- The Washington Times - Monday, November 6, 2000

Whenever I see a picture of Al Gore in church for Sunday service or to talk politics to a congregation, I always ask myself the same questions: Does our vice president ever think of the scores of millions of Christians who are allowed to worship only in churches appointed by the officially atheistic and communist bureau of their government?
Does it cross his mind that they and their priests and ministers go to jail for years when they worship in a makeshift underground free church that does not accept the rule of Beijing over God ?
Gov. George W. Bush says Jesus Christ was the greatest influence in his life. When recently he visited a California Christian ministry that deals with needy and addicted, he saw a portrait of Jesus on the wall. He said he would never let government bureaucrats take it down.
Does he know that there are countries where such ministries are outlawed, no picture of Jesus Christ permitted to hang in public and Muslim converts to Christianity can be executed?
They know, they know. But during their presidential campaigns they never made speeches on religious repression. They never summoned their cherished senses of compassion for persecuted religious worshippers everywhere and of all religions, now mostly Christian and Buddhist. How far does God want their compassion to extend around the corner or around the world?
They have built a moral wall between America and the increasing number of religiously oppressed of the world, and have strengthened their oppressors. They don't even care about the national embarrassment of the callousness and hypocrisy of free Christian presidential candidates remaining silent on religious persecution at the very time they would be heard more widely than ever in their lives.
They demean Americans. They obviously believe talk of religious oppression would bore voters, though many suffered it themselves. And it would distract voters from total attention to self-interest economic statistics. The candidates believe that is all Americans should be focusing on, not diverted to helping people who had their limbs chopped off in Africa someplace.
The candidates are gagged by fear the knowledge that by speaking out they will offend some of our best customers and suppliers. Communist China and a variety of Islamic nations are the most powerful and worst of the religious oppression, growing stronger and worse.
Who wants to offend a customer to offend a customer as valuable as U.S. business daydreams China will be one day? Who wants to annoy Saudi Arabia, which long go expelled Christians and Jews and beheads Muslim converts to any other religion? Yes, but listen, it sure has a lot of oil for sale. And what can the oppressed offer candidates from their cells or whipping posts?
In the past two decades, the Islamicist government in Sudan has done away with 2 million citizens in the country's south. They are Christian or followers of traditional African religions. That is more than died in the wars in Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia and Kosovo together.
But Sudan has lots of oil in the south, enough that the government in Khartoum, in the north, commits genocide by hunger, machine gun and slavery to control it.
America sends aid for starving Sudanese. But it funnels two-thirds of it through a U.N. route that lands it in the hands of the government in Khartoum.
The failure of America to help Chinese persecuted, religious or political, dates from Bill Clinton's very first year in office. He gave up his pose as a big human rights man and substituted trade as his Holy Grail. But Daddy, isn't Mr. Gore his own man now?
Putting aside executions and torture machines, there's a security linkage that our candidates do not talk about. Our trade partners that persecute religions are dictatorships. Their rulers need not have public permission to go to war. We enrich them with profits they invest in weapons, including hate propaganda against America, and explosives that already have blown up a U.S. destroyer and military barracks.
Our candidates did not ponder aloud on that linkage. If you think it is your duty to do so, even though candidates are too timid or mediocre, read a new book called "Religious Freedom in the World," published by Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom. (Order through www.freedomhouse.org/religion.)
It is the most detailed and valuable book on the subject I have read. It will depress you to know religious persecution is increasing. But it will lift you to know people like Paul Marshall, its general editor, and Nina Shea, head of the center, devote their lives to religious freedom and revealing how it fares. Send additional copies to the wives of Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush. Ask them to give a copy to the next president, the day it arrives. Persecution takes no holiday.

A.M. Rosenthal, the former executive editor of the New York Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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