The Little-known Connection Between Religious Freedom and Putin’s War

March 7 (DeseretNews) – Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is deplorable. Many factors contribute to this war, as to any war, including economic or territorial gain, nationalism, revenge, civil discord and religion, to name a few. But another factor, one that is usually overlooked, is a government’s restrictions on religious freedom. And in the current conflict, the quest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to be independent is also playing a role.

Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, is no stranger to tapping into the soft power of the Russian Orthodox Church to reinforce his political and military power. And the church does not appear to be shy about tapping into the hard power of the Russian state to reinforce its social, temporal and even (in their view) spiritual power. Read this important article by Bryan Grim in DeseretNews here.

Biden Administration Rules Myanmar Army Committed Genocide Against Rohingya

WASHINGTON, March 20 (Reuters) – Biden administration has formally determined that violence committed against the Rohingya minority by Myanmar’s military amounts to genocide and crimes against humanity, U.S. officials told Reuters, a move that advocates say should bolster efforts to hold the junta that now runs Myanmar accountable.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the decision on Monday at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, U.S. officials said, which currently features an exhibit on the plight of the Rohingya. It comes nearly 14 months after he took office and pledged to conduct a new review of the violence. Read more here.

Watch our 21Wilberforce interview here with Wai Wai Nu, a Rohingya Burmese activist and the director and founder of Women’s Peace Network. Nu was a political prisoner for seven years under the Burmese military government, and emerged to serve as a national – and international – voice for Burma’s human rights and democracy movement.

21W Leading for Justice Conference Recap

Fifty leaders of congregations from Virginia, Maryland and DC, participated in a “Leading for Justice” conference sponsored by 21Wilberforce, NorthStar Church Network and the Baptist World Alliance, March 10-11.  These individuals represented more than a dozen nations where many continue to suffer under religious persecution.

The staff from 21Wilberforce led the conference that kicked off with the question: “What injustice keeps you awake at night?” This was followed by five interactive sessions for transformational leaders about living with passion, leading with excellence and leading for systemic changes. Attendees were inspired and encouraged by the personal interviews with Mongolian Human Rights attorney Nora Manja, Wai Wai Nu, the Founder and Executive Director of Women for Peace Network, and Pastor Mario Barroso, a pastor and religious freedom advocate from Cuba. Read more here.

2.2 Timothy Emerging Leader Call for Applications

21Wilberforce is pleased to announce a new three-year cohort for young adult emerging leaders called 2.2 Timothy led by 21W President, Randel Everett, and Trent Martin, 21W Advocacy and Training Coordinator. The program name refers to the Bible verse that offers Paul’s strategy for training others: knowledge and mentoring. One fellow will be selected from applicants in each of six Baptist World Alliance (BWA) regions: North America, Asia Pacific, Africa, Caribbean, Latin America, and Europe.

The purpose of the three-year program is to inform, equip and engage young adults in issues related to religious freedom, particularly within the region in which they reside. Read more here.

The First Memoir About the “Reeducation” Camps by a Uyghur Woman

“I have written what I lived. The atrocious reality.”
— Gulbahar Haitiwaji to Paris Match

Since 2017, more than one million Uyghurs have been deported from their homes in the Xinjiang region of China to “reeducation camps.” The brutal repression of the Uyghurs, a Turkish-speaking Muslim ethnic group, has been denounced as genocide, and reported widely in media around the world. The Xinjiang Papers, revealed by the New York Times in 2019, expose the brutal repression of the Uyghur ethnicity by means of forced mass detention­—the biggest since the time of Mao.

Her name is Gulbahar Haitiwaji and she is the first Uyghur woman to write a memoir about the ‘reeducation’ camps. For three years Haitiwaji endured hundreds of hours of interrogations, torture, hunger, police violence, brainwashing, forced sterilization, freezing cold, and nights under blinding neon light in her prison cell. Order book here.


 The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) will hold a congressional briefing on Wednesday, March 23 at 2:30 pm to discuss the implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on freedom of religion or belief in the region, in addition to USCIRF’s current work and key policy recommendations to the President, Secretary of State, and Congress. Register Here

Respected journalist and author Mindy Belz has been covering faith, religious freedom and world events for many years, both for World magazine and her biweekly newsletter, Globtrot. This week she published a verified, but not exhaustive list of organizations providing aid in Ukraine or bordering countries. Read more here.

The IRF Summit 2022 will bring together a broad coalition that passionately supports religious freedom around the globe for a three day in person event in Washington D.C., June 28th – June 30th, with opportunity for virtual participation. Learn more here.