October 31, 2018
Most Americans don’t know a whole lot about the United Arab Emirates (UAE), except maybe for the Burj Khalifa — the tallest man-made structure in the world. What they don’t realize is that the UAE is also head and shoulders above a lot of their Middle Eastern neighbors in another aspect: religious tolerance. Compared to a lot of Islamic countries, the view from there is even more impressive.
Tony Perkins had an opportunity to see that – up close and personal – over the last few days as part of a special evangelical delegation invited to the scenic stretch of land along the Persian Gulf. There, with several familiar faces, he witnessed once again just how important the election of Donald Trump has been – not just to America, but to the cause of religious liberty worldwide. Last night, from 7,000 miles away, he talked to “Washington Watch” guest host Russ Jones about how eye-opening the trip has been.
For Tony, who joined a similar delegation in Cairo, this was another example of the doors that the Trump administration is opening by its embrace of faith and freedom. “This is one of those things that we’ve seen increasingly happen in the last two years, as Donald Trump has been promoting religious freedom and has a very close relationship with evangelicals. Some of the world leaders want to understand better what evangelicals want to do. They’re becoming more attuned to the issue of religious freedom…” Apart from the crown prince and other top officials, Tony and leaders like Joel Rosenberg, Michele Bachmann, Jerry Johnson, and others, had a chance to meet with a number of protestant and evangelical pastors. “They have a very vibrant church population,” Tony pointed out, which is incredibly unique for an Islamic country.
One of the reasons the UAE has been so receptive to other faiths, Tony explains, is because the royal family had such a positive encounter with American missionaries. “Now, this is an Islamic country,” Tony reminds listeners. “It is the official religion. But unlike most Islamic countries, freedom of worship is a principle here.” But, several years ago, when the crown prince’s father and mother lost two children, it was missionaries from the United States who helped his family at a medical clinic they’d established. “[T]hat launched a long-term relationship. They ended up welcoming the missionaries to establish a hospital and a church that exists here today. It was through that mission work that there was an acceptance of Christianity and its humanitarian aspect — and, as a result a respect for the Christian people.”
Now, decades later, American evangelicals are sitting down with Mohammed Bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, at the first-ever meeting of its kind. “They have an appreciation for religious freedom that is rare in this region,” Tony said after talking to Bin Zayed and other top government officials. “Under the Crown Prince’s leadership, the UAE is a more tolerant nation, where Christians are allowed to worship freely. I saw firsthand how this freedom of worship is boosting the economy and security of the nation.”
In a country of 32,000 square miles, UAE has 700 Christian ministries and churches. That’s astounding in an area so close to the oppressive regimes of Syria and Iran. The freedom of those congregations to worship, Tony said, “gives me hope for greater expansion of religious freedom in the UAE and for persecuted religious minorities across the Middle East. The UAE is pursuing a path of religious tolerance and peace that I pray other countries in the region would follow.”
Obviously, no matter how welcoming the country may be to other faiths, religious liberty has a very different meaning in UAE than it does in the U.S. But thanks to the Trump administration and the leadership of the crown prince, it is a model of growing respect for religious minorities. In the end, it directs all of our attention to another area of significance that’s at stake in this election: the international dialogue over religious freedom and persecution. This White House and conservatives in Congress have inspired the world to care again. If we want that conversation to continue, we have to speak up ourselves — November 6.
Tony Perkins’ Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.