Plans for a joint trip to Nicaragua by Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA) and the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) unraveled recently, due to IRD’s concerns about whether evangelicals in Nicaragua who have remained politically independent are free to speak without fear of reprisal.

Public statements from the two organizations have clashed over questions of who speaks for Nicaragua’s evangelicals and what sort of U.S. foreign policy should receive the support of American churches. A fact-finding trip with representatives from both groups appeared to be taking shape last spring (CT, April 19, 1985, p. 64), but IRD later canceled it.

Maria Thomas, IRD’s administrative director, said her organization feared that the fact-finding trip would intimidate Nicaraguan evangelicals who have tried to remain neutral in their stance toward the Sandinista regime. IRD has cultivated a relationship with CNPEN, a Nicaraguan fellowship group for pastors that refuses to identify itself with the Marxist government.

ESA, meanwhile, has publicized the activities of CEPAD, an evangelical relief and development agency with close ties to the Sandinistas and to mainline Protestant groups in the United States. ESA director Bill Kallio said his organization still plans to visit Nicaragua in December and will invite people sympathetic to IRD’s views to participate as independent observers, ESA rejected IRD’s reasons for canceling the joint visit. In a press release, ESA expressed “regret” that IRD is “unwilling to verify its charges in a way that could responsibly resolve disunity and conflict within the body of Christ.”

ESA objects to charges made by IRD against CEPAD and its director, Gustavo Parajon. IRD has published allegations that CEPAD withholds relief supplies from churches that do not support the Sandinistas and diverts humanitarian aid funds into political activities.

Resolving these different perceptions and reconciling Christians in the United States with regard to Nicaragua are goals that ESA and IRD share. However, as long as they continue working at cross purposes, their ability to lead evangelical opinion will suffer.

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