Tag Archives: extremism

Do You Personally Know Any Terrorists?

When you read the question in the title, you probably said to yourself, “I don’t think I know any terrorists, but wouldn’t it be interesting if I did?” The right answer to the question in the title might seem obvious to you at a casual glance. What if I told you, however, that you do not know the definition of a terrorist, and therefore, you probably do not know that you do know one or more terrorists? Philosophers always refuse to argue with each other until they have defined their terms, although they will argue at great length about the definition of the terms. People who study contemporary culture need definitions, too, because the definitions change frequently.

On July 7, in Russia, the nation that was the core of the former Soviet Union, Vladimir Putin signed a law that gives new meaning to the words terrorist and terrorism. If that law had been signed by Barack Obama, it is highly likely that you would have recognized immediately that you know one or more terrorists very well. The horrifying aspect of this news is that there are forces in the USA this very day who would love to see this “anti-terrorism” law enacted in the United States.

Many aspects of the law have already been common in other nations for quite a while. For some time now it has been illegal in Tajikistan for persons younger than 18 to attend religious services except for weddings and funerals. In Uzbekistan, the only legal version of the Bible is the one approved by the national government, and possession of even that Bible is illegal if it was purchased anywhere except a store approved by the national government. In Turkmenistan, all religious activity must be confined to buildings legally registered as houses of worship. Those nations are mostly secular nations where a perceived need to limit the ability of Muslims to recruit jihadis led to suppression of all religions. If anyone asks Putin why Russia needed this law, it is likely that this is the answer he would give. You probably believe that something must be done to make it hard for groups like ISIS to recruit young people willing to die for them, but you probably do not believe that allowing a mother to tell her children Bible stories at bedtime qualifies as making her a potential ISIS recruit. Russia’s new “anti-terrorism” law begs to differ with you. In the eyes of the Russian government, a mother who reads Bible stories to her children or teaches them a bedtime prayer is engaging in extreme behavior that warrants arrest and fines. Legally, she herself can only pray inside a building legally registered as a worship site, and that is also the only place where she can teach her children how to pray—or model prayer for them or let them practice prayer.

Watch for the Freedom From Religion Foundation to propose the same law in the United States of America.

Here are some of the details of the Russian law, as cited by Steve Berman at the Resurgent:

Under the law, all personal evangelism on the streets and in individual homes is now restricted. Evangelizing outside registered churches will result in fines. Christians meeting in homes are not allowed to invite unbelievers.

Christians wishing to share their faith must secure government permits through registered religious organizations. Even with such permits, they are not allowed to witness anywhere besides registered churches or religious sites. Churches that rent rather than owning their facilities will be forcibly disbanded.

Besides rendering evangelism illegal, the law will also punish not reporting violations. Russian believers and missionaries will be under constant scrutiny of officials and even neighbors.

Individuals found guilty of violating the new law will be fined up to $800 USD, while organizations found in violation will be fined up to $15,500. Foreigners found in violation will be deported. All aspects of the law also apply to internet activities.

 

Why do I think anybody will want that law in the United States?

The answer is that there are plenty of people in the USA who do not like any of the behaviors restricted or forbidden by this law. For example, many secular thinkers consider it child abuse when a parent tells a child that he or she is sinful. Secular thinkers believe a child is appears magically when a clump of cells in a woman’s uterus bursts out with arms, legs, and a head at an event called “birth.” To them, that child is a blank slate, unsullied by the world, ready to be led into self-actualization as the outcome of a journey of discovery called childhood. Secular thinkers believe that a child cannot possibly be a sinner, because the child has not yet made any choices. To teach a child about sinful human nature and then tell the child he or she must repent of bad attitudes sounds crass and unfair to secular thinkers. When a parent teaches a child the tenets of the Christian faith, secular thinkers call the parent an extremist.

Secular thinkers also consider it to be an example of extreme behavior when somebody silently reads a Bible on a public bus, or offers to pray for someone met in a grocery store. Barna Group discovered that almost 50% of non-religious adults in the USA consider Christianity to be extremist. They uncovered a long list of behaviors that many Americans now consider to be extreme, and you might be shocked to read the list:

  • Refusal to participate in and celebrate lifestyle choices that conflict with personal religious convictions
  • Demonstrate against immoral behavior (The people who consider it extreme to demonstrate against abortion consider it admirable to demonstrate for #blacklivesmatter. Hmmm)
  • Preach a religious message in a public place where nonbelievers might hear it
  • Teach children that homosexual behavior is morally wrong
  • Pray aloud for a stranger
  • Protest government policies that conflict with personal religious convictions (but demonstrating for standards that make a person feel good about himself is desirable and something to mimic.)
  • Leave a high-paying job to be a missionary in a third-world country
  • Read the Bible silently in a public place
  • Attend church every week
  • Tell a stranger about Jesus and ask him to follow Jesus

These behaviors are considered extremism by 50% of non-religious people, but a surprising number of people who claim religious connections also consider these behaviors to be extreme. It isn’t all that surprising, when you consider how few professed Christians ever attend church or read the Bible or pray aloud anywhere. All these behaviors are illegal in Russia since July 7, and as Barna would confirm, a great many people in the USA consider them to be detrimental to peace and good order. It is not inconceivable at all that somebody could soon propose that the USA pass a law just like the one in Russia.

In case the means of enforcing these restrictions in Russia was not clear, just contemplate what it would mean for you and your church.

  • What if it were illegal to meet for worship in a building not licensed as a place of worship?
  • What if a licensed building had to renew the license every five years, or even more frequently? What if a license were only issued if the application for a worship license had to include the names, addresses, birthdates, and attendance record of at least 150 people in order to be valid? What if the approval process for a worship license included personal government interviews of every person listed on the application?
  • What if it were illegal to engage in any sort of commerce (Christmas bazaars, for example) on the property of a licensed worship facility?
  • What if no private dwelling could be used for worship under any circumstances? (illegal to have a prayer meeting in your living room, illegal for your family to read the Bible and pray around the kitchen table at breakfast, illegal for you to teach your children the Ten Commandments or Bible verses such as John 3:16 in your house or your yard)
  • What if it were illegal for a youth mission group to pray on the front porch of a house they were rehabbing for a week?
  • What if you could be arrested if your neighbor complained that you told him that he should follow Jesus? Or even if you told him that following Jesus was the best thing in your life?
  • What if it were illegal to pray with your co-worker whose marriage is struggling, even if you prayed in the bathroom away from the work areas?
  • What if it were illegal for you to stand in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic and counsel women considering abortion to consider life instead?
  • What if it were illegal for a licensed worship facility to open its doors for worship unless a licensed worship leader (pastor) was present to conduct all the proceedings? (Your pastor is on vacation, no supply is available, and members want to worship anyway. Then what?)
  • What if you could be arrested if police investigated a neighbor’s report that you were teaching your children Christian songs, and during the investigation in your home, they found a Bible that was not a federally approved translation published by a federally authorized publisher of religious materials?

All these things are happening in countries where all religions are considered to be hotbeds of terrorism and all congregations are considered to be made up of extremists.

Russia’s new law may be the first evidence of a first-world nation with a law that so seriously limits religious liberty. It won’t be the last, because the secular thinkers who run the nation of Russia have colleagues around the world who agree with them that religion must be suppressed and contained and silenced. The founders of the USA believed that God himself gave human beings their right to love and serve God, even above the obligation to serve human authority. Many citizens of the US today believe that God does not exist, and that what we call unalienable rights are unearned privileges that the government has the right to grant or withhold. It is not at all inconceivable that the US Congress might soon be considering an anti-terrorism bill that is in actuality an anti-Christian bill.

Do you personally know any terrorists? If you are a Christian, it might be you.

 

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com. Watch for the release of Thrive! Live Christian in a Hostile World, planned for release in the autumn of 2016

 

 

 

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CHRISTIAN ARRESTED FOR EXTREMISM BECAUSE HE OWNS A BIBLE

One day soon, you may see a headline like this one in the New York Times, or in your hometown newspaper, or on the Drudge Report. For now, this headline comes from Uzbekistan, but after you read the story and think about the language of public discourse in the USA, you may discover that it would be no stretch at all for this headline to be about you.

The news from Uzbekistan is this. One article of the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan outlaws “keeping and storing extremist materials with the purpose of further distribution.” To Christians in the USA, a Bible would not be called “extremist,” and the possession of it would not mean that its owner was an extremist. However, in Uzbekistan, the Bible is regarded as a severe threat.

In fact, Uzbekistan’s government harshly suppresses all religious activity of any variety—Muslim, Christian, and all other groups. In the current year, Uzbekistan is the 15th most dangerous country in the world for Christians, but this government does not limit its threats to Christians. Uzbek law requires all religious groups to be registered, and the requirements for Christians are at least no more onerous than the requirements for other religions. The requirements for registration filter out very small groups such as independent house churches and other small congregations who cannot meet the standard for numbers of members. The law further requires that all religious material, Bibles, devotional books, Sunday School lessons, and so forth be inspected by the government, and only approved materials may be possessed. Only one version of the Bible is approved, and only people belonging to registered religious groups may possess even that version. Some tiny Christian churches refuse to attempt registration, because the penalty for continuing to meet after a rejected registration is more onerous than the penalty for illegal gatherings of unregistered groups.

The guiding philosophy of Uzbek law surrounding religions is that the government considers the practice of religion to be extremist activity. In the eyes of the deeply secular government, the threat of extremism justifies extreme control. Religious registration requires that the groups give the government a great deal of information, including lists of members, and registered organizations are held accountable for compliance with laws surrounding buildings approved for religious meetings and the use of approved religious documents. In order to be approved, religious documents, including the Bible, must be published by approved publishers, sold in approved bookstores, printed in approved translations, and so forth. Failure to comply on any point is grounds for the accusation of promoting extremism. To offer to pray for someone in a public park is extremism, because the park is not an approved location for religious activity. To invite someone to receive Christ into his heart is extremism, because proselytizing is forbidden. To tell five little children playing in your yard the story of Noah and the Ark is extremism, because no children may be taught religion without written permission of their parents and no religious teaching to anyone of any age may be done outside an approved location for religious education. To read a Bible on the bus is an act of extremism if the Bible is not an approved translation which you acquired at an approved bookstore which verified that the publisher is on the government’s approved list. To have a lot of Bibles of any translation in your house, along with a pile of tracts and a few devotional magazines is to give evidence of personal extremism, and makes you subject to the accusation that you plan to distribute the materials and incite further extremism.

It is in this context that Majid (not the real name) was arrested for possessing unauthorized materials that are considered to be extremist, with the intent to distribute them. It brings to American minds the image of drug dealers and their paraphernalia. The comparison is appropriate. The government of Uzbekistan has its roots in the former Soviet Union, where political leaders learned that “religion is the opiate of the people.” Uzbek government does not want its citizens to be addicted to religion, and they regard religious activism the same way Americans regard street gangs that peddle drugs.

Majid is, unfortunately for him, a repeat offender. He was arrested once before for possessing extremist literature with the intent to distribute it. In the eyes of the Uzbeks, that experience should have taught him to eschew any further infractions, but Majid loves Jesus and wants to share Jesus with everyone. After he was released the first time, he made diligent efforts to acquire more Bibles and more Christian books to share. A second arrest makes him liable to greater fines and longer imprisonment. Prisoners in Uzbekistan should not, by law, be abused, but Christians arrested for extremism historically suffer beatings and even torture.

What does this story have to do with the USA?

In February of this year, Barna Group released a study of the way the culture in the USA views Christians. After 1000 interviews conducted in August 2015, Barna concluded that the culture strongly feels that a Christian, if not already an extremist, is a threat to become one. The responses of those who were interviewed established several points on which the culture’s perceptions of Christians is troubling.

  • Nearly half of non-believers consider Christianity to be extremist.
  • The behaviors that are considered extreme include many very common behaviors of Christians, even some behaviors that are considered integral to the fabric of the faith.

What sort of behavior qualifies as extremist in the eyes of the American public?

Here are a few examples:

  • Refuse to bake a cake to be served at a wedding reception for a same-sex marriage, on the grounds that your religious principles forbid you to participate in a same-sex marriage
  • Tell a fellow passenger on a bus about Jesus and invite that person to receive Christ
  • Tell your children that homosexual behavior is abnormal and sinful
  • Silently read your Bible while waiting in the boarding area at the airport
  • Tell your children that they are born sinful
  • Pray aloud in a grocery store for a woman who just told you her husband was terminally ill
  • Believe that homosexual behavior is abnormal and sinful (Presumably this attitude motivates you to teach this principle to your children, which makes you extreme on two counts.)
  • Protest a government policy that requires employers to pay for medical treatments and devices which the employer considers immoral on the basis of his or her faith in Jesus and commitment to biblical truth
  • Protest government subsidies for abortion providers on the grounds that abortion is murder of a human being
  • Quit working for IBM and become a missionary to Haiti
  • Have no sexual relations with your fiance’.
  • Tithe your income
  • Go to church and worship with other Christians every week

 

Most Christians will have trouble seeing any item on this list as extreme behavior. Sadly for Christians, this list is not exhaustive. It is merely a sample of the sorts of things considered to be extreme or to be incitement to extremism.

It is precisely such perceptions that lead a government to devise laws that require religious organizations to register and laws that tightly control the content and publication of religious materials, including Bibles. If the attitudes described above really are extremist, why wouldn’t it be normal to arrest someone who had a houseful of Bibles and other religious materials, with the obvious intention to distribute them to many people, thereby inciting others to his or her own level of extremism.

It is easy for Christians to say that it is Satan’s fault that people have this view of Christians and Christianity. Such accusations are flung out by long-suffering tongues through bitter lips. Christians are not wrong to recognize that Satan works hard to twist the perceptions of non-believers, but Christians must recognize that Jesus did not call us to be angry with the people who think this way. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28).

The popular way to deal with rejection like this is to apologize to the public and promise never to do it again. If that statement is accompanied with a comment that it was never your intent to threaten or scare anyone, that would be nice, and it would be even better if you said that you realize your words were hurtful and your actions were scary, and you plan to change everything so people feel better about you.

The problem is that the behaviors considered “extreme” by non-believers are central to what it means to be Christian. We are called to live our faith every moment of every day, in all places at all times. We are called by Christ to be the same no matter where we are. It is the highest hypocrisy to pray in church that sinners suffering Satanic enslavement to homosexuality will be released from that bondage and then go into the public forum and celebrate gay marriage. If we do things like that, we know we are betraying Christ, and we know that we are betraying our sacred responsibility to be messengers of Christ’s salvation, grace, forgiveness and transformation for sinners everywhere. We cannot pretend publicly to comply with the moral relativism of the culture and only secretly speak and act in harmony with our faith.

Just as Majid in Uzbekistan bravely continues to prepare to share his faith with others, even though proselytizing is against the law of Uzbekistan, we must continue to prepare to share our faith with others, even though the culture rejects our “extremism.” Just as Majid continues to discuss the Bible with other people in places not authorized for religious education, we must continue to share Jesus on buses and in airports and in the grocery store. When challenged, we must remember to love those who challenge us, to pray for them, and to bless them in every way possible. Why?

While the apostle Paul was imprisoned in Caesara, a visiting king named Agrippa asked to hear this famous prisoner speak. Paul told Agrippa how he met Christ and became a faithful follower of Christ, and then Paul said to Agrippa, “do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe” (Acts 26:27). Agrippa was taken aback and said, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian” (Acts 26:28). Agrippa clearly recognized the truth in Paul’s words, and Paul yearned deeply for the king to open his heart to that truth. His response to Agrippa’s hesitation is the reaction we should have to all the attacks and misconceptions and even lies that non-believers tell about Christians. Paul said, and we should say, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains” (Acts 26:29).

Majid demonstrates the right way to deal with the misconceptions of believers. He goes right on being a faithful Christian. It does cost him. In Uzbekistan, arrest and imprisonment for breaking the religion laws is often accompanied by stiff fines, fines that amount to years and years of normal wages. Majid knows that he is subject to this suffering when he obeys Christ and shares the good news with people. Each of us knows that if we live the way Christ calls us to live, we are subject to severe cultural harassment, and in some cases, we may even be subject to legal complications. We may be accused of discrimination,. or we may simply be charged with noncompliance with regulations. If the culture becomes more assertive in its characterization of Christianity as organized extremism, the rhetoric will become more hateful, and the laws may even become more stringent.

We have civil rights as American citizens that citizens of Uzbekistan do not have. We have much more voice in the legislation and administration and the processes of justice than Uzbek citizens have. As Christians, we have the right and the responsibility to advocate and take action and vote. We must be active, vocal citizens, but our rhetoric must always be the rhetoric of truth spoken with love. We may be accused of extremism according to the cultural definition of extremism, but we must live in a deep, integral relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ that assures we put the extreme demands of spiritual warfare in the hands of the all-conquering Christ.

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com. Watch for the release of Thrive! Live Christian in a Hostile World, planned for release in the summer of 2016

Thou Shalt Blend In

Is truth something we can discover or is truth something we agree on? All my education and all my life experience have taught me that my opinion has nothing to do with the truth. I have always known that truth is truth without regard to my feeling about it. I have always known that you and I can agree that green is purple, but our agreement does not make it so.

In today’s US culture, however, two people apparently can agree Continue reading Thou Shalt Blend In

Are You Passionate or Are You Extreme?

Contemporary culture considers the quality of passion in someone’s life to be so important and admirable that the latest source of parenting angst is a fear that a child does not know what his passion is, or worse, that the child actually has no passion for anything. The culture honors and rewards passion, but it fears Continue reading Are You Passionate or Are You Extreme?