Hooray! We are finally focusing on religious liberty again — but let's keep in mind it doesn't stop at the water's edge.
After eight years of seeming neglect, it appears that protecting religious liberty is back on the nation's agenda. Now folks can debate the strengths and weaknesses of President Trump's new executive order, but at long last America's first freedom is getting some long overdue recognition from the White House.
During a May 5th ceremony in the Rose Garden, where I was actually privileged to be to witness it, Mr. Trump signed an executive order "promoting free speech and religious liberty" that instructs the Internal Revenue Service to "not take any adverse action against any individual, house of worship, or other religious organization" that endorses candidates. "We are giving churches their voices back," Trump said. "This financial threat against the faith community is over." It also instructs various departments to consider amending regulations in the Affordable Care Act requiring religious employers such as Wheaton College and the Little Sisters of the Poor to cover contraception in employee insurance plans.
While we'll have to see the effects of the President's executive order, it is a beginning, and I appreciate his good words. The Founding Fathers knew how important religious freedom was to the success of the new Republic, and it is no less vital today. As John Witherspoon said, "There is not a single instance in history in which civil liberty was lost, and religious liberty preserved entire. If therefore we yield up our temporal property, we at the same time deliver the conscience into bondage." We cannot expect our society to continue to prosper if religious liberty is undermined.
But if this is true about religious freedom at home, it's true elsewhere, too. America has an interest in religious freedom around the globe, and we need to make it a bigger part of our foreign policy, for all God's children. And we might as well start with Russia.
Why Russia? According to the latest annual report of the State Department's U. S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, Russia's ongoing persecution of religious minorities — including evangelicals — and of missionaries and evangelists over the last year has earned it a place for the first time among the world's worst countries for religious liberty. That puts it alongside regimes like China, Iran, and North Korea.
According to Christianity Today, Vladimir Putin's government is persecuting religious minorities in the occupied areas of Crimea and Donbas and cracking down on "non-Orthodox Christians in its heartland," too. As well, Russia's Supreme Court has banned Jehovah's Witnesses nationwide. CT also says, "Russian evangelicals, who make up less than 1 percent of the population, continue to push back against the restrictions, which have resulted in arrests, fines, and confiscated materials for Protestants found guilty. They have risked punishment to continue to spread the gospel."
That's for sure! Sergey Rakhuba, president of Mission Eurasia and a former Moscow church planter, has told the magazine, "They say, 'If it will come to it, it's not going to stop us from worshiping and sharing our faith.' "The Great Commission isn't just for a time of freedom." Amen!
May we here in the West have the same kind of determination, whatever the government does. And let's stand up for our brothers and sisters undergoing persecution in Russia and around the world. Let's encourage the Trump administration to follow through on religious liberty not only here, but there, knowing that protecting freedom of conscience is not only good for the soul; it's good national and foreign policy as well!
Originally posted at breakpoint.org.