Washington Post article
July 24, 1993

Sam Ericsson: Advocate for Today’s Testament

by Carey Kinsolving

Harvard Law School graduate Sam Ericsson has offered his counsel in the last two years on religious liberty and justice to people from 146 countries, including six heads of state and 12 chief justices, without charging one dime in legal fees.

Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan serves as the inspiration for the free counsel Ericsson gives under the auspices of the volunteer and donor-supported organization he founded, “Advocates International.”

“The Good Samaritan had compassion when he saw the robbed, beaten man lying half dead in the road,” Ericsson said. “Advocates seeks to serve as a voice of compassion for justice, religious liberty and reconciliation on behalf of the ‘least of these my brethren’ without regard to race, economic standing or faith tradition.”

Ericsson, 49, comes well-prepared for his Good Samaritan mission. He has participated in 34 cases involving religious freedom and civil liberties that were heard before the U.S. Supreme Court. He served as lead counsel in the landmark California case against nonlicensed counselors and was successful in getting a law on equal access through Congress that protects religious meetings at public schools. For 10 years he served as director for the Christian Legal Society.

“Proactive” is the defining word Ericsson uses to describe Advocates’ uniqueness. He praises the work of other human rights organizations but says Advocates’ mission is to penetrate the corridors of power by helping government officials formulate constitutions that promote freedom. Advocates now has legal counsel in Albania, Bulgaria, Latvia, Nepal, Pakistan and Russia.

Proactive functions include seminars for judges and lawyers in Eastern Europe. Roger Sherrard of Poulsbo, Wash., a lawyer who serves as a chairman of the board for Advocates, is leading a seminar team in Albania next week at the request of the Albanian minister of justice. The Albanian seminar will address topics such as due process, fundamental human rights and freedom of speech. The seminar team comprises three Christian judges from different ethnic backgrounds (Hispanic, black and white) and from different regions (the Southwest, the East Coast and the South).

The overall goal of Advocates is “to keep the playing field level for democracy,” Sherrard said. “Christian lawyers have a real heart for this because they see the importance of religious freedom and an independent judiciary. Religious freedom is a barometer for freedom in general.”

Ericsson rejects the “power broker” image that some lawyers seem to relish. Instead, he has adopted a “servant-leader” model. He and his international network of lawyers cherish the role of being “counsel to” those in authority in government and the church, as opposed to being retained as “counsel for” any individual, official or group.

Role models for Ericsson’s concept are abundant in the Hebrew scriptures (Joseph, Nehemiah, Esther, Mordecai, Daniel and Obadiah). They served as “counsel to” government authorities who held radically different theological views.

The servant role is more than a platitude for Ericsson and his wife, Bobby. For 23 years, they have played host to more than 200 visitors in their home. Their stays have ranged from overnight to more than a year. Their profiles range from runaways, battered wives and foreign students to the vice president of an Eastern European country, members of the Russian parliament and royalty from Africa. The open-house philosophy creates a relaxed environment to develop deep and trusting relationships, Ericsson said.

Last week, the global open-house network came into play. Ericsson’s fax machine heated up with urgent messages from Christian leaders urging action against a proposed law by Russian lawmakers to ban foreign missionaries from proselytizing in Russia.

Ericsson received a phone call informing him that a member of the Supreme Soviet, who has stayed in his home twice, was coming to Washington. Ericsson arranged for the Russian legislator to stay an extra week at his home in Springfield.

“He thinks he’s coming to the states only for government business, but he doesn’t realize that God may have brought him here to intervene on behalf of those who want religious freedom in Russia,” Ericsson said.

Such statements are typical of Ericsson’s world view. The sovereignty of God is the lens through which he sees a tightly woven tapestry of “divine coincidences.” For Ericsson, “His-story,” or true history, is living life sensitive to the vertical dimension so that “when God’s will and our actions coincide, we have a coincidence.”

“I want you to rediscover a God who is alive, active, real and personal,” Ericsson told the congregation last Sunday at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, “He’s not just the subject matter of a textbook. He’s a person.”

Ericsson likes to think of God working in three eras: Old Testament, New Testament and Today’s Testament. “The uppercase Gospel is that God in Jesus Christ became man and died for the sins of the world,” Ericsson said. “But the lowercase gospel is that Christ lives in us, and we are the rest of the story.”

Perhaps the task chosen by Ericsson, Sherrard and their network is best summarized by a June letter from a pastor in Nepal, where Hinduism is dominant: “We have reached a point where we see in front of our very eyes the case of Christians. We have nobody of influence here who can speak on our behalf. Particularly at this time of our need, we are calling upon Advocates International to intervene.”

Washington Post article
March 7, 1992

Southern Baptists Warned of Saudi Arabia’s Religious Persecution

by Carey Kinsolving

Theologian Carl F.H. Henry called this week on Southern Baptists to denounce “tyrannical oppressors” who routinely persecute others in the name of religion.

Henry condemned all kinds of religious persecution. But he aimed his strongest words at Muslims in Saudi Arabia.

“Talk of a ‘new world order’ is empty political talk unless the basic right of religious freedom is addressed in all the nations of the world,” Henry told the Southern Baptists Tuesday evening during the 25th annual meeting of their Christian Life Commission.

Henry, 79, founding editor of Christianity Today, author of 35 books and an eminent evangelical theologian, said that religious intolerance lies at the heart of many conflicts around the world.

“Religious rights of some minorities are nonexistent in some countries,” he said.

Henry called on governments to recognize religious freedom as a universal civil right based upon people being created in the image of God. “To coerce spiritual belief has no value either to God or to the humans who are forced to comply against their will.”

Citing the “World Christian Encyclopedia,” Henry noted that 2.2 billion people in 79 countries (50.6 percent of the global population) live under some form of religious restrictions.

Many conflicts around the globe can be traced to religious intolerance, Henry noted, such as: the Nazi extermination of Jews, the Chinese communist massacre of Christians, Israel’s official hard-line policy toward Jews who consider themselves Reformed, Conservative and Messianic Jews (Christians), the fighting among Irish Protestants and Catholics, and Islam’s persecution of Muslim converts to other religions.

Saudi Arabia, he said, is a good place to begin since U.S. troops recently defended Saudi “freedom.”

“Something is terribly amiss when 500,000 men and women fight a war for liberty and freedom while at the same time they themselves are denied the very thing they are fighting for: the basic principle of freedom, including religious liberty even for American workers living within Saudi Arabian borders.”

Henry said that there are disconcerting reports that the United States imposes religious restrictions on its own employees in Saudi Arabia that are no less strict than some restrictions imposed by the Saudis. “The State Department reportedly has since 1985 directed its employees in Saudi Arabia not to worship with other Christians working in Saudi.”

It is time for the United States to link military or economic aid or both with insistence on the right of all foreign workers living in Saudi Arabia to practice their religious faith openly without harassment, persecution and punishment, he said. “We should insist on the cessation of inhumane punishment. We should insist on the discontinuance of beheading and crucifixion of citizens or foreigners whose only offense is their religious faith.”

Henry mentioned several instances of alleged persecution: Last October, armed Saudi police raided the morning service of a Korean church on private property in Riyadh. They detained the entire congregation of 130 adults and 50 children for more than four hours and confiscated all office equipment and Bibles.

In January, a Riyadh Pentecostal church also was raided. Five Christians were given 50 lashes and held for several months.

Although Henry called for government intervention on behalf of the oppressed of all religious faiths, he said, the Christian church needs to relearn that it is “engaged in a cosmic spiritual warfare” that contains the possibility of a “demonic attack” on its witnesses.

“The viability of the true church depends on its supernatural life mediated by the risen Lord, not on promotional ingenuity,” Henry said.

In a telephone interview, Islamic scholar George Otis said Henry’s speech is accurate and timely. “I am pleased that a leading evangelical spokesman has had the courage to bring this issue to the fore,” Otis said.

“In all fairness, the civil government in Saudi Arabia is in a sense between a rock and a hard place right now. They are being pressured by Islamic hard-liners within and without their own country.”

Otis confirmed the accuracy of Henry’s reports of church raids by the Saudi Islamic police, which, he said, is the only official lever of power available to the Saudi Islamic hard-liners.

Otis said he receives reports from underground church leaders in Saudi Arabia that indicate a dramatic increase of Saudi conversions to Christianity.

He has written a book that discusses Islam entitled “The Last of the Giants,” and serves as president of the Sentinel Group, a Christian intelligence network for Christian missionary organizations.