Persecution of Christians: It’s Real

Persecution of Christians worldwide seems to be increasing. China is tearing down crosses. The Islamic regions either outlaw Christian evangelism (ex., Saudi Arabia) or are dominated by radical Islamists who seek to wipe out Christianity entirely. The poster child for this new persecution, sadly enough, is Iraq, where the U.S. has expended so much effort to turn that nation into a civilized ally. As the country falls apart, and sections of it are overpowered by the latest Islamist terror organization, ISIS, Christians are becoming nearly non-existent.

Their new overlords lay out the options: either convert to Islam, pay a fine for “protection,” or leave. Those who refuse to bow to any of those options are executed.

Razor's Edge

Mosul, a city that, until recently, had 60,000 Christians, now has none. Those that refused to leave were slaughtered. This is a new genocide, but not one that seems to get the attention it deserves. Rarely, in the mainstream media, is this a feature. It’s the silent genocide, as far as the media is concerned.

Never Mind

In the midst of all the awful news, there was one bright light: the rescue of Meriam Ibrahim from Sudan, where she had been under a sentence of death for not renouncing her Christian faith. She held firm and is now safely out of that country, soon to be in the U.S. with her husband, who is an American citizen. Ibrahim sought refuge in the U.S. embassy in Sudan, but apparently it was the Italians, not the American government, that took the necessary steps to get her out of the country. Another epic fail for this administration’s foreign policy, which doesn’t seem in the least focused on atrocities against Christians. Upon arriving in Italy, Ibrahim met with Pope Francis:

VATICAN-POPE-SUDAN-ISLAM-CHRISTIANITY-RIGHTS

I can only imagine the joy she felt upon her release. I pray she won’t find that type of persecution in her new home in America. However, that is not a certainty.

While Christians in the U.S. are not told to renounce their faith, they definitely are starting to feel pressures quite alien to the history and tradition of the nation. Obamacare’s attempt to force Christian organizations to fund abortions is only the beginning. President Obama’s new executive order mandating so-called non-discrimination in hiring as it relates to homosexuals is another broadside against those who hold to a strong Biblical morality. That order specifically does not exempt religious organizations.

Now, that only applies currently to those who want to receive federal funding in any way. I’ve always argued against Christian institutions taking federal funds, for fear it would lead to control over the message. Since all student loans are now coming directly from the federal government—an almost invisible change made in the early days of the Obama administration—all Christian colleges and universities may find themselves faced with a hard choice. What if the government refuses to give students any aid if they attend a college that continues to hire based on its Biblical beliefs, which includes viewing homosexuality as sinful? For me, the choice is not hard: we should never back down on the truth of God’s Word.

Are we only a few steps away from outright persecution? This seems an appropriate spot to mention a movie that has come out recently that dares to ask that question. The title is simple and to the point: Persecuted. Persecuted MovieIt’s fictional, but not far from what could easily become factual. A nationally known pastor is pressed by the government to come out in support of a bill that promotes “tolerance” of all beliefs. The catch is that it will mean a blurring of the line with respect to truth: no one can claim there is only one way to salvation.

The pastor refuses to bend the knee and finds himself in a nightmare world of false accusations; he has to flee for his life. The film has a top-notch cast, which lends itself to fine performances all around. It doesn’t wrap everything up in a neat little box at the end, and it not only deals with government corruption but corruption within the Christian world also. I highly recommend seeing it before it disappears. It will make you think, and we are a point where God wants us to be thinking about what we would do if the movie’s scenario should become reality.

I’m not a whiner. I believe God is able to lead us through trials and through outright persecution. My main concern is that we be ready to do His will, regardless of what we will face in the future. We need to be prepared.

The Pilgrim Story: English Separatism

Now that we’ve completed our look at Jamestown in our journey through American history, I’ll give you some posts on the next significant group of settlers. We call them the Pilgrims, but that’s only because they proclaimed they were following God’s leading on their trek to the New World. So “pilgrim” is a later term applied to them. In England, they were known as Separatists, and that name could be dangerous to one’s life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

Henry VIIIWhen Elizabeth came to the throne in 1558, her nation had been through a real trial with respect to religious beliefs. Her father, Henry VIII, had been a staunch Catholic who had even written against Martin Luther. The pope at that time had honored him with the title of “Defender of the Faith.” Then things went sour.

Henry didn’t have a male heir with his wife, Catherine of Aragon. His concern for the stability of the throne once he passed away led him to ask the pope for an annulment of the marriage on the basis that he had sinned by marrying his deceased brother’s wife. The English clergy found a passage in Leviticus that they used for their argument in favor of the annulment, but it was clearly a twisting of Scripture for personal reasons.

Popes had not been reluctant in the past to grant such annulments, but this time Henry ran into a brick wall. Catherine’s nephew, Charles V, was the Holy Roman Emperor, and the pope was not eager to alienate him. That led to Henry deciding to break from the Catholic Church and set up England’s own church with him at the head. He then appointed bishops that did his bidding. He set aside Catherine and married Anne Boleyn, who became the mother of Elizabeth.

Henry didn’t get his male heir with Anne, so he had her accused of unfaithfulness and executed. He then married Jane Seymour, who finally gave him a son. But that son, Edward VI, didn’t live past his teenage years, so the daughter of Catherine, a queen the Protestants called Bloody Mary, ascended to the throne. She persecuted Protestants and tried to turn the nation back to Catholicism. She reigned only five years, however, so she didn’t accomplish her goal.

Elizabeth IElizabeth followed Mary to the throne, having stayed alive during the former’s reign by a careful balancing act. She continued that act as queen, deciding that the Church of England—the Anglican Church—would be Protestant in doctrine but look very Catholic. She hoped that would unite the kingdom.

There were, though, some Protestants who were not happy with the idea of the sovereign determining the “true” faith. They had read the Bible for themselves and believed God had given them liberty to set up churches apart from the state so they could follow their consciences in how to worship Him. Those were the Separatists.

They were small in number, but very dedicated to their beliefs, willing to suffer persecution for being faithful to their understanding of Scripture. Queen Elizabeth considered them a thorn in her side, working to divide her kingdom. If they tried to spread their ideas via the printing press, they could even be put to death.

It was a congregation of these Separatists who ultimately decided they had to leave England in order to worship God according to what they saw in Scripture. They are the ones we now call the Pilgrim Fathers.

What were they like? What trials did they endure? Did they exhibit the kind of character worth emulating today? When they came to the New World, how did they treat the natives?

Today was the background; we’ll delve more into the precise history of these people next week.

Meriam Ibrahim & Islamic Injustice

I could take up this space today commenting on the VA scandal as it grows, or I could pick apart President Obama’s weak, defensive speech to West Point cadets yesterday. Those, and a hundred other things, could be the topic of the day. But I’ve decided to draw attention instead to the absolutely awful pending execution of a woman in Sudan whose only offense is that she’s a Christian.

Perhaps you’ve seen the wedding photo of this couple:

Meriam Ibrahim

The wife, Meriam Ibrahim, was recently sentenced to death for not renouncing her Christian faith. Her husband, Daniel Wani, became a naturalized American citizen a number of years ago. Meriam sought to do the same, but her request for a visa to come to the U.S. was delayed for some reason by our State Department. Daniel is wheelchair bound and depends on Meriam for what he calls “all the details” of his life.

The background: Meriam was born into a family with a Muslim father and a Christian mother. The father deserted the family and she was raised by her mother. She became a Christian under her mother’s influence. She never was a Muslim. Yet Shariah law in Sudan requires children to follow their father’s faith. She has been found guilty of adultery (for marrying a Christian) and apostasy for not “returning” to Islam, even though she never was Islamic before. The penalty is hanging.

The couple has a 20-month old son who is in the prison with Meriam. Also, she just gave birth to a baby girl while in the prison. The “merciful” judges have decided to delay the execution until the new child is weaned. Then Meriam will be hanged.

Christians should work on her behalf. Many are doing so. The American government should be working to reverse the original error that kept her from emigrating to the U.S. I have no idea if it is doing anything; reports are not encouraging. After all, this is the Obama administration, and cases such as Meriam’s are not priority, if they are on its radar at all. Only increased pressure from those who care will push the Obama team into action.

Pray for Meriam and her family. She has shown her faith is genuine, refusing to recant under threat of death. Jesus said Christians would be persecuted until the end of time. It’s part of what we must expect. Yet that doesn’t mean we should be resigned to let this unjust sentence be carried out. We need to publicize the injustice. If giving notice in this blog can help even a little, I will be grateful.

Egypt & Obama

It’s never easy to get Americans interested in what’s going on in other countries. Much of what is happening in the Middle East, though, is critical, and we should be aware of developments in that crucial area. Israel, of course, is the only solid American ally in the region, and it is continually threatened with extinction. If the Muslim extremists get their way, a new holocaust will take place.

Also high on the list for extinction in that part of the world is Christianity. What we’re seeing played out in Egypt right now is downright scary. Some of the news networks aren’t providing the whole story; Christian churches are being attacked and destroyed, and individual Christians are being murdered for their beliefs. This is persecution, plain and simple.

The primary culprit in these atrocities is the Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks to establish Sharia law over not only Egypt, but the entire world. Turmoil in Egypt during the misnamed Arab Spring led to an election that put a Brotherhood leader is charge of the country. Mohamed Morsi proceeded to put the Brotherhood’s plan into action, tightening the noose on Christians and moderate Muslims who were just too afraid to oppose him and his terrorist organization. Egypt was cooperating with Iran, which has declared it will wipe Israel off the map.

Finally, the military put a stop to the drift toward Sharia totalitarianism, ousting Morsi and clamping down on the Muslim Brotherhood. This has led to civil war as “days of rage” are proclaimed and casualties mount. Again, the main culprit is easy to spot:

Muslim Brotherhood

Yet this has put the United States government in an awkward situation. You see, the Obama administration had not only recognized the Morsi government as the legitimate government of Egypt, but seemed to endorse its actions. Now that the military is taking control, the people are coming out of hiding and applauding the removal of the Brotherhood. Signs displayed in the streets are not only anti-Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi, but also anti-Obama. The citizens rightly perceive that Obama chose his side in this struggle. The wrong side. This leaves him in a tough spot:

Sand Trap

If it appears he is lost in the world of international relations, it might be because he is. The American president, ostensibly in charge of the most powerful nation on earth, is powerless to do anything meaningful in that region. But he’s the one who put himself in this untenable position; he has no one else to blame.

Really Is Obama

His radical ideology trapped him. Most of the world has come to view him as little more than clownish. Unfortunately, the whole nation suffers from his reputation. This is a far cry from the adulation heaped upon him five short years ago. It was a foolish adulation then; those who cling to the earlier image have decided to remain fools now.

The Growing Suppression of Christian Faith

Before this week, I had never heard of Mikey Weinstein [does someone really choose to be called Mikey?], but he and his organization, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, have made headlines. If you haven’t noticed, let me get you up to speed.

The story first appeared on Breitbart.com and, as of last night, had more than 1.2 million Facebook shares. Weinstein, a former Air Force officer, was recently brought to the Pentagon by Obama political appointees as a consultant to help formulate policy on the type of religious expression that should be allowed or disallowed in the Air Force. His organization, though, is a stridently anti-Christian group that seeks to curtail the rights of Christians serving in the military.

Although the word “extremist” can be overused at times, Weinstein seems to fit the category. All we have to do is take him at his own word—or many words. As reported in World magazine, “Weinstein’s objective is to make it standard practice in the military that a service member who proselytizes his or her faith should face court-martial. He told Fox News he’d like to see ‘hundreds of prosecutions to stop this outrage.'” Here are more samples of Weinstein’s rhetoric:

We face incredibly well-funded gangs of fundamentalist Christian monsters who terrorize their fellow Americans by forcing their weaponized and twisted version of Christianity upon their helpless subordinates in our nation’s armed forces.

Our Pentagon has been turned into a Pentacostalgon, and our DOD has been turned into an imperialistic, fascist contagion of unconstitutional triumphalism by people that want to kill us—or have their version of Jesus kill us if we don’t accept their Biblical world view.

The dominionist Christian will say, “Nothing can constrain me from proselytizing my version of Christianity.” And these people we find have several particular malodorous stenches about them. It’s like walking into a stench in my native state of New Mexico here on a hot August afternoon and having your nostrils assaulted by the stenches of 10,000 rotting swine, it’s so bad. The first stench is viral misogyny. The fact that women should be consigned to selecting food, preparing food, cleaning up after meals, spreading their legs, getting pregnant and raising children. The next [stench] is virulent anti-Semitism. The next is virulent Islamophobia.

We’re fighting al-Qaeda. We’re fighting the Taliban, and we’re turning our own military in[to] the exact same thing.

The dead guy—Jerry Falwell, and I’m sorry but I’m very glad he’s dead. I’m very sorry if anyone is upset about that.

I think that’s enough to give you a taste of where he’s coming from. His organization is misnamed. It should be called the Military Suppression of Religious Freedom Foundation. Weinstein has called proselytizing—sharing one’s faith with another—“a national security threat” and a form of “spiritual rape.” He seems to relish using sexual language in his attacks on Christianity. He also equates sharing one’s faith with “sedition and treason.”

Let’s keep in mind a couple of things: first, for Christians, it’s a commandment to share the faith because we believe people are lost and we seek to pull them out of the pit of hell; second, the First Amendment, which should be our political guideline, says that we cannot be prohibited from the free exercise of our faith. And on the practical level, what use is a military chaplaincy if chaplains are not allowed to share what they believe? This gets to the root of the issue: Weinstein wants nothing less than the dismantling of the military chaplaincy and the removal of all Christian influence.

The Pentagon, in the aftermath of this revelation and the criticism it has received, issued the following statement: “Religious proselytization is not permitted within the Department of Defense. Court-martials and non-judicial punishments are decided on a case-by-case basis and it would be inappropriate to speculate on the outcome in specific cases.” That’s supposed to make us feel better? That’s more like an affirmation of what Weinstein wants to accomplish. Of course, this is the same military, now run by Obama appointees, that has affirmed homosexuality. So homosexuality is celebrated and Christian faith is demonized.

I’ve been writing about Obama’s worldview and his anti-Christian stances for the past four-plus years. In one sense, this is nothing new. However, it’s becoming more blatant as time passes. This is a real attack on Christianity in America, and we had better wake up and face the reality. More than once I’ve said that the true Christian faith is now a subculture in our society. We need to recognize that and respond accordingly. We’ve not yet reverted to the persecution era of the Roman Empire, but we need to prepare ourselves for that possibility if our culture and politics don’t change very soon.

Iranian Persecution of the Christian Faith

Iran continues its persecution of Christians. The latest victim is Saeed Abedini, who is now an American citizen. Last week, he was sentenced to eight years in prison by a judge known for his particularly harsh sentences. What did Abedini do to run afoul of the regime? In the early years of this new century, when he was still an Iranian citizen, he converted to Christianity and became a leader in setting up a network of house churches. This, in Iran, is unlawful because those churches might help turn young people away from Islam and lead them to the Christian faith.

Since then, Abedini moved to the United States, became an American citizen, and currently lives in Idaho. He was back in Iran to help establish an orphanage. According to a news report, Iranian authorities pulled him off a bus last August and threw him into the notorious Evin Prison in Tehran. He has an Iranian lawyer, but he was given only one day to prepare his client’s defense. Stalin himself would have been impressed by this new version of the “show trial.”

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) represents his family in the U.S. The ACLJ has released this statement:

This is a real travesty—a mockery of justice. From the very beginning, Iranian authorities have lied about all aspects of this case, even releasing rumors of his expected release. Iran has not only abused its own laws, it has trampled on the fundamentals of human rights. We call on the citizens of the world to rise up in protest. We call on governments around the world to stand and defend Pastor Saeed.

I know the ACLJ needs to make such statements to publicize the case, but I’m not all that hopeful that either “citizens of the world” or “governments around the world” will care all that much. The U.S. State Department has called for Abedini’s release and is supposedly in contact with him, but given who is running the State Department these days, no one should expect any effective action there.

What we see in Iran is a microcosm of what is happening throughout the Islamic world. Christians are not allowed to worship freely. If they share their faith, they are persecuted. If anyone converts to the faith, that person is subject to the death penalty. The United States under its Constitution has never had such a policy toward religious minorities. What those minorities need to consider is that it was the Christian foundations of the country that led to religious liberty. Most understood, over time, that religious beliefs must be voluntary, not coerced by the government. No one becomes a Christian by government fiat. The only genuine Christianity stems from a personal encounter with the Living God.

It’s not politically correct to call Islam a threat. We’re only supposed to place the threat in a form of radical Islam that promotes jihad. However, I’m convinced the problem is deeper: all Islam is a deviation from Biblical truth and carries the seeds of violence within it. Some just take it more seriously than others.

Meanwhile, Christians need to pray for Saeed Abedini’s life. Those eight years of imprisonment may be only the beginning for him. A tyrannical regime based on Islamist ideology, such as the one running Iran, is not going to be reasonable. It will take an act of God for Abedini to be released.

Nadarkhani’s Release

Youcef Nadarkhani is free. The pastor who has languished in an Iranian prison for nearly three years was released on Saturday. He had been condemned to die for his faith, but he is now with his family. This is a personal victory for him, and I am grateful he has persevered and overcome the privations he suffered. He has proven his faith is genuine; he was willing to suffer a martyr’s fate for standing up for the truth of the Gospel.

But as an analysis of the situation notes, he was not fully exonerated by the Iranian regime. Although the apostasy charge was dismissed, he still was found guilty of conducting evangelistic activities. The penalty for that was three years in prison. He had served two years, eleven months, so upon payment of a fine, he was allowed to go free at this time. This is not real leniency on Iran’s part; it’s another attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of a confused and distracted West. His release also follows only one day after Canada cut off all diplomatic relations with Iran. “See,” they are saying, “we’re not that bad; it’s the evil Western countries like Canada that are the real problem.”

Meanwhile, other Christians remain in Iranian prisons for precisely the same reason Nadarkhani was incarcerated. For a fuller treatment of this story, and how this episode doesn’t indicate a softening of the Iranian stance, I highly recommend an article from Commentary, which you can access here.

What does the future hold for Nadarkhani and his family? Will he stay in Iran or leave? Biblically, he is under no obligation to remain where he and his family are in danger of death. He could leave with a clear conscience. On the other hand, each Christian must seek the Lord’s guidance as to where he will do the most good for the advancement of the Gospel. Perhaps he may believe the Lord is calling him to stay. Whatever he decides, I rejoice today that he is free to fulfill God’s will for him. His imprisonment was a testimony to the truth; the rest of his life can be as well. May he continue to draw close to the Lord, and may his efforts for Him be blessed.