U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback opened the first ever Ministerial Religious Freedom Summit at the State Department on Tuesday.
Brownback urged leaders from a range of faiths to work together to help the persecuted across the globe.
"We need your faith in action to move the world to not just tolerance of differences —although that's important — unfortunately, that bar is just too low," said Brownback. "We must move to a place where people genuinely care and love one another, no matter our differences. You must help us get there."
The former Republican Kansas governor and US senator urged the 350 representatives from 80 countries, including Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Baha'is, Yazidis and others attending the three-day summit to take action to move the world to a place where people genuinely care and love one another.
"We were as inclusive as possible because we wanted to include everyone of every faith or no faith at all, everyone who cares about religious freedom and who will join us in this cause," said the US ambassador nominated by President Trump in July 2017 and confirmed in January 2018. "Religious freedom really, truly is for everyone. It's a right given by God and it's a beautiful part of our human dignity."
In his opening remarks, Brownback listed examples of religious persecution of religious minorities, from the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Myanmar to the victimization of Yazidis and Christians by the so-called Islamic State in Iraq.
He also noted that U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson "remains wrongly imprisoned on false charges" in Turkey.
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Jamie Powell, the wife of pastor John Cao, said he was arrested by Chinese border police after doing "faith-driven work" to help poor people in neighboring Myanmar and has been sentenced to seven years in prison.
"He has lost 50 pounds, he's not been able to communicate with me and my children," said Powell, who lives in the U.S. "My son and I traveled there, 10,000 miles, and we were not allowed to see him."
Pastor Paula White with New Destiny Christian Center also attended the event.
"The last statistic shows 79 percent of Christians around the world are persecuted," she said. "I think it's very important that we are the church in America begin to understand what our sisters and brother go through worldwide."
White noted what Brownback said at the end of his speech when he stated the Trump administration will continue to make religious liberty a top priority.