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.