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FIRST-PERSON Campaign’s forgotten issue: global religious repression

NEW YORK (BP)–Whenever I see a picture of Al Gore in church for Sunday services or to talk politics to a congregation, I always ask myself the same questions: Does our vice president ever think of the millions of Christians who are allowed to worship only in churches appointed by the officially atheistic and communist bureau of their government? Does it cross his mind that they and their priests and ministers go to jail for years when they worship in a makeshift underground free church that does not accept the rule of Beijing over God?

George W. Bush says Jesus Christ was the greatest influence in his life. When recently he visited a California Christian ministry that deals with the needy and addicted, he saw a portrait of Jesus on the wall. He said he would never let government bureaucrats take it down. Does he know that there are countries where such ministries are outlawed, no pictures of Jesus Christ are permitted to hang in public and Muslim converts to Christianity can be executed?

Gore and Bush know, they know. But during their presidential campaigns, they never made speeches on religious repression. They never summoned their cherished senses of compassion for persecuted worshipers of all religions, now mostly Christian and Buddhist. How far does God want their compassion to extend — around the corner, or around the world?

They’ve built a moral wall between America and the increasing number of religiously oppressed of the world, strengthening the oppressors. They don’t even care about the national embarrassment of Christian presidential candidates remaining silent on religious persecution at the very time they’d be heard more widely than ever in their lives. They demean Americans.

They obviously believe talk of religious oppression would bore voters, though many have suffered it themselves. It would take attention away from self-interested economic statistics, which is all the candidates believe Americans should focus on, not helping people who’ve had limbs chopped off in Africa someplace.

The candidates are gagged by fear — the knowledge that by speaking out they will offend some of our best customers and suppliers. Communist China and a variety of Islamic nations are the worst of the religious oppressors. But who wants to offend a customer as valuable as U.S. business dreams China will be? Who wants to annoy Saudi Arabia, which long go expelled Christians and Jews and beheads Muslim converts to any other religion? Listen, it sure has a lot of oil for sale, and what can the oppressed offer candidates from their cells or whipping posts?

In the past two decades, the Islamic government in Sudan has done away with 2 million citizens in the country’s south, both Christians and followers of traditional African religions. That is more than died in the wars in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo together. But Sudan has lots of oil in the south, enough that the government in Khartoum in the north commits genocide by hunger, machine gun and slavery to control it. America sends aid for starving Sudanese. But it channels two-thirds of it through a United Nations route that lands it in the hands of the government in Khartoum.

The failure of America to help Chinese persecuted, religious or political, dates from President Clinton’s first year in office. He gave up his pose as a big human rights man and substituted trade as his Holy Grail. But daddy, isn’t Mr. Gore his own man now?

Putting aside executions and torture machines, there’s a security linkage that our candidates do not talk about. Our trade partners that persecute religions are dictatorships. Their rulers need not have public permission to go to war. We enrich them with profits that they invest in weapons, including hate propaganda against America and explosives that already have blown up a U.S. destroyer and military barracks.

Our candidates do not ponder aloud on that linkage. But if you think it is your duty to do so, read a new book called “Religious Freedom in the World,” published by Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom (order through www.freedomhouse.org/religion). It is the most detailed and valuable book on the subject I have read. It will depress you to know religious persecution is increasing. But it will lift you to know that people like Paul Marshall, the general editor, and Nina Shea, head of the center, devote their lives to religious freedom and revealing how it fares.

Send additional copies to the wives of Gore and Bush. Ask them to give a copy to the next president the day it arrives. Persecution takes no holiday.
Rosenthal, a distinguished national columnist, formerly was The New York Times’ executive editor. Used by permission.

    About the Author

  • A.M. Rosenthal