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 / May 6

Every Friday, 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 was a big week for developments in the Middle East, and so we bring you six stories this week.

1. This week marked the fifth anniversary of the death of Osama Bin Laden. What has changed in the last five years? Al Qaeda, as a centrally run organization, has been dramatically weakened. At the same time, some Al Qaeda “affiliates” are stronger than ever, particularly Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Al-Nusra Front, the official Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. And of course, Al Qaeda has been replaced with a new enemy, the so-called Islamic State. 

With that said, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, said recently, “Despite counterterrorism pressure that’s largely decimated the core leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Al Qaida affiliates are positioned to make gains in 2016.” Scott Stewart, vice-president of tactical analysis at the intelligence firm Stratfor added, “It’s absolutely been diminished in some ways, but despite all the effort to stamp it out, al-Qaeda has managed to create an ‘arc of jihad’ that stretches from West Africa all the way to Southeast Asia.” 

2. Deal reached to secure ceasefire in Aleppo, Syria, but attacks continue. Aleppo has been at the center of an escalation of violence that has caused the ceasefire brokered in late February to all but fall apart. 

From the NY Times: “Nearly 10 days of bombardments by both the government side and insurgents in the city of Aleppo has killed more than 250 people, a monitoring group said, confounding hopes of an end to five years of war.” 

From Al Jazeera: “United Nations Humanitarian Affairs chief Stephen O’Brien told the UN Security Council that the killing of civilians in Aleppo “cannot and will not be forgotten,” warning that perpetrators will be held accountable.” 

Secretary Kerry issued an August 1, 2016, deadline for President Assad to begin stepping down. But is is unclear what, if anything, the Obama Administration is prepared to do back up that ultimatum.

3. Speaking of Aleppo, yet another hospital was attacked in Aleppo, this time a maternity hospital on the government-held side. This trend of attack on medical facilities is despicable and may constitute war crimes. From the NY Times: “It was the sixth assault on a medical facility in the divided city in less than a week and the first to have caused casualties on the government-controlled side. At least three women were reported killed and 17 people wounded, including children.” For its part, MSF, known in the U.S. as Doctors Without Borders, blasted the United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Syria for directly or indirectly supporting attacks on medical facilities over the last year.

Notably, late last week the U.S. government released its final report on the U.S. airstrikes on an MSF hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan that killed 42 and wounded dozens more. The U.S. government declined to prosecute any of the servicemembers involved in the attack for war crimes, citing a lack of intent. However, the military is punishing 16 of those involved, with punishments ranging from letters of reprimand to counseling.

4. The Iraqi government is in turmoil. Collapse of the Iraqi government would lead to chaos and turmoil in the region, undermining years of work fighting the so-called Islamic State. The center of the political crisis is protests led by prominent Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Over the last few months, supporters of al-Sadr—known as Sadrists—have been pressing the Iraqi government for reform. Last weekend, a large number of Sadrists infiltrated the Green Zone to stage additional protests in the area of Baghdad, home to most government buildings and foreign embassies.

Politico has a fascinating piece on the history of the Green Zone and how it has come to be at the center of the political conflict in Iraq. From the article: 

Originally established in 2003 to protect the American occupiers, the walled-in Green Zone was supposed to have been temporary. But Iraqi elites took it over after the Americans left, spending public money on their mansions, generators, cars, security details, homes overseas and payouts to cronies. In this way the Green Zone has come to symbolize all that is wrong with the legitimacy and capability of Iraq’s government.

5. Turkish PM steps down as EU and Turkey working to negotiate visa-free travel as a part of the migrant deal. Turkey’s Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, dramatically stepped down this week, in response to President Erdogan’s demand for his recognition. From BBC: “Mr Davutoglu is believed to have fallen from favour because he disapproved of Mr Erdogan’s plans to move Turkey to a presidential system of government.” A rift had been growing between the two men for months, and the conflict has now come to a head.

Meanwhile, Turkey continues to pursue visa-free travel for its citizens in Europe. One part of the agreement in which Turkey would take back migrants that had crossed into Europe from Turkey was a provision that would grant Turkish citizens free travel throughout Europe. The issue is apparently a key deal point for the Turkish government. One complication to the deal is travel for citizens of Cyprus, which is a part of the European Union. Turkey has not officially recognized the Republic of Cyprus, located on the southern part of the island.

6. Horrific honor killing of 17-year-old Pakistani girl after she eloped with her boyfriend.Last week, the body of a teenage Pakistani girl who was burned alive by her village leaders was found. In this case, the Pakistani government has chosen to take action, arresting more than a dozen men and the girl’s mother on May 5. In a local meeting referred to as “Jirga” in Pashtun cultures, her local leaders found her guilty of helping her friend elope with a boyfriend without parental consent. Despite the pleas of the victim’s parents, several men dragged her out of her home to her execution. This case represents the continuation of contemporary mob-like violence threatening women in Pakistan. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 8,694 girls and women have died in so-called “honor killings” in the country between 2004 and 2015.

Matt Mihelic contributed to this post.

Have suggestions for a top 5 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: “”

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.

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