Last month, two religious-freedom advocates debated how best to help those persecuted for their beliefs. Michael Horowitz, director of the Hudson Institute's Project for International Religious Liberty, urged public campaigns and punitive sanctions against repressive regimes. T. Jeremy Gunn, senior fellow for religion and human rights at Emory University, favored quiet diplomacy.

Robert Seiple, former U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom is a critic of the punitive approach. Seiple wrote an essay for in which he contrasted the "public finger pointing" of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) and the "quiet diplomacy" of the State Department. The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA) created both the USCIRF and the ambassador's post. Felice Gaer, chair of the USCIRF, responded to Seiple's article prompting Christianity Today to invite two longtime religious-rights advocates to make their cases.

This article is Horowitz's response to Gunn's original essay. Tomorrow, Gunn responds to Horowitz.

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T. Jeremy Gunn charges me with "blam[ing] … persecutors' actions" on anyone who disagrees with my "polemical approach" to worldwide religious persecution. This he does by citing my view that "quiet diplomacy" supporters "must bear the moral burden of, and responsibility for, the victimized believers who suffer and die on their watch."

Viewed out of context, the statement is as "extreme" as Gunn asserts it to be. But Gunn ignores my central point: that everyone purporting to combat religious persecution—he and I alike—must, "if [we] are any good, anguish over [our] profound moral responsibility for the lives of those [we] seek to help."

Such "polemical" leaders as Frank Wolf, Chuck Colson, Chris Smith, Sam Brownback, Nina Shea, and Richard Land do so, but Gunn essentially doesn't. He ignores whether his ideas "cause lost opportunities for progress no less fatal … than the suffering allegedly caused by unduly aggressive dealings with tyrants" and, critically, fails "[to] acknowledge … responsibility for a pre-Religious Freedom Act world when the strategies to which [he] would have us return were the norm."

Gunn's treatment of U.S. policies toward Sudan evidences his aversion to accountability. Rightly concluding that U.S. policies toward Sudan have largely been crafted by the "polemicists" he criticizes, Gunn deems these Sudan policies "generally a failure."

Leave aside that negotiations between the Khartoum regime and rebel forces are more promising than ever. In fact, the recently enacted Sudan Peace Act authorizes significant financial support for the regime's victims. It also puts the regime on clear notice that serious consequences will attach to further genocidal treatment of its Christian and animist minorities.

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Far more revealing is Gunn's failure to acknowledge the mass starvation, enslavement, and murder of millions of Sudanese believers that took place before his much-criticized "polemicists" got into the act. How can Gunn be so silent about those years, when the cries of Sudan's genocidal victims were lost in the white noise of Washington "politics"?

Limited effectiveness

The flip side of Gunn's argument is his description of how the Kazakhstan government was recently persuaded not to enact anti-religious legislation. Gunn believes that the "eloquently stated American concerns [of a U.S. diplomat] about the law's effects on religious believers" played the critical role.

But he is tellingly silent over who put the wind in his vaunted diplomat's sails, and doesn't consider the most likely reason for Kazakhstan's actions: its concern that enacting the law would put it in conflict with a newly aroused American government and people.

Gunn likewise credits former Ambassador Robert Seiple with "free[ing] scores from prisons, chang[ing] laws and administration of laws, and reduc[ing] human suffering." Although helping "scores" of persecuted people in a world where tens of millions exist is barely grounds for acclaim, Seiple's actual record belies even that modest claim.

Gunn fails to describe the real-world effects of Seiple's constant defense of former Secretary of State Madeline Albright's "moral equivalency" views. Examples:

  • Seiple's public comment on a tough report describing China's persecution of religious communities: "China could come into this country [and] do a report."

  • Seiple's take on U.S. policy toward Sudan, as told to Christian Solidarity International's John Eibner: the United States should "just let [the Khartoum government and the rebels] play themselves out." And, remarkably, as told to Nina Shea: "I faced a serious moral dilemma [while president of World Vision]. I had to choose whether to give aid to the south and prolong the war or to stop aid and end the fighting. I decided to give the aid but believe I may have made the wrong decision."

  • Seiple's reference, in his major official speech, to World War II internment of Japanese Americans, and his comment that "many actions of the United States have either been—or were perceived to have been—insensitive to Islam" as his sole examples of America's allegedly "shameful history" of religious persecution. Notably, the speech made no call for corresponding "sensitivity" from radical Islamist regimes.
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Gunn and Seiple ignore the positive developments created by the religious liberty movement, ignore the failures of State Department-centered diplomacy, overstate the stability of dictatorships, and misunderstand one of history's most enduring phenomena: the power of aroused, decent men and women to shape the world for the better.