Evangelicals step up anti-persecution campaign They say Christians face oppression worldwide


Frustrated by what they consider inaction in Washington, evangelical Christians are redoubling their efforts to mobilize support for persecuted Christians around the world.

As a result of their campaign, the Clinton administration will appoint an advisory committee to the secretary of state on religious freedom abroad, a White House official said last week.

It is a step that major religious leaders have urged, although some evangelicals remain skeptical of the administration's interest in their cause.

In the meantime, Congress faces nonbinding resolutions along with specific amendments to appropriations bills aimed at forcing the State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Service to give higher priority to religious persecution, especially of Christians, and its victims.

They say brutal measures are suffered by Christians -- killings, jailings, torture, beatings, fines and harassment -- largely under such Communist regimes as China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba, or by militant Muslim movements in Sudan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt and Algeria.

The persecution is not necessarily new, but evangelicals are linking events in different countries, describing them as a single, escalating worldwide problem and demanding a vigorous response from the U.S. government.

Recognizing that politicians in Washington will not seize an issue that people in the pews ignore, evangelical church groups are building a constituency to defend Christians' freedom by going back to their basics: prayer and preaching.

More than 100,000 American congregations, primed with booklets, videotapes, model sermons, relevant Bible passages and practical tips on contacting government officials, will make the last Sunday of September an International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

The World Evangelical Fellowship, which joins national and regional associations of evangelical churches around the world, is coordinating the effort, which will also enlist church groups in 82 other countries. The groundwork is being laid to make the event an annual affair.

About $500,000 is being put into the mobilization by national church groups and individuals with much more being contributed by local congregations and major denominations like the Southern Baptists and the Assemblies of God.

Reports in the spring that the administration planned to create an advisory commission stirred fear that the issue would be buried in the bureaucracy or submerged in a broad review of religious liberty.

Pub Date: 9/15/96

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