September 26, 2004


Operation Human Rights: How evangelicals got outside their comfort zone to help the oppressed overseas.: a review of Freeing God's Children: The Unlikely Alliance for Global Human Rights by Allen D. Hertzke (David Neff, 09/22/2004, Christianity Today)

Evangelical Protestants have had an unusually high global consciousness ever since the 19th-century blossoming of the missions movement. For a century and a half, missionaries' support letters kept North American churchgoers aware of countries and people groups they rarely read about in newspapers. Because of connections to missionaries and relief organizations, we hear about life in places like Mozambique, Tibet, Sri Lanka, and Rwanda. And when trouble starts brewing in such places, we often hear about it through these connections first.

But while missionaries and relief workers have been a great source of global connectivity—long preceding other factors in the much-ballyhooed phenomenon of globalization—they have often been slow to engage and resist the forces of oppression in the countries where they worked. It makes sense: Missionaries and relief workers serve at the discretion of their host governments. Criticizing political leaders would imperil their ministry.

Allen Hertzke's Freeing God's Children tells the story of how evangelical Protestants in the United States moved from reluctance and ambivalence about confronting persecution to passionate engagement and action. It also tells the story of unlikely alliances—as evangelicals linked arms with Roman Catholics, Jews, secularists, and feminists to address an array of human-rights issues. [...]

Secularist thinking has long been dominated by one or another variety of historical determinism. In the Marxist version, for example, history is determined by the inexorable clash and succession of economic classes. But Hertzke's tale is woven around the necessity of human action and its potential for changing history. That antideterministic thinking drove the Reagan-era confrontation with communism, and it also fueled Horowitz's passionate crusade for religious freedom.

But complementing Hertzke's antideterminism is the concept of Providence. Providential appears repeatedly in this book, suggesting (though only suggesting) a sense of divine blessing on human effort. One chapter title that illustrates this sense of history is chapter six, "The Hand of Providence in Congress." The chapter recounts the strategic decision to sponsor congressional legislation. After the initial burst of enthusiasm, the incipient movement needed a focus for its energies and "a tangible way for American Christians to exercise their citizenship on behalf of their coreligionists." The first piece of legislation to emerge was tough and offered the government only a blunt instrument with which to respond to religious persecution.

But not everyone was happy with the approach of the Wolf-Specter bill, and looked for a more calibrated, diplomatic approach. That was to be found in alternative legislation sponsored by Senators Nickles and Lieberman. Within evangelical ranks, the clash between advocates of the different approaches was fierce, and Hertzke offers glimpses of the bruising fight. He concludes that the struggle "suggests a pluralism in the born-again world not always appreciated outside the community." The outcome was the passage of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which blended the strengths of each approach.

Hertzke suggests "there is a theological lesson here: that partisans had to suffer through the [acrimonious] process to ensure unanimity." The sense of success and accomplishment that was in the end shared by both factions gave confidence to the fledgling movement and allowed them to continue to tackle new issues: prison rape, sex trafficking, Sudan, North Korea.

The process by which conservative Evangelicals became practical about politics, which began in earnest with Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority and the election of Ronald Reagan, is probably the most important development in not just our own politics but, as illustrated here, in world affairs, where it is driving human rights intervention.

-B uilding Alliances to Save Lives: Why evangelicals' partnership with others to fight persecution worked—and where the coalition is heading.: An interview with Allen D. Hertzke (Christianity Today, 09/22/2004)
-Falwell says evangelicals control GOP, Bush's fate (Scott Shepard, September 25, 2004, Cox News Service)

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 26, 2004 10:09 AM

Falwell is partially correct, but the same can be said of any voting bloc that Bush is counting on.
If not enough women support Bush, he loses...
If not enough Latinos support Bush, he loses...

And so on.

Posted by: Michael Herdegen at September 27, 2004 2:50 AM