Noise and Nuance

When she was secretary of state, Madeleine Albright claimed that the tragedy of Sudan’s civil war was "not marketable to the American people." Yet the horrors of the 18-year conflict are seeping into the American conscience: 2 million deaths, more than 4 million refugees, bombings of churches and hospitals, torture, rape, and mutilation as forces loyal to the fundamentalist Islamic government in the North push Christian and animist Southerners from their land to clear the way for oil exploitation.

Conservative religious activists can take much of the credit for raising the issue, capturing media attention with public campaigns against slavery and religious persecution. Yet instead of shirking this cause as the property of the Chuck Colsons and Franklin Grahams, figures such as Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Coretta Scott King, and Rabbi David Saperstein have added their voices and perspectives to the cause.

Other Sudan advocates, from Maryknollers to Mennonites, have worked for years on the ground in Africa and in Capitol corridors without the kind of publicity that the current anti-slavery movement has garnered. Many of them affirm the new awareness but assert that there are root issues that need to be addressed.

"It’s good that American Christians are concerned about slavery and persecution," says Serge Duss, director of public policy for World Vision in Washington, D.C., "but in order to end these abuses, there must be an end to the conflict."

Some hard-liners in Congress support aid to Southern rebel groups, which would likely fuel the war. But scratch the rhetorical surface and there’s broad support from left and right for efforts such as top-level U.S. diplomatic action, peace initiatives among tribal factions in Southern Sudan, multilateral sanctions, and divestment from corporations extracting Sudanese oil.

"The judgment of history will be determined by the courage and determination of the international community to take bold steps now to help bring this cruel war to an end," said Bishop John Ricard, president of Catholic Relief Services, after leading a delegation of U.S. bishops to Sudan. "In our judgment, the United States must play a central role in this effort."

Religious conservatives have made the most noise about Sudan without much nuance, while peace-and-justice progressives have provided nuance without as much noise. Mobilizing activists of all persuasions for peace in Sudan will require more of both.

Ryan Beiler is Web editor at Sojourners. For more on the conflict in Sudan, visit

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