US evangelicals rally around new religious freedom ambassador Sam Brownback, while others go on the attack

Former Republican Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, who has been nominated as ambassador at large for religious freedom.Reuters

Evangelicals have rallied around Donald Trump over his appointment of Sam Brownback as ambassador at large for religious freedom, while there has been sharp criticism from others including moderate Republicans.

The White House announced yesterday the nomination of the controversial governor of Kansas whose aggressively conservative fiscal and social polices turned some fellow Republicans as well as LGBT campaigners against him.

Brownback, 60, represented his home state in Congress before being elected to two terms as governor beginning in 2011.

On Twitter, he wrote yesterday: 'Religious Freedom is the first freedom. The choice of what you do with your own soul. I am honored to serve such an important cause.'

Evangelicals were quick to lavish praise on Brownback. David Jeremiah, the senior pastor at Shadow Mountain Community Church, said:'Once again the president has made a decision that I not only can applaud, but that I can celebrate with exuberance! Governor Sam Brownback is a known conservative, a tireless fighter for religious liberty, and he is a longtime friend to many of us. Well done, Mr President.'

Johnnie Moore, the founder and CEO of the KAIROS Company, said: 'There's no issue in the world I care more about than religious liberty. There is no person in the world that I know cares more about these issues than Governor Sam Brownback. The decision to take someone of his stature – a sitting governor – and put him in a position of this importance is hugely encouraging. I commend the president for making a brilliant decision and I call upon Congress to expedite this, and all of the president's outstanding appointments.'

And Samuel Rodriguez, the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, who has at times been critical of Trump, said: 'The nomination of my dear friend [Brownback] a significant and very positive step in the right direction for our country and the world. In the case of the IRF Ambassador, the Trump Administration is ahead of the pace set by President Obama, who left the position vacant for over two years after his inauguration – and the faith community has taken note.'

The role was first filled by Suzan Johnson Cook, who served from May 2011 to October 2013. In 2014, President Barack Obama nominated Rabbi David Saperstein for the position. On December 15, 2014 the Senate confirmed him to the office, making him the first non-Christian to hold this post.

The position was created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. The first ambassador-at-large was Bob Seiple] who served from 1999 to 2001. He was succeeded by John Hanford who served from May 2002 until January 2009.

Rodriguez added: 'By appointing a sitting governor, this administration has elevated the importance of the position within the Department of State and has sent a powerful signal to the world that the United States is serious about preserving and defending the religious liberties of all believers. Religious liberty is the number one human rights issue of our day and is currently under siege in so many corners of the globe. In...Brownback I am confident the United States will once again assume its rightful place as the world's leader in preserving and expanding this most precious of all human liberties.'

The New York Times reported that Brownback's popularity has plummeted in recent years as the state slashed services and struggled to meet its revenue projections, thanks to 'Brownback's signature tax-cutting doctrine'. Despite the Republicans' dominance in Kansas, the party suffered losses in last year's legislative elections.

'He leaves behind a legacy of failed leadership,' said State Representative Melissa Rooker, a moderate Republican who has frequently opposed Brownback's policies.

Meanwhile Tom Witt, the executive director of the LGBT-rights group Equality Kansas, condemned Brownback's nomination because of his conservative views on issues such as same-sex marriage. 'He has caused enough damage here in Kansas,' Witt said in a statement. 'We do not wish him upon the world.'