Religious Freedom Advocate Pauses “Name and Shame” Campaign to Offer Antagonist a Seat at His Table


Posted By
Jessica Eturralde
Posted On

Religious Freedom Starts with One Voice


In 2021, at the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Summit inside the Omni Hotel in Washington D.C., witnesses applauded as Wade Kusack, President of Love Your Neighbor Community (LYNC), triumphantly held up a turquoise-padded proclamation holder containing the freshly-signed Memoriam of Understanding (MOU) with the Kazakh Government. 

The applause quickly moved to a standing ovation as Kusack shook hands with Yerzhan Nukezhanov, the Chairman of the Committee for Religious Affairs of the Ministry of Information and Social Development of Kazakhstan.

The MOU was no overnight accomplishment but the culmination of seven years invested in building reciprocal trust. Kusack began advocating for religious freedom using what he labels the “name and shame approach” and could not imagine ever working with governments that seemed to oppress people for their religious beliefs. 

However, after approaching government officials through Matthew 5:45’s command to love your enemies and pray for those that persecute, he discovered that more were willing to listen and work together than he could ever imagine.

“We can cite these bible verses very easily, but when it comes to implementation. . .” Kusack chuckles, now reflecting in his home office swivel chair. He is no longer dressed in a suit and red tie but now wears a black, thin-striped t-shirt. Shifting his reading glasses, he pauses to look down. His chuckles taper off as he smooths both palms against his lap.

“—it’s really hard.”

The Olde Paradigm

Years before, Kusack passionately spearheaded multiple name and shame campaigns toward governments in various former Soviet countries—a common strategy of human rights advocates and organizations to apply pressure on states, leaders, and organizations to confront humanitarian violations and improve civil injustice issues.

Still, applying name and shame strategies toward these governments consistently left a gap: The next step was often elusive, with no further strategy to stop repeat offenses, and resulted in dissonant reactions and resentment.

According to Chris Seiple, President Emeritus of the Institute for Global Engagement (IGE), shaming and blaming means you attack the government and say, “Let my people go.”

“Well, it turns out that people don’t like being told they’re all screwed up. So sometimes, it can work—but very rarely,” he said.

He describes covenantal pluralism as the pledge not only to tolerate, but to engage, respect, and protect the other (often the non-majority), stating that it must be owned socially from the bottom-up through relationships and cultural norms and protected top-down by the state through rules, regulations, laws, and policies.

“You need both: the bottom-up and the top-down working together.”

In 2012, Kusack approached Seiple at Union Station to discuss campaigning together. Seiple encouraged him to consider relationship-building strategies with the governments similar to what was working for IGE in Vietnam, Pakistan, and Uzbekistan.

Reflecting on that encounter, Kusack stares off into deep thought, “When Seiple told me that, I thought, ‘What about someone who [has] been tortured and is in prison—and someone else tells you, ‘Let’s make friends with the torturers! With the government that tortures your friend!'”

He leans in and, shaking his head, continues, “What would your first reaction be? I didn’t like the government that I was shaming and blaming because of their wrong deeds, and I didn’t

want to approach them,” he said. “But again, it’s the Christian teaching to be kind to your enemies, right? That theology helped me to think about it practically.”

To Kusack, working together sounded like an elusive utopia. It sounded nice, but to implement this idea with the same governments that were harming religious minorities—was it possible? Would approaching these governments compromise his beliefs and forsake his brothers and sisters, and would these governments cooperate?

Yet, it was the only other strategy he had heard of.

Kusack continued his original campaign, ruminating between skepticism of Seiple’s suggestions and the intrigue of this new strategy proposal.At the Union Station encounter, Seiple had invited Kusack to accompany him on an IGE mission to Kazakhstan to observe for himself. Kusack opted to join Seiple and evaluate whether the delivery and implementation of the IGE model could work.

Disappointment and a Breakthrough

In 2013 when Kusack and Seiple first approached the Kazakh government, the conversation fell flat like a lead balloon. The Kazakhs were not interested in discussion, especially with Western evangelicals they did not know.

Like most former Soviet Republics, they had a significant influx of Western religious influencers push and pioneer with a copy-paste initiative to implement their ideas. Guarded with a natural mistrust and skepticism of unseen motives, the Kazakh government was not yet ready to discuss reforms.

Although the setback delayed him in gaining long-term ground, pictures and in-depth reports show a smiling Kusack, often shaking hands or positioned in an amiable disposition next to a group of US or Central Asian government officials.

“I wanted to give up so many times…I was trying to give up,” Kusack recalls, “many times—three times for sure.” But he said that once he gave up “what God was calling me to do,” he experienced emptiness and depression. 

“Eventually, I thought, ‘Okay, fine. I cannot do these things without funds, but today I can do this step,” Kusack said. “So today, I’ll take a step, and tomorrow, I’ll do another step.”

Kusack grew up in the Soviet Union under the atheistic regime and seldom, if ever, heard about God. In his testimony, he shares how, as a child, he sought to understand the meaning of Easter, and no one could satisfy his questions.

He credits the lowest point of his life and a God-sent truck driver for leading him toward salvation.

“I want the people of Central Asia to have the opportunity to hear about and enter into a personal relationship with Christ,” Kusack said. “This is my personal motivation that drives my work today.”

Thinking of how he may gain the opportunity to share the gospel while respecting others, he concluded that the name and shame strategy is not enough.

As for the Kazakhs, though through minimized relations, they were carefully pondering change. Kusack continued to maintain contact over the next few years, flying back and forth to meet with them in hopes of developing and nurturing a reciprocal relationship of classic give and take.

A New Paradigm

In September 2018, Kusack joined the IGE delegation to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, to witness their MOU signing and engagement model and consider it for Kazakhstan.

Inspired by what he learned during his visit to Tashkent, Kusack delicately but directly challenged the Kazakhs to adopt a similar model.

Seiple, an Iowa native, compares the Kazakhs and Uzbeks to Iowans and Nebraskans on the football field, hinting that although they support one another, they’re undoubtedly competitive. 

“There’s always Kazakh jokes about Uzbeks, and Iowan jokes about Nebraskans [and vice versa]—the land is pretty much the same: flat and a breadbasket.”

Not to be outdone by the Uzbeks, the Kazakh government eventually became willing to discuss partnership in reforms—and there was only one person they wanted to talk to—Kusack.

Seiple said that while the Kazakh government saw working together in their self-interest, they wanted to work with the guy they trusted. 

“That’s the surprise! They wanted to listen!” he said. “It’s very easy to stereotype Central Asia as totally authoritarian. Yet there’s tremendous change going on, but they’re not going to do it as the West tells them to: they’re gonna do it the way they want, which is a gift of conscience, full circle.”

“Perhaps it’s the paradigm that’s being used,” he continued, holding his hands as if presenting a gift, “What might work?” he added. “Here’s a new paradigm that LYNC is doing.'”

Looking back, Kusack explains, “The Kazakh government realized that LYNC is genuinely interested in building religious freedom and helping Kazakhstan to go this path. Just before that, we participated in the first ministerial, and we invited CRA [Committee for Religious Affairs] officials from Kazakhstan for our side event during the ministerial in 2018.”

After connecting with LYNC’s partners in Washington, DC, and hearing from their coalition of members who gave reports, demonstrated solution models, and shared their experiences and intentions for Kazakhstan, the Kazakh government began to warm to change.

On the idea of change as a whole, Seiple said, “There are no fast food solutions to persecution or harassment. If you come in with a fast food, instant self-gratification mentality, ‘get this guy out of jail,’ or ‘get this woman here,’ that will never work over the long term.”

Long-lasting change takes a ministry of presence, obedience, relationship, and, ultimately—time. 

“When you commit to that, you’ll be surprised by the success because it’s a function of trust through those relationships that yield tangible change.

Regarding urgent humanitarian issues of persecution, Kusack advocates and vouches that name and shame campaigns can be effective in short-term situations. He specifies that if imprisonment, torture, or a related occurrence arises, they will use advocacy to amend the condition.

Subsequently, in the long term, he’s encouraging governments to arise and protect citizens from imprisonment, torture, or oppression based on religious choice before problems even start.

Seiple, who focuses more on the building side of religious freedom, claims that the next step is to continue this paradigm engagement of working with governments to build religious freedom. 

“Build means you work from the inside-out, coming alongside the people in the country—that’s a longer approach.

“Put all of that together in a personality like Wade, who has this conversion in Belarus and has this conversion experience of paradigm. So he’s a very different person from who he was as a Soviet citizen in Belorussia and an American Christian seeking to serve,” he said. “It’s defined by humility and grace because he chose that path. It produces practical results if you live it consistently.”

The culmination of the signing of the MOU with the Kazakh government at the IRF Summit, for Kusack, involved a whole new paradigm of thinking. The road has been extended, arduous, and painfully slow.

The principles, however, have remained simple and effective: faith and obedience—sharing and listening.

It’s no wonder that upon signing the MOU, Kusack victoriously thrust the proclamation folder into the air. He sheepishly laughs when asked about the moment: “I didn’t plan it. I did it probably because we were taking so long with the MOU signing and then Covid delays—we postponed it again and again and again. . .and finally!”

He raises his hand and, grinning, settles back into his chair.


“—Finally, we did it.”

Join in on the conversation