Evangelicals urge caution in wake of Morocco expulsions

A delegation of evangelical church leaders visiting Morocco urged Representative Frank Wolf on Friday to postpone hearings on the recent expulsion of Christians.

"We believe it is too early to hold hearings because much more time is needed to determine facts and to give this issue the attention it deserves," said the Rev Dr David Anderson, spokesman for the delegation.

A hearing, led by Wolf, is scheduled for June 17 to look into the "harsh nature" of the expulsions of more than 40 Christians – some of whom are US citizens – who were accused of proselytising.

Wolf said in a statement Thursday that he has been working with Moroccan and US officials over the last two months in an attempt to find a satisfactory solution but the "Moroccan government seems unwilling to compromise".

"I feel it is my responsibility to speak out about the human rights abuses being perpetrated by the Moroccan government," he stated.

Proselytism is illegal in the predominantly Muslim country. Though Morocco has been recognised for its religious tolerance and freedom, many Christians expressed concern in recent months with what some believe to be a national crackdown against Christians.

Among those ordered to leave the country were 16 Christians from the Village of Hope who were taking care of 33 orphaned and abandoned children. The workers had been serving as foster parents for some 10 years with the full knowledge of the government and were shocked by the sudden expulsion in March. They refuted proselytism claims and maintained that they have abided by the law.

According to Wolf, 10 additional foreign nationals were asked to leave the country earlier this week. The congressman noted that Moroccan authorities have refused to turn over any evidence or offer any explanation of the proselytism charges.

Along with scheduling a hearing, Wolf has also called on the US State Department and the White House to raise the issue with Moroccan authorities.

But a group of evangelicals who have been talking with government officials and church leaders in Morocco say investigating the matter publicly could do more harm than good.

The five-member team went to Morocco to "quietly pursue a better understanding of the complex circumstances surrounding these deeply troubling events" and so far found that Christians were not the only ones expelled.

Recent deportations have also involved "at least as many Muslims as non-Muslims", said Anderson.

With that, and also considering the value of the relationship between the US and Morocco, the delegation urged Wolf to delay any action.

"It’s not in anyone’s best interests to explore details of these allegations publicly," Anderson stressed from the capital of Rabat on Friday. "This is better handled discretely and sensitively, especially considering the large number of Christians that live in Morocco."

According to the delegation, the Moroccan government has issued an invitation to U.S. congressional members and evangelical leaders to visit Morocco and discuss the situation.

In addition to Anderson, who is senior pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Sarasota, Florida, members of the delegation include: the Rev Dr Kenneth Barney of New Antioch Baptist Church in Randallstown, Md., the Rev. Patrick J Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition, the Rev Dr Rob Schenck of National Clergy Council, and the Rev Dr Harry Thomas of Come Alive International.