Sam Brownback has served in the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate, and as governor of Kansas. But it's his passion for religious rights--internationally and here on the Homefront--that has motivated him to become a leading global voice for persecuted people of faith.
Appearing on this week's episode of the CBN News program The Global Lane, Brownback explained that Senate staffer Sharon Pate first sparked his interest in religious freedom when he arrived in the U.S. Senate in January 1997.
"There was hardly anybody working (the issue). And she would tell me stories about people being persecuted in South Sudan for their faith or other different places," he said.
Brownback said he "got hooked" on becoming an advocate for religious freedom once Pate started bringing people into his Senate office to meet with him and share their stories of persecution.
But the defining moment, his epiphany came while back home in Kansas attending one of his kid's softball games.
"I get a call from Sharon that we had just gotten somebody out of jail in Uzbekistan, a missionary that had been in jail in Uzbekistan because of being a Christian and advocated for Jesus there and he said our advocacy got him out of jail. And I was just like, I got hooked. Then I thought, 'You mean I could work in a public policy arena and help people for their religious freedom somewhere around the world? I'm in.'"
Brownback believes his public position has given him the opportunity to help people practice their "God-given right" to practice their faith and "do with their soul" as they see fit.
"To me, religious freedom is a human right of the soul. It's deeper than others. It's just more personal," he said.
Brownback's commitment grew during 14 years in the U.S. Senate, but his attention shifted to domestic politics when he left the Senate to serve two terms as governor of Kansas.
In 2018, the U.S. Senate confirmed him as Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom under President Donald Trump. That year, he and then U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held the first first-ever Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom at the U.S. Department of State. The stated purpose of the gathering was to convene a meeting of leaders from around the world to discuss persecution and discrimination of religious groups and to promote greater religious freedom.
During his tenure, Ambassador Brownback traveled around the world as the top U.S. government advocate tasked with advancing the cause of religious freedom. One of his success stories was securing the release of American Pastor Andrew Brunson from a Turkish prison.
But were there any disappointments?
Brownback said he's still disappointed about the extent of persecution against people of faith around the world.
"There's more Christian persecution going on in the world today than at any time in Christian history. And there's so many different permutations of Christian persecution and of religious persecution," he explained.
"There's religious nationalism in place. There's just mob violence in places."
So, which country concerns him the most and makes him lose sleep at night?
Brownback said as a man of faith, he trusts God and sleeps pretty well.
"But, China really bothers me. And it bothers me because they're testing the future of oppression--this high-tech future where everybody is under a camera and the government has all your genetic samples and they're moving to digitize the currency so there's not a physical currency. They could literally shut your money off truly, completely, Brownback explained. "If they decide we don't like you, or we don't like how you practice your faith, we don't like what you believe, your money is turned off."
And Brownback said China is exporting its technology and systems of control around the world.
"Particularly to dictatorships and autocratic governments, they're going to be spreading this. So, we've got a huge confrontation with China."
More recently, Brownback has shifted his focus to the cause of promoting religious liberty in the United States. Last January, he launched the National Committee for Religious Freedom (NCRF), based near Williamsburg, Virginia.
"What I started to observe is we're losing ground here at home. And this is the mothership for religious freedom. If the United States moves off of this, or declines in its religious freedom, that's going to have ramifications all over the world because everybody watches here. This is the standard setter," he insisted.
Brownback explained that NCRF uses questionaries to assess the religious freedom positions of political candidates who are asked to sign a pledge of support for religious freedom.
"That's what this organization is about, really, is identifying those people that are for religious freedom, opposing those that are against it on a state, local, federal basis so we can start having people in the public space that are standing up and defending the free exercise clause," he noted.
And he believes governments should encourage citizens to stand up for their God-given right to freely practice their beliefs, values, and faith.
"I really think that if government and business can look at this from the positive standpoint, that when people are pursuing their religious freedom, they're really pursuing the formation of their soul, they're pursuing something that makes them a better person," Brownback insisted.
"So I really hope we can start looking at this from the positive standpoint, but I think we're going to have to fight for this for a while," he said.