He’s the Governor of Kansas, but to me he has always been “Senator Sam.” I’ll be happy to call him Ambassador Brownback, though, when President Trump’s choice for the International Religious Freedom Office at the State Department is approved by the Senate.
Last night President Donald Trump announced his formal nomination of Sam Brownback, the Governor of Kansas, to serve as the State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Brownback left the U.S. Senate to become governor in 2011 after serving as senator from Kansas for 15 years, and a year as U.S. Representative before that. The previous ambassador, Rabbi David Saperstein, another great man and defender of the persecuted, was nominated by President Barack Obama three years ago tomorrow (July 28, 2014) and served through the end of Obama’s time in office.
Senator Sam left a hole in Capitol Hill when he departed. He was one of the key defenders of the persecuted and oppressed around the world: a strong advocate for international religious freedom, for the marginalized people in Sudan, for human rights in North Korea and China, for rescuing victims of sex-trafficking, for the unborn, and for so many more issues that either get you loved or hated. You can guess where I fall on that scale!
The appointment of Governor Brownback as the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom is something for which every person who cares about religious freedom around the world — for those of any faith and of no faith — should be grateful to President Trump for this appointment. He could not have chosen a more fierce defender of the persecuted and oppressed, or a more humble, gentle servant to the persecuted and oppressed.
I have many memories of Senator Brownback in these roles through the years (and some pictures!). There were the afternoons spent at Senate VAT meetings (Values Action Team), the hearings chaired or attended by the Senator, and working with Senator Brownback and his staff to craft and support such bills as:
- The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA is the vehicle that created the State Department Office on International Religious Freedom and the Ambassador-at-Large position!)
- The Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000
- The Sudan Peace Act of 2002
- The North Korea Human Rights Act of 2004
All of these moments and issues were critical moral stands by the U.S. government that, as Senator Brownback’s colleague Senator Joe Lieberman said at one hearing, define the character of America. But I particularly appreciated my time working with Senator Sam to expose the evil of the regime in Khartoum and bring freedom and peace to the people of Sudan. During the Clinton Administration, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told us that Sudan was “a backburner issue.” Senator Sam Brownback was one of those heroes who moved this important issue to the front burner.
In November of 1999, just beginning to work on Sudan legislation, IRD and our colleagues in the DC Sudan coalition, sponsored a national conference on Sudan. Senator Brownback was our congressional honorary sponsor, providing space for us on the beautiful top floor of the Hart Senate Office Building. We presented him, Senator Bill Frist (a doctor who spent his holidays doing surgery in the tiny hospital in Lui in southern Sudan), and the late U.S. Representative Donald Payne with awards recognizing their leadership on Sudan. And the iconic Christian musical artist Michael Card made his presence and his songs as a gift for the people of Sudan.
One of the best and most unusual experiences. also in 1999, was when Senator Brownback, knowing my close connections with the Sudanese communities in the United States, asked me to help provide Sudanese Americans for the Sudan episode of the then extremely popular television show Touched By An Angel. The episode, “Such a Time as This,” was the season opener for the show’s 6th season.
Brownback and U.S. Representative Frank R. Wolf (retired), another human rights hero, had asked the show’s producer, Martha Williamson, to do an episode to bring attention to the scourge of slavery and genocide perpetrated by the Sudanese regime. After hearing the song by singer/songwriter Wayne Watson, “For Such a Time as This,” Williamson was inspired to write the episode, featuring a U.S. Senator (modeled after Sam Brownback — but as a woman, played by Lindsay Crouse) whose young son urges her to use her position of power and influence to help the slaves in Sudan, regardless of the political cost to her own career. My Sudanese San Diego connections provided dozens of men, women, and children to the astonished Williamson to act in the episode.
In September of 2002, when we were still wondering if the Sudan Peace Act would ever pass in Congress, IRD sponsored a seven-day prayer vigil for Sudan outside the State Department (our primary opposition on many of the provisions of the Sudan Peace Act!). Each day different organizations led and/or participated in the vigil, including Rabbi Saperstein, who was then the head of the Religious Action Center in Washington, DC. Brownback was one of five members of Congress (the others were the late Senator Arlen Specter, and U.S. Representatives Frank Wolf, Dave Weldon, and the late Don Payne) that came to speak at our vigil. The Senator concluded his remarks with a prayer for the people of Sudan and then turned and asked some of the young Sudanese former Lost Boys to pray for him!
In fact, over the years as I brought many friends from Sudan and South Sudan (then southern Sudan) to meet Senator Brownback this was a hallmark of those meetings. Brownback is a man who finds his strength in the Lord. He welcomed prayer from those risking their lives serving the Lord and His people in the bush in South Sudan, like the late Rt. Reverend Bullen Dolli, the Bishop of Lui, and in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan, like the Rt. Reverend Andudu Adam Alnail, the Bishop of Kadugli and Nuba Mountains, while also praying for them.
When Touched by An Angel‘s Angel Monica (Roma Downey) confronts the reluctant and fearful Senator Kate Cooper and inspires her to action, she reminds her of the story of Queen Esther saving the Jewish people and declares, “who knows whether you have come to your position for such a time as this?”
Well, unlike imaginary Senator Kate Cooper, Sam Brownback is neither reluctant nor fearful . He will bring conviction and confidence into his position as Ambassador-at-Large. He will confront the evil that harms people of faith, and he will speak with candor to President Trump and others in his Administration. The President has indicated his desire to protect and defend Christians and others persecuted for their faith, and he has nominated Sam Brownback for such a time as this.