Tag Archives: Vietnam

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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Why US Christians Should Watch the Federal Government

American citizens rightly look to the Bill of Rights, particularly the First Amendment, to protect their right to protection against government control of their exercise of religion. It should make Americans nervous to hear that the US president makes even the vaguest comparison between Ho Chi Minh and the patriots who established the USA.

Historically, First Amendment issues have often centered on the passage of well-intentioned laws that unexpectedly imposed pressure on the individual right to exercise religious convictions. Conscription of soldiers in wartime was not an attempt to interfere with the free exercise of anyone’s faith, and when that unintended consequence arose, men of good will found a faithful and patriotic way to manage the problem. For more than two hundred years, it could be said with confidence that the government of the USA had no real desire to interfere with the freedom of any citizen to live according to his faith.

The current transformation of the US culture to a secular worldview is actually redefining the words “religion” and “worship” and “exercise” in ways that make it much more difficult to defend the free exercise of religion. For example, it is becoming popular in the culture to characterize the Christian religion as a collection of rules. Based on that imagery, some people have praised Buddhism because “it is a way of life, not a religion.” In contemporary everyday speech, people routinely conflate the words “worship” and “religion” as if they were totally synonymous. Further, when someone mentions a religious conviction as the determinant for personal action, it is common for someone who hears this statement to express a desire that people keep their religions to themselves. Not only is the culture redefining what a religion is, but the culture is increasingly pressing against all religions in an attempt to keep them confined within their houses of worship. These definitions and attitudes are shaping government language and attitudes. Over time, almost unnoticed, the culture and the government use the words of religion, worship and faith to mean something other than what the Founders meant, thereby lulling Christians into a false feeling that the First Amendment still protects their free exercise of faith.

Couple the cultural redefinition of the meaning and place of religion in public life with the fact that the federal government is operated outside the Constitution’s boundaries, and it becomes obvious that people of faith must be vigilant and assertive to protect their rights.

When the chief executive of the United States, the person with the great weight of responsibility to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution,” compares Ho Chi Minh with the Founders of the United States of America, it is reveals that the holder of this high office has no respect for the principles and values of the Founders. If the president does not mean what he said, citizens should be alarmed that he would deliberately life. If the president does mean what he said, citizens should be alarmed that he things this way.

Ho Chi Minh persecuted Christians along with people of other faiths as part of his campaign to create a pure Communist culture. He had enough success that the current government of Viet Nam is completely secular. From the beginning, churches in Vietnam were considered undesirable. They were highly regulated. In January, 2013, the government enacted new regulations for church registration which will make it extremely difficult for any Christian church to attain legal status.  What’s more, the new law includes a requirement of every religion that its “ceremonies and activities … do not contradict fine national traditions and customs.” Christians fear this requirement will expect them to worship ancestors and national heroes. Since they will only worship God, this requirement seems like a deliberate attempt to get rid of Christians. This law is the natural outgrowth of the completely secular government established by Ho Chi Minh, who supposedly has common values with the Founders of the USA.

How long before the government of the USA attempts to regulate Christian churches the same way Vietnam regulates them? It could be sooner rather than later. The Affordable Care Act, administered by the IRS, provides the perfect vehicle to kick off that process. Buried in the regulations for the Affordable Care Act is the conscience provision that exempts an employer from the mandate to include contraception, sterilization and abortion as preventive health services in a group health insurance package. The regulation reads as follows:

For purposes of this exemption, a religious employer is one that: (1) Has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves

persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a non-profit organization described in section 6033(a)(1) and section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) or (iii) of the Code. Section 6033(a)(3)(A)(i) and (iii) of the Code refers to churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches, as well as to the exclusively religious activities of any religious order.

You can find this information online by searching for Federal Register/Vol. 77, No 31/Wednesday, February 15, 2012. At present, this exemption relies on self-certification of eligibility, but just as the current law in Vietnam replaces an older, more lenient law, it is highly likely that the IRS will seek to assure that no ineligible employers escape and that will require some sort of registration and database, processes not in the current rules. It won’t even call for new legislation. Since the non-compliance of an employer ineligible for the exemption calls for a fine, the IRS could conceivably create a regulation and a process as part of its assurance of compliance with the law. Once there is a database of houses of worship, then the door is open for the government to continually redefine those entities eligible for inclusion. If one arm of government has its thumb on churches, it will be easy for others to use the database or to ask for more data to be included, and soon churches could be regulated so tightly that, like the churches in Vietnam, it would be extremely difficult for them to continue to exist.

 

This is why Christians should fear a presidential statement comparing Ho Chi Minh to the Founders of the United States of America. It would be easy to laugh off such a ridiculous statement if the current president were simply guilty of an ignorant gaffe. This president, however, knows his communists, and this comparison is not an accident. It is purposeful, and for now, we can only guess at the purpose. It reveals a dangerous worldview, which should not be dismissed, because politics is the concretization of a worldview.

 

Even while Christians take careful note of the president’s worldview, they must be actively asserting their own. As Jesus was about to ascend to heaven, he explained how Christians are to assert their worldview:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:18-20

Christians need not cower and tremble because of the threats to their future. The persecuted church in Vietnam would have disappeared by now if that were their response. Instead, they act on Christ’s authority and work diligently to make disciples. When the government oversteps its quite considerable authority, they stand up and push back. They pray and worship faithfully, remembering and acting on Christ’s promise not to abandon them. Christians in the US have much more freedom now than Christians in Vietnam have ever known. There is no reason for US Christians to cringe or backpedal on Christ’s imperatives just because the US government is trying to redefine the meaning of free exercise of religion. US Christians, like Vietnamese Christians, must act on Christ’s authority and diligently make disciples, trusting that Christ will never abandon them, no matter what the government does.

 

Why Don’t Christians Just Try to Fit In?

Human beings share many common traits. One of those traits is that human beings like to be around other humans who share their own traits. It is the basis of tribalism and clubs and nationalism. It isn’t a bad or a good thing, but it can be expressed in bad or good ways. One of the historically bad ways of expressing this trait is religious persecution. As far back as human history exists, humans who worshiped one god persecuted humans who worshiped other gods.

Religious persecution is a natural outgrowth of both the yearning for a common identity and the conviction that one’s own gods are superior. For much of history, people integrated their religion tightly with their social and political structures. In fact, they believed that religion was a crucial element of political power. This tight integration resulted in terrible persecution of unbelievers, because their lack of faith was perceived as an affront to the community god or gods which might very well cause the gods to take vengeance on the whole community.

At the time of the founding of the USA, the men who brought this country to birth believed that religion ought not to be blended into the political structures of the new country. Many colonists had fled persecution provoked by their own unwillingness to participate in the community/national religion. They believed that every individual had the right to choose his religious beliefs, because they believed that that right was granted by God himself at the creation of each person. They expected that the people elected to the government would act consistent with their own religious principles, but they chose not to embed any particular religion into the structure of the government. Today, there are other countries where the absence of a state religion is coupled with constitutional protection of the individual right to choose and express his faith, but this freedom is by no means universal.

In recent news are three examples of what might be viewed as small scale examples of Christian persecution rooted in very local expressions of the integration of the community and its religion.

In October, 2012, there was a report from Laos that three pastors and some other Christians were jailed by a community for their unwillingness to participate in a traditional village ritual. The ritual involved drinking water sanctified by a shaman and signing a pledge of allegiance to the village gods. This episode was only one of several such incidents reported recently, and in some cases Christians were asked to sign papers renouncing faith in Christ. When the Christians refused, other villagers considered them to be inviting retribution from the traditional village gods. Even though the national government of Laos technically protects religious liberty, local officials felt quite free to imprison the Christians and beat them without fear that the national government would do anything about it.

In January, 2013, 52 Christians were arrested in Mexico and kept in prison for three days without food, water or sanitation. One pastor was tied to a chair. All the Christians were asked to sign statements renouncing their faith. These Christians, and others in similar incidents throughout Mexico, have left local Catholic churches where indigenous native religious practices are blended with Catholicism and have, over time, filled the spot once held by native American rituals and religions. In some cases local Catholic priests have supported or at least turned a blind eye to the abuse. Many Christians have left their homes and abandoned their farms, even with crops in the ground, due to the violence.

In February, 2013, five families in a highland village in Vietnam were assaulted in their homes by villagers irate that they had converted to Christianity. The villagers took issue with the refusal of the new Christians to participate in community sacrifices and other rituals associated with the local religion. The homes of the Christians were severely damaged and many of their possessions were destroyed. Viet Nam’s national government is Communist, but even though the government officially does not sanction persecution of any religion, in practice local Communist officials freely permit and even participate in such actions. In some instances local officials have hired thugs to assist in the destruction.

We are accustomed to hear reports of Christians persecuted because of state religions, but these three reports show that states with no official religious connections nevertheless sanction persecution of Christians. This evidence leads to a conclusion that most persecution is likely a response to the refusal of Christians in any culture to try to fit in locally with practices that conflict with their faith in Christ. Many of the colonists who founded the USA had fled Europe precisely because they could not fit in with the state religious expectations in Europe. This is precisely what is happening with Christians in the US who reject the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act.

In the Affordable Care Act, the US government has created a spectacularly narrow definition of religion. According to that definition, religions practiced by native Americans, for example, might not even be religions. This narrow definition is consistent with the way secular thinkers in general define religion. The federal government has not established a state religion; it has established a state definition of religion. This definition does not bode well for the freedom of any sort of religious expression. According to the federal definition, only worship and religious education would be expressions of religion, and only if expressed in a non-profit organization recognized by the IRS. This definition has the effect of stating that the most fundamental teaching of Christianity, Christ’s call to a life of discipleship, is not religious expression. If it is not religious expression, then it is not protected by the First Amendment.

This definition of religion means that the federal government can suppress any religious expression that does not fit its definition of religion. Christians can say that they are called to live faithful lives consistent with the teachings of their religion, and they can prove that their religion has taught that contraception, abortion and sterilization are sin for two thousand years, but if the government’s definition of religion stands, then the Christian definition of discipleship is not protected religious expression.

When Roman emperors created an expectation that Roman citizens would worship them, the politically sophisticated Romans smirked and went along with the game, because they did not want to fight lions or gladiators in the Coliseum. They didn’t think the emperors were very god-like, but they wanted to live. A lot of people in the USA are like the ancient Roman citizens. They don’t like the employer mandate of the Affordable Care Act, and they may even think it is outrageous, but their sense of outrage does not extend to an agreement that Christians with religious objections to it should be exempt. In fact, at the root of it all is the fact that many Americans are so disconnected from whatever faith they claim in polls and surveys that they are willing to accept the federal government’s definition of religion. Many Americans of all “faiths” really don’t consider their faith to be normative in their lives. They can’t imagine why a few Christians are making such a fuss.

The local villagers in Laos and Vietnam and Mexico feel very much the same way. Like secular thinkers in endless comment threads in the US, they think Christians are being awfully high and mighty when they insist on their right to be different. They wonder, just like the President of the United States and the Secretary of Health and Human Services: Why don’t Christians simply try to fit in?

Read about the culture wars in the US and the persecuted church worldwide. Read Living on Tilt the newspaper.