June 19, 2018
Wilberforce A!ert: Organizing people of faith to defend people of faith
What would it take to organize people of faith to defend people of faith? What is the spark needed to ignite a grassroots movement in support of those who suffer religious persecution globally? These are questions Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback is asking, and 21Wilberforce has answers.
We believe solutions start with existing American faith-based networks — well-organized champions of civil society that readily embrace the values of freedom and justice so essential to the preservation and promotion of religious freedom. Today, more people suffer for their faith than at any other time in history. Yet, if properly equipped, American faith-based networks could be a force multiplier in combating social hostilities, religious extremism, and government repression the world over.
These civil society powerhouses include dozens of Catholic, Protestant and non-Christian faith denominations; youth groups; missions and ministry teams; and international aid organizations. American faith-based networks run broad and deep. They embrace religious freedom, yet to a large extent, they have not been organized as a grassroots force. There is untapped power here. If properly mobilized — with simple trainings and easy “on ramps” for “fast advocacy” on practical targets — these networks can be fortified for action, providing real help to the persecuted.
Mobilization is possible. Igniting social action among people of faith has been successful many times before. Consider the major international movements of our generation, inspired and animated by people of faith: the modern-day anti-slavery movement; the pro-democracy movement, which hastened the collapse of the Soviet Union; the battle to combat the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa; and the orphanage reform movement across Eastern Europe that transformed millions of lives. Most notably, the International Religious Freedom (IRF) movement, co-led 20 years ago by our esteemed colleague, then-Congressman Frank Wolf, was a game-changing human rights movement.
Yet, while the original IRF movement has enjoyed important successes, the effort has stalled. It has not scaled up to its full potential. Today’s landscape includes small NGOs driving single-issue agendas. Potentially powerful grassroots networks are disconnected. Campaigns for reforms and prisoners remain small. Compared to other successful global movements like human trafficking, program funding for IRF is very low. Most importantly, large faith-based groups are disengaged and un-activated. There is no organized effort to spur faith-based activism across large denominations and other organized groups.
But 21Wilberforce believes the time is right to re-spark the once-energetic IRF movement. That’s why we are launching an Action Hub to provide tools to mobilize grassroots networks aimed at assisting persecuted communities and religious prisoners internationally.
The IRF Action Hub will feature user-friendly web-based and social media resources. It will help activate large Western groups, including denominations and diasporas, for scaled advocacy, financial support, and informed prayer. It will connect persecuted communities around the world with trainings, defenders, and protection campaigns. Practical “networked” help via the Action Hub could look like this:
- Crowd-funding by youth groups for legal defenders: $4000 pays for one lawyer for one year to defend a Chinese religious leader, an amount readily raised by youth groups as a “service project
- Fast, broad-based advocacy campaigns via social media: Denominations advocating on behalf of prisoners like Pastor Andrew Brunson, who faces 35 years in a Turkish prison, or coordinating with members of Congress at key legislative moments
- Targeted outreach to persecuted communities: Diaspora groups and missions organizations instructing embattled communities on persecution incident reporting, even genocide prevention, for evidence-based advocacy
American people of faith are exceedingly generous with charitable contributions and volunteer efforts. At our best, we are defined by a dedication to justice and grieved by those suffering for their beliefs around the world. 21Wilberforce asks you to partner with us as we spearhead this practical next step.
Sharon Payt, Executive Director