Millions of Christians and other religions are persecuted for their faith, according to some estimates. It’s a topic near and dear to Dr. Thomas Farr who has spent his career raising awareness and working toward solutions to combat religious persecution. He visited Regent University’s Robertson School of Government (RSG) Monday, February 6, to stress the strategic importance of the United States in protecting its interests by promoting a religiously free world.
“Rhetorically, our country is splendid,” said Farr. “Presidents and secretaries of state make wonderful speeches about the terrible things that are happening. We actually declared genocide was taking places by ISIS against Christians, Yazidis and Shiite Muslims. The problem is, these are words, and words need to be followed by action. Here, I’m not only speaking of military action, which we are trying to do in Iraq, but of diplomatic action to actually attack the structures of persecution that exist in these places.”
Farr has worked in the U.S. State Department’s International Religious Freedom Office, which was established in the late 1990’s to promote freedom of religion globally. Farr says it is important for the sake of stopping persecution that the President of the United States and Secretary of State understand the office’s importance in promoting global stability. He prays that the Trump administration will appoint an ambassador for this office who will understand foreign policy, maneuver well through the State Department, and use his or her talents to develop strong policy.
“In a sense, religious freedom brings stability because it means everybody gets a voice,” said Farr. “You can’t have one religion in charge of a country. It just doesn’t work. We learn that from Catholic and Protestant history. Religious freedom preserves pluralism. It can be all within one religious group, but everybody has a voice, and you don’t kill each other because you have religious differences. Everyone gets to be involved in the public policy of the nation.”
Farr encouraged his audience to understand the broad and active view of religious freedom the founding fathers of the United States promoted. He says too many Christians in the United States have a weak view of what religious freedom actually means, and he challenged them to practice their in the public square.
“The notion that freedom of religion just means we get to worship in our churches, and that’s it like it’s a form of therapy to make you a better person, is nonsense,” said Farr. “But, a lot of Christians have bought into this, and they think that what they should do is just be good people. Well, they should, but a citizen of the United States is more than just a person who prays and is good to who God has put beside them. We should be great citizens of the United States and fulfill our responsibility. To put it in Biblical terms, to take that bushel out from under a basket and be salt and light for the world. Jesus is calling us to do this, and I think our country is, too. That’s religious freedom.”
Farr currently serves as the president of the Religious Freedom Institute, and director of the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University. He’s also the grandfather of 10 grandchildren and says he fights for global religious freedom for them.