J. Reuben Clark Law Society

Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the JRCLS Hosts 5th Annual International Religious Liberty Award Dinner and Reception

On October 9, 2014, the J. Reuben Clark Law Society, Mid-Atlantic Chapter hosted the 5th Annual International Religious Liberty Award Dinner and Reception.  In conjunction with the J. Reuben Clark Law School's International Center for Law and Religious Studies, the 2014 International Religious Liberty Award was presented to Congressman Frank Wolf from Virginia for his many years of support and work for religious liberty. 

Congressman Wolf is perhaps best known as a champion of religious liberty, both in this country and around the world. He fights for the underdog and has more than once put his own life in harm’s way to travel to dangerous parts of the world to show solidarity for those persecuted for their religion.  After 34 years in Congress, he chose not to run for reelection for an 18th term.

Throughout his career in Congress, Representative Wolf has championed efforts to alert our nation and the world to the plight of men, women, and children who are persecuted for living their religious convictions. The award highlights his tireless advocacy and record of legislative accomplishment.  He graciously accepted the award on behalf of his staff who have worked on religious freedom issues since 1985.  He spoke of a great sense of urgency to protect religious freedom both in the United States and abroad.

In his remarks at the dinner, he compared religious liberty in the United States and China.  He told the following story. 

Several years ago, around the time of the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown, a story ran on a local radio station which featured several Tiananmen survivors—a sort of “Where are They Now?” piece.

One of the featured individuals was a gentleman who at one point was number seventeen on Chinese government’s most wanted list of Tiananmen protestors.  He eventually sought asylum in the United States and now pastors a large Chinese-American church near Congressman Wolf ‘s Congressional district.  His sermons are recorded and “put online for converts inside China to download.”  Pastor Boli described his job as letting “the love of Jesus Christ melt the hatred in China.”

Upon hearing his remarkable story, Congressman Wolf invited him in for a meeting.

As is often the case when Congress is in session, a series of votes was called right as they began to meet, requiring that Congressman Wolf walk over to the Capitol, and so he walked over with Pastor Boli.

On this particular day, he happened upon some visiting Chinese tourists at the foot of the Capitol stairs.  This one Chinese couple was visiting their son in the United States who was himself a seminary student.  While they shared no common language it was immediately apparent that they recognized Pastor Boli.  They regularly watched this pastor’s teaching online.  They were overjoyed to meet him.

Congressman Wolf later asked this Chinese-American pastor if he felt it was more difficult to be a Christian in the United States or in China.  He answered unequivocally, and counter-intuitively, that it was more difficult in America.

Perhaps not difficult in the ways we would think.  There are certainly tangible threats to religious freedom in the United States, but no one is being arrested for going to an unregistered church.  No one is being beaten for administering Holy Communion.

But this pastor’s answer certainly was thought-provoking and caused Congressman Wolf to question whether the lure toward “tame Christianity” of the sort Robbie George described was in some ways more insidious and threatening than the actual promise of physical persecution.

With reference to “tame Christianity,” Congressman Wolf has said on other occasions that we are all-too-willing to be “tame” Christians. We want the comforts and consolation of religion, but we’d like to have them without risks or costs. We don’t want to jeopardize friendships, family relationships, professional and economic opportunities, prestige, social status, and the like. We don’t want people to think of us as retrograde or “out of touch with the times,” much less as intolerant or prejudiced. So we are tempted to pick and choose—to be “cafeteria Christians.”

Congressman Wolf has encouraged people to be serious about their faith, and understand that a true Christian is never a “tame” Christian. A true Christian will stand up and speak out for what is good and true, what is right and just, both in season and out of season. He or she will not go silent, even when bearing witness is unpopular—even when it is personally or professionally risky. He or she will know that there truly is a “cost of discipleship,” and will be prepared, with God’s help and by His grace, to pay that cost—whatever it turns out to be. A faithful Christian will be ever mindful of the words of Christ himself, “If anyone would be my disciple, then let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

He concluded his talk at the dinner by urging that religious freedom should be one of the top issues for the 2016 presidential election and that we as individuals should commit ourselves to speak and to act to support religious freedom.

Previous award recipients include Senator Joseph Lieberman; Seamus Hassen, Founder of Becket Fund; Professor Douglas Laycock; and Dr. John Graz, Secretary General of International Religious Liberty Association.

As part of the program, Professor Cole Durham, the Director of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, presented writing competition awards to Audra L. Savage (First Place), Paul Quast (Second Place), Paul Baumgardner (Third Place), and Kelly Thomas and Zachary J. Phillipps (Honorable Mentions).

By Tom Isaacson

Posted: January 20, 2015