Author archives: Arielle Del Turco

No, Amnesty International: Ukrainian Refugees Do Not Need Abortion

by Arielle Del Turco

April 27, 2022

Even as the world watches in shock and horror while the Russian military targets Ukrainian civilians, certain activists are taking advantage of global concern for Ukraine to push radical agendas. On March 17, the same day that survivors were being rescued from the wreckage of the Mariupol theater bombing, Amnesty International and the International Planned Parenthood Federation joined dozens of European organizations in signing a statement urging the countries helping Ukrainian refugees to prioritize—of all things—abortion.

The “Call to Action” recommends that European Union (EU) countries “take swift and effective measures to facilitate and support urgent access to early medical abortion” for refugees. It singles out Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia as countries with strong pro-life protections who are taking in Ukrainian refugees and calls on the EU to provide “urgent political support, guidance and technical assistance” to the governments of these countries “to facilitate the removal of legal and policy barriers that are impeding the provision of essential sexual and reproductive health care.”

While the Russian military continues to kill thousands in Ukraine, Amnesty International and Planned Parenthood are campaigning for more abortions, which will kill even more innocent Ukrainians.

The coercive tone taken by European activists is far from unusual. Many Western elites are quick to criticize Poland, Hungary, and other Central and Eastern European countries that, after gaining independence from the oppression of communist regimes, have worked to protect life in the womb. These same countries have been a shining example of hospitality to Ukrainian refugees; governments are taking unprecedented steps to welcome Ukrainians, and many citizens are opening their homes to refugees. These countries are the heroes in this story, but the Call to Action is treating them like villains because they value both women and unborn children.

The reality is that pregnant Ukrainian women and unborn children do need increased assistance. Within Ukraine, there has been a spike in premature births, and the stress of war is taking a physical toll on pregnant women. Some doctors have guided their patients through labor at home when fighting made it impossible to travel to the hospital. The difficulty for doctors to access certain medication or medical equipment also poses a risk to women and children’s well-being.

Thankfully, some are already working to support expectant mothers. Private organizations and even UN agencies are sending medical kits into Ukraine designed to help midwives support mothers giving birth. This is increasingly necessary, as births are often taking place in homes, shelters, and other less-than-ideal situations. Even hospitals aren’t always safe; Russian forces have attacked over 100 hospitals and medical facilities. The bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol produced one of the war’s most striking images; it showed a pregnant woman on a stretcher gripping her bloodied belly as she was carried across rubble. Sadly, neither she nor her baby survived.

A writer for WIRED asserted that among Ukrainian women, “Pregnancies that were previously desired may no longer feel sustainable.” This view illustrates a failure to uphold human dignity. In times of war, the birth of a child is a sign of hope for the future. As Ukrainian Ivan Korol, whose baby girl was born in a bomb shelter this February, said, “Last night under the roar in Gostomei, my wife gave birth to me a daughter, like a star in the dark in such a difficult time!”

Indeed, pregnant Ukrainian women, whether they remain in the country or flee as refugees, are encountering many challenges that could not have been foreseen a few months ago. They need Western countries and NGOs to offer robust assistance—food, shelter, and medical attention—not pressure to kill their own children.

Amnesty International knows the gravity of the situation faced by Ukrainians. Their own investigators document allegations of war crimes committed by Russian soldiers. This is valuable work. However, it’s beyond comprehension that during these ongoing tragedies, Amnesty International and other European organizations that purport to care about human rights would seize the opportunity to criticize democratic countries over their social policy. Human rights groups should be focused on ensuring accountability for the many human rights violations Russia is committing in Ukraine, not pressuring other countries to violate the right to life.

Russia is bombing maternity hospitals—an act that is recognized as especially egregious because it kills both mothers and children. Our response should not double down on that death and destruction by encouraging mothers to kill their own unborn children. Rather, we should do everything in our power to save lives, including the most vulnerable lives—those in the womb.

How Polish Churches Are Loving Their Ukrainian Neighbors

by Arielle Del Turco

April 20, 2022

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked a humanitarian crisis unlike anything seen in Europe in nearly a century. Millions of Ukrainians are fleeing across the border to safety in surrounding countries as Russian forces continue to attack their homeland.

When I visited Poland earlier this month, the Polish people’s support for Ukraine was evident. In train stations throughout the country, Ukrainian refugees are met with information desks specifically set up for them, medical tents, basic food and supplies, and volunteers in yellow vests waiting to direct and assist them.

The warm reception of the Polish people and government toward Ukrainian refugees has emerged as a powerful theme in the wake of Russia’s war. And although evangelical Polish churches only make up an estimated 0.3 percent of the population, they have been at the forefront helping refugees.

For example, one Warsaw congregation of fewer than 100 members, Zoe Church, launched into action immediately upon hearing of the invasion. Pastor Szymon Kmiecik jumped into a car the night of the invasion and drove to the Ukrainian border to see how they could help. Since then, the congregation has been sending vans full of supplies into Ukraine and coordinating with Ukrainian evangelical churches to distribute supplies to meet basic needs. The church is also renting three apartments to house Ukrainian refugees and assisting them as they resettle and look for work.

Approximately 90 percent of Ukrainian refugees in Poland are women and children. This poses unique challenges as mothers try to provide for their family and get a job while also caring for young children. Zoe Church has a vision to meet this need by offering a safe childcare option for refugee mothers trying to work or simply looking to entertain their kids for a few hours. Now, the church’s Sunday service attendees have doubled with the Ukrainian refugees the church is helping in attendance. You can donate to their efforts here.

In Western Poland, the First Baptist Church of Wroclaw has also stepped up, making space inside the church for Ukrainian refugees to stay until they find a more permanent place to live. Pastor Michal Domagala told me the church houses an average of 40-60 Ukrainian refugees. Polish volunteers help the refugees find jobs, fill out government paperwork, and get acclimated to life in Poland.

At 300 members, First Baptist Church could be considered a megachurch in Poland. Even before the start of the war, the church held a Ukrainian-language service for the Ukrainians who lived and worked in the city. The church’s setup for refugees is beyond impressive. A room full of clothes for all ages is staffed with volunteers who help refugees locate items they might need. Baby supplies and toys are available for those who fled Ukraine with only what they could carry. You can donate to their efforts here.

The need is great in Poland; the country has already taken in 2.6 million Ukrainian refugees, and more are on the way. The strain on the Polish education and health care systems is starting to show, and housing is becoming scarce. In this environment, the tiny evangelical minority is having an outsized impact.

International Christian humanitarian aid organizations, such as Convoy of Hope Europe and Samaritan’s Purse, also have warehouses and personnel set up inside of Ukraine to help the civilians who remain there and find themselves under attack, out of work, and struggling to cope with shortages of food and basic supplies.

The Polish pastors I spoke with say there is no shortage of people ready to volunteer. Yet, some have noticed that donations are tapering off as the war in Ukraine becomes the new normal. One pastor encouraged Christians around the world to pray that the Polish people will have the grace to continue displaying compassion and generosity to Ukrainian refugees for as long as it is needed. 

Poland’s evangelical churches have given much of themselves in order to love their neighbors. It is a beautiful example of Christian charity worth emulating.

Ukraine, Russia, and Who to Believe

by Arielle Del Turco , Joseph Backholm

April 4, 2022

Most people believe journalists will lie to them. According to Gallup, only 36 percent of Americans have a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in the media and there are lots of reasons why.

Most recently, the legacy media has finally decided to admit it really was Hunter Biden’s laptop found in a pawnshop loaded with incriminating information, including incriminating information about Joe Biden, just before the 2020 election. When the media partnered with the Biden campaign to claim it was Russian disinformation, they weren’t telling the truth.

They also told the nation a high school kid from Kentucky, Nick Sandmann, was racist because they didn’t like the look on his face, they said border patrol was whipping Haitian immigrants on horseback when they weren’t, and described riots they were sympathetic to as “fiery but mostly peaceful protests.” Big media has earned every bit of skepticism they receive.

As a result, many have viewed coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine skeptically. More than one month since the start of the unprovoked invasion, Russia has been brutal. Russian troops have attacked hospitals, including maternity hospitals, residential areas and apartment buildings, and refugee evacuation routes. A bombing of a Ukrainian theater where civilians were sheltering is estimated to have killed 300 people. Overwhelming public evidence and intelligence sources led Secretary of State Antony Blinken to officially declare that Russia is committing war crimes.

It is in situations like these that mistrust of the media can go too far. Rather than express shock and sympathy, there is almost a temptation to explain away the legacy media’s narrative. Some of us have become so cynical we assume everything we are being told is false. If they tell us Russia is the bad guy, they must be the good guy. If they tell us Ukraine is an innocent victim of a ruthless dictator, they must be the ruthless dictator.

We saw something similar, but different, happen recently when right-wing pundit Dave Rubin announced, along with his same-sex partner, that they are expecting two babies through surrogacy. In the past, Rubin tended to align more with the Left but developed an appreciation for the dangers of wokeness and stood up to the Left’s attempts to silence speech and punish those they disagree with. Upon his announcement, many conservatives, including professing social conservatives at Prager University and Glenn Beck’s Blaze TV, were quick to congratulate Rubin, apparently out of personal affection. It’s one thing to wish Dave Rubin well in life despite choices we disagree with—it’s another thing to celebrate decisions and developments we know to be wrong because the person doing the wrong thing is someone we generally like.

Which leads to the larger point.

As Christians, we must evaluate the truthfulness of a claim or the goodness of an action without regard to tribal identification or our personal feelings about the people involved. This is what the Apostle Peter refers to as being soberminded. We often think of sobriety as the opposite of drunkenness, but alcohol is not the only thing that can impair our mental capacity. Our emotions can be just as intoxicating. Peter warned us about the danger of emotional intoxication when he instructed us to, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). Mental intoxication makes it easy for others to deceive us and makes it easy for us to deceive ourselves.

Sober-mindedness is an underrated yet important qualification for leadership in the church (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 2:2). Someone who determines what is true based on how they feel is poorly equipped to lead people, especially the people of God.  

In other contexts, we immediately recognize the folly of focusing more on the messenger than the message. One common, and appropriate, criticism of Critical Race Theory (CRT) is that it calls us to consider someone’s racial identity before we consider the merits of their arguments. CRT discounts the perspectives of white people because they are white and it elevates the perspectives of non-white people based on the belief that lived experience gives non-white people a prioritized perspective.

This is both an irrational and unbiblical way of evaluating information. It goes without saying that people of all skin pigmentations are capable of being right and wrong and it is their ability to think and reason that determines their credibility, not their skin color. In the same way, our personal feelings towards something must not sway an objective assessment of truth and reality. Of course, it’s possible we might grow to dislike people we know to be untrustworthy, but it will always be true that those we love can say something false just as someone we dislike can say something true. The truth is the truth, even if someone who has lied in the past says it. These days, we tend to focus on the identity of the people involved more than the claims themselves to our own demise.

All this is important to keep in mind as we consume information and take in perspectives.

Yes, the mainstream, legacy media has said a lot of things that weren’t true. A lot. But that does not mean everything they say is false. We should not allow our personal frustration with someone’s willingness to misrepresent the truth prevent us from always looking for the truth. It is critical that we approach the situation of Ukraine with sober-mindedness and discernment. We must avoid the trap of calling good evil and evil good based on distrust of the media.

If we find ourselves trying to ignore information we might otherwise believe because of who it would force us to agree with, we may be more focused on fighting personal or partisan battles than trying to find the truth. That’s a dangerous place to be.

Human Rights Must Not Be Twisted to Include Abortion

by Arielle Del Turco

March 29, 2022

Senate Republicans are beginning to sound the alarm about a dangerous provision being slipped into U.S. sanction bills. Instead of simply reauthorizing the Global Magnitsky Act—an important mechanism for the U.S. government to sanction human rights violators—Democrats have made dangerous modifications to the language now waiting to be voted on in the Senate. The new changes would make a tool meant to punish foreign individuals for “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” (a term defined in U.S. law) to simply “serious human rights abuse” (a legally undefined concept).

Some conservative legislators have recognized how this bill might be abused. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told Politico, “If you don’t define what human rights abuses are, you set up something so wide open that you could have abuse of a president who’s allowed to sanction anyone in the world for anything they feel like.”

This begs the question: just how might an untethered definition of human rights be abused by a far-Left administration that promotes an ever-expanding list of what they consider to be human rights? Sadly, the World Health Organization (WHO) offered a shameless example earlier this month of what twisting human rights to fit a radical agenda looks like.

In a massive report on “Abortion care guidelines,” the WHO made a series of bold recommendations meant to guide the policies of all countries. Among the many policy recommendations were the removal of laws and regulations that “restrict abortion by grounds” and the insistence that “abortion be available on the request of the woman, girl or other pregnant person.” Make no mistake—the WHO is urging countries to drop any protections for life in the womb.

To justify this radical push, the report points to several rights listed in international human rights treaties (some of which the United States has chosen not to ratify). Yet, it twists each of these rights to read a supposed “right” to abortion into it. This is a disingenuous interpretation of international human rights agreements; we shouldn’t let the WHO—and all the UN entities that have contributed to this corrupt understanding of human rights—set the standard. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saw this dangerous trend and commissioned a report from the Unalienable Rights Commission to ground the U.S. government’s understanding of human rights in American tradition and our commitment to international human rights principles.

It’s worth noting that both the right to life and the right to be recognized as a person before the law are widely-recognized in human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which the United States ratified in 1992. While activists try to make human rights about expanding abortion, it’s up to us to uphold the integrity of the human rights movement.

Writing in National Review, Wesley Smith hinted at the dangers this WHO report poses for countries that want to protect life. “The WHO has forgotten that the entire world does not share the moral and policy perspectives of progressive Americans, Western European elites, and the odious CCP. In this sense, these so-called leaders are trying to impose policies on the world that I wager the majority of the people it supposedly serves do not find moral or right.”

In fact, the WHO’s guidelines are aligned with the abortion laws of China and North Korea—two of the greatest human rights violators of our time—and, sadly, the United States. However, they are completely out of step with all but six countries around the world that protect life in the womb after the second trimester. Rescinding the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy, which prevented U.S. taxpayer money from funding abortions in other countries, was one of President Biden’s first acts in office, demonstrating his priorities and laying the groundwork for his administration to promote abortion around the world.

This is where the Democrat’s change of the Global Magnitsky Act’s language comes in. If the Biden administration is given the unlimited authority to sanction foreign individuals for “serious human rights violations” (again, a term not defined in U.S. law), there is a legitimate concern that administration officials will use the sanctions to target foreign officials for pro-life laws—something that the WHO would no doubt approve of. This would be a gross misuse of a human rights tool and waters down and confuses the profound meaning of human rights.

Congress should retain the Global Magnitsky Act’s original language. This will prevent opportunities for abuse by leftist administrations to punish countries with conservative values. The recent WHO report is a glaring example of why we must vigilantly protect against vague definitions of human rights that can be twisted to push radical policies.

In Afghanistan, Women Are Being Subjugated. In the West, They Are Being Erased.

by Arielle Del Turco

March 29, 2022

We are being treated like criminals just because we are girls. Afghanistan has turned into a jail for us.” This is how one Afghan girl describes life under the Taliban. Girls across the country had their hopes dashed last week when Taliban authorities reneged on their promise to allow girls’ secondary schools (above 6th grade) to reopen. The decision was so last minute that the students were not told until they arrived at school Wednesday morning and had to be sent home.

One girl tearfully recounted to her mother, “Mom, they didn’t let me enter my school. They’re saying girls aren’t allowed.” Instead of attending classes and progressing in their education, she and other Afghan girls will be expected to stay inside their homes and help with housework.

The pretext given by some Taliban officials is they were unable to plan for a school uniform dress code for teenage girls. This pathetic excuse is no doubt familiar to Afghans who previously lived under Taliban rule. When the Taliban controlled Afghanistan from 1996-2001, education for girls was similarly restricted. But in recent months, Taliban officials have tried to insist that they’ve changed over the last two decades. However, all pretense of modernization within the Taliban is now over; that is a deeply tragic reality for women and girls in Afghanistan who simply want to go to school and live normal lives.

While Afghan women and girls were grieving the loss of basic freedoms and opportunities because of their sex, a very different scene played out nearly 7,000 miles away in a U.S. Senate chamber. Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) asked Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, President Biden’s Supreme Court nominee, to define the word “woman.” Jackson responded, “No. I can’t…I’m not a biologist.” It struck many as odd that a well-educated and successful person—whom many hail as a pioneering black woman herself—was unable or refused even to define the word “woman.”

But this ambiguity on the nature of womanhood isn’t limited to a Supreme Court confirmation hearing; it’s taking our culture by storm. In recent weeks, we’ve seen biological males who self-identify as women kicking biological females off the podium in women’s sports and taking their slots in “woman of the year” designations.

Clarity on the sexes is needed now more than ever. But the truth is not that complicated. Writing in the National Review, Madeleine Kearns explains why no one needs a degree in biology to know what a woman is: “Sex is observable at birth, detectable long after death, and demonstrable in our chromosomes, gametes, and reproductive organs. We are reminded of our sex every time we go to the bathroom or look in a mirror. The sex of the vast majority of people is identifiable at a glance.”

The West’s erasure of women puts women and girls at physical risk in shared spaces like bathrooms and locker rooms and robs them of opportunities that policies like Title IX were supposed to protect. It also has the potential to undermine global momentum on women’s rights. What does it mean for international women’s rights advocacy if the West can no longer agree on a definition for “woman”?

While the West is embroiled in debate about gender identity ideology, the heart-wrenching and horrifying situations faced by many women around the world are being overlooked. Female North Korean defectors forcibly sent back to North Korea endure rape, torture, forced labor, and forced abortions in labor camps. Young Christian and Hindu girls in Pakistan are at risk of being forcibly converted and married to their Muslim kidnappers. Uyghur women are targets of China’s genocide, undergoing brutal mandatory sterilization, forced abortions, and arbitrary detainment.

Women have come a long way in gaining equal rights and protections in much of the world. Yet, the West does a disservice to those women still fighting for basic rights when it sidelines their plight in favor of trendy, dangerous, and incoherent gender identity ideology.

Women and girls around the world aren’t being helped by the West’s newfound confusion about the sexes. We shouldn’t be afraid to say what a woman is—a biological female—and defend the human dignity of women around the world. We must convey the value and goodness of women’s unique qualities—not ignore them, undermine them, and certainly not erase them.

Dems Slip Harmful Human Rights Provision into Russia Energy Sanction Bill

by Arielle Del Turco

March 10, 2022

Congress is rushing through critical pieces of legislation, opening the door for unrelated and harmful amendments to be attached. This is exactly what happened yesterday when the House passed the Suspending Energy Imports from Russia Act (H.R. 6968). It’s a bipartisan bill to prohibit importing energy from Russia in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. However, House Democrats seized the opportunity to tack on a controversial amendment to a bill they knew would pass.

The unnecessary language in H.R. 6968 would modify the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act enacted in 2016. This law enables the U.S. government to place financial sanctions on foreign individuals responsible for “extrajudicial killings, torture, or other gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.” This is an important law, and it is one of the most effective means by which the U.S. government can pressure officials in other countries to stop violating human rights.

However, H.R. 6968 lowers the bar from “gross violations of internationally recognized human rights” to simply “serious human rights abuse.” And although the Global Magnitsky Act targeted individuals who were “responsible” for these actions, H.R. 6968 targets anyone “directly or indirectly engaged in” serious human rights abuse. On the surface, these might sound like small changes, but the effects can be far-reaching.

Representative Chris Smith (R-N.J.), one of Congress’s most stalwart human rights advocates, explained the issue on the House floor yesterday:

I’m for this bill, but there are provisions in this, one in particular, that should not be in here. Mr. Speaker, I’m the prime sponsor of the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act…. Under the Act, an actionable offense occurs only when there’s a gross violation of internationally-recognized human rights, which has the meaning given to it in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. Specifically, the Foreign Assistance Act includes torture, cruel and inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges and trial, causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction and clandestine detention of those persons, and other flagrant denials of the right to life, liberty, or the security of a person.

H.R. 6968, however, radically strikes and replaces the current definition of what constitutes an actionable offense with language that is not defined and is being done tonight without the benefit of a hearing or due diligence. Under the new language, the president may impose sanctions on any individual if responsible for or complicit in what they call “serious human rights abuse.” Exactly what does that mean? There’s no definition. How is that phrase defined? How elastic is it? Especially when it’s not linked to any international treaty or covenant. What does “indirectly engaged” mean? How indirect? Guilt by association?

The Global Magnitsky Act got it right. It was bipartisan and it linked sanctions to internationally-recognized human rights. I hope the Senate will take a look at this. This is an egregious mistake.

We want the U.S. government to be as effective as possible when combating human rights abuses abroad. However, no one should be able to abuse mechanisms like the Global Magnitsky Act sanctions to target foreign individuals based on partisan politics or radical social agendas. As radical activists continue to redefine terms and use “human rights” to mean anything they want it to mean, it’s easy to see how H.R. 6968 could be misused.

The new language in H.R. 6968 also eliminates the five-year sunset provision of the Global Magnitsky Act. Sunset provisions give Congress the opportunity every period of years as specified to review how the sanctioning authority is being utilized and make sure it hasn’t been misused. If the Act no longer sunsets, this important oversight review would be eliminated.

Global Magnitsky Act sanctions have been used for good in the past, such as when the U.S. government sanctioned Turkish officials in the case of imprisoned American pastor Andrew Brunson. Just a few weeks later, Brunson was released. It’s important to maintain the integrity of the Global Magnitsky Act and ensure it is not abused by partisan agendas in the executive branch. When the Senate considers H.R. 6968, they should remove this provision.

Real Men Don’t Bomb Women and Children. They Protect Them.

by Arielle Del Turco

March 10, 2022

Throughout his career, Russian President Vladimir Putin has cultivated the image of a “strong man,” in both the political and physical sense. He has projected a powerful masculine image for himself while reasserting Russian influence on the world stage.

Numerous photos published by the Kremlin show a shirtless Putin doing stereotypically manly outdoorsy things. Images of him hunting, fishing, horseback riding, and submerging himself in icy waters for the Orthodox observance of the Epiphany are accompanied by the Russian state media’s glowing reports of how physically fit the president is. Sure, Putin knows international audiences poke fun at these stunts, but he says he sees “no need to hide.”

Yet, with Putin’s unprovoked invasion into peaceful neighboring Ukraine, the humor of Putin’s self-made macho image is fading. Writing for WORLD, Andrew Walker points out, “Putin’s masculinity is one of cavalier ruthlessness and vainglory—one using raw strength to self-aggrandize, bully, destroy, denigrate, and suppress.”

Standing in stark contrast to the Russian president’s shirtless wilderness photoshoots is comedy actor turned politician, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Before the Russian invasion, Zelensky was a relatively unknown figure on the world stage. But now, he has risen to the task of being a wartime leader with determination, good humor, and fearlessness. Standing in the dark streets of Kyiv as the invasion was underway, Zelensky recorded a video on his smartphone reassuring his people and warning his adversaries that “We are here.”

The risks to his own life are great, but thus far, Zelensky has refused to leave. In an address from his office, he said, “I stay in Kyiv. On Bankova Street. I’m not hiding. And I’m not afraid of anyone. As much as it takes to win this Patriotic War of ours.” This is a strength and courage that Putin’s vacation pics can’t replicate.

Zelensky’s unwavering and passionate communications to his fellow Ukrainians and the outside world have earned him countless comparisons to Winston Churchill. His leadership has rallied Ukrainians to fight back against the Russian onslaught and stirred the hearts of world leaders to act. Neither Zelensky’s politics nor his lifestyle are a perfect model of masculinity. Yet, as he leads his country’s struggle to fight back against one of the most powerful militaries on earth, people around the world are drawn to his powerful example of what masculinity can look like when channeled in the right direction. He has shown he is willing to sacrifice his life for the good of his people and country after being offered an easy way out.

Instead of modeling sacrificial leadership, Putin chose to put the lives of his troops on the line—for some, perhaps even unknowingly—to assault a neighboring sovereign country without a legitimate cause. At home, Putin’s state media obscures the truth about the war he started in Ukraine, and authorities are severely cracking down on the Russians who are brave enough to protest it.

Meanwhile, Russian forces are ruthlessly targeting residential areas for missile attacks. Over the weekend, Russian forces fired mortar shells toward a bridge civilians were using to flee. Four people died, including an eight-year-old child. That’s what Putin is doing to his own soldiers and the innocent people of Ukraine. This is not masculine strength—it’s cruelty.

While Putin’s military indiscriminately harms women and children, Ukraine is making provisions for their safety. Ukraine instituted a policy that allows women and children to flee across the border but expects men to stay and fight. Extra concern for women and children will be all the more important as some fear increased vulnerability for women in the wake of Russia’s invasion and reports of abuses by Russian soldiers.

Of course, many Ukrainian women have been courageously volunteering to fight. Grandmas, members of parliament, teachers, and many others have taken up arms to defend Ukraine. Even so, the Ukrainian government isn’t placing the bulk of the burden to fight onto women, and that is appropriate. A culture expecting men to protect and defend women and children is an impactful display of healthy masculinity.

Zelensky, like the Ukrainian people, has inspired the world with unexpected bravery and resolve in the face of a seemingly impossible situation. In doing so, he provides a clear alternative to Putin’s faux, destructive masculinity. Real men don’t bomb women and children. They protect them.

Forced Marriage in Pakistan and Why It Matters to the U.S.

by Arielle Del Turco , Hannah Waters

March 1, 2022

For nearly a year, Nayab Gill has been forced to live with her kidnapper. 

In early 2021, 13-year-old Nayab and her father were approached by Saddam Hayat, a 30-year-old married Muslim man and father of four. Hayat offered to train Nayab in his beauty salon and give her a much-needed job. For weeks, Hayat faithfully picked up Nayab, brought her to his salon, gave her lessons in cosmetology, and brought her home each day. 

On May 20, however, Nayab never came home.

Nayab’s frantic parents searched for their child for over a week with no success. Eventually, local police contacted the Gill family, informing them that their daughter had registered as a willful convert to Islam and had married a Muslim man—Hayat. In reality, Hayat and six others had kidnapped Nayab from her home, raped her, forced her to convert to Islam, and coerced her into marriage.

After a long legal struggle and many nights spent trapped in her abuser’s home, Nayab’s case finally went to court. Although her parents presented her birth certificate, which proved she was a minor, the judge accepted Hayat’s forged documents—documents that claimed he had recently celebrated his 18th anniversary with his 19-year-old bride. Shockingly, the court ruled in the kidnapper’s favor, declaring that Nayab had willingly converted to Islam and married Hayat. At the ruling, Nayab’s parents broke down in tears as she was led by police back into the arms of her abuser.

Sadly, this horrific account is a reality for hundreds of Christian and Hindu girls in Pakistan. Although there are no official records, it is estimated that over 1,000 cases like Nayab’s occur in Pakistan every year. Despite the clear human rights violation, the practice of forced conversion and marriage still thrives in Pakistan.

The newly-updated report from Family Research Council, “Combatting Forced Marriage of Young Women in Pakistan,” exposes the ongoing tragedy in Pakistan and presents ways in which the U.S. government can begin to address the problem.

The U.S. State Department designates Pakistan as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) for its “particularly severe” religious freedom violations—and with good reason. Religious minorities hold a marginalized position in Pakistani society, a relic of the former Indian caste system.

The tension between religious groups provides a convenient means by which Muslim perpetrators can protect themselves from just punishment. Although the perpetrators of forced conversions and marriages are in violation of Pakistani law, the religious dynamics of Pakistan are such that a ruling in favor of a Christian or Hindu victim can often be seen as an attack on Islam itself. This creates an environment in which perpetrators can target their victims and commit crimes with impunity. 

When local police are informed of forced conversion and marriage cases, they are often reluctant to help find victims or bring perpetrators to justice. At times, authorities have even been hostile toward the victim’s family and often bend to the pressures of the extremist or influential abductors. Police have also interfered with investigations by discouraging Christian and Hindu families from filing formal complaints.

Pakistani courts aggravate this tragedy when they neglect to follow fair legal procedures. Investigations into the circumstances of an alleged conversion rarely take place; instead, the existence of a conversion certificate—which is often forged—is taken as sufficient proof. Furthermore, the threat of Islamist mob violence often makes judges afraid to do the right thing.

The issue of forced conversion and forced marriage in Pakistan is tragic. As a long-standing leader in upholding international human rights, the United States faces a critical moment. Continued silence will only embolden those who wish to violate human dignity and restrict religious freedom.

By taking a few simple steps, the U.S. government can go a long way toward holding the perpetrators—and the government that tolerates them—accountable. To start, American diplomats should raise this issue with their Pakistani counterparts. Congress can pass a resolution condemning this practice and calling on the Pakistani government to address it. The United States should also apply targeted sanctions on Pakistani officials responsible for committing or tolerating human rights abuses.

Forced conversion and marriage in Pakistan are enabled by social discrimination, corrupt authorities, and unjust courts of law. America’s diplomacy with Pakistan should address all these concerns. The United States must demonstrate an unwavering commitment to international human rights and advocate for the defenseless. Addressing this tragedy in Pakistan is a good place to start.

Arielle Del Turco is assistant director of the Center for Religious Freedom. Hannah Waters is the research assistant for the Center for Religious Liberty.

Courage on Display in Ukraine

by Arielle Del Turco

February 28, 2022

History is unfolding in Ukraine. Russia’s invasion of the country is a voluntary war of aggression the likes of which Europe hasn’t seen since World War II, and the way the world chooses to respond is profoundly significant.

The heroes and villains of this story are already emerging. Tragic and impossible situations reveal one’s character. And Russia’s unprovoked—and to most Ukrainians, completely unexpected—attack on Ukraine’s very right to exist as a country has prompted Ukrainians to respond with remarkable strength and determination.

A survey of recent reporting offers a glimpse of the heroics on display from everyday people: Ukrainians in small rural communities are patrolling their villages and constructing checkpoints, trenches, and underground shelters. A Ukrainian woman named Julia cried as she waited to be deployed to fight Russian troops, telling The New York Times, “I just want to live in our country, and that’s all.” Julia is a teacher, not wanting and hardly expecting a fight, but she volunteered to take up arms for her country anyway. The government is arming anyone able to hold a gun and willing to fight. Many are taking them up on the offer, even a former Miss Ukraine.

Elsewhere, a Ukrainian woman was entrusted with bringing a stranger’s children across the border to safety while their father stayed to fight. A young boy demonstrating maturity beyond his years teared up while telling a journalist how his father stayed behind to support the fight against the Russian forces while he flees to the border. Although over 500,000 Ukrainians have fled to other European countries, some Ukrainians who were living in Poland are returning to Ukraine to join the fight.

The Russian leadership does not understand that it is at war not only with the armed forces of Ukraine, but with the entire Ukrainian people,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal said on Sunday. This seems to be exactly the case. A senior defense official at the Pentagon stated openly over the weekend that Ukraine’s “resistance is greater than what the Russians expected.”

The courage of everyday Ukrainians is inspiring people around the world. Thousands throughout the United Kingdom, Italy, Germany, Japan, Brazil, the United States, and many other countries are rallying in support of Ukraine.

The world is also noticing the rise of a Churchill-like figure in Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. He first became famous as a comedic actor in a TV series in which he played an average character who almost accidentally became president. In real life, he campaigned on an anti-corruption platform, likely not suspecting to be targeted by a sophisticated full-scale Russian invasion. Zelenskyy’s presidency is now anything but comedic, yet he has risen to the challenge of being a “wartime president” with remarkable resolve and grace under fire.

Last Thursday, Zelenskyy addressed the Russian people in a heartfelt plea. He said:

It is not about peace at any cost. It is about peace and principles, of justice, of international law. It is about the right to self-determination, that every person might determine their own future. It is the right of every society, and of every person, to security, to a life without threats. I am certain that these rights are important to you, as well.

The truth is that this needs to end before it is too late. If Russia’s leadership does not want to meet us across the table for the sake of peace, perhaps it will sit at that table with you. Do you Russians want a war? I would very much like to know the answer, but that answer depends only on you, on the citizens of the Russian Federation.

Some Russians seem to have responded to Zelenskyy’s appeal, making it clear to Russian leaders they do not want to see an attack on Ukraine. It’s one thing to protest in a free country, but it’s quite another for Russians to protest the government they know might brutally crack down on them. By some estimates, Russian authorities have arrested more than 5,000 Russian protestors.

Experts believe that Russian forces want to assassinate Zelenskyy and replace him with a Russian-backed leader—and Zelenskyy believes it too. The United States offered to help Zelenskyy leave. Yet, his reply showed unwavering resolve: “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.”

This strength of will has earned admiration across the globe and fostered hope both inside and outside of Ukraine. One Ukrainian American journalist wrote on Sunday, “Can Ukraine withstand the third largest army in the world? If you asked me Thursday, I’d think the chances were low. Now I am sure they will.”

Images and videos of Ukrainians praying and singing hymns are stirring hearts around the world. Join them in praying for the preservation of their country and the sound defeat of Russia’s brutal attack on their freedom and independence. If Ukrainians manage to keep their land and freedom, it will be due in large part to the courage of the Ukrainian people and their gutsy leader. God bless them.

Praying for Ukraine

by Arielle Del Turco

February 24, 2022

Russia has “shattered peace in Europe” in one night.

In the early hours of the morning, billows of smoke could be seen rising above several major Ukrainian cities that were targets of Russian shelling and rocket attacks. The onslaught began only minutes after Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that he would be conducting a “special military operation” in the neighboring country. It quickly became clear that the operation was a full-scale invasion.

Thousands of Ukrainians are trying to leave the capital city of Kyiv, causing major traffic jams, while others are choosing to stay, ready to fight for the right to live in their own country with their own government. Casualties of the day-old war are already in the hundreds and still climbing.

As innocent civilians watch in terror as their country is invaded by one of the world’s most sophisticated militaries, here are five ways you can pray for Ukraine:

1. Pray for the people of Ukraine.

The Ukrainian people are tough, and they’re not surrendering without a fight. Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukrainians have learned the value of having their own sovereign democratic country, and many don’t want to return to being ruled by yet another Russian autocrat, no matter what the cost.

Ukrainians don’t know what the future holds for their country. In a moving scene on live TV, CNN’s Clarissa Ward captured footage of a small group of Ukrainians kneeling to pray in a city square in Kharkiv in the freezing cold.

As these Ukrainians, and surely so many others like them, are driven to their knees in prayer, we should join them. Pray for safety for the people of Ukraine, that residential areas would not be targeted, and that God would comfort those who are afraid. Many Ukrainians are Christian; pray that their faith would be strengthened to withstand this trying time.

2. Pray for wisdom for world leaders as they respond to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Russia alone is responsible for the death and destruction this attack will bring,” President Joe Biden rightly said in a tweet this week. However, world leaders bear the responsibility to respond, and the choices they make even in the next few days can shape the course of history.

Pray that they would have wisdom as they make decisions regarding sanctions, military support, and other means of deterring Russia and supporting Ukraine.

3. Pray that churches and Christian ministries in Ukraine would be equipped and ready to help in the event of a humanitarian emergency.

Ukrainian church leaders were already grappling with how to respond to an imminent invasion from Russia. Now that one is underway, they will need to lead their congregations with wisdom and courage.

The possibility of a refugee crisis becomes even more likely during a war, and churches and Christian ministries will inevitably be at the forefront, providing assistance and spiritual and material help to the displaced and hurting. Pray that God would prepare and equip ministries to aid those in need.

4. Pray for a change of heart for Russian leaders, that they would turn from war and aggression and choose peace.

Yesterday, the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations sent an open letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, requesting that he end his invasion. On their behalf, Chairman Hryhorii Komendant wrote:

Today we pray to the Creator of the Universe with a special request for wisdom for those who are authorized to make decisions so significant for the whole world, in whose hands the fate of humanity has turned out to be. This applies primarily to you, Mr. President of the Russian Federation. This prayer of ours is filled with hope for the generosity of the Almighty God and the openness of the heart that accepts grace.

5. Pray for peace and the expansion of freedom.

Recent years have seen a decline in freedom around the world—the Chinese government choked Hong Kong, the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, and military coups took over Sudan and Burma. This is a dangerous time for the free world and a devastating one for the people who now live under oppression.

As Putin attacks Ukraine, peace and freedom are once again under siege. This conflict benefits very few people, and even some people in Russia see that. Despite extensive government propaganda, some Russians have protested Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. In response, Russian authorities have cracked down on their own citizens, arresting at least 1,700 protestors in 53 cities.

Pray for peace in Ukraine and throughout Europe. Pray that plans intended for evil would be thwarted. Pray for the expansion of freedom around the world.

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