Tag Archives: Islam

Psalm 80 The Prayer of the Persecuted Church

   Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
                  you who lead Joseph like a flock!
                  You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth
    before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
                  Stir up your might,
                  and come to save us!
Restore us, O God;
                  let your face shine, that we may be saved.  

    O LORD God of hosts,
                  how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?
    You have fed them with the bread of tears,
                  and given them tears to drink in full measure.
    You make us the scorn of our neighbors;
                  our enemies laugh among themselves.  

    Restore us, O God of hosts;
                  let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Psalm 80:1-7 

Psalm 80 is my cry for help in my warfare with Satan’s slaves who serve him in the brigades of secularism and Islam.

I cry out, “Stir up your strength!” God comforts me. I am weak, but he is strong. I am strengthened by his presence.

I cry out, “Restore me O God!” when I recognize that I have not been Christlike. I need to see his face, and I need him to rush in and prop me up. I can’t fight this battle by myself.

I cry out, “How long?” because I deserve his anger when I let fly words that hurt rather than heal. I wonder how long I will feel the separation that arises when my words serve Satan rather than Christ.

I eat the bread of tears, and I drink bowls of tears as I watch my country and my culture disintegrate under the onslaught of secularism and Islam. Secularists scorn me. Muslims hate me and everything I stand for. It is hard not to hate back.

I cry out, “Restore me, Lord of Hosts!” I need to see the face of Christ in the people I meet. I need to remember that I belong to Christ, and neither secularism nor Islam can do me eternal harm. I need to remember that Christ died for every person enslaved by the worldview of secularism and every person enslaved by the worldview of Islam. Their assaults on me are like the lashing of the tail of the great Dragon Satan as he swept stars out of the sky in his rage at his defeat by Christ on the cross.

My only righteousness is the righteousness imputed to me by God through Christ. When I fail to be Christ to other people, I have one recourse – to cry to God.

How Should Christians Respond to Problems in Sudan and South Sudan?

south-sudan-map-2011The headline reads, “Christians Threatened by Islamist Attacks and Famine.” The dateline is Sudan. What is going on here?

Anyone who begins research on the issues that plague Sudan and South Sudan immediately discovers a plague of confusion. News articles are not necessarily clear about geographic references unless the names of towns are included. Spoken references to “southern Sudan” and to “South Sudan” sustain the confusion until the researcher gets the map clearly in mind. However, Christians in the USA need to focus on the issues that shape the map, and when they do, they will learn some truths important for everyone.

The country of Sudan has a long history in Africa. It was administered by Great Britain during the colonial era and achieved independence in 1956. The population then, as now, was largely Arab in the north and tribal in the south. In the north, Islam was and is the dominant religion, while in the south, Christianity thrives alongside numerous animist religions linked to tribal identity. To complicate matters, rich petroleum resources in the south began to be developed in the late 90’s, and the pipelines that transport the crude oil to the marketplace run through the northern section. The nation suffered disconnects along ethnic, religious and economic fracture lines from the beginning. It seems no more than natural that the southern region of Sudan agitated for independence for years before it officially seceded in 2011. Today Sudan and South Sudan are still embroiled in the conflicts that led to separation.

The problems in Sudan and South Sudan are brought to our attention by the cries and prayers of Christians suffering persecution there. These problems should give all Christians pause.

First, we are all part of the body of Christ, and when one part suffers, we all suffer. In the spirit of shared suffering, we pray for Christians in Sudan and South Sudan. Continuing border disputes with Sudan have left some Christian communities inside the borders of Sudan in the southern part of the country. The Sudanese government, a government which has claimed to want “100% Islam” in the country, has expressed itself by allowing, if not actually instigating, aerial bombings of Christian communities by Sudanese Security Forces. Christians in southern Sudan are just as much the victims of aggression on behalf of Islam as those who died in New York on September 11, 2001.

Second, the concept of “100% Islam” is hard for free people to comprehend. Americans are accustomed to decide what they want to believe in the realm of religion and to act on it with complete freedom. They cannot imagine what it would be like to live under a government committed to the principle that everyone in the country should be Muslim. Furthermore, Americans would say that a member of the United Nations ought not to persecute any religion, because that behavior is proscribed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The government of Sudan, however, courting the support of the majority of its population, is not only advocating that the nation be “100% Islam,” but it allows national security forces to attack, arrest, and even torture non-Muslims. The predominantly Christian population of the southern area inside Sudan is under constant assault, and even after the formation of separate countries there have been instances of cross-border aggression against Christians in South Sudan.

The facts suggest, however, that the pro-Islamic fervor and the anti-Christian aggression are likely as much about economics as religion. The Islamic population of Sudan has few sources for water and few resources for economic growth.  The majority of sources for both water and petroleum are in areas where the majority population is Christian. Government leadership appears disinclined to negotiate the sharing of resources, opting instead to tacitly approve aggression against the “infidels” in the region where resources are plentiful.

What can Christians learn from the battlefields of Sudan and South Sudan?

First, they can learn to pray for all parties to the religious persecution. Christ taught us to love our enemies and pray for them. Christians who take their faith seriously do not simply want the bombing of Christian villages to stop, desirable as that may be. We always and supremely want every person to know Christ and to know his forgiveness and grace in their own lives. It isn’t easy to pray for someone you first need to forgive, but the Christians who suffer persecution and those who suffer and pray with them must keep Christ first in their hearts and first in their prayers.

Second, they can pray for all parties to the economic despair that adds fuel to the fires of aggression. All the people in Sudan and South Sudan suffer because their economy is a wreck. In the late nineties when oil production began, before the country was divided, they all started to see some hope for improvement to a way of life that is hardly subsistence level. However, the cultural and religious differences that split Sudan and South Sudan have disrupted development of petroleum, the one resource they all had for any hope of prosperity, and the continuing battles against Christians gain focus because most of the Christians live in the area where most of the oil is located. When Sudan threatened exorbitant fees for use of the pipelines required to transport South Sudan’s oil to market, South Sudan simply shut down production. The outcome? Ever deepening poverty for all. Christians must pray for God’s provision and for God’s guidance in the use of his provision. The resources exist for a comfortably prosperous nation, but self-serving leaders and narrow vision strangle the process that could provide for all.

Third, they can pray for two governments, multiple religions and countless tribal groupings who truly do not comprehend that it is possible for them all to prosper and live in peace together. Why? Because very few of the people involved have ever seen people of various ethnic, religious and economic origins live in peace together. It is too late in time to judge Great Britain for failing to nurture self-respect, tolerance and productive behaviors during the colonial era. The empire had its own problems, and of course, nobody is perfect, but the outcome is that when Sudan gained its independence, the newly-independent people still had a lot to learn, and to un-learn. They are still learning. A careful reading of news and editorials posted on websites in the two countries makes it clear that voices of reason and integrity are bubbling to the top, occasionally making themselves heard above the voices of partisan economic, religious and tribal agitation. Christians need to pray for God’s Spirit to work in these two countries to transform their leaders into responsible, accountable servants of the people instead of venal thieves lining their own pockets with the revenues people can ill afford to sacrifice for the elusive blessing of good government.

When Christians hear that other Christians are being persecuted, it is easy to feel empathy pains, but Christians should not jump to the conclusion that persecution is the whole story. We are called to be little Christs in all situations. We may not personally be able to take any action to change things in Sudan and South Sudan, but we can invoke the mightiest power in the universe to act there, simply because we know that Christ loves the people of Sudan and South Sudan – the Muslims, the Christians, the animist worshipers in tribal religions, and those whose despair has led them to doubt there even is a God. We can pray. We must pray, with the faith that moves mountains.

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Some material is this post is drawn from weekly prayer updates provided by The Voice of the Martyrs.

Cultural Rejection Leads to Legal Persecution

 

Iran is frequently in the political news, because of the aggressive stance of the president of Iran toward western civilization. News of internal events is less frequently reported. Iran does not wish foreigners to know much about what happens within its borders, but some news does get out.

 

This week, Voice of the Martyrs reported that four leaders of a Christian church in Iran had been arrested, convicted and jailed. Their crimes: “converting to Christianity, inviting Muslims to convert, as well as propagating against the Islamic regime through promoting Evangelic Christianity.” It sounds strange to western ears that “converting to Christianity” could be a crime, but to Muslim ears, this is important truth. Muslims are taught that converting to any other faith is a sin, and where the government embodies Islamic teaching, it is a crime. In Iran, an Islamic theocracy, conversion is a crime. People who choose to receive Christ and be baptized have committed a crime, and everything they do to tell others about Christ and to influence other people to become Christians is a crime as well. On October 15, the pastor, his wife, and two other ministers in the church were each sentenced to a year in prison for their crimes. They have the legal right of appeal, and it is reported that they plan to appeal.

 

The right of appeal does not hold the same hope for these Christians in Iran as it holds for convicted prisoners in the USA. Only a year ago a pastor serving a one-year sentence for similar crimes was informed a day before his scheduled release that his sentence had just been extended to six years. This judicial behavior sounds capricious to American ears, but in other countries around the world, it is not uncommon.

 

Iran today is known as a stronghold of fundamental, aggressive Islam. It is startling to discover that it was one of the earliest outposts of Christianity. The book of Acts records that on Pentecost “There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world.” (Acts 2:5) In the list of pilgrims were Persians, Parthians, Medes and visitors from Mesopotamia. Those pilgrims took Christianity back to the region known today as Iran, and Christian churches in the country date from that early era. Christianity has a 2000-year history within the boundaries of present-day Iran.

 

Christianity has legal rights in Iran’s constitution, too. However, Christians are often arrested on the basis of Islam’s legal rights. When those rights conflict with the rights of Christians, the rights of Muslims prevail. Most of the news of persecution of Christians is suppressed by the government as propaganda deliberately detrimental to Islam.

 

Americans think such news items are outrageous and incomprehensible, unless they pay attention to blogs and comment threads online in this country. In the USA there is no established religion, such as Islam or Buddhism, to be protected by the state. Instead, increasing secular pressure scorns all religions equally. Bloggers and people commenting on news items accuse religious people of telling “ghost stories.” Most such comments are directed at Christians, but any religion is subject to be accused of being a complete myth. Karl Marx’s statement that religion is the “opiate of the people,” has been quoted more than once by fervent atheists expressing their scorn of religious people who want to exercise their faith in public. Christians receive the brunt of the attack simply because Christianity has a stronger historic presence in the US than any other religion. It can readily be observed on blogs and comments that while there is no legally-sanctioned persecution of Christianity in the USA, the culture contains a strong and aggressive element that wants Christianity to be kept out of sight.

 

Christians in Iran suffer because at the moment the government of Iran acts as an agent of Islam to protect Muslims from any influence that might lead them to some other faith. Despite a few weak legal protections for Christians, the preponderance of the government and the culture want Christianity shut down and wiped out of the country. The government participates by using laws that favor Islam to diminish the force of laws that protect Christians.

 

Christians in the US suffer cultural abuse and must battle for legal standing because of two parallel forces: 1) there is a growing population demographic with no connections to any religion whatsoever, and 2) there is a growing Christian current that has absorbed the secular notions of inclusion and diversity so deeply that it is willing to ignore or restate long-standing Christian teachings to accommodate cultural pressures. The combined pressure of these parallel developments diminishes Christianity in the eyes of the culture, and the culture, via political activism and actual votes, is gradually building barriers against the public expression of Christian faith. You might say that because of the combined force of these two secular currents, laws are interpreted to protect the secular view in the US just as laws are interpreted to protect the Islamic view in Iran.

 

It is shocking to hear that a pastor in Iran has been arrested for doing what pastors do: speaking to non-Christians about Christ and trying to lead them to faith. It should be shocking to hear in that a Christian in the US has lost her job for saying that she believes the definition of marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Christians need to pray that all around the world we may have the courage to speak and live true to our faith. The one thing Jesus asked us to do as he prepared to ascend to heaven is to live true to the faith and to share it with others:

 

Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20, The Message)

How Important is Religious Freedom?

 

In the USA we are accustomed to say that we have religious freedom, because the First Amendment to the Constitution protects us. That amendment forbids the Congress to set up a state church and fund it by taxation. It also forbids the Congress from enacting laws interfering with free expression of religion. Our country has a legal foundation of religious freedom.

 

The country of Djibouti likewise has legal protection of religious freedom. In fact, the government has a history of enforcing the protections of religious freedom. The constitution allows citizens the freedom to belong to any religion, but the culture is another matter.

 

The state religion is Islam, and more than 99% of the population of about 700,000 is Muslim. Christians number approximately 15,000, and many of them are expatriates. Few citizens are Christians. The major challenge for Christians living in Djibouti is the cultural response to proselytizing. In keeping with Islamic teaching that conversion from Islam to any other religion is a terrible sin, family and friends exert powerful pressure against any attempt to lead a Muslim to convert to Christianity. In 2009, it was reported that a few small Christian missionary groups were active, but the public view is that Christian evangelism is an affront to Islam.

 

The word “proselytize” is a civil term used to talk about the work Christians call “evangelism.” Christians consider Christ’s command to make disciples and baptize new believers to be the most important work of the church. Non-Christians call this work “proselytizing.” Christian testimony to the good news that Christ died to forgive sinners and reconcile them with God is the central feature of Christian living. Christians in any culture feel compelled as a normal part of living their faith to tell non-Christians about Christ in the fervent hope that they will believe. In Djibouti, the culture forcibly resists all efforts to lead Muslims to Christian faith. The pressure is so severe that Open Doors USA reports that new believers whose former religion was Islam are fearful even to tell close family members about their conversion.

 

The culture of the USA is not immune to the same sort of pressure. For more than two hundred years, Christianity was the dominant religion in the country and the dominant force in the culture. Christian holidays felt natural to everyone, and Christian ideas dominated the language and the moral turf. Today, however, immigration of Muslims and growing Muslim communities around the nation make Islam a more powerful force in the culture than it was as recently as 1992. Even as Islam enjoys the First Amendment protections that have permitted it to thrive despite minority status in the culture, today Muslims are publicly advocating for increased accommodation of Islamic practices such as women wearing headscarves and the provision of footbaths and prayer rooms for students and workers. There is even pressure to prohibit behavior and speech construed as criticism of Islam or satire directed at Mohammed. These trends keep the friction between Islamic culture and Christian culture at a high level.

 

Christians in the US are already under secular pressure to keep their religion behind closed doors. Many secularists maintain a “live and let live” attitude toward religion. For them, Christianity and Islam are equally primitive manifestations, but they don’t see religion as a threat. However, some secularists aggressively advocate not freedom of religion but rather, freedom from religion. This element of our culture would like to remove all public evidence of religious faith and practice.

 

The presence of a growing number of faithful Muslims in the US population puts pressure on Christians in a different way. The cultural resistance to proselytizing in Djibouti is an expression of an important teaching of Islam . Because the US and Djibouti both have a civil law code that allows people to choose and change their religions at will, nobody in either country can be convicted in court and executed for converting from Islam to Christianity. Nevertheless, in either country, family and friends can bring severe pressure to bear on any Muslim who might convert. Muslims in the US do not generally express revulsion toward Christianity, but neither do they welcome effort to win converts from within their communities. The more Muslims in the population, the more pressure for Christians to stop trying to make disciples in obedience to the command of Christ.

 

Religious freedom is important. Every human being has the right, granted by God at creation, to choose whom he will serve. The culture of the USA has always been a blend of many faiths and many ethnicities, and our nation has benefited from all the different contributions. Under the stress of international tensions created by terrorist acts perpetrated by Muslim adherents, both Muslims and Christians have heightened sensitivity rooted in their very different world views. Christians teach that we are to love all people, but it is easy to forget that teaching and get caught up in pejorative rhetoric. We cannot in good conscience advocate full freedom of religions expression for all citizens if we are simultaneously engaged in vulgar name-calling instead of reasoned public discourse.

 

The apostle Paul wrote to the church in ancient Rome, a real crucible of cultural blending, and said, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Romans 12:18) It was people who were shaped by that sort of teaching who wrote the First Amendment. They did not write it in an attempt to impose Christianity on unwilling converts. They wrote it to assure that people of all faiths could live in peace together. The First Amendment pushes back against secular pressure to shut down all faith expressions or against the pressure by one religion to shut down the faith expressions of other religions or against pressure by any religion to shut down rejection of all religion by any individual. For more than two hundred years this constitutional protection has prevented the kind of oppression and even violence that plague many nations. Nigeria, for example, is beset with ferocious, deadly violence as an expression of a desire by Boko Haram to eliminate Christians from the population. Bhutan is beset with similar violence by Buddhists.

 

The USA has hitherto been a model for religious freedom while keeping the public dialogue about the details of that freedom open and active. Our religious freedom is an integral element of the climate of freedom in this country. The freedom to live and speak and teach our most fervent convictions has been a magnet to people all over the world who yearn for that freedom. In countries where a single religion or ideology suppresses all other ideas, the yearning for freedom drives people to extreme measures to escape suppression and flee to freedom. How important is religious freedom? It is profoundly important. The men who wrote the US Constitution believed that if a power had not been ceded to the federal government, then it remained with the states and with the people. However, in recent years the federal government has made numerous creative inroads on that constitutional principle. By means of creative rhetoric, aggressive federalists have eroded even rights specifically granted to states. The history of our Supreme Court, documented in numerous cases, makes it clear how important the First Amendment is to the climate of religious freedom in which American citizens thrive. How important is religious freedom? Ask the citizens of Nigeria and Djibouti.