[I am working on a project that may become a book on the most influential evangelical leaders of our generation, since 1976, and the impact they’ve had on the church and their times. I will introduce them briefly on this blog from time to time. Who should be on this list?]
Frank Wolf. Gentle Congressman b.1939
When the topic of Christian politicians comes up in conversation, almost no one mentions Representative Frank Wolf of northern Virginia. That is not because his actions or words run contrary to Christian principles. It may be for just the opposite reason: Wolf is a humble 15-term Congressman who has worked unflaggingly but quietly on some of the most difficult issues for people of faith around the world. Wolf is a restrained and effective Christian statesman.
An unassuming champion of international human rights and religious liberty, Wolf won the first William Wilberforce Award in 1992, presented to Christians in public service by Chuck Colson and Prison Fellowship. Wilberforce is the driving force behind a group of congressmen from both sides of the aisle, including Wolf, who meet periodically to make their faith part of their politics. The most recent recipient of the award is former Democratic congressman Tony Hall of Ohio.
Wolf said: “There are only 435 members of the House of Representatives and only 100 members of the Senate. If we can get the word out about Wilberforce’s life and legacy, we can change this country.”
Wolf is not much at glad-handing, he shies away from the limelight, and he’s a bland public speaker. For his serene optimism, critics have labeled him naive. His travels are not the typical junkets to posh resorts or embassy parties but risky excursions to outposts ravaged by war and famine—especially to places where fellow Christians are persecuted for their faith.
On one journey took him to Tibet, where he posed as a tourist, eluded the tour guide by pretending to be ill, and then sneaked out to talk to Tibetans on the street for the real story of Chinese repression. Another expedition took him to Sudan, a nation that was waging a self-described religious war against its own citizens who are Christians or other non-Muslims through a campaign of torture, starvation, and murder. Sudanese soldiers were literally snatching children from their mothers’ arms and selling them into slavery for the price of a few head of cattle. Girls were sold as concubines.
He has dodged bombs in Nagorno Karabakh. He has investigated conditions in El Salvador, Bosnia, and Ethiopia. Instead of enjoying the plush accommodations he could command as a government official, Wolf toughs it out with ordinary people for a first-hand sense of their plight.
Before the fall of the Iron Curtain, Wolf tramped throughout Eastern Europe championing for freedom. He was the first American official to bulldog his way into the notorious Perm Camp 35 in the Siberian gulag, where leading dissidents were imprisoned. Upon returning, he publicized the religious and political abuses they reported and arranged for me to join a second group visiting the camp. Due to Wolf’s tenacity, the Soviets released many prisoners even before the USSR collapsed.
After the trial of the leadership of the Bahá’í community of Iran was announced in February 2009, Wolf was deeply disturbed over the “systematic persecution” of the Bahá’ís. He offered a resolution on the subject of the trial of the Iranian Bahá’í leadership co-sponsored by seven others–“Condemning the Government of Iran for its state-sponsored persecution of its Baha’i minority and its continued violation of the International Covenants on Human Rights.”
For his indefatigable efforts, Wolf has won respect even from people on the opposite side of his conservative politics. Former Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory called him “a watchman on the rampart of world freedom.” Former Democratic congressman Lionel Van Deerlin described Wolf as one of “a special breed,” who “seem attracted to public office to fulfill more than personal or political ends.” Men like Wolf, he added, “sustain a flicker of hope in the elective process.”
When Chuck Colson presented the first Wilberforce Award to Wolf, we prepared large red, white and blue vertical banners with Wilberforce’s picture to decorate the outdoor proceedings. Wolf asked if he could have one of the banners and we complied. The next time I visited Wolf’s congressional office, he had it hanging on the inside of the door to his personal office. The banner took up the entire door; a Wilberforce-like legacy seems to have consumed his entire life.