Sen. Lankford: Christian Genocide Coverage 'Very Disheartening'

On Thursday, at the World Summit for the Defense of Persecuted Christians, Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) warned of the growing threat to religious liberty worldwide and the lack of government and media action taken to confront it.

Hosted by The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Lankford joined global politicians, faith leaders and victims of persecution in the first-ever international summit to address the most pressing issues facing Christians abroad. In a press conference, the senator stressed the importance of awareness, calling the media’s reticence to use the word genocide “very disheartening.”

Many Americans, he noted, do not understand the global extent of anti-Christian discrimination and violence.   

“We sometimes make assumptions that the rest of the world sees religious liberty like we do,” he explained. “They do not.”

“Most of the rest of the world oppresses people of faith,” he continued. “If you don’t have the chosen faith of the government, then they’ll silence you in whatever ways they can.”

Addressing his new Senate resolution, filed May 11, Lankford explained that he and co-sponsor Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) are “trying to highlight” the fact that international religious freedom is an “issue of human dignity and basic human rights.”

The resolution affirms the importance of a proactive approach toward promoting religious freedom worldwide and outlines, among others, the following goals:

  • Developing a plan on international religious freedom, integrated into U.S. diplomatic, development and national security strategies

  • Devising a comprehensive strategy to safeguard victims of genocide and war crimes

  • Directing U.S. government grants toward groups working to train leaders and communities to advance pluralism and respect human rights

  • Ensuring that trade negotiations include religious freedom stipulations

Lankford further noted that the U.S. State Department has power to enforce change, although it has not used all the tools in its arsenal.

“The administration has sanctions authority for individuals that are violators of human rights and dignities,” he stressed. “We should use those tools.”

“Two years ago ISIS was designated as carrying out genocide in Syria [against] Christians, Yazidis and Shia Muslims,” Lankford continued. “No action was taken based on that. If they’re victims of genocide we can’t just designate that ... but we’re not trying to take action.”

MRC Culture asked Lankford why the media have been reticent to use the word “genocide.”

“It’s been very disheartening in many ways,” he replied, citing non-partisan research showing that Christians face the most intense persecution of any faith group. “There is a serious movement that’s happening worldwide … We’re losing ground.”

“The latest research that’s out there is actually showing that we’re having a greater amount of religious persecution worldwide this last year than we had even the year before,” he stressed. “And so it’s a growing issue for us and we want to be able to highlight it.”

Lankford echoed Vice President Mike Pence, the Summit’s keynote speaker, who encouraged the world to call ISIS genocide of Christians by name.

The politicians are not alone in their concerns. Research groups have called attention to additional statistics concerning Christian genocide. Last month, a study by the Center for Studies on New Religions found that Christians are the “most persecuted group in the world” with “as many as 600 million” who were “prevented from practicing their faith” in 2016.

According to Open Doors USA, on average per month 322 Christians are martyred for their faith, 214 “churches and Christian properties are destroyed” and 772 “forms of violence are committed against Christians (e.g., beatings, abductions, rapes, arrests and forced marriages).”

Network History of Terming Persecution by ISIS ‘Genocide’

The broadcast network news shows from ABC, CBS and NBC boast a history of avoiding the term “genocide.”

Earlier this year, the networks covered the Egypt Palm Sunday bombings, for which ISIS claimed responsibility, nine times – without using the word “genocide” once. Similarly, last year, the networks refrained from using “genocide” following an Easter bombing in Pakistan targeting Christians – as well as in other reports of Christian persecution.

Last August, the MRC found that, in the past two-and-half years, the evening news shows reported on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia only 60 times. And of those 60 reports, just six used the word “genocide.”

All this as even the U.S. government acknowledges a genocide by ISIS.

Last year, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that, “in my judgment, Daesh is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control, including Yazidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims.”

According to a 1948 United Nations document, genocide “means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group” including killing, causing serious physical or mental harm, preventing births and kidnapping children.

Sarah Stites
Sarah Stites
Sarah Stites is a writer and research analyst for MRC Culture.
Katie Yoder
Katie Yoder
Katie Yoder is Associate Culture Editor, the Joe and Betty Anderlik Fellow at Media Research Center