Senate urged to create envoy for Christians in Middle East

Washington D.C., Mar 7, 2014 / 03:13 pm (CNA).- A Catholic bishop and a Baptist pastor urged members of the U.S. Senate to address the “dire situation” facing Christians in the Middle East, proposing a special religious freedom envoy to the region.

Increased “religious hostilities” around the world, “but particularly in the Middle East” leads Bishop Richard E. Pates and Dr. Russell D. Moore to “believe that a Special Envoy is needed to focus on the dire situation affecting religious minorities.”

Among the minority groups, Christians are “most targeted for harassment and attacks in the largest number of countries,” the authors said in a March 4 letter to Senators Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Mike Lee of Utah.

Bishop Pates, of Des Moines, Iowa, is the chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on International Justice and Peace, and Moore serves as the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

The religious figures encouraged Sens. Coburn and Lee to hold a vote on a senate bill to create a Special Envoy to Promote Religious Freedom of Religious Minorities in the Near East and South Central Asia.

The senators have placed a hold on the bill, citing concerns over creating a new office when a religious freedom diplomatic position already exists that has remained vacant. The position of ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom has remained unfilled since Suzan Cook resigned from the position in Oct. 2013.

Citing a Jan. 2014 Prew Research Center study, Bishop Pates and Moore said that the growing number of religious hostilities around the globe merited the consideration of a new post.

In addition, Christians have faced “ongoing violence” as a religious minority, pointing to bombings, assassinations, and violence against Christians in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Pakistan and India.

“In many instances, religious minorities have lived for centuries side by side with those of other faiths, but now find themselves coming under increased attack and harassment,” they said.

“A Special Envoy, working in collaboration with the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, can help insure that basic human rights of these minority communities, who face such enormous threats, are protected,” they asserted.

They explained that they imagined the new post, if created, to work alongside the Department of State’s  Office of International Religious Freedom as well as the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, but with an emphasis “on the growing challenges of protecting historic Christian communities and promoting the rights of all religious minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia.”

“Our faith traditions are united in our commitment to protecting the poor and vulnerable and promoting religious freedom for all.”

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