Religious Liberty in the Toilet


I was minding my own business, just making the regular afternoon pilgrimage to the men’s room. Out of nowhere, a colleague popped in and asked me a most unexpected question:

refugee-mother-and-child“Are you upset with how the world is responding to our new president? I bet you’re unnerved by the way the world thinks he’s a Christian!”

As a rule, I don’t debate politics much anymore. I certainly don’t do so in the men’s room. But the question struck me—blindsided me—with such swift assault that I mumbled my reply before having time to think. My reply was something like,

“It doesn’t matter who the President is; many folks will assume he is a Christian because he represents the U.S. And besides, I don’t think he will be worse than our last President.”

I think it was the last remark that left my friend so shocked and unsettled.

“What… what do you mean?” he replied.

There in the men’s room, I proceeded to unfold a litany of failures from the last decade which have led to a wholesale depopulation of Christians from the Middle East. (For one such example, see Nina Shea’s article concerning the Obama Administration’s reluctance to use the term genocide in defense of Christians.)

Many examples could be offered about damage done to Christians over the past ten years, but the gist of my frustration centered around the Obama administration’s orchestrated attempt to redefine (weaken) the concept of religious liberty in the U.S. Once the concept was weakened in the U.S., the reverberating effects around the world were easy to predict. If Christians in the U.S. aren’t free to bring their beliefs into the public arena, then why should Communists rulers in China grant Christians free speech in public?

The U.S. has been the beacon lighting the way for religious freedom around the world. When the main light goes dim; all lights emanating from it get darker and darker. The last decade has seen religious liberty go pretty dark.

To illustrate, consider Elliott Abrams’ article in Newsweek last fall which featured the startling headline

The U.S. Bars Christian, Not Muslim, Refugees from Syria.

Abrams explains,

The headline for this column—The U.S. Bars Christian, Not Muslim, Refugees From Syria—will strike many readers as ridiculous.

But the numbers tell a different story: The United States has accepted 10,801 Syrian refugees, of whom 56 are Christian. Not 56 percent; 56 total, out of 10,801. That is to say, one-half of 1 percent.

In a recent Christianity Today article, Arab church leaders were quoted as being opposed to the policies of the Obama administration. These same church leaders thought the Trump Executive Order would have the effect of causing more Christians to leave Iraq and Syria–an outcome they don’t wish to see.

I don’t mean for this post to be political, just like I didn’t intend to get into a political debate in the men’s room. But there is no doubt Christians have suffered terribly for the past ten years, partly because of our political decisions. Let’s hope and pray the next decade will be less violent and intolerant toward Christians.

#What Is Aleppo? Why Christians must care


What is Aleppo? The question seems innocent enough to most Americans. But back in September, the question lit up Twitter ( #WhatIsAleppo ) and made Independent presidential candidate Gary Johnson appear even more out of touch with reality. When asked about his response to the crisis in Aleppo, Johnson replied, “And what is Aleppo?”

It’s one thing for an average American to be unsure about Aleppo’s whereabouts; it’s another thing entirely when someone aspiring to be president is not aware of its existence.

aleppo-city-viewSo, what is Aleppo? Aleppo is an ancient city, one of the oldest cities on earth. Aleppo was around before Jesus was born in Bethlehem. And Aleppo existed before King David killed Goliath. Indeed, people were dwelling in Aleppo before Moses was born in Egypt. People have been living in the ancient city of Aleppo (now the second largest city in Syria) for more than 4,000 years.

Today—partly because it is Syria’s second largest city—Aleppo has become the flashpoint in Syria’s civil war. The civil war in Syria is a power struggle to determine who controls Syria and this region of the Middle East. Daniel Horowitz explains,

In Syria, there is a fight between Assad/ Hezbollah/Russia/Iran vs. Al Qaeda splinter groups, Ahrar al Sham, and the Islamic State — with Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia funding a number of the Islamic fundamentalist rebels.

Uri Friedman of The Atlantic describes Aleppo’s significance this way:

If Assad, along with his Russian and Iranian allies, were to emerge victorious in Aleppo, it would have consequences beyond Syria, Tabler added: “It would be a tremendous loss for the U.S. and its traditional allies: Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan. … This would also be a huge loss for the United States vis-à-vis Russia in its Middle East policy, certainly. And because of the flow of refugees as a result of this, if they go northward to Europe, then you would see a migrant crisis in Europe that could lead to far-right governments coming to power which are much more friendly to Russia than they are to the United States.” In other words, to answer Gary Johnson’s question, Aleppo is a lot more than a Syrian city.

These quotes make a couple of important points. One, a serious war is waging in Aleppo, and it involves a number of world powers, not the least of which are the U.S. and Russia…apparently on opposing sides. The significance of Aleppo in world events is evident in the recent assassination of Russian ambassador Andrei Karlov. Karlov’s assassin allegedly shouted “Remember Aleppo” after killing the ambassador. Clearly, Aleppo is front and center in world affairs.

Two, Christians in Syria in general and Aleppo in particular have no real allies. Which would be better—to face the oppression of the Assad form of Islam or side with the Al-Qaeda rebels and live under their brand of Islamic extremism? It would be difficult in good conscience to waive a banner for either team in this civil war.

Back in 2011-2012, the U.S. thought it was intolerable that 10,000 Syrians were killed. Our government thus decided to fortify the rebellion against the Assad government. But Assad’s government did not topple. Russia and Iran reinvigorated that government with military might to reassert its dominance. And the result has been horrific. CNN reports,

Since the war began in 2011, an estimated 400,000 Syrians have been killed, according to the United Nations.

As of December 2016, 4.81 million Syrians have fled the country and 6.3 million people are displaced internally.

What should Christians do?aleppo-syria

Without a doubt, Christians must pray for all the citizens of Aleppo. The people of Syria are suffering at the hands of their political leaders, who, in some sense, serve as religious leaders, too. There are reports that churches are growing because Muslims are disillusioned by the violence and are looking for answers. As one Christian from Aleppo says,

“But you know what’s surprising? The church is still full; displaced people take their place. Especially Muslims are coming to the church now.”

Christians must pray specifically for other Christians in Syria. The Christian district in Aleppo has been all but obliterated. About 90% of Christians in the area have either died or fled to a safer location like Lebanon. Those Christians remaining are living without electricity, gas, heat, and even without water. Conditions are not just terrible. They are life-threatening. And yet, ministry needs and opportunities are increasing. Imagine surviving through such difficulties, while having the opportunity to minister to many Muslims through your church. It’s an unusual opportunity to say the least.

For anyone interested, Global Hunger Relief operates in Syria. The advantage of GHR is that it operates on a volunteer basis, ensuring that 100% of funds given actually go toward meeting needs, not paying staff.

http://globalhungerrelief.com/news/detail/syrian-refugees

Why hate family?


According to Jesus, discipleship begins with complete allegiance to Him as Lord. Even the bond of familial love must yield to the eternal relationship of divine love accomplished for us in Christ!

Shockingly, Jesus said, If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and

persecution love hate uganda

Creative commons

wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”

There’s no record of Jesus possessing any particular animus against fathers, mothers, sisters, or brothers. On the contrary, his statement here is not against families as much as it is for disciples. Why would Jesus issue such an ultimatum to his would-be disciples? Because he loves them!  His gospel really is the only means of escaping a perishing world under God’s sentence of death. If one wishes to escape sin and death, he or she must flee to Jesus Christ alone. It’s all or nothing. Life or death.

And Jesus is life.

This past May, Kuluseni Iguru Tenywa found life. He was so glad to be rid of his demons! For years, Tenywa had been tormented by demons. He says he was oppressed by them until he received Christ at a local gathering of Christians. While all of heaven surely rejoiced at this one sinner becoming a follower of Christ, those living in his village in Uganda were enraged against him. Before his conversion, 53 year-old Kuluseni Tenywa had served as the Imam of his Muslim village.

After his conversion, everyone in the village turned against him—everyone, including his wife and his four children. According to Morning Star News, his wife berated him, calling him an infidel and refusing to offer him food. By late June, a mob—led by Tenywa’s brother-in-law—had come for him. They destroyed portions of his farm and his store and intended to take decisive action against him. Desperate, Tenywa felt he had to flee for his life. He ran from his village, from his home, from his family on June 27. He has not seen them since.

Kuluseni Iguru Tenywa has thus far proved himself a faithful disciple of Christ. His life reflects the sober reality Jesus himself unfolded for his followers: “And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household” (Matt 10:36). Sadly, the world has turned against this brother, but if God be for Him, who can stand against him!

Would you please take a moment to pray for this brother in Christ? His wife and children need our prayers, too. You can read more of his story here.

Should Beheaded Christians Be Called Martyrs?


A good and thoughtful friend of mine recently asked whether I thought journalist James Foley should be called a martyr. In general, the question would be whether American journalists who profess to be Christians are martyrs when they are killed in Muslim lands.

Christian persecution definitionI am actually uncomfortable asking and answering such questions while the matter is still so fresh for the families. These families need our prayers more than our debates about martyrdom. But people are asking the question and making declarations about James Foley being a Christian martyr. So, I thought it might be best to re-post a blog concerning the definition of persecution as I understand it from the Bible. A martyr is one who remains a faithful witness through persecution. If there is no persecution (on account of Christ), then there can be no martyrdom. On that account, professing Christians like James Foley (or Dietrich Bonhoeffer) might be heroes or icons of courage, but they are not martyrs.

Read the post below and decide for yourself.

Tryon Edwards, great grandson of Jonathan Edwards, once said,

“Most controversies would soon be ended, if those engaged in them would first accurately define their terms, and then adhere to their definitions.”

Edwards was perhaps too optimistic about the end of controversy, but he was right to note the power of definitions to bring clarity and, perhaps, unity. Definitions are important things. A trip to the local reference section of a library or bookstore proves beyond doubt that we think definitions are important things.

Consider the prevalence of English dictionaries. There are dictionaries for synonyms, dictionaries for war terms, for business terms, legal terms, theological terms, psychological terms. A seemingly endless stream of dictionaries flows from the ocean of words which break upon the pages of our literature and, thus, land upon our minds, enabling and empowering our thoughts. Our thoughts ride and move upon the surf of words.

But words do not always come as docile tides bathing a white sand shore. Words break upon our ears and often crash into our minds challenging our very existence. As the existentialist Sartre declared, “Words are loaded pistols.” And that is often true. Defining words can be a dangerous game because words are the means by which reality takes its shape.  Consider, for example, how the Nazis defined treason and loyalty. And consider the implications for Germany and the world.

In our own culture, consider how important it is to define the word person. It has become a deadly word for babies developing in the womb because they have been excluded by definition from the semantic range of the word person. If a baby is a person, then it has the rights of a person. If not… So, you see, subtle changes in the definition of words can have cataclysmic long term effects for us. Definitions are exceedingly important.

Two particular words Christians must define in our own day are marriage and persecution. The first is necessary because Christian Persecution Realthe word is being redefined.  The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has fallen on notoriously difficult times, and marriage is now successfully being redefined to include same sex unions. In fact, as I’ve noted in prior posts, the new definition of marriage demands no boundaries on the basis of avoiding all discrimination. A recent federal case in Utah may now allow group marriages (read about it here).

Because marriage is now redefined, Christians will be tested on whether or not they believe what they have been saying about their own definition.  Do we as Christians believe God’s monogamous design for heterosexual marriage? Will Christians stand on these convictions? What if group marriages, gay marriages, or even bestial marriages become matters of civil rights? Will Christians remain steadfast in their biblical convictions? Will we pay the price in persecution? What if churches will lose their tax exempt status as a result of monogamous marriage commitments? What if pastors are convicted of civil rights crimes—or hate crimes—and sent to jail for refusing to marry a small group of lovers?

Persecution will likely flow from the deluge of court decisions against traditional marriage. Thus, Christians ought to start defining persecution so we understand what and why we are suffering.  Persecution means many things to many different people. I read an article recently which stated that wild birds were being persecuted in northern England.  Whatever the journalist covering bird crime in Great Britain meant by his use of the word persecuted, the Christian must understand it much differently. Both Christians and birds of prey can be hunted and threatened with extinction, but Christians alone are human beings created in the image of God and charged with witnessing to His glory. Birds are not people and, thus, not created in God’s image.  Persecuting birds is not the same as persecuting Christians. But Christians will be persecuted. Thus,persecution is a concept which needs to be properly defined. Here is a good, biblical definition of persecution:

Persecution is a retaliatory action against the revelation of the righteousness of God in Christ which is represented or proclaimed by the followers of Jesus Christ. 

The definition is helpful for Christians so we can test ourselves (as Peter commands) to make sure our suffering happens because of Christ and His righteousness, not because of our own stupidity, arrogance, or offensive behavior. The definition is also helpful so we can experience the full joy of the blessings of Christ (Matthew 5:10-12). Finally, the definition is important because we will likely be facing persecution of a more intense nature than at any time in America’s history.

Here we return to Edwards’s point. Definitions do provide clarity and can lead to unity. Often, however, the clarity itself leads to controversy.  Such controversy by no means argues for de-emphasizing the need for definitions. Rather, the controversy serves further to clarify where to stand, when to stand, and how to stand. And if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. If you do stand for something as a Christian, you will face persecution. Define your terms so you will know why you suffer.

And as you suffer, remember the words of your great Shepherd: “Blessed are you.”  Learn from this Shepherd the definition of being blessed—even when you cannot be united on account of the words you have learned to define.

Why that Odd Facebook Symbol Is So Important


Christian persecution Iraq Maybe you have seen this little wine-cup looking symbol on your friend’s Facebook page and wondered what it means.  It means Christians are being targeted for death in Mosul, Iraq.  I am so thankful that someone thought to create symbol sent through Social Media to call attention to the plight of Christians suffering genocide in Iraq.

The symbol apparently started circulating in Lebanon and has caught on around the world. The symbol is actually an Arabic “n,” which is what ISIS soldiers in Mosul have used to abbreviate Nazara, a term for Christians in the Middle East.  Basically, those whose homes are thus marked are subject to death, unless they (a) convert to Islam or (b) pay an oppressive tax to stay alive (all explained here).  Here is how one report details the horror:

On Monday, which was normally pay day for municipal workers in Mosul, state workers were ordered not to pay the Christian employees. ISIS also forbid food to be distributed to Christian or Shiite families.

One state employee told the Arabic news outlet Ankawa that he was “warned that if he gives rations to Christians and Shiites, he will be charged and prosecuted according to Sharia law.”

The pressure continued later in the week, when ISIS cut off electricity to homes owned by Christians. The following day ISIS soldiers Christian persecution Mosul Iraqreportedly painted “N” on the doors of Christians to signify that they are “Nazara,” the word for Christian. Shiite homes were painted with the letter “R” for “Rwafidh,” meaning rejectors or protestants.

As a result, nearly the entire population of Christians in Mosul have fled, leaders say.

While I feel for the Shiites, too, and hope that we will advocate for them as well as for the Christians who are suffering, I feel compelled to join the movement to put an arabic “n” on my Facebook profile for a little while. It will remind me to pray if nothing else. But it will also keep the symbol out there for the world to ask and answer gravely serious questions.

By the way, I changed the symbol to red because the doors in Mosul are reportedly marked with red (perhaps to symbolize blood, “death to this house”–kind of a morbid reversal of the Passover markings!)

More Than 100 Christians Savagely Killed in Nigeria


Muslim gunmen raid three Christian villages in Kaduna state.

Daniel Anyip, vice chairman of Kaura Local Government Council, Kaduna. (Morning Star News)

MANCHOK, Nigeria (Morning Star News) – Muslim herdsmen armed with guns and machetes on Friday night (March 14) launched attacks on three villages in Kaduna state, killing more than 100 Christians and destroying homes, sources said.

Scores of the ethnic Fulani assailants simultaneously attacked the Christian villages of Ugwar Sankwai, Ungwar Gata and Chenshyi in the Kaura Local Government Area for about four hours, sources said. The Rev. Yakubu Gandu Nkut, chairman of the Zankan area chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), told Morning Star News that a pastor’s wife and her three children were among the dead.

“The unfortunate attack on our communities has led to killing of more than 100 Christians,” Nkut said. “The wife of one of our pastors, Mrs. Jummai Likita Riku, and her three children, from the ECWA [Evangelical Church Winning All] church, Ugwar Sankwai, were killed in the attack.”

ECWA and Anglican church buildings were burned down by the herdsmen in Ugwar Sankwai, Nkut said.

Daniel Anyip, vice chairman of the Kaura Local Government Council, confirmed the attacks and the death toll, telling reporters women and children were burned to death in homes the assailants set ablaze.

“There is no justification for this inhuman act,” Anyip said.

In Manchok, where several Christians have taken refuge, Nuhu Moses of Chenshyi village told reporters that the Muslim Fulani herdsmen killed about 50 Christians.

“The cattlemen who attacked my village were more than 40 – they were armed with guns and other weapons,” Moses told Morning Star News. “As I talk to you, there is no single house that has not been destroyed as the attackers set fire on our houses. As we made efforts to escape from being killed, our attackers shot at every one they saw. It was a miracle that I escaped alive.”

The Nigeria Police Force in Kaduna corroborated the attacks, saying more policemen had been deployed to the area to restore order; the first security personnel reportedly arrived at 4 a.m., about an hour after the attacks ended. Aminu Lawan, deputy superintendent of police, told Morning Star News by phone that police have begun investigating.

On Jan. 30, a band of armed Muslim Fulani herdsmen attacked the Christian village of Ungwar Kajit in the Manyi Akuru area of Kaduna, near Manchok, killing a family of seven and a man nearby, and injuring dozens of others.

Fulani herdsmen have long attacked settled Christian farmers in Plateau, Bauchi, Kaduna, Taraba and Adamawa states, but in the past year analysts have begun to see some ties between the assailants and Islamic extremist groups keen to exploit longstanding ethnic, property and religious conflicts.

Kaduna Gov. Mukhtar Yero described the March 14-15 attacks as “ungodly and barbaric.” He promised to order an investigation.

“This ugly situation is unacceptable, and we will step up efforts to improve surveillance and curtail future occurrence,” he said in a press statement. “We pray that God would expose the people that are causing this problem. We pray that God would touch their hearts to stop such dastardly acts or destroy their evil machinations.”

The Rt. Rev. George Dodo, chairman of the CAN in Kaduna state, called on the Nigerian government to put an end to systematic persecution of Christians in the state.

Christians make up 51.3 percent of Nigeria’s population of 158.2 million, while Muslims account for 45 percent. Those practicing indigenous religions may be as high as 10 percent of the total population, according to Operation World, so the percentages of Christians and Muslims may be less.

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© 2014 Morning Star News. Articles/photos may be reprinted with credit to Morning Star News.

Don’t Read This …Unless You’re Ready to Count the Cost of Discipleship


Since my friend Don Whitney posted a Tweet about this incident in Somalia, I have been unable to stop thinking about the sober reality of Christian faith. The world hated Jesus Christ when He ministered among men. And the world hates him still.

Persecution Cost of DiscipleshipThere is a robust theological heritage in Christianity which asserts that humans are sinful by nature. According to John 3, men love the darkness and hate the light. Paul says human beings actively suppress God’s truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1). And Moses, long before either Paul or John lived, said that our hearts are full of evil, continuously, even from our youth (Gn 8:21).

Somewhere along the line, Christians forgot the reality of the sinfulness of sin. I once preached a 35 week series on the sinfulness of sin. A visitor one day asked my wife politely, “Does he ever preach on topics other than sin?” I may have been guilty of overstating the case… maybe. But the situation with the persecuted church today makes me think I could never overstate the awfulness of sin.

The incident in Somalia is a sober reminder to us all of the fact that the world hated Jesus, and the world still hates those who love Him. Jesus is present with His people (Matthew 28; Acts 9; Hebrews 13). The presence of Jesus is odious to unbelieving nostrils. As Paul says, it is the aroma of death to death to some.

Sadly, a group of non-believing Muslims in Somalia sensed the presence of Jesus in the lives of two women, Sadia Ali Omar and Osman Mohamoud Moge. They were cousins. Omar had two daughters, ages 8 and 15. These two girls watched as the Muslim men brought their mother to the middle of town and there beheaded her.

Why were these women beheaded in the town square in Barawa? As with John the Baptist, so it was with these two women: They walked in the way of righteousness. The presence of Christ was with them, and that was unbearable to the Islamic militants of Barawa:

 “We know these two people are Christians who recently came back from Kenya – we want to wipe out any underground Christian living inside of mujahidin [jihadists’] area…”

The mere fact that these were Christians was enough of a crime to justify their being beheaded.  The incident was not about the global war on terror. It was not a political event. It was not about “Muslim-Christian” tensions. It was not extremism—well, it was, but that is really not the point.

The point is simple. As Jesus stated, “You will be hated by all on account of me” (Matthew 10:22).  If you are a believer in Christ, you will be hated. Most likely, neither you nor I will face the severe cruelty of a public beheading in front of our children. But we will be hated by some. Like Jesus, we will love others, but they will sometimes return that love with hate, slander, and persecution.

May our Lord God have mercy on these two girls and the rest of the family members grieving the loss of these two saints martyred in Somalia. Surely, Omar and Moge are absent in the body, but now present with the Lord. Perhaps they, too, are gathered around the Lord’s throne, crying, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”

An Easter Perspective


Beyond the hollow bunnies and plastic grass, Easter is a celebration of victorious life in the resurrected Christ. Today is a Easter Rabbit Good Fridayholy day in the life of the Christian. This Friday which we too casually call “Good” is a day of remembering the atoning work of Christ on behalf of our sinful souls.

It is also a day to remember that the Christ who was opposed, arrested, beaten, mocked, spat upon, cursed, and eventually killed some 2,000 years ago yet lives and remains present with His people. Just as the Lord was persecuted when His physical visage blessed the earth, so, too, does His body still suffer persecution at the hands of unbelief.

Last year on Easter Sunday, Boko Haram—Muslim extremists in Nigeria—killed 39 Christians while they were worshiping the risen Lord Jesus.  This year, there will perhaps be other Christians targeted for murder.  Nina Shea has posted a warning from a Muslim terrorist group in Tanzania, indicating that this Easter could see more Christian persecution:

 

We thank our young men, trained in Somalia, for killing an infidel. Many more will die. We will burn homes and churches. We have not finished: at Easter, be prepared for disaster.

 

Please remember both Christ and His body this Easter season. Be sober-minded about eternity and ever joyful about the victory that is ours through the Resurrected Lord.

 “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  1 Corinthians 15

What About Christians in Palestine?


What’s going on with Christians in Gaza where the Palestinian Authority is in control? The Gatestone Institute wants us to

The Coat of arms of the Palestinian National A...

know.

The following post can be found in its entirety at Gatestone Institute, an organization dedicated to educating the public about what the mainstream media fails to report on matters of human rights and freedom.

“The truth sometimes hurts; that is why the Palestinian Authority has been working hard to prevent the outside world from hearing about many occurrences that reflect negatively on its leaders or people.

In recent years, the Palestinian Authority leadership, often with the help of the mainstream media in the US and EU, has been successful in its effort to divert all attention only toward Israel.

Following are examples of some of the inconvenient truths that the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank do not want others to know about:

– Over 100 senior PLO and Fatah officials hold Israeli-issued VIP cards that grant them various privileges denied to most Palestinians. Among these privileges is the freedom to enter Israel and travel abroad at any time they wish. This privileging has existed since the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO in 1993.

– Out of the 600 Christians from the Gaza Strip who arrived in the West Bank in the past two weeks to celebrate Christmas, dozens have asked to move to Israel because they no longer feel comfortable living under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

– Dozens of Christian families from east Jerusalem have moved to Jewish neighborhoods in the the city because they too no longer feel comfortable living among Muslims.”

Read entire post…

Persecution Update from the Fall 2012


Church Icon at St Polycarp's Roman Catholic Ch...

Church Icon at St Polycarp’s Roman Catholic Church depicting Polycarp miraculously extinguishing fire of the city of Smyrna (Izmir, Turkey). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

2 Timothy 3:12, Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 

 

Given the fact that God promises persecution to all Christians, it should be no surprise to us that Christians are routinely attacked around the world. The Assyrian International News Agency has chronicled by country some of the more intense situations of persecution from the fall of 2012. You can see their whole list on their website, but I have pasted a partial list below:

 

KenyaA grenade was thrown into the Sunday school building of St. Polycarp Anglican Church, blowing off the roof, killing one boy and injuring eight other children attending Sunday school, including some requiring surgery. The attack came soon after a Somali member of the Islamic terrorist organization Al Shabab, who had earlier targeted four other churches, was sentenced to prison after he confessed to planning attacks on Parliament. According to the mother of one of the children, “We are in Eastleigh [a region with a large Somali population]. Many Christians, including myself, thought that something might happen. Every week we’d wonder ‘What if it’s this Sunday?’ But we’d still go to church.” Likewise, a parliament member said, “The life of an innocent child has been taken and others have been cruelly injured and traumatised in what should be the safest of places. The sanctity of life has been heartlessly breached in a sanctified place. Such acts seem to be designed to spark civil unrest and intimidate the Christian church. In the face of such an outrage we ask, with the prophet Habakkuk, ‘O Lord, how long?’ and let us trust that God in his mercy will bring justice and relief as we cry out to him.”

 

Nigeria: Thousands of Christians continue to flee northern areas of Nigeria, which are predominantly Muslim, and where the jihadi organization Boko Haram holds sway, after a renewed spate of church attacks. An Islamic suicide bomber rammed an SUV loaded with explosives into St. Rita Catholic Church holding Sunday Mass killing eight people and wounding more than 100. One “journalist saw the bodies of four worshippers lying on the floor of the church after the blast, surrounded by broken glass. The body of the suicide bomber had been blasted into nearby rubble.” The church building was devastated and charred black. Also, the Church of Brethren was raided by Islamic gunmen who killed at least two people and set the church ablaze. Many churches are shutting down in fear of further attacks.

 

Pakistan: The Catholic Church of St. Francis, the oldest of the archdiocese of Karachi, was attacked by a Muslim mob of 600, who destroyed property but did not manage to break through the front door. According to a priest: “Fr. Victor had just finished celebrating a wedding, when he heard noises and shouting from the compound of the church. Immediately all the faithful, women and children were sent to the parish house. The radicals, shouting against the Christians, broke into the building and started devastating everything: cars, bikes, vases of flowers. They broke an aedicule and took the statue of the Madonna. They tried to force the door of the church, throwing stones at the church and destroying the windows.” Police arrived an hour later, giving the terrorists plenty of time to wreak havoc. The Archbishop of Karachi lamented that “the church of San Francesco has always served the poor with a school and a medical clinic run by nuns. For nearly 80 years it carries out a humble service to humanity without any discrimination of caste, ethnicity or religion. Why these acts? Why are we not safe? 

 

Syria: Two churches were attacked. One bomb was detonated near the historical gate of Bab Touma (“Thomas’ Doorway”) which is largely populated by the nation’s Christian minority. The bomb exploded as people were going to their churches for Sunday Mass; up to 10 people were killed. “Terrorists are doing this,” said George, a Christian who, like many residents in Bab Touma, lives in fear of the rebel fighters trying to gain control of the capital. Another car bomb exploded in front of the only Syrian Orthodox Church in the town of Deir Ezzor, currently under opposition control. Five people near the church were killed. In September the same church was desecrated and vandalized by armed gangs.

 

 

Is It Persecution If No Violence Occurs?


English: Sacred Heart Cathedral, Lahore

Sacred Heart Cathedral, Lahore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Another incident has erupted in Lahore, Pakistan, as Muslims have raided a Christian school complex and threatened Christians there with violence.  The incident occurred after a local Muslim leader announced over the loudspeaker that Christians at the school were guilty of tearing pages from the Quran.  Within minutes, a mob had attacked the school and gained entrance to the Christian compound.

 

Fortunately, police also responded quickly, and no further violence ensued. No Christian was beaten or arrested. So, is this an incidence of Christian persecution?  Can there be persecution if no one is arrested, beaten, tortured, or imprisoned?  Yes, I think persecution can and does happen at times even when there is no violence.  Jesus is the reason I think this is true.

 

In Matthew 5:11, ‘Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.”

 

There are two main points in Matthew 5:11 which make it possible to have persecution even when there is no violence. This case in Lahore, Pakistan, provides a perfect example of Christian persecution without violence.  Here are the two reasons briefly explained.

 

First, notice that the blessing of Matthew 5:11 occurs for those who have had things said against them falsely. Insults and slanders are lumped into the broader blessing for the persecuted.  Jesus Himself faced these slanders, as some referred to him as a drunkard, while others said he did his work by the power of the Devil.  Jesus was not immune to falsehoods being levied against him, and neither will any of His followers be.  In Pakistan, Christians at this school were falsely accused of crimes they did not commit. Those false accusations were responsible for mob rioting.  The rioting was clearly anti-Christian persecution.

 

Second, and more important, the attacks were happening because of Christ. Ultimately, all persecution is against Christ Himself. So, in this case, the school was targeted because Christ is present there with His people.  The school is part of an outreach ministry. More than 100 Muslim students are getting a great education free of charge because the Christians are reaching out to them, attempting to help the poorest neighborhoods of the city by providing schooling free of charge. This is Christian love in action because it is empowered by Christ Himself.  The presence of Christ is on display, thus fueling the fires of persecution. Even as unbelievers hoped to silence Christ when He walked on earth, so, now, the same pattern is repeated against Christ’s body, the church.

 

We can be very thankful that this latest attack did not include violence.  We can be thankful that no one was killed or injured. But we can be certain that the harassment will continue because where Christ is present there will be opposition to Him. The darkness still hates the light.

 

 

Fatherhood: One Reason the Holy Trinity Matters


Kempele Old Church

Kempele Old Church Trinity (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

The Holy Trinity–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, operating in complete unity of will and purpose (though 3 distinct, divine persons)–is unique to Christian theology. The Trinity belongs to no other religion, and, thus, no other religion can explain the complexities of the universe.  The universe is filled with individual, particular realities which must also exist as parts of collective, universal realities at the same time. This systemic design in the universe is present because the God who designed the universe exists in Trinitarian unity.

 

Talk of the Trinity is notoriously complex and can be abstract. So, many Christians avoid paying attention to such theological diatribe. But the Trinity is very important in everyday affairs–such as how a family ought to function.  This past year, I published a lengthy article in the Journal of Family Ministry on the practical way the Trinity should shape the functioning of our families–particularly fatherhood. Here is a quote from the article so you can see what I mean:

 

We have a great deal of instruction from the Lord concerning fatherhood, but, frankly, we need more than instruction. After all, even instruction manuals are illustrated. While we are indeed thankful for any directions we receive concerning child rearing, we could use more help. We need a model of fatherhood. We need to see fatherhood in action.

Reading instructions is always made easier by seeing a living example. How much better would it be to have a living example of fatherhood? Thanks be to God, we have such an example! We have the perfect example to learn from now that we have become children of God. Now that the Siprit has helped us, we can cry out, “Abba, Father,” to the only perfect father knowable on the earth…

The thought of calling God “Father” is almost unthinkable to many people, including Muslims. Born into the upper class of the Muslim society in Pakistan, Bilquis Sheikh later converted to Christ. In her testimony concerning her conversion, Bilquis Sheikh remembers how shocking it was when a certain Dr. Santiago first suggested that she address God as Father:

“Talk to him as if he were my Father! The thought shook my soul in the peculiar way truth has of being at once startling and comforting” (1). You can read the remainder of Bilquis’s testimony in the book I Dared to Call him Father.

 

You can read the rest of this article here, at the Family Ministry Today website.

 

 

Pacifism Neither Loving Nor Peaceful


 

I remember the first time I was confronted with a serious pacifist. I was in seminary, and a certain professor—who is a well-known and well-respected scholar—challenged us in class and afterward to re-think the violence of our Christian past and adopt a peaceful future. His argument was compelling.

 

I remember when challenged, he calmly and courageously proclaimed that if attacked, he would prefer for the perpetrator to

A peace symbol, originally designed by the Bri...

A peace symbol, originally designed by the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament movement (CND). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

kill him rather than to fight and risk killing the criminal. In this Christian pacifist’s mind, it would have been better for him to die and thus be present with the Lord than for an unbeliever to die and enter immediately into judgment after committing the sin of murder.  My pacifist friend made a compelling case for personal pacifism. It sounded peaceable, loving, gentle, and authentically Christian, until I had a little more time to think it through. Then it started to sound selfish and unloving.

 

The entire argument lost its luster when I thought about his wife and family.  It’s one thing to be willing to die so another can live and, possibly, be saved, but it is quite another—it is culpable cowardice—to refuse to intervene on behalf of your wife or your children.  Pacifism is not peaceable as much as it is culpable.

 

Over at JuicyEcumenism, Kevin Pavlischek has devoted several posts to discuss this particular point. He references Paul Ramsey’s argument that the Good Samaritan story requires more than “ambulatory” care. Ramsey asks what if the Samaritan walked up as the robbers were beating him, would he have been obligated to intervene, particularly if he had the means (by force) to counter the attack?

 

Matthew Hamilton, on the same blog, shares a post that takes the argument another step forward. What ought Christians to do if they are under attack from Muslims (as they are in Nigeria)? Hamilton’s response is that they are obligated to kill them and culpable if they do not. Here is a sample from the post:

 

The Christians in Nigeria face a situation not altogether dissimilar than that experienced by the Habsburgs in the 17th century. Whether they know it or not, pacifists advocating for Christians not to defend themselves are asking for the horrors of Perchtoldsdorf to be repeated. The noble piety of pacifism is easily diluted in a river of blood and human misery, and there will certainly be rivers of blood and misery if Nigerian Christian follow the example of Perchtoldsdorf.

Emblem from Perchtoldsdorf, Lower Austria, Aus...

Emblem from Perchtoldsdorf, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Perchtoldsdorf, for those who may not know, is an Austrian city destroyed in 1683. Muslims laid siege to the city and demanded surrender. The city surrendered, giving the keys to the city to the Ottoman invaders. They were promised a peaceful takeover, but, once they surrendered, they were then subjected to rape, torture, murder, and a mass slaughter of the Perchtoldsdorf citizenry.

 

Hamilton expects us all to learn a lesson from Perchtoldsdorf—a city in which Christians did not fight—and Vienna—a city which did confront evil by force; the former approach led to mass slaughter of innocent, non-combatants, while the latter approach led to military casualties but kept the civilian populations of both armies safe.  Confronting evil is necessary and, often, life-saving.

 

I am in agreement with the JuicyEcumenism guys. A whole lot of folks seem to get things bass-ackwards when it comes to the use of force. We are supposed to be anti-war (because killing soldiers is bad) and yet pro-abortion (because killing babies in the womb is okay).  Apparently, soldiers and convicted murderers should not be killed, while killing babies is quite all right—indeed, it is now a government-given right that all must pay for under the guise of “healthcare.”

 

Sorry for the rant. I understand that our discussion is really about the unloving nature of pacifism. I just couldn’t help making the analogy complete because we get things so turned around.  Pacifism is a means for evil men to flourish. Therefore, I am not a pacifist, are you?

 

 

Stand Up for Muslim Lawyer


The Attitude to the "Other" and to P...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Christians are not the only courageous people in the world. Here on my blog and at our ministry to the persecuted church (Project 13:3), we often highlight cases of Christian courage, telling the stories of those unwilling to yield their faith in Christ to the threats of police, parents, and employers. Such stories of conviction under fire are not uncommon anymore, given the increase in hostility against religion.

 

It’s easy for us to forget that all people of good courage and righteous convictions are subject to opposition. Such opposition is now a reality for Muhammad Dadkhah, a Muslim lawyer working for religious freedom in the Islamic Republic of Iran.  You may have heard of Dadkhah during the trial and consequent protest campaign of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. Dadkhah represented Pastor Youcef and has stood up for 20 Christians who have been sentenced to death in Iran.

 

In America, there’s a degree of nobility in those who seek to defend basic human rights. In Iran, there is an exponentially increased nobility in the gesture of a Muslim lawyer who represents persecuted Christian pastors. For my part, I say, “Thank you,” to Dadkhah for his efforts on behalf of persecuted Christians. May he be rewarded for his aid to Christ’s followers (Matthew 10:42).

 

According to ACLJ, Dadkhah was prosecuted and is now serving a 9 year prison sentence. The Iranian regime has claimed he is “aiding and abetting” in the alleged crimes of his clients by offering his services free of charge. Anyone and everyone who cares about courage or freedom should join in the calls made by the U.N. and demand Dadkhah’s release.

 

 

Dishonorable Killings Continue


Lahore City Centre

Lahore City Centre (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I just read this devastating account of a couple in Lahore, Pakistan, who killed their 16 year old daughter because she was talking to a young man. In many Shariah-compliant Muslim communities, parents are driven to kill their children (almost always their daughters) in order supposedly to preserve the honor of the Muslim family.

As I have written before, I cannot think of much that could be more dishonorable. Yet, this kind of killing is not uncommon. In Pakistan, for example, there have reportedly been at least 1,000 such killings this year. Astounding, isn’t it?