Thirty-five evangelical Christian leaders have signed a letter urging President Bush to provide massive humanitarian aid and consider sending U.S. troops to stop what they called the "genocide" taking place in the Darfur region of Sudan.
The Aug. 1 letter marks a shift in focus for the evangelical movement, which previously was interested primarily in halting violence against Christians in southern Sudan. The victims in Darfur, a western province, are mostly Muslim.
"We view this as an opportunity to reach out to Muslims in the name of Jesus," the Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said yesterday. "Christian people are appalled by this kind of genocide, and we don't want it taking place in our generation."
Evangelicals are part of Bush's political base, and because his reelection may depend on whether they turn out at the polls, the letter adds a domestic political element to an international humanitarian crisis.
In the past, evangelical Christian activism has helped spur the Bush White House into major efforts to combat HIV-AIDS, to fight the international trafficking of women and to champion peace talks between Christian rebels in southern Sudan and the Islamic government in Khartoum, the capital.
After two years of diplomatic pressure, those talks appear to be close to success. And if U.S. evangelicals mount a grass-roots campaign for action in Darfur, it could be a turning point toward a comprehensive peace agreement for the whole country, some experts said.
"The base is speaking up on the question of Sudan," said Chester A. Crocker, a professor of strategic studies at Georgetown University who was assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the Reagan administration. "This will add to existing pressures for the administration to do what it can to, if necessary, use a two-by-four to gain the attention of Khartoum's authorities."
Among the letter's signers were the leaders of several denominations, such as the Assemblies of God and the Church of the Nazarene. They also included the heads of the National Association of Evangelicals, the World Evangelical Alliance and several seminaries, relief groups and evangelical publications.
"Now is . . . the time for the United States government to take a more decisive role to prevent further slaughter and death," the letter said. In addition to sending "massive humanitarian aid," the letter called for "active exploration of all available intervention options -- including sending troops to Darfur as has been proposed by the United Kingdom and Australia -- in order to stop the killing."