Monday, January 30, 2006

When Terrorists Gain Power

Today Hamas, the Islamic militant terrorist group that is expected to form the next Palestinian government, appealed to foreign donors to lift threats to cut vital aid but rejected their calls to renounce violence against Israel. Talk about a situation of wanting their cake and eating it too. The Palestinian and all Arab people need to know that they cannot elect militant Islamist governments and expect the world to pretend that nothing has changed. Hamas must formally renounce violence and recognize Israel before normal diplomatic and international relations should resume. In my opinion, aid is both an appropriate carrot and stick that should be used at this time to pressure Hamas to make a verifiable break with its terrorist past.

The election of Hamas, however, should also serve as a wake-up call to the West. The Western democracies (and the Bush administration in particular) need to learn that free democratic elections in Islamic countries may not necessarily lead to greater security, a reduction in terrorism or lead to greater civil and human rights in the countries themselves. This is naivety at its worst. Indeed, in the October/November edition of Foreign Affairs, F. Gregory Gause III argues convincingly in his article "Can Democracy Stop Terrorism?" that there is no evidence that democracy actually reduces terrorism at all. Indeed, he suggests, a democratic Middle East may likely result in Islamist governments that are even more antagonistic to the West than the totalitarian regimes they replace. The recent election of Hamas in Palestine and the growing popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt would seem to bear this concern out. We may wish to believe that democracy will change things for the better, but wishing does not make it so. The issues that have led to the rise of militant Islam in the world are far deeper than just political repression.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Let's Be Realistic

Many evangelical Christians are quietly rejoicing over Monday's electoral victory by the Conservative Party of Canada. Under twelve years of Liberal Party rule, Canada has seen the legalization of homosexual marriage, the inclusion of sexual orientation in the Hate Propaganda Laws (Criminal Code sections 318-320) and an increasing public vilification of evangelical Christians and conservative social values. There is hope that perhaps with the election of the Conservatives, some of these actions can be turned back.

Sadly, I am not so confident of this. I am optimistic that we will not see more of the same legislative slide away from social conservatism. I am optimistic that perhaps some of these issues will be able to be discussed publicly without our Prime Minister accusing those who disagree with him of not being real Canadians with so-called "Canadian values." Paul Martin was a divisive influence at many levels and I am quite happy to see him retreat to the Opposition benches of the House of Commons.

But I am not optimistic that, at least for the short term, we will see an undoing of some of the dreadful legislation that we have seen in recent years which, in my opinion, has undermined religious freedom in this country.

The simple fact is, the Conservatives hold far too small of a minority in the parliament to push ahead and undo some of the damaging legislation from the last few years. The opposition parties (Liberals, BQ, and NDP) together hold more seats than the government and are united in their support of such liberal social values as abortion and giving homosexuals special rights. To seek to do what many of us would like to see done would only result in the defeat of the government. Additionally, the Senate is predominantly Liberal, another inevitable result of twelve years of Liberal Party rule.

One further note; many of the decisions that have undermined religious freedom in Canada have actually not even come from the federal government but from the courts and unelected provincial human rights commissions. We have a bigger problem in this country than just who controls the House of Commons. This slide away from biblical values is endemic to our society and no election is going to change that. As the psalmist said in Psalm 20:7, "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God."

Ultimately, if there is to be real change in this country, it will take place not so much by what happens in the voting booth, but in the prayer closet.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Way of the Cross is the Way of Love

I was recently thinking, as I often do, of my young friends in Ethiopia; brothers and sisters who have paid a terrible price for choosing to follow Christ. They have been cast from their homes. They live as refugees in their own communities, cut off from friend and family, often the target of violent attacks. Whenever I have the honour of visiting them (which isn’t often enough) I am always moved by their readiness to die for Christ, if this would be the price that God calls them to pay in their walk of discipleship.

What would compel someone to be ready to die for his/her faith?

I think a significant clue to answering that question can be found in John 15:13 where Jesus said that the greatest expression of love is when one friend lays down his life for another. Sacrifice in this passage takes place in the context of relationship; love, friendship.

Our relationship with Jesus Christ is intended to be more than just a belief in Him; more than an affirmation of theological and biblical truths. We must meet Christ in love, not simply in our thoughts. We are called to a relationship in which we surrender to His live for us and in doing so, we fall in love with Him. For those of us (like myself) who tend to live in the realm of thoughts and ideas, this is not a comfortable thought. Indeed, all of us, like our parents in the Garden of Eden, feel an irrational pull to hide when we hear the voice of the God who loves calling out to us.

But knowing God is this way, knowing Him in love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18) and it is fear than keeps us from following Him recklessly and unashamedly, regardless of the cost (1 Peter 3:14, 15). Obedience to the point of death is the consequence of a surrender to the person of Christ, not simply an acceptance of an obligation.

So what could compel someone to be ready to die for his/her faith? Love. Love that blossoms from the heart of a man or woman who has meditated on God's love for him/her and who responds in kind; a person who meditates on the cross of Christ, God's ultimate expression of His love, and in response, picks up a cross of his/her own. The way of the cross is the way of love.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Am I a Real Canadian?

If I were to believe Prime Minister Paul Martin, according to statements that he has been making in this, the last week of the election campaign, the following would be true:

1. Liberal values are Canadian values
2. Liberals do not hold to the same values as social conservatives who embrace traditional values on sexual morals and family
3. If #1 is true, social conservatives are not real Canadians.
4. Social conservatives are actually dangerous to Canada.
5. I am a social conservative.
6. Therefore, there must be no place in Canada for people like me.

I don’t like the direction that this discussion is going at all…. I hear echoes of the kind of intolerance that tends to lead to much nastier things; the kinds of things that this website is dedicated to opposing.

I urge all candidates of all political parties in this great land, to calm down the fear-mongering and labeling; this is the first step to creating a society that none of us will want to live in soon.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Few Prophets When It Comes to Profits

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog entitled "Trading with the Devil in the Hope of Changing Hell" in which I discussed how conventional foreign affairs and international trade dogma has long assumed that economic liberalization undermines repressive regimes. It is often argued by those desirous of trading with countries like China and Vietnam that economic development and increased trade with and exposure to liberal democracies inevitably leads to an improvement in freedom and human rights.

I also discussed a recent article in the September/October 2005 edition of Foreign Affairs in which Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and George W. Downs point out that recent events suggest that "savvy autocrats have learned how to cut the cord between growth and freedom, enjoying the benefits of the former without the risks of the latter." The key that these regimes have discovered in is embracing economic reforms that increase the provision of public goods, thereby improving the lives of the people (and suppressing the desire for democracy as seen as a means to prosperity, such as was one of the driving forces behind the collapse of the Iron Curtain), while at the very same time limiting the provision of "coordination goods." Coordination goods are those public goods that critically affect the ability of political opponents to communicate and coordinate but which have relatively little impact on economic growth. They include such things as free speech and the ability to organize and demonstrate peacefully. By adopting this strategy of suppressing coordination goods which are necessary to organize societal reform, while increasing access to public goods, repressive countries have been able to delay internal revolutionary tendencies, thereby insuring their continued survival.

Many believe that the best way to protest the West's continued (and increasing) trade with repressive regimes is to boycott products made in such countries and to lobby our governments to refuse to trade with them. I believe that this is naïve. I argue that a more appropriate and practical response is to restrict trade with such countries especially in the areas of coordination goods. Western companies should be restricted from doing business in countries like China if their services and products lead to a continued suppression in these key areas. Corresponding to this would be to link international aid to such repressive regimes to improvements in higher education, basic civil liberties, human rights and freedom of expression, including religious and press freedom. In this way, we actually aid those seeking to promote greater liberties in such societies.

An editorial in today's National Post entitled "Putting Profit Ahead of Principle" underlines the need to take action in this direction, since it is obvious from recent events that western businesses (especially in the IT field) will not act ethically if left to their own devices:

Putting profit ahead of principle
National Post
Saturday, January 07, 2006

Microsoft is not easily confused with a champion of free speech -- not since it became public knowledge last summer that the IT giant's Chinese blogging tool filtered out such delicate terms as "human rights," "democratic movement" and "Taiwan independence." But Microsoft has hit a new low in heeding requests from Chinese authorities to shut down a blog that had discussed a politically sensitive Beijing newspaper strike -- deleting without warning all of the site's content simply because the author, prominent Chinese blogger Zhao Jing, dared to post some factual information that made the Communist government squeamish.

Sadly, Microsoft's conduct is not entirely unique: Other Western IT companies have also been all too willing to co-operate with Beijing's efforts to silence its citizens. Particularly egregious was last year's decision by online service provider Yahoo! to turn over the e-mail records of journalist Shi Tao to Chinese authorities, landing him in jail for 10 years. Mr. Shi's crime? He had passed around a government order to squash media commemorations of the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square.

Meanwhile, Cisco Systems has sold the Chinese the equipment they need to censor Web sites, and Google is believed to censor the Chinese version of its search engine.

In a limp attempt to justify their behaviour, both Microsoft and Yahoo! have claimed they are required to comply with China's laws -- as though there were no alternatives. The reality is that IT companies always have the option of making a principled choice not to facilitate a government's inexcusable muzzling of its citizens. And while taking such a stand could cost the companies their share of the Chinese market, it would be a hit worth taking for both moral and public relations reasons.

The sheer odiousness of lending a helping hand to an authoritarian government bent on squelching dissent does not seem to have fazed IT giants. But perhaps the potential for major backlash among their Western customers will convince them to change their ways.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Religious Liberty Issues and Your Candidate in the Canadian Federal Election

It is election time once again here in Canada. On Monday, January 23 the voters of this great country will choose a government to act on their behalf. It behoves us to make sure that we vote for those who best represent our interests and values. As Christians, we cannot separate our lives into secular and spiritual compartments and still be faithful to the Lordship of Christ in all of life. Hence, we at The Voice of the Martyrs encourage you to exercise your responsibility as a Christian and as a Canadian by voting, wisely and prayerfully.

As a charitable organization, The Voice of the Martyrs is restricted in how involved we can become in the electoral process. For example, like all charities (including churches), we cannot invite candidates to speak at VOMC-sponsored events unless all candidates in a riding are invited to speak at the same event or service. We cannot promote or oppose one candidate or political party or post signs for a candidate or political party on our property. We cannot publicly endorse a candidate or party or distribute literature for one candidate or party. Nor can we link our views on issues of concern like religious liberty issues with those of a particular party or candidate. We cannot highlight or publish how one particular party or candidate voted on a given issue. We cannot encourage you to vote for a particular candidate or party.

We can, however, encourage you to get know the candidates who are running in your reading and to ask them about religious liberty issues that concern you. Issues such as:

1. The inclusion of sexual orientation in the hate propagation legislation (C-250) and the redefining of marriage to include same-sex couples (C-38). Candidates should be asked about where they stand on the protection of the religious freedom of those who do not support same-sex marriages and those who wish to speak, teach or publish on the subject of homosexuality from a biblical perspective.

2. The increasing of aid to and trade with religiously restrictive nations. Of particular concern is the sale of surveillance equipment and other technology by Canadian companies that can be used to suppress freedom of speech and religious expression. International aid to such repressive regimes should also be linked to improvements in higher education, basic civil liberties, human rights and freedom of expression, including religious and press freedom.

3. Religious persecution and Canadian foreign affairs. In April 2005, the government released its International Policy Statement which articulated a vision for Canada's role in the world. Religious persecution was not even mentioned in the document, even though it is a vitally important part of international human rights. Candidates should be asked how they believe Canada should address issues of religious persecution internationally.

Of course, there are other issues that should concern Canadian Christians as they prepare to go to the polls. But these ones should not be neglected. The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada has developed an election kit for churches and individuals that is available online at

You can have an influence in the coming government. Make your concerns known. It is your right and your duty.