Showing posts with label realpolitik. Show all posts
Showing posts with label realpolitik. Show all posts

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Religious Freedom in an age of Realpolitik.

The following address, entitled Religious Freedom in an Age of Realpolitik, was delivered on Saturday 25 October 2014, to the annual conference of the Australian Christian Lobby.

It is Australian Christian Lobby's vision "to see Christian principles and ethics accepted and influencing the way we are governed, do business and relate to each other as a community. 

"ACL aims to foster a more compassionate, just and moral society by seeking to have the positive public contributions of the Christian faith reflected in the political life of the nation."

Entitled Speak Up, this year's annual conference had a specific focus on religious liberty.  

Religious Freedom in an Age of Realpolitik

It seems to me that the topic of persecution is one of the most unpopular topics in the Church today.

One reason why the topic of persecution is so unpopular and so difficult for many Western churches and Western Christians, is because the Western church is immersed in a media-obsessed culture – in which character has become less important that personality (persona) the image that is presented. The image most prized by our culture seems to be that of person who is always chirpy, bubbly and carefree to the point of being care-less.  It doesn’t even matter that it’s all completely fake. It is imperative that the Church rise above this. 

Another reason why the topic of persecution is so unpopular is because the Western church has become enamoured with ‘celebratory worship’ – a style of worship that, while being wonderfully joyful, has no place for indignation or lament. It essential mandates that everyone who enters the auditorium, must have an upbeat experience (theoretically that will keep them in the faith, and keep them coming back).

Another reason why the topic of persecution is so unpopular is because the Western church is clinging to an easy, triumphalist Christianity. There are far too many false teachers chirping, “‘peace peace’ when there is no peace” and promising believers, “Jesus would never let anything bad happen to you”. Churches that teach, preach and sing that message – cannot handle the topic of persecution; for it sets up an intellectual conflict.

The Bible, however, is absolutely riddled with material on persecution. “Why do they righteous suffer?” is the eternal cry.  The “valiant man” of Lamentations 3 (possibly the prophet Jeremiah himself) had been taken captive by the enemy who forced him into slave labour, broke his teeth and abused him until he cowered in the dust . . .

Look at the suffering of Christ in the gospels and of the Apostles in the book of Acts. All of the Apostles were eventually martyred -- except for John, who was exiled to a prison island for life. Indeed, history is replete with waves of persecution. Jesus warned us that persecution would come and he calls his followers to take up their cross. YET still, persecution is a no-go area in many churches. 

But to be silent about persecution is to live in denial – in unreality. For the reality is, things are not good. In fact the situation facing most Christians today is intolerable, totally unacceptable – truly lamentable.

I believe the Western church’s failure / inability / refusal to confront the reality of persecution (and even suffering in general) is one of the reasons why Western churches are shrinking. If we can’t face reality – then we are irrelevant – and certainly not helpful! 

It is imperative that the Church END DENIAL: things are not fine. 

Then there is the problem that the Church doesn't think it needs to bother with this topic. In fact the Church has grown accustomed to the idea that the world will save the Church. 
We reason:  
  • If we can just inform the UN, then the UN will save the persecuted church.
  • If we can just get an audience with the Pres of the US – then Captain America will save the persecuted church.
  • If we can inform the world’s Human Rights NGOs and get reports into the media etc etc, then the goodness of humanity will take over and they – good people – (i.e. someone else) will save the persecuted church.

When the Cold War ended with Christian America as the world’s sole superpower, many Christians – especially Protestants / evangelicals truly believed that God was in the process of transforming the world through the military and economic might and political leadership of the US. 

In November 1998, when the US congress passed the International Religious Freedom (IRF) Act, which tied US foreign policy to international religious freedom, mandating sanctions for states / regimes deemed to be severe persecutors / or violators of religious freedom -- Christians were more convinced than ever that God was in the process of transforming the world through politics, as distinct from through transforming power of the Gospel. 

For a decade, the US IRF Act did provide many vulnerable minority Christians with a veil of cover/protection as it gave dictators a reason to reign in hostile elements and to enact reforms and pursue at least a modicum of justice for the sake of US aid and trade.

Well those days are now well and truly over. The power of the IRF ACT was US economic leverage – when the US housing bubble burst – in Aug-Sept 2008, the financial crisis ripped the teeth right out of the Act. Persecution escalated immediately.
Christian woman, Pakistan, March 2013.

We have reached a confluence of trends: the phenomenal growth of Christianity in the non-West has converged with the radicalisation of Muslims; the coming of age of religious nationalism; the ascendancy of Communist-ruled China and the ascendancy of Shi’ite theocracy-ruled Iran -- and now we are witnessing the loss of Western influence (which is itself a symptom of the decline of Western civilisation, a consequence of Culture Change).

To summarise: we have more believers – living in increasingly hostile environments – and the West is powerless to help them. 

So, after a momentary historical anomaly – the Church must face the reality that we have to live with realpolitik = i.e. politics based on power and “interests” rather than ideals. 

Realpolitik is the reason why no one can stop China returning to its old ways of bulldozing churches, incarcerating pastors and torturing high profile dissidents.

Realpolitik is the reason why no one can stop Iran abusing, incarcerating, torturing and executing political and religious dissidents. The reality today is that the US needs Iran more than Iran needs the US! 

Realpolitik is the reason why no can stop Vietnam and Laos forcing Highland Christians to renounce their Christianity.

Realpolitik is the reason why no one can get the Pakistani government to pursue justice for Pakistani Christians who have lost everything on account of Muslim pogroms.

Realpolitik is the reason why no one can get the Egyptian regime to guarantee security for Coptic communities in Upper Egypt.

Realpolitik is the reason why religious freedom is on the decline in BJP-ruled India.

Realpolitik is the reason why Western governments are reluctant to speak of the Burmese regime’s military abuses against the Christian Kachin. We wouldn’t want anything to get in the way of our ability to exploit Burma’s resources, markets – and we especially wouldn’t want Burma drifting back into China’s sphere of influence.

Realpolitik is the reason why no one can stop the Government of Sudan's genocidal jihad against the predominantly Christian Africans of Nuba Mountains! We are powerless!

Realpolitik is the reason why Western governments can’t or won't stop torture and tyranny in Papua. We wouldn’t want to scuttle an arms deal, or cause geo-strategic Indonesia to shift into China’s sphere of influence.

I could go on like this all day . . . . 

Of course Western governments do raise these issues -- as they should -- in Human Rights dialogues and in diplomatic meetings. But the truth is, it is more for domestic consumption and a deep sense of moral duty than from any expectation that the situation can be changed with “mere words”. 

In 701 BC – as the Army of super-power Assyria advanced across Judah, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, boasted that he had Hezekiah, king of Judah “holed up in Jerusalem like a bird in a cage”.  When the Assyrian Rabshakeh asked Hezekiah, “Do you think mere words are a strategy and power for war?” (Isaiah 36:5) he was saying, "Get real, Hezekiah. This is what realpolitik looks like. I will crush you because I can. There is no-one coming to save you. There is one who can stop me. So face reality and surrender." 
Iranian regime

And today, in Iran, China, Saudi Arabia, Nth Korea and so many more – regimes are saying: "We will treat Christians however we like. There is no-one coming to their rescue. There is no-one who can stop us. So get over it; for this is how it is going to be from now on and you can’t do a damn thing about it."

And they are right. We can’t. 

Makes you feel sort of hopeless doesn’t it? 

Good! For that is exactly where we need to be; for . . . it has never been God’s plan that the world should save the church. God saves his people by grace through faith -- that is not just God’s paradigm for personal salvation, it is God’s paradigm for everything.

In the latter part of the 8th C BC when God’s people were imminently imperilled, God said “Trust me and I will save you.” But they wouldn’t do it. “We’ve out-grown faith” they said (Isaiah 28) “faith is for children. We do politics now.” And they put their trust in all the things we put our trust in today: diplomacy; military might (Egypt); collective security, grand alliances, spiritually rebellious projects of self-sufficiency and in the cultural and economic power of great cities. And it all failed – and the enemy flooded Immanuel’s land right up to its neck, just as Isaiah said it would (Isaiah 8).

It was hopeless – the battle was at the gate and the fall of Jerusalem was imminent and inevitable – until Hezekiah remembered that there is another option, that there is another player. In humble repentance and faith, Hezekiah appealed to the Lord and the battle was turned back by grace in response to faith. 

[That is the message of Isaiah 7-39 – and of my book, Turn Back the Battle, which presents a Biblical response to suffering, persecution and threat by applying the lessons/teachings of Isaiah to our present situation.]

Indian Christians protesting violent persecution.
The world will not and cannot save the persecuted church. 

Neither can the church of herself, operating in her own strength, save the persecuted church.

Does it sound like I am advocating abandoning works / abandoning advocacy? Well I am not! I’d be a pretty poor Director of Advocacy if I was to do that! [Elizabeth Kendal is the Director of Advocacy at the Canberra based, Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF).]

The issue is who or what do we trust

We demonstrate our trust in the Lord through obedience to his word. 

So we must seek the Lord’s will and DO it – trusting him for the outcome. 

Fortunately, so much of God’s will is clearly revealed, for example:
  • Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, defend the rights of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:8-9)
  • Bear one another’s burdens . . . (Galatians 6:2)
  • Remember those in prison as if you yourself were imprisoned with them. (Hebrews 13:3)
  • Give generously – sacrificially (Deut 15:10 and 2 Sam 24:2) – not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing (Matt 6:3). 

But though we work – we do not put our faith in our works.

The prophet Isaiah can be our role model in this. For in obedience to the Lord’s command, Isaiah lobbied the king – first Ahaz (735 BC) and then Hezekiah. But he never put his faith in those kings, or in his diplomacy, or in the political or diplomatic process. He always only ever rested his faith in the Lord.  

Everything we do is useless – unless the Lord blesses it.
Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain. (Psalm 127:1)

And so prayer must be integral to every stage of everything. 

The world has changed – and so must we (the Church) – we need to change gears.

We need to face the reality of persecution and engage with the persecuted through provision of aid (giving generously, sharing the burden), involvement in advocacy (speaking up) and the serious business of intercessory prayer (advocacy in the courts of the Lord). 

We must welcome indignation and lament into our worship, which will give our worship a depth and breadth that I can assure you, will go a long way to making worship more relevant to the human experience.

While this persecution is unprecedented in our lifetime, it is not unprecedented. Waves of persecution have been breaking over the church ever since its inception. What is unprecedented today is the global nature of the persecution.
Christian IDPs in Arbil (Iraq)

But equally as unprecedented is the global connectedness of the church, such that the Church in Australia can learn of a great need on the other side of the world – in real time – and respond immediately – for the saving of many lives. 

Christian IDPs in Dohuk (Iraq)

All proceeds from the sale of books today [25 Oct] will be going to Christian Faith and Freedom's fund for Christian IDPs in Dohok in the far Nth of Iraq. While many are holed up in church halls and monasteries and schools – being cared for by local churches – others are in camps. These Christians fled Nineveh at the height of summer, so in shorts and T-shirts.  Winter looms – the rains have already set in; soon it will be snowing. 

Otherwise - Books are available on my website – and if you want to donate to the CFF fund for Christians in Dohuk [or Syria, or the Nuba Mts, or Burma . . . ] but can’t do it now – then please take a CFF brochure or give through the CFF website.

Please stay, informed – sign on to my weekly emailed RLPB – and please, get your small group and your church involved. Please, remember the persecuted.
Thank you.

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".


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.


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.


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)


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)