Showing posts with label religious liberty. Show all posts
Showing posts with label religious liberty. 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".

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)

---------------------------------

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)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Economics and human rights. Incl. "How is it possible?" by Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang (June 2004)

Boko Haram, the al Qaeda-link terrorist organisation that is traumatising Nigeria, has always been open about its Islamic agenda. The US administration, however, believes it knows better than the terrorists why terrorism happens. Refusing to take Boko Haram at its word, the US administration of President Obama insists that the root cause of Boko Haram terror is not Islamic fundamentalist political ideology, but frustration and grievance over poor living standards. The prescribed remedy, therefore, is socio-economic development.

See: U.S. State Department fails to designate Boko Haram as FTO
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 21 July 2012

Surely the hypothesis that improved living standards lead ipso facto to improved security and human rights has been tested long enough and proved false. Surely such thinking is both naive and a denial of reality.

As a supplement to the above Nigeria posting, I am republishing a piece written in June 2004 by persecuted Vietnamese Mennonite pastor Reverend Nguyen Hong Quang.

The full text of that WEA RLC News & Analysis posting (missing from my blog due to oversight) is available here (ASSIST).  It includes a report on the 8 June 2004 arrest of the Reverend Nguyen Hong Quang, the General Secretary of the Vietnam Mennonite Church; and a translation of a letter dated 21 May 2004 from the leaders of the Vietnam Mennonite Church to the Mennonite World Conference detailing the severe and ongoing persecution in Dong Nai Province.

As noted in that posting, one Western diplomat, when presented with information describing the violent persecution in Dong Nai, responded in virtual disbelief with the question, "How is it possible that a province which is growing economically and which enjoys a lot of foreign investment, and whose standard of living is rising, is not also advancing human rights but is on the contrary is said to be persecuting Christians?"

The June 2004 WEA RLC News & Analysis posting also includes Rev Quang's response to that question. It is a response that is worth republishing today, for it strikes at the West's false yet intransigent belief that human rights are achieved through economic development and modernisation, rather than by challenging the way people think / what people believe.

--------------------------------------------------
HOW IS IT POSSIBLE?
By the Reverend Nguyen Hong Quang
(June 2004, full text)

"How is it possible?"  These are the words of a ranking foreign diplomat of a Western country when he heard the story of what happened in Dong Nai [in April-May 2004] and the various ways that Christians were oppressed.  This diplomat, who in many ways supports the bilateral relationship between our two countries and supports the development of Vietnam, was so sceptical that he blurted out, "How is it possible that a province which is growing economically and which enjoys a lot of foreign investment, and whose standard of living is rising, is not also advancing human rights but is on the contrary is said to be persecuting Christians?"

Confronted with such views and ideas from the diplomat, I was at once angry and sad.  I was angry because the people responsible for causing these events "live above the law" and have a low view of our citizens and of humanity in general in the 21st Century.  They do not value human beings, they violate the basic rights of people - the human rights that have been the desire of people for ages - and they have the power to deny the natural aspirations for freedom of the citizens of Vietnam.

I was sad because this country has heard too many politicians say we should serve the high calling of "freedom, democracy and independence", while hundreds of thousands of human beings have fallen in our homeland. At this time many suffer great hardships, even for simply trying to exercise the minimum right of "gathering to worship the Almighty" and are savagely beaten.  The world has been exploding with social aspirations and advanced technology. Huge changes are taking place all over, affecting many governments like a strong whirlwind, bringing some of them to an end.  The choice seems to be "develop, change and survive" or "disintegrate and fade away."

How is it possible?  Is it possible that the extreme confusion of the diplomat, when faced with the fact of this repression, is evidence that he does not want to admit such things happen?  His diplomatic work is to wholeheartedly foster relationships so that his country will understand and support Vietnam.  The diplomat seems to believe in the philosophy that says "Develop the economy and raise the standard of living, and the valuing of human rights and freedoms will inevitably follow."

He has his beliefs, and I have my belief that the Bible's teaching is accurate when it speaks on principles governing humanity. Matthew 6:33 "But seek first his kingdom, and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."

If a country honours and places a higher value on things spiritual (as the Kingdom of God, righteousness, etc.) than on material matter and economics, then that country will enjoy peace, stability and development.  Compare the countries that respect the Creator and respect human rights, with countries which denigrate the Creator and trample on human rights. You will see clearly that those which respect the Creator and honour human rights are blessed, and those which disdain the Creator and flaunt human rights seem to be cursed. The difference between South and North Korea is a stark example. The South has a large section of the population that worships the Creator and the country respects human rights, while the North completely puts down the Creator and tramples on human rights is in an incredibly desperate condition.  (The two Germanys formerly and the two Koreas today are clear and concrete examples.)

The Bible teaches in Genesis that in the beginning was God and that the world, the atmosphere, plants, animals, people and other things were created later. To raise the creation higher than the Creator is contrary to the Bible, as is putting material things ahead of the freedom to worship, to enjoy authentic human dignity and democracy and other human rights.

If an evil person is very rich but lives an openly debauched life, then the morality of all society will suffer and a dictator who has in his hands the means, the authority and the power, will use them to strangle freedom, democracy, and faith and morality.

The bankrupt policy of promoting economic development ahead of the values of freedom, democracy and human rights, though it seems to have the advantage in the beginning of winning outside favour, is contrary to the laws of the Creator and so how can it be supported? We have had nearly two decades of so-called "renovation", and a decade without the US embargo, but the situation of human rights and religious freedom for us Vietnamese has gone nowhere.  Ask the Christians in Dong Nai.

So the prioritizing of what "seems right to man"-- that is putting a priority on promoting economic development and ties -- has worked out precisely contrary to the hopes and desires of the diplomacy of countries which enjoy democracy.

Evangelists Ms. Pham Thi Kim Huong, Ms. Trinh Thi Kim Phuong, Mr. Nguyen Thanh Trung, and Mr. Dang Dang Khoa are servants of the Lord who had their house of worship smashed. Then were cuffed and dragged away in front of their flock and before the villagers by Dong Nai security police and government officials on May 2, 2004. They were treated as criminals and thrown into a stinking vehicle used to transport pigs.  The humiliation which the Mennonite pastors, evangelists in Dong Nai had to endure was a great disgrace, but they bravely endured with dignity.

How many times have the faithful been trampled on in Dong Nai? Only the perpetrators know, but nothing is hidden from God - not one of the evil acts in Dong Nai province.

As for the diplomat, he may continue to ask incredulously, "How is it possible?" in reference to our struggle for religious freedom, and the efforts of our government which has recently cranked up its positive announcements and propaganda efforts whilst in actual practice continues it's dirty deeds in Dong Nai. Dong Nai province has given the diplomat a clear answer with its unreasonable and steady harassment and persecution of the believers continuously from Easter until now.  And this is but one small example of a widespread reality.

As a citizen of Vietnam I have a question.  "How is it possible that the government machinery in Dong Nai Province is unaware that it has broken the law according to Article 129 of the Criminal Code of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam?"  Local officials continue to deny the right of assembly and the right to worship God, giving orders to suppress Christianity, as has just happened again.  How is it possible that government officials in Dong Nai continue to treat Christianity as an enemy and no one takes any action at all?

Respectfully,
Rev. Nguyen Hong Quang
(June 2004)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

USA: not immune from Western religious liberty trends

updated 1 July 2010

The principal religious liberty trend of the multicultural West is that religious liberty is disappearing as the traditionally Judeo-Christian culture's Biblical foundations are being excavated. The excavation is integral to the social engineering/renovation project underway aimed at producing a 'post-Christian' culture. Unfortunately, most Christians do not comprehend the implications of this phenomenal strategic shift, and likely will not until the new social order has been consolidated and direct persecution starts to impact them personally.

Christians in the West are losing the right to criticise non-Christian (minority) religions (particularly Islam) and witness to non-Christians (particularly Muslims). They are also losing the right to conscientiously object to new social norms being imposed upon them essentially at the behest of radical feminist and Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender (GLBT) lobby groups.

Just as in non-free states, Western law-makers and law-enforcers claim their interventions are necessary to maintain "peace/harmony" and/or defend "equality" against "intolerant extremist fundamentalisms" (i.e. any ideas contrary to the democratic consensus).

Rattled by the chaos and confusion of cultural collapse (inevitable when culture is robbed of its foundations), Western governments are increasingly resorting to external restraints (authoritarian repression). They are opting for "peace" through appeasement, rather than justice and defence of the constitution through education and rule of law.

To remove contradictions, laws are being amended and reinterpreted, and fundamental concepts are being redefined. Driven by fear of unrest, Western governments are increasingly proving themselves willing to secure "peace" and "harmony" at any cost -- even if the price is loss of liberty. As soon as it appears that intolerant forces might protest, riot or divert their collective vote elsewhere, weak and rudderless Western democracies yield and appease, repressing "divisive" or "provocative" elements at the behest of the most belligerent.

And in a "post-Christian" (as distinct from Judeo-Christian) culture, there is nothing as divisive and provocative as the gospel message and righteousness of Christianity.

USA: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM UNDER THREAT
(2 cases to watch)


NOT ALLOWED: WITNESSING TO MUSLIMS IN DEARBORN

For some 15 years now, the city of Dearborn, in Michigan, USA, has hosted an annual Arab International Festival. (Dearborn is around 30 percent Arab.) Christians (mostly Arab Christians) have been witnessing at the Arabfest for years without any troubles, although it has stirred tensions.

In 2009, on account of complaints, a group called 'Arabic Christian Perspective' (ACP) -- led by Californian Pastor George Saieg, an Arab from the Sudan -- agreed to be confined to a booth. The organisers however, greatly limited ACP's ministry by assigning it a booth at the furthest end of the festival.

Arabic Christian Perspective filed a lawsuit in a U.S. District Court in Detroit alleging its rights were violated when Dearborn police told the group its members would not be able to walk freely through the festival's four- to five-block area passing out Christian literature.

ACP's general counsel and Rob Muise of the Thomas More Law Center, believe the case "will shine a light on the grave injustice Christians have experienced in Dearborn. It asks whether Dearborn is a city of tolerant people and fair-minded public officials, or Dearbornistan, a center of dhimmitude where Christians are unwelcome."

Meanwhile, other groups that continued to witness freely at the Arabfest 2009 were harassed and expelled, despite going out of their way to avoid trouble.

See: Arab Festival 2009: Sharia in the US (Youtube)
Acts 17 Apologetics, 30 June 2010

Michigan Police Crack Down on Arab Christians
Opinion by FrontPage Magazine 5 July 2009


This year, on Thursday 17 June 2010, an appeals court overturned the lower court and ruled that George Saieg and the ACP does have the right to distribute Christian literature, but not inside the Arab Festival, only on the perimeter.

On the evening of 18 June, a team from Acts 17 Apologetics Ministries visited the Arabfest. Taking in no Christian literature, Dr. Nabeel Qureshi (the principal apologist) simply wore a t-shirt with the words "Jesus Always Loves You" and waited for curious Muslims to approach him.

Over a period of around 15 minutes, Nabeel had a couple of wonderful conversations before he and his companions -- Paul Rezkalla, David Wood and 18-yr old Afghan convert Miss Negeen Mayel, were arrested by and led away in handcuffs by Dearborn police to cheers and shouts of 'Allahu Akbar'! The four Christians were charged with breaching the peace and held overnight in Dearborn City Jail.

The Acts 17 Apologetics website contains reports, donated photographs, comments and video footage of: 1) the Friday 18 June incident (also on youtube); 2) an interview recorded after the Christians had been bailed from prison; and 3) a subsequent incident/arrest on Sunday 20 June, recorded outside the Arab Festival when police prohibited the distribution of English-Arabic gospels anywhere within a five block radius of the perimeter of the festival.

NOT ALLOWED: CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION FROM IMPOSED SOCIAL NORMS.

In 2004, the University of California's Hastings College of Law in San Francisco deregistered the campus group Christian Legal Society (CLS) after it was deemed to have violated the College's non-discrimination policy with regard to religion and sexual orientation.

For in 2004, CLS amended its bylaws to mandate that members (i.e. those with voting rights and leadership eligibility) must be able to sign a statement of faith and conduct. According to Hastings College, this provision violated the equality rights of practicing homosexuals and non-Christians.

CLS sued Hastings College on the grounds that their non-discrimination policy violated CLS' right to freedom speech and freedom of association, that is, the constitutionally guaranteed freedom to form around shared beliefs.

In April 2006, a federal district court ruled against CLS in favour of Hasting College.

In March 2009, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld that decision.

When the Supreme Court heard CLS' petition on 19 April 2010, the bench was split down the middle.

On the steps of the Supreme Court on Monday 19 April, CLS chapter President Ryan Elder said anyone is welcome to attend the group's meetings, but gays and lesbians, and those who practice or advocate sex outside of marriage, may not be voting members. "If our Christian group is led by people who don't believe in Christianity, then we cease to have a defining voice to express our core religious beliefs," Elder explained.

CLS was represented by Michael W. McConnell, who told the court: "If Hastings is correct, a student who does not even believe in the Bible is entitled to demand to lead a Christian Bible study." McConnell argued that CLS meetings are open to all, including gays. "What it objects to ... is being run by non-Christians," he said.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor worried whether allowing CLS to set its own rules would mean more discrimination against women and minorities.

Conservative justices noted the Hastings policy could lead to turmoil among student groups if people hostile to their purpose join with the predatory intent of disrupting or destroying them. Justice Antonin Scalia expressed concern that, "Under the school's rules, Republicans could join the campus Democratic club and vote themselves control, or otherwise undermine its mission. To require this Christian society to allow atheists not just to join, but to conduct Bible classes...that's crazy."

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg commented that Hastings, by its policy, is merely seeking more diversity within groups.

But as the Wall Street Journal noted, such a policy does not create more diversity, just more groups that that are essentially more the same. "The larger fact is the way that Hastings-style 'tolerance' and 'diversity' are actually making our campuses less tolerant and less diverse. If every college group must admit even those who are hostile to its mission and beliefs, the result is nonsense and conformity." Furthermore, "When a public university makes a decision, it's not simply a policy dispute. It's a public institution using your tax dollars to put a state imprimatur about who is and who is not fit for the public square."

A judgment is expected before the end of June. At stake is the freedom of all US student groups to choose leaders who share their beliefs.

See:
Christian Student Group Takes Case to U.S. Supreme Court
Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service, 15 April 2010

Law school attack on Christian group before Supreme Court today
By J.P Feire, Associate Commentary Editor, Washington Examiner, 19 April 2010

Court Weighs Rights of Campus Religious Groups
By Nina Totenberg, NPR news, 19 April 2010

Justices Joust Over Christian Group's Rights
Dispute Centers on Whether Student Club Can Receive State Funding After Excluding Members Due to Their Beliefs
By Jess Bravin, Wall Street Journal, 20 April 2010

Supreme Court sharply divided on Christian student group case
The Supreme Court heard arguments Monday in the case of a Christian student group that required members to denounce homosexuality. The court appeared split.
By Warren Richey, Staff writer, Christian Science Monitor, April 19, 2010

Supreme Court Hears Religious Students Case
By Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service, Huffington Post, 19 April 2010

Sameness and 'Diversity' on Campus
Wall Street Journal, 20 April 2010
Why a California dean would force a black group to admit white supremacists.

Christian Legal Society v. Martinez (UC Hastings) (CLS official site)

UPDATE:

US SUPREME COURT RULING SERIOUSLY WEAKENS FIRST AMENDMENT

On Monday 28 June, the US Supreme Court (SC) ruled 5-4 against the Christian Legal Society (CLS), upholding the right of Hastings College to withhold registration from groups that discriminate, saying this does not violate the First Amendment. The SC ruling means that public colleges may dictate anti-discrimination policies. Thus the colleges are permitted to deny Christian groups registration and access to funding on the grounds that they are discriminatory if they insist that their voting members and leaders be Christians who practise biblical morality. The SC ruling has seriously weakened the First Amendment.

A CLS claim will now be tested in a lower court that Hastings College has not enforced its policy in a non-discriminatory way, but has targeted CLS because of its politically incorrect views on homosexuality.

See:
Campus Christian groups loses appeal at Supreme Court
By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer, 28 June 2010

Court: Christian group can't bar gays, get funding
Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer, Monday, June 28, 2010

Christian Legal Society Loses in Supreme Court Case
Group must allow leaders who disagree with its statement of faith.
Ted Olsen and Trevor Persaud 28 June 2010

Supreme Court's CLS decision Sucker-Punches First Amendment
Huffington Post 28 June 2010

Family Research Council Opposes Supreme Court Decision in CLS v. Martinez
Statement from Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, 28 June 2010

'It is God's manner to make men . . . to see their miserable condition as they are in themselves, and to despair of help from themselves, or from an arm of flesh, before he appears for them. . .' (Great Awakening preacher, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). From a sermon on Hosea 5:15)
From Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin 061, USA: Religious Freedom Under Threat.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

PERSECUTION, whatever that is.

This post is written in the context of the debate concerning whether or not Christians are facing persecution in the UK.

-----------------------

On Easter Sunday, the BBC screened a programme by Nicky Campbell that probed the question of whether or not British Christians are being persecuted. While Campbell acknowledged that "Labour's anti-discrimination legislation has led to clashes between religious conscience and equality for homosexuals", he concluded: "So, are Christians being persecuted? No they're not being tortured or killed like Christians in Pakistan and the Sudan. But a minority believes they are being sidelined and victimised. By the standards of a liberal society that can feel like persecution."

See: BBC’s Nicky Campbell: Christians feel persecuted by human rights law and councils
By Martin Beckford, Telegraph, Religious Affairs Correspondent, 31 Mar 2010

Similarly, in his ecumenical Easter Letter to fellow church leaders, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, maintained that, unlike many other Christians around the world, Christians in the UK are not persecuted, and he called on the church to keep its fears in perspective. In his sights were advocates such as Lord Carey and Bishop Nazir-Ali, who have decried what they maintain is escalating marginalisation, discrimination and persecution of Christians in the UK. (See also UK versus "traditional Christian values".)

Ruth Gledhill, religion correspondent with Timesonline, entered the debate on 13 April, with a column and video interview in which she echoed Nicky Campbell and Rowan Williams, contending that is shameful to suggest that Christians in the UK are suffering persecution "on a par with" Christians in Jos, Nigeria (not that anyone ever suggested they were). Gledhill maintains that it is ridiculous and embarrassing to suggest that Christians in the UK are being discriminated against or persecuted for their faith.

See: It can only harm Christians to bleat about persecution
Ruth Gledhill, religion correspondent for The Times, 13 April 2010

However:

The Collins Concise Dictionary Fifth Australian Edition (2001) defines "persecute" as: "(1) to oppress, harass, or maltreat, especially because of race, religion etc. (2) to bother persistently."

Jesus warned his disciples that persecution would come, indeed, that it would be inevitable (John 15:18 - 16:33). Jesus explained: "If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you." (John 15:19-20a ESV) The Apostle Paul likewise reminded Timothy that "all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Timothy 3:12).

The line some want to draw in the sand to separate "us" (not persecuted) from "them" (persecuted) is both imaginary and unhelpful. We are one body, and Christians need to understand that persecution -- which is a complex and varied phenomenon -- is integral to their testimony. This is why Jesus advised his would-be-followers to first count the cost, because unless they were prepared to carry a cross, they may as well not bother even trying to follow him (Luke 14:25-35).

Generally, Christians in the West have had to endure only the mildest forms of persecution: marginalisation, mockery, rejection, maybe some bullying, maybe some discrimination etc. This is because Christians in the West have been protected from violent expressions of hatred not only by rule of law, but by a Judeo-Christian culture that extols religious liberty as a fundamental human right. However, as the culture evolves into "post-Christian" (read "non-Christian"), intolerance escalates, authoritarianism emerges, religious liberty fades, and persecution intensifies. (See Understanding Religious Liberty)

My biggest contention with Ruth Gledhill's statement is her assertion that persecuted Christians are "victims". The Collins Concise Dictionary Fifth Australian Edition (2001) defines "victim" as: "a person or thing that suffers harm". Obviously anyone who "suffers harm" on account of their faith is a victim of persecution. But this is not what Gledhill is talking about. By "victim" she clearly means "loser".

This of course is absolutely ridiculous. When hostility emerges, the loser is the one who compromises or abandons their faith in order to avoid hurt or humiliation. For example, Ruth Gledhill herself admits that she is reluctant to wear a cross because she does not want to be seen as a victim (i.e. one of those losers). According to the Bible, affliction and persecution are means by which God's people are "sifted" (Isaiah 30:28) or "winnowed" (Matthew 3:12). In which case, Ruth Gledhill herself appears to be amongst the "victims" (losers).

On the other hand, those who stand firm despite the cost can never be losers even if they do end up as victims of persecution. Rather, they are winners who did not yield and could not be bowed. Persecuted believers are those who, in the face of injustice, dictatorship and threats stand firm and say, "Over my dead body!"

To suffer persecution for righteousness sake is the ultimate form of cultural criticism. Persecuted believers are protesters who refuse to act against their conscience despite the risks. In suffering the consequences they embody the shame and disgrace of society.

That a supposedly civilised society would persecute peaceful, law-abiding, benevolent citizens simply on account of their faith is shocking and unacceptable -- so shocking and unacceptable in fact, that virtually every state that does it denies it. To cover up what is really happening these states enshrine religious freedom in their constitutions and then enact laws that devout believers simply cannot in good conscience abide, while denying them the right to conscientiously object. For example, no-one is imprisoned for their faith in China! The Christians in China's laogai (gulag/network of nearly 1000 state-owned slave-labour prison camps) are all law-breakers, incarcerated for exercising their faith in a manner deemed unacceptable by the State.

I believe that this is actually the crux of Campbell's, Williams' and Glendhill's complaint with the likes of Lord Carey, Bishop Nazir-Ali and others who are testifying against the escalating hostility in British society. I believe they are desperate to deny that Christians are being persecuted because they cannot tolerate the thought that the UK might be evolving (or regressing) into a place where persecution of the righteous is becoming systematic.

But sometimes it takes the cutting down of the righteous to shock a people out their nonchalance so that they cry out in horror: "What have we become? To what depths have we sunk?" All through the Muslim world, there are Muslims questioning and leaving Islam because they have been shocked out of their nonchalance by Islam's violent persecution of peaceful, righteous Christian believers. As persecution escalates in the UK it will be the same. God is doing something new in the UK.

And with that in mind I would like to close with the very commendable words of Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, who, in the same letter quoted above also said: "We who live in more comfortable environments need to bear two things in mind. One is that fellow-Christians under pressure, living daily with threats and murders, need our prayers and tangible support [. . .] But the second point to remember is that we need to keep our own fears in perspective. It is all too easy, even in comfortable and relatively peaceful societies, for us to become consumed with anxiety about the future of Church and society. We need to witness boldly and clearly but not with anger and fear; we need to show that we believe what we say about the Lordship of the Risen Christ and his faithfulness to the world he came to redeem."

I say AMEN to that! And I know Lord Carey and Bishop Nazir-Ali would too.

And when it comes to showing what we believe about the Lordship of the Risen Christ, I advocate that the Church stop wasting time appealing to "Pharaoh" (Exodus 5:15) and instead, look to the Lord, our crowing glory, for the "strength to turn back the battle at the gate" (Isaiah 28:5-6).

by Elizabeth Kendal

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Understanding Religious Liberty

Most Westerners simply don't appreciate the degree to which their freedoms are intrinsically linked to Judeo-Christian culture. Nor do they appreciate the degree to which that culture is dependent upon a Biblical foundation. Consider this as an illustration: Judeo-Christian culture is a tree that grows out of Biblical soil and religious freedom is a fruit of that tree.

Throughout history, whenever a Judeo-Christian community has stopped attending to its Biblical foundation, the culture has declined and its fruits have failed. The only way to restore the fruits is to revive the culture. And the only way to revive the culture is to attend to the foundations.

Religious freedom was integral to the Protestant Reformation (1517). The Reformation not only advanced Biblical truth but the right of individuals to read it in their own language (championed in London by John Wycliffe as early as 1377) and exercise it without persecution. Britain and America's historic human rights advocacy and missionary endeavours have been the fruits of a dynamic post-Reformation Protestant culture that promoted and drew on the Bible.

Rip the foundations away, however, and the tree and its fruit go with it. Even if the foundations are slowly and subversively eroded, the tree eventually withers and dies as its roots cannot provide sustenance or stability. And everyone knows that a transplanted tree will not successfully take root, grow and fruit unless the soil is good in the first place. Furthermore, the post-Reformation Protestant culture of Christian liberty is so dynamic that unless that soil is right and good it will not be able to sustain or support it. Even when the soil is right and good, if the roots are withered through neglect and drought, renewal of the plant through the restoration of its root system will only be possible through considerable struggle and long-term diligent care.

This is the situation facing the UK, northern Europe, and to a lesser extent the USA. Foundations long neglected are being both subversively eroded and openly demolished, for Western political elites determined some time ago (undemocratically) that evolution mandates a transition to a 'post-Christian' culture. Therefore renovations are in order.

However, it is coming as a shock to many to learn that 'fruits' long taken for granted -- such as religious liberty, benevolence, restraint and 'manners' -- are withering and disappearing before their very eyes. It is also coming as a shock to many in the demolition crew that they do not have control of the situation. For before they even get a chance to build their utopia, other builders with stakes in the game are moving in as soon as a space opens up. And these new builders (some very dangerous) are winning hearts and minds amongst Europe's identity-challenged youth.

'Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die.' (Revelation 3:2a ESV)

Only through the LORD can the Church have the strength to "turn back the battle at the gate" (Isaiah 28:6b) .

----------------

This article is an edited excerpt from the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin 051 entitled UK: UNDERSTANDING RELIGIOUS LIBERTY (14 April 2010)

Friday, April 4, 2008

Apostasy, and the baptism of Madgi Allam

Date: Friday 4 April 2008
Subj: Religious Liberty: the pivotal issue in these pivotal days.
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal


RELIGIOUS LIBERTY: THE PIVOTAL ISSUE IN THESE PIVOTAL DAYS
-- Apostasy, and the baptism of Madgi Allam


Historically the outcome of pivotal moments in Christian-Muslim relations have been determined by military might: the Arab Muslim conquest of the Byzantine Jerusalem (AD 638); the Arab Muslim conquest of Byzantine Heliopolis, Egypt (AD 640); the Ottoman Muslim conquest of Byzantine Serbian Kosovo (1389); the Ottoman Muslim capture of the capital of Byzantium, Constantinople (1453); the European victory over the Ottomans in the Battle of Vienna (1683); the Serb reconquest of Kosovo (1913); the Allied victory over the Ottomans in WW1 (1919); the Allied victory over the Muslim-Nazi Alliance in WW2 (1945); the NATO-enabled Muslim re-reconquest of Kosovo (1998-2008) . These battles and many others like them demonstrated who was ascendant and determined who was in control.

For several decades now the West has been advancing global openness through its revolution in communication and information technologies. But openness poses an existential threat to repressive dictatorships, corrupt systems and false religions. Now, in a fight for their survival, repressive dictatorships, corrupt systems and false religions are seeking to protect themselves by rolling back liberties and erecting bulwarks: repressing information and punishing dissent.

Because Islam is a global as distinct from a local phenomenon, the apostaphobic dictators of Islam are of necessity forced to pursue not only a revival of repressive, punitive Sharia in Muslim countries, but the extension of Sharia beyond the Muslim world and into the international arena through the Islamisation of human rights and laws. To this end, they use the threat of "uncontrollable" Islamic violence as leverage. (See LINK 1)

Today we are again at a pivotal moment in Christian-Muslim and Western-Muslim relations. However this time the outcome is not going to be determined by military might, but on the strength of moral and ideological convictions. Unfortunately, that is exactly why the West is in danger, for while Islam is weak militarily it is strong on conviction, the West is strong militarily but weak on conviction. The West will either buckle, surrender and submit, handing Islam the ascendancy, or it will brace itself and stand firm for what it believes (if in fact it can remember what that is).

By his very public Easter baptism of the high profile Egypt-born Italian journalist and Muslim convert to Catholicism, Magdi Allam, Pope Benedict has made a decisive and very courageous statement in defence of religious liberty, specifically a Muslim's right to convert.

Meanwhile back in Egypt, as the Great Apostasy Debate heats up, the Supreme Constitutional Court has been asked to rule on whether civil laws permitting religious freedom violate Article 2 of the Constitution which specifies that Islam is the religion of the State, and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence (Sharia). See report by Compass Direct:
"Egypt: Ex-Muslims Blocked from Declaring Conversion", 26 March 2008.

THE BAPTISM OF MAGDI ALLAM

 Magdi Allam is the deputy director of the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera. As a professing but nominal Muslim, Allam wrote many pieces that were critical of Islam and supportive of Israel. Because of this, Allam has received death threats and had fatwas issued against him, requiring him to live under police protection for the past five years.

The terrorism he has witnessed and the persecution he has suffered drove him to re-examine Islam and to reassess Christianity, especially after Pope Benedict's September 2006 address at Regensburg, which highlighted the unreasonableness of violence in religion.

Magdi Allam testifies: "Thus, I finally saw the light, by divine grace -- the healthy fruit of a long, matured gestation, lived in suffering and joy, together with intimate reflection and conscious and manifest expression . . . The miracle of Christ's resurrection reverberated through my soul, liberating it from the darkness . . . " (For Magdi Allam's testimony, see LINK 2)

Magdi Allam was baptised by Pope Benedict XVI in St Peter's on Easter Saturday during the Easter vigil. (LINK 3)

For PICTURES (with Italian text):
La conversione di Magdi Allam fa il giro del mondo.
23 Marzo 2008

Numerous Islamic scholars immediately condemned the event. Aref Ali Nayed, director of the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Jordan, criticised what he called "the Vatican's deliberate and provocative act of baptising Allam on such a special occasion and in such a spectacular way. It is sad," said Nayed, "that the intimate and personal act of a religious conversion is made into a triumphalist tool for scoring points." Nayed opined that this would negatively impact Christian-Muslim dialogue, and called on the Vatican to "distance itself from Allam's discourse". (LINK 4)

Yahya Pallavicini, a Milanese imam who is the vice-president of Italy's Islamic Religious Community, patronisingly described Allam's baptism "as an 'honest intellectual mistake' that had been committed with the complicity of the Vatican". Pallavicini told Italy's Adnkronos International (AKI) that he was embarrassed by the Pope's "indelicate choice of advisors" -- as if the Pope is without authority or lacking discernment and is vulnerable to the machinations of cunning Islamophobic conspirators! (LINK 5)

AKI reported: "Pallavicini agreed with Nayed in his attack on the baptism saying it put at risk the dialogue between Muslims and Christians." The implication is that Christian-Muslim dialogue can only proceed if the Church agrees to honour Islam's claim to life-long legal ownership of the hearts and minds and bodies of all Muslims irrespective of the individual's basic human right to believe according to his/her reason and conscience. Such a caveat leaves little space for meaningful dialogue.

Like Nayed and Pallavicini, Italy's deputy foreign minister for Middle East affairs, Ugo Intini, also criticised Allam's "very harsh condemnation" of Islam and called on the Vatican "after the emphasis given to Allam's conversion, to distance itself clearly from his statements".

However, the Vatican made it very clear that the Church not only believes in the religious liberty of all people (including Muslims), it also believes in the liberty of its members.

As Vatican spokesman Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi noted, Magdi Allam "has the right to express his own ideas. They remain his personal opinions without in any way becoming the official expression of the positions of the pope or the Holy See . . . believers are free to maintain their own ideas on a vast range of questions and problems on which legitimate pluralism exists among Christians. Welcoming a new believer into the church clearly does not mean espousing all that person's ideas and opinions, especially on political and social matters." (LINK 6)

"THE RISK OF THIS BAPTISM"

According to Father Lombardi "the pope accepted the risk of this baptism" in order "to affirm the freedom of religious choice which derives from the dignity of the human person".

According to his testimony, which is written in the form of a letter to the director of Corriere della Sera, Paolo Mieli, Magdi Allam accepted the risk of this baptism for the same reason.

"Dear Director, you asked me whether I fear for my life, in the awareness that conversion to Christianity will certainly procure for me yet another, and much more grave, death sentence for apostasy. You are perfectly right. I know what I am headed for but I face my destiny with my head held high, standing upright and with the interior solidity of one who has the certainty of his faith. And I will be more so after the courageous and historical gesture of the Pope, who, as soon has he knew of my desire, immediately agreed to personally impart the Christian sacraments of initiation to me. His Holiness has sent an explicit and revolutionary message to a Church that until now has been too prudent in the conversion of Muslims, abstaining from proselytising in majority Muslim countries and keeping quiet about the reality of converts in Christian countries. Out of fear. The fear of not being able to protect converts in the face of their being condemned to death for apostasy and fear of reprisals against Christians living in Islamic countries. Well, today Benedict XVI, with his witness, tells us that we must overcome fear and not be afraid to affirm the truth of Jesus even with Muslims.

"For my part, I say that it is time to put an end to the abuse and the violence of Muslims who do not respect the freedom of religious choice. In Italy there are thousands of converts to Islam who live their new faith in peace. But there are also thousands of Muslim converts to Christianity who are forced to hide their faith out of fear of being assassinated by Islamic extremists who lurk among us. By one of those 'fortuitous events' that evoke the discreet hand of the Lord, the first article that I wrote for the Corriere on Sept. 3, 2003 was entitled 'The new Catacombs of Islamic Converts'. It was an investigation of recent Muslim converts to Christianity in Italy who decry their profound spiritual and human solitude in the face of absconding state institutions that do not protect them and the silence of the Church itself. Well, I hope that the Pope's historical gesture and my testimony will lead to the conviction that the moment has come to leave the darkness of the catacombs and to publicly declare their desire to be fully themselves. If in Italy, in our home, the cradle of Catholicism, we are not prepared to guarantee complete religious freedom to everyone, how can we ever be credible when we denounce the violation of this freedom elsewhere in the world? I pray to God that on this special Easter he give the gift of the resurrection of the spirit to all the faithful in Christ who have until now been subjugated by fear."

THE POWER OF FAITH

Of all the commentary on this event, none has been more powerful or perceptive than that written by "Spengler" of Asia Times on-Line. Spengler's piece entitled "The mustard seed in global strategy" can be found at LINK 7 and is a "must read" piece.

Spengler describes the baptism of Allam as a "revolution in world affairs . . begun in the heart of one man".

He writes: "Osama bin Laden recently accused [Pope] Benedict of plotting a new crusade against Islam, and instead finds something far more threatening: faith the size of a mustard seed that can move mountains . . .

"Magdi Allam presents an existential threat to Muslim life, whereas other prominent dissidents, for example Ayaan Hirsi Ali, offer only an annoyance . . Why would Muslims trade the spiritual vacuum of Islam for the spiritual sewer of Dutch hedonism? The souls of Muslims are in agony. The blandishments of the decadent West offer them nothing but shame and deracination. Magdi Allam agrees with his former co-religionists in repudiating the degraded culture of the modern West, and offers them something quite different: a religion founded upon love."

Spengler is correct when he writes: "If the Church fights for the safety of converts, they will emerge from the nooks and crannies of Muslim communities in Europe."

While governments may waver and even fail, the Church must stand firm in faith irrespective of the cost, and advance according to the word of God: "'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the Lord of hosts." (Zechariah 4:6 ESV).

-- Elizabeth Kendal

LINKS

1) OIC: Eliminating "defamation" of Islam.
By Elizabeth Kendal, 25 March 2008
ALSO
Religious Liberty Trends 2007-2008
(Apostasy, Apostaphobia and Postmodernism)

2) Magdi Allam Recounts His Path to Conversion
http://www.zenit.org/rssenglish-22151

3) Pope baptizes prominent Italian Muslim
By NICOLE WINFIELD, Associated Press Writer Sat 22 March 2008.
http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080322/ap_on_re_eu/pope_muslim_convert

4) Scholar denounces Muslim baptism. BBC 26 March 2008
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7313870.stm

5) Italy: Islamist website attacks Vatican baptism. 26 March2008
http://www.adnkronos.com/AKI/English/Religion/?id=1.0.2008599217
Muslim Scholar Denounces Vatican Baptism
By FRANCES D'EMILIO – 26 march 2008
http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5jmjHmHDjMG4Qhj3beZWc-IXP2bOQD8VKJV683

6) Vatican: Muslim convert has right to express his own ideas
By Cindy Wooden. 28 March 2008
http://www.catholic.org/international/international_story.php?id=27354

7) The mustard seed in global strategy
By Spengler, 26 March 2008
http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Front_Page/JC26Aa01.html

Monday, January 6, 2003

Religious Liberty 2003

Date: Monday 6 January 2003
Subj: Religious Liberty 2003
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty E-mail Conference
From: Elizabeth Kendal, Conference Moderator


Lack of religious freedom has always been an issue in Islam; however, the advance of the Islamic renewal movement and Islamic militancy has accentuated this. The rise of Hindutva over the past decade now extends to alleged government complicity in religious violence, and, in parts of India, anti-conversion legislation. Likewise the rise of Buddhist nationalism and militancy, which has lead to increased persecution, may soon extend to anti-conversion legislation being introduced in Sri Lanka.

On top of this there is the rise of Orthodox nationalism in some parts of Eastern Europe that is seeing increased hostility demonstrated towards the non-Orthodox, and the threat from the Government of Israel to make Israel a "Jewish Democracy" with increasing proposed restrictions on non-Jews living in the land.

What is most surprising is that religious freedom is being denigrated in the West by people who enjoy it, expect it as their right and take it for granted.

A NEGATIVE PERSPECTIVE

An article printed in the New York Times on 31 December 2002 entitled "With Missionaries Spreading, Muslims' Anger is Following" By Susan Sachs, was written in response to the murder of three Christian workers in the Jibla Baptist Hospital in Yemen.

Sachs says, as "evangelical Christian emissaries" have spread throughout the world they have provoked anger. She cites the shooting murders of Bonnie Penner Weatherall in Lebanon (Nov 2002) and Dr. Martha Myers, William Koehn, Kathleen Gariety in Yemen (Dec 2002) and the burning of Graham, Philip and Timothy Stains in India (Jan 1999), as examples.

Sachs displays little sympathy and goes on to say, "Christian missionaries have been active across much of the Muslim Middle East for hundreds of years, at least as far back as the Crusades." In this one sentence that reeks of ignorance, she establishes Christians in the minds of her readers as white, aggressive, foreign invaders. Is she really ignorant of the fact that Christianity originated IN and spread FROM the Middle East in the first century AD or is this deliberate and provocative anti-Christian disinformation?

Sachs also notes, "But successive generations of missionaries found that proselytising to Muslims was a dangerous business. Under Muslim law, conversion from Islam is punishable by death." Yet she states this with absolutely NO judgement, as if it is merely an acceptable cultural practise that should be respected, not a shocking breach of fundamental human rights.

Sachs, who refers to the Southern Baptist Convention as "a proselytising sect", then and paints a picture of Christian workers ("missionaries") as those who use allurement and even deception to ensnare and convert children, the sick and the poor, with a total disregard for the law of the land.

A POSITIVE PERSPECTIVE

The very next day, however, the New York Times printed an article from Jibla, Yemen, that gave a totally different perspective. Associated Press writer Salah Nasrawi writes from Jibla, "For many here, the American missionaries at a Baptist hospital here were not seen as Christian intruders in a Muslim land, but as friends to the residents of this poor town in the rugged hills of southern Yemen"

Nasrawi then relays testimonies from among the numerous Yemenis grieving the loss of their dear friends who delivered their babies, treated their ills and visited profusely. (Link 1 - a must read!)

RELIGIOUS LIBERTY UNDER ATTACK

Sachs' disdain for slain "missionaries" issue reminds me of a comment by Kate Clark, correspondent in Afghanistan for the BBC at the time of the arrest of the eight foreign Shelter Now aid workers.

Kate Clark comments in a 25 August 2001 article entitled "Modern missionaries", that both Islam and Christianity are "proselytising faiths". She then gives an account of the pressure that was put on her to convert to Islam while she was working in the Middle East.

Clark however, is unruffled and non-judgemental. As someone who clearly understands, accepts and respects the principal of religious freedom, Clark has no qualms about proselytising. She appears to respect the believer's right to exercise their religion, knowing she is free to accept or reject it.

However, in regards to Christian proselytism and the Western reaction towards the arrest of the Shelter Now workers she notes, "What's ironic is how little sympathy any potential Christian missionary receives in the West in the year 2001. Generally, it seems that if the Shelter Now employees had been arrested for being gay or trying to improve women's lives - like carrying out clandestine literacy classes - there would be far more outrage at their arrests." (Link 2 - another must read!)

There is little doubt that the issue of religious liberty will play an increasingly significant role in domestic and international politics in 2003 and beyond. It will be interesting to see how the Western world, with its rich Christian heritage and ethic, manages to defend religious liberty now it so "enlightened" and driven by secularism.

As Johannes Aagaard wrote in 1982, "The days of 'missio triumfans' have passed and the days of 'missio pressa' have come." (footnote 1).

Philip Jenkins, in his book, "The next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity", suggests that a future Christendom may define itself not by ideological harmony or by political alliances, but simply along the lines of "its unity against a common outside threat" (footnote 2).

Maybe the Church is truly coming full-circle.

Welcome to 2003.

- Elizabeth Kendal

Links

1) Washington Post (also printed in New York Times)
"Yemeni Town Mourns U.S. Missionaries", by Salah Nasrawi
Associated Press Writer. 31 December 2002.
http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A59814-2002Dec31

2) BBC News Online
"Modern missionaries", Kate Clark, 25 August 2001 UK
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/from_our_own_correspondent/1508120.
stm

Footnotes

1) Quote from page 61,"Believing in the Future: Towards a Missiology
of Western Culture." By David J. Bosch, Trinity Press International
1995. Bosch quotes Aagaard's "The Soft Age Has Gone." 1982

2) Quote from page 190, "The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global
Christianity." By Philip Jenkins, Oxford University Press 2002