Monday, December 31, 2007

Persecution Stories of 2007

Well, it's New Year's Eve and like many others, I find myself thinking back over the past twelve months and I consider the numerous stories of persecution that we have covered in our monthly newsletter and weekly prayer/news service. A lot of water has gone under the bridge.

Last year, I suggested that the rising persecution of Christians in India was the most predominant story of 2006. Another year has come and gone and this, unfortunately, has not changed. No other country so dominated our weekly Persecution and Prayer Alert than India did. In the 52 weeks of 2007, we released 75 separate stories on India. What a tragedy that the world's largest democracy is also increasingly one of the most dangerous places for Christians to live in, as evidenced by the recent violence in Orissa state over Christmas.

Two other stories also demanded a fair bit of attention in 2007.

The first was the kidnapping of twenty-three Korean Christian hostages in Afghanistan on July 19 by the Taliban. Two of the male leaders were later killed before the remaining hostages were released on August 30 after the South Korean government reportedly agreed to follow through on their plans to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year and also to prevent South Koreans from engaging in missionary activity in Afghanistan. In response, I wrote at the time that it seemed that the only real concession that the South Korean government was prepared to publicly make to the Taliban was the religious freedom of its own citizens. I warned that this decision to withdraw missionaries from Afghanistan and to prevent others from going there is a violation of religious freedom. It is telling Korean Christians, 'You can obey Christ's commission but not in Afghanistan.' This no government has the right to do, even in the name of protecting their citizens. We were also concerned that this concession by the South Korean government could further endanger the safety of Christian missionaries of all nationalities in other countries like Afghanistan where Christianity is viewed with hostility. I wrote, "Religiously motivated militants may conclude, having seen the Taliban successfully drive out South Korean missionaries in this manner, that kidnapping missionaries in the hopes of negotiating similar concessions by other governments concerned over the safety of its citizens is a legitimate and potentially successful strategy." This last concern seemed justified when the Taliban announced upon releasing the last hostages that they planned to kidnap more foreigner after having won such a significant victory. Said, Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi, "We will do the same thing with the other allies in Afghanistan, because we found this way to be successful.''

The other concern that arose out of this case was the condemnation that the sending church received from the Korean public. Several South Korean church groups immediately agreed to abide by their governments decision to prevent further missionary activity from their country into Afghanistan. Some family members of the kidnapped apologized to the Korean people for the inconvenience that their relatives caused by going to Afghanistan. Korean mission leaders suggested that this incident may mark a "maturing" by the Korean missions movement. Perhaps, I noted at the time, but not if Koreans start to emulate the practice of many western missions groups who refuse to go where their governments say it is too dangerous and who flee countries whenever things get potentially hazardous.

The second story was the martyrdom of three Christians, Necati Aydin (35), Ugur Yuksel (32) and Tilmann Geske (46), a German national, in Malatya, Turkey on April 18. The alleged killers had apparently pretended to become Christians in order to gain the trust of the believers before ambushing them. The three men were then bound and tortured for more than two hours before being killed. Their throats were cut and their bodies marred by multiple stab wounds. According to the newspaper Hurriyet, one of the suspects declared during police questioning, "We didn't do this for ourselves. We did it for our religion. May this be a lesson to the enemies of religion." The trials of the accused continue into the New Year, as accusations of alleged collusion of public officials in the torture and murder swirl.

There were, of course, other significant events in 2007 and I am always hesitant to draw attention to some and not others. The killing of Christianah Oluwatoyin Olusase, a Christian teacher at the Government Day Secondary School in Gombe state, Nigeria on March 21 touched us deeply here at The Voice of the Martyrs; so much so that we started a memorial fund in her memory. The violence in northern Nigeria continues to be a source of major concern. Declining religious liberty in many of the former Soviet states of central Asia became a greater priority to us in 2007 and will continue to be into 2008. And China's crackdown on religious dissidents in advance of the 2008 Olympic Games continues and must not be ignored as we approach what I believe will be the most propagandized Olympics since 1936 in Berlin.

And so we enter a New Year. May this be a year when many of us will resolve not to forget our brothers and sisters who live and die for the faith that we, too, confess. May this be the year we resolve to do something that will let some of them know that they have not been forgotten.

The Voice of the Martyrs Launches Facebook Page

In our continuing drive to effectively raise a voice for the Persecuted Church worldwide, The Voice of the Martyrs is now on Facebook. Take a look today and start to spread the news of the courage and faith of our brothers and sisters around the world and how we can stand with them in prayer and practical aid.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Voice of the Martyrs Launches YouTube Channel

No other organization that works with the Persecuted Church uses videos quite as much as The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada does. With the launch of three years ago, we became the only mission with a multimedia website dedicated strictly to audio and video testimonies and reports of persecuted Christians in the world. At a time when video was still relatively new on the Internet, we were way ahead of the curve with this.

In our continuing passion to spread the message and needs of our brothers and sisters around the world, VOMC launched this week a channel on YouTube at At the present time, plans are to air our four 1-minute video reports The Overcomers on YouTube every month. Here is an example:

Other programs may also be added. It is not our desire that our YouTube channel take the place of but that it be a supplement and added outreach arm of the mission. Pray that God would use this channel to receive others around the world with the message of the Persecuted Church and that we would have wisdom from the Lord on how to best utilize the opportunities that God opens for us

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Updated Video Report From India

The following is an updated news report from India concerning the violence against Christians in Orissa state. Please remember the believers there in prayer during this tense and tragic time.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Seeing the Cross through the Coziness

Once again a song that I sang as a child recently stirred me into contemplating matters of faith. This time the song was "Away in a Manger," a carol that I both sang and heard quite often during the past few weeks.

As a child, I liked this song a lot---mostly because the words were easy to learn and memorize but also because it painted a very comforting and cozy picture of Christ's birth (I can see why the song lends itself to children's programs and carol-sings). When I sing this song now, however, I don't enjoy it or appreciate it as I once did. I can't help but feel that it is one of the hymns which can perpetuate a far too cozy picture of Christmas, and so can even paint a false picture of Christ Himself.

For example, take the line "The little Lord Jesus/No crying he makes." If Jesus is fully God and fully human, isn't it likely that he, like all children, cried in times of hunger or discomfort? After all, we know very well that he wept when we was older, at the death of his beloved friend (John 11:35). So why are infant tears so out of the question? Granted, the song is probably only an attempt to capture a moment of peace and not implying that Christ never cried. But still, the line just doesn't sit well with me. I find much more truth and comfort a verse from another popular carol, "Once in Royal David's city," which says: "Tears and smiles like us He knew/And He feeleth for our sadness/And He shareth in our gladness."

Singing the lullaby-like "Away and a Manger" also brought to mind another well-known children's song of a different sort----the nursery rhyme "Rock-a-bye Baby." This is a song I certainly didn't like as a child; I was puzzled, even disturbed, by the lyrics: "When the bough breaks/the cradle will fall/and down will come baby/cradle and all."

What kind of warm and fuzzy lullaby details a terrible accident befalling a sleeping infant? Well, as it turns out, this song was likely written about Native-American women rocking their babies to sleep in birch-bark cradles that were suspended from tree branches. Often these branches would break and...down would go the poor baby.

No one likes to think about an innocent child enduring such a fate. And yet, think about what Christ, the one true innocent, endured. No matter how quiet and content he was in his manger-cradle, the reality is that he eventually grew up to suffer the severest of afflictions, for our sake. And his ‘bough' didn't just break as part of a terrible accident; it was deliberately broken by his own Father in order to accomplish the Lord's redemptive plan.

Now, of course I neither expect nor necessarily want all Christmas carols to be altered to include the graphic details of Christ's sufferings. Songs about silent nights and angelic proclaimations of peace and good will have a definite place in celebrating Jesus Christ---and many such songs do in fact express the whole story of salvation. However, this year I was once again reminded of how easy it is be so swept up in and distracted by the coziness of the Christmas story that your eyes stray from the truest and most important salvific image: the cross.

Reflections on Benazir Bhutto

For the past 24 hours, since learning of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, I have considered what can and should be said of her. In particular, I have been pondering the numerous tributes I have been reading, lauding her for her commitment to democracy and human rights.

I never met Benazir Bhutto and so I am hesitant to disagree with those who did have that privilege. I am also aware, having met other political leaders, that a person's true commitments are not marked so much by what one says but by one's actions. And so we must examine carefully reports from her days in office as Prime Minister to see if her stated beliefs matched the actions of her government. I am equally cognizant of the fact that politics is a game of compromise and small steps in any country but perhaps especially so in a complex and tumultuous one like Pakistan. The task of moving from what is to what it ought to be can be slow and inconsistent.

So how will history judge Benazir Bhutto once the shock of her violent death is numbed with the passage of time and most of the memorials will have been written and filed away? Was she truly a significant voice for democracy and human rights in Pakistan?

As I mentioned above, certainly reports from her days in office need to be re-examined, reports that I believe will help to tell a more balanced story. While we at The Voice of the Martyrs condemn her assassination and grieve for the people of Pakistan for the good that she might have done for her country, we remember her legacy and wonder how to reconcile these conflicting realities. Like her country, hers was a tumultuous and contradictory life. Her time in office (1988-1990; 1993-1996) was not a time of unfettered democratic freedom and human rights. Reports from the time that tell of torture, persecution of religious minorities, imprisonment of opposition leaders, and suppression of freedom of expression from groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and our own archives cannot be ignored. While Bhutto often spoke of the importance of human rights, her government and courts often seemed out of step with her stated values. At the time, The Voice of the Martyrs and groups like us referred to these reports and protested to the Bhutto government on behalf of our persecuted brothers and sisters in Pakistan. How odd that today some of these same groups are lauding her as a voice for human rights. Surely a more restrained response would be in order.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

So How Was Christmas Around the World This Year?

Reading through a few reports this week, it is obvious that Christmas continues to be a time of both rejoicing and apprehension for Christians around the world. On the one hand, I read of churches in Iraq being full for Christmas celebrations, in stark contrast to a year ago. Indonesian police were called upon to provide protection for Christians concerned about attacks on their services as in previous years. Thankfully, they do not seem to have been needed, as we received no reports of attacks on believers there.

On the other hand, in Turkey and Gaza, Christians were reportedly keeping a low profile this year after prominent members have been martyred in 2007. In India, the reports are continuing to come in as at least three Christians have been killed and several churches, Christian homes and businesses and organizational headquarters were attacked and burned in the state of Orissa during the past three days. The reason for the attacks is muddied but seems to boil down to Hindu militants objecting to Christians seeking to publicly celebrate Christmas on the grounds that it might lead to Hindus converting to Christ. In Malaysia, a Catholic weekly newspaper was told just before Christmas to drop the use of the word "Allah" in its Malay language section if it wants to renew its publishing permit, despite the fact that this is the word that Malay Christians have always referred to God by. And in Canada, Catholic Insight, a Catholic political and cultural general interest magazine went public with the news that it is being accused before the Alberta Human Rights Commission by a homosexual activist of making "negative generalizations" about homosexuals, portraying them as preying upon children, as dangerous and "devoid of any redeeming qualities and...innately evil".

Herod (in his various guises) continues to seek to snuff out the life of the Child all over the world and God's people continue to look to God for guidance and protection, just as Mary and Joseph did. But the Light that brings light to the world continues to shine as His people faithfully witness through their words and sacrificial lives. "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:5).

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Few Additional Thoughts Concerning Free Speech in Canada

A few lessons for those who seem a little confused about what it means to live in a society with freedom of expression:

1. Learn to take "No" for an answer if someone won't publish your letter, rebuttal, or blog response. While freedom of speech is a right, it is not your right to force others to give you a voice. You can ask politely, be thoughtful, and write intelligently. But don't go running to the government if someone says "No".

2. If someone hurts your feelings, you can respond by writing a letter to the editor, publishing a blog, calling a radio talk show, running for politics, or any other number of things. But don't go running to the government!

3. Recognize that in a free society, the right to free expression does include the right to offend. But freedom of expression also includes the right to defend. We have the right and obligation to counter false or misleading accusations and correct prejudicial comments. But we do not protest that such things are published; we stand against what has been said. This is the nature of apologetics, to expose the truth that has been hidden behind the lies, misunderstandings or misinformation of our accusers. But the end result is not to expect or demand an apology from the publisher. The publisher does not need to apologize for offending Christians, Muslims, or green-eyed snakes. To call for this would be to call for the suppression of the freedom of expression. Our obligation here is to present the truth and call for ethical behaviour in reporting. And if the publisher refuses to act, we can stop reading their stuff and we urge others not to as well. Or we can get over it and act like adults. But we don't go running to the government to protect us from offended feelings!

4. Be aware that the trend toward defending an individual's or group's "right" to NOT be offended (in particular, it seems, for Muslims and homosexuals) and thus limiting the rights for others to express different opinions, represents a significant threat not only to freedom of expression and religious liberty but to democracy and the Rule of Law itself. This trend undermines two basic premises of the Rule of Law principle. The first is the shift from the objective (what was expressed) to the subjective (how was it received and/or perceived). This represents (as Mats Tunehag well stated) "a shift from freedom of speech to "freedom from hearing'; from the speaker to the hearer; from what was said to how it was perceived; from instigating violence to ‘I was offended'; from objective to subjective criteria and laws."

The second Rule of Law principle that is being undermined by this trend is the loss of predictability. Laws and the consequences of breaking them should be predictable. But how can one know if what one says is going to offend someone, somewhere, for some reason? The law, therefore, becomes entirely subjective and liable to abuse, just as we see the Blasphemy Laws of Pakistan being abused today.

It is at this last point that I think we do need to run to the government to protect us from those who would restrict free speech in Canada in the name of human rights and are using the human rights commissions to do it.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Balanced Reporting as a Restriction of Free Speech

In Thursday's National Post, Naseem Mithoowani, Khurrum Awan , Muneeza Sheikh and Daniel Simard explained why they were filing a human rights complaints with the B.C., Ontario and federal human rights commissions against Maclean's with respect to its October, 2006 article, "The Future Belongs to Islam," written by Mark Steyn. The reason, they say, is because Maclean's refused to allow them to publish a counter piece to Steyn's article. They write that what they were asking for was "an opportunity for the Muslim community to participate in the ‘free marketplace' of ideas. It is our belief that in its truest form, freedom of expression results in a lively debate among all interested parties -- not just among those who play by their own exclusionary rules. If Maclean's wants to publish articles alleging that many Muslims are ‘hot for jihad,' it has to provide an opportunity to respond."

I'm sorry but Maclean's does not HAVE to do anything of the sort! This is the essence of free speech; the right to say (or not say) whatever one wants. If Maclean's wishes to publish such a response, it can. But it cannot be forced to; not without violating the very essence of free speech at least.

Having failed to silence those who would criticize Islam through the use of defamation laws, the Canadian Islamic Congress is now trying a new tactic; using the human rights commissions to force their critics to give them a voice (at the critic's expense, of course). I only hope that the human rights commissions will see this tactic for what it is; an insidious violation of freedom of expression. I am not hopeful, however. Is there is anything more "Canadian" than the urge to be viewed as "balanced"? This sort of suppression of freedom would be just so "Canadian" that it might be considered acceptable.

This same mentality presently compels (under CRTC requirements) only single-faith religious broadcasters to provide balance in their programming by providing broadcasting time for other faiths as a condition of obtaining a broadcast licence. Heaven forbid that these blatantly discriminatory regulations (which result in an undue restriction on freedom of expression and are financially harmful to Christian broadcasters) would be forced upon other media providers. It's wrong to require this of religious broadcasters; it's wrong to require it of any media.

If Mithoowani and the gang want "an opportunity for the Muslim community to participate in the ‘free marketplace' of ideas" let them express their freedom of expression like everyone else and compete to be heard, using their own resources and developing their own communications medium. But to expect others to give such opportunities to you on their dime and on their time; well, that's not a right. That's presumption.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

So What Are You Reading?

I think it was Ken Blanchard who once said that leaders are readers. Personally, I have been a reader since the first grade when I was reading material 3-4 years ahead of my age group. Reading helps me to function at my best, opening new thoughts and possibilities to me. I am working at making it a regular part of my day because in recent years I have tended to read in spurts; I neglect reading for a few weeks and then go on a rage one weekend and read a couple of books from start to finish.

Lately, I have been on one of these reading spurts and thought that I would share with you some of the books I have been plugging through and give you my very brief response as to whether I felt it worth reading. Perhaps you might find one or more of them interesting.

1. The Cult of the Amateur by Andrew Keen. A critique on how today's Internet is having a devastating effect on certain businesses, creativity and scholarship. Worth reading for identifying a significant issue that needs to be taken much more seriously. Not worth reading if you are looking for real answers, but it should stimulate you to start thinking of some.

2. Revolution and Religion in Ethiopia by Oyvind M. Eide. A study of the state of the church and persecution in Ethiopia during the Marxist rule from 1974-1985, focusing particularly on the Mekane Yesus Church. Worth reading if you want to understand the Ethiopian church of the past and present. A significant study, in my opinion. Introduced me to Guddinaa Tumsa, Ethiopia's Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

3. Born to Battle by R. Arthur Mathews. A 31-day devotional on the reality of spiritual warfare. Haven't finished it yet, but am finding it very balanced and biblical. A classic that we are going to sell here at the mission. Worth reading if you want to understand why Christians are persecuted; we are in a war.

4. Uneasy Neighbors: Church and State in the New Testament by Walter E. Pilgrim. Worth reading. The best book I have read on the subject. Scholarly without being overbearing. Shows how there is not only one New Testament response in how Christians should relate to the state.

5. The Imperfect Board Member by Jim Brown. A leadership book that deals with the necessary disciplines for governance excellence in an organization. Worth reading for CEOs and Board members in helping to see the relationship and roles between the two. Written in a novel format (much like many of Ken Blanchard's book. Makes for easy reading).

Well, that's it. I'll try to do this about once a month or so. I would love to hear what you are reading. Hearing the recommendations of others is always helpful to know what to read and what not to waste time (and money) on.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Standing in the Need of Prayer

When I was a child I briefly misunderstood the chorus of the well-known song "Standing in the Need of Prayer." Since I hadn't grasped the concept of synonyms, I thought the song was about literally standing (as in the opposite of sitting) in the need of prayer. So the times my church happened to sing this song while sitting down left me rather puzzled. It just seemed wrong for people to be belting out "It's me, it's me, it's me oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer" while they were snug their pews. What's with the sitting around? I remember thinking. Let's get up!

But, silly misunderstandings aside, I think that there are times that we as Christians actually do seem to be "sitting" in the need of prayer. Instead of sharing our prayer requests with others (or daring to share them beyond our close circle of family members and friends), we sit silently in the corners of our lives, letting our needs be swallowed up by our own timidity, or perhaps even our pride.

I know that I've quietly and sheepishly twiddled my fingers through far too many trials and troubles, figuring that God and I could just work things out in private. I now realize, however, that this approach not only short-changes me in my own spiritual life but also prevents others from partaking in the communal blessing of prayer.

On a recent trip to a restricted country to visit with persecuted Christians, I admired how openly many of the suffering believers asked for prayer. Even when my coworkers and I could spend but a few hours with them, they did not hesitate to bring their needs before us. In fact, the words "Pray for us" were uttered far more often than requests for other forms of assistance, such as material aid or financial support. And not only that, several of the believers also repeatedly emphasized that they were praying for us, as well as prayerfully remembering the whole Canadian Church.

The behaviour of these Christians emphasized the oneness of Christ's body. They truly treated us as brothers and sisters in the Lord by acknowledging the shared assurance we have in Him and showing us that we need not carry our burdens alone, not even as we bring them to our Father. It was a welcome reminder of how pivotal a role prayer has, and must have, in this ministry and in the lives of Christ's followers.

May the Lord enable all those who are still "sitting" in the need of prayer to follow the same path as these believers...and get up!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Kingdoms in Conflict

In the telling of the Christmas story, it is easy to miss the political overtones that mark Matthew's account, in particular, that would have been rather obvious to the original readers. There is far more going on than dreams, stars and gifts. The birth of Jesus is set in a context of conflict. From its very onset we hear the rumbling of trouble as we witness the response of Herod to the news of the birth of a new king. There are warnings of trouble ahead, of an inevitable clash between the temporal and the eternal, with two claims to sovereignty. Absent from Matthew is the concept of two kingdoms, God and Caesar, living side by side in relative peace and working in constructive cooperation. Instead we have two kingdoms for whom there can be no peaceful coexistence. One rules by might; the other by peace. One conquers through the vanquishing of one's foes; the other through reconciliation and sacrificing one's self. But there can be no final accommodation with rulers like Herod, no true sharing of loyalty as Jesus declares, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Servants With or Of?

There has been discussion here at The Voice of the Martyrs lately about whether it is best to say that we are servants of the Persecuted Church or servants with the Persecuted Church. Presently our motto is the former. Some might say that the prepositional change is mostly semantic.

It's not.

Such a change would represent a shift in emphasis that I believe is not only contrary to the vision that Richard Wurmbrand had for The Voice of the Martyrs but (more importantly) difficult to reconcile with the teaching of Jesus Christ Himself.

To serve with someone is not at all the same as serving someone. To serve with implies a partnering relationship, hopefully between equals but not necessarily. It does not exclude the possibility of superiority especially if one of the partners is the patron or benefactor, providing assistance or aid in the relationship. To serve someone, however, implicitly suggests a position of preference to the one being served. I suggest that the later is the kind of relationship that The Voice of the Martyrs needs to nurture in its service to persecuted Christians around the world.

The context of the passages in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) in which Jesus addresses the issue of servanthood and leadership is suggestive. In Matthew, when the mother of James and John asks for her sons to have places of prominence in the kingdom, Jesus asks if they are able to drink the cup of suffering and sacrifice that He will drink. The same response is given in Mark's gospel, while in Luke, the dispute over who is the greatest (Luke 22:24-30) is book-ended with the prediction of Judas' betrayal (22:22-23) and Peter's denial (22:31-34).

These passages draw attention to the truth that the kingdom community when obedient to the call of Jesus is marked by self-sacrifice, suffering, and servanthood, not self-seeking and status. Jesus calls for a radically new way, one that He lives out before the disciples. In Luke 22:27 He sums up His whole life and ministry with the words, "But I am among you as the one who serves." Just as sacrifice and servanthood mark the Lord's life, so, too, they are to be the overriding characteristic of those who follow Him.

To shift the emphasis of serving the Persecuted Church to serving with the Persecuted Church would represent, in my opinion, a move away from this model and towards a model more characteristic of the Gentiles (Luke 22:23-26). It is not a significant further step to move from serving with to lording over, especially if one is in a relationship where one is the benefactor (Luke 22:25).

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Evangelism, Religious Liberty, and Tolerance

Does believing in religious liberty and that every person has the right to practice and propagate his beliefs necessarily suggest that we are promoting an acceptance of differing religions and religious beliefs?

Of course it does not, unless you confuse tolerance with acceptance, which many do. Tolerance says that I accept your right to believe what you believe, even (and especially) if I believe that you are absolutely wrong. But I will not compel you to believe others or hinder you from practicing your religion just as long as you do not harm someone in the process. I can still respect your rights and at the same time try to convince you of your error. But I cannot and will not force you to change your mind. This is a far cry from accepting your beliefs as just a legitimate as my own or suggesting that the differences really don't matter or are insignificant.

What got me thinking about this were a couple of things that came across my desk this week. The first was a letter from a man in Alberta who accused VOMC of glorifying persecution without suggesting any solutions to the problem. He suggested that it was wrong to believe, as we do, in religious liberty; that everyone has the right to practice and propagate his beliefs. In the light of Islamist terrorism and religious persecution, this was naïve and wrong, in his opinion. His letter and his self-published book that he included were rather unclear on just how he wanted people to respond effectively to the threat of Islam, but I gathered (as best I could) that he wanted the West to rise up and suppress Islam.

The second was the Doctrinal Note on evangelism released yesterday by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) in Rome. While I am not a Roman Catholic, as a theologian I have come to appreciate the doctrinal emphasis of Benedict XVI. In this Doctrinal Note (a summary is available here and a photocopy of the full document here), the statement is rightfully made that "respect for religious freedom and its promotion does not in any way make us indifferent towards truth and goodness. Indeed, love impels the followers of Christ to proclaim to all the truth which saves." This document affirms that evangelism is the right and duty of the Christian but also insists that "coercion or improper enticement that fails to respect the dignity and religious freedom of the partners in that dialogue has no place in Christian evangelization." This 14-page document is apparently the result of a process begun by the present pope when he was still the prefect of the CDF as he saw a pressing need to challenge a pluralistic theology of religion which essentially states that all religions are equally valid in leading a person to salvation.

I share this concern and strongly hold that we can hold a belief in religious liberty and a belief in the exclusive claims of Christ at one and the same time. It's just too bad that some of my zealous brothers and sisters who believe so strongly in truth seem to feel that they must silence those whom they perceive to be a threat. It was just this spirit that led to some of the horrible persecution instigated in the name of Christ against fellow Christians in the past.

Richard Bell, in his 1925 Gunning Lectures at Edinburgh University, made an astute observation about one of the possible reasons for the rapid collapse of Christianity in the seventh century in the face of the Islam. Bell suggests that it was largely due to the fact that, over time, church leaders lost sight of some significant truths as they engaged in the crucial battles over the nature of Christ and the Trinity during the fourth to sixth centuries. The Christians of those ages, proud in the possession of the truth, appear to have lost faith in the power of the truth ultimately to triumph over error, and the duty of love towards fellow-men, not to speak of fellow-Christians, was forgotten in the zeal for orthodoxy. Having gradually gained political power through the legalization of Christianity with the Edict of Milan in A.D. 313, Christian leaders increasingly called upon the secular authorities to enforce fidelity to the decisions of various church councils. In the process, they seemed to forget that force is no attribute of God and, therefore, neither should it be an attribute of His people. Doctrinal orthodoxy is unquestionably essential to the Church, but its enforcement must be in line with the character of the God. Bells suggests that the trouble with the Church in the sixth century lay not so much in its intellectual activity and theological speculation as in the impatience of the Church. This is not to say that error should go unchecked. However, it should be done with tears and not a clenched fist.

In the same way, evangelism and apologetics need to take place without apology for holding to and proclaiming truth but always in a spirit of love and respect, trusting God for the results

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Developing Hierarchy of Rights in Canada

Yesterday, the government of Quebec tabled legislation to shore up women's rights in the face of perceived threats from groups whose religious practices are deemed discriminatory. The proposed amendment to Quebec's Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms is in response to a recommendation from the province's Council on the Status of Women, which has expressed concern that women's rights are being undermined in the name of religious freedom. While Christiane Pelchat, president of the Council on the Status of Women, said her group had never sought to create a hierarchy of rights with equality of the sexes at the top, it is apparent that this is what is developing. And not only in this case, but in other cases that have come before courts, legislations and human right commissions across Canada. Religious rights are increasingly being treated as less inviolable than gender or sexual orientation rights in particular, especially when they are expressed in the public arena.

It is becoming increasingly important that there be well-considered and thoughtful discussion and writing done on the expression and defense of religious rights in the Canadian context, beyond the citing and discussion of individual cases. We need to get proactive on this issue rather than reactive, as is the tendency amoung evangelical Christians in particular.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

It's time to stop being daft about Christmas

Finally, a voice of common-sense... and coming from the United Kingdom yet; the recent darling of religious political correctness.

Yesterday, Reuters reported how Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims have joined Britain's equality watchdog Monday in urging Britons to enjoy Christmas without worrying about offending non-Christians.

According to the report, Trevor Phillips, chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said, "It's time to stop being daft about Christmas. It's fine to celebrate and it's fine for Christ to be star of the show."

"Let's stop being silly about a Christian Christmas," he said, referring to a tendency to play down the traditional celebrations of the birth of Christ for fear of offending minorities in multicultural Britain.

The article goes on to cite Hindu, Sikh and Muslim leaders affirming this call to return to a modicum of common-sense. This mirrors moves by stores here in North America such as Walmart to return referring to Christmas in products and around its stores this holiday season. Sure, the moves by these stores were driven in part by the threats of boycotts, but I am hopeful that it also marks a turning in the road. Hey, it's Christmas. I can be hopeful if I want to.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Why I Believe in Human Rights

December 10 is Human Rights Day and it will be a day that many (if not most) evangelical Christians will ignore or never even know occurred.

Having grown up in an evangelical holiness-style church and having rubbed shoulders for much of my adult life in ecclesiastical circles, it is apparent to me that many evangelicals distrust human rights language. We tend to leave the field of human rights to secularists or to our mainline church counterparts and condemned them (and the issue itself) when they mistakenly confuse religious tolerance with religious endorsement. With the spread of postmodernist thought in our society and the corresponding weakening of moral and objective truth in the minds of many, even amoung evangelicals, the role of apologetics and evangelism has increasingly been disparaged as inappropriate actions for Christians in a multicultural society such as Canada's. Evangelicals must begin to do the hard work of reclaiming a part of our legacy; the field of human rights.

As I have studied the scriptural ramifications of being created image of God over the last several years, I have come to appreciate the fact that human beings, by their very nature, are bestowed with God-given rights to respectful treatment, equality, diversity, communal relations, and freedom of belief. Human rights, rather than being opposed to a biblical worldview are a fruit of one. As Paul Marshall has pointed out in his book, Religious Liberty in the World Today, it is no accident that countries that have historically been influenced by a strong Christian worldview have consistently maintained the highest levels of religious liberty for its citizens. There is a reason why we believe that human beings should be treated with respect; they are created in image of God (cf. Genesis 9:6; James 3:9).

It is disappointing to me, therefore, that the subject of human rights is one that many evangelicals have tended to shy away from. To defend the rights of others seems, to some, to be somehow unspiritual. After all, it may be rightfully pointed out that Christians are called to give up their rights just as Christ did in His incarnation. The ugliness of witnessing followers of Jesus Christ fight for their personal rights (especially with each other) has brought disrepute upon the Body of Christ. Rather than saying "See how they love one another," the watching world has more often been able to comment, with a smirk, "See how they fight one another." Seeking to remedy this unfortunate situation by presenting a positive, alternative witness to a skeptical society, some Christians have concluded that we have no legitimate rights to fight for.

I believe a more appropriate approach would be to affirm that often neglected distinction between private and public rights. Privately, Christians are not to take the law into their own hands but this does not remove the right of the State to uphold the laws of the land. In the same way, Christians may choose to give up their rights in order to accomplish the purposes of God. This does not presuppose, however, that the rights are not legitimate and that others can (and perhaps should) uphold them. Nor does this give us the excuse to not uphold the rights of others. There are times (probably more often than we are comfortable admitting) when the call to follow Christ and to conform to His image requires that we renounce the rights that we may rightfully possess. Giving up illegitimate rights can hardly be considered a sacrifice. Similarly, to refuse to uphold the rights of others simply because we have personally chosen to renounce them is unjust and a direct violation of scriptural commands to defend the weak and oppressed and to speak on their behalf. It is a cruel person who says, "Since I refuse to uphold my rights, I will bind you to my decision as well by letting you suffer in silence and refuse to raise a finger to help you."

Nor does the separation of private and public rights imply that Christians should not, at times, stand up for their own rights as citizens. The apostle Paul exemplified this when he felt free to either forgo his rights or to use them. On at least three occasions Luke records Paul exercising his rights as a Roman citizen as a defense for his religious beliefs. The advancement of God's kingdom would seem to be the biblical criterion of whether to renounce or uphold one's rights. Unfortunately, the criterion is more often the advancement of our own personal agendas.

In the same way, exemplified by our Creator's willingness to allow false beliefs to continue unpunished for the present, Christians are to uphold the right for the individual or the group to be wrong. This is why Christians should find proselytism to be an abhorrent perversion of evangelism. Religious coercion is a violation of an individual's God-given right to choose one's own belief system, even if it is incorrect, morally repugnant and inconsistent with the general and special revelation of God in nature, scripture, and Christ. When Christianity has been faithfully practiced, its followers have allowed religious practice contrary to their own to continue so long as it does not violate the basic rights of others (e.g. child sacrifice, sexual or mental exploitation). This does not, of course, negate the importance of apologetics and evangelism. As God's image bearers, we are also His messengers, seeking to restore mankind to a rightful relationship to its Creator. Reflecting His image, even though marred by sin, we seek to win men and women to Christ through persuasion and sacrifice, not compulsion. And we will respect the rights of others to be wrong if they insist in holding on to their beliefs and rejecting the message of life and liberty.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Update on Transplant

On December 20, it will be one year since I received a stem cell transplant from my brother, Jim. At this time last year, I was undergoing tests and chemotherapy to prepare for the transplant which we hoped would successfully treat the Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia that I had been diagnosed with.

It has been a while since I really had much to tell but I am happy to report that today we received the latest report from a biopsy that I had taken on my bone marrow in my hip a couple of weeks ago. Wait for it..... the test for cancer came back clear. There was no sign of cancer. Cool, eh?

Now I just have to get over the side effects of the transplant itself and the various drugs that I have to take that prevent rejection of my brother's stem cells. I still have a way to go before I will be close to what I used to be but God has been faithful. Thank you to all who have upheld me and my family in prayer during this year. May the Lord bless you.