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Do U.S. Christians have a role to play?comment (0)

March 17, 2011

As the Middle East writhes in birth pains to deliver something yet undefined, a scholar who specializes in faith and global politics says Christians in America can support the progress toward freedom by encouraging their own government to speak boldly on behalf of the values that Arab populations are risking their lives to obtain.

Christians in America should push their representatives to advocate strongly for human rights and freedoms of conscience and expression, said Charles Kimball, who has counseled American presidents on Middle Eastern affairs since he negotiated with the Ayatollah Khomeini during the Iranian hostage crisis that started in November 1979. He said this is no time to support autocratic leaders whose continued reign might better serve America’s pragmatic interests.

The U.S. government has a lot of influence when it tells the Egyptian government, “Don’t even think of turning guns on these people,” Kimball said in a phone interview Feb. 22 from his office. “We ought to be telling our government to stand up for human rights, to stand up for universally recognized freedoms.

“The more the U.S. lines up our behavior with our rhetoric the more we’ll see people from all over the world rushing to our side,” said Kimball, a graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and former professor at Wake Forest and Furman universities.

Watching people of similar language and nationality but of different faiths link arms to protect each other during dramatically different prayers “ought to make us doubly sensitive to the way we protect the rights of Muslims in the U.S.,” Kimball said.

Kimball, who has studied impact at the collision of religion and politics all of his career, said the demonstrations and peoples’ revolt are “for the most part, not anchored in religious theology.” Instead, it is young people who long for freedom from human rights abuses that most people cherish in western nations.

“A new form of tyranny is not going to be accepted,” he said. “That’s really the dramatic news that’s coming out of all this. I think the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is getting the memo.”

“The genie is out of the bottle” feeding the hunger for democracy, Kimball said. Even in “the phony presidential election process” in Iran in 2009 the massive outpouring of voters proved the innate hunger for self-determination.

“There is a lot more hope for democracy, even in Iran, than people in the West give credit,” he said. “This is not a bottle you can cap back up very easily. We may see some things we don’t like in the short term, and there is a lot of frustration toward the U.S. because our behavior hasn’t been supportive and we’ve been sometimes standing with the wrong people.”  (ABP)

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