By / Oct 4

For many of us, we imagine that “the good life” is a life lived without limits. We view freedom as a license to do what we please, where we please, when we please, and how we please. Nowadays, we often have the opportunity to exercise such so-called freedom. But is this really freedom? And is it what “the good life” actually looks like?

In A Spacious Life: Trading Hustle and Hurry for the Goodness of Limits, Ashley Hales argues that “the good life” comes not when we attempt to shuck the limits that we find so cumbersome, but when we embrace what she calls “the confines of God’s loving limits.” Paradoxically, it’s when we surrender to these limits that a life of flourishing opens up for us.

Hales answers a few questions below about how we can pursue the “spacious life” she calls her readers to. 

When you use the phrase “a spacious life,” what do you mean by that?

A spacious life connotes a life of purpose, rest, and stability that isn’t dictated by our circumstances. It’s another way of talking about the green pastures of Psalm 23, or where the “boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places,” (Ps. 16:6), and the place where Paul speaks about learning the secret of contentment in want or plenty (Phil. 4:12). A spacious place is a space of rescue, the space of God’s presence, and a place of stable care.

What are some of our misconceptions about what it means to live a spacious life? In what ways do we typically get this wrong?

Most of the time, we tend to equate a sense of spaciousness as expansive: we have more options open to us, more financial freedom, more career security, more free or leisure time. We’ve equated the “good life” with an upwardly mobile, Western one. But “more” doesn’t usually lead to meaningful. We’re all looking for meaning, for a sense of security and peace, even when circumstances don’t go our way. If anything, 2020 has shown us (in often hard and painful ways) that we’re limited, and the story of unlimited autonomy isn’t getting us to meaning, it’s leaving us exhausted. As Wendell Berry says, we must leave behind the sense that we are “godlike animals.” He also says, “We will have to start over, with a different and much older premise: the naturalness and, for creatures of limited intelligence, the necessity of limits.”

You talk a lot in the book about limits, which, at first glance, seem contradictory to this idea of living a spacious life. How do limits contribute to our flourishing?

Before sin entered the world, the world was created good. Part of that goodness included boundary lines. For example, there were cycles of harvesting and seasons where the ground lay fallow and orbits to planets. God-given limits are good. Without God’s loving setting of limits, the world would be formless and void. People too, were created with limits of body, time, place, relationship, and vocation. The problem is that after the fall of our first parents, we’ve tried to go past (transgress) God-given limits in favor of doing it our own way. As we lean into our God-given limits, we’ll be living in a more redemptive space, acquiescing to God’s will rather than our own.

Why are we so committed to transgressing our God-given limits?

It’s the human way since the Fall! We still believe the lie that God-given limits aren’t really good, or God’s not really good, or that he’s somehow withholding something from us. We’ve also likely imbibed American origin stories more than the story of God: instead of seeing God’s good limits as the path to flourishing, we transgress (literally “move past or beyond”) those limits in favor of building our own modern Towers of Babel to try to earn a place in this world by our own effort.

You say, “A more spacious life is not to be gained by becoming bigger or by spreading out more thinly; it’s by following the way of Jesus.” Can you talk more about this?

We think we’ll get this spacious life we crave by doing more — like adding to our calendars lots of activities that we think will make ourselves, our families, our colleagues, and perhaps God happy. A sense of spaciousness grows in our souls not through hustle or hurry or ratcheting up our importance through accolades and acknowledgment. The life of Jesus was small; he was poor, he lived outside of the places where important things happened. He spent time in prayer and study, he spent time in quiet; he also paid attention to the needs around him, healing, teaching, feeding, and preaching. When he was tempted in the wilderness he chose to wait on the care of God the Father, not hurry ahead to provide for himself or draw glory to himself. If we want a sort of spaciousness to grow inside our souls, we too, will need to heed these limits. We are invited to wait, to rest, to pay attention, to be gathered into the people of God, to participate in the work God is already doing. These limits form the contours and guardrails of faithfulness.

You devote a chapter of your book to social media. When it comes to living a spacious life, what sorts of challenges does social media present?

Social media encourages us to imagine ourselves everywhere at once. We’re disconnected from the bodies on the other side of another person’s screen. We’re able to all weigh in on the issue of the day. And when we find ourselves scrolling, we’re often looking to soothe the uncomfortable feelings of living with the limits of our bodies, our time, our actual places and neighborhoods, our attention, and calling. Life seems simpler in little squares. While social media can provide connection, we need to create guardrails in our schedules so that we do not become simply reactive to a tool that is designed to form and shape us into its own image. Things like rest, reading Scripture, joining around dining tables, welcoming others who are different from you, and walking are small starting places to prioritize in-the-flesh community. We grow through the constraints of local community. If social media has its proper place and is an outflow of embodied community, then it can be a helpful tool.

In another chapter, you focus your attention on the practice of waiting. Though we often view waiting as time wasted, you argue otherwise. How does viewing waiting as “good news,” as you say, help cultivate the spacious life you call your readers to?

Waiting time isn’t wasted time. We often fill up waiting time because waiting makes us feel uncomfortable. When we wait, we reckon with our lack of control. In the story of God, we ultimately have one who is both good and in control. That means if we’re being invited to wait, though it’s hard, it is an opportunity to place ourselves into the hands of our loving Parent. We can rest secure knowing that whatever outcome is on the other side, it is for our good and his glory.

In our culture especially, the practice of waiting and, likewise, rest, is hard. How do we get better at it?

Prioritizing sleep is a great way to start. Put your phone out of your bedroom. Turn off screens a few hours before bed. Do something that relaxes you, like taking a bath or having a cup of tea before bed. Rest, too, can also look active. I’ve asked people to make themselves a “delight list,” a list of all that brings you delight, noticing how God has uniquely wired you. Perhaps picking one of those on your list to add to your practice of Sabbath would be a great way to start. 

Throughout the book, in addition to what we’ve discussed already, you highlight other ways that people can cultivate the sort of life you’re commending, from embracing Christian community to “practicing the art of dying” and others. It’s a whole different way of being, isn’t it? It makes me think about the idea that the church is meant to be a “contrast community.” In addition to our own flourishing, what implications might living a spacious life have on the surrounding community and culture?

This is such an important point. We often think that a spacious life is just an individualized, vertical relationship between us and God. And we think that the idea of leaning into our limits means we get to say “no” to everything that doesn’t seem to feel like flourishing. But if the church is to be a “contrast community,” that means that the limits God is inviting me into aren’t just for me, they are for the good of my neighbor too. We are to be, like Abraham, a blessing to the nations. That means that as I’m welcomed into God’s family, it is not simply about my growth, but all of us together form the bride of Christ.

Freedom isn’t simply freedom from, but freedom for. The freedom Jesus offers is freedom from self-righteousness, freedom from sin, and freedom from shame and guilt. But it’s also for something, for love. Because Jesus limits his autonomy for the salvation of the world, we are invited into receiving his love and spending our lives in love, too.

For readers who will undoubtedly find the idea of living a spacious life compelling, where should they start? What’s the first piece of advice you’d give for the person looking to take up this new way of life?

Reading A Spacious Life and getting the “pocket practices” (prayers, questions and formation practices) at aspacious.life is a great way to start. I’d also encourage someone who’s compelled to begin this way of thinking to write down some limits: of their body, time, season of life, etc. Which is hardest to embrace? Which is easiest? And then consider what they do when they hit a limit. Maybe they ignore their limits, or control them, or fall into blame or shame. (There’s also a hustle habit quiz at aspacious.life and a roadmap with some practical starting places for each hustle habit type). You’ll begin to notice your patterns, and then you are invited to bring your list of limits to God knowing that he sees them, loves you, and desires you to look more like Jesus. 

By / Mar 10

In an 8-1 victory for religious liberty, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski that governments can be held accountable for past violations of First Amendment freedoms. Jeff Pickering, Chelsea Patterson Sobolik, and Travis Wussow welcome lawyer and free speech advocate Casey Mattox to the roundtable to talk about the decision and why it matters.

Guest Biography

Casey Mattox is vice president for legal and judicial strategy at Americans for Prosperity, where he advocates for a legal system that respects the rule of law and protects individual liberty. For over fifteen years before joining Americans for Prosperity, Casey’s legal career focused on defending the First Amendment rights of students, faculty, families, healthcare workers and religious organizations. He has litigated in 35 states and also testified three times before congressional committees. Casey has a J.D. from Boston College School of Law and a B.A. in Government and History from the University of Virginia.

Resources from the Conversation

By / Nov 23

Yet again, there are troubling developments on the island city of Hong Kong. This land that once was home to the ideals of freedom, democracy, and open trade between the countries of the east and the west is slipping further under totalitarian control of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

What happened?

On Wednesday, November 11, Beijing passed a resolution that sought to empower Hong Kong’s authorities to disquality legislators on what they deemed “a threat to national security” without having to go through a judicial process. Local authorities acted quickly with these powers and forced out four lawmakers, Dennis Kwok, Kwok Ka-ki, Kenneth Leung and Alvin Yeung, for their pro-democracy stances in the Hong Kong Legislative Council. The authority of executive branch leaders to target lawmakers at will is the latest in a long series of blows against the city’s long held democratic heritage.

In response to Beijing’s rapidly expanding control of the island, fifteen pro-democracy legislators announced their intention to resign in solidarity.

The CCP is making clear that it won’t tolerate support for democracy among legislators, and anyone bold enough to oppose the CCP will pay a price.

Pro-democracy legislator Fernando Cheung stated, “Today is definitely the darkest day in Hong Kong so far.” Lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki maintained a hopeful perspective, “As long as our resolve to fight for freedom, equality and justice remains unchanged, one day we will see the return of the core values we cherish.” But for now, these values remain under existential assault from the CCP.

Why does this matter?

On June 9, 2019, an estimated one million Hong Kongers began what would become protracted protests. At issue was an extradition bill supported by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, and pushed by the communist party leaders in Beijing, that would have allowed for extraditions to mainland China.

Over the following months, the protestors rallied around five political demands: the withdrawal the extradition bill, an investigation into alleged police brutality against demonstrators, the release arrested protestors, retract the characterization of the protests as “riots,” and the resignation of Lam. Although Lam eventually withdrew the legislation, the Hong Kong government did not budge on the other items, and the protests continued.

In response, Beijing imposed a national security law in 2020 that expanded its control over Hong Kong, including broad powers to punish critics and silence dissenters. The law bans “sedition, secession, and treason” yet does not define those terms. This new draconian statute, left open to the interpretation of whatever Beijing wills, puts the individual liberties of Hongkongers at risk by criminalizing dissent and positioning the CCP to appoint judges to rule on national security cases.

For decades since 1997, Hong Kong and mainland China have operated under a “one country, two systems,” principle. Under this system, Hong Kong operated with a “high degree of autonomy” and without political interference from Beijing. This meant Hongkongers enjoyed significant individual freedoms relative to their mainland neighbors. Western democracies, including the United States, treated Hong Kong with a special status that allowed Hong Kong to thrive economically as it became a commercial and financial regional hub.

In July, President Trump responded to China’s crackdown on Hong Kong by revoking the special status of Hong Kong and signed the bipartisan Hong Kong Autonomy Act, imposing sanctions on foreign individuals and entities for “contributing to the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy.”

Hongkongers know how the communist government in Beijing treats its citizens, severely restricting their freedoms of religion, assembly, and speech. The world is watching as the Chinese Communist Party remakes Hong Kong in its own image. Freedom-loving men and women on the island-city and around the world are concerned. 

For further reading

What Hong Kong reveals about the future of China

What you need to know about the U.S. announcement that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China

Is Beijing dropping the hammer on Hong Kong?

By / Sep 22

Jeff Pickering and Travis Wussow welcome Andrew Bunnell of Biblical Ministries Worldwide to the roundtable for a wide ranging conversation on religious freedom. The discussion covers various misconceptions about this freedom and how we can chart a path forward that advances the Kingdom of God and the common good of our neighbors in our country. Andrew speaks with a wealth of experience on the mission field as a church planter and knowledge of the history of how government policy treats this foundational human right.

Guest Biography

Andrew Bunnell has invested his life evangelizing the lost and planting and revitalizing churches in more than forty countries across Eurasia, Africa, and North America. After twenty years with Baptist International Missions, he now serves as General Director Designate at Biblical Ministries Worldwide. Andrew is also pursuing a PhD at the University of Washington at Seattle focused on the global role of religion in shaping culture and politics. In 2000, he married his childhood sweetheart, Sarah. They have three children: Joseph, Jackson and Elizabeth.

Resources from the Conversation

By / May 22

This week, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) signaled its intention to force a new, sweeping security law on Hong Kong that would ban sedition, secession, and treason. While Hong Kong has its own Legislative Council that operates with a certain amount of autonomy from Beijing, this national security bill would be passed and imposed by the mainland’s National People’s Congress, which began its annual meeting today, on Hong Kong.

This move would represent a dramatic erosion of the decades-old principle of “one country, two systems,” which has defined the relationship between Hong Kong and mainland China since 1997. Under this system, Hong Kong operates with a “high degree of autonomy” and without political interference from Beijing. For Hongkongers, this meant they enjoyed significant individual freedoms relative to their mainland neighbors. The city’s Basic Law, a constitution of sorts adopted by the national government in Beijing in 1997, guarantees these liberties. In exchange, western democracies treated Hong Kong with a special status, allowing Hong Kong to serve as an important banking and trading hub with mainland China and the region.

China’s move to impose a new draconian security law on Hong Kong puts the individual liberties of Hongkongers at risk—and potentially the city’s special status as well.

The bigger picture

Under the leadership of President Xi, Beijing has taken an increasingly aggressive posture toward Hong Kong, a posture that has escalated over the last 12 months. Last year, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who was appointed with Beijing’s consent, introduced and attempted to pass a bill that would allow extradition of Hong Kong residents to mainland China. This bill sparked months of prolonged protests, at times grinding Hong Kong to a halt, and involving a number of student-led takeovers of college campuses.

These protests died down as the COVID-19 pandemic spread to Hong Kong, leading to a public health shutdown. But the underlying issues fueling this political movement in Hong Kong were still simmering below the surface.

This week, Hong Kong’s government signaled it would give priority to a controversial bill entitled The National Anthem Bill. This legislation would make it a crime punishable by up to three years in prison "to insult China’s national anthem." Criteria are laid out in the bill for when and how the National Anthem should be played and sung, and legally requires school children, including international schools, to learn the anthem.

Curious timing

Beijing officials face increasing global pressure for their slowness and lack of transparency with the outbreak of COVID-19. In response, the communist officials kicked off a global public relations campaign attempting to salvage its image after public criticism for their response to the virus.  In recent days, President Trump announced he would permanently end all funding from the United States to the World Health Organization (WHO), a specialized agency of the United Nations with a broad mandate to act as a coordinating authority on international health issues. The threat to cease funding was contingent on the WHO “committing to substantive improvements within the next 30 days.” The U.S. is the largest contributor to the WHO, however, President Xi followed Trump with his own announcement that China would voluntarily contribute an additional $2 billion.

But this comes at a time when China is relatively isolated and the international community is frustrated with Beijing’s continued deception throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Further, China’s move to reach into Hong Kong’s sovereignty comes at a time of increased scrutiny on Beijing’s relationship with Hong Kong.

In November of 2019, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act overwhelmingly passed the U.S. Congress and was signed into law by President Trump. The legislation requires a regular reassessment from the U.S. State Department as to whether Beijing is holding up its obligations to maintain Hong Kong’s autonomy. The administration would then have the option of adjusting or revoking the special economic treatment the U.S. has afforded the island-city since 1997. Such a move by the U.S. would carry significant economic repercussions for mainland China and its relationship with not only the U.S. but the entire Western world.

What’s next?

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delayed the release of the department’s report to Congress on Hong Kong, which would answer whether Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous to continue receiving special economic treatment by the United States. According to Sec. Pompeo, the delay was “to account for any additional actions that Beijing may be contemplating in the run-up” to China’s May 22 National People’s Congress (NPC) “that would further undermine the people of Hong Kong’s autonomy.”

In recent days, Sec. Pompeo asserted that the “recent treatment of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists made it more difficult to assess that the territory remains highly autonomous from China.”

Whether the administration is willing to take such a significant step remains to be seen. U.S.–China relations have deteriorated significantly over the last several months, and China’s human rights record continues to draw attention

Hongkongers enjoy a level of freedom and autonomy that people in mainland China do not, such as the freedoms of religion, speech, and assembly. There is palpable fear that those freedoms will soon be restricted if China asserts its power and dominance over Hong Kong. Indeed, the fact that the CCP systematically detained over 1 million Uyghur Muslims in “re-education” camps, uses Uyghurs for forced labor, and persecutes Christians and other religious minorities looms large in the worries of Hongkongers.

Hong Kong is more than an important trading hub—it is a symbol of freedom for the region. Hong Kong is also a coal mine canary, an early warning system for the consequences of the path President Xi has chosen for his country. 

This administration has the tools to stand up for Hong Kong and stand up to President Xi. Now, it’s time to use them.

By / Nov 21

Travis Wussow is in Hong Kong this week meeting with local leaders, pastors, and government officials, and filming interviews for a project ERLC is working on. The pro-democracy protests remind the world of the dignity of freedom and the dangers of authoritarianism. For a special, second episode for the week, Travis joined Jeff by phone from his 53rd floor airbnb over Kowloon Bay to talk about the week and how Christians ought to think about these events.   

Resources from the Conversation

By / Oct 31

WASHINGTON, D.C., Oct. 31, 2019—The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled in favor of Blaine Adamson, a promotional print shop owner, who declined to print a message on T-shirts that violated his religious convictions. 

In its ruling, the state’s Supreme Court unanimously affirmed that the Gay and Lesbian Services Organization did not have a legal right to sue Adamson or his business.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, comments on this religious liberty victory:

“This decision is good news for every American. We need to live in the kind of country where we can be free to seek to persuade one another, not bully each other into silence. Conservative evangelicals, secular progressives, and everyone in between ought to be able to agree on the idea that a state must not act as lord over the conscience. My hope is that this decision is a sign that courts around the country will continue to uphold conscience freedom and personal soul liberty.”

By / Jun 4

Today is the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, an event that stunned the world, and resulted in the murder of Chinese citizens, killed at the hands of their own government. Student-led protests began in Beijing, as they called for greater social freedoms, after the death of Hu Yaobang, a former Chinese Communist Party leader. Yaobang was viewed by the public as a champion for liberalization, and students petitioned for more democratic form of government.

Their protests were held in Tiananmen Square, the public space in the middle of Beijing, which faces the Forbidden City. On the evening of June 3, 1989, armed troops entered Tiananmen Square, with the purpose of removing the protesters, using whatever means necessary. Civilians took to the streets to protect the students, but the Premier had declared martial law, and sent soldiers to Beijing. The Chinese citizens fought back, but the soldiers opened fired on the people. Witnesses to the massacre tell stories of tanks driving over protesters.

Thirty years after the Tiananmen Massacre, Chinese authorities have not acknowledged the atrocity, and there will be no public memorials or events marking the day in mainland China. The Tiananmen Square Massacre remains one of the most censored topics on the Chinese internet. Chinese censorship, nicknamed “The Great Firewall,” has blocked all mentions of the event, related words and topics, and even references to the date, June 4, 2019. Below are a few other banned terms in China that could bring up information about Tiananmen Square:

  • Tank man—a reference to the protester blocking the tanks
  • 63+1 (it adds up to 64, or June 4th)
  • Democracy
  • Commemorate
  • Persecute
  • Never forget
  • Martial law
  • Student movement
  • Beijing massacred

Under President Xi Jinping, China has blocked approximately 26,000 Google search terms. The government tightly monitors the behavior of their citizens. Chinese authorities are in the process of developing a Social Credit System, a nationwide technology-driven reputation system that allows the government to monitor and control its citizens through incentives of punishment and reward. Once collected, the data on Chinese citizens can be used to limit an individual’s rights and privileges, and affect how they can engage with and in society.

The Social Credit System will also allow the Chinese government to continue to tighten control over the country's most persecuted religious groups. The Beijing Public Safety Bureau claims that 100% of Beijing is now covered by surveillance cameras, and the regional authorities shut down one of the largest Protestant houses churches in Beijing after church leaders refused to allow the government to install surveillance cameras in the church.

In addition to continuing to use technology to monitor their citizens, human rights violations and religious persecution has continued to worsen. The Communist Party of China has routinely violated the consciences of thousands and sought to snuff out the free exercise of religion.

Religious persecution

For decades, China has persecuted Christians, but in recent years the pressure and persecution has increased. Churches have been destroyed, pastors have been imprisoned, and extreme forms of technological surveillance has been used in houses of worship. The Chinese government has sought to control where people worship, whom they worship, and the content of their worship. The government sees public gatherings as a threat to its power and the stability of the state. Government installation of surveillance devices capable of facial recognition in houses of worship to regulate the religious messages shared by people of faith has been egregiously deployed.  

Since April 2017, China has systematically detained more than one million Uighur Muslims and placed them into “re-education camps”. In these internment camps, Uighurs are prevented from engaging in their religious practices and forced to be “re-educated” to the Communist Party’s ideological standard of “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.” They are also subject to physiological and oftentimes physical persecution, and their cultural heritage and practices are being erased. Families of those in internment camps do not know where their loved ones are, or even if they are still alive.

How we can pray

The persecution of Christians and Uighurs is a sampling of how the Communist Party leaders are persecuting their own citizens. As the world pauses to remember what took place in Tiananmen Square 30 years ago, we must remember to pray for those currently enduring persecution in China. Below are a few ways Christians can pray for China.

  • Pray for our Christian brothers and sisters, that they would continue boldly proclaiming the gospel, even when threatened with persecution.
  • Pray that the leaders of the Communist Party would cease religious persecution—of Christians, Uighurs, Tibetan Buddhist priests, Falun Gong practitioners, and other religious groups in the country.
  • Pray for the salvation of the leaders of the Communist Party.
  • Pray for a form of government in China that recognizes the dignity and worth of all its citizens, and allows for their flourishing and freedom.

Christians, let’s join together to pray for those who are suffering persecution at the hands of their government, let’s educate ourselves on what’s going on in China, and let's be a voice for those whose voice is being silenced or snuffed out.

By / Oct 4

In America, religious liberty is too often the victim of a culture war. But around the world, religious liberty helps reduce the likelihood of there being victims from actual violence. So with great urgency and enthusiasm from the religious liberty community, America’s international advocacy for religious liberty stands to gain a new champion: Governor Sam Brownback.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback is poised to become the nation's chief religious liberty advocate pending the Senate's confirmation of Brownback to the role of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, an office established in the 1998 bipartisan mandate known as the International Religious Freedom Act.

The appointment of a former Congressman, Senator, and Governor in Brownback to the post significantly raises the profile of the position, rightly elevating religious liberty as a top priority for American diplomacy and signals the gravity of the role with an established statesman like Brownback at the helm.

America has an active interest in promoting international religious freedom for moral and strategic purposes. As a report from scholars affiliated with the Witherspoon Institute argue, religious liberty is inextricably tied to social stability and ordered liberty. “Religious freedom demands respect not only because of the dignity and worth of individual human beings, but also because of the need for global security and stability,” the scholars argue. “If the world’s nations seek to advance human dignity and security and stability, they must also advance religious liberty. To put it in realist terms, it is in their vital interest to do so.” Hence the office of Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, a crucial post whose responsibility includes traveling the world and being a spokesman for America’s commitment to religious liberty and its benefits to global security.

Religious freedom connects with other fundamental freedoms essential to a stable society: freedom of speech, assembly, and press. Where these freedoms are in decline, so too is religious liberty. A nation will not have liberty unless religious liberty is at its foundation.  And this isn’t by coincidence. Religious liberty stands a preeminent foundation to all other liberties, since one’s relationship to God rises before all other relationships, and sets the foundation for how a person orders his or her life.

Tragically, religious repression remains intolerably high throughout the world, and it is in the interest of America’s human rights portfolio to see repression and persecution eliminated. In the interest of promoting human rights and stable government, religious liberty is viewed, rightly, as an essential plank in America's diplomatic efforts to promote liberty and human rights throughout the world.

Every faith faces persecution somewhere around the globe, including some of the most violent in recent history. The evidence is clear from both government and non-government organizations that victims face arrests, abductions, torture, forced marriages, murder, and rape. Middle East-North Africa, China, and Sub-Saharan Africa continue to be hostile and unstable. The Syrian Civil war and ISIS destabilized a region in which the Christian faith began, displacing millions of indigenous Christians and other religious minorities who survive murderous thugs. In China, government officials bulldoze churches, remove crosses, and sentence pastors to prison. Terror group Boko Haram targets churches and mosques in Nigeria. Sudan marginalizes minorities with charges of apostasy and blasphemy. Religious oppression stands at the forefront of human rights abuses across the world, and so religious liberty as a matter of American diplomacy is an urgent matter to resolve these abuses. In each of these instances, the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom stands at the ready to advocate for religious minorities, who are often defenseless and marginalized.

As Secretary of State Rex Tillerson explained in the release of the 2016 IRF report, “Almost 80 percent of the global population live with restrictions on or hostilities to limit their freedom of religion. Where religious freedom is not protected, we know that instability, human rights abuses, and violent extremism have a greater opportunity to take root.”

The Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom stands as the vanguard and watchman of America’s religious liberty interests around the world, so the Senate should confirm Governor Brownback without delay.  His experience and qualification as an American statesman speak for itself, and his appointment would make him the highest-ranking official to date to occupy the post.

An Ambassador Brownback would be a welcome presence in America’s effort to promote peace, global security, human rights, and self-government while also reducing religious oppression and undermining the growth of religiously-motivated terrorism.

By / Jun 20

What just happened?

An American college student returned to the United States with severe brain damage after being held in a North Korean prison camp died on Monday.

When twenty-two year old Otto Warmbier of Wyoming, Ohio arrived back home last week, he was reported to be in stable condition, though doctors said he showed no sign of understanding language, was unable to respond to verbal commands, and was awareness of his surrounding.”

Why was the student in a prison camp?

Warmbier was arrested at the airport when his tour group was leaving North Korea. He was accused of entering the country with the intent of “bringing down the foundation of its single-minded unity” and charged with subversion and a “hostile act” for purportedly attempting to steal a propaganda banner from a hotel.

In a videotaped confession that his parents say was coerced, Warmbier said:

“I never, never should have allowed myself to be lured by the United States administration to commit a crime in this country. I wish that the United States administration never manipulate people like myself in the future to commit crimes against foreign countries. I entirely beg you, the people and government of the DPRK, for your forgiveness. Please! I made the worst mistake of my life!”

After a one hour trial Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years hard labor.

At the time of the arrest, a spokesman for the Obama administration said the harsh penalty was a retaliation because of additional sanctions the U.S. put on North Korea.

How did Warmbier become injured?

The North Korean government said the student had fallen into a coma after contracting botulism and being given a sleeping pill. American doctors who examined him found no botulism in his system and said that, while the cause of his injuries were unknown, the brain damage was consistent with cardiac arrest that stops the flow of blood to the brain.

Warmbier’s family said he died on Monday at 2:20 pm. No official cause of death has been announced.

How was he freed?

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson briefed President Trump on the situation back in February. The president directed Secretary Tillerson to take all appropriate measures to secure the release of Warbmier and other American hostages in North Korea.

Last month, US State Department Special Representative for North Korea Policy Joseph Yun meets with officials from the North Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Oslo, Norway to negotiate the release. Yun traveled to North Korea this month and a demanded the North Koreans release Warmbier on humanitarian grounds. A day later the student was evacuated with a medical team back to the U.S.

Isn’t it illegal to travel to North Korea?

The Department of State strongly warns U.S. citizens not to travel to North Korea and notes that they are at serious risk of arrest and long-term detention under North Korea’s system of law enforcement. But it is currently legal to travel to the country.

However, two Congressmen—Democrat Adam Schiff and Republican Joe Wilson— recently wrote a bill that would ban tourist travel by Americans and require other visitors to acquire a special license from the Treasury Department.

How many Americans are still being held in North Korea?

About 1,000 Americans travel to the communist country each year, over the past decade, 17 Americans have been detained. Three Americans— Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak-song, and Kim Sang Duk—are still being held.