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ANALYSIS Land of the free, home of the deaf: America ignores abused Christians

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Thomas Jefferson is “the man of the millennium,” claims popular filmmaker Ken Burns. “He is the beginning of all thought about human freedom and dignity.”
The beginning of all thought? Someone must have deleted several thousand years of history from Burns’ database. He may be forgiven a little exaggeration, since he was promoting his latest film — about Jefferson, of course. Still, the arrogance — or willful ignorance — of his assertion staggers the mind. It illustrates how casually the custodians of culture now divorce Western ideas from their main source: the Bible.
Jesus Christ, the Man for all millennia, had something to say about freedom — the kind that makes you free indeed. He began his public ministry by quoting the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he hath appointed me to preach the gospel to the poor … deliverance to the captives … to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18).
Even in the narrower context of American history, Jefferson was preceded by numerous courageous voices for liberty — many of them oppressed Christians who came to America to find religious freedom. Roger Williams, for example, died almost a century before Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. This “noble confessor of religious liberty” (John Milton’s words) founded the commonwealth of Rhode Island, a haven of freedom for persecuted believers who found only state-enforced religion in other colonies.
Unlike Williams, Jefferson didn’t quite live out his principles. The man who declared “all men are created equal,” that liberty is a God-given and “unalienable” right, never freed his own slaves.
Despite his flaws, Jefferson remains the one person most identified around the world with American ideals of freedom. His powerful rhetoric still moves people — from common folk yearning to breathe free to politicians writing new democratic constitutions for once-communist nations.
Jefferson’s words also still inspire millions of Christians persecuted for their faith by tyrannical governments and other hostile forces. They look to the United States for hope — and a helping hand. What they usually get, if they are acknowledged at all, is a stiff arm.
Christian refugees seeking U.S. asylum from religious persecution often encounter skeptical immigration officials, jail and eventual deportation. The ever-growing number of oppressed Christians abroad is ignored or written off when the U.S. government issues human rights reports or sends foreign aid.
White House spokesmen and State Department officials have belittled reports of persecution, or talked about the need to use “quiet diplomacy.” This pattern has continued through several administrations — Democrat and Republican. In Congress, the few members consistently calling for real action too often have found themselves to be lonely voices crying in the wind.
“The cause of freedom in the world ought to be on a roll today,” observes syndicated columnist Paul Greenberg. “Instead, only a few years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is in strange, shameful retreat. Why?”
Politics and money. The Cold War may be over, but the United States still has powerful allies — and customers — to keep happy. Some of them are notorious abusers of Christians.
Nations don’t have morals, someone once said; nations have interests. In the land of the free, the ideal of Jefferson collides with the ideal of Calvin Coolidge: “The chief business of the American people is business.”
But more and more American Christians are becoming aware of the suffering their persecuted brethren endure. Perhaps U.S. officials are listening to them.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright — herself a refugee from communist tyranny as a child — has pledged a higher U.S. priority on the rights of persecuted religious believers. Last year the State Department formed an advisory committee to study religious persecution and recommend U.S. action. Committee members include former SBC President Jim Henry. Others say the State Department itself is part of the problem, that suffering believers deserve a much higher profile — and a special presidential adviser.
Christians speaking with one voice, however, will produce more results than panels or advisers. American Jews proved that years ago when their united campaign to free persecuted Russian Jews forced the mighty Soviet state to “let my people go.”
Oppressed Christians are becoming the “Jews of the 21st century … the scapegoats of choice to the thug regimes around the world,” says attorney Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute. His Jewish grandparents’ memories of persecution in Europe led him to fight for Christians facing the same fate now.
“For the United States to be utterly silent in the face of budding and actual holocausts is obscene and unthinkable.”

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges