Former Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) was recognized the evening of Sept. 22 as part of the Values Voter Summit for his role in defending human rights worldwide—particularly religious liberty. Wolf championed these causes during 34 years in Congress and then through his work with the 21 Wilberforce Initiative.
Among those speaking in honor of Wolf were Sam Brownback, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, and Tony Hall, former U.S. Ambassador to the UN Agencies for Food and Agriculture.
“I’m very grateful for this honor. But I have great staff,” Wolf told The Epoch Times over the phone recently. “I have people who make me look good. We have a long way to go.”
Wolf will step down from his position as distinguished senior fellow of 21 Wilberforce at the end of September, following four years of service there.
In Congress Wolf earned a reputation for being as bipartisan as he was a champion of religious minorities. (He once had a secret meeting in Tibet with the Dalai Lama to advocate on behalf of persecuted Christians.)
He details his fight in his 2011 book, “Prisoner of Conscience: One Man’s Crusade for Global Human and Religious Rights.” His contribution to human rights issues was so influential, in 2016 the 114th Congress named the amended International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) bill the Frank R. Wolf International Religious Freedom Act.
Still, Wolf thought that advocating for religious freedom on a global scale, and shining a light on the atrocities currently taking place in China, Nigeria, and North Korea, was a cause greater than politics, so he joined 21 Wilberforce.
Named after the man who led the fight in the early 19th century to stop the slave trade, William Wilberforce, 21 Wilberforce shines a spotlight on religious liberty issues, genocide, persecution and other causes, through research, events, advocacy, and technology.
On behalf of 21 Wilberforce, Wolf visited various countries around the world to see firsthand how religious minorities, Christians, and others are trying to survive harsh political conditions. In just four years Wolf led fact-finding trips to Iraq and Nigeria, testified at several Congressional hearings on International Religious Freedom issues in Iraq, China, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, and spoke at over 150 events around the United States. Due to Wolf’s determined and quiet leadership and a dedicated team, in just a few years, 21 Wilberforce has become a trusted source of information for policymakers.
Despite effort and the passage of time, Wolf sees conditions in countries of concern steadily worsening.
“In China today the Catholic church [is] being persecuted,” he said. “The Protestant church is being persecuted. In Tibet it’s basically cultural genocide. There are one million women and children in detention camps.”
Things are just as bad in Nigeria, if not worse, he says, due to terrorism. Wolf said it would behoove Americans to be aware of the terrorist groups in Nigeria like Boko Haram who are taking hold of the country’s people and resources with force.
He believes the Trump administration should appoint “a special envoy to Nigeria” to help understand the reality of what’s taking place there and to help resolve the conflicts.
Wolf believes there have been some slight improvements due to the Trump administration’s efforts, particularly in terms of the way the United States engages in giving aid to other countries.
However, the cause of religious liberty still weighs heavily on Wolf’s heart, and he is concerned that younger generations are unaware and indifferent to what’s going on elsewhere because of the decreasing influence of religion in their lives.
“If ‘Generation Z’ doesn’t care about religious freedom for themselves, how are they going to care about religious freedom elsewhere? Church attendance in America is at a low. Thirty-three percent of 21-29 year olds are non religious,” he said.
In addition to exposing what’s going on globally, Wolf isn’t afraid to scold Americans for remaining silent. “The church in the West has been silent. They need to look at Dr. Martin Luther King—his life and message should inspire the church in the West.”
Throughout the interview, Wolf remained intense and confident, adding facts, suggesting resources, and, at the end of the call, adding one more directive: “We need our religious leaders to be more like Dr. King and Thomas Moore and William Wilberforce, men who were willing to go to jail for what they believe in.”