Congressman Frank Wolf

Representing the 10th District of Virginia

American Christian Leaders Pledge To Do More To Help Christians and Other Small Religious Minorities in Egypt, Iraq & Syria

May 7, 2014

Washington, D.C. – Prominent Christian leaders from across ecumenical lines joined together on Capitol Hill today to pledge to do more to help religious communities who are being persecuted in Egypt, Iraq and Syria.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Catholic Archbishop of Washington, Dr. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and Archbishop Oshagan Cholayan of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, were among the speakers a press conference announcing the release the “Pledge of Solidarity & Call to Action” that has been signed by more than 175 religious leaders from across the country.

The pledge, in part, says: “Now facing an existential threat to their presence in the lands where Christianity has its roots, the Churches in the Middle East fear they have been largely ignored by their coreligionists in the West… American religious leaders need to pray and speak with greater urgency about this human rights crisis.”  

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), co-chairs of the bipartisan Religious Minorities in the Middle East Caucus, hosted the press conference.  The other speakers were:

  • Dr. Barrett Duke, Vice President for Public Policy and Research, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
  • Dr. Jerry Johnson, president and CEO, National Religious Broadcasters
  • Jim Liske, president and CEO, Prison Fellowship Ministries
  • George J. Marlin, chairman of the Board, Aid to the Church in Need-USA
  • His Eminence Metropolitan Methodios of Boston, Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
  • Johnnie Moore, senior vice president, Liberty University 
  • Dr. Elizabeth H. Prodromou, professor of Conflict Resolution, Bedford, MA
  • Chaldean Patriarch Louis Sako of Baghdad (Statement will be read by Joseph Kassab, founder and president, Iraqi Christians Advocacy and Empowerment Institute)
  • Nina Shea, director and senior scholar, Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom
  • Rev. Canon Dr. Andrew White, chaplain, St George Anglican Church, Baghdad

“I regularly meet with beleaguered Christians from this part of the world,” Wolf said at the press conference.  “Their stories are eerily similar: believers kidnapped for ransom; churches – some full of worshippers – attacked; clergy targeted for killing. In the face of this violence, Christians are leaving in droves.         

“The resounding theme that emerges is quite simply a plea for solidarity, and an appeal for help,” Wolf continued.  “Where is the West they wonder?  Today, I am heartened to say, that these cries have been heard.  We are gathered to release a Pledge of Solidarity and Call to Action on Behalf of Christians and Other Small Religious Communities in Egypt, Iraq and Syria.”

Wolf said the group of signatories represents the diversity of American Christianity, with individuals hailing not only from the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox traditions but also a variety of sectors, including clergy, parachurch heads, thought leaders and university and seminary presidents.

Among the foreign policy recommendations contained in the pledge is the appointment of a high-level Special Envoy on Middle East Religious Minorities.  Wolf and Eshoo sponsored legislation to this effect which overwhelmingly passed the House last year and is presently languishing in the Senate.

“The faith leaders assembled, and those who have signed the pledge, have made clear that they are not waiting for Washington to take action,” Wolf said.  “They recognize that unless the American church begins to champion this cause the foreign policy establishment will hardly lead the way. They are committing to be their ‘brother’s keeper,’ whether in Nineveh, Cairo or Homs.  And for that, I thank them.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The signatories reflect a diverse array of traditions within American Christianity and a variety of different sectors.  Among the signers are: The Most Reverend Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia; Jim Daly, president and CEO, Focus on the Family; Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University; Bill Hybels, founder and senior pastor, Willow Creek Community Church; Dennis P. Hollinger, Ph.D., president, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary; The Most Rev. Gregory John Mansour, Bishop of the Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn; The Most Reverend Robert Duncan, Archbishop, Anglican Church in North America; Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Senior Pastor Ed Rob, The Woodlands United Methodist Church of Texas; Jim Wallis, president and pounder, Sojourners; The Most Rev. Richard E. Pates, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Des Moines; The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church and Rev. Protobresbyter Martin Ritsi, executive director, Orthodox Christian Mission Center.

Below is the complete text of Wolf’s remarks:

“I would like to begin by thanking this distinguished group of speakers for taking time of out of their busy schedules and all those assembled who, by your very presence, communicate that the plight of the suffering church in Iraq, Egypt and Syria is of utmost importance to people of faith in the West.  I also want to recognize the Hudson Institute’s Nina Shea for her invaluable collaboration in today’s event.

“I am continually struck by how few Americans are familiar with the rich roots of Iraq’s indigenous Christian community. With the exception of Israel, the Bible contains more references to the cities, regions and nations of ancient Iraq than any other country.  The patriarch Abraham and Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, both came from cities in Iraq.  The events of the book of Esther took place in Iraq, as did the account of Daniel in the Lion’s Den.  Today, many of the Christians of Iraq still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. 

In Egypt, some 2,000 years ago, Mary, Joseph and Jesus sought refuge in this land from the murderous aims of King Herod.  Egypt’s Coptic community traces its origins to the apostle Mark. The Syrian Christian community, too, has ancient roots dating back to the 1st century.  We read in the Bible about Paul on the road to Damascus.

“Christianity, like many other now small religious communities, is indigenous to this region.  For centuries it has been part of the rich tapestry that is the Middle East.  Tragically, in the countries I just highlighted, these defenseless religious communities are facing an existential crisis which threatens their very survival in the lands they have inhabited for centuries. 

“I regularly meet with beleaguered Christians from this part of the world.  Their stories are eerily similar: believers kidnapped for ransom; churches – some full of worshippers – attacked; clergy targeted for killing. In the face of this violence, Christians are leaving in droves.

“The resounding theme that emerges is quite simply a plea for solidarity, and an appeal for help.  Where is the West they wonder? 

“Today, I am heartened to say, that these cries have been heard.  We are gathered to release a Pledge of Solidarity and Call to Action on Behalf of Christians and Other Small Religious Communities in Egypt, Iraq and Syria. 

“The group of signatories represents the diversity of American Christianity, with individuals hailing not only from the Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox traditions but also a variety of sectors: thought leaders, clergy, parachurch heads, university and seminary presidents and the like.

“Having served in elective office for more than three decades, I am increasingly convinced that the discussion – or lack thereof – among government leaders and opinion makers on this issue of religious persecution, is simply a downstream manifestation of what is happening in the broader culture, and specifically in the faith community domestically. On these issues, Washington is largely downstream from the proverbial pulpit.

“My colleague, Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo, and I have for more than three years been pushing for legislation that would create a high level Special Envoy position at the State Department charged with focusing on these very issues.  For two consecutive Congress’ this legislation has overwhelmingly passed in the House only to languish in the Senate.  We are all too aware of the limits of purely legislative remedies to these complex and increasingly urgent problems.

“The faith leaders assembled, and those who have signed the pledge, have made clear that they are not waiting for Washington to take action. They recognize that unless the American church begins to champion this cause the foreign policy establishment will hardly lead the way. They are committing to be their “brother’s keeper,” whether in Nineveh, Cairo or Homs.  And for that, I thank them.

“I would now like to recognize Rep. Anna Eshoo who has been a tireless advocate on these issues.”