Happy Thanksgiving to all American friends. Religious freedom is one item of gratitude, as well as positive signs it may be developing around the world.
Consider again these promising signs I’ve been privileged to report on the past two years:
Arab Gulf — Why Christianity is Surging in the Heart of Islam
Indonesia — World’s Biggest Muslim Organization Wants to Protect Christians
Morocco — Arab Christians and the Marrakesh Declaration
Egypt — Let My People Build
Bahrain — Saudi Arabia’s Neighbor Defends Religious Freedom of Individuals
Saudi Arabia — The Game of Thrones Christians Should be Watching
Italy — Muslims Work for Religious Freedom
Sudan is one of them. But in recent engagement, the United States has religious freedom on the agenda for improvement of ties and removal of sanctions.
As Crux has reported:
A leading U.S. diplomat visiting Sudan said the United States is willing to work with the Sudanese government to help it achieve the conditions necessary to remove its designation as a “Country of Particular Concern” in the U.S. State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom Report.
Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan was speaking on Nov. 17 at the Al-Neelain Mosque in Omdurman, located on the western bank of the Nile River, which separates it from the national capital.
Sullivan said “supporting human rights, including religious freedom, has been, and will continue to be, a critical part of the United States’ bilateral engagement with Sudan.”
The event at the mosque included leading Muslim and Christian clergy. Sudan is 97 percent Muslim, and the small Christian community has faced harassment, especially since the predominantly Christian and animist south of the country became the independent state of South Sudan in 2011.
The State Department’s 2016 International Religious Freedom Report cited reports of government arresting, detaining, or intimidating Christian clergy and church members, denying permits for the construction of new churches, closing or demolishing existing churches and attempting to close church schools, restricting non-Muslim religious groups and missionaries from operating in or entering the country, and censoring religious materials and leaders.
There is always room for cynicism, and perhaps frequently it is warranted.
Does the United States care more for counterterrorism and military contracts, and will let this item slide if progress is seen elsewhere?
Will Sudan put on a nice face and make superficial improvements, only to squeeze non-Muslim communities once the diplomats leave?
Maybe. But this Thanksgiving, let not cynicism be a landing place. Even the public rhetoric of religious freedom is something to celebrate. It sets a tone; attitudes can adjust over time.
And as the US ambassador told his Sudanese audience, it took a while in America.
“I am the grandson of Irish-Catholic immigrants who arrived in Boston, Massachusetts in the 1880s. At the time they arrived – and for many decades that followed – Catholics in the United States faced widespread prejudice based on their religion,” he said.
“When John F. Kennedy – another Catholic from my home state – ran for president of the United States in 1960, he even had to give a prominent speech to reassure the nation that his faith was compatible with the duties of the office of president.”
Sullivan said recalling such history “seems quaint” today, but added it took many decades – “it was not easy” – to reach the point where it is “nearly unthinkable” that one’s status as a Catholic in the United States would serve as a disadvantage to a person’s ambitions for life.
“The American experience in this regard underscores that respect for the human dignity of every person – regardless of religious belief or origin – is a key component of not only protecting human rights, but also fostering a society that can flourish, build upon each other’s strengths, and move forward together,” he said.
America has had flaws, too. She still has some, and may be developing others.
But today, around the table, give thanks to God for what exists — both at home and abroad.
Those who love God do not need freedom to follow their faith. But ample facilitation makes our world a better place.
Appreciate, and pray for more. And then, enjoy your turkey.