Showing posts with label Turn Back the Battle. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Turn Back the Battle. Show all posts

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Religious Freedom and Realpolitik


By Elizabeth Kendal

On 22 May 2013, the Washington Post published a piece by Lauren Markeo, entitled: ANALYSIS: Does religious freedom report need more 'teeth'?

The title is drawn from the words of Knox Thames, the director of policy and research at the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), who laments that the State Department's International Religious Freedom Report 2012 -- released by Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday 20 May 2013 -- does not include an updated list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs). The USCIRF insists that the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Act that mandates the State Department Report also requires new designations of CPCs annually.

As Thames explained to Markoe, for years the annual report and the CPC designations were simultaneous, but that changed late in the Bush administration and has been continued under Obama. And according to Thames, the list of CPCs "is what gave all of this teeth" . . . for the list prompts "countries to do things they don't normally want to do".

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, REALPOLITIK AND DENIAL

On the contrary, the CPC list did not give the US IRF Act its "teeth"; US economic leverage gave the Act its teeth. The CPC list was only effective because aid could be extended or sanctions applied on the grounds of the religious liberty findings. As long as the US had political will and economic leverage, dictators had economic incentive to reign in their most hostile and belligerent elements and pursue at least a modicum of reform.

As I maintain in the introduction to my book, Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Dec 2012), the US IRF Act "only had teeth as long as the US had economic leverage. Thus the financial collapse of 2008 seriously undermined its power." 

The reality is, persecution escalated dramatically immediately after the financial crisis: "It was as if the veil of protection that US economic . . . leverage had provided was stripped away in a moment, leaving minority Christians exposed and vulnerable before a rising tide of militant religious nationalism, intolerant Islamic fundamentalism and brutal, atheistic totalitarianism."

Compounding the crisis, US financial collapse converged not only with the rise of China -- and who needs US aid when China gives aid without strings attached? -- but also with the decline of US political and military influence in the Middle East.

That the US IRF Act has indeed lost its "teeth" (economic leverage) is a fact about which most persecuted believers and religious liberty advocates are actually in profound denial.

CASE STUDY: VIETNAM

Thames offers Vietnam as an example of how the CPC designations "work", noting that reforms, pressed by US diplomats, resulted in Vietnam's delisting in 2006.

But that was then -- before the financial crisis -- this is now!

Furthermore, Vietnam never really reformed -- it just did what it had to do in order to get from the US what it wanted to get. Behind the dressed-up facade, Vietnam remained a repressive, Communist regime.

As Human Rights Watch reported in October 2009: "In 2006, the State Department removed Vietnam from the [CPC] list, citing the release of religious prisoners and less-restrictive legislation governing religion. Two months later, the US granted Vietnam permanent normal trade status, which led to Vietnam's membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO)."
See, Vietnam: Sharp backsliding in religious freedom
HRW, 10 Oct 2009

But soon as Vietnam joined the WTO in January 2007, repression and persecution returned. In March 2007 I wrote of a watershed moment. "Through a wave of harassments, arrests and criminal charges against human rights and democracy advocates engaged in peaceful and perfectly legal activities, Vietnam is openly showing its hand and waiting to see if anyone will challenge, or if everyone will fold."
See: Vietnam's crackdown creates watershed
By Elizabeth Kendal, 20 March 2007

In the US, the usual voices spoke out against the persecution -- US Congressmen Chris Smith, Frank Wolf, Ed Royce, Dana Rohrabacher and others -- warning Vietnam that it risked being returned to the CPC list; but to no avail. By September 2008, Vietnam was right back to its old ways: breaking promises and using state violence to crack down hard on Hanoi's Catholics as they followed the courageous Archbishop Kiet into the streets, week after week, in one of the most courageous and phenomenal prayer movements I have ever seen.  
See: Vietnam: Govt belligerence escalates against Hanoi Catholics.
By Elizabeth Kendal, 26 September 2008

Persecution in Vietnam's Central Highlands also skyrocketed. The HRW report -- Montagnard Christians in Vietnam: a case study in religious repression (March 2011) -- reveals a campaign of widespread systematic harassment, violence and public shaming through which many hundreds, if not thousands, of Protestant families have been forced to recant their faith.

The reality is, since late 2008, persecution with impunity has become the order of the day -- not just in Vietnam, but worldwide. The US can't prevent it and the persecutors know it!

Today's world is a world of realpolitik, where economic and geo-strategic concerns trump inconvenient human rights abuses -- especially the persecution of Christians -- every day.

END DENIAL AND STEP OUT IN FAITH

It goes against the grain of human pride to admit that we are helpless and powerlessness. It is also very frightening. But I would maintain that this is exactly what we must do if we are to lay hold of what God has promised.

When the Assyrian Rabshakeh and his "great army" arrived at the gates of Jerusalem in 701 BC, the Assyrians had already crushed everything and everyone in whom King Hezekiah had hoped: Babylon (the great city), Tyre and Sidon (the great economic powers), Hezekiah's Western Alliance (collective security) and military aid from Egypt (Judah's ally in the south). With the Assyrians "at the gate", the conquest of Jerusalem was imminent and inevitable . . . until Hezekiah returned to the way of faith, and prayed (Isaiah 36-37). And Isaiah makes it perfectly clear that this is not mere history, this is type with universal application.

Religious liberty advocates would do well to take Isaiah as their role model. In the midst of an existential political and military crisis, Isaiah obeyed the Lord and approached the king -- first Ahaz, then Hezekiah. A prophetic voice -- as distinct from a negotiator or union representative -- Isaiah spoke truth to power without ever putting his faith in that power or in his diplomacy or the political process or military might or collective security or economic leverage. On the contrary, his faith was always in the Lord alone.

The world has changed and US influence and leverage is not what it used to be. Yet I believe this may yet prove to be providential. Without its "teeth" (economic leverage) the US IRF Act may be released to just equip us with truth uncontaminated by political considerations -- truth that is absolutely essential if we are to "fight" effectively (Ephesians 6:14) and turn back the battle. Meanwhile, after more than a decade of looking to the US for help, the Church might finally return to the way of faith and look once more to the one who really does rule this world: the faithful, Yahweh Sabaoth, the Lord of hosts. "Blessed are those who wait for him." (Isaiah 30:18)

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Elizabeth Kendal is the Director of Advocacy at Christian Faith and Freedom (Canberra), and the author of Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Dec 2012)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Announcing: Turn Back the Battle

Elizabeth Kendal's book, Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah speaks to Christians today, is now available on Amazon.

Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today
By Elizabeth Kendal (Deror Books, Dec 2012)

A website by the same name, Turn Back the Battle, will be up and running shortly.

A Kindle version of the book should be available by the end of the month.

There will be an Australian launch early next year, from which point the book will also be available through Australian Christian booksellers such as Koorong Books, United Christian Broadcasters (UCB) and others.

This book is an offering to the Lord. Please pray that God will take it and use it for the benefit of his Church and the glory of his name.

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The product of nearly four years' labour, Turn Back the Battle arises out of Elizabeth Kendal's passionate interest in and growing concern for how persecuted Christians and their advocates respond to suffering, persecution and existential threat. The book is informed by Elizabeth's nearly15 years of service in the cause of international religious liberty and the persecuted Church.

In Turn Back the Battle, Kendal brings Isaiah 1 - 39 to life and applies it to the 21st Century Church. She juxtaposes Judah's situation in the latter part of the 8th Century BC with our own. For like our own times, the times in which Isaiah lived were times of immense regional volatility, soaring geo-political tensions and gross insecurity. Twice, Judah was invaded by hostile forces threatening occupation and regime change, death and captivity. Indeed it is the politically and militarily-charged context that makes Isaiah's call to trust the Lord so profoundly radical, incredibly challenging and hard to swallow.

But in Isaiah 7 - 39, God gives us not only theory, but precedent. For not only does he commission a prophet to instruct God's people on how they should respond to insecurity and existential threat, he provides a typological drama that illustrates the word and proves the point that God is alive and active in history. Through the historic narrative, which commences in 735 BC with the faithless King Ahaz and the Syro-Ephraimite war and concludes with King Hezekiah and the Assyrian invasion of 701 BC, God illustrates, consolidates and demonstrates everything Isaiah says through his advocacy and his oracles.  

Each chapter concludes with a page of questions for personal contemplation or group discussion, as well as a carefully crafted prayer that applies the key lessons of the chapter.

A few selected quotes from the book:

In these darkening days of escalating persecution and insecurity, the church would do well to remember that real prayer is not only a critical and strategic element of the spiritual battle, real prayer is the highest form of advocacy and God’s ordained means of unleashing the forces of heaven. (From chapter 5)

When Isaiah approached the political powers in Jerusalem, he always did so as Yahweh’s ambassador, as Yahweh’s prophet, and never in the manner of a union representative. Isaiah presented Jerusalem’s political powerbrokers with the clear and simple word of God. He invested no faith in kings or political players per se. Neither did he invest faith in the power of weapons or funds or influence or projects that these political powerbrokers had at their disposal. His faith was in the Lord alone. (From chapter 8)

Christians have a freedom the world can only dream of. Because our God is the living, loving, sovereign, saving and eternally faithful God, the Christian is never condemned to fate. Jerusalem was doomed before Hezekiah prayed. But Hezekiah’s prayer changed everything. Hezekiah’s prayer marks the moment the crown of the Lord of Hosts was put on and the battle was turned back at the gate (28:6). (From chapter 11)

Selected quotes from selected endorsements:

In 'Turn Back the Battle' Isaiah's message comes through loud and clear. . . The lesson to be drawn for Christian work is not to rely on compromised human institutions to bring justice and freedom to a beleaguered humanity but to rely on God alone.
– Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester and Director of the Oxford Centre for Training, Research, Advocacy and Dialogue

. . . Elizabeth Kendal puts the current awful outpouring of violence, aggression and terrorism against the Body of Christ in its biblical context. She shines the light of God's Word onto the pain, the anguish and the disdain that God's people suffer. This book will reinforce your confidence in God's commitment to liberate his people. It explains why we need to focus on him in our darkest hour . . .
– Timothy O. Olonade, Executive Secretary and CEO, Nigeria Evangelical Missions Association

'Turn Back the Battle' is a timely antidote against the belief that more activism . . . can substantially change the situation of persecuted Christians. Elizabeth Kendal's very readable book applies the message of Isaiah to believers today, to show that our faith must be in God alone, and our focus on obeying him before anything else. . .
– Jos M. Strengholt, Anglican priest in Cairo, Egypt

In this superbly written book, Elizabeth Kendal shows how the wisdom of the prophet Isaiah can equip today's Christians. It serves as a wake-up call for believers tempted by the attractions of an increasingly God-less world, and Christians living under oppression will draw great inspiration from it.
– Peter Riddell, Vice-Principal (Academic), and Dean of the Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths, Melbourne School of Theology

'Turn Back the Battle' is an outstandingly insightful book which exposes global threats to Christian faith, religious liberty and human rights. As the foundation of our civilisation is shaken, and the Church faces life-endangering challenges from within and without, it calls us to ask ourselves in what and in whom do we trust. It proclaims that our ultimate security rests in Christ alone. It invites readers to a radical faith in God. The message of this passionate and prophetically astute book should be heeded by all Christ's faithful witnesses in this the 21st Century.
– Albrecht Hauser, Mission Secretary and Canon of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church in W├╝rttemberg and a Trustee of the Barnabas Fund

Table of Contents:

     Introduction: You will have tribulation        
     John 16:33
1   Who will we trust?            
     Isaiah 2:1–4:6
2   Stand or stumble, the choice is yours         
     Isaiah 7:1–13
3   A paradigm for threatened Christians        
     Isaiah 8:5–17
4   Inquire of the Lord of Hosts                        
     Isaiah 9:13                
5   Forgetting God                                             
     Isaiah 17:1–11 & 28:1–6   
6  Yesterday’s faith is not sufficient for today 
     Isaiah 22:8–11 & 38-39
7   Christian security: not in ‘Man’                    
     Isaiah 22:15–25
8   Christian security: not in the ‘City of Man’    
     Isaiah 24—27
9   Christian security: not in a ‘covenant with death’  
     Isaiah 28:9–22
10 Christian security: not in practical atheism      
     Isaiah 30—31
11 ‘In whom do you now trust?’                    
     Isaiah 36—37
12 Choose this day …                               
     Isaiah 34—35
     Bibliography & Abbreviations