Close-up: Evangelicals pushing for U.S. intervention over attacks abroad
National/World News : Monday, September 23, 1996
WASHINGTON - Armed with a long list of people they see as martyrs jailed, tortured and killed overseas, evangelical Christian leaders have been prodding the Clinton administration and Congress to act.
And they're getting results. The administration is forming an advisory committee on religious freedom at the State Department made up of about 20 prominent religious leaders and scholars who will make recommendations to the secretary of state, according to White House officials who requested anonymity.
And the Senate last week unanimously passed a non-binding resolution condemning abuses of Christians around the world, and calling on the responsible regimes to stop acts of persecution. The House International Relations Committee last week also cleared the way for a similar measure to reach the full House, possibly as early as tomorrow.
A national campaign
Evangelical leaders are seeking to elevate the cause to a national campaign modeled on the Jewish community's ultimately successful efforts in the 1970s and 1980s to free Soviet Jews. More than 100,000 American churches are preparing to mark next Sunday as an International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.
Problem isn't new
Church leaders admit the problem is not new. But they say that until now their community has been largely silent, in part out of fear of jeopardizing Christians spreading the gospel abroad.
"You very seldom read about the persecution of Christians," said Rep. Frank R. Wolf, R-Va., who sponsored the House measure. "I think a lot of people felt that with the fall of the Iron Curtain, things would dramatically improve. In some places they have, but in other places, like the Middle East, things have gotten worse."
The Senate resolution, sponsored by Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., and passed last week, mentions as frequent violators Sudan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, China, Pakistan, North Korea, Egypt, Laos, Vietnam, Cuba and certain countries in the former Soviet Union.
White House sources say the administration was reluctant to appear to focus on Islamic Middle Eastern nations for oppression of Christians when regimes of many kinds are persecuting many different religious minorities.
Although Christians are most often the targets when the persecution is based solely on religious identity, one White House source said, the advisory committee will be charged with looking at all problems of religious oppression and intolerance.
Given that, the proposed committee includes two Muslims, two Jews, one Baha'i and several scholars with expertise in Eastern religions. There are Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christians, but only two could be said to represent the evangelical community.
Today's problems are far more complex and intractable than was the struggle to free the Soviet Jews, this administration official warned. The Jews wanted to leave an oppressive country, but the challenge now is fundamentally to change the way oppressive countries treat religious minorities.
"One of the problems is that we cannot sit here in Washington and issue edicts and expect that everyone else in the world is going to abide by what we have to say," the official said. "We have to weave this into our engagement with particular countries and see what we can do to persuade them."
The offending countries most often target their Christian citizens, while American or European missionaries simply are evicted or briefly detained, said Paul McKaughan, president and chief executive officer of Evangelical Fellowship of Mission Agencies, which represents 100 agencies with 20,000 career missionaries around the world.
"When Christianity was seen primarily as a Western religion, then in a sense nobody was threatened by that," McKaughan said. "But with the growth of the church around the world, it has threatened people in power. They see their own Christian citizens as a potential bloc for problems."
©Copyright 1996, The Seattle Times Company