[Congressional Record Volume 158, Number 166 (Friday, December 21, 2012)]
[Extensions of Remarks]
[Pages E1989-E1990]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]

                          RELIGIOUS MINORITIES


                           HON. FRANK R. WOLF

                              of virginia

                    in the house of representatives

                      Thursday, December 20, 2012

  Mr. WOLF. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to share a speech I recently gave 
on the deteriorating situation in the Middle East particularly for 
religious minorities. Increasing violence, targeted attacks and 
heightened discrimination against Christians and other religious 
minorities in Iraq and Egypt, combined with longstanding abuses in 
Afghanistan and Pakistan, are among the many reasons why I introduced 
H.R. 440, bipartisan legislation that would require the State 
Department to appoint a special envoy to advocate for religious 
  More than a year has passed since the House of Representatives 
overwhelmingly passed this legislation yet, today, both this bill and 
its Senate companion, S. 1245 are both languishing in the Senate. This 
is deeply disappointing. Even more disappointing is the fact that the 
State Department has urged Senator Jim Webb to oppose this bipartisan 
legislation and put a hold on it in the Senate.
  Time is running out--both in terms of the legislative calendar for 
this year and in terms of the survival of these communities. Will a 
special envoy guarantee these communities' protection in the lands they 
have inhabited for centuries? No one can predict for sure. But I am 
certain that to do nothing is not an option--lest on the State 
Department's and Congress' watch we witness a Middle East empty of 
faith communities, foremost among them the beleaguered Christian 
  Here is the text of my recent speech:

       Just one year ago my good friend, the late Chuck Colson was 
     given [the Edwin Meese Award for Religious Liberty] award for 
     his tireless efforts to promote religious liberty and human 
     dignity. His prophetic voice is sorely missed during these 
     trying times for our country. For these are indeed trying 
     times--times that demand men and women of faith to steel 
     themselves for the challenges ahead. Are we prepared to do 
       I take inspiration from the German Lutheran pastor Dietrich 
     Bonhoeffer who, faced with the tyranny and horror of Nazism 
     gave his very life. And the British parliamentarian William 
     Wilberforce, who labored for decades, against seemingly 
     insurmountable odds, to abolish the slave trade in England--
     ultimately inspiring abolitionist efforts in America. These 
     are just some of the giants on whose shoulders we stand.
       Ecclesiastes 4:1 says, ``I saw the tears of the oppressed, 
     and they have no comforter; power was on the side of the 
     oppressor.'' Oppression has marked the church since its 
     birth. Consider the chilling words of Roman historian Tacitus 
     regarding the early church:
       ``Besides being put to death they were made to serve as 
     objects of amusement; they were clad in the hides of beasts 
     and torn to death by dogs; others were crucified, others set 
     on fire to serve to illuminate the night when daylight 
     failed--.  . . .''
       Are such trials reserved for the history books? Hardly. 
     Every day, around the world, men and women of faith are 
     imprisoned, beaten, detained, tortured and even killed. And 
     yet such stories receive scant attention in the mainstream 
     media--and perhaps more strikingly, are rarely spoken of from 
     our pulpits. The book of Hebrews enjoins us to ``Remember 
     those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and 
     those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were 
     suffering.'' Do we suffer with our brethren? Have we in the 
     West ceased to be salt and light? Has our comfort led to 
     complacency? Consider that on our watch a historic exodus of 
     Christians from the Middle East is underway--an exodus fueled 
     by persecution.
       A phrase not often heard outside the majority Muslim world 
     is ``First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people.'' The 
     ``Saturday people'' are of course the Jews. Their once 
     vibrant communities in countries throughout the region are 
     now decimated. In 1948 there were roughly 150,000 Jews in 
     Iraq--today less than 10 remain. In Egypt, there were once as 
     many as 80,000 Jews and now less than 100 remain.
       It appears a similar fate could befall the ancient 
     Christian community in these same lands. Iraq's Christian 
     population has fallen from as many as 1.4 million in 2003 to 
     between 500,000 and 700,000. Churches have been targeted, 
     believers kidnapped for ransom, families threatened with 
     violence if they stay. This reality is all the more sobering 
     considering Iraq's significance in Christendom. 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 came from a city in Iraq 
     called Ur. Isaac's bride, Rebekah, came from northwest Iraq. 
     Jacob spent 20 years in Iraq and his sons (the 12 tribes of 
     Israel) were born in northwest Iraq. A remarkable spiritual 
     revival as told in the book of Jonah occurred in Nineveh. The 
     events of the book of Esther took place in Iraq as did the 
     account of Daniel in the Lion's Den. Furthermore, many of 
     Iraq's Christians still speak Aramaics the language of Jesus.
       In Egypt with the ascent of the Muslim Brotherhood, Coptic 

[[Page E1990]]

     numbering roughly 8-10 million, are leaving in droves. And 
     the Middle East is far from being the exception. Persecution 
     is on the rise. The International Day of Prayer for the 
     Persecuted Church was earlier this month. Given the picture I 
     just painted, one would think the church in the West would be 
     galvanized. But how many churches marked this occasion with 
     even a passing mention? If the faith community isn't engaged 
     are we surprised when our government leaders turn a blind eye 
     to matters of religious freedom?
       Consider the following: Bipartisan legislation to create a 
     Special Envoy position at the State Department charged with 
     advocating on behalf of religious minorities in the Middle 
     East and South Central Asia overwhelmingly passed the House a 
     year and a half ago. But it has remained stalled in the 
     Senate as a result of State Department opposition and the 
     refusal of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John 
     Kerry, rumored to be in the running for Secretary of State or 
     Defense, to even hold a hearing on the legislation.
       Day in, day out I have the privilege of meeting individuals 
     who boldly follow Jesus despite unbelievably hostile 
     circumstances. Shabbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's Federal Minister 
     for Minority Affairs, and the only Christian Member of the 
     cabinet and an outspoken critic of his country's blasphemy 
     laws, was one such man. On March 2, 2011 he was murdered, his 
     car riddled with bullets, leaving his mother's house for 
     work. In a video filmed shortly before his assassination, 
     Bhatti appears to sense that the path he has chosen will come 
     with a price.
       When asked about the threats against his life, he said, 
     without malice or fear, ``I believe in Jesus Christ who has 
     given his own life for us. I know what is the meaning of 
     [the] cross. And I am following the cross. And I am ready to 
     die for a cause.'' And so he did.
       The book of Proverbs tells us to ``Speak up for those who 
     cannot speak for themselves. . . .'' Bhatti can no longer 
     speak. The Chinese bishop under house arrest cannot speak. 
     The North Korean enslaved in the gulag cannot speak. The 
     Iraqi nun fearing for her life cannot speak.
       Will we be their voice? Martin Luther King famously said, 
     ``In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, 
     but the silence of our friends.'' Are we not their friends?
       America's Founding Fathers grounded our own experiment in 
     self-governance in the notion that liberty comes from God and 
     that all human life is sacred. As part of this equation, 
     religious freedom was the ``first freedom.'' The ideas set 
     forth in Philadelphia on that hot summer day were 
     simultaneously ancient and revolutionary--they are grounded 
     in historic Judeo-Christian teachings.
       Nearly 25 years ago these very ideas were a source of 
     inspiration to the democracy marchers in Tiananmen Square. 
     Ronald Reagan famously spoke of our founding documents as a 
     covenant we made with the world--a promise that transcended 
     time and place. I fear that covenant is in jeopardy.
       America's influence is waning. Our once ``shining city'' 
     appears dim. And we have lost our voice on behalf of the 
     oppressed. And yet, dissidents still seek refuge in our 
     embassies, the persecuted seek safe haven on our shores. To 
     them the promise of American exceptionalism is no mere 
     philosophical debate; it is the difference between life and 
     death. They cling to the promise even as our own leaders have 
     abandoned it. And so, seeking to preserve that covenant that 
     Reagan envisioned, it falls to men and women of faith to 
     carry the torch--to pray, to advocate, to act.