Dr. David Curry, president, and CEO of Open Doors USA, says, “I don’t think any sitting President has ever made such strong statements in support of religious liberty at the United Nations.”
There were nearly 100 foreign leaders at the U.N. for the General Assembly, and President Trump encouraged all nations to work together to protect the religious heritage of their lands. “That was greatly encouraging and the practical steps he laid out: steps to try to protect sacred places, churches, mosques, synagogues, and other things, I think, were very helpful and practical steps to be taken to protect religious liberty.”
The U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo joined Trump and lent support for the initiative. The assembly also heard from people affected by religious persecution, like Pastor Andrew Brunson, who spent over two years behind bars in Turkey.
What’s so important about religious freedom?
How seriously the United Nations took the speech remains unknown, even as President Trump urged the world’s leaders to “Stop the crimes against people of faith. Release prisoners of conscience — repeal laws restricting freedom of religion and belief. Protect the vulnerable, the defenseless, and the oppressed.”
Curry says religious freedom ties directly into security issues. “What people need to understand is that persecution of Christians, and religious liberty as a whole is a leading indicator of when an area is going to tip into chaos.”
He goes on to add, “You have the same thing in the north of Nigeria.” In 2009, a ragtag band of Nigerian rebels got training and funding and became Boko Haram, or Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP).
Pointing to South Asia, he says, “I think you’ve got the same kind of thing developing in India, where you have 200% increase in the persecution and attacks on Christians since Prime Minister Modi took charge.”
Religious freedom an indicator of political stability
It’s also an issue that seems to take the United States by surprise. “We’re sort of bumping along the bottom. People are talking about it, but they’re not talking about it”, Curry says and then makes this observation. “I think there’s going to be a giant wave of persecution that’s going to wake everybody up and they’re seeing this is how communities are torn apart.”
Open Doors USA’s interest in this meeting is not only seeing that people have the freedom and access to texts like the Bible, but also to secure houses of worship. Along with that, that people would be able to freely follow Christ without fear of oppression on both the physical and the spiritual levels.
“When people want to make it impossible to go to a church, they might say, ‘well, it’s not against the rules to go to church, but you’d be a fool to go because you’re going to get killed’, I think we’re allowing those extremists to claim a territory that would be very difficult to get back.”
When asked what the average person should remember, Curry says, “God has asked us to care for people who are persecuted or in chains for the name of Jesus, as if it were our own family. So what would you do for your family? That’s the spiritual principle for Christians.”
The most consistent thing Open Doors hears from the Persecuted Church is a request for informed, fervent prayer. To that end, Curry says, “We have a prayer app, and it lets you know right now, ‘Hey, what’s going on? And what can we be praying about?’ I think that’s terribly important. But there are also all kinds of projects where you can give practical help to people who are in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and they’re persecuted for their faith.”
In the United States, accessibility to resources and government can magnify other impacts, as proposed this week. “I think it’s up to us to let our voice be heard because there are tens of millions of Christians whose voice cannot be heard because they live in countries where their opinion doesn’t matter (because they’re Christian, or because they’re fearful for their life).”