S. 653 stuck in Senate

Copyright: 2009 Joshua Nathanson

(Copyright: 2009 Joshua Nathanson)

USA (MNN) — A measure to protect Christians in the Middle East is deadlocked in the U.S. Senate. Two Republican senators have issued a hold on the Near East and South Central Asia Religious Freedom Act of 2013 (S. 653), effectively stopping the legislative process.

As the U.S. prepares for mid-term elections and a shift of Congressional power, any hope for forward motion on this bill appears far-fetched.

“We’re praying for a breakthrough and for our country to stand up for Christians around the world, whatever that looks like,” says Tom Doyle, Middle East expert for E3Partners.

If passed into law, the bill would create a special envoy to protect religious minorities living in countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, South Asia and Central Asia. The Special Envoy would have the rank of ambassador and would be responsible for promoting the rights of religious minorities and recommending appropriate responses when those rights are violated.

S. 653 opponents Senator Mike Lee and Senator Tom Coburn say the proposed envoy bill duplicates the duties of an existing position: the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.

This position has been empty since October. At the National Prayer Breakfast earlier this month, U.S. President Obama gave no indication of a replacement candidate. However, he mentioned a connection between international religious freedom and U.S. security in his speech at the event.

“Nations that do not uphold these rights sow the bitter seeds of instability and violence and extremism,” Obama stated. “Freedom of religion matters to our national security.”

He also said “promoting religious freedom is a key objective of U.S. foreign policy. And I’m proud to say that no nation on Earth does more to stand up for the freedom of religion around the world than the United States of America.”

After leaving the position vacant for nearly a year-and-a-half after his 2009 inauguration, President Obama eventually appointed Suzanne Johnson Cook as Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Cook unexpectedly resigned nearly five months ago.  

“The last Ambassador-at-large proved to be very ineffective and uninvolved in situations where Christians were being killed; churches were being burned to the ground,” Doyle notes.

“Statements were made when a Koran was burnt, or something like that, but it was not reciprocal when it came to Christians’ misery that just keeps going on and on in the Middle East.”

Implications and Consequences
Many of the countries in the U.S. State Department’s Near East and South Central Asia definitions top Open Doors’ World Watch List, a ranking of the 50 countries where persecution of Christians is most severe.

According to Doyle, the lack of a U.S. response on this issue carries deadly consequences.

“It just encourages more terrorism, more persecution of Christians,” he says.  “I just expect things to get worse, unfortunately, until we respond.”

Find the latest accounts of Middle East persecution here.

“Get informed and pray for the leaders on the front-lines out there,” encourages Doyle. “It’s extremely dangerous for them but they have not fled, and they will not flee whatsoever.”

E3 Partners advances the Gospel in the MENA region through church-planting and discipleship. They encourage and provide resources for in-country partners.

“These are the 20-percent that are staying, that are reaching Muslims, that are spreading the Kingdom of God in their country,” Doyle explains.

For most of their partners, that commitment isn’t made lightly. Doyle says “we know of a group of Syrian leaders that have promised to stay in their country, even if it means death.”

If you live in the U.S., you can discuss this issue with your state senator here.