Missionaries of Trade

A deceptive ad, using a misleading quote from the Dalai Lama, leads to a murky organization pushing a sketchy agenda.

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The Dalai Lama shilling for Apple may offend you, but at least His Holiness agreed to the ad. Not so with a recent ad run by the Alliance for Christian Ministries in China (ACMC). That ad, which ran in the June 9th Washington Post, asked, “What do Billy Graham and the Dalai Lama have in common?” Both, the ad said, believe that we need to maintain open trade with China in order to promote religious freedom there.

“But on one thing they publicly agree: isolating China undermines their shared goal of moving that nation towards freedom and democracy.”

That would be a curious stance for the Dalai Lama to take. After all, he is the exiled leader of a country that has been occupied by China for over 45 years. And he has repeatedly asked the international community to pressure China for more freedom in Tibet.

Well, the Dalai Lama hasn’t endorsed free trade with China, or the ad. In fact his representatives sent a letter to the ACMC complaining that the ACMC misrepresented the Dalai Lama’s views.

“A photo of His Holiness and a quote lifted from a May 11, 1998 New York Times article in which His Holiness speaks out against isolating China is used, without advisement, as an endorsement of a specific pro-trade political position.”

So who is the ACMC, and why are they endorsing free trade with China? Good question, but hard to answer. When the MoJo Wire called the number provided at the bottom of the ad, we didn’t get the Alliance for Christian Ministries in China. Instead we got the DeMoss Group Inc., a PR firm.

It turns out the ACMC is what might be termed a vapor organization. According to James Jewell, a spokesperson for the firm, “The alliance was just formed a couple of months ago, and doesn’t have a staff or an office per se.”

The DeMoss Group was happy to tell us that the ACMC is a coalition of twelve U.S.-based ministries that send missionaries over to China. (Since China doesn’t technically allow missionaries to practice there, they have to work in a profession and just “share their faith.”) When the MoJo Wire asked for the names of the participating ministries, the DeMoss Group would only release a partial list due to “security concerns in China.”

Why is an evangelical group, operated out of a PR firm or not, making free trade with China its most important issue? (So important, in fact, that the headline on its press release reads: “A nation open to trade is a nation open to ministry.”) According to Jewell, “Making sure China stays open to contact, especially trade, is very important to us. Because that’s how we get our people in.”

A valid point. But there could also be another explanation. The DeMoss Group is the PR firm for the Rev. Billy Graham, who in turn has been enlisted by U.S. business groups to help oppose proposed economic sanctions against countries that oppress religous minorities (see “So You Want to Trade With a Dictator,” Mother Jones May/June 1998)—an altogether different kind of mission.

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