By / Jan 24

Southern Baptists are committed to the religious freedom of all people. In 2011, the Southern Baptist Convention re-stated that, “religious liberty is an inalienable human right, rooted in the image of God, and possessed by all human beings.” When individuals are persecuted for their belief in Christ, Southern Baptists exemplify the life of Jesus by praying and advocating for justice of the oppressed (Luke 4:18).

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is leading a genocide against Christians and Yazidis in Iraq and Syria. Over 470,000 Christians, Yazidis, and Shia Muslims have been killed by members of ISIS. Over 9.3 million people in the region are internally displaced and 5 million seek refuge abroad. Targeting religious groups solely for their faith, according to international law, qualifies these massacres as genocide, evoking the most harsh punishments from the international community upon ISIS leaders.

Resources are scarce and time is running out for the families of genocide victims. With so many people to care for, on-the-ground humanitarian organizations do not have the necessary supplies to provide shelter, emergency health care, and food to all the families affected by the ISIS-led genocide. Food and medicine will be depleted in the fall of 2017 if swift and decisive action is not implemented. Tens of thousands of Christians and Yazidis are at grave risk.

The Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act (HR 390) would ensure that NGOs receive the necessary aid to care for the victims of genocide. If passed, HR 390 would require senior human rights officials in the U.S. State Department to determine how much aid is needed to continue caring for the displaced peoples in Iraq and Syria, and which institutions could be the most effective at using that aid. This bill embodies the United States’ commitment to preserve religious freedom, and prevent and prosecute genocide wherever it occurs.

The United States has a moral obligation to care for the victims of genocide. After the United States ratified the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in 1988, it bound itself to prevent the victims of genocide anywhere in the world, and to prosecute the perpetrators of genocide. HR 390 would be a declaration to the world that the victims of genocide– the wounded, the homeless, and the orphaned– will not be abandoned by the United States.

By / Apr 17
By / Dec 15

“Dear world, there's intense bombing right now. Why are you silent? Why? Why? Why? Fear is killing me & my kids.” That’s a tweet from Fatemah, a mom trapped with her children in Aleppo.

Why are we silent?

Try telling Fatemah that it’s Christmas over here. Winter storms are blasting much of the country. The Federal Reserve raised interest rates. We’re wrapped up in the pageantry of the president-elect’s Cabinet picks.

And it seems we’ve lost the capacity for outrage over what’s happening to innocent people in places like Syria and Iraq. In between spikes of interest like 3-year-old Alan Kurdi’s body on the beach; 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh’s vacant stare after being pulled from the rubble; and now the heart-wrenching goodbye videos from people trapped in Aleppo, we revert to complacency.

How do we keep our hearts tender for the suffering in our world? How do we see as God sees, care as he cares, love as he loves?

Most Christians have heard the powerful prayer of World Vision’s founder, Bob Pierce: “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.” I suspect it was as much a prayer for himself as for others. A broken heart can be healed, and Bob wanted his to stay broken, to keep him in the place God wanted him to be: absolutely intolerant of a child’s pain.

We need to do the same if we want to be used by God in these situations. We have to let suffering into our hearts. Other people’s pain should touch us deeply and set off our rage and move us to action.

In the past few years, my travels to the Middle East and encounters with Syrian refugees and displaced Iraqis have kindled a “holy unrest” in me about their plight. But the truth is, you don’t have to go there to care. Ordinary people are speaking directly to us, using technology and social media to metaphorically grab us by the collars.

Fatemah, who I quoted above, posted on her daughter Bana’s Twitter account, which has 295,000 followers. In recent months, the sweet, doe-eyed girl with missing teeth has told about seeing people injured and killed, hearing bombs falling, lacking clean water. The tone of her tweets has become more dire as fighting intensified in Aleppo.

Imagine it’s World War II and Anne Frank is tweeting to the world. Bana’s situation is just as precarious.

I join my voice with those in Aleppo imploring Americans to get outraged over the senseless violence. Use your rage to compel action. You can pray. You can tell your congressional representative that the U.S. government needs to do more to stop Syria’s bleeding. You can give to World Vision or to other organizations providing relief.

But don’t stop there. Let your heart be broken for the suffering in the Middle East and around the world. Pray it stays broken as long as any mother anywhere pleads for help and any child fears this night will be her last.

Join World Vision’s Stephanie Hammond and others as we join our voice for human dignity at Evangelicals for Life 2017.

By / Oct 17

Every Monday, we bring to you the top five international stories of the week, with a particular emphasis on religious liberty, justice issues, and geopolitical issues that impact liberty and justice.

1. Asia Bibi, Pakistani Christian accused of blasphemy, has hearing before Supreme Court delayed indefinitely. Asia Bibi, a mother of five, was sentenced to death in 2010, accused of insulting the prophet Muhammad during a dispute in her village. She would be the first woman executed for blasphemy in modern Pakistan. She has been imprisoned for seven years, and she will now continue to wait for her appeal. The case has attracted intense international attention, and the Pakistani judicial system is under intense pressure from both the international community and Islamists within Pakistan. The case was delayed because one of the justices on the Pakistani Supreme Court was Chief Justice of the Islamabad High Court when a related blasphemy case was heard.

2. U.S. Navy fires cruise missiles on Houthi-controlled radar targets in Yemen. What the U.S. Navy characterized as “limited self-defense strikes” marked the first time the U.S. has become militarily involved in the Yemeni civil war, which has waged since March 2015. The attack was a response to two separate incidents where missiles were apparently fired at U.S. warships in the Red Sea from territory held by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

3. During second presidential debate, Secretary Clinton proposes no-fly zone in Syria. When asked during the second debate how she might respond to the Syrian civil war, which has created an ever-expanding humanitarian crisis, Secretary Clinton again floated the idea of a no-fly zone in Syria. A President Clinton would likely take a harder line on Russia, a tack Mrs. Clinton urged President Obama to take when she was Secretary of State. In an awkward exchange during the second debate, Donald Trump was forced to disavow comments made by his running mate, Governor Mike Pence, that “Provocations by Russia need to be met with American strength.”

4. U.S. State Department urges “strong response” to Russian hacking and interference with presidential election. The FBI has indicated that Russian hackers were responsible for obtaining and leaking the emails; the leaks are apparently intended to influence the American election. It appeared the Obama administration has been seeking to avoid direct conflict with Russia over the incident, but Foreign Policy’s John Hudson reports:

“There needs to be a thoughtful, principled, strong response,” said Kathleen Kavalec, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, speaking at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. She said the U.S. response must send a “clear message” and “assign responsibility,” in addition to making clear that “we won’t tolerate future intrusions.”

5. UNESCO issues decision denying Jewish connection to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization issued a new decision sponsored by the Palestinians along with Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar and Sudan that failed to recognize the Jewish connection to the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. The decision has been widely criticized by Western governments and the Israeli government. Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted in response to UNESCO’s action: “What’s next? A UNESCO decision denying the connection between peanut butter and jelly? Batman and Robin? Rock and roll?”

Bonus chilling but conspiratorial Russia story: Reports claim that Putin orders the relatives of foreign officials living abroad to return home. Several tabloids, including the Daily Mail, have suggested that this is a sign of impending global war. It is true, after all, that tensions between Russia and the West are on the rise. I should note that Snopes throws some water on the story, claiming that the call to return home has more to do with suggestions that Russians living abroad absorb Western values (and accents) than an impending invasion.

Have suggestions for a top five article this week or think there’s an issue we should be covering? Email me at [email protected].

By / Aug 15

Every Monday, we bring to you the top five international stories of the week, with a particular emphasis on religious liberty, justice issues and geopolitical issues that impact liberty and justice. This week we are dedicating the entire post to stories from Syria.

1. Battle for Aleppo drags on as rebels break month-long siege of eastern Aleppo by Assad forces. Anti-government rebels from inside Aleppo reportedly linked up with rebels stationed outside the city, breaking the siege. However, fighting has intensified as Russian jets and Syrian government helicopters have pounded the city. International aid organizations have been sounding the alarm for weeks that the city’s 250,000 civilians are in grave danger.

2. Russian defense minister announces three-hour “humanitarian ceasefires” in Aleppo. The Russian official stated that “all military action, air and artillery strikes” would be halted for three-hour segments from approximately 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM to allow for humanitarian aid to enter the city. However, some observers are skeptical of the ceasefire, believing that Assad and Russian forces use the ceasefires to reequip, regroup and resupply troops.

3. United Nations investigates possible chlorine gas attack by Assad forces in Aleppo. The attack reportedly killed 4 and injured dozens more. The UN special envoy said that if the attack was indeed carried out by government forces, it would amount to a war crime. The use of chlorine in warfare is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention.

4. U.S. Holocaust Museum releases powerful new film on the situation in besieged Aleppo. The film represents a rare step for the US Holocaust Museum, which typically avoids policy issues. Warning: The film (embedded below) shows graphic content.

5. The family of 17-year-old British teenager, Kadiza Sultana, confirmed that she was killed in Syria by a Russian airstrike in May. Last year, Kadiza, along with two other teenage schoolmates from her London neighborhood, left the UK purportedly to become the brides of ISIS soldiers. More than 800 Britons are thought to have joined ISIS or other military groups in Syria or Iraq, though nearly 400 are thought to have returned.

Bonus Longread: The War on Doctors. ”Since March 2011, at least 738 Syrian doctors, nurses and medical aides have died in more than 360 attacks on medical facilities.” A new Foreign Policy dispatch provides harrowing details suggesting a deliberate attempt to target doctors and medical professionals in rebel-held areas in Syria. The last doctor in Zabadani died from a gunshot wound to the head—from a sniper. Also this week, 15 physicians from Aleppo appeal to the Obama Administration for help.

The story also includes the account of the death of Dr. Hasan al-Araj, the last cardiologist in rebel-held Hama:

It was April 13, just past noon, and Hasan al-Araj was behind schedule as he left an underground hospital for his next rounds. He was usually careful to check the skies above him in Hama, where he was the last surviving cardiologist in the province’s rebel-held territory, for the Russian and Syrian warplanes that regularly cruised overhead. But, in his haste, he did not use his walkie-talkie to confirm with colleagues that the skies were clear.

A missile exploded near his van as he drove away. In the wreckage, colleagues found body parts and pieces of his white medical coat.

“It was targeting,” said Ahmad al-Dbis, a pharmacist and medical aid worker who worked closely with Araj. “It’s known that that’s the location of a hospital, and it’s known that most of the people moving around there are medical staff.”

Have suggestions for a top five article this week or think there’s an issue we should be covering? Email me at [email protected].

By / Apr 12

It can be difficult to pray for those that are far away from us, dealing with problems that we do not understand, living in places that we have no context for. In the following interview, Middle East expert Jonathan Andrews explains specifically how we can pray for the Syrian church in the midst of this horrific conflict and violence.

Andrews was with Middle East Concern for over 10 years. He is now an independent writer and researcher. His most recent book, Identity Crisis: Religious Registration in the Middle East explores an interesting facet of religious liberty in the Middle East.

For another interview with Jonathan Andrews on the history, current status, and future of the Syrian Civil War, click here.

By / Mar 29

Jonathan Andrews speaks to the history of the Syrian Civil War and looks at where it is headed.

By / Mar 29

Jonathan Andrews tells us how we can pray for the Syrian church.

By / Mar 14

WASHINGTON, D.C, March 14, 2016The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention has organized a prayer campaign, #Prayforrefugees, March 15, marking the fifth anniversary of Syrian Civil War.

Campaign leaders are encouraging churches, Christian organizations and individuals to pray on behalf of the more than 13.5 million Syrians involved in the international humanitarian crisis. Participants are asked to share the campaign on social media by using the hashtag #prayforrefugees.

ERLC President Russell Moore commented on the campaign.

Every day reports of wreckage and bloodshed throughout the Middle East bring a horrifying reminder of how precious religious freedom is and the devastating consequences that arise when religious freedom is repressed. Christians are called by God to stand up for the sanctity of human life whenever and wherever it is challenged.

The lives of these many refugees fleeing the most brutal kinds of religious and ethnic persecution and oppression matter to our God, and so they should matter to us as well. As Christians, we don’t have to agree on all the details of public policy to agree that our response ought to be, first, one of compassion and prayer for some of our world’s most vulnerable and defenseless people.

The ERLC is joined by the International Mission Board, World Vision, World Relief and other organizations in organizing the campaign.

For more information and resources about the campaign visit: “www.prayforrefugees.com.”:www.prayforrefugees.com

The Southern Baptist Convention is Americas largest Protestant denomination with more than 15.8 million members in over 46,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBCs ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.

To request an interview with Russell Moore

contact Elizabeth Bristow at 202-547-0209

or by email at [email protected]

Visit our website at www.erlc.com

Follow us on Twitter at @ERLC

By / Nov 19

Recently more than half the nation’s governors—27 states—have expressed opposition to letting Syrian refugees into their states. Many lawmakers in Congress are also considering legislation that would suspend the Syrian refugee program. Here is what you should know about the current controversy:

Why is there a new concern about allowing Syrian refugees into the U.S.?

According to the French government, at least one of the terrorists in the recent attack on Paris is believed to have entered the country by posing as a refugee. The concern is that through inadequate screening procedures, similar would-be terrorists may be able to enter the U.S.

What is the Syrian refugee crisis?

For the past four years, Syria has been in a civil war that has forced 11 million people— half the country’s pre-crisis population—to flee their homes. About 7.6 million Syrians have been internally displaced within the country and 4 million have fled Syria for other countries. The result is one of the largest forced migrations since World War Two.

Are all the refugees fleeing Islamic State (ISIS)?

Not necessarily. The crisis is mostly caused by the civil war in Syria. In 2011, during the Middle Eastern protest movement known as the Arab Spring, protesters in Syria demanded the end of Ba’ath Party rule and the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad, whose family has held the presidency in the country since 1971. In April 2011, the Syrian Army was sent to quell the protest and soldiers opened fire on demonstrators. After months of military sieges, the protests evolved into an armed rebellion and has spread across the country.

Although the conflict was originally between factions for and against President Assad, the civil war has broadened into a battle between the country’s Sunni majority against the president’s Shia Alawite sect. The conflict has drawn in neighboring countries and world powers and lead to the rise of jihadist groups, including Islamic State.

What makes a person a “refugee”?

The U.S. government defines “refugee” as any person who is outside any country of such person's nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Are all of the people fleeing the Middle East refugees?

No. Both refugees and “migrants” have been leaving the Middle East and Central Asia for Europe. Generally speaking, a migrant is any person who leaves one country for another and is not a refugee. There is an important distinction between the two categories, because the two groups of people have different rights under international law. Refugees are given a number of protections under international law, the most important of the which is the right to not be deported and sent back to the conditions which led the refugee to flee in the first place. On the other hand, migrants are subject to the immigration laws of the country to which they are migrating.

While Europe has been accepting both migrants and refugees, the U.S. refugee resettlement program has only been accepting individual and families that can prove that they are refugees under international law.

What is the U.S. doing about the refugee crisis?

Since the start of the conflict, the U.S. has admitted approximately 2,100 refugees from Syria. At a press briefing September 10, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that the Obama administration is making plans to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next budget year. (There is currently cap of 70,000 refugee visas a year that U.S. officials can issue for all countries.)

What is the screening process for refugees?

Every refugee goes through an intensive vetting process, notes Time magazine, but the precautions are increased for Syrians. According to Time:

Multiple law enforcement, intelligence and security agencies perform “the most rigorous screening of any traveler to the U.S.,” says a senior administration official. Among the agencies involved are the State Department, the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. A DHS officer conducts in-person interviews with every applicant. Biometric information such as fingerprints are collected and matched against criminal databases. Biographical information such as past visa applications are scrutinized to ensure the applicant’s story coheres.

How effective are the U.S. refugee screening processes?

The screening process has a very good track record. The U.S. has resettled 784,000 refugees since 9/11, and many of these refugees came from the Middle East. According to Kathleen Newland of the Refugee Policy Institute:

In those 14 years [since 9/11], exactly three resettled refugees have been arrested for planning terrorist activities—and it is worth noting two were not planning an attack in the United States and the plans of the third were barely credible.

Any screening process cannot guarantee a 100% success rate. But there are much easier ways for a terrorist to enter the United States, since asylum seekers must present themselves for identification, fingerprinting, and other biometric scanning.

How many of the refugees admitted to the U.S. are Christian? Are Muslim?

According to an analysis by CNS News, of 2,184 Syrian refugees admitted into the U.S. since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011, only 53 (2.4 percent) have been Christians while 2098 (or 96 percent) are Muslim. The remaining 33 include 1 Yazidi, 8 Jehovah Witnesses, 2 Baha’i, 6 Zoroastrians, 6 of "other religion," 7 of "no religion," and 3 atheists.

Why do the Republican lawmakers want to suspend the Syrian refugee program?

Congressional Republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, said there were grave reasons to fear that terrorists would be permitted to enter the country posing as refugees, according to the New York Times.

Michael McCaul (R-TX), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he was drawing up legislation to suspend the refugee resettlement program.

“I call on you to temporarily suspend the admission of all additional Syrian refugees into the United States pending a full review of the Syrian refugee resettlement program,” Mr. McCaul wrote in a letter to Mr. Obama.

“Our nation has a proud tradition of welcoming refugees into our country, but in this particular case the high-threat environment demands that we move forward with greater caution,” Mr. McCaul added.

Who is in charge of the resettling refugees into the U.S.?

The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is the federal government agency charged with providing benefits and services to assist the resettlement and local integration of refugee populations. The ORR often works closely with non-governmental organizations, such as World Relief, in the relocation of refugees. Some of the ORR programs include Refugee Cash Assistance and Refugee Medical Assistance (for up to 8 months); Refugee Social Services, such as job and language training (for up to 5 years); and temporary custody and care to unaccompanied refugee children.

Which state have refused to accept Syrians refugees?

The 27 states whose governors have said they will not accept Syrian refugees are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin.

Can governors refuse to accept refugees in their state?

Not exactly. According to the Refugee Act of 1980, resettlement efforts coordinated by the federal government “should be conducted in close cooperation and advance consultation with State and local governments” and “meet with representatives of State and local governments to plan and coordinate in advance of their arrival the appropriate placement of refugees among the various States and localities.”

Additionally, the law says, “With respect to the location of placement of refugees within a State, the Federal agency administering subsection (b)(1) shall, consistent with such policies and strategies and to the maximum extent possible, take into account recommendations of the State.”

So while the state and local governments can refuse to cooperate with the federal government, they can’t expressly forbid refugees from being allowed into their states.