Paul, Prison, and the President


AN ANCIENT PRINCIPLE

The Apostle Paul was once set free from prison, but he wouldn’t go. Paul did not leave the jail which held him in Philippi until he had first asked for the magistrates to come to him in person (Acts 16:16ff.).  Why the unnecessary stay?

Persecution Prison Theology ChinaStudents of the New Testament recognize the Apostle Paul as a man seriously concerned with justice and righteousness. The righteousness of God was a primary motivation in Paul’s life (Rom 5:20-21). Possibly, righteousness had something to do with Paul’s extended stay in Philippi, too. God’s justice expects justice from men. So Paul conducted a bit of a “sit in” until justice was served.

In the face of suffering injustice from the Roman rulers, Paul made a specific point to force the righting of a legal wrong in Philippi. Luke records the incident (Acts 16:37):

And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Therefore come out now and go in peace.”  But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.”

The magistrates were alarmed by the report that Paul would not leave (v. 38). They showed up in person to apologize to Paul and Silas. They then asked Paul and Silas politely to leave the city—which, of course, they did with no further incident.

Christians today may justifiably follow the pattern of Paul and call our governing authorities to account for injustice. Christians will sometimes sense an obligation to hold non-believers to the standard of justice which they themselves have set. In Philippi, a Roman city, it was illegal to beat and imprison a Roman citizen without a trial. Paul and Silas called the magistrates to own their wrong actions.

The gospel was new in Philippi, and Paul was its most celebrated advocate. If he were treated as a criminal, then, perhaps, other Christians would be viewed with suspicion. Paul was likely taking his stand (or keeping his seat in prison) for the sake of the gospel, the church, and the corporate witness of these early Christians. Because of Paul’s courage and conviction, future generations of believers would have a greater likelihood of being protected by justice.

Christians more and more are having occasion to point out injustice. We will benefit from thinking thoroughly about when and how to protest wrongs committed against us. Once the apology or correction is made, we must not gloat or glory. Instead, we (like Paul and Silas) should go about the gospel’s business:

“So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed” (Acts 16:40).

IN AMERICAN PRACTICE

The Obama Administration has sustained a consistent assault on the historic concept ofObama Obamacare Abortion religious liberty. Four years ago, I pointed out how the first amendment was morphing into something less like the constitution and more like the Communists ruling China. More recently, Ed Whelan has listed several examples of the current administration’s active attempts to rewrite the First Amendment and restrict religious activity in the U.S.

  • In the international arena, the administration has reduced religious liberty to a shriveled concept of individual religious worship and has instead aggressively promoted its LGBT initiative at the expense of religious liberty. See, e.g., Thomas F. Farr, “Religious Freedom Under the Gun,” Weekly Standard, July 16, 2012.
  • In Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church v. EEOC (2012), the Department of Justice contested the very existence of a “ministerial exception” to federal anti-discrimination laws, despite the fact that that exception had been uniformly recognized by the federal courts of appeals. According to the Obama Department of Justice, religious organizations, in selecting their faith leaders, are limited to the same freedom-of-association right that labor unions and social clubs have in choosing their leaders. At oral argument, even Justice Kagan called DOJ’s position “amazing,” and in its unanimous ruling the Court emphatically rejected DOJ’s “remarkable view that the Religion Clauses have nothing to say about a religious organization’s freedom to select its own ministers.”
  • Despite the fact that its own independent review board ranked the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops far above other applicants for a grant to assist victims of human trafficking, HHS political appointees denied the grant because USCCB won’t refer trafficking victims for contraceptives and abortion. See Jerry Markon, “Health, abortion issues split Obama administration and Catholic groups,”Washington Post, Oct. 31, 2011.
  • Against the backdrop of an escalating clash between gay rights and religious liberty, the Obama administration irresponsibly abandoned its duty to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act. When President Obama finally cast aside his professed opposition to redefining marriage, he opened the way for an intensification of the vitriolic attacks on traditional religious believers (and others) who continue to hold the position that he had so recently claimed to embrace.
    (Ed Whelan, testimony before congress).

Whelan’s list offers a clear testimony to the increasing likelihood that Christians will run afoul of those enforcing the new tolerance.  As with Paul and Silas, Christians today may sense the need to speak up, to take a stand, or take a seat in prison, waiting for justice to arrive. Law professor Richard Epstein has recently written about one such Christian—Barronelle Stutzman.

(to be continued…)

Do You Know Any Bad Prisons?


Persecution Prison Theology ChinaDo you know any bad prison stories? If you’ve ever seen The Shawshank Redemption, then you have heard of at least one bad prison. My guess is that you know of several others, too. Ever heard of Alcatraz, that eerie, isolated mass of prison rock sitting about a mile and a half offshore in San Francisco Bay?  And what about Abu Ghraib? Who hasn’t heard about the atrocious behavior of American soldiers in that Iraqi installation?

We seem to have a fascination with scary prison stories. Growing up in Louisiana, I would get shivers at talk of Angola—the largest maximum security penitentiary in the U.S.  Its history is strewn with stories of swamps and stabbings and serial corruption. It was the home of the dreaded “Gruesome Gertie,” an electric chair transported from parish to parish throughout Louisiana to carry out executions.

Prison stories typically capture our attention. But sometimes terrible prison stories never get told. Consider the small, desert country of Eritrea, located in the Horn of Africa, along the coastline of the Red Sea.  One of the worst human rights atrocities of our day is currently taking place in the Me’eter Prison there, with the full knowledge of the watching world. And you have likely never heard of it.

Me’eter Prison was opened in 2009, basically, to serve as “a concentration camp for Christians.”[1]  The atrocities described here have been documented by WikiLeaks since 2011.  Inmates are forced to live in cargo containers so crowded that the prisoners never have enough room to lie down. They have no protection from the searing heat during the day (often exceeding 110 degrees Fahrenheit) and no recourse from the cold at night. Arid desert climates can experience 50 degree temperature changes from day to night. Inmates may die from starvation, dehydration, heatstroke, cholera, diphtheria, or other infectious diseases.

The inmates who survive the deplorable conditions are subjected to other forms of torture and abuse. Stories abound of sexual abuse and physical beatings. Even the work and exercise prescribed are forms of torture—such as counting the grains of sand in a certain area during the noonday heat or squatting to move rocks from one side of your body to the other, repeated endlessly.

Eritrea , persecution

Source: CIA.GOV

French revolutionary Regis Debray argues that such abuse falls into the blind spot of western academics and media elites. The atrocities at Me’eter are documented in books, on WikiLeaks, via internet sources, and through activists like gospel singer Helen Berhane, herself an inmate at a prison in Eritrea from 2004-2006, because of her faith in Christ.  The information is available for those adequately concerned, but who is concerned about persecuted Christians?  Certainly not the UK Border Agency.  Helen Berhane was scheduled to speak to a Release International gathering in the UK on behalf of other persecuted Christians, but she was denied entry by the UK Border Agency.  Parliament passed unanimously Early Day Motion 1531 in support of Berhane (and condemning the Border Agency decision), but Berhane was not allowed entry to tell her story in person.  And Christians still languish in putrid prison conditions in Eritrea on account of Christ.  Who cares?

Fortunately, there are a growing number of Christ’s people who care. One group that has been active on behalf of suffering saints in Eritrea is Church in Chains, a ministry to the persecuted church operating out of Ireland.  Maybe you and I could find out more about Christians in prison and tell others about them. We could pray for suffering Christians and advocate on their behalf–for Christ’s sake.


[1] Quote and following Me’eter description from John L. Allen, The Global War, 1-4.

Good Encouragement from Bad Imprisonment


The news out of North Korea does not appear good for Christians, but that doesn’t mean good can’t come from it. Our God redeems what otherwise appears lost and hopeless. Encouragement might result (see here).

Project 13:3

 

North Korea Christian PersecutionI recently read a story concerning the state of Christians in North Korea. As expected, the situation for Christians there is grim. Though some reports state that new leader Kim Jong Un is easing some restrictions which made North Korea infamous in the first place, leading them to the #1 spot for the persecution of Christians on Open Doors annual watch list, the truth of the matter is that there are still tens of thousands of Christians in prisons in North Korea.

In the story, Ryan Morgan, an analyst with International Christian Concern (Asia), says this about recent reports of reform:

“We have not heard any reports of improvement for Christians in the country and have no reason to believe anything has changed.  The regime still has up to 70,000 Christians locked away in virtual concentration camps.”

Oddly, the Lord has used reports such as these in an unexpected…

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A Letter from Shoaib


Though Shoaib’s letter is not as powerful as the letter we posted from Said Musa last week, there is an urgency about this letter.  It is clear from the letter that Shoaib is appealing to the Afghan Government based on its own constitution.  He is appealing to the government for justice, which is what the government is supposed to provide.

However, governments often forgo justice in the name of political expediency.  Indeed, Shoaib’s biggest fear is that the government will yield to Islamic pressure and follow Shariah law, which he says would surely mean his death.  So, I think our first priority is to appeal to the Lord of the universe, the one for whom the mountains melt like wax (Ps 97:5).  Remember Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.”

Beyond appealing to the Lord Almighty, we may also wish to appeal to the U.S. Embassy.  The contact information (courtesy of ICC) is as follows:

Afghanistan embassy in the U.S.
Phone: (202-483-6410).
Web address is www.embassyofafghanistan.org.

Also, courtesy of Baptist Press and ICC, there is a translation of Shoaib’s Letter:

“My name is Shoaib Said Assadullah. I am 23 years old. For the last four months I have been imprisoned in Qasre Shahi prison, Mazar-e Sharif for the crime of apostasy, which means I’ve changed my beliefs.

“Not only has my freedom been taken from me, but I [am] undergoing severe psychological pressure. Several times I have been attacked physically and threatened to death by fellow prisoners, especially Taliban and anti government prisoners who are in jail.

“These assaults on my human dignity have affected me negatively, close to the point of death. On the other hand, the court has delayed their decision so that my apparent psychiatric problems will be cured. I do not think this is possible in prison.

“My case is supposed to be sent to the court shortly, because the prosecutor has the right to hold a case only for 30 days. The court’s decision is most definitely going to be the death penalty for me, because the prosecutor has accused me under the Clause 139 of the [Afghan] criminal code which says, ‘If the crime is not cited in the criminal code, then the case has to be referred to the Islamic Shariah law.’

“Furthermore, my mother died less than a month ago from the grief that her beloved son was jailed with the threat of the death penalty over him. The authorities did not even allow me to attend the funeral ceremonies and pay my respects to her. This is against Clause 37 of in the [Afghan] law regarding prisons.

“Not seeing my mother for the last time was more painful than anything else. I would like to add that freedom is a gift from God. This means that we have to respect human freedom and dignity. Clause 24 of Afghan Constitution says, ‘Human freedom and dignity is an unalterable right. The government is committed to respect and protect human freedom and dignity.’

“Article 3 of the [U.N.] Universal Declaration of Human Rights is violated if the Afghan government does not respect Articles 18 and 19. [1] Article 3 of Declaration of Human Rights says: ‘Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.’ Simply stated, if Sharia law is implemented in my case, the Articles 1, 2, 3, 18 and 19 of the Declaration [of] Human Rights will be violated.

“I request that you follow my case.

“Sincerely,

“Shoaib”

Said Free but Shoaib in Danger


In a wonderful sign of Christian unity, thousands of Christians took action on behalf of Said Musa, an imprisoned Christian facing death in Afghanistan for converting to Christianity.  Said Musa HAS BEEN FREED from prison and is now safely out of the country.

Shoaib Assadullah

But Said Musa was not alone.  Another Christian—Shoaib Assadullah—is facing the same possibility for his crime of converting to Christ.

Shoaib, in his early twenties, was arrested on October 21, after he gave a New Testament to one of his friends.  The friend gave the New Testament to Muslim authorities, who summarily arrested Shoaib.  Though he has not been formally charged, this young man also faces the death penalty under anti-conversion laws in Afghanistan.

Even though Shoaib’s family does not agree with his conversion to Christ, they are spending their time and their money trying to get him free.  According to this report, Shoaib’s family has exhausted their income and savings trying to save his life.  As his father said, “He’s my son. Whatever he believes, I have to help him.”  His father’s help has not prevailed over the authorities.

Shoaib remains in jail facing death for converting to Christ.  In December, Shoaib was offered the opportunity to be freed if he would renounce Christ and return to Islam.  He refused, and the judge told him that he would either be sentenced to death or he would be in prison for 20 years.  Though he has appealed, he remains in prison, possibly facing death for faith in Christ.

As International Christian Concern says, “We must remain vigilant and keep the public and diplomatic pressure alive by continuing to shout with one voice for Shoaib Assadullah until together, we can also celebrate his release.”  Amen! We must keep up the good work for Shoaib even as we celebrate Said Musa.

And we must keep praying (see 2 Corinthians 1:8-11).

Absent from Mainstream Media


You will not see this story on the mainstream outlets, but it is fantastic.  You will be encouraged. I had forgotten about the work going on at Angola.  I used to read about it back home in Louisiana.  I have an interest in prison ministry and used to do that in Louisiana.  This story concerning the [seemingly genuine] outpouring of the Spirit at Angola will encourage you very much.  The story goes beyond Christian faith, which ought to cause it to get noticed by anyone concerned about human rights or criminal justice.  Christians will notice, no doubt, that it all began with the broken and contrite heart of the warden (and with the exercise of capital punishment).