request of Tony Hall. I went with Tony and my trip to Ethiopia the same year where we saw what was taking place in the famine. Those two trips—Ethiopia and Romania and the Ceausescu ministers got me interested in this issue. And when you're with the persecuted church out in the region, you are with some of the most godly people you will ever, ever meet.

Jim: Boy, I agree with that. I've met with people around the world that live under oppressive regimes. A couple of observations that way, Frank; one is, the church seems to be extremely healthy in many parts of the world because of that. It's like, you can't be a cultural Christian in that environment. You're either for the Lord or you turn your back on Him, because it'll save your neck. Talk about that. There is some good that comes out of this clarity.

Frank: You are right. The fact is, China in 2030 will be the largest Christian nation in the world.

Jim: I mean, that's amazing.

Frank: The church in China is growing. They're not afraid. They're not intimidated. However, they are payin' a tremendous price. Two weeks ago, 100 and some lawyers were picked up, some who had been by to see me, and a number have disappeared. But at the time, the persecution's coming and I'm not sure America wants that type of persecution, because I don't know that we're up to it, quite frankly.

You are seeing the church grow. The Christians in Iraq are amazing. We were in one little village. I interviewed a man, and his wife had breast cancer and ISIS came in, overtook the village. They went to Mosul for treatment. ISIS said they'll treat his wife, if she converts, and if he converts. She refused to convert. He refused to convert. She died 10 days later, and if you compare that, this Christian in this little village compared to Peter, who knew Jesus, saw Jesus, ate with Jesus, denied Jesus three different times.

And so, here's a hard man with rough hands, who wouldn't deny Christ, and his wife dies, and so, their faith is very, very strong. But we in the West have a moral obligation to speak out and to advocate. If we know their stories, it may very well help us here in this country.

Jim: Well, talk about that. Why do we spend so much more time with "deflate gate." That's the Tom Brady Patriots' issue on the evening news. You know, I've been followin' the news, looking for these things about religious persecution around the world and it's rare that it pops up. It's like nobody wants to talk about it.

Frank: Boy, you're right.

Jim: We just want to look the other way.

Frank: Well, you know, Simon and Garfunkel sang the song in Central Park called "The Boxer." And it said, "Man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest." We're just disregarding this, fundamentally. When I see some of the stores that get covered and I see the persecuted ch[urch], I don't know why even in the church itself, it used to be,15 years ago I was the author of The International Religious Freedom Commission. We used to have church services once a year with the persecuted church in Sudan, the persecuted church in Vietnam, the persecuted church around the world. Now very few have it. So, I don't know why.

One thing may very well be, President Reagan I thought was one of the finest Presidents. President Reagan always talked about human rights and religious freedom. In fact, there's a story, the Russian foreign minister, Gromyko said to Secretary of State Shultz, he said, "Every time I'm in the Oval Office with Reagan," he said, "the first thing he talks about is human rights and religious freedom." Shultz said, "Well, that's interesting. Every time I'm with Reagan, that's the first thing he talks about, too." So, Reagan spoke out for human rights, religious freedom. Neither party has embraced this issue, and I think it's not a good thing for our country.

Jim: Well, when you look at it, Frank, especially being in a seat of power in Congress and you look at the value of religious expression and religious freedom, it delivers so much for the broader culture, doesn't it?

Frank: It does. Wherever there's religious freedom, we are not at war with any country where there's religious freedom. There's economic growth where there's religious freedom. You see prosperity, generally, where there's religious freedom.

So, no, religious freedom means positive things for [us], but for some reason, it just does not resonate. I remember we had a rally. There was a rally in 1987. Hundreds of thousands came on the Mall to advocate for Soviet Jewry. Ronald Reagan spoke to them. I can still remember that day. Well, could we get a rally on the Mall for human rights and religious freedom today? I don't know that we could, and yet, there's more persecution taking place today than there was when that was actually taking place.

Jim: And in fact, it does spill over for other groups. In the Middle East, you talk about the Yazidis. Talk about their story.

Frank: Oh, Jim, their story is the worst story. It is genocide. Last week I sent a letter to the President and the head of the U.N., asking them to declare it genocide. We spoke with two young Yazidi girls, one 17, one 18, who had been captured by ISIS. And we won't go into it on the radio. Their story is brutal. There is genocide against the Yazidis. There's genocide against the Turkmen. There's genocide against the Christians. It meets the Article 2 definition. Rafael Lemken, if you recall, the 1948 put together for the U.N, the definition. It meets [it], yet, the world does not want to speak out.

The Amadi Muslims in Pakistan are being persecuted. The Bahai's in Iran, there are hundreds of Bahai's in jail in Iran. No one ever speaks out. So, Tibetans, I mean, you've had a number of Tibetans in jail. We have had a number who are so frustrated, yet I mean, they won't even invite the Dalai Lama to certain places here in the United States, because they don't want to offend the Chinese. So, the Yazidis, the Christians, the Turkmen are now experiencing genocide and we have a moral obligation.

You know, it says in Luke, "To whom much is given, much is required" and we have been blessed and They said, they came out of my office and they said, "Does anyone care?!" And so, we need to call this what it [is]. It is genocide against the Christians and the Yazidis in Iraq.

Jim: Why so little movement from governments around the world? Is this a typical pattern that you've seen over the 30 years you served in Congress, where genocide occurs. Everybody looks the other way and then three, four or five years from now, we come in with platitudes and say we're sorry, we didn't catch on earlier?

Frank: You got it. You got it. You called this. The same thing happened on the Holocaust for the world stood by, same thing. Sam Brownback and I—Governor Brownback who was then a Senator—we were the first two guys to go to Darfur. It took us years to get people to focus. Genocide was taking place in Darfur. It took years for the world to focus on it, and now it's even coming back, but that's usually what happens. It goes on for two or three, four years and you wipe out thousands.

Look we, the State Department had all the cables on what was taking place in Rwanda and they knew what was taking place. General Dallaire, if you've ever seen Hotel Rwanda, they knew and they didn't want to act. The administration, Clinton felt so embarrassed by it, he went to Rwanda and apologized his last year in office.

You have called it. We wait and If we do not declare a genocide in Iraq with regard to Christians and the Yazidis, we are going to see the extinction of Christianity. In the cradle of Christianity, we will see no more Christians. There is a saying in the Middle East. First the Saturday people and then the Sunday people. In 1950, the Jewish population of Iraq was 150,000. Now we were told when we were there in January, there are four Jewish individuals left in the country.

Jim: Four.

Frank: That's all, four, four. So, what took place in the Jewish community, we saw the same thing in Egypt. The Coptic Christians are being persecuted in Egypt. In 1950, the Jewish population was 80,000. I met with the leader of the Jewish community two years ago in Egypt. She said there are 20 individuals, more or less. She said, "We'll all over 60, in their 70's and you will see the end of the Jewish community." So, what has taken place to the Jewish community is now taking place to the Christian community.

Jim: Oh.

John: Well, you can learn more about this matter of persecution of believers in Christ and other religious minorities around the world.We're specifically talking about the Middle East right now and you can learn more about Focus on the Family's presence in the Middle East and some of our work there to alleviate suffering because of religious persecution. We'll have some details for you at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.

Jim: Frank, let me paint a picture for those that don't know this story. You know, in the Middle East, we've been working there. We have an office Cairo, a terrific family that has headed it up, Sami and Wassam Yacoub. And they've been doing such great work and when the 21 men were killed in Libya, you know, they have left—

Frank: Yeah.

Jim: --most of them had left Egypt to go and work for money that they could send back to their homes to build modest homes. When I heard about that, the thought struck me that we as the believers, should step in and help finish that job. And so, our office there in Cairo has been working to that end.

In the course of that, I had a phone call with Sami and he said, "Jim, the families are weeping." And I said, "Of course, they are, Sami. They're sad that they've lost their loved ones." And he said, "No, they're weeping with joy that God would honor them, that they could suffer for the name of Christ." Boy, that is different than how we think in the West, isn't it?

Frank: It is very different. And well, I want to thank Focus for doing that, because seven of them were part of Mama Maggie. Mama Maggie is a woman who has the kids on the garbage, that were her students. And so, I thank Focus for doing that.

It's interesting, when that happened, the administration said 21 Egyptians were beheaded. They wouldn't say 21 Coptic Christians or 21 Christians were beheaded. But I think that is amazing. You know, none of them denied Christ and if you look at those pictures, I mean, how would we react if we were there?

Jim: Well, in fact, Sami said, they were singing hymns—

Frank: Wow.

Jim: --and songs to the Lord, as that atrocity was perpetrated on them. And you know, of course, again, it's almost like what is good is evil and what is evil is now good. Talk about that kind of moral landscape that we find ourselves in today, when not even the President will call it like it is, because of political correctness. How do we find truth in this morass of twists and turns and lies?

Frank: Well one, we have to learn those stories. And many times, you can't go and visit all the time, but when you can, I think to be with them in a village, to be with them in a refugee camp, to be with them.

Secondly, join groups that sort of help them. There's Voice of the Martyrs and different groups like that who will adopt prisoners of conscience. In the old days, back in the' 80s, we used to adopt a prisoner of conscience, and many times members of Congress would actually wear an arm band. We used to write them.

Natan Sharansky, I went to Perm Camp 35, the gulag that Natan Sharansky was in. Sharansky said that when Ronald Reagan mentioned, remember in 1983, Orlando, Florida, he called it the Soviet Union, an evil empire, when Reagan called them the evil empire, in the gulag, they tapped; they tapped with a spoon so everyone in the gulag knew.

So, by advocating, by speaking out, by writ[ing], you know, we're gonna, the group that I'm with, now we're gonna have a questionnaire that every person running for office has to tell us, are they interested in, will they meet with the persecuted church? Do they care?

We're gonna try to have all the people running for President, not in a political way, but just to tell us that they understand, that they're concerned. Do they know the stories of the Catholic bishops that are under house arrest? Do they know that Xiaobo is in prison and his wife is under house arrest in China? Do they know what's taking place in Vietnam? Are they prepared to advocate for an Amadi Muslim in Pakistan? Are they [aware]? Do you know, there's a woman named Asia Bibi, [a] Christian, under the death sentence for blasphemy. She has young kids. She's been in a prison with a death sentence for six years and nobody advocates. Will they?

Jim: What country?

Frank: Pakistan.

Jim: Oh.

Frank: Pakistan, will they advocate for Asia Bibi in Pakistan? Will they advocate for the Bahai's in Iran? Will they adopt pastor Abedini? Will they write their congressman and senator to say, "Will you always speak out? Will you give speeches on the floor for Pastor Abedini? Will you? I mean, and if you do that, we can literally come back to the days--we did in the '80s and '90s. This was always bipartisan. You had Ronald Reagan, God bless him, Scoop Jackson, Democrat. You had Henry Hyde and you had Tom Lantos. It was a bipartisan [effort]; we want to make this again whereby this becomes one of the major issues that everyone will have to focus [on].

Lastly, the words in the Constitution, the words in the Declaration of Independence, Ronald Reagan said that those words were a covenant, not only with the people in Philadelphia in 1776 and 1787, but a covenant with the entire world. They're a covenant with the Iraqi Catholic nun livin' in Erbil. They're covenant with Xiaobo who's in prison in China. They're covenant with a Tibetan monk that's in the Drapchi prison. And so, that covenant's being shredded. If we can restore that covenant, I think we can make a big difference around the world.

Jim: Well, Frank, I mean, that's so well-said and it is, how do we ignite a fire in people's hearts to have passion and compassion for people who are suffering?

You know, one of the things is experience. I remember being in Iraq in 2003, right at the end of the initial war with them. In fact, just a couple weeks before, Saddam Hussein's statue had been pulled down.

Frank: I know.

Jim: That's how soon we got in there and we were looking for radio opportunity, a program in Arabic, which still airs in that region, and I'm proud to say, a 4-minute family commentary. But we were there, and we met with a maternity hospital, a 22-bed maternity hospital, run by nuns and the day before, two of them were shot in the portico as they came back from the vegetable market. One of them survived.

So, I'm sitting with the head nun and she's telling me this story about her friend, her fellow nun who had been shot—two of them, one survived. And she told them that Muslim terrorists had said, as soon as your Christian uncles leave, meaning the U.S. Army, as soon as they leave, we're gonna come back and kill every one of you Christians. That's how they think in that part of the world, isn't it?

Frank: That is and that's happening. Actually, Jim, ISIS is winning. As of now, ISIS is winning and I believe that a year from now we can check and see, I think the black flag of ISIS will fly over Damascus. The black flag of ISIS will fly over Straight Street. You can still go to Straight Street in Damascus where Paul went, unless something's being done.

So, I think, you know, what can you do? One, you can pray. Two, you can listen to radio stations like this. Three, you can join groups like Voice of the Martyrs and Open Doors. And lastly, support candidates or at least educate the candidate—Republican and Democrat—don't make it a political issue, that will focus on these issues, because again, it's biblical. Look, what Jesus says in Luke 4 about the oppressed. You know, He quoted from what He said in Isaiah in the synagogue. "Look and see; to whom much is given," and America's been blessed so much that we have a moral responsibility to advocate, to speak out. And by us advocating and speaking out, we really restore that covenant that Reagan was talking about.

The time is short, though, because we will see, maybe not in my lifetime, I'm 76, but I think even in my lifetime, if something dramatically is not done, we will see the end of Christianity in Iraq—the land of Abraham, the land of Esther, the land of Rebecca, the land of Jonah, the land of Daniel, the land of Ezekiel. The light will have gone out.

Jim: Oh, I mean, it is breathtaking, Frank, to think about that, and those are good practical points of what we can do, but the people, the leadership in this country has to be motivated to be able to speak on these issues. And I appreciate the fact that it needs to be bipartisan. These are not political battles. These are basic human rights that many have died for, and I would hope that they find the courage to do so.

In the last few minutes here, Frank, talk about your work as the Distinguished Senior Fellow of the 21st Century, Wilberforce Initiative. What are you doing now that you're retired?

Frank: We're working on the issue of human rights and religious freedom, both internationally and domestically. We've joined with a group in town, all different political views, all different, religious backgrounds, to try to make the issue of religious freedom and conscience one of the major issues for the 2016 election.

You know, Madison, I'm from the State of Virginia; James Madison was really the author of the Constitution. Madison said, "Conscience is the most sacred of all property." Conscience is what drove Thomas Moore. Conscience is what drove, you know, many people. Conscience is what drove Martin Luther King.

To make this one of the major issues, so we're putting out a voter guide. We're gonna try and have a radio show on religious liberty, again non-partisan, but we're trying to make the issue of international [importance]. We came out with our recommendation a week ago to ask that the President and the Secretary of State make what's taking place in Iraq, genocide! We cannot turn our backs on it. I don't want to get too graphic, because I know it's a family show, but what's taking place to young kids is brutal! We must call it genocide! If we do not, we will lose our moral authority.

So, we want to do that. That's why I went to Iraq. We didn't have any government officials with us. We went to the front lines. We saw ISIS. We were a mile and a half from it. The Pershmurga has no weapons, old weapons. ISIS has the most sophisticated weapons, to make this an issue, and also to stand with the persecuted church in China. We can change the world, so that's what we want to do so that everyone in 2016 has to focus on this issue.

Jim: Frank, how do we appeal to people's conscience, especially congress people, that it isn't a partisan issue? How do we help create that kind of environment again?

Frank: Well, Jim, that's a good question. You know, laws and all are downstream from culture; it's the culture. You know, what William Wilberforce, who abolished the slave trade, he and Hannah More and the Clapham group, they changed the soil of England, and by changing the soil of England, in fact, Wilberforce said, "What happens in the parliament is less important than what happens outside. So, by changing the soil, they were able to educate the average English person to stand up against slavery.

We need to change the soil of America, whereby the pulpits are aflame. You remember de Tocqueville said, "The pulpits were aflame with righteousness." And the church must provide the way. The church must be the leader to speak out on these fundamental issues that we're certain that Jesus would say, "You're doin' My will."

Jim: So, I'm a mom, pickin' up my kids at 3 o'clock at school today and you want me to go home and do what to help?

Frank: Well, you can just call your congressman. You can call your senator. You can call this President. You can call the—

Jim: Write a letter.

Frank: --White House. You can write a [letter]; a handwritten letter carr[ies] much more weight than a kind of an e-mail. Just say, "Please do something with regard to the Yazidis and the Christian women and girls that are bein', and I won't go into what's bein' done to them, call this "genocide," so the world can focus on it.

I'll tell you who has called it "genocide." Pope Francis has called it "genocide." Pope Francis has been very good on this issue. Cardinal Dolan's been very good on this issue. Cardinal Wuerl's been very good on this issue. Rick Warren's been very good on the issue. Russell Moore's been very good.

But not enough people in the church have been and I think the church has to provide that leadership. And you know, the Millennials are saying, "And I read your book; will you talk about the Millennials?" The Millennials are saying, "Is this church relevant today?" You do this and this will demonstrate that the church is relevant, similar to what Gary Haugen did on the whole issue of sexual trafficking, we should do the same thing in the church on the issue of religious freedom, both internationally now, because that's where the real threat [is], but also domestically.

Jim: Well, Frank Wolf, retired congressman, thank you so much for bein' with us today.

Frank: Thank you, Jim and I want to again, thank Focus for the great job.

Closing:

John: Well, it's been a really important discussion today, placing at the forefront, that reminds the suffering that goes around the world. And in order to really continue the education, get a CD of this broadcast and listen again with some friends or someone at church. Download it or get the CD. We also have links for some of the Christian organizations that were mentioned today, as well as articles and some steps you can take to stand up for Christians, especially in the Middle East, all of this at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459.

Now Jim talked earlier about the homes being built or completed for those families of the 21 believers who were martyred, who were killed in Libya by ISIS earlier this year. And we couldn't reach out to assist these families in such a way without your generous contributions. We're a not-for-profit organization and we'd ask you to pray for our global offices around the world and if you can to support our international efforts with a gift today. Call us. We're helping families worldwide to thrive and our number again to donate, 800-A-FAMILY.

Our program today was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow, when we'll offer trusted advice to parents on helping your daughter under romantic relationships, as we once again, help your family thrive.

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Guest

Frank Wolf

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Frank Wolf is a retired U.S. Congressman who represented Virginia's 10th congressional district for 17 terms (1981-2014). He continues to co-chair the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, a bipartisan group working to raise awareness of international human rights issues. During his congressional tenure, Wolf authored the International Religious Freedom Act and continues to fight for religious liberty around the world as Distinguished Senior Fellow of the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative. Wolf and his wife, Carolyn, reside in Virginia and have five adult children.