Mike Pence Promises to Defend Christians in the Middle East

Source: The Atlantic

BY EMMA GREEN

Vice President Mike Pence has recently been on a circuit of conservative Christian conferences discussing religious persecution in the Middle East. He addressed Christians United for Israel in Julyspoke at Franklin Graham’s conference on international religious freedom in Mayand regularly incorporates the issue into his public statements.

On Wednesday, he continued this tour with a speech at the In Defense of Christians conference, where he announced that he will be visiting persecuted minorities in the Middle East in December. He also said the Trump administration will redirect aid money formerly granted to the United Nations to the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID, satisfying a long-standing conservative policy priority. As the Trump administration moves to slash the State Department’s aid budget, this announcement suggests it will continue to prioritize religious issues in its foreign-policy agenda—at least rhetorically.

In his comments on Wednesday, Pence made it clear that the Trump administration is specifically focused on protecting Christians as part of its national-security agenda. “Christianity is under unprecedented assault in those ancient lands where it first grew,” the vice president said. “Across the wider Middle East, we can now see a future in many areas without a Christian faith. But tonight, I came to tell you: Help is on the way.” He specifically called out the “radical Islamic terrorists” who have perpetrated “vile acts of persecution animated by hatred for Christians and the Gospel of Christ.” He promised to “[take] the fight to terrorists on our terms, on their soil,” and that “we will not rest, we will not relent, until we hunt down and destroy ISIS at its source, so it can no longer threaten our people or anyone who calls the Middle East home.”

All of this is familiar territory for the Trump administration. Since the president took office, he has been promising to eradicate terrorism and eliminate the “beachhead of intolerance” created by radicalism. What was different here is that Pence promised a policy shift to accompany the rhetoric: Based on claims that the United Nations often denies funding requests from faith-based organizations and provides only “ineffective relief efforts,” the administration will now “provide support directly” through USAID.

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