The Eye-Rolling Isn’t Working

Eye Roll EmojiHave you noticed people are really crabby these days? Living in the suburbs of Los Angeles, I am used to drivers cutting me off on the freeway. And it is not too remarkable to find myself standing in line behind a real grumbler at the post office or grocery store. We all let our irritable natures get the better of us some days. What is alarming, however, is the degree of anger and outrage that seems to be bubbling up in every corner of society.

The vitriol that passes for national discourse in this era of divisive politics, angry social media, and 24/7 news cycles seems to have stripped us of a sense of civility. The constructive sharing of opposing ideas has been preempted not simply by anger, as one might surmise watching cable news or observing Sunday dinner with the relatives. Healthy debate has been usurped by what social scientist Arthur Brooks calls a “culture of contempt.” Continue reading

ARTICLE: Nigeria Steps Forward with Historic Multi-Faith Event

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The first International Religious Freedom Roundtable outside the U.S. took place in Abuja, Nigeria January 2019

Erin Rodewald || February 5, 2019

The first fruits from last summer’s inaugural Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom have begun to ripen. At the close of the Ministerial, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo challenged participants to endorse the Potomac Declaration and join in the Potomac Plan of Action. The pair established a framework from which the international community could draw inspiration and a tangible blueprint to promote religious freedom and respond to persecution based on religion, belief, or non-belief.

Among the actions recommended was the creation of forums whereby religious groups, faith-based organizations, and civil society could meet to discuss strategies and solutions in support of religious freedom. In the U.S. that work began long before the Ministerial under the banner of the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Roundtable. Today, individuals from more than 250 multilateral organizations — from NGOs and congressional offices to religious groups and human rights advocates — participate in the IRF Roundtable. Twice monthly they meet to share ideas and information and propose joint advocacy and initiatives that are helping drive policy in support of freedom of religion, conscience and belief.

In response to the challenge put forth at the Ministerial, and with the IRF Roundtable as a guide, similar groups are forming in nations like Taiwan, South Korea, and the Kurdistan region of Iraq. Just last month, nearly 40 leaders from diverse tribes, faiths, ethnicities and geographic backgrounds convened the International Religious Freedom Roundtable in Nigeria (IRFRN) — the first local roundtable outside the U.S. In a nation where ethnicity and religion are deeply connected and often intensely polarizing, the Nigeria Roundtable has provided a healthy forum where disparate groups are setting aside differences and working side by side. Continue reading

ARTICLE: China’s shameful abuse of Uyghurs

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Re-education center for Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, China [Photo credit: Reuters]

By Erin Rodewald || January 22, 2019
(This article originally written for and posted to 21Wilberforce)

In China’s northwest province of Xinjiang, family members are disappearing. Arfat Aeriken is a Uyghur Muslim who lost contact with his family in 2017. While studying in the U.S., Arfat learned that his father was sentenced to a nine-year prison term and his mother was sent to a concentration camp. He does not know what has happened to his 10-year old brother.

Tahir Imin is a Uyghur activist, also living in the U.S. He was imprisoned in China for writing about the government’s oppression of the Uyghur community before escaping to the U.S. His stepmother, sisters, and brothers all remain in jail. “I have lost every kind of contact to my daughter,” says Tahir. “Every day is a painful day without your family members.”

By many accounts, the Chinese government is engaged in a 21st century cultural genocide that rivals Mao’s cultural revolution. International human rights groups estimate more than one million Uyghurs — like the families of Arfat and Tahir — have been detained in mass internment camps. There, they are forced to abandon their native language, religious beliefs and cultural practices. An additional 10 million Uyghur and minority groups are subjected to a dense network of surveillance systems and checkpoints that severely limit all forms of personal freedom. Continue reading

ARTICLE: A Schism for the Modern Era

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Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I handed the tomos of independence of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine over to its leader, Metropolitan Epiphanius of Kyiv and All Ukraine [Photo Credit UNIAN]

By Erin Rodewald || January 8, 2019
(This article was originally written for and posted to 21Wilberforce)

Readers of history will recall the Great Schism of 1054 as the moment when the western Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church parted ways, a separation that punctuated the end of the Roman Empire. That split, with its religious and political undertones, rocked Christendom in the 11th century and remains a visible wound even today, never fully healed though softened with time.

Ten centuries later, a new schism has formed, this one between the Russian Orthodox Church and the newly formed Orthodox Church of Ukraine. Metropolitan Epiphanius was elected head of the new church in December, a move condemned by Moscow but viewed by many believers in Ukraine as a safeguard against Russian aggression, which began in earnest with Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. This weekend, the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul (the source of authority for the Eastern Orthodox tradition) granted a “tomos,” or decree of independence to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The separation process could take decades, but the fracture has begun.

The news is not good for Moscow. By some estimates, the division will cost the Russian Orthodox Church some 30 to 40 percent of its members, not to mention valuable church property and bragging rights as the “protector” of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide. Yet, while Ukraine’s break with Russia is a dramatic turn of events, an even deeper schism lies between the Russian government and its own people, particularly people of faith. Continue reading

ARTICLE: Tis the season…to pray for persecuted believers

 

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Early Rain Covenant pastor criminally detained
[Photo credit: ChinaAid]

By Erin Rodewald // December 18, 2018

(This article originally written for and posted to 21Wilberforce)

For the world’s 2.3 billion Christians, the week ahead marks the culmination of one of the holiest seasons of the year — the anticipation and arrival of the Christ child. Sadly, the advent period has been marred by persecution, as global headlines make clear.

In China, authorities arrested more than 100 leaders and members of the Early Rain Covenant Church in early December. A week later, finding the church building locked, faithful congregants gathered at a nearby park for worship, where police arrested even more members. ChinaAid founder and president Bob Fu says these arrests represent “a major escalation of religious persecution in China.”

Earlier this year, the Xi regime revised its religious regulations, which has resulted in the closure of many unregistered churches throughout China, as well as persistent harassment and mass arrests of the nation’s minority Christian community. Cell phones are monitored, homes are searched, church leaders are followed, and scores have been detained for their beliefs. Among those imprisoned is Pastor Wang Yi, leader of Early Rain, who has declared that the “Communist regime is filled with fear at a church that is no longer afraid of it.” Continue reading

BLOG POST: Rich History of IRF Act Captured in a Single Volume

 

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Long-time religious freedom champion Katrina Lantos Swett offers remarks at the release of new IRFA historical retrospective

By Erin Rodewald // December 13, 2018

In the fall of 1998, members of Congress made a deliberate and unanimous choice to stand as beacons for the most fundamental of all human rights — freedom of religion or belief. Passage of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) came after months of debate and resulted in a law that has driven considerable human rights initiatives around the world for the past two decades while also codifying the first freedom as a top priority within U.S. foreign policy.

In this 20th anniversary year, human rights organization  21Wilberforce embarked on a legacy project that would commemorate and capture the achievements of this landmark legislation. The result is The 20th Anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act: A Retrospective, introduced this week at an event at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C.

For the first time, valuable IRFA source documents, personal recollections, and scholarly materials from the past 20 years have been collected and thoughtfully archived in a singular place with a succinct timeline. Included are candid conversations and observations culled from more than 55 interviews with prominent international religious freedom stakeholders, from elected officials and foreign policy experts to human rights advocates and academics. Continue reading

Article: A Faith Strengthened in the Face of Persecution

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

By Erin Rodewald // December 9, 2018
(This article was originally written for 21Wilberforce)

 

In the early morning hours of Christmas 2010, Iranian government forces arrested scores of Christian home-church leaders in surprise raids around the country. Among those arrested was a newly married couple, Yousef and Rozhin.*

Incarcerated in separate locations, Yousef and Rozhin were repeatedly told by their captors that the other had denounced their faith. In fact, both remained steadfast in their beliefs despite the harsh conditions. On day 23, Rozhin was taken once again to an interrogation room for questioning. This time, when officials removed her blindfold, she saw Yousef seated across from her. In the short time allowed together, the couple cried tears of joy and shared how God had been caring for them while in prison.

“They planned to break us,” says Rozhin of the guards’ strategy for arranging the brief meeting with Yousef. “But God used that time to bless us instead. Because of those few minutes together, we continued stronger than before.” Continue reading