Political renewal in D.C.

Published 11:00 pm Friday, September 16, 2016

People think Washington is broken. They should meet Anna Eshoo and Jeff Fortenberry.

That was pretty much the unanimous consensus at the Solidarity Dinner hosted by In Defense of Christians in the heart of it all — across the street from Congress.

Now, I have to confess that I was totally dreading going to Washington, D.C. for this dinner. I’ve spent many days of my life there, including on Capitol Hill. But I had avoided it much of the summer, and during a post-Labor Day heat wave, I had a lingering cough from too much travel elsewhere and was tempted to avoid the swamp.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

And then there was the block it was on. Maybe one of the more hyper-partisan blocks in the union, you might think. And sometimes you’d be right. The Republican National Committee is there, and the dinner, although attended by Dems and GOPers alike, was at the Capitol Hill Club, also known as the National Republican Club. I work at the original #NeverTrump conservative magazine. It’s not a block I hang around a lot on these days.

But there are terrorists who are trying to eradicate Christians from the Middle East, and the least I could do is show up to support the people actually trying to get Americans to do something about it.

I got to know Rep. Fortenberry, R-Nebraska, because we would often find ourselves at the same weekday Mass back when I was spending much more time in the nation’s capital. It was a joy to run into him, because it reminded me that Washington could still draw people who feel a call to civic service, not just a lust for power.

It turned out that if you were down on national politics, this dinner was exactly the place to be.

Rep. Eshoo, D-California, spoke about how her faith spurred her to work to defend Christians targeted by the so-called Islamic State for elimination. Fortenberry was moved to tears during her tribute to his life of Christian witness, saying that “the ages” would call him “blessed.” The sheer depth of Eshoo and Fortenberry’s across-the-aisle friendship, based in a commitment to truth, liberty and the common good — was inspiring.

Eshoo gushed with great affection about her late father and how proud he was to be a member of Knights of Columbus and how he’d be upping his contributions because of the work the group, also being honored at the dinner, is doing now to help Christians being targeted for genocide. Carl Anderson, the leader of the KOC, shared concrete strategies for Congress and the next administration, whoever leads it. In the mess of debates about aiding refugees from places like Mosul and Aleppo, we must prioritize the Christians, he said. Not to exclude anyone from help and welcome, but because Christians have been specifically targeted, along with other religious minorities, because of who they are.

He urged Congress to act and the presidential candidates to commit to two simple things, consistent with our national commitment to religious liberty and human rights. “First,” he said, “promote the international affirmation of (Middle Eastern religious minorities’) human rights in keeping with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, both as individuals and as distinct societies within their national framework.” And second: “Help preserve their ancient communities, which should be considered part of the cultural heritage of all humanity, including by direct government funding for those communities who were targeted for genocide.”

After being presented with an incense holder from a church that was burned in Aleppo, Anderson said that Christian survivors of ISIS slaughter “offer the example of complete, selfless commitment.”

This kind of commitment can even happen on Capitol Hill. If you’re distressed about politics, work on renewal. And if Eshoo and Fortenberry and the Knights are any indication, renewal starts with affirming solidarity with the suffering and insisting that the world remember their dignity and stand up for it and them in the face of evil.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at klopez@nationalreview.com.