An Idea to Improve Race Relations in America: Solution Sunday

Last July, Senator Tim Scott and I began challenging our constituents in Oklahoma and South Carolina to consider participating in an Initiative called “Solution Sunday.” At the time, the nation was reeling from the race-related shootings of police officers and African-American men in Minnesota, Dallas and Baton Rouge.

Our states have experienced the worst that racism brings out—for example, the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot in Oklahoma and 2015’s tragedy at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, just to name a few. However, our states today have progressed in race relations and reflect the growing cultural diversity of America.

As our nation continues to grapple with the aftermath of Charlottesville, and now the national anthem debate in the NFL, we are releasing a video that provides a solution to try to help the nation be a more UNITED States of America. Our “Solution Sunday” idea is simple – we encourage Americans to address racial tensions by engaging people of another race over meals in their home.

Sunday is a slower, yet significant day, for most Americans. So, we challenge each person or family to give one Sunday lunch or dinner for building relationships across racial lines. Obviously any day of the week works since the goal is to engage on the personal level of your own home to break down walls, ask questions, express concerns, and build trust across our communities.

For those looking for Washington to fix this problem, don’t hold your breath. Remember, Washington DC is a reflection of the nation, not the other way around. True change comes from our local communities.

Prejudice, stereotypes, and confusion occur among many races. It is harder to stereotype when you know people first-hand. Friendships, trust, and understanding happen when we engage and learn from each other’s cultures and experiences.

Unfortunately, social media has only exasperated divisions in our nation, including race. It has become a fortress for social reinforcement instead of a place for respectful dialogue and the exchange of ideas. While it may be more convenient to remain divided, we must pursue more intentional relationships that honor one another.

For those of us who are Christians, we believe that all people are created in the image of God and have worth and value. An appreciation for life and the human dignity of every person is one of the greatest legacies we can model for our community, and leave for our children and grandchildren. We must build respectful unity together, one family at a time. As Tim Scott often says, “You can’t hate what you know.” We think something like Solution Sundays may hold the key to the solutions needed for our nation.

Turkey Has Imprisoned an American Pastor for One Year

October 7, 2016. It’s been almost one year since Dr. Andrew Brunson was unjustly imprisoned without charges in Turkey. Imagine spending a year in a Turkey prison as a hostage.

Unfortunately, most Americans have no idea what is really happening in Turkey.

Turkey has long been an ally of the United States, but has chosen to complicate and weaken its relationship with the United States and other free nations of the world through its increasingly oppressive policies.

On August 25, 2017, the Turkish government issued two new emergency decrees. Article 74 of decree 694 states that “with the exclusion of Turkish citizens, those who are prisoners or convicts, upon assurance that they will not be punished because of their race, ethnic origin, religion or citizenship, that they will not be subjected to demeaning punishment or treatment, or be subjected to torture or mistreatment, can be returned to another country or exchanged for prisoners or convicts in another country when national security or the country’s interests so require and upon request of the Foreign Minister, with the recommendation of the Justice Minister and the approval of the President” (emphasis added).

Despite this clear authority to simply release Dr. Brunson, who has been a pastor in Turkey for two decades, President Erdogan has recently admitted that Turkey is holding an American citizen as a hostage in hopes that the United States will turn over a Muslim cleric living in Pennsylvania.

President Erdogan’s suggestion that the United States should make a hostage-style prisoner swap for an innocent American imprisoned in Turkey is appalling and will not be taken seriously.  The United States will not stand idly by as these oppressive tactics target American citizens.

Turkey’s historic commitment to religious freedom and the rule of law has rapidly diminished in recent years. In the US Commission on International Religious Freedom 2017 Annual Report, Turkey was listed as a Tier 2 country of concern, meaning “nations in which the violations engaged in or tolerated by the government are serious and characterized by at least one of the elements of the ‘systematic, ongoing, and egregious’ CPC standard.”

In recent years, there have been multiple well-known cases of American citizens detained in foreign countries. In some cases, the foreign government used local laws which are inconsistent with international human rights norms to justify violations of religious freedom. In other cases, they have imposed arbitrary charges (like in Dr. Brunson’s case) such as a claim of threat to national security, to justify the detention and harassment of individuals on the basis of their religion.

Our nation’s relationship with Turkey is clearly moving in the wrong direction. It’s unacceptable for a NATO ally to unjustly imprison an innocent American. If this is how Turkey treats an American like Andrew Brunson, other Americans should hesitate before taking their business to Turkey. It is not worth the risk.

Congress has provided the Executive Branch with sanction authority for use against government officials responsible for routine and egregious violations of human rights, especially religious freedom. It is time for the United States government to use these authorities to secure the release of Americans unjustly detained around the world, including Dr. Andrew Brunson.