WASHINGTON (CNS) — In a breakfast speech Dec. 6, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, stopped short of specific legislative proposals but spoke openly of religious faith as he offered support for beleaguered Christian communities under threat of Islamic State terror in the Middle East.
“I’m a deep believer that our foreign policy should be infused with our most deeply held values, such as these. Not to impose it on other people but to ensure that in everything we do, we protect the rights of others to also fulfill their God-given rights,” he said.
Rubio spoke on the last day of the Archon International Conference on Religious Freedom in Washington, sponsored by the Orthodox Order of St. Andrew, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
The senator’s own faith journey has taken him from the Catholicism of his early childhood to Mormonism, then to a Baptist megachurch, and back to the Catholic faith again.
When he ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, he was often criticized, by both Catholic media and conservative evangelicals, for appearing to be less than authentic about the matter, but he’s long been comfortable mingling the language of Christianity with politics.
In 2012 in Christianity Today, Rubio said, “I’ve never criticized anyone for having their faith influence their public policy decisions. If your faith is real, burning inside of you, it’s going to influence the way you view everything.”
In his breakfast remarks, he highlighted statistics from 2015 about the killing of Christians, saying that in that year alone “the international religious freedom advocacy group, Open Doors, estimates that more than 7,000 Christians died because they were Christians.”
“By the way, this doesn’t include the millions more who were attacked, or imprisoned, or forcibly displaced or otherwise harmed,” Rubio said.
“We must be moved to action to preserve the very cradle of our faith,” he continued.
The Islamic State “is seeking to erase thousands of years of history and the people and stories it represented,” he said. “If the United States fails to take meaningful steps to support these communities, including ensuring their access to humanitarian assistance and the resources they need to rebuild, then even more of them will be forced to rebuild their ancient homeland.”
He called this “a tragedy on a multitude of levels, and a death blow to the vision of a diverse, pluralistic Middle East that respects religious freedom.”
Christian believers in Iraq, Egypt, Syria “and throughout the Middle East can clearly trace their roots, the roots of their faith, to these earliest apostles,” he said. “Today the marginalization and even the martyrdom that these same communities are suffering are resonant with the earliest persecutions suffered by the followers of our Lord.”
Rubio promised that Congress “will continue to press for aid accountability, including ensuring that genocide-targeted communities, among them Christians, are receiving what they need in order to restart and rebuild their lives.”
Referring to Verse 7 of the First Letter of Peter, Rubio said: “Peter tells us not to be surprised when the fire trial comes upon us, but rather to rejoice in Christ’s suffering. Our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East are living this trial. The spirit of the glory of God rests upon them.
“Let us also remember that we have always been a persecuted church,” he said. “We don’t seek persecution and we don’t welcome it, but we were told it was coming.
“And we were told that as long as we adhere to the teachings of our Lord, there would be those who would hate us and reject us and persecute us,” Rubio concluded. “That does not excuse those actions. What it does is bind us closer to those who came before us, and those we will be reunited with in the new world. It binds us closer to the traditions of our faith, and ultimately it binds us closer to our Lord himself.”
Organizers of the third Archon International Conference on Religious Freedom said the event was a direct response to Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, who have expressed their “shared profound concern for the situation of Christians in the Middle East and for their right to remain full citizens of their homelands.”
The Dec. 4-6 conference came on the heels of a “Solidarity in Suffering,” a Week of Awareness and Education, sponsored by the U.S. Catholic Church to raise awareness and educate people about the plight of persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
That weeklong effort was jointly sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Near East Welfare Association and Aid to the Church in Need. that runs through Dec. 3.