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Moral leadership needed to confront evil, spread liberty, Rice tells SBC messengers

GREENSBORO (BP)–Without America’s moral leadership, the world could easily descend into chaos and despotism, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said June 14 at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C.

“The weight of international leadership is not borne easily,” Rice said, “but we as Americans are more than equal to this challenge, and we must be, for if we imagine a world without American leadership we are led inescapably to this solemn conclusion: If America does not serve great purposes, if we do not rally other nations to fight intolerance and support peace and defend freedom, and to help give all hope who suffer oppression, then our world will drift toward tragedy.”

American inaction will result in the strong abusing the weak and inevitable threats “to the very heart of our nation,” Rice said.

The secretary’s 30-minute address followed videotaped comments from President Bush the previous day. Rice thanked Southern Baptists for their acts of compassion in southern Asia after the 2005 earthquake and tsunami; in Africa, where Southern Baptists are drilling wells and caring for AIDS patients; and in recent disaster relief efforts at home.

“Here in our own country, few have done more than Southern Baptists to ease the suffering of those who lost everything in Hurricanes Katrina and Rita,” Rice said. “No man, no woman, no child is beyond the reach of your compassion. Whenever tragedy brings people to their knees, Southern Baptists have been there to help them get back on their feet.”

The daughter and granddaughter of Presbyterian ministers in Birmingham, Ala., Rice said she appreciated Southern Baptists’ prayers for her and the president as they pursue peace in the world. She said she prays daily and personally has found solace and strength in prayer in times of tragedy and heartbreak, such as the death of her parents and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Rice said she shares the conviction of President Bush and Southern Baptists who believe the United States can and must be a force for good in the world.

“The president and I believe that the United States must remain engaged as a leader in events beyond our borders,” Rice said. “We believe this because we are guided by the same enduring principle that gave birth to our own nation -– human dignity is not a government’s gift to its citizens, nor is it mankind’s gift to one another. It is God’s endowment to all humanity.”

Rice said the country is experiencing a trying time but most affirm its role in the world, simply because the health and liberty of the world’s citizens is being threatened. Disease, the rule of tyrants and infringements on religious liberty are concerns the United States must address, she said.

“We go into the world not to plunder but to protect; not to subjugate but to liberate; not as masters, but as servants of freedom,” she said.

Rice reminded Southern Baptists that as they rejoice in their freedoms to self-government, to private property, to education and to think, speak and worship as they wish, there are many people across the globe who do not have the same freedoms. “America embodies these freedoms, but America does not own them,” she said.

“We are mindful that there are many men and women beyond our shores who live at the mercy of thieves and thugs and petty tyrants. We are mindful that many still suffer from scourges like poverty and diseases that are offensive to human dignity. And of course, we are mindful that too many people of faith can only whisper to God in the silent sanctuaries of their consciences because they fear persecution for their religious beliefs.”

Rice said President Bush is committed to expanding religious liberty in the world, making reference to the faith of Chinese Christians who worship despite intense government pressure on the nation’s Christian population. She said the president grants favor to nations that pursue and enact religious liberty.

“Government has no right to stand between the individual and the Almighty,” she said.

Rice said the Bush administration also is working to achieve peace in Darfur, Sudan, and is fighting AIDS in Africa with programs aimed at prevention. President Bush also seeks to eliminate human trafficking, a form of slavery where countless women and children are “beaten, stolen and bought and sold like freight.” She said the United States will ensure that “slavery has no place in the modern world.”

Among the roles the United States plays in the world, Rice said its primary role is ensuring the survival of democracy and winning the global war on terror. “When possible, we are bringing terrorists to justice, and when necessary, we are bringing justice to the terrorists,” she said.

Rice said to the applause of messengers that the recent death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, is a positive step in the war on terror. “He will never harm, he will never murder and he will never terrorize innocent people again.”

Twice Rice mentioned the service and sacrifice of the nation’s armed services who have assisted in the liberation of 55 million people in Afghanistan and Iraq. She said the sacrifice of these individuals proves the goal of democracy in the Middle East worthwhile.

Rice was at Camp David when President Bush made his secretive journey to Iraq June 13. She said she watched his visit on television like many Americans.

“Watching the president of the United States embrace the duly elected prime minister of Iraq, I thought to myself, ‘Who would have thought that possible only a few years ago? Who could have imagined that these two democratic leaders would be standing together in Baghdad in the same palace where Saddam Hussein and his henchmen conducted their tyranny, plundered their country and condemned thousands -– hundreds of thousands -– of innocent Iraqis to death?’”

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  • Gregory Tomlin