Earlier this month the elite of largely-liberal Hollywood filed into the famous International Ballroom of The Beverly Hilton, in part to honor an evangelical advocate for persecuted Christians. That evening, Johnnie Moore received the prestigious “medal of valor” from the Simon Wiesenthal Center — one of the most significant human rights organizations in the world — moments before the same award was given posthumously to the Nobel laureate and co-founder of the modern state of Israel, Shimon Peres.
Rev. Moore followed a prolonged standing ovation by dedicating his award to persecuted Christians in Iraq and Syria even while calling that erudite crowd to do more to protect them. Rarely in our modern time has one of our Christian brethren been honored in such a way and in front of such a crowd.
The timing could not have been more poignant.
Just days later, on Palm Sunday, two suicide bombers unleashed their latest, appalling attack on Middle Eastern Christians. This time on the historic Coptic church in Egypt. The attacks — killing nearly 50 — shook all of Christendom during our holiest week and reminded us yet again that terrorists still very much aim to exterminate Christians from the region.
I wish I could say that the Palm Sunday attacks were isolated incidents. They were not. I wish I could say that religious persecution only occurs in places like Egypt and the Middle East. It does not. I wish I could say that religious intolerance was declining around the world. It is not.
I even wish I could say that it was only we Christians facing these threats. Unfortunately, we’re not.
Jews, Yazidis, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims all face varying forms of religious persecution, intolerance and violence the world over. This is, in part, why I recently dedicated my weekly Univision column to the subject, laying out the case that religious freedom is the number one human rights issue of our time for now three-quarters of the world’s people live in a country with high or very high restrictions on religion.
The sheer scale of the issue is without rival.
This is exactly why the Trump Administration must move with urgency to fill the vacant Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom within the US State Department — and, just as importantly, appoint the right person to the job.
As the number one government official responsible for promoting and promulgating religious liberty around the world, this post serves a singularly important role in our time.
The Ambassador of International Religious Freedom ensures that the U.S. maintains its moral authority to fight the disease of religious intolerance, bigotry and hate. Secondly, the position provides a dedicated watchdog tasked with defending the rights of the world’s most vulnerable and marginalized religious minorities. Thirdly, because the position is resourced and sanctioned by the United States Government, the office has unparalleled access and diplomatic strength.
The demands of the job are so varied and challenging that the position requires an extremely unique individual. They must be credible, knowledgeable and skilled in diplomacy and international policy. They must be articulate and well respected within the public square. All of these qualities are necessary, but they must also be effective on the ground. The position requires someone who has had spearheaded practical, humanitarian triumphs as well as defended the religious freedom of multiple faiths, not just the one they personally ascribe to. This person must work across the aisle, across religions, and yet be principled themselves.
This is all why I believe President Trump should appoint Rev. Johnnie Moore to this critically important position. For as long as I’ve known Johnnie I’ve known him to be a fierce advocate for the persecuted. This is why he’s been rightly and frequently recognized as a global leader on the issue even prompting one Middle Eastern Christian denomination to deem him a “savior of thousands.”
I remember his traveling to Washington DC in 2014 to warn Congress about ISIS even before almost anyone had heard of the nascent terrorist ring. Though his warning went largely unheeded at the time, Johnnie continued his relentless advocacy. No politician was spared from it: not from the White House to any individual State’s house.
I have no doubt that had more of our leaders listened to Johnnie’s prescient words more lives would have been saved. He also put his own life where his advocacy was, and travelled himself to the region at the leading edge of ISIS’ advance in order to document for himself their atrocities. His harrowing account, Defying ISIS, gripped the heart of the church and secular media, Democrats and Republicans, and resulted in millions of dollars being raised to assist those on the frontlines.
While especially focused on his own Christian community, he has managed to do so without being sectarian. In fact, during his acceptance speech at the Wiesenthal Center, Johnnie paused to give a special tribute to those courageous Jews and Muslims who have defended and aided Christians in the region, often risking their own lives in the process.
Did you catch that?
Johnnie Moore had somehow found a way to bring together Jews and Muslims in defense of Christians in the Middle East. In fact, as he noted in Defying ISIS, his own work for Christians began at the invitation of Jordan’s Muslim King Abdullah II.
While being a credible conservative and an Evangelical, his work in the area of religious freedom has merited invitations to the infamously liberal Union Theological Seminary and the starkly conservative Liberty University. He has served as an advisor to the Trump campaign while simultaneously being designated a “next generation ambassador” by the Anti-Defamation League.
There are many other examples of his building bridges on behalf of religious liberty and that’s exactly what we need at the State Department.
I urge President Trump to move quickly and appoint Johnnie Moore to serve as the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom precisely because that is who he already is.
He is our ambassador — and will remain our ambassador — whether or not the president chooses him to be his own.