Visiting Nicaraguan pastors fuel the debate over their government’s stance on human rights.

Just before Nicaragua’s elections, scheduled for early this month, ten evangelical pastors from that Central American country visited the United States. They came to offer American Christians a firsthand account of how Nicaraguan churches are coping in the midst of conflict between ruling Sandinistas and counterrevolutionaries (called “contras”). While they escaped temporarily from the turmoil at home, some of the pastors found themselves caught here in a crossfire of verbal skirmishing.

Critics of Nicaragua’s leftist government build their case on reports of human rights abuses, press censorship, and religious persecution. They say that the presence of Cuban advisers there is a smoking gun pointing directly to Soviet adventurism. However, others counter that the Sandinistas are nationalists, not Communists, and that their “mistakes” are being corrected. They say U.S. assistance to the contras undermines opportunities for peace and goads the Sandinistas to justify their excesses, anticipating a U.S. invasion.

It is a bewildering debate for American Christians. Roman Catholics in particular oppose U.S. military intervention. But they are uneasy about deteriorating relations between the church’s hierarchy and the Nicaraguan government in a nation that is 85 percent Catholic. William Lewers, director of the U.S. Catholic Conference’s office of international justice and peace, protests against both the U.S. and Nicaraguan governments.

Lewers said that U.S. support for the contras, including a Central Intelligence Agency manual on how to conduct guerrilla warfare, violates international law and flouts ethical constraints. At the same time, ...

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