(This article was originally posted on “The Living Church” and is reposted with permission.)
More than a dozen members of the U.S. Congress have offered their solidarity with those targeted by the Islamic State (ISIS) jihadists. The three senators and thirteen representatives addressed over a thousand participants in the inaugural In Defense of Christians summit at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center. They pledged to stand with persecuted Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities in the Middle East.
In Defense of Christians united Christians of Middle Eastern descent from Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Lebanon, along with church leaders from the Middle East representing Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and other communions in the region. They called attention to the plight of their brothers and sisters, particularly in Iraq and Syria.
The summit began September 9 with an ecumenical prayer service, before the work of advocacy began in earnest on Wednesday.
That morning, summit delegates were transported from the Omni Shoreham Hotel to Capitol Hill to hear from the members of Congress. Before the American political leaders spoke, Nina Shea, director of theCenter for Religious Freedom at the Hudson Institute, and Robert Destro, professor at The Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law, prepared the summit participants for their advocacy. Two members of the National Assembly of France, M. François Pupponi and Henri Jibrayel, also addressed the group.
Following Washington protocol, Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) and Rob Portman (R-OH) spoke first. Inhofe shared success stories from his longtime advocacy in Africa. Portman quoted from the last prepared speech of President John F. Kennedy, which was to have been delivered on the day he was assassinated: “We, in this country, in this generation, are — by destiny rather than by choice — the watchmen on the walls of world freedom.”
Portman introduced, with Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), a resolution calling for action to protect Iraqi Christians. When Stabenow arrived later she also stressed that it was “America’s responsibility” to stop ISIS and protect Iraqi Christians.
Members of the House also represented both sides of the political aisle. Democrats included Jim McGovern (Mass.), Anna Eshoo (Calif.), Brad Sherman (Calif.), and Dan Lipinski (Ill.). Republicans speakers were Jeff Fortenberry (Neb.), Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), Rob Wittman (Va.), Chris Smith (N.J.), Kay Granger (Texas), Gus Bilirakis (Fla.), Darrell Issa (Calif.), Joe Pitts (Pa.), and Kerry Bentivolio (Mich.).
“The people in this room did not need to see two journalists beheaded to know how evil ISIS is,” Rep. Sherman said.
“Now is not the time to waiver, but to stand tall,” Rep. Grainger said.
Resisting persecution of Christians in the Middle East should be a “top priority for all of us,” Rep. Bilirakis said. “As we confront radical Islam, I will never back off and I will never back down.”
“America needs to speak with the moral clarity that we have not spoken with for a long time,” Rep. Issa said.
Rep. Pitts warned that although he believed he understood the motives for some recent U.S. foreign policy decisions, they are “failed policies” and undermined “our fight against terrorism.”
Rep. Kinzinger, a U.S. Air Force pilot and veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, said that soon “ISIS is going to hear the sound of a combat fighter jet.”
Rep. Fortenberry was accompanied on stage by a large posterboard on an easel. As he spoke, the poster was turned around to display the nun, the Arabic letter “N” for Nasara, the name by which Middle Eastern Muslims identify Christians. ISIS has spray-painted the symbol on the homes of Iraqi Christians as a threat that they would be forced to convert, pay the jizya (tax for non-Muslims), or die. It has now become a symbol of solidarity and remembrance with the persecuted.
Rep. Chris Smith and French MP Henri Jibrayel offered two haunting statements.
Smith, a longtime defender of the persecuted church around the world, summarized the history of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA), passed by Congress and into law by President Clinton in 1998.
“It should have been a game-changer,” he said, explaining how IRFA provided information on the most egregious situations of persecution around the world. But strong actions have not followed. “It’s not for lack of knowledge,” he said. “It is for lack of commitment.”
Jibrayel reminded IDS participants of the ISIS-declared emergence of the Caliphate, calling it a “threat to both the region and beyond.” He condemned widespread silence in the face of this Islamic threat: “In the Middle East and in Africa, silence is not ‘golden’ anymore. Silence is full of blood.”
“We must act now to protect the people in the Middle East,” Rep. Lipinski said.
And Rep. Bentivolio added: “Every freedom-loving man, woman, and child must be engaged in this fight.”