This Christmas Season, Remember Those Still Struggling To Celebrate

Over 2,000 years ago, a baby was born in the small village of Bethlehem to humble conditions, surrounded by livestock, with a manger filled with hay for a bed.  His birth was, and still is, a sign to so many that light had come to a dark world.  To this day, Christians, including myself, still faithfully and humbly believe in this glorious miracle and celebrate it on Christmas Day.  Last week we gathered together in our churches, with our family, friends, and loved ones to honor that miracle; and in doing so, we reminded ourselves both of God’s living, abiding love for us and how we might cherish it and show it to others.

The age in which Jesus grew up was undoubtedly a time of persecution.  The Jewish people, and many of the religious minorities across the Roman Empire, faced a severe penalty if they dared place God before the so-called divinity of the Roman emperor.  In America, such persecution often feels simply like the stuff of history books – the celebration of Christmas and other religious holidays has become so ingrained in our broader national culture that it is difficult to even conceive of the world Christ was born into; indeed, it can be difficult for us to realize that even today, in many places around the world, this holiday and others are not so easily kept.  Many Christian communities today face persecution similar to that which the early followers of Christ faced in the Roman Empire, and religious freedom is under attack abroad at an ever-increasing rate.

Just this year in Nigeria, thousands of Christians were slaughtered for practicing their faith.  The rise of Islamic terrorist organizations within Nigeria’s borders, and the unwillingness of the Nigerian government to address them, has resulted in the murder of around 43,000 Christians in roughly the past decade.  During my time as Secretary of State, I added Nigeria to the Department of State’s list of “Countries of Particular Concern,” something the ACLJ long advocated for and contributed to the data set that underlaid the decision I made.  Such a designation sent a clear message to the Nigerian government that their inaction regarding Christian persecution and Islamic terror was unacceptable and that further diplomatic pressure and sanctions would be brought to bear if they did not address the horrific violence occurring within their borders.  Regrettably, the Biden Administration reversed this action and removed Nigeria from the list.  This purely political move essentially lifted any pressure on the Nigerian government to act.  We should all say a prayer for Nigerian Christians this Christmas and consider ways to help them through our churches and communities. Now, through the ACLJ, I will continue to advocate for the persecuted in Nigeria.

In China, religious believers continue to suffer under the tyrannical rule of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).  The CCP has packed millions of Uyghur Muslims into concentration camps scattered across the Chinese province of Xinjiang in an act of tyranny and oppression that can only be compared to the horror of Nazi concentration camps some 80 years ago.  Some of those camps, such as Auschwitz, were left intact as monuments to that horror so that humanity would never forget those who suffered there and would never allow such atrocities to be repeated.  Apparently, the world is in need of a reminder: With the 2022 Winter Olympics, which are to be held in Beijing, approaching, not one nation (including the United States under the Biden Administration) seems willing to fully boycott the games.  Some, like the United States, will enact half-hearted diplomatic boycotts, but we are still legitimizing the Chinese regime by sending our athletes.  Concentration camps and genocide do not call for half-measures.  We should also say a prayer for religious communities across China who are routinely commanded by the CCP to serve and worship the state rather than their God, and who bravely refuse.

In Iran, North Korea, Cuba, and beyond – and notably, recently in Haiti – religious freedom is under increased assault.  This trend has very real implications for America because no society can retain a virtuous and worthy character if its people cannot worship as they see fit.  Where religious liberty flourishes, freedom tends to flourish as well. And where religious freedom is denied, tyranny will follow.  That’s why in the Trump Administration, central to our mission of foreign policy was the championing of the essential right to religious freedom for all people.  At the State Department, we convened the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in 2018 and again in 2019.  It was the largest human rights Ministerial ever convened at the State Department, and it proved both that individuals around the world care about this issue deeply and that the United States can and must lead on it.

This Christmas season, as so many of us in America enjoy some well-earned time of rest with loved ones – and many Christians continue to celebrate the birth of Christ – take a moment to pray for those around the world who are still struggling to worship without fear of persecution.  And as we begin the new year, think of ways we can fight against such persecution in 2022 and beyond – I know I will alongside the ACLJ. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and God Bless you.

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