SBC Life Articles

State Department Committee Condemns Religious Persecution

AU.S. State Department advisory committee condemned religious persecution and pledged to help those seeking to flee such treatment.

The Advisory Committee on Religious Freedom Abroad adopted a statement Feb. 13 saying it "condemns all forms of religious persecution, as well as the climate of religious intolerance that has led to armed conflict and even genocide." The 20-member panel also committed to provide data to the federal government about religious persecution and to "develop recommendations to combat religious intolerance and assist those seeking refuge from persecution."

The committee's initial meeting came a year after the evangelical community began calling for the Clinton administration to take action on the persecution of Christians in foreign lands. They requested that the White House address the growing problem by naming a special adviser or commission reporting directly to the president. When the State department-administered committee was named in November, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission, and others called the action unsatisfactory, partly because State Department policies were pan of the problem, they said.

The advisory committee "was unified that action must be taken to deal with religious persecution," said National Association of Evangelicals President Don Argue, a committee member. While Argue said in a prepared statement he was impressed with the Clinton administration's commitment to address the problem, he is concerned there be "significant action soon rather than placating rhetoric.

"It is also extremely important that the president and the secretary of State make strong public statements condemning religious persecution," Argue said.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright addressed the religiously diverse committee but again failed to condemn Christian persecution, which Clinton also has failed to do publicly In its statement, the advisory committee strongly encouraged the government "to ensure that support for religious freedom worldwide is a paramount factor" in U.S. foreign policy It also urged the Clinton administration "to be bold, as well as prudent, in combating the intolerable violations of freedom of religion worldwide and to take every appropriate action to foster public awareness of the issue."

Will Dodson, the Christian life Commission's director of government relations, said he was encouraged Albright and Assistant Secretary of State John Shattuck, chairman of the advisory committee, both said "religious freedom should be a major component of America's foreign policy."

"Our concern throughout this process will be to see to it that the committee focus upon the main thing, and the main thing is that Christians are being killed around the world and otherwise seriously persecuted because of their faith," said Dodson, who sat in on the meeting as an observer. "This is an issue that deserves far more attention than it has been given.

"There are two bottom lines. One is the protection of our brothers and sisters in Christ of whatever nationality and wherever they are located around the globe. The other bottom line is that the United States should stand for more than economic liberty to the rest of the world. It should stand for freedom in the highest and best sense of that word, which certainly includes the right to worship and serve God according to the dictates of conscience.

"What we should hope for, and indeed, we should expect out of this is that greater public awareness of the persecution of Christians results; and furthermore, that tangible steps be taken by the government of the United States to alleviate the suffering of those persecuted for their faith and to advance true religious freedom around the world," Dodson said. "This is not an unrealistic expectation or goal."

Jim Henry, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and pastor of First Baptist Church, Orlando, Fla. is a member of the advisory committee.

It is estimated this century has had about 100 million Christian martyrs, more than the 19 previous centuries combined. Reports of persecution are prevalent in the communist countries of China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba and in Muslim-dominated countries such as Iran, Kuwait, Pakistan and the Sudan.

The SBC adopted a resolution at last year's meeting calling for prayer by Christians worldwide and urging the president and Congress to protect religious liberty On Sept. 29, churches throughout the world observed the first International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Christians. The SBC resolution called on Southern Baptists to participate in the observance.



China's Ongoing Persecution of Christians

China arrested eight of the most influential Protestant leaders in China's underground house-church movement, according to a Freedom House news release on April 3, 1997.

Nina Shea, director of the Puebla Program on Religious Freedom, said, "These detentions are further evidence of the renewed crackdown against Christians that has been relentlessly pursued by Chinese authorities since late 1995.

"China is apparently set on an aggressive course to eradicate the independent Christian church within its borders," she said. "There is no doubt that China's aging communist rulers continue to cling to absolute political control in this post-Deng period.

"Vice President Gore — in toasting China's Premier Li Peng over commercial agreements while failing to forcefully assert America's concern for religious freedom — gave the message that the U.S. Government is willing to avert its eyes from the ongoing crackdown against Chinese Christians," she observed.

The detention of the Chinese house church leaders took place shortly before Gore's visit.

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