Stop Iran's nuclear advance, leaders urge
WASHINGTON (BP)--Southern Baptist leaders were among nearly 50 religious and conservative leaders who called Sept. 22 for swift action by the U.S. government to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
In a letter to President Obama and Congress, Southern Baptist Convention President Johnny Hunt and ethics leader Richard Land joined others in urging a boycott on arms sales to the militant Islamic regime and economic sanctions on firms that conduct oil-related business with Iran.
"For the world's most dangerous regime to obtain the world's most dangerous weapons is something that neither the United States nor the community of civilized nations can allow," they said in the letter.
"A nuclear-armed Iran is almost certain to initiate an arms race with other Middle Eastern and Arab nations who have reason to fear the religious, political and military ambitions of Iran's extremist leaders," the letter said. Calling Iran the "world's leading state sponsor of international terror," the signers said they "must assume" the regime will provide nuclear weapons "to extremist groups that are declared and demonstrated enemies to America and her allies."
The letter was sent a day before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Other Southern Baptist signers of the letter from a coalition named Christian Leaders for a Nuclear-free Iran included past SBC Presidents Jack Graham and James Merritt, as well as Ronnie Floyd, senior pastor of the First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark., and Paul Pressler, an architect of the SBC's conservative resurgence.
In a written commentary, Land said Obama should "ratchet up the pressure on a recalcitrant Iranian regime" by imposing sanctions to block Iran's importation of refined petroleum and by halting the provision to Tehran of transportation of refined gasoline.
"[T]he window of opportunity for President Obama and Congress to take action is closing fast," said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. "Delays will only encourage Iran's recklessness, weaken the resolve of the international community and allow Russia and other oil-starved nations to continue to enable Iran and her terrorist lackeys to become ever more dangerous threats. The clock is ticking, Mr. President."
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has found Iran has the ability to produce "enough low-enriched uranium to compile almost two nuclear weapons if it is enriched to weapons-grade levels," the letter said. Also, IAEA has noted Iran's refusal to answer inquiries about its nuclear program's military aspects.
"Iran has rejected every effort of the United States, our European allies, the United Nations (UN) and the IAEA to cease its nuclear enrichment program and its provocative military displays, including the testing of intermediate-range missiles," the leaders said in the letter.
In addition to supporting terrorist organizations in other countries, Iran oppresses its own citizens' rights. Tehran "is currently arresting and detaining political opponents, actively persecutes its Christian citizens, [and] has shot protestors in cold blood in the streets," according to the letter.
Iran is one of only eight countries to be classified by the U.S. State Department as "countries of particular concern," a designation reserved for the world's worst violators of religious liberty.
Ahmadinejad has been especially provocative toward Israel, denying the Holocaust and threatening to destroy the Jewish state.
The Sept. 22 letter was sent only four days after the European Centre for Law and Justice urged the United Nation's human rights office to hold Iran and Ahmadinejad accountable for recent human rights abuses.
Other signers of the Sept. 22 letter included Charles Colson, chairman of Prison Fellowship; Pat Robertson, president of the Christian Broadcasting Network; Tom Minnery, senior vice president of Focus on the Family; Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America; Gary Bauer, president of American Values; and Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom.
Land and Shea are both members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a bipartisan nine-member panel that reports to the White House and Congress on the state of religious liberty overseas.
Tom Strode is Baptist Press' Washington bureau chief.