Speaking on the floor of the House of Representatives Tuesday, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) told fellow legislators that the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is “targeting Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq for extinction.”
Long regarded as a leading human rights and religious freedom champion in Congress, Wolf has been trying to shed light on what is taking place in Iraq, where thousands of minorities have been forced to leave the lands they have inhabited for more than 2,000 years.
So passionate about the need for global religious liberty is Wolf that Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention, has urged President Obama to name him ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, a position that has been vacant since October 2013.
In May, Wolf and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) developed a pledge signed by Christian leaders across the country to show solidarity and a call to action for their imperiled brothers and sisters being persecuted in the churches of Egypt, Iraq and Syria – the same lands Jesus and the apostles shared the Gospel centuries ago.
That pledge was signed by more than 175 American Christian leaders across ecumenical lines.
Wolf, who is a Presbyterian, said it was not until last week when ISIS told the remaining Christians in Mosul to leave or die that the world took notice of what has been taking place.
“I believe what is happening to the Christian community in Iraq is genocide. I also believe it is a crime against humanity,” Wolf said. “Our brothers are persecuted, they are cast out, they are forced to leave their homes without having the chance to take anything with them.”
He went on to reference the legal international definition of genocide found in Article II of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. That definition says genocide is “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
Wolf pointed out that 55 members of Congress urged the Obama Administration in June to engage with the Iraqi central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to prioritize additional security support for especially vulnerable populations, notably Iraq’s ancient Christian community, and provide emergency humanitarian assistance to those affected communities.
He referenced the last line of a letter written regarding the situation that has unfolded in Iraq.
“Absent immediate action, we will most certainly witness the annihilation of an ancient faith community from the lands they’ve inhabited for centuries,” the letter read.
“It is happening. They are almost all gone – just as we predicted,” Wolf said.
He added that protection of the ancient community has to become a priority as does providing safe refuge for those fleeing ISIS. A portion of resources provided to the region also needs to be guaranteed for assistance to the Christian community continually persecuted by jihad extremists.
In addition, Wolf called for the United Nations to immediately initiate proceedings in the International Criminal Court against ISIS for crimes against humanity.
“The time to act is now,” Wolf said.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) also issued a statement Monday denouncing the attacks in Mosul, condemning “all actions seeking to discriminate between indigenous residents and citizens of Iraq based on religion or sect, and actions that threaten the safety and human dignity of innocents seeking to live out their Christian or Muslim faith in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the region.”
The statement also called for a “cessation of all religious targeting, including the marking and confiscation of Christian and Shiite Muslim homes, kidnapping and murder.”
The statement was crafted by the Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk, Heath Rada, moderator of the 221st General Assembly, and Linda Valentine, executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.