State Department’s Second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom Opens With Stories of Persecution and Faith

A panel discussion during the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the U.S. Department of State in Washington on July 16, 2019. Photo by State Department/Public Domain

The rabbi of Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, site of an October mass shooting, tries to avoid using the word “hate” and wishes others would do the same.

A Muslim man who lost his wife in the March attack on his New Zealand mosque urges love for every human being.

A Christian woman from Sri Lanka hopes religious leaders will remain compassionate even in the wake of terrorist bombings that killed Christians attending Easter services in the spring.

All three spoke at the opening of the State Department’s second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom on Tuesday (July 16). They shared first-person stories of violence against houses of worship — and resilience of survivors — that help fuel the department’s goal to enhance religious liberty across the globe.

Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom
Sam Brownback opens the Ministerial to Advance
Religious Freedom at the U.S. Department of State on
July 16, 2019. Photo by Ron Przysucha/U.S. State
Department/Public Domain

Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback said the Trump administration wants to ramp up attention to killings and persecution based on religious beliefs and reverse trends that show they are often on the increase in countries across the world.

“Whether Baha’is, Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Zoroastrians or others — and there are many other faiths represented here — or no faith at all, people from every religion and belief experience persecution somewhere and often it’s deadly,” Brownback said in opening remarks.

“Yet, if all the faiths stand together in agreement for one another, I’m convinced we can change the world. Deaths would go down, imprisonments would decline, freedom of worship would flourish.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said more than 1,000 people, including more than 100 foreign delegations, were invited to the gathering, an increase from some 80 delegations last year. In a brief welcome, he called fighting for freedom of belief “a moral imperative” and “not optional.”

Leaders from three Abrahamic faiths shared their own stories of experiencing religious violence in the past year.

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers addresses the Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the U.S. Department of State in Washington on July 16, 2019. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers of Tree of Life,  a synagogue in Pittsburgh where a gunman opened fire last fall, spoke of parents coping with children now afraid to attend services and a congregant who has been unable to set foot in any synagogue since the attack on Oct. 27.

“The perpetrator of the massacre in the Tree of Life not only stole 11 beautiful lives that he had no God-given right to do, but he stole the faith of countless Jews,” Myers told an auditorium filled with people in religious attire that ranged from robes to collars to hijabs.

“But, lest I offer only testimony of doom and gloom in Pittsburgh, you also need to know that not only has my faith grown stronger but so too has the faith of so very many.”

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Source: Religion News Service