Evangelical leaders try to reconcile reports of thriving churches with accounts of repression.

Evangelical leaders from the United States and Nicaragua met over the summer in both countries, attempting to clarify conflicting reports about religious freedom under the rule of the Sandinistas. Confusion about Nicaragua has resulted from appeals to U.S. churches from both supporters and opponents of the Marxist government there.

The Reagan administration supports counterrevolutionaries, or “contras,” who are fighting to overthrow the Sandinistas. Administration officials—aided by Nicaraguan opposition leaders who live in the United States, as well as by church-related research organizations such as the Institute for Religion and Democracy—have asked the church to support Reagan’s position.

Mainline Protestant groups, including the National Council of Churches, oppose U.S. policy and say the Nicaraguans are capable of making their own political choices without outside interference. Evangelicals have found themselves caught in the middle. They have tried to reconcile reports of thriving churches, increased literacy, and other improvements with equally compelling accounts of repression, censorship, and manipulation of Christians by the Nicaraguan government.

A group of seven U.S. evangelicals, representing the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), visited Nicaragua earlier this year. Led by NAE executive director Billy A. Melvin, they met with leaders of an independent evangelical pastors’ fellowship known by its acronym CNPEN (The National Council of Evangelical Pastors). They also met with Gustavo Parajon, head of an evangelical relief and development agency called CEPAD (Evangelical Committee ...

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