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The good news is that more than 4,000 Baptists from 105 countries around the world are meeting in Hawai’i for the 20th Baptist World Congress of the Baptist World Alliance, and they’re having a wonderful, uplifting time.

The bad news is that about 1,000 more global Baptists are missing the meeting because the U.S. wouldn’t let them in, denying visa applications right and left, usually with no explanation. Countries in Africa and Asia were most affected: the entire delegation of 87 Angolan Baptists was denied entry, according to Emmett Dunn, BWA’s conference director. A reported 40 percent of the 246 Nigerian Baptists who hoped to attend were likewise turned away. Just two of 27 registrants from Sierra Leone were allowed in the country, and less than a quarter of the more than 100 who wanted to attend from Bangladesh were granted visas. Other hard-hit countries included India, Liberia, and Ghana. My friend Eddie Enim (right) made it, but many of his compatriots did not. The two members of a men’s choir from Nagaland (below) got in, but many others from India met only closed doors.

Has America’s emphasis on “homeland security” made us so paranoid that we fear some terrorist may have infiltrated a bunch of Baptists? Or do we fear that Baptists from poor countries might want to stay as undocumented aliens and not return to the homes and churches from whence they would have come?

I can understand why the government might want to deny entry to a few folks whom they might think could pose a threat, but the wholesale denials affecting this year’s Congress are truly disturbing. As Denton Lotz was receiving the BWA’s quinquennial human rights award, he said we should protest such treatment of our Baptist brothers and sisters, and he’s right.

If this keeps up, we’ll soon have to change the lyrics of “America the Beautiful” to admit that we may still be “the land of the free,” but are now “the home of the insecure.”

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