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Land: More Christians persecuted his century than all previous combined

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (BP)–More Christians reportedly have been persecuted for their religious convictions in the 20th century than in all previous centuries combined, according to Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.
Speaking at Taylor Road Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., Land recalled his attendance two years ago at a similar meeting in Washington where he became vividly aware of the immense problem.
Christians from countries around the world are being tortured, jailed, beaten, starved, and their homes and churches burned, said Land, the keynote speaker at the conference on “Christian Persecution” sponsored by the Christian Life and Public Affairs department of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.
Land especially singled out Sudan for its toleration of atrocities against Christians. In Sudanese markets, for example, a customer may purchase salt, sugar and Christian children, Land said, adding some Sudanese Christian men literally have been nailed to crosses.
Hunger is also a problem, Land stated, since between 1 and 1.5 million southern Sudanese Christians could die of starvation in the next six months.
The solution does not lie in sending food, since the Sudanese government blocks all efforts to help starving Christians in the south, Land said.
Rather, he recommends a political solution that calls for the U.S. government to exert its influence.
“It would take one strong whiff from the government of the United States and the barbarous, butchers of Khartoum [the capital of Sudan] would be gone,” Land said. “This is a government that is hanging on by a thread.”
Land expressed hope the U.S. Congress would pass pending legislation targeting foreign governments that sanction or condone persecution with economic sanctions. While the U.S. House accepted a bill last May that would impose automatic sanctions against countries that permit or endorse maltreatment of religious believers, the Senate has been deadlocked on similar legislation.
A compromise version that would give the President more flexibility in levying penalties, ranging from mild diplomatic protests to severe economic sanctions, upon targeted countries appears headed for approval, according to Senator Don Nickles (R-Okla.).
Land also urged the consideration of international sanctions against countries that persecute Christians, which is in violation of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.
The declaration, which has been signed by every country in the world, states every person has the right not to suffer, to be harmed physically or to suffer the loss of property because of their religious convictions, Land said.
He acknowledged economic considerations may discourage sanctions, since international companies seek goods and products from nations that tolerate or encourage Christian persecution, such as Nigeria, Columbia, Egypt, Iran, and China.
Land commended organizations such as “Prayer for the Persecuted Church” and “The Voice of the Martyrs,” both of which have a mission to tell the stories of persecuted Christians who are sold into slavery, raped, murdered, or forced to change their religion.
“Southern Baptists can be a vital voice in shattering the silence engulfing those Christians being persecuted simply because of their faith in Jesus Christ,” Land said, noting churches around the world are being called to mark the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church on Nov. 15.
Recent history proves Americans can make a difference in religious persecution, Land stated, recalling a campaign from the 1970s and 1980s in which 4 million U.S. Jews made the mistreatment of Jewish Soviet citizens a primary policy concern of the United States.
The relentless pressure on the U.S. government led to tremendous pressure on the Soviet government, which eventually allowed Jewish Soviet citizens to emigrate to Israel or elsewhere.
Today, the Christians of the United States are the only human hope persecuted Christians in other places have, Land observed, noting the influence and privilege enjoyed by American believers.
“What would happen if the 28 to 34 percent of Americans who say they are evangelical, born-again Christians were similarly mobilized?” Land said. “To whom much is given, much is required.”
For more information on the persecuted church issue and to purchase International Day of Prayer resource kits, contact the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission at (615) 244-2495, or visit the agency’s web site at www.erlc.com.

Mary John Coats is a public relations intern at the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions. Dwayne Hastings also contributed to this story.

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