Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

What Does Serious Christian Advocacy Require?

James Skillen


July 21, 1997

During the recent debate about extending Most Favored Nation (MFN) status to China, a strong opposition movement arose. Not unlike the opposition to trade with the Soviet Union in past decades, the recent opposition to MFN for China arose from concern about the persecution of Christians.

The evidence of intense and growing persecution is laid out by human rights specialist Paul Marshall in his new book Their Blood Cries Out (Word, 1997). Repression of Christians in China has been growing worse since the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989.

One of the anti-MFN leaders was Gary Bauer, head of the Family Research Council, who decided to champion the cause on grounds that "America's business is freedom and basic inalienable rights for all people." A commitment to stopping the persecution of Christians, he argued, ought not to be relegated to second place behind commercial interests. The U.S. should withdraw trading privileges from China until it quits persecuting Christians.

On the other side, however, equally dedicated Christians, including Billy Graham, advocated MFN status for China with the argument that those outside China can gain leverage to push political and human rights reforms only if countries maintain extensive commercial and political contacts with China. Christians on both sides of the MFN debate agreed on the goal of ending the persecution of Chinese Christians, but they disagreed over the means of achieving that end.

This legislative battle provides another example of why a Christian contribution to politics must go deeper and last longer than sound bytes and short-term opposition campaigns focused on isolated features devoid of policy context. Bauer deserves credit for having helped bring the persecution of Christians to public attention. Yet his quick jump to a conclusion on MFN as the cause celebre did lit?tle to help Christians and other citizens understand the consequences of MFN in the larger context of U.S. foreign policy. Stopping religious persecution will require more than hot rhetoric on a highly symbolic but narrow foreign policy issue such as MFN. How ought the United States to conduct its multifaceted, wide-ranging foreign policy toward China in the coming decade to help secure greater justice for its people, including Christians?

If Bauer is serious about stopping religious persecution, he ought to be making the case for a more consistent American foreign policy that demonstrates how "America's business of freedom" can connect trade policy, defense policy, and the promotion of political and human rights reforms in countries like China. Will the denial of trade privileges really work to end the persecution of Christians? What else might be done to pressure China to uphold human rights protection for all its citizens?

The question of greatest importance for Bauer is whether he has made a serious commitment to an important cause for the long haul or whether his brief foray into the MFN debate was merely a ploy to rally conservatives against Clinton. If he is serious, now would be a good time for the Family Research Council to put its policy researchers to work, with the help of human rights specialists like Paul Marshall, to devise some better foreign policy options.

It is time for high-profile Christian activist organizations to develop policy stances that fit the full scope of reality. This will help all of us go beyond quick-fix posturing and tactical positioning to a solid standpoint where we can offer sustained public service to our neighbors both here and abroad.

—James W. Skillen, Executive Director
   Center for Public Justice


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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”