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SBC leaders join call for Bush not to compromise on Sudan

WASHINGTON (BP)–Four Southern Baptist leaders have joined a call for President Bush to reaffirm the United States’ opposition to the genocide and religious persecution practiced by the militant Islamic regime in Sudan.

More than 100 people, led by representatives of religious and civil rights organizations, signed on to a letter expressing concern the United States is in danger of compromising its commitment to religious liberty and human rights by its effort to gain Sudan’s cooperation in the effort against terrorism.

Among those signing the letter were James Merritt, current president of the Southern Baptist Convention; Paige Patterson and Adrian Rogers, past SBC presidents; and Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

The letter says the U.S. government apparently has rewarded Sudan for its cooperation by “removing obstacles to the lifting of [United Nations] sanctions and by blocking the passage of the Sudan Peace Act.”

Both the Senate and House of Representatives have approved different versions of the Sudan Peace Act, which includes provisions to increase humanitarian aid to the victims of the Islamic regime. A conference committee, however, has not moved forward with a final version. The House bill includes language that would bar foreign companies from being listed on U.S. stock exchanges if they participate in oil development in Sudan. Big business and some in the Bush administration strongly oppose that element of the House version. Profits from oil in Sudan have helped underwrite Khartoum’s military campaign.

“In removing Sudan’s status as a pariah nation, the United States appears to have done so without calling on the regime to end its campaign of atrocities” that Bush has spoken strongly against, the letter says. “As such, your administration may have inadvertently signaled that the United States will overlook terrorism within Sudan’s borders in exchange for gestures and promises from Khartoum not to export it to our shores.”

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America, the Khartoum regime has increased its bombing of civilians in its own country and has continued to condone the slavery of people from Christian and animist villages, the letter says.

“By rewarding and praising Khartoum at the very moment it is stepping up its bombing, starvation and literal enslavement of religious minorities, the U.S. appears to be willing to tolerate religiously based internal terrorism,” the letter says.

Any agreement with the Sudanese government “is inherently unstable,” the letter signers say, adding they believe “regimes practicing religiously based mass terrorism within their own borders will continue to support worldwide terrorism directed against the United States. We believe that such regimes will merely bide their time until current pressures on them abate.”

The militant Islamic regime ruling over Sudan has waged what has been widely described as a genocidal campaign against Christians, animists and moderate Muslims in the southern and central regions of the African country. The Khartoum-supported effort has included slave raids and the bombardment of hospitals, churches, schools and relief stations. During an 18-year civil war, there have been more than 2 million deaths and the displacement of more than 4 million people.

Other signers of the Nov. 19 letter to the president included Leith Anderson, interim president of the National Association of Evangelicals; James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family; Diane Knippers, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy; Kweisi Mfume, president of the NAACP; Richard John Neuhaus, president of Religion in Public Life; David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Nina Shea, director of Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom; and Tom White, director of Voice of the Martyrs.

The letter praises Bush for his pledge earlier this year to continue to act against “persecution and atrocities” in Sudan. It commends his leadership in the fight against terrorism. The letter also acknowledges the necessity in national security matters of cooperation with countries whose human rights practices the United States opposes.

It urges the president to adopt as his administration’s policy the recommendations issued on Sudan by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The commission sent a letter in early October to special Sudan peace envoy John Danforth with recommendations for his negotiations. The president named the former senator from Missouri as a special envoy in September.

The recommendations were for the Sudanese government to enter into a total ceasefire with opposition forces, to remove all bans on food-relief flights, to demonstrate a willingness to participate in internationally monitored peace talks and to guarantee religious liberty.

Both Land and Shea are members of the commission, which has described Sudan as the “world’s most violent abuser of the right to freedom of religion and belief.”

Danforth recently warned the United States will end its efforts to gain peace in Sudan unless both the government and opposition forces adopt peace proposals offered by the administration, according to a Nov. 20 article by CNSNews.com.

If no progress has been made in implementing the proposals within two months, he would advise Bush to halt further attempts, Danforth said in Kenya, CNSNews.com reported.

“If they don’t want peace, they will tell us by inaction,” he said. “If that is what happens and it’s clear to me by mid-January, I’m simply going to report to the president that we tried, we did our best and that there is no further useful role the United States can play in bringing unity to that nation.”

Merritt is senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Snellville, Ga. Patterson is president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. Rogers is senior pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in suburban Memphis, Tenn.