Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Polygamy is Already Legally Recognized in Canada... Sort of

Did you know that polygamous marriages have been legally recognized in Canada to award spousal support and inheritance payments? Yup, just found out myself this afternoon. Kathleen Harris of Sun Media's Ottawa Bureau reported today ( that documents obtained by Sun Media under Access to Information show that polygamous marriages have been recognized "for limited purposes" to enforce the financial obligations of husbands, despite the former Liberal government's assertions that polygamy is criminal in Canada.

When Canada legalized same-sex marriage, a number of religious organizations warned that this could open the door to decriminalizing polygamy. "Oh, don't be so foolish" we were told by condescending politicians from the Liberal Party. "They are two separate issues." Liberal politicians and others heaped scorn on Stephen Harper when he was the Opposition Leader for suggesting a link between same-sex marriage and polygamy.

Guess we weren't so far off and I suspect that the Liberals were concerned about that but decided to keep silent in their quest of appear progressive in the eyes of the voters whom they wanted to woo. They allowed a Trojan Horse into our country that is going to have disastrous consequences if not remedied promptly. Between legalizing same-sex marriage and adopting this practice of formally recognizing plural marriages (even for limited purposes of awarding spousal support and inheritance payments) the Liberals placed the present government in an uphill and perhaps unwinnable battle to defend the country's anti-polygamy law if it faces a constitutional challenge on religious grounds. Already in February, 2005, BC's Attorney General warned Canada's law prohibiting polygamy would not stand up to a legal challenge because of potential conflicts with religious freedom laws.

It is probably only a matter of time before such a legal challenge is launched, either from a Muslim or (more likely) a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints that openly practices polygamy in Bountiful, B.C.

It is critical that our government take specific and swift action to prevent the legalization of polygamy and immediately stop this practice of recognizing it, even for limited purposes.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Pakistani "Christian" Alleged to Have Committed Blasphemy with His Phone

Is Qamar David another potential victim of Pakistan's infamous blasphemy law because he is a Christian (as a number of news sources seem to be implying)?

According to my sources at the present time, Qamar David is not a Christian at all. He apparently converted to Islam in late 2005 in order to marry his niece (his wife's sister's daughter) whom he impregnated. Christians are not allowed to be polygamous and so he and his niece converted to Islam and married. So, he is an unrepentant adulterous, polygamous apostate. Not a Christian at all, even though he did come from a Christian family.

He is accused of sending blasphemous text messages to Muslim clerics, insulting Mohammed, after having become upset about attacks on churches in different parts of Pakistan during the protests in February over the cartoons of Mohammed published in Denmark.

It would seem to me that this is a man without religious or moral convictions whom we do no great honour to by baptizing his alleged actions as "religious persecution." Are Pakistan's blasphemy laws oppressive, subject to abuse, and worthy only of being thrown to the rubbish pile where they belong? Yes, this law must be opposed and so Qamar David is worthy of a diligent legal defense. But not as an oppressed Christian. To say it any other way, is to disrespect the sacrifice of those who genuinely suffer for the sake of Christ.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Dashing Babies against Stones and Bloody Foot Baths

As part of my doctoral studies on suffering for righteousness in the book of Psalms, I am having to wrestle through what biblical scholars call "The Imprecatory Psalms." These are the psalms that cry out to God for vengeance on their enemies. They call down curses on their foes and look forward to their destruction. Psalms like 137 that declares, "Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock! (verse 9)." Or Psalm 58:

O God, break the teeth in their mouths; tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord! Let them vanish like water that runs away; when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted. Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime, like the stillborn child who never sees the sun. Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns, whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away! The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked. (verses 6-10)

Many Christians are uncomfortable with these verses. The Anglican Church of Canada's Book of Common Prayer actually removes them from the Psalter as being inappropriate for Christians to pray such sentiments.

Recently, however, I came across an excellent discussion on the Imprecatory Psalms by John N. Bray, pastor of the Bellewood Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, Washington. Entitled, "Crying for Justice" (Kregel, 2005). In this concise exposition, Dr. Bray demonstrates conclusively, I believe, that these words are the prayers of God's people today as well as they face extreme suffering and oppression. In page 13, he summarizes his position with the following observations:

But the question may yet be asked, "How can it be right for Christians to cry out for divine vengeance and violence, as in the imprecatory psalms?" Four observations from Scripture address this question.

First, the vengeance appealed for is not personally enacted. Rather, God is called upon to be the Avenger.
Second, this appeal is based upon the covenant promises of God, most notable of which are "He who curses you, I will curse" (Gen. 12:3), and "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay" (Deut. 32:35). If God has so promised, then it would not seem wrong for his people to petition him (even passionately) to fulfill these promises!!
Third, both testaments record examples of God's people on earth calling down curses or crying for vengeance. Yet there is no literary or theological intimation of divine disapproval over such sentiments being expressed. Indeed, the implication is that, in its appropriate place, such utterances are commendable (cf. the imprecatory psalms and the Pauline and Petrine curses of Gal. 1:8-9 and Acts 8:20).
Fourth, Scripture further records an instance in which God's people in heaven, where there is no sin, cry out for divine vengeance and are comforted by the assurance of its impending enactment (Rev. 6:9-11). Since these martyred saints are perfected, their entreaty would presumably be "right."

Of course, Day develops his thought much more completely in the rest of the book. But I thought that I might just whet your appetite for more. I would highly recommend this valuable resource. You can order one from most online book stores like Chapters, Amazons or Abesbooks.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Credo from 1st Peter

As you may recall, a month ago, my computer and I went to war and eventually I won. Its body now lays broken at my feet in my office until I am absolutely sure that I have transferred anything of value from it to my new computer which I am typing on right now.

This has also given me the opportunity to look through my files and see what I can delete. I ran across a rare gem entitled "The Credo from 1st Peter" that I saved in August 2001 from a website by David G. Wiseman at the University of Western Ontario. I am pretty sure that he wrote it as part of a Bible study series that he had written on 1st Peter. I hope you find it helpful


Believing that Peter's 1st Epistle is relevant to my life and that its message is directed to me by God the Father,

I recognize that the value of the Salvation which has come to me through the sufferings of Jesus Christ surpasses anything and everything else that I have ever considered important or valuable.

Therefore it is necessary for me to conduct my life as an obedient, holy child of a wholly just Father so that Jesus Christ may be revealed to the world,

And to demonstrate the holiness of my Father through the righteousness of my life, even in the face of persecution.

Knowing that my citizenship is no longer of earth, but of heaven, I must take up my new responsibilities and live such a holy life that the world will have no choice but to glorify God.

I will submit to injustice for the Lord's sake; I will suffer as Christ suffered so that I can demonstrate Him to the world.

I will pattern my marriage after the example of Christ so that I can demonstrate His love to the world.

I will suffer for my holy lifestyle rather than loose God's favour. I will suffer for my faith so that Christ may be revealed. I will suffer for my Lord knowing that He has good reasons for allowing it.

I will wear my suffering as a badge demonstrating that I am done with sin. The will of God, not my own desires, will direct my life.

I will commit myself to my faithful Creator and continue to do good, even in the face of the suffering that He allows.

And the God of all grace, who has called me to His eternal glory in Christ, after I have suffered a little while, will himself restore me and make me strong, firm and steadfast.

To Him be the glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Responding to Da Vinci

Some church leaders around the world seem bound and determined to have Caesar defend the faith with calls to ban "The Da Vinci Code."

Case in point: I just received a press release from the leader of an organization in a south Asian nation who promotes himself as a voice for the minorities in the country, who is publicly calling upon the Secretary General of the United Nations to "condemn this act of blasphemy and introduce a charter to stop such elements, playing with the religious sentiments of the people in the cover of freedom of speech, insulting sacred and religious beliefs of the people."

He goes on to say that Western countries should also ban the circulation of the movie and take strong action against the producer. His government, he states, should officially condemn the blasphemous film and restrict and prohibit cable operators, TV channels and internet sites from showing it in the same way that publication of sacrilegious cartoons of Mohammed was banned. He warned in his release that if the film in allowed to be shown in his nation then "Christians will protest throughout the country."

When the Mohammed cartoons were published I was unequivocal in my support of the right of publishers to do so in the name of freedom of expression. In the same way, I support Ron Howard's right to distribute a ridiculous and boring film that, admittedly, promotes heresy. I support the right of people to go and see it. No one's basic human rights are being violated here; the right not to be offended or to have our religious convictions ridiculed is not critical to one's survival.

As I said in my May 15 weblog, let's not join the chorus of whiners who feel the need to cushion themselves and their religious beliefs behind walls of legislative protection or threats of protest. It is not the role of Caesar to defend the faith; it is the role of the Church. Protesting is a cheap, easy response at a time when thoughtful apologetics are needed. Where in Scripture are we called to respond to false teaching with protests on the streets? Ridiculous.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Egyptian Leaders Break Their Word... Again.

On the morning of April 14, as he was exiting the main gate of Al-Quidissin Church in Alexandria, Noshi Atta Girgis was stabbed to death by an assailant who cried out "There is no God but Allah," and called the Christians "infidels." That same morning, two other churches were also attacked by knife wielding assailants. While only Girghis was killed, over a dozen others were wounded.

Egyptian leaders were quick to condemn the church knife attacks and arrested Mahmoud Salahedin Abdul-Razik and claimed that the mentally disturbed man had single-handedly attacked three churches on opposite sides of town all in the same morning. This ludicrous explanation alone was insulting to those who suffered from the assaults. It defies logic and common sense to suggest that an armed, blood covered, mentally unstable man could travel such distances to three separate churches and not be stopped.

Egypt's Christians were understandably upset following the attacks and demonstrated their displeasure for two days. In response, Egypt's parliament announced the formation of a fact-finding committee, headed by Deputy Speaker of the People's Assembly Dr. Zeinab Radwan. Their task was to investigate the cause of the attacks and report its findings within 30 days.
Thirty days have come and gone. The result? Nothing. In fact, the committee has not even been formed.

Yet again, the Egyptian government has gone through the motions of claiming to protect its Christian minority by making the right noises for the international community when attention is focused on the country. But afterwards, when world attention shifts, they do nothing to bring to justice the perpetrators. Even worse, they often side with the persecutors and further oppress their victims. We have seen this repeatedly in past attacks. Often when arrests are made, it is Christians who are arrested, even when they are innocent bystanders or the victims of the violence. The most grievous example in recent years took place in early January 2000 when 21 Coptic Christians were slaughtered, dozens more were wounded and hundreds had their homes and businesses destroyed in three days of boldly violence at the hands of local Muslims. Not one Muslim was ever convicted.

It is time that we demand that the Egyptian government keep its word and investigate the April 14 attacks, as they promised to do. I strongly encourage you to write to your government leaders and urge them hold Egypt to account for their continued negligence in upholding the rights of their Christian citizens.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Full-time Positions Available at VOMC

The Voice of the Martyrs is looking for two full-time staff positions to join us here at our headquarters in Mississauga; an office administrator and a staff writer. As our ministry continues to grow, it had become evident that our present staff is over-extended. Certain ministries that we would like to develop have had to take a backseat over the past year, in particular. Indeed, due to disability and resignations, we have fewer staff today than we did two years ago.

Pray that God will lead the right people to us. We want to be sure that we have God's choice in these two vital positions. Please note that we are not accepting applications from those who are not Canadian citizens or permanent residents of Canada. More information on these two positions can be found online at If you think God might be leading you our way, please feel free to send in a written letter of application and resume. Please no telephone calls, faxes or emails though.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Doubt on Veracity of Iranian Story

It would appear that the National Post is backing away from its story yesterday and admitting that several experts are casting doubt on reports that Iran had passed a law requiring the country's Jews, Christians, and other religious minorities to wear coloured badges identifying them as non-Muslims. (See It is suggested that these requirements may have been part of an earlier version of the bill or part of a "secondary motion" that never made it to the final edition which enforces a strict adherence to Islamic dress code, especially for women and those less than 30 years of age.

Certainly, The Voice of the Martyrs and organizations like us have no great love for the government of Iran and its increasingly draconian policies. But our dislike for a regime should not cause us to shift our brain into neutral and believe every negative report that we receive. Our call is honour God by being effective and reliable in our reporting; a God of truth requires no less.

In the meantime, this is what we know: 1) the Iranian parliament is considering legislating some kind of Islamic dress code, 2) any sort of imposed dress code is step backwards for the freedom of all Iranians regardless of religious affiliation, 3) how an imposition of strict Islamic dress code will affect non-Muslim Iranians is unclear at this time.

Do remember to pray for the Christians of Iran. Later this summer, The Voice of the Martyrs will be releasing "Iran: Desperate for God", a 152 page hardcover book containing the testimonies of seven Iranian Muslims who have found freedom in Christ in one of the most oppressive nations on earth. Watch our website and monthly newsletter for release date and price

Friday, May 19, 2006

Iran to Impose Dress Code on Non-Muslims?

Today's National Post released two articles claiming that the Iranian parliament is debating a law that mandates the government to insure that all Iranians wear "standard Islamic garments" designed to remove ethnic and class distinctions reflected in clothing, and to eliminate "the influence of the infidel" on the way Iranians, especially, the young and women dress. According to the National Post, the law reportedly will require separate dress codes for religious minorities. For example, Jews would have to sew a yellow strip of cloth on the front of their clothes, Christians would wear red cloth and Zoroastrians would be forced to wear blue. The new codes would apparently enable Muslims to easily recognize non-Muslims so that they can avoid shaking hands with them by mistake, and thus becoming najis (unclean).

Associated Press, on the other hand, is reporting that legislator Emad Afroogh, who sponsored the bill and chairs the parliament's cultural committee, told them today that there is no truth to the National Post report.

"It's a sheer lie. The rumors about this are worthless," he is reported to have said. He claims that the bill seeks only to make women dress more conservatively and avoid Western fashions. He told AP, "The bill is not related to minorities. It is only about clothing. Please tell them (in the West) to check the details of the bill. There is no mention of religious minorities and their clothing in the bill."

This story obviously needs to be verified by other independent sources before we assume that it is factual and report it as such. Even if is true, it is not without precedent in Islamic countries. Throughout history dhimmis (non-Muslims) have often been forced to wear distinctive clothing to mark them as separate from the Muslim majority. I think what shocks people is how this reportedly legislation is reminiscent of the policies of Nazi Germany. In the meantime, let's make sure of our facts before we say too much more. Can someone please produce an English translation of the bill?

Theology of Persecution to be Taught at Toronto Baptist Seminary

I was very excited to learn yesterday that I will teaching at Toronto Baptist Seminary late this summer for the first time. From August 28-September 1, 2006 (8:30 - 4:30 p.m.), I will teaching "MISS 323 - A Biblical Theology of Persecution & Discipleship" as a 3 credit hour course. The focus of this course is an examination of the biblical teaching on persecution as a central aspect of Christian discipleship, providing a biblical foundation from which to articulate an understanding of God's perspective on these issues and to evaluate historical and contemporary perspectives. I take the students from Genesis to Revelation with the goal of training cross-bearing disciples for the 21st century. It is clear to me that this was basic teaching for 1st century believers that is just as relevant today.

If you are interested in taking this course, I would encourage you to call the Registrar's office at Toronto Baptist Seminary at (416) 925-3263.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Is Legal Defense a Christian Practice?

Yesterday we received a letter from one of our supporter asking about our Legal Defense Fund. The Legal Defense Fund was especially set up to help provide resources for Christians who have been arrested because of their Christian witness. Christians are often denied or cannot afford adequate legal representation. Legal fees can bankrupt their families and churches. Their court cases can drag on in the courts for months and even years. The Legal Defense Fund helps insure that these courageous believers receive the best legal assistance possible under the circumstances.

We had mentioned this fund in one of our recent newsletters and so this supporter had some questions and concerns.

I read of your Legal Defense Fund. Is legal defense a Christian practice? Christ did not retaliate, though he was suffering innocently; "but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously" (1 Peter 2:23). And since Christ suffered, we are to "follow His steps" (v. 21). Jesus made no reply when He was accused (Mark 15). He could have defended himself (Matt. 26:53), but He was willing to suffer.

John 18:36 (NAS) Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm."

Paul wanted to know "the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead" (Philippians 3:10, 11).

Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also" (Matt. 5:38-39).

I appreciate the concern that this individual is expressing. The conviction is that The Voice of the Martyrs should function biblically and this is a priority for us as well. Far too often, pragmatism tends to characterize organizations like ours. I firmly believe that biblical orthopraxy is just as important as biblical orthodoxy. And so I take this letter as well-intentioned and worthy of a thoughtful response.

As I have studied the Word of God on the subject of persecution over the past several years, there seem to be three basic biblical responses that God allows when His people are persecuted:

1. Flight
There is a biblical permission to flee from persecution (cf. Matthew 10:23; Acts 8:1; 9:25; 14:5-6; 2 Cor. 11:32-33). The motive behind the fleeing, however, is what is critical. If it were primarily to avoid suffering, then this would not be a sufficient reason. Throughout the New Testament, the priority is always on the mission of the kingdom of God above all else: family, possessions, personal safety, to name a few. If the mission were, however, threatened by persecution, withdrawal was permitted.

a) Matthew 10:23 - withdrawal to another city in order that the Gospel may continue to spread. (cf. Acts 8:1.)

b) Acts 9:25; 2 Cor. 11:23-24. In Corinthians, Paul refers to this fleeing as part of his catalog of suffering for Christ. The flight was not, therefore, a flight from suffering, but a flight in order to fulfill the mission of Christ. While God's word can go out forcefully through the testimony of martyrdom, it is sometimes better that people remain alive in order to proclaim it (cf. Acts 14:5,6).

c) The example of Jesus. While there were times that Jesus hid Himself (John 8:59; Matt.12:14,15) this hiding was because "his time had not yet come" (John 7:30; 8:20; 10:39). His escape from suffering and death was, however, only a postponement. His mission must be preserved (cf. Matt. 2:13ff), a mission that culminates in His suffering and death.

Nevertheless, Jesus did not pull away from confrontations from the religious leaders of his day. His ministry was not characterized by "tactical moves," compromise, a watering-down of his message, or avoidance of suffering. He was not a hireling (John 10:12) who flees in the time of peril, but a good shepherd whose main concern is not his own safety but the safety of others and who lies down his life for his flock. This is expected of his followers as well (John 15:13-14).

Flight is forbidden, however, where obedience to God's commandments and Christ's commission and love for others would be jeopardized. The avoidance of distress and pain is not the supreme good. As a persecuted Vietnamese pastor once said, "Suffering is not the worst thing that can happen to us, disobedience to God is."

So, careful consideration must be given when persecution arises whether or not suffering is necessary in order to accomplish the will of God.

2. Fortitude
Fortitude is, by far, the most common response to persecution given in scripture, but should not be seen in isolation from the others. Flight may, at times, be impossible, impractical, or inappropriate. In these cases, God's people are called to stand firm where they are and remain faithful, even unto death. For example, Jesus' instructions to "Stay in Jerusalem" in Acts 1:4 were not easy to follow; Jerusalem was the most dangerous place for them to be. The numerous passages that our supporter referred to would fit under this category.

3. Fight
There are also times, however, when it is appropriate to fight for one's legal rights. Paul did on several occasions (Acts 16:37; 22:24ff; 25:10-11). Like fleeing, fighting is permissible unless it hinders the furtherance of the kingdom of God (contra. Jesus who was silent at his trial). In Paul's case, it could be argued that he defended his legal rights in order to further the kingdom of God. It is worth noting that even Jesus defended Himself at one point during his trial (John 18:23), but not to protest his suffering but as a testimony of his innocence.

Our establishment of the Legal Defense Fund a number of years ago is based on this last principle. Of course, this is only one component of our ministry. But it is certainly not contrary to biblical teaching example to assist those in bonds in this way.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Banning Da Vinci Is Not the Answer

I have been reading numerous reports today of calls from Asian church leaders to ban the showing of The Da Vinci Code in their respective nations. Frankly, I think that this is wrongheaded. This is the not the first time that Christianity has had to deal with Gnostic heresies and it won't be the last. There is also a historical precedent that should provide some guidance.

Following the legalization of Christianity with the Edict of Milan in A.D. 313, Christian leaders, in the face of heresy, increasingly called upon the secular authorities to enforce doctrinal fidelity. In the process, they seemed to forget the teachings of the early Trinitarian church fathers who observed that compulsion is no attribute of God and, therefore, neither should it be an attribute of His people. Compulsion is not God's way of working.

Lorne Gunter in his column in today's National Post nailed it right on the head when he wrote:

"Christians who are upset by the The Da Vinci Code's assault on their beliefs should put no faith in secular institutions such as the courts and legislatures to preserve their religion. They already possess more powerful spiritual weapons than the law and politics. They should pray rather than prohibit; proselytize rather than prosecute....By seeking to have the Code banned or to financially cripple its author, publisher and producers through lawsuits, Christians would be playing right into the hands of two modern trends: the cult of victimology and the notion that government is the appropriate arbiter of all disputes -- that all justice and wisdom emanate from the state. Do Catholics and other Christians really want to become players in the whine wars? 'Oh, they're being unfair to us. Make them stop. We have the right not to be offended.' Do they really want to become just another in the long line of victim groups who queue up before the courts or human rights commissions every time they feel slighted? Do they truly want to make Caesar the defender of the faith?"

My call is for us to remember that we, as Bible-believing Christians, are in possession of the truth. Let us not lose faith in the power of this truth to ultimately to triumph over error. Let us lovingly and confidently answer the challenges and questions that this film and book present and leave the whining and protesting to those who feel that truth can only be held by silencing everyone who disagrees with them.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Listening to the Word of God

As some of you know, I am presently engaged in doctoral studies, focusing on what the book of Psalms teaches about suffering for righteousness. As a result, I am immersing myself in the Psalms as I attempt to get an understanding and a "feel" for the emotions and thoughts expressed these poetic books. One of the key ways that I have been doing that is by listening to the Psalms on my mp3 player. Listening to the Psalms is quite different from reading them. I am finding that I am grasping the development of thought in each psalm better; its rhythms, repetitions, and underlying themes that are not always so apparent when reading the inspired words. This is not to downplay reading, but it seems to me that the biblical texts (especially the Psalms) were often meant to be listened to in the context of the faith community rather than primarily read in individual privacy, as we tend to do. The declining popularity of scripture reading in our weekly worship services, I think, has only contributed to this.

I recommend that you try listening to the Word of God, especially such texts as the Psalms and Revelation. You may find it a rather useful change from our standard practice. And you may actually find that it contributes to your understanding of God and His revelation.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Update on Church Destruction in Cambodia

This morning, I read a helpful article in the Phonm Penh Post that brings further clarification to the recent destruction of a partially built church in Boeng Krum Leu, 30km east of Phnom Penh (see While I think we can take the deputy minister's comments about religion not being the cause of the attack with a grain of salt, the remainder of the article is quite helpful. I am especially proud of how the believers responded with grace and forgiveness, as is evident in this story.

"Religion 'not the cause' of Christian building's burning"

by Vong Sokheng and Mandy Smith ("Phonm Penh Post," May 04, 2006)

Phonm Penh, Cambodia - Religion was not the cause of a 300-strong Buddhist mob's attack on an unfinished Christian church, a government official said on Wednesday.

"The dispute between the Buddhist villagers and the Christians was not a religious war," said Khon Dara, deputy director of the Ministry of Cults and Religious Affairs.

The destruction of the Wesleyan-owned building in Boeng Krum Commune, Lvea Em District in Kandal Province by a "Buddhist mob" on April 28 should not be considered a result of religious tensions; it was merely a violent eruption of internal village politics, Dara said.

"A verbal dispute had been going on for many years between the villagers," he said. "This was what led to violence."

Religious persecution is rare in Cambodia, said David Manfred, Christian and Missionary Alliance country director, as "in most parts of Cambodia there is religious freedom and people are able to practice their faith."

But Christianity is "new and unfamiliar to Cambodian culture and traditions," he explained, which could cause "misunderstandings" within multi-faith communities.

This could create "isolated locations and situations where, for a variety of reasons, Christians suffer persecution," he said.

About 95 percent of Cambodians are Buddhist, but Catholic, Protestant, and other Christian sects also exist, Dara said, but "generally there is no tension between them."

In the case of the April 28 attack, local Christians argued that village dwellers' religious affiliations were manipulated by secular locals to suit their own ends.

"Several laymen, who were not happy with the Christians, bought wine for teenagers in the village to drink" said Pa Sami, a member of the village's Christian community. "They incited those teenagers to lead the protest and encouraged them to burn down our house."

Van Sotha, clerk for the commune chief, told the Post on May 3 that the attack was unprecedented in the commune. The villagers had always been tolerant of other faiths, she said, but construction of a second church just 700 meters from the commune's only Buddhist pagoda, and the disregard of local opposition to the building, caused simmering village tensions to erupt along religious faultlines.

"The villagers warned the Christians not to construct the building near the Buddhist pagoda," she said. "There is one Buddhist pagoda in the commune. Locals questioned why the Christian religion should have more than one place of worship."

(The Post understands the other place of worship in the village is used by a different Christian sect.)

The construction of the new church building polarized tension in the village into faith-based camps. But the swift resolution of the dispute - without any recourse to legal wrangling - demonstrates that for both the Buddhist and Christian members of the community, it was always a local argument, not the beginning of a religious crusade, Sotha said.

"Both sides made a mistake," she said. "The Christians decided not to file a complaint against the protesters and did not ask for compensation for their property."

Some villagers swiftly repented their hot-tempered actions, said Sami, and came to the Christian community to apologize and seek forgiveness. The two sides were able to resolve the problem amicably.
"They said they had misunderstood the situation and agreed we should stop arguing," she said. "We agreed not to ask for compensation, nor to punish them."

Moreover, many Buddhists in the village had no sympathy for the mob's actions. A village man, who declined to be named for fear of reprisals, said he refused to participate in the protest as it was contrary to Buddhist philosophy.

"Some mob members were drunk; Buddhists are not allowed to drink," he said. "It is a bad deed to tear down and set fire to any house. Many Buddhist people in our commune are not happy with the actions of those people."

This story illustrates well the words of the apostle Peter, "Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame." 1 Peter 3:13-16 (ESV)

Friday, May 05, 2006

Religious Liberty and the Bush Administration

About a year ago I was at a meeting in Washington State where a representative from another mission organization stated emphatically that the Bush administration has made a significant impact on the advancement of religious liberty around the world. He suggested that persecutors were now fearful of attacking Christians for fear of incurring American wrath.

What rubbish! When I suggested as much to this fellow the following day, he swore at me and suggested that I was clueless.

The fact is, there is no evidence at all to support this fellow's assertion. He isn't alone in it either. Many believe that since George Bush is an unapologetic evangelical that he has been active in protecting persecuted Christians around the world. I refer especially to the Internet rumour that keeps making its rounds about an Uzbek pastor who allegedly spoke up at a national pastors convention in San Diego and shared how there was far more persecution in Uzbekistan under Clinton than Bush and that things had improved dramatically for Christians since Bush was elected president. As notes, the story is completely unproven. From our observation here at VOMC, the story actually flies in the face of reality; the exact opposite has been true in Uzbekistan. There has been a dramatic increase in persecution in Uzbekistan in recent years.

Friends of mine in the States suggest that President Bush does far more than what would be apparent behind the scenes. Perhaps that is so, but I contend that such support needs to be seen in order to be effective. The recent recommendations by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to the U.S. president seem to suggest as much. Note the comments regarding Afghanistan and Iraq:

"The situations in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate that freedom of conscience goes to the heart of our foreign policy goals. In these two countries, where the United States is directly engaged in political reconstruction, the universal right to religious freedom is imperiled. Only two months ago, a man faced execution in Afghanistan for exercising his right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief. Charged with the "crime" of changing his religion, the case against him was eventually dismissed with your urging, but concerns about his personal safety meant that he could no longer stay in Afghanistan. A few months before, an Afghan journalist who is also a Muslim scholar was imprisoned and threatened with death after being found guilty of blasphemy. His purported "crime" was to question the strict interpretation of some tenets of the majority religion in Afghanistan. In Iraq, an escalation in the level of sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims threatens to halt political reconstruction. Targets of religiously motivated attacks also include secular Muslims, non-Muslim minorities, and women. The result is that many non-Muslim minorities are leaving Iraq, an exodus that may mean the end of the presence in Iraq of ancient Christian and other communities that have lived on those same lands for 2,000 years.

The situations in Afghanistan and Iraq serve to underscore the precarious state of this fundamental freedom, which the President's National Security Strategy refers to as the "first freedom," in so many countries around the world today. "

Note, too, the USCIRF comments regarding Saudi Arabia:

"In September 2005, one year after the designation of Saudi Arabia, you approved a temporary 180-day waiver of further action, following the CPC designation, to allow for continued diplomatic discussions with the Saudi government and "to further the purposes of the International Religious Freedom Act." The waiver expired in late March 2006. As of the date of this letter, no action with regard to Saudi Arabia has been announced by the U.S. government. Given the extent of religious freedom violations in Saudi Arabia, the Commission urges you to consult with Congress and other parts of the U.S. government, including the Commission, during your discussions with the Saudis, and to make any agreement reached with the Saudi government public in the interest of the accountability that results from transparency. Since religious freedom conditions in Saudi Arabia have not substantially improved in the last year, the U.S. government must not hesitate in taking aggressive action which meets the requirements of IRFA to demonstrate that it will not disregard the persistent and egregious religious freedom violations committed by the Saudi government."

These are gentle reminders that President Bush needs to not only talk the talk of promoting religious liberty but walk the walk. I truly hope he listens.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Unsolicited Emails Asking for Help

Today we had to make a hard decision here at The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada. We decided that we could no longer spend the time responding to unsolicited emails from those who claim to be refugee claimants or ministries in the developing world seeking financial support or other partnership possibilities.

Over the past several years, we have received literally hundreds (if not thousands) of such emails and have found that almost all of them are either false or impossible to verify. Our financial accountability standards also forbid us from even considering requests for financial support from those whom we do not know apart from an unsolicited email. We also do not have the staffing necessary to consider assisting with unsolicited refugee claims. And, to be honest, having to deal with these kinds of emails, however gently, takes time and time is something we have only a limited amount of in this life (as I am increasingly aware of).

We know that there are many needs and many worthwhile causes in the world of which we are unaware. Some of these emails could conceivably contain one. That's the tough part but it is the risk we have to take. Besides, we cannot possibly address every need, regardless of how hard we try to be faithful to the Lord's call on our ministry. We are grateful that since our inception in 1971, The Voice of the Martyrs has been successful in establishing a growing network of co-workers throughout the world whom we have learned to trust and who provide us with more than enough opportunities to serve legitimate needs of persecuted Christians around the world. We ask for your prayers and understanding as we try to be faithful to the Lord in this task.