Tag Archives: Kazakhstan

Do Christians Hate Anyone?

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

Luke 14:26 NIV

 

These verses from Sunday’s gospel are just a little bit off-putting if taken seriously. The word hate has special political meaning these days. There is a cultural momentum to punish hate speech and hate crimes as if it were appropriate to apply more severe punishments for those who are insulted or murdered due to hate while other people murdered or insulted without legally-definable hate do not deserve the same level of justice. To read that Jesus actually demands that his followers hate the people in their closest relationships sounds quite outrageous to contemporary ears.

Of course, Jesus was not advocating a life of hatred. Jesus taught us to love everyone, even our enemies. His message in these verses does not contradict his teachings about love. This message is about priorities.

Contemporary readers should certainly recognize the importance of priorities, but contemporary Christians often do not apply this teaching, even if they acknowledge its real teaching. Jesus is stating his expectation that people will put their relationship with him above everything to such a fervent degree that, by comparison, all other relationships would be like hate. Is it even possible to live this way?

Muslim background believers would say with conviction, “Yes. It is not only possible, but it is quite necessary.” In countries around the world where Islam is dominant, people who choose to leave Islam to follow Christ know exactly what Jesus meant. When Muslims hear the good news of Jesus Christ and receive him into their hearts, their family and friends, and often their government, declares that they are traitors to Islam and to their country. What happens?

Here are a few examples:

In Iran, an American citizen visiting the country to work with a team building an orphanage was arrested. His crime: being a threat to national security. He was born in Iran and reared Muslim, but he converted to Christianity, moved to the US, and became an American citizen. Iran, an Islamic republic, does not recognize his American citizenship and considers adherence to Islam to be necessary for the well-being of the country. This man has been sentenced to eight years in prison, and is tortured daily for his faith. His appearance is so thoroughly altered by the torture that his own mother did not recognize him on one of the rare occasions when family was permitted to visit him.

In Indonesia, another Islamic republic, a pastor and three members of his church were arrested for baptizing two Muslim converts. The police alleged that they had “rescued” the pastor, since the families of the converts were planning to ambush the pastor when he went home. However, the pastor and his fellow church members remain in custody. There is no record that they have been tried; they are simply in prison.

In Somalia, a Christian woman was kidnapped by Islamic militants. Her captors threatened her husband and her two children, demanding that the family return to Islam. Her husband is in hiding with the children, and neither family nor friends have received any word from the kidnap victim. The government of Somalia is either unable or unwilling to take any action against this or other similar crimes.

In Egypt, most Coptic Christians are not Muslim background believers, but to militant Muslims, they are a blot on a culture that should be 100% Muslim. The very existence of Christians is viewed with the same outrage as an infestation of roaches. News reports occasionally notice it, and the turmoil following the removal of Morsi from office in Egypt has called attention to the plight of Christians whose presence in Egypt dates from the time of Christ. It is being reported that “Syrian rebels went into a Christian man’s shop and gave him three options: become Muslim; pay $70,000 as a tax levied on non-Muslims, known as jizya; or be killed along with his family.” It is also reported that when Copts or Coptic church buildings are attacked “police have never come to protect the churches or to respond after the attacks.”  A caller who reported the torching of a church in a suburb of Cairo said that the police informed him they simply could not be expected to protect every little church with a problem.

 

13   For I hear the slander of many;

there is terror on every side;

they conspire against me

and plot to take my life.

14     But I trust in you, O Lord;

I say, “You are my God.”

15     My times are in your hands;

deliver me from my enemies

and from those who pursue me.

Psalm 31:13 NIV

 

This psalm prayer could well be the prayer of persecuted Christians around the world. American citizens who feel safe from persecution should take this prayer to heart. It is true that to date, slander against Christians in the USA has not turned into mob violence, torture or beheadings. Secularists, who dominate the US culture, are more subtle in their attacks than Islamic militants.

Secularists in the US have been largely behind the campaign to make hate a politically-defined crime. They slander Christians by accusing them of hate when they classify homosexual behavior as sin. Secularists reject the Christian teaching that demands Christians refuse to participate in sin while continuing to love those who do participate in sin. Christians know that all humans are sinners, but secularists regard this as an insulting slur. Secularists become verbally aggressive when they read or hear things such as “all are sinners” or “hate brothers and sisters,” because they refuse to allow the words to mean what Christians understand them to mean. Christians confronted by militant secularism may not be at risk of physical beheading, but they are constantly pressed by culture and by an increasingly secular government to betray their faith and to stop living for Christ when it conflicts with secular views.

Anyone who believes, however, that secularists only attack verbally should look at countries such as Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Kazakhstan where secular governments routinely imprison and torture Christians. In those countries it is a crime to invite an unbeliever to an authorized prayer meeting. In fact, it is a crime to hold an unauthorized prayer meeting with only Christians present. Simply possessing a Bible in an illegal translation can result in beatings, arrest and imprisonment. In a secular nation, Christians are viewed with distaste by the culture and treated with disdainful cruelty by their governments. Christians in the US must learn all they can about existing secular governments in order to be prepared to stand firm in the US when similar tactics are tried.

The world at large seems unconcerned about the Christians in any of the countries where they are persecuted. The world at large frets over political agendas and balance of power and whose prestige suffered on public. Religious liberty is supposedly protected by people like Eboo Patel who advocates we all stop focusing on our individual beliefs and only talk about the spiritual realities that makes us all alike. The world at large does not like to encounter a Christian who refuses to “go along to get along.” Christians who do not go along will find themselves fined or perhaps even jailed for their “hate” speech and their “hate-filled” unwillingness to participate in behavior that the Bible calls sinful. Christians really do risk losing everything, but Jesus had an answer for that problem.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life.”

Luke 18:29-30 NIV

 

 

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A Verse for Meditation

Torah ScrollDeclare God’s glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.  Psalm 96:3

  • Some Christians agree with secular thinkers that Christians should be quiet and keep their faith to themselves. What does the Bible say about this idea? What did God teach the psalmist?
  • Nations like Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan and China have completely secular governments. They require religious groups to be registered, they forbid the production or use of unauthorized religious materials, and they even forbid worship in buildings that have not be registered and licensed for that purpose. What does this psalm suggest the psalmist might do if he lived under a regime like that? What would you do if you lived under such regulatory control?
  • The president of the USA told the world in a speech that America is not a Christian nation. In what sense is that true? In what sense is that untrue? Must Christianity be the state religion in order for the USA to be a Christian nation? What would be wrong if people in other countries perceive us as a Christian nation?
  • I have been told more than once that there are places where it is discourteous or insulting to speak Christ’s name. What is the difference between being a faithful witness to Christ at all times in all places and being a religious boor?

Religious Liberty — Precious and Increasingly Rare

The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America

The United States Bill of Rights, the first Ten Amendments to our Constitution, begins with a statement of religious liberty. The statement says:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
This is the first clause of the First Amendment. Its placement indicates that when the ten amendments were considered as a group, religious liberty was the concern of highest value, the first of the first. The amendment continues by specifying additional rights of the people, and among those rights, freedom of speech and right of assembly are directly related to religious liberty, because a person cannot be truly free to live and express his faith if he is prevented from speaking his faith, both in narrative and persuasive language, or if he is forbidden to gather with others who share his faith. The remainder of the First Amendment says:
or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The plain language of this amendment to the US Constitution gives American citizens freedom to choose a religion, or no religion, freedom to exercise their faith by practicing its teachings, freedom to gather in churches or homes or parks or on sidewalks or wherever they wish to gather in peace to worship, study, teach or discuss their faith, and freedom to speak the teachings, speak their advocacy, speak words to persuade others to believe, speak words of prayer or words of preaching in public or private settings.

In many countries, the government either commands or suppresses particular religions, and government enforces strict rules about both public and private gatherings and speech. Some governments regulate religious literature. Some governments forbid evangelism. Some governments set age limits on participation in religion. Some governments that gave citizens religious freedom in the past are passing new laws that control, restrict or even shut down religious language and activities.

For example, the parliament of Kazakhstan passed a new law regulating religion in 2011 entitled “The Law on Religious Activity and Religious Associations.” It replaces a 1992 law entitled “The Law on Freedom of Religious Confession and Religious Associations”. It is not an accident that the word freedom is missing from the title of the new law. The old law actually specified certain freedoms and rights. The new law is about setting limits and controlling activity. The law was drafted by the government Agency of Religious Affairs.

If the US auto industry grew weary of trying to sell people electric cars when nobody wants them, the industry might draft a law that said that henceforth only electric cars would be permitted on federal highways and then lobby Congress to enact this law. If the Congress simply passed the law just the way the industry wrote it, that law would serve the purposes of the auto industry in the same way as when Kazakhstan’s parliament passed a law about religion written by the agency that wants to control religion in Kazakhstan.

The new laws require the re-registration of all religious communities. Kazakhstan’s laws deliberately mimic laws passed in Tajikistan, and call to mind laws in China that require the same thing. In Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and China, unregistered Christian churches come under attack. Christians in the US are accustomed to be able to hold prayer meetings and Sunday School class meetings, Bible studies and missionary projects in their homes whenever they like. In countries that require both the site of a meeting and the group holding the meeting to be registered and authorized by the government, such meetings become bureaucratic challenges. Christians who choose to meet without registering are subject to arrest and prison at the very least. Some are even tortured for their unregistered religious activity.

The religious materials Christians use are censored as well. Every religion must use materials approved by the government. If a congregation wants to build a new church, the new location and likely the design of the building will require government approval. Foreign visitors are closely restricted in their religious activity. A missionary from outside the country is not welcome to invite people to meetings or to start a new church; founders of religious communities in Kazakhstan must be Kazakh citizens.

Work among young people will definitely become more problematic, and one wonders what Christian parents will do about bringing up their children in the faith. The law in Tajikistan prohibits children under the age of 18 from participating in any religious activities except funerals. Parents who take or send their children to church, Sunday School, or even private prayer meetings face heavy fines and prison sentences of up to 8 years. Kazakhstan used this law as a model for their own. Christians know that the Bible lays on parents the responsibility to teach their children the faith. Parents in Kazakhstan and Tajikistan must be strong, wise and careful if they teach their children to know Christ. Would you read Bible stories to your children and pray with them at bedtime if you thought both you and your children could be arrested for doing so?

The ostensible motivation for such laws is always to prevent extremism. The obvious outcome is that the government can decide which religion, if any, will thrive in the country. Religious speech is shut down except for the favored speech. In the USA there is an unwritten speech restriction today that says that if a public figure is a person of color, then speech that criticizes any aspect of that person’s life is racist speech. This restriction is cultural, not legal, but it has the effect of suppressing important conversations about public figures. In Kazakhstan or Tajikistan, the actual laws restrict religious speech the same way. People who advocate religious ideas the government does not approve of will face arrest and imprisonment.

American citizens believe that they have the right to believe or not believe any religious persuasion of their choice. They believe that they can wear or display the symbols of their faith at will. They believe that they can read the Bible or the Koran or the Bhagavad Gita in any translation that suits them, and they can talk about these books or any others with friends and neighbors in their homes or in their churches. This is what Americans believe to be their right because of the Constitution and the First Amendment. American citizens need to remember that nothing in the realm of time and space is necessarily true forever. After all, the 1992 laws in Kazakhstan used to be about religious freedom. The 2011 laws in Kazakhstan are not about freedom at all.

Pray for Christians in Kazakhstan. Pray for Christians in Tajikistan and China. Pray for them to hold fast to their testimony as Christ asks of us all in the book of Revelation:
Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Beware, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison so that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have affliction. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.  Revelation 2:10
Then pray for Christians in the USA, and pray that they will be strong defenders and advocates of religious freedom, acting and speaking against legal restrictions under the pretense of preventing extremism. Liberty is a fragile flower. Prevention of unwanted viewpoints and suppression of unwanted speech will kill the flower of liberty and leave only restriction and persecution of the faith.

Be sure to read the good news that Rimsha Masih is cleared of blasphemy in Pakistan https://livingontilt.wordpress.com/news-from-the-front-lines/charges-dropped-against-rimsha-masih/