Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, voiced his disapproval of President Donald Trump’s decision to remove U.S. troops from northeast Syria, saying it threatens the safety of Christians and the religious liberty of many in the region.
The faith leader also noted in a Tuesday interview with CBN News that evangelical leaders “almost without exception” oppose the change in policy.
“We’re very concerned about the implications this has for religious freedom in northeast Syria,” said Perkins, who also serves as chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, a government entity that monitors overseas threats to the freedom of religion.
“What’s happened there because of ISIS, a byproduct of that, is people of different backgrounds Kurds, Muslims, Christians, Yazidis came together out of necessity, formed their own government,” he said.
They have adopted a charter of religious liberty.
“Religious freedom of the American sort,” Perkins said, “meaning that you can not only believe a certain way, but you can practice that faith and you can change your faith, which is very unique outside of Israel in the Middle East.”
All this could now be in jeopardy, he said.
“With the withdrawal of U.S presence there, this opens up to Turkey to come in after the Kurds,” Perkins said. “The Kurds have been kind of providing the protection to the Christians and the others in that region, so I’m very concerned about the implications for religious freedom.”
“We’re just maintaining what we’ve already gained over the last decade, so to withdraw now before this has taken root, and they’re able to provide the type of security internally there in Syria, just a bad decision,” the Marine Corps veteran argued.
When CBN News “Faith Nation” host Jenna Browder asked whether he and other evangelicals have pressured the president to change course, Perkins responded that he wouldn’t characterize it that way.
“We’re advocating for what we believe to be the right policy,” he said. “Whether the president hears it or not, we’re going to speak it. I have to say, I was very encouraged not to be the only voice on this. Almost without exception, evangelical leaders and others have spoken out about this policy.”
Browder than asked if this decision will hurt Trump’s evangelical base.
“I don’t know. I hope the president will do the right thing, will maintain this small presence of U.S. military forces,” Perkins said.
“[The Trump administration’s] record on religious freedom is unmatched, so this is perplexing for many,” Perkins added.
“But here’s the thing. We have deep respect and appreciation for what this president does. I pray for him every day, but I have an obligation, as do other evangelical leaders to speak out for what we know to be right and to speak out in defense of others.”
Among those evangelical leaders who have spoken out are Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson, the chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network.
Graham tweeted on Wednesday that he was “deeply concerned” that the U.S. was “abandoning our closes allies” in Syria the Kurdish people.
“The Kurds are the ones who have been leading the fight against ISIS in Syria,” Graham wrote.
The Kurds are the ones who have been leading the fight against ISIS in Syria. Also pray for the Christians who the Kurds have been protecting. They could be annihilated. Would you pray w/me that Pres. @realDonaldTrump will reconsider? Thousands of lives hang in the balance. 2/2
— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) October 9, 2019
“Also pray for the Christians who the Kurds have been protecting. They could be annihilated. Would you pray w/me that Pres. @realDonaldTrump will reconsider? Thousands of lives hang in the balance.”
On Monday, Robertson said on CBN’s “700 Club” that he is “absolutely appalled that the United States is going to betray those democratic forces in northern Syria, that we possibly are going to allow the Turkish to come in against the Kurds.”
“The president, who allowed [Washington Post journalist Jamal] Khashoggi to be cut in pieces without any repercussions whatsoever, is now allowing the Christians and the Kurds to be massacred by the Turks,” Robertson said.
“And I believe — and I want to say this with great solemnity — the President of the United States is in danger of losing the mandate of heaven if he permits this to happen.”
Travis Weber, FRC’s vice president for policy and government affairs, told The Western Journal there are some compelling reasons evangelicals are so opposed to the U.S. pulling out of northeast Syria at this time.
“Christians are both in support of protecting their fellow persecuted brothers and sisters overseas and supporting religious freedom where it is in the world,” he said.
Weber further argued it was a matter of America conducting its affairs with integrity and honoring our commitments to the Kurds and others in the region.
“ISIS is still alive in Syria,” he said. “They’re not going away and this will only cause their numbers to surge and once again become more visible and grow and will inflame ISIS power once again in the Middle East.”
Trump tweeted on Wednesday that “going into the Middle East is the worst decision ever made in the history of our country,” citing the trillions of tax dollars spent and thousands of American soldiers killed and wounded.
….IN THE HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY! We went to war under a false & now disproven premise, WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION. There were NONE! Now we are slowly & carefully bringing our great soldiers & military home. Our focus is on the BIG PICTURE! THE USA IS GREATER THAN EVER BEFORE!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 9, 2019
“Now we are slowly & carefully bringing our great soldiers & military home,” he wrote.
Trump will be the keynote speaker at Saturday night’s Faith, Family and Freedom Gala, during which the FRC will also honor Pastor Andrew Brunson, who the Trump administration successfully negotiated to be released from a Turkish prison in October 2018.
The president will almost certainly use the occasion to address the concerns that Perkins and other evangelicals have about his withdrawal of troops from northeast Syria.
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