Critical Updates from the Religious Freedom Summit
My Faith Votes was honored to have our Chairman Sealy Yates attend the Second Annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom Summit in Washington D.C last week.
We talked with Sealy to learn more about the event, the critical takeaways for Christians, and how we can speak out on behalf of the persecuted and the voiceless across the world. Read our full conversation below.
What was it like to be at such a historic summit with 130 different nations represented?
Sealy: It was a gathering, unlike anything that I have ever experienced.
The first thing that struck me is religious freedom means what it says. It means religious freedom for all. If we deny religious freedom to those who believe differently than us, even if we think they are harmfully wrong, then we have no right to complain if we are denied our religious freedom. I found it encouraging and refreshing to rub shoulders with people from a number of different faiths and I was moved by hearing them speak about being persecuted for their faith in various parts of the world.
One of the most interesting pieces of information from the summit is the powerful statistic that 80 percent of those who are persecuted for their faith in the world today are Christians. And when you understand scripture, you understand why. Because it is Christ in you that is being persecuted, not you. If you don’t have Christ, then it is for other reasons that you are being persecuted.
For over 45 years, I have been working with persecuted Christians around the world, and it is because of this work that Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, invited me to attend, and it certainly was a worthwhile event to be a part of and to be a fly on the wall.
You heard Vice President Pence address the audience along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Ambassador Sam Brownback; what steps do you see this administration taking to advance religious freedom?
Sealy: I’m extremely proud of the State Department for putting this event on. America has been the bastion for religious freedom throughout the world for the past 250 years. I’m proud that this was an American hosted summit, and our country is once again leading to advance religious freedom in step with our history and our values as a nation.
There is no question about the commitment of this administration to the issue of religious freedom. And Sam Brownback, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, is very committed to do his job and do it in a way that is for all people, not just Christians. Our country has always been the leader of religious freedom, and this administration is committed to it to carrying on that legacy.
Before President Donald Trump took office, little was known about his association defending religious freedom, but his actions since taking office have made clear that religious freedom is a high priority for his administration, and he is operating as if he understands well that religious freedom is the first of our freedoms. If we don’t have religious freedom, everything else falls.
At this point, there is no question that there will be a third Ministerial Summit for Religious Freedom and that is a great point in and of itself that is very encouraging. As long as Donald Trump is president, providing full support for the Ambassador Brownback and his position, I’m confident our nation will remain on the front lines defending religious freedom.
Dozens of people shared their stories of persecution from across the globe, what was one of the most eye-opening stories you heard?
Sealy: One of the speakers was the son of a Pakistani governor Salmaan Tasseer who was supportive of eliminating the blasphemy law, which is very much geared at persecuting Christians. Governor Tasseer was assassinated because he was supportive of releasing Asia Bibi out of prison (a Christian woman falsely accused of violating Pakistan's blasphemy law). His son, Shaan Taseer, was at the summit and gave a moving message. One of the things he said to us is that there are more than 200 other prisoners currently in prison in Pakistan for the same reason Asia Bibi was in prison.
They have been accused of saying something against the Muslim prophet Muhammad, and there is little hope for their safe release in Pakistan.
Why aren’t more people making noise, including the U.S. government, against the blasphemy law and in support of these victims of religious persecution?
Far too often our leaders, even President Trump, and politicians in America operate out of fear of political concern. President Trump recently met with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, and as far as we know, the President said nothing to the Prime Minister of Pakistan about these victims and the horrific human rights violation that the blasphemy law perpetrates.
Shaan Taseer’s speech really touched me because of his passion and urgency to witness the complete elimination of the blasphemy law in Pakistan because it violates religious freedom and is inhumane on every level. As Christians, we need to remember our brothers and sisters in Christ and regard this issue with the same sense of importance and urgency as Shaan, and continue to encourage President Trump and our leaders to pressure Pakistan on this issue.
What do you believe Christians in America can do to help protect and advance religious freedom?
Sealy: All we have to do is look back and remember what happened under President Obama’s administration with regard to religious freedom, or look at President H. W. Bush, President Clinton or President George W Bush.
There has not been a president in modern history who has been as committed to religious freedom as Donald Trump. He has proven by his actions that he is truly committed to this fundamental human right. Why he has made this issue a priority in his administration, I’m not totally sure. But the fact is he has done so much, not only for religious freedom throughout the world, but even here in America by protecting religious freedom as it relates to supporting the pro-life position, marriage, family, and all the positions that are biblical. And the truth is, for far too long, nobody cared.
We have an administration who cares about what we as Christians care about, and we need to keep that in mind. We must care and be concerned about who is in office. We can’t just slack off now. It’s really really important.
I have been reminded as I spent much of last week in Washington that every election is absolutely important, more important than the last one. May God grant us at My Faith Votes, and everyone who stands with us, the wisdom, the stamina, the resources, new friends and the commitment to stay the course over the next 15 months to do the “something” that we each know He has called us to contribute toward the future of our country and the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth!
My Faith Votes—is a nonpartisan movement that motivates, equips and activates Christians in America to vote in every election, transforming our communities and influencing our nation with biblical truth. By partnering with national faith leaders, My Faith Votes provides resources to help Christians Pray, Think, and Act to create an America where God is honored in the public square.