President Barack Obama focused his Ash Wednesday address on the plight of persecuted Christians throughout the world.
The commander in chief said he and first lady Michelle Obama would be spending their Lenten season reflecting on those who suffer oppression, especially Christians subjected to "unspeakable violence and persecution for their faith."
"Today, Michelle and I join our fellow Christians in marking Ash Wednesday," the president said in a statement posted to the White House website.
"Lent is a season of reflection, repentance and renewal, a time to rededicate ourselves to God and one another. We remember the sacrifice and suffering of Jesus Christ. We pray for all those who suffer, including those Christians who are subjected to unspeakable violence and persecution for their faith," Obama continued. "And we join millions here at home and around the world in giving thanks for this sacred and solemn season that guides us toward the Easter celebration."
The president offered a similar prayer for persecuted Christians last December, when he called on Americans to remember the plight of those suffering in the Middle East, adding that he and Michelle keep "close to our hearts and minds those who have been driven from their ancient homelands by unspeakable violence and persecution."
Obama has received criticism for not doing enough to raise awareness and defend Christians, especially those in the Middle East where terrorist groups like the Islamic State have carried out executions and attacks on religious minorities.
Last week, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest sought to defend Obama's approach, saying that the president and his administration have refused to label the persecution of Christians in the Middle East as a "genocide" for legal reasons.
The Christian Post reported last week that Earnest attempted to explain why the administration is refusing to call IS' mass slaughter of Christians a genocide: "There are lawyers considering whether or not that term can be properly applied in this scenario. What is clear and what is undeniable and what the president has now said twice in the last 24 hours is that we know that there are religious minorities in Iraq and in Syria, including Christians, that are being targeted by ISIL terrorists because of their religion and that attack on religious minorities is an attack on all people of faith and it is important for all of us to stand up and speak out about it."
"This is an open question and one that continues to be considered by administration lawyers," Earnest added.
David Saperstein, the U.S. State Department's Ambassador at-Large for International Religious Freedom, said in January at an Open Doors ministry press conference attended by CP that labeling the mass persecution of Christians a genocide would not change the Obama's tactics in defeating the IS.
Christian leaders, including Dr. Richard Land, a former member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, have said that Saperstein and Obama are denying facts by refusing to label the Middle East persecution as a genocide.
"They refused to call radical Islamic jihadism, radical Islamic jihadism. It is certainly true that not all Muslims are extremists, but all the radical Islamic jihadists are Islamic," Land, the executive editor of The Christian Post and president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, said in a recent interview. "So, if something is genocidal, then it should be called 'genocide.' Why avoid telling the truth and speaking plainly?"