On July 26, 2017, President Trump’s administration announced its choice of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback as the U.S.’s new ambassador-at-large for the Office of International Religious Freedom. The position is designed to monitor and respond to violations of religious freedom around the world.
“Religious freedom is the first freedom. The choice of what you do with your own soul. I am honored to serve such an important cause,” Brownback tweeted as news of the nomination broke.
Religious Freedom is the first freedom. The choice of what you do with your own soul. I am honored to serve such an important cause. -SDB
— Sam Brownback (@govsambrownback) July 27, 2017
Brownback has a long track record of leading the way on global religious freedom for Christians. Brownback was one of the first Congressional voices for action during the Darfur crisis in the mid-2000s. While a senator, Brownback co-chaired the Congressional Human Rights Caucus and championed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. He led efforts to stem the AIDS crisis in Africa and human rights violations in North Korea.
President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention, Russell Moore recently told Christianity Today that “this ambassadorship is a key piece in our nation’s responsibility to act on behalf of the persecuted around the world; one that requires a seasoned, respected leader who brings conviction and gravity to the work of this crucial post. Governor Brownback is exactly this kind of leader.”
Brownback’s leadership has been called into question as of late due to what is largely viewed as a failed economic experiment as governor of Kansas. Brownback drastically cut taxes in the state as a case study he believed would prove the theory of “trickle-down” economics. The state’s economy went into a tailspin, many of the measures were reversed, and if Brownback is approved for the new position by the Senate, he will leave office as one of the least popular governors in the country.
Kansas Representative Jim Ward, the Democratic leader in the Kansas House, told the New York Times, “I’m not going to miss him. He has left a state in carnage and destruction. He has the background [for his new role] but hasn’t embraced diversity. Hopefully, this job that he’ll step into, he’ll realize that Americans are of all kinds of faith.”
Ward is referring to Brownback’s very conservative social record concerning LGBT and abortion-rights. In an interview, executive director of LGBT-rights group Equality Kansas, Tom Witt, said, “He has caused enough damage here in Kansas. We do not wish him upon the world.”
Others, such as retired Virginia politician and leading religious freedom advocate Frank Wolf, believe Brownback’s track record speaks for itself.
Wolf told the Kansas City Star that “this job is really made for Sam. On all these issues he’s been there before almost anybody else.”
Brownback was one of the chief sponsors of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, which made religious freedom an integral facet of American foreign policy. His nomination comes at a time when religious persecution in the world—specifically toward Christians—is at an all-time high.
The nomination is in contrast to President Trump’s praising of several global leaders—specifically Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—who are actively hostile to Christian religious freedom in their countries. David Curry, U.S President and CEO of Christian religious freedom advocacy group Open Doors, praised the nomination of Brownback as an important step forward in protection for Christians around the world.
“With religious persecution reaching devastating levels around the world, we urge the Senate to confirm Gov. Brownback for this crucial role as soon as possible,” Curry said. “Given his strong experience on the important issue of international religious freedom, we have confidence that Gov. Brownback will be an important asset and champion,” said Curry. “This nomination demonstrates a genuine commitment on behalf of the Trump administration to religious freedom around the world.”