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The Faith Factor in (U.S) Foreign Policy

The    Faith Factor in Foreign Policy:
  Religious Constituencies and Congressional
  Initiative on Human Rights

Allen D. Hertzke, University    of Oklahoma

Oneof the surprises of the past decade is how Congress increasingly seizedthe foreign policy initiative in crafting American responses to humanrights violations around the world. Propelling this development was anew faith-based movement that coalesced out of concern for the denialof religious freedom abroad. That movement succeeded in gaininglandmark legislation aimed at the pandemic of global persecution, butit then capitalized on that momentum to attack other human rightsabuses.

The key lesson from this story is not the obvious verity    that Congress responds to constituent pressure, because Congress itself    spurredthe very forces that gave rise to initial constituent interest. Rather,the legislative campaign for the persecuted served as the catalyst thatignited nascent forces into a more durable movement. Explaining how andwhy the congressional system produced this outcome helps us tounderstand the nexus of global religious trends, movement politics, andAmerican foreign policy.
The Religious Context

   Brutal suppression of religion has been a leitmotif of the twentiethcentury. But until recently the context of the cold war and the pressof global crises deflected singular attention to this phenomenon. Inthe 1990s, however, conditions ripened for a movement to make combatingreligious persecution a specific aim of American foreign policy.

First, in spite of the secularization paradigm that guidedmodernization literature, there has been a striking resurgence ofreligion in the post-cold war - what French scholar Gilles Kepel calls"The Revenge of God."1 As Samuel Huntington observed, whenreligion matters to people, authoritarian governments "will insist oncontrolling it, suppressing it, regulating it, prohibiting it, andmanipulating it to their own advantage."2

Second, Christians are among the most numerous victims of thispersecution because of an un
heralded demographic revolution - atectonic shift of the Christian population away from the West towarddeveloping and non-democratic countries. Propelled by dramaticindigenous growth, some 60 percent of the world's Christians liveoutside of
North America and Europe, and that percentage is growing.3Feared as a force for independent civil society and often perceived asagents of the democratic West, as many as 200 million believers in theMiddle East, Africa, and Asia live under the threat of brutal treatmentat the hands of authorities.4

Third, believers in the United States are naturally drawn to thesebesieged Christians, whose plight is highlighted by a growing array ofinternational advocacy groups. Vivid models of courage and fidelityamong modern martyrs can also inspire the faithful, a fact not lost onchurch leaders. At many evangelical events today featured speakers areforeign Christians, treated like celebrities and role models, who sharepoignant testimony of how God sustained them as they languished inprison or suffered torture. With Protestant Evangelicalism at thecutting edge of church growth in the United States, grass roots concernfor the "suffering church" increasingly percolated in the years leadingup to congressional action.
Finally, the emergence of the United States as the globe's lonesuperpower offered a unique opportunity to ameliorate this sufferingthrough American foreign policy leadership. As popular writers,activists, and religious leaders spotlighted the problem, they imploredAmericans to take seriously their responsibility as citizens of theworld's indispensable nation.

     The Legislative Catalyst

   The above efforts, though notable in preparing the way, remainedfragmented and muted until activists made a pivotal strategic decision:to mount a campaign for congressional legislation. This legislativevehicle provided a tangible way for American Christians to exercisetheir citizenship on behalf of co-religionists. But it also acted as apowerful magnet, drawing into the movement others who saw theirconcerns advanced by the initiative.

The person most responsible for this strategic decision, ironically,was a Jew, Michael Horowitz, a former Reagan administration officialand well-connected think tank lawyer. Outraged when an EthiopianChristian friend (recovering from torture) was threatened withdeportation, Horowitz dramatized the scope of religious persecution,which he complained was an "orphan" of the human rights establishment.A blunt polemicist and tough political infighter, Horowitz proddedChristian leaders and fellow Jews into legislative action bycharacterizing Christians as "the Jews of the 21st Century," and    the "victims of choice for thug regimes."5

Most crucially, Horowitz's strategic analysis mirrored that of scholarswho argue that social movement success depends on fostering "cognitiveliberation" - a freeing of people from the fatalistic view that theycannot move the political system.6 To Horowitz, the legislative campaign    was primarily a tool toliberate the Christian community from its sheepishness and transformthe way "bigoted" secular elites view devout faith in the twenty-firstcentury.

Horowitzalso hoped that the drama of legislative battle would catalyze theemerging movement, drawing diverse groups into its vortex. As thecampaign waxed, in fact, liberal Jewish groups teamed up withconservative evangelicals, the Catholic Church with Tibetan Buddhists,Anglicans with the Salvation Army. Though the groups did not alwaysagree on remedies, they created a formidable sense that something hadto pass.

Congressional hearings and impassioned floor debates, in turn, fed backinto the movement, heightening visibility and providing new fodder formobilization. Though the elite press slighted the movement, churchpublications and mailings featured the "exciting" efforts of advocatesin the nation's capital. Charles Colson of Prison Fellowship and JamesDobson of Focus on the Family publicized the cause in syndicated radioand newspaper outlets. Stories on the legislation appeared in Christianity Today,and advocacy groups, such as Oklahoma-based Voice of the Martyrs,implored their followers to write Congress. Members of Congress noticedthe grass roots buzz. Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who emerged as aleader in the new movement, said he was struck by how often he heardfrom constituents at town hall meetings in Kansas about the plight ofChristians in Sudan or China.7

Several features of the law-making arena helped Congress play thiscatalyst role. First, in our representative system law enjoys bothstatutory power and the powerful symbolic import of legis rex.Because of this, the legislative campaign attracted the attention ofinternational organizations and foreign dissidents alike. Fierceopposition from the business community, in a curious way, only servedto heighten the stakes and energize the advocates.

Second, the bicameral complexities of the system propelled a quest forconsensus, which produced a strongly unified congressional initiative.Indeed, the system operated pretty much as the founders envisioned.Responding to "public passions," the House passed tough initiallegislation. Sponsored by Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.),the House bill employed blunt measures designed to hold the presidentaccountable if he waived automatic sanctions against nations thategregiously persecute religionists. The Clinton administrationvigorously opposed the House bill and State Department officialstestified against it. In spite of this opposition, House leaders wereable to use the rules to get the bill to the floor, where it passedstrongly but not unanimously.

Though the House bill was unacceptable in the Senate, it sparkedefforts by members and staff to craft an alternative. That Senate bill,sponsored by Don Nickles (R-Okla.) and Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), wasmore measured, less blunt in its remedies, and more tied into theroutines of diplomacy. As it became clear that Nickles-Lieberman wasthe only vehicle with a chance of passage, efforts were made toaccommodate some House interests, even while negotiations took placewith a reluctant administration loath to appear unsympathetic. Theresult was a true consensus, but one that barely beat the clock.Legislation made it to the Senate floor and was passed by vote of 98-0on the last day of the 105th Congress. With no time for conference, andno one wanting to vote for persecution, the House passed the Senatebill by acclamation, thus ensuring that the legislation enjoyedunanimous backing in both houses. In the aftermath of the victory,religious presses lauded this "providential" outcome, which would placethe government's unalloyed imprimatur on the cause of religious freedomaround the world.

One of the most sweeping human rights statutes on the books, theInternational Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) creates a new StateDepartment office and an Ambassador-At-Large for InternationalReligious Freedom. It mandates that State produce a comprehensiveannual report on the status of religious freedom around the world -which sets into motion presidential action against violating countries.The law also creates an independent commission, with staff and budget,to monitor violations and hold policymakers accountable for theirresponse. Finally, it reaches into the daily routines of foreign policyby providing better training for diplomatic personnel and fosteringtheir ongoing contacts with vulnerable religious communities on theground.

Anotherreason that the legislative arena was so conducive to the religiousfreedom movement was that there were past models upon which to draw. Acase in point was congressional action during the campaign for sovietJewry in the 1970s. Spurred by Jewish lobby efforts and public sympathyfor refuzniks, Congress passed, over Nixon's objections, theJackson-Vanik act in 1973, which linked normal trade status toemigration policies by the Soviet Union. Some Christian advocatesexplicitly saw this as their model.

Then, as now, key members of Congress - by virtue of conviction, tiesto constituents, and location in the foreign policy system - areinclined to assert a broad view of the national interest, one thattranscends narrow calculations of realpolitik. Thelegislative campaign against religious persecution, consequently,intersected a wider struggle over the direction of American foreignpolicy. That struggle, which is occurring even within the Bushadministration, pits "realists" who view the national interest innarrow economic and security terms against those who would championAmerican leadership on behalf of democratization and human rights. Thecampaign for religious rights thus gained strategic allies in theforeign policy commentariat who    are similarly inclined to assert a moral underpinning to America's engagement    in the world.
Congressman Chris Smith, former chair of the Human Rights Subcommitteeof the House International Relations Committee, illustrates the waypromotion of religious freedom dovetails with a broader critique offoreign policy "realism." He takes issue with "so-calledprofessionals," especially those in his own party, whose mantra is"stability, stability, stability." Time and again, he observed,"stable" authoritarian regimes turned out anything but. "Dictatorshipsand lawless governments are unreliable trading partners, dangerous totheir neighbors,"and less stable than nations that respect humanrights. Promoting human rights, if done smartly, is indeed in thenational interest. "If you get that right," he argues, everything elsefollows.8 While Smith has been making these arguments foryears, the legislative campaign enhanced his prominence and the new lawprovided additional levers for him to employ.

     Religion on Capitol Hill   

A final reason Congress played such a pivotal role in the movement forthe persecuted is that many members themselves, and their staffs, areenmeshed in religious life and thus predisposed to sympathy for thecause. Cynics might be skeptical, but serious empirical analysissuggests that religious commitments and worldviews do shape the work ofmany members.9

Moreover, my own investigation confirms athriving religious life on the Hill, including weekly faith sharingsessions among congressional members across party and denominationallines. Given the exceptional vibrancy of religious life in the UnitedStates, it should not surprise us that the people's representativesgenerally reflect that cultural context, or that some consciously linktheir faith and human rights advocacy.

But equally significant, key members of Congress actually emerged asleaders of the movement itself. Three friends and prayer partners, TonyHall (D-Ohio), Frank Wolf, and Chris Smith, have traveled the world tomeet with Jewish refusniks, Chinese dissidents, imprisonedpastors, Sudanese refugees, tortured believers, war refugees, andvictimized women. Hall, an evangelical Democrat from working classDayton, linked his leadership against world hunger with work againstdictatorships that destroy their own people. Wolf, a devoutPresbyterian, was profiled by the Washington Post as the capitol'sfirst "bleeding heart conservative."10 Pastors in EasternEurope were said to carry dog-eared letters from Wolf to use whenharassed by authorities. The evangelical legislator is respected bycolleagues across the aisle (liberal San Francisco Democrat NancyPelosi referred to him as "my leader" on religious freedom issues).Chris Smith, a Catholic, describes himself as a Matthew 25 Christian("whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do to me"). Inspired bythe book, Tortured for Christ by a Romania pastor, Smith usedhis chairmanship to build a massive documentary record of the denial ofreligious freedom, which was picked up and publicized by advocacygroups.

In theSenate, too, the convictions of members played a crucial role. Notablein the effort were retiring evangelical Dan Coats (R-Ind.), who viewedthe legislation as his swan song and insisted that it pass beforeadjournment, Catholic Don Nickles (R-Okla.), whose prior work on theissue made him a logical principal sponsor, and Joseph Lieberman(D-Conn.), whose orthodox Jewish faith (and its link to politicalconvictions) became legendary in the presidential campaign. Liebermancontinues to list the passage of IRFA as one of his major legislativeachievements.

Theimpact of religious commitments extends to staff. A number of crucialHill staff members have close ties to international church groups andare respected in the religious community. Some bring experience inforeign missions, others in human rights advocacy abroad, still othersserve as fellows sponsored by religious groups. Two such staff fellows,John Hanford in the office of Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and LauraBryant Hanford in the office of Congressman Bob Clement (D-Tenn.),worked for months helping to hammer out what ultimately became theNickles-Lieberman bill.
The Legacy: A Movement Buoyed

The legislative campaign to make promotion of religious freedom a "basic aim" of American foreign policy propelled the faith-based movement into the vanguard of human rights advocacy.

First, the campaign enhanced the social movement infrastructure. New leaders emerged, trust relationships were forged, and advocacy groups experienced dramatic membership growth and heightened visibility. Activists operating on shoestring budgets won more stable foundation funding as their efforts gained stature. Established institutions, such as Freedom House, expanded their focus on religious freedom. Think thanks and academic institutes sponsored conferences, books appeared, and news stories sprouted. Religious non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are being drawn into foreign policy counsels for information and advice.

Second, the movement established new government institutions and process that ensure ongoing attention. The State Department now has internal advocates whose clout is enhanced by legal mandates and outside pressure. The independent Commission on International Religious Freedom, designed to hold officials' feet to fire as they implement the law, conducts its own fact finding trips, sponsors hearings, and shares policy recommendations with top officials at the White House and Congress. Obscure but besieged religious minorities - Hoa Hao Buddhists in Vietnam, Muslim Uyghurs in China, Ahmadis in Pakastin, and Baha'is in Iran - have found their causes highlighted. Leaders in foreign capitals have noticed the increased American attention to abuses. The government of Uzbekistan, apparently fearing that it would be named to the list of worst persecuting nations in 1999, freed its known Christian prisoners before the State Department report was released.11

Third, the movement plucked the tragedy in Sudan from the backwaters of human rights concern. Africans in southern Sudan, most of them Christians or tribal religionists, have been subjected to forced starvation, genocidal massacres, and abduction into slavery by agents of the militant Islamist regime in Khartoum.12 That record is no longer ignored because the congressional-church network has intensified pressure on the regime. Not only have bipartisan congressional members traveled to Sudan, but one of them, Senator Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), even "performed surgery in a bush hospital bombed by planes from Khartoum."13 Because of religious humanitarian efforts, moreover, clinics and schools hit by the regime are often run by Catholic, Anglican, or evangelical churches with international linkages and strategic access to policymakers. One relief organization, for example, is Samaritan's Purse, founded and led by Franklin Graham, who offered prayer at the inauguration of George W. Bush.

A Movement That Travels

The coalition for international religious freedom has also proven mobile. Buoyed by their victory in 1998, religious leaders led another successful legislative effort in 2000, this time joining with feminists to attack the brutal global trafficking of up to two million vulnerable women and children annually into forced prostitution.14 Laura Lederer, director of the Protection Project at the Nitze School at Johns Hopkins University, led a huge project to document the inadequacy of laws dealing with the global crime syndicates that perpetuate this human rights catastrophe. Her efforts, however, did not gain policy traction until the issue was engaged by the religious community. Many of the leaders who forged partnerships in the religious rights campaign were central in building the groundswell for major sex trafficking legislation. These included David Saperstein, the veteran liberal leader for Reform Judaism, who lobbied with Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, John Busby of the Salvation Army, Charles Colson, and William Bennett.

Even given the capacity of social movements to create strange bedfellows, the coalition was a sight to behold, as feminist groups joined hands with their evangelical foes on abortion policy. Chris Smith, the principal architect of the legislation, recounted how some feminist leaders planned strategy in the same room with evangelical representatives, some of whom might be depicted as "Christian Right." As Richard Cizik, director of the Washington office of the National Association of Evangelicals noted, "human rights is now no longer the only prerogative of the left."15

A final and fascinating case of religious foreign policy engagement concerned the effort to relieve debts burdening impoverished nations. Long a cause of international development organizations, major debt relief legislation passed the 106th Congress with pivotal backing from the religious community. This time the initiative came from the liberal church groups, led by Tom Hart, former Democratic staffer and director of the national Episcopal office in Washington. In part because of relationships forged in the religious freedom campaign, he was able to reach across the cultural divide to enlist ecumenical support, not the least of which came from Pat Robertson, who asked members of his 700 Club to write Phil Graham (R-Texas) when the senator threatened to put a hold on the legislation.16


There is "power in movement."17 Social movements take people out of their routines. They excite, buoy confidence, forge new relationships, and strengthen organizations. But movements need vehicles to focus disparate leaders and energize constituencies. Congress, as "the keystone of the Washington establishment," provided the vehicle for the new religious coalition on foreign policy. Just as laser technology focuses and intensifies diffuse light, the congressional arena absorbed nascent movement energies against religious persecution and sent them out in magnified form.


1. Gilles Kepel, The Revenge of God: The Resurgence of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism in the Modern World (University Park: PA: Pennsylvania State University Press,1994).

2. Samuel Huntington, "Religious Persecution at the Close of the Twentieth Century: Its Nature and Causes, and Implications for the International System," in The Faith Factor, Elliott Abrams, ed. (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, forthcoming 2001).

3. The World Almanac and Book of Facts (Mahwah, NJ: World Almanac Books, 2000); and the Britannica Book of the Year, 2000.

4. This is the estimate of Canadian human rights scholar Paul Marshall, Their Blood Cries Out (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1997). Specific documentation can be found in "Persecution of Christians Worldwide," hearing before the Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights of the Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives, 15 February 1996; and in Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, Department of State, November 2000.

5. See Paul Blustein, "A Jew Battles Persecution of Christians," The Washington Post, 9 October 1997; and Michael Cromartie, "The Jew Who is Saving Christians," Christianity Today, 1 March 1999.

6. Doug McAdam, Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930-1970 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985).

7. Interview.

8. Interview.

9. Peter Benson and Dorothy Williams, Religion on Capitol Hill (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).

10. Lori Montgomery, "Party Lines Blur for Area Lawmakers, The Washington Post, 24 May 2000.

11. Religious Freedom in the World, Paul Marshall, ed. (Washington D.C.: Freedom House, 2000), 321; confirmed by State Department sources.

12. The Sudanese regime is the world's worst perpetrator of religious persecution, according to the Report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, 1 May 2000 (www.uscirf.gov).

13. Mary McGory, "Suddenly Sudan," The Washington Post, 11 March 2001.

14. Alexandra Marks, "Activists Unleash Campaign to Shut Down Sex Tours," Christian Science Monitor, 16 January 1999.

15. Laurie Goodstein, "A Move to Fight the 'Persecution' Facing Christians," The New York Times, 9 November 1998.

16. "Religious Leaders Cheer Debt Relief," Christian Century, November 2000.

17. Sidney Tarrow, Power in Movement (Cambridge University Press, 1994).

Dateline the World
Azerbaijan         "Sixty Christians arrested at worship service"         1999
China         "Police destroy 15,000 religious sites in Zhejiang province"         1998
Chechyna         "Baptist leader reported beheaded"         1999
Columbia         "Christian leaders marked for assassination"         2000
Cuba         "Bibles reported burned"         1999
Egypt         "Coptic monk murdered"         1999
India         "Hindu extremists 'justify' rape of Catholic nuns"         1998
Indonesia         "Clergy slain in East Timor"         1999
Laos         "Christians forced to recant their faith"         2000
Nigeria         Christian women targeted in Sokoto State"         2001
Pakistan         "Christian ordered hung for blasphemy"         1998
Russia         "Further Christian kidnappings in North Caucasus"         1999
Saudi Arabia         "Riyadh police break up Christian worship service"         2000
Sudan         "Forced starvation, enslavement of African Christians and animists"         2000
Vietnam         "Protestants and Catholics imprisoned without charge, heavily fined"         2000
These headlines, taken from newsletters of international Christian advocacy groups, news stories, and official reports, dramatize the plight of the "suffering Christian church" abroad and create pressure for an American foreign policy response.

Allen D. Hertzke, professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma, is currently writing for Rowman & Littlefield publishers a book entitled To Untie the Yoke: Global Religious Persecution, Human Rights, and American Foreign Policy. His email address is [email protected].
原帖由 红孩儿 於 2008-6-7 13:19 發表
The Legacy: A Movement Buoyed

The legislative campaign to make promotion of religious freedom a "basic aim" of American foreign policy propelled the faith-based movement into the vanguard of human r ...

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