Washington, D.C. — People think Washington is broken. They should meet Anna Eshoo and Jeff Fortenberry.
That was pretty much the unanimous consensus at the Solidarity Dinner hosted by the advocacy organization In Defense of Christians right there, in the heart of it all — across the street from Congress.
Now I have to confess that I was totally dreading going to Washington, D.C., for this dinner. I’ve spent many days of my life in the city, including on Capitol Hill. But I had avoided it much of the summer and during a post–Labor Day heat wave. I had a lingering cough from too much travel elsewhere and was tempted to avoid the swamp.
And then there was the block it was on. Maybe one of the more hyper-partisan blocks in the nation, you might think. And sometimes you’d be right. The Republican National Committee is there, and the dinner, although it was attended by Ds and Rs alike, was at the Capitol Hill Club, also known as the National Republican Club. I work at the original #NeverTrump conservative magazine. It’s not a block where I hang around a lot these days.
But there are Christians whom terrorists are working to delete from the Middle East, and the least I could do is show up to support the people actually trying to get Americans to do something.
And one half of the bipartisan duo of Eshoo and Fortenberry being honored for their work on religious freedom is a friend of mine. And so are Carl Anderson and the Knights of Columbus, who were also being honored for their world on religious freedom. I got to know Congressman Fortenberry because we would often find ourselves at the same weekday Mass together when I was spending much more time in the nation’s capital. It was a joy to run into him because he reminded me of the best of this place: a town that actually draws people not who are power-hungry but who feel a call to civic service, a noble service.
And Eshoo and Fortenberry sure reminded us of this.
It turned out that if you were down on national politics, this was exactly the place to be.
As was demonstrated by Eshoo, a Democrat, in her remarks about why she has worked to defend Christians targeted for elimination by the so-called Islamic State: because of her faith. Her colleague, a Nebraska Republican, was moved to tears for her tribute to his life of Christian witness, saying that “the ages” would call him “blessed.” The sheer depth of their friendship in common cause for the common good — and, in this case, in literally telling the truth about facts that are undeniable and whose telling is saving lives — was inspiring.
The sheer depth of their friendship in common cause for the common good was inspiring.
Eshoo gushed with great affection about her late “Daddy,” about how proud he was of being a Knights of Columbus and how he’d be upping his contributions because of the work they are doing now to help Christians targeted for genocide. Anderson, for his part, had concrete strategies for Congress and the next administration, whoever leads it. In the mess of debates about aiding refugees from the likes of Mosul and Aleppo, prioritize the Christians, he said. Not to exclude anyone from help and welcome. But because they have been specifically targeted, along with other religious minorities — because of who they are. The Yazidis and other religious minorities are as welcome as anyone in havens for Christians. It’s in some of the mainstream camps that non-Muslims encounter problems. The Knights know this because they have been on the ground, asking questions.
Anderson urged Congress to act, and he asked the two presidential candidates to commit to two simple things, consistent with our nation’s commitment to religious liberty and human rights. First, he said, “promote the international affirmation of their human rights in keeping with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, both as individuals and as distinct societies within their national framework, and . . . end the second-class citizenship of religious minorities in the Middle East.” And, second, “help preserve their ancient communities, which should be considered part of the cultural heritage of all humanity, including by direct government funding for those communities who were targeted for genocide.”
After being presented an incense holder from a church that was burnt in Aleppo, Anderson said of Christian survivors of ISIS in the Middle East today that their “witness to their beliefs should inspire people of all faiths — or of none,” adding: “In a world crippled by relativism and uncertainty, our brothers and sisters in the Middle East offer the example of complete, selfless commitment.”
And it can even happen on Capitol Hill. If you’re distressed about politics, work on the renewal. And if Eshoo and Fortenberry and the Knights are any indication, it starts with solidarity with the suffering, and with the insistence that the world remember their dignity and stand up for it and them in the face of evil.