In a statement on Wednesday, President Obama offered prayers to persecuted Christians around the world, especially those who have experienced "brutal atrocities" at the hands of ISIS — also known as ISIL, or Daesh.
In some areas of the Middle East where church bells have rung for centuries on Christmas Day, this year they will be silent. This silence bears tragic witness to the brutal atrocities committed against these communities by ISIL.
Obama expressed gratitude for those nations where all people are able to freely practice their faiths, adding that he and First Lady Michelle Obama are "ever-mindful that many of our fellow Christians do not enjoy that right." Obama went on to say that he and the First Lady "hold especially close to our hearts and minds those who have been driven from their ancient homelands by unspeakable violence and persecution."
The president's Republican rivals have often criticized him for not paying attention to Christians persecuted in the Middle East. For instance, presidential candidate Ted Cruz gave an interview to Fox News in the aftermath of the Nov. 13 Paris attacks in which he insisted that "Christians who are being targeted, for genocide, for persecution, Christians who are being beheaded or crucified, we should be providing safe haven to them." Cruz proceeded to accuse Obama of refusing to do so. Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum have also made similar criticisms.
Obama's statement comes in the wake of numerous atrocities that ISIS has committed against Christians. A CBS News feature in March of this year pointed out that over 125,000 Christians had been forced out of their homes in less than a year due to ISIS' actions in Iraq. Although anti-refugee sentiment and Islamophobia have been rapidly intensifying in recent months — and even though Muslims tend to be disproportionately impacted by terrorism — ISIS has long been targeting Christians as well, which explains why Obama felt the need to make this statement.
To wrap up his address, Obama cited a line from a Christmas carol called "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day": "The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail. With peace on earth, good-will to men." And in closing, he offered prayers not only to Christians being targeted by ISIS, but also to everyone who is persecuted for their faith.
We join with people around the world in praying for God’s protection for persecuted Christians and those of other faiths, as well as for those brave men and women engaged in our military, diplomatic, and humanitarian efforts to alleviate their suffering and restore stability, security, and hope to their nations.