When Conscience Rights Come at the Cost of Human Rights


Evangelicals have done commendable work advancing religious freedom around the globe. But that work has involved some questionable moral compromises.

In 1998, President Bill Clinton signed the International Religious Freedom Act, authorizing the government to impose sanctions on nations violating religious liberty. The law created an Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom along with the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. It enshrined religious liberty as a goal of United States foreign policy and created a special advisor on the subject within the National Security Council. The act was a milestone in international religious-freedom advocacy. It was also the culmination of years of evangelical activism in favor of a foreign policy that advanced the rights of conscience abroad.

In her book To Bring the Good News to All Nations: Evangelical Influence on Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Relations, historian Lauren Frances Turek explores those preceding decades and the role evangelicals played in shaping foreign policy. Much scholarship has focused on evangelical engagement during the 1970s and ’80s on domestic issues such as abortion or the Equal Rights Amendment. And to the extent that this scholarship considers evangelicals’ foreign-policy objectives, the focus tends to fall on their support of Israel. But Turek moves beyond this framing, arguing that evangelicals advanced the cause of religious liberty as a right of all individuals because of their commitment to world evangelism.

The book is organized into two sections, with the first half setting the framework and historical context and the latter half presenting a series of case studies in three regions (Russia, Guatemala, and South Africa) for how evangelicals operated on the foreign stage. Her book illustrates the commendable work evangelicals have done to advance the …

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