USA (MNN) — According to the International Society for Human Rights (a secular group with members in 38 states worldwide), 80% of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed at Christians.
The United States says they’re concerned about this infringement of rights. However, the post of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom has gone empty for more months than it has been filled in the current administration.
That’s why this week’s White House announcement brought hope rushing back. David Curry, President and CEO of Open Doors USA. says, “They’ve appointed Rabbi David Saperstein to this appointment. I’m hoping that he will be very effective. He has a good reputation as far as support of persecuted Christians and religious liberty and issues that are important to Open Doors.”
Saperstein has the National Association of Evangelicals’ (NAE) endorsement, too. It’s a position that serves as the principal advisor on international religious freedom to both the president and the secretary of state. Curry adds, “It’s important to have somebody who is a point person, watching out for issues of religious liberty, speaking out for the government, and perhaps negotiating for the United States government with regard to the freedom of people to express their faith.”
However, one question that remains is: Who is this guy? According to the NAE, for more than 30 years Saperstein has represented the Reform Jewish Movement to Congress and the administration as the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
In 1999, Saperstein was elected as the first Chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and he also headed the Coalition to Protect Religious Liberty. He’s now the first non-Christian to speak for the persecuted Church. “David Saperstein will be a strong advocate and voice for religious freedom around the world,” NAE President Leith Anderson says. “It’s hard to imagine a time when there would be a greater need for such a champion.”
“We’re prayerful that this new role will have a great deal of influence and access to the Secretary of State and shape some of the attitudes and policies of this administration,” says Curry. He goes on to note that while Saperstein has support from the faith community, he might face an uphill battle. “We’re excited that they’ve finally gotten around to appointing the position again. But because it’s been such a weak position and such a lack of focus on this issue from the administration, it’s hard to get too optimistic.”
The NAE has urged President Obama to fill the position since it became vacant in October 2013. In February, Anderson signed a letter with other well-known American Christian leaders thanking the president for lifting up the cause of international religious liberty at the National Prayer Breakfast and asking him “to appoint a proven leader with the stature to engage world leaders and to give this person your full support as he or she represents and promotes our government’s commitment to religious freedom.”
Persecution? It takes on a whole different meaning in the global context, says Curry. “What we’re talking about when we’re talking about persecution is the inability to own a Bible, to read a Bible, to talk openly about your faith, to own a business in some countries. In many, many countries, you have to register if you’re a Christian, almost as though you’re a criminal.”
Saperstein comes to the job during unprecedented turmoil in the Middle East. The expulsion of and violence against Christians in Mosul, Iraq is one example of how Christians are targeted for their faith. Christians are currently the most persecuted religious group in the world.
A look at the Open Doors World Watch List shows how volatile the worst oppressors in 50 countries are when it comes down to strengthening Christ followers and equipping them to share their stories. In light of that, Curry urges prayer for Saperstein as he takes on new responsibilities and faces new challenges in his post. Why should you care? “The wider political environment, the administrations, the governments: they’re not going to care about persecuted Christians more than the actual Christian community does. It’s really a biblical mandate that ‘when one part of the body hurts, we all hurt.'”