Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Ontario Human Rights Commission Strikes Again

no As reported in today's Persecution and Prayer Alert, in a ruling released late last week, the Ontario Human Rights Commission declared that Christian Horizons, an evangelical Christian organization that provides care and residential services to 1,400 developmentally disabled individuals, was wrong to require that its employees sign a lifestyle and morality statement as a condition of employment and ordered that it "cease and desist" from doing so.  The lifestyle and morality statement prohibits behaviours Christian Horizons believes are prohibited for Christians including "homosexual relationships," "extra-marital sexual relationships (adultery)," "pre-marital sexual relationships (fornication)," "viewing or reading pornographic material," "endorsing" alcohol or cigarettes and "lying."  This kind of code is quite common among faith-based organizations.  The Voice of the Martyrs has one that we require our staff to sign annually.

Boasting that it's ruling "has a significant impact for faith-based organizations that provide services to the general public," the OHRC ordered Christian Horizons to pay Connie Heintz (39) two years' wages and benefits, plus $23,000 in compensatory damages because from a complaint brought by Ms Heintz claiming that she was forced from the organization when she made it public that she was a lesbian. Heintz (39) willingly signed Christian Horizons' "lifestyle and morality" employee code when she joined the organization in 1995. By all reports, she agreed with it fully at the time.  In 2000, however, she made it known to the organization that she was a lesbian, Heintz was offered counselling in her evangelical tradition to assist her in determining whether she could return to compliance with the basic requirements of her employment. Instead, she resigned, filing a human rights complaint four months later.

As we noted, contrary to what many are claiming, the OHRC ruled against Christian Horizons not on the grounds that the agency receives virtually all of its funding from the Ontario government (more than 75 million dollars annually) and, as such, is subject to the provincial human rights code. Rather, the ruling was because Christian Horizons' primary mission is to serve the public need for group homes for people with developmental difficulties.  In a press release by the OHRC, Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall commented, "This decision is important because it sets out that when faith-based and other organizations move beyond serving the interests of their particular community to serving the general public, the rights of others, including employees, must be respected." The Tribunal also ruled that Christian Horizons must develop anti-discrimination policies, provide training to all employees and managers, and review all of its employment policies to ensure that they are in compliance with Ontario's Human Rights Code (click here to review the entire ruling).

As I read the ruling, it seems to me that had Christian Horizons limited its work to serving Christians that it likely would have won its case, despite receiving public funding from the government.  But because Christian Horizons serves others outside of their faith community, they are now subject to the same restrictions as a secular organization.  Don Hutchinson, General Legal Counsel and Director of Law and Public Policy with The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada rightfully asks in a National Post blog, "Imagine that Mother Theresa and her Missionaries of Charity had been told that their ministry in the streets of Calcutta was, in essence, not ministry but ‘social work.' In order for the sisters to continue in their work, they would no longer be permitted to require that staff members share their beliefs and ministry commitment."  This is, in effect, the consequence of this ruling for Christian Horizons. They have been stripped of their right to operate as a faith-based organization simply because they chose not to limit the scope of their work to Christians. 

Does anyone else find this outrageous?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Who Determines What "Objectionable" Literature Is?

Late last week, I received an email concerning one of our stories in the Persecution and Prayer Alert.  The sender stated that he was unsure how to understand the prayer request following the report of charges laid in Singapore under the Undesirable Publications Act against a couple who was alleged to have been distributing an evangelistic tract entitled "The Little Bride."  We asked people to pray that the charges be dropped. The sender asked if we were saying that they were not, in fact, distributing the tract and that the charges are false.

I can understand the confusion.  As we understand it, the couple had, indeed, distributed the tract.  Nor do we dispute that the tract may be perceived by some as having violated both Singapore's Undesirable Publications Act and Sedition Act.  That does not, however, make their activity criminal, in our opinion.  The problem lies with the nature of these kinds of laws which seek to punish someone who might offend someone else.  Ong Kian Cheong (49) and Dorothy Chan Hien Leng (44) are charged under the Sedition Act for "promot[ing] feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Singapore" (to view the full text of this Act, click here). The two were also charged under the Undesirable Publications Act, which defines "objectionable" material as an item which depicts "race or religion in such a manner that the availability of the publication is likely to cause feelings of enmity, hatred, ill-will or hostility between different racial or religious groups" (to read this Act, click here).

As I mentioned in a blog back in December, 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 differing opinions, represents a significant threat not only to freedom of expression and religious liberty but to democracy and undermines two basic premises of the Rule of Law principle itself.  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.

We need to recognize that in a free society (such as Singapore purports to be), the right to free expression includes the right to offend. But freedom of expression also includes the right to defend. Everyone, including the offended, have the right and obligation to counter perceived false or misleading accusations and correct perceived prejudicial comments. But we do not demand that such things been banned and that the authors be punished for expressing their beliefs; we stand against what has been said. This is the nature of apologetics, to expose the truth that has been hidden behind what we perceive to be lies, misunderstandings or misinformation expressed by our accusers.  If we don't feel like doing the hard work of defending our faith, we can get over it and act like adults who are secure enough if our beliefs to withstand a few hurt feelings. But we don't go running to the government and expect them to protect us from offended feelings!

I do believe that it is appropriate that we ask that the charges be dropped against this couple for the reasons given above.  These are simply bad laws that need to be challenged.  Being legally guilty does not mean that one is morally guilty. 

Having said that, however, those who would violate them do need to be prepared to suffer the consequences for their civil disobedience. We do not call for lawlessness. 

Finally, we need to address whether the actual publication was "objectionable."  You can click here to view an English version of this material.  The problem is, as noted above, determining whether something is objectionable is completely subjective.  Legally, this should be completely irrelevant in a society truly subject to the Rule of Law.  I'll leave it to you to determine whether you believe this tract is objectionable or not.  Whether it was wise for this couple to distribute it is another matter.  But a lack of wisdom is not a criminal offence. 

So, I stand behind our decision to urge prayer for this couple; that the charges against Ong and Dorothy would be dropped and that the Holy Spirit will direct them as they respond to their accusers (Luke 2:11).

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Islamists in Our Midst

khan Twenty-three year old Torontonian Naeem Muhammad Khan openly supports the Taliban and calls Osama bin Laden a hero.  His Facebook page encourages people to "Support Our Troops" but he is not speaking on our Canadian troops in Afghanistan; he is referring to the Taliban who are killing our young men.  He claims on his Facebook group "Enemies of Islam" that "this group does not advocate violence against the people who will be Named and Pictured in this group, the only purpose is to let the Muslims know their enemies."  Yet, in his comments on various pictures of so-called enemies of Islam, he asks (concerning a picture of a summit meeting between the Pakistani, American, and Afghani presidents) "Why didn't a bomb go off?" On a picture of Geert Wilders and Ayaan Hirishi Ali, he comments "Hope they get killed like pigs."  And to Salmon Rushdie, he comments, "May he die like a pig he is."

support_troopsThis fellow came to my attention first on Thursday in an article in the National Post in which they did an expose of and interview with Naeem Muhammad Khan.  In the article, they referred to a citation in one of his online postings (which I have not been able to find; if anyone knows where it is, I would like to see it) in which he wrote concerning an "Islam basher". ""Behead her!!! And make a nice video and post it on YouTube."

My question is, where are the Ontario and Canadian Human Rights Commissions now?  This man, despite his claims to the contrary, is publicly calling for violence against enemies of Islam (i.e. Canadian soldiers, moderate Muslims, whom he calls apostates, and others who dare to critique Islam).  Or will they, in their typical fashion, go after the National Post reporter who dared to report on this Islamist?

Videos Reveal an Orwellian Society

Today marks the beginning of North Korea Freedom Week during which a number of organizations will highlight the appalling human rights abuses, and especially the persecution of Christians, in North Korea. This week I did a little surfing for recent video reports on North Korea and was amazed by a couple of reports that have been released in the last year or so.

The first is by the National Geographic Society called Inside North Korea. I used to have a link to the full 47 minutes of the program but it disappeared off of Google video.  The strangest part is the last five minutes, which I have been able to find on YouTube. The reporter, disguised as a medical worker, was able to film a meeting where a number of North Koreans learn the results of their eye surgery. As the bandages come off, the atmosphere of the meeting takes on the feel of a televangelist’s healing crusade. Watch it and you’ll see what I mean. It’s sad, surreal, and a little bit scary.

The second is a 14-part VBS report that is really quite amazing. I must warn you, however, that the language is a little colourful in a couple of them and some of the other videos on their site are not really suitable for family viewing. Here is episode three.

If you want to view the entire series, click here.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Muslims Converting to Christianity in Iraq

How should Christians respond to China's hosting of the Summer Olympic Games?

The issue of China hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics has indeed become controversial especially after the recent crackdown in Tibet. The controversy stems from the fact that the Chinese government's continuing failure to fully respect the basic human rights of its citizens. We at The Voice of the Martyrs are particularly concerned about the violation of religious liberties of Christians in China.  Since China was awarded the Olympic Games in 2001, we have seen a significant increase in the suppression of Christian groups that refuse to register with the government on the principle that to do so would be to allow the government to exercise unbiblical control over their faith.  This has been despite clear promises made by the Chinese government that they would actively work to improve human rights in their country should they be awarded the Olympic Games.

How should we respond to this?

Whether a boycott of China or Chinese products is appropriate or not is a matter of individual conscience.  But there are some things that all Christians can and should do in light of the upcoming Olympics in Beijing.

The first thing you can do is to pray for China. In April, in a historic move, key organizations that work with the persecuted church around the world, including The Voice of the Martyrs Canada, launched a global campaign calling for prayer for China. Pray that the authorities of the nation to stop the ongoing house church raids and arrests of pastors. Pray that the Chinese leadership will uphold the constitutional rights of Chinese Christians to worship God freely. Respond to the call of Chinese church leaders for prayer for full freedom to manifest their faith in China, the release of unjustly imprisoned Chinese Christians, and an end to discrimination and persecution of religious believers. Pray for the church in China as she contributes to the development of a just and harmonious society, fostering integrity, moral and ethical living and caring for the vulnerable.  We would urge you and your church to join Christians from around the world in planning and participating in a special 24 hours of prayer for China on August 8, 2008 (08-08-08), the day of the opening ceremony of the Summer Olympics.

Another step you can take is to write a gracious and respectful letter to the Chinese Embassy in Ottawa with your concerns about the violation of human rights in China. For such letters to be effective, we do advise the writers not to advance their political opinion or mention the Voice of the Martyrs.  You can write the Chinese ambassador, Lu Shumin, at:

Ambassador Lu Shumin
Diplomatic Missions Embassy of the People's Republic of China
515 St. Patrick Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1N 5H3 

You may also wish to express your concerns to Maxime Bernier, Canada's foreign affairs minister at:

Hon. Maxime Bernier
House of Commons
Parliament Buildings
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Finally, you can learn as much as you can about China and the state of religious freedom there. The Voice of the Martyrs has a number of books and videos specifically on China that you can order on our website. You can also ask us to send you our most recent resource catalogue.  Knowing the truth about China will help you as you pray and write as well as giving your insight on how you can stand together with your brothers and sisters in China and encourage others to do likewise.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Muslim Organization Seeks to Stem Islamic Extremism in Britain

I wish this group well, although I am not sure that they will be successful. It seems abit like King Canute commanding the sea to go back.

Updated "Religious Freedom in the World" Finally Available (Sort of)

rfitw1The long-awaited update to the 2000 edition of Religious Freedom in the World edited by Paul Marshall is finally available.  As described by the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom (which undertook the research),  the 499 page survey describes and analyzes over 100 countries and territories, especially those where religious freedom is most violated. It also ranks them comparatively, includes scores and charts of freedom, details world trends, correlates religious freedom with measures of economic freedom, social wellbeing, civil liberties, and political rights, and features essays on relevant issues by experts such as Paul Marshall, Felix Corley, and others.

Comparing this new edition with the old one (which was produced by Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom), the first difference I noted was the price.  This new edition costs in the $60 range (depending on where you buy it, you might save a buck or two); the old one cost about half that amount.  Granted, the new edition is larger than the previous one and more accessible.  But the cost of this new version will make it prohibitive.  The Voice of the Martyrs sold the previous one; it is doubtful that we will sell the new one given the high price.  That is unfortunate given the value of this book.  The older version was a standard reference text for our staff and the new one will be likewise.  The research in the 2008 edition is excellent, yet accessible to the non-expert.  I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in having an informed understanding of religious freedom in today's world.  There is no other reference book quite like this one, to be honest.

But there is one final caveat; you have to find a copy first.  For some reason, Hudson Institute is not selling this book on their website (they refer you to which has no stock available).  In Canada, is also out of stock already and they only recently made the book available.  Either it is selling well or they had a very limited stock to begin with.  I suspect the latter, although I hope for the former. The Indigo-Chapters website does not even list the book. Exhausting my Canadian options, I checked Abebooks and found the sellers there trying to rip you off by overpricing the book.  Finally I checked with the U.S. publisher, Rowman & Littlefield, and found it listed there. Having had no experience with them, I can only hope that they will fill my order for three more copies quickly. 

I am afraid that this book, given its price and availability, will not have nearly the distribution that its predecessor had and that is unfortunate given its value.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Warm Reception in Cottam

cottambaptist I had the most enjoyable time this morning fellowshipping and sharing with the congregation of the Cottam Baptist Church in Cottam, Ontario.  Cottam is a lovely small town near Windsor in the southern-most part of Canada.  The church numbers about 100 or so. Their pastor is a warm brother named Don Brehaut who possesses a genuine concern for the persecuted church around the world.  His praise for our work as a mission was humbling and his love for Christ and His Church worldwide is a model that I wish many others would follow.  As I shared in both the Sunday school hour and the worship service, I sensed an openness and a freedom in the Spirit that I had rarely had in the decade that I have been with The Voice of the Martyrs.  Their worship is simple and even a little old-fashioned.  But it is warm and you know that God is there.  When the pastor prays, it is obvious that this is a man who knows God.  This church is a gem and I wish them God's richest blessing.

If you live in southern Ontario and are looking for a church home, contact the Cottam Baptist Church.  You won't be impressed by their programs as much as you will be impressed by their people.  And that, I believe, is how God judges success.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Can Rich Young Rulers Be Cross-Carrying Messengers? Webinar on Thursday

This Thursday (April 24), I have been asked to conduct a webinar with the Mission Exchange on how a theology of persecution and discipleship should find practical expression in ministry.  Entitled Ministry in the Shadow of the Cross: Exploring a Theology of Suffering, this webinar asks, "Can Rich Young Rulers Be Cross-Carrying Messengers?"  Recollecting that Jesus calls his followers to take up a cross, a symbol of suffering, shame, and death, I believe that a cross-centered gospel requires cross-centered messengers. However, the comparative wealth of the Western Christian puts him in the position of the rich young ruler. With the best of intentions, the rich young ruler sent cross-culturally often creates disciples more akin to himself than to the cross-bearing Saviour. Sincere calls for sacrificial service sound disingenuous to the national church. So what is to be done? Is there a step forward?

I am hoping that this seminar will provide a starting point for dialog toward solutions. Beginning with an overview of a biblical theology of discipleship and its costs, we will explore the following questions:

  • What is the call of the cross in Scripture?

  • How can those from the affluent West more realistically and effectively reflect a cross- centered approach to mission?

  • How can we better train rich young rulers to be cross-carrying followers?

To find out more about time, cost and how to register, click here.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

What Are You Reading in April?

In the last couple of weeks, I have been able to squeeze a couple of new books into my life that I would recommend you to pick up.

notemergWhy We Are Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck (Moody, 2008).  For quite a while I have tried to ignore the emergent church movement as a distraction that I didn't have time for.  Then my youngest son came home from a youth retreat wanting to buy a DVD series by a well-known emergent church leader.  I decided that I had better start getting better informed.  During my doctoral studies a few years back, I did some more through research of a much more technical nature (e.g. Reclaiming the Center by D.A. Carson, et al.).  Recently I came across this little gem by DeYoung and Kluck, two young guys (one a pastor and the other a sports writer) who should be interested in the emergent church movement but who have serious concerns about it.   This collaboration of two entirely different writing styles makes this an excellent and, I believe, and even handed introduction to the subject. They give credit where credit is due and express concerns that I agree need to be addressed.  This is the book I would recommend if you are wondering what the emergent (or emerging) church is.

gogiverThe Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann (Portfolio, 2007).  A short but powerful business book.  I read it this morning before I went to work. Mind you, I got up at 5:30 because I couldn't sleep.  Let me just offer up the five main keys to business success according to the authors:

1. The Law of Value: Your true worth is determined by how much more you give in value than you take in payment.
2. The Law of Compensation: Your income is determined by how many people you serve and how well you serve them.
3. The Law of Influence: Your influence is determined by how abundantly you place other peoples' interests first.
4. The Law of Authenticity: The greatest gift you have to offer is yourself.
5. The Law of Receptivity: The key to effective giving is to stay open to receiving.

Intrigued and want to find out more?  Go out and order this book. 
Personally, I am excited about putting these principles into play here at The Voice of the Martyrs, not only because the concepts make business sense, but I believe that they are scripturally sound.  The call of this book is to service and generosity.  I am already planning some changes and new initiatives based on these principles.  One of them I am considering would be what we might call a "Shepherd's Kit" - a package of free, quality resources that we will offer to church leaders across Canada as a gift from people in their congregation and The Voice of the Martyrs.  Watch for it in an upcoming newsletter!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Letter from the Foreign Affairs Minister

BernierMaxime Several weeks ago, I sent a letter to Maxime Bernier, Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs concerning the recent crackdown and trials of Christians in Algeria.  Today I received this response:

Dear Mr. Penner:

Thank you for your email of
February 11, 2008, in which you express concerns regarding the Christians' situation in Algeria. I regret the delay in replying to you.

The promotion and protection of human rights is an integral part of Canadian foreign policy. Canada stands up for human rights and takes principled positions on important issues to ensure that freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, values that define this country, are enjoyed around the world. The Government of
Canada places great importance on respect for both religious freedom and freedom of expression.

The Canadian Embassy in
Algiers has informed me of the recent developments involving Christians in Algeria, particularly from the Evangelical Churches, which have been accused of proselytism. Some believers are also facing trials, as you point out in your letter.
I am concerned by this recent trend in
Algeria. My officials will raise the issue with Algeria, and insist that Algeria respect the religious rights of its citizens in accordance with the international conventions signed by the Government of Algeria.

We will continue to monitor developments in this case and the situation facing the wider Christian community in


Maxime Bernier
Minister of Foreign Affairs

I don't generally get very excited about such letters, to be honest. I have received others.  This one happens to be written better than most, though, and seems to be more than just a standard form response that government officials are prone to crank out to mollify the masses. 

Please pray that the Canadian government's actions in Algeria will bear fruit and that our officials will continue to speak up for the religious rights for Christians (and all others) in countries around the world.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Is Doctrine Worth Dying For?

salzburg_martyrs It has been said by some, particularly those who would denigrate the need for theology and prepositional claims of truth, that Christians do not die for a set of doctrines but for a person; Jesus Christ.  There is a side to that which is correct.  But this is, by no means, completely accurate from either a biblical or historical perspective.  In 2 Timothy 1:8-14 Paul affirms that the gospel, the message of salvation based on historical facts, is worth dying for.  Our relationship with Jesus Christ is based on facts about what He did and who He is as revealed in the Bible.  This is theology, doctrine, whatever you want to call it.  In 2 Timothy 3, Paul reminds his protégé that the key to standing firm in the face of persecution is holding to solid teaching, not just drawing close to Jesus.  Relationship with Christ is important (no question there) but it cannot be separated from doctrine, regardless of what some would tell you today.  People will die for what they believe in.  They will not die for what they have doubts about.

I say this because there are those today who, in matters of Christian faith, confuse humility with uncertainty and conviction with close-mindedness.  We fear being rigid more than we fear being wrong.  We give the impression that doctrine doesn't really matter. "Just as long as we all love Jesus," is the joyful cry.

The problem is, as I read some of the writings of some of today's most popular teachers, that I am not sure that they are worshipping the same Jesus as I am.  They seem so fuzzy about the content of who He is and what He has done.  We do need to be reminded that just believing in "Jesus" is hardly sufficient (c.f. Galatians 1:6-10).  The gospel, as Paul reminds us, has content as to who He is and what He has done. Get it wrong and you are condemned (Galatians 1:10)

As we look at the testimonies of the martyrs throughout the centuries, it is also obvious that they were prepared to die for what they believed in, not just whom they believed in.  Relationship is based on knowledge.

One thing is certain; no one will die for something that they are not sure about. Given that, the new emergent call for inclusiveness, dialogue and theological "humility" cuts to the core of Jesus' call to take up the cross and follow Him regardless of the cost.

More thoughts on this later....

Saturday, April 12, 2008

China's Olympic Promises

The following are some of the promises given by Chinese and Olympic officials leading up to and following Beijing's being awarded the 2008 Summer Olympics in 2001. 

  • Beijing's loss of the 2000 Olympics to Sydney was widely attributed to its poor human rights record. After sitting out the bidding for the 2004 Olympics, China made as the centrepiece of its bid for the 2008 Olympics, a promise of improved human rights record. China reminded the world that Article 35 of the Chinese Constitution guarantees: "Citizens of the People's Republic of China enjoy freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession, and of demonstration."

  • And just before launching in 1998 its bid for the 2008 Games, China voluntarily signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 19 of which declares: "Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice."

  • In a December 12 , 2000 letter to Mr. Juan Antonio Samaranch, President,International Olympic Committee, Liu Qi, mayor of Beijing at the time wrote: "I hereby solemnly pledge that, if Beijing has the honour of being awarded the Host City for the 2008 Olympic Games, we will provide the Olympic Family with world-class transport, high-tech services and a clean and beautiful environment."

  • While bidding in April of 2001 for the International Olympic Committee contract to host the 2008 Olympics, Liu Jingmin, the Executive Vice President of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Bid Committee, told the world: "By allowing Beijing to host the Games you will help the development of human rights. China and the outside world need to integrate. China's opening up is irreversible. The Olympic Games is a good opportunity to promote understanding." 

  • Just before Beijing won its bid for the Games, senior Chinese officials promised that any protesters, including Tibetans, would be free to voice their opinions. Said Wang Wei, secretary-general of the Beijing bid committee, at a press conference in 2001: "You can apply to demonstrate and the police will give you a time and place."

  • Upon being awarded the contract in July of 2001, Wang Wei, the Secretary General of the Beijing Olympics Organizing Committee confirmed: "We are confident that the Games' coming to China not only promotes our economy but also enhances all social conditions, including education, health, and human rights."

  • Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, said in April 2002: "We are convinced that the Olympic Games will improve the human rights record in China."

  • As recently as September 27, 2006, Liu Qi, the President of the Beijing Olympics Organizing Committee and a Politburo member of Communist Party of China Central Committee, reassured the world: "China will live up to its words and will turn its words into deeds... The government will honor the promises and commitments made during our bid to host the Games."

So, what do you think?  Is China keeping its Olympic promises?  If so, why do you say so?  If not, what should the world's response be?

Criticism for Affirming the Need for Christ

Two articles got my attention on page A19 in today's National Post. The first had to do with the controversy surrounding the Pope's upcoming visit to the United States during which he will pray at the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York.  His prayer will include a line that the terrorists could turn to the way of Christ's love. (Click here for the full prayer, as released by the Vatican) 

Some maintain that the prayer will further incense some in the Muslim world who have already attacked the pontiff for publicly baptizing a high-profile Muslim convert art Easter.  Osama bin Laden recently publicly accused Benedict of trying to provoke "a new crusade" against Islam.

The second article had to do with a series of newspaper ads being sponsored by the World Evangelical Alliance (of which The Voice of the Martyrs Canada is an associate member) concerning their recently released statement "The Gospel and the Jewish People - An Evangelical Statement".  The statement affirms the belief that there is only way to eternal life for all people, Jew or Gentile; through faith in Jesus Christ.   The statement comes from a concern that there has been a growing tendency among evangelicals to teach that Jews can be saved without faith in Christ. This statement reaffirms the biblical teaching that there is only way to salvation.

I find both of these articles encouraging in that they run counter to those, especially among some in the emergent church movement, who would depreciate the exclusive claims of Christ and the need for those outside of the household of faith to repent and embrace the work of Christ on their behalf.  If salvation could be found outside of Christ, then He died for nothing, as do those who suffer and die for His name around the world today.

(Click here for an article that I keep working on from time to time entitled "Is Jesus Really the Only Way").

Friday, April 11, 2008

Press 905.670.9721 to Reach.... A Real Person

ivr Today I had a run in with an automated answering service (also known as an interactive voice response system) when I tried to call another mission organization this afternoon.  I realized yet again just how much I loath them (the machine, not the mission organization). You know what I mean.  You phone a company, a church, a mission organization, your Internet provider or favourite airline, wanting to talk to someone and you get a message saying that you need to dial 111 to reach Joe Cool, 112 for Samantha Lantha, 113 for Cythia Skyler, and so the list goes on and on (which is exceptionally annoying if you are really busy or calling long distance). You press * to have the options repeated, only to realize that none of the options are the one you need.  So you hit 0, hoping to reach a real person.  But oftentimes nowadays, even that won't work but will instead drop you in a "general mail box" that no one ever physically answers and which is often a black hole where voice messages are sucked up, compressed and sent to some version of electronic purgatory for days of torment and neglect (and perhaps eventually a response).

I understand that part of the problem probably lies in the poor design of many of these systems. They often make all sorts of assumptions that you know either who you want to talk to or what department you need.  I also understand that such systems are often an attempt to cut costs, meant to free up salary and time from someone actually having to answer the phone.

But I think that they are more problem than what they are worth.  They depersonalize one's interaction with your organization, are often frustrating and time consuming, frequently misleading or confusing, and leave one asking why this group feels compelled to hide behind a computer.  I often hang up feeling far less positively inclined towards any organization who utilizes one of these systems.  Maybe it's just me but I don't think so.  I think that in our increasingly technological society, many of us yearn for a real person who takes the time to try to deal with us person-to-person in a friendly, civilized way.

It is my promise that we will never install an automated answering service at The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada.  I promise.  The only machine we will have on our phones is our answering machine which is turned on for after-hours calls, and for calls that come in during our weekly prayer meeting on Monday mornings.  We will not follow the lead of other missions and churches who greet you with an automated voice that drones off a list of names (which is completely unhelpful if you don't know who to talk to).  We will not drop you in the twilight zone of the "general mailbox" that you just know is covered with spider webs.

I promise that for as long as I am CEO of The Voice of the Martyrs, when you call our office during regular office hours, you will get a human being on the line; someone who will do his or her best to make sure that you get what you need in a timely fashion.  In this day and age when even Christian ministries are letting technology take the place of a personal touch, we are going to buck the trend.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Prayer Requested

This week was supposed to be a week off for me to spend with my family in Alberta following our VOMC conference in Edmonton last weekend. The conference, itself, went wonderfully. We had our largest attendance ever. The crowd was responsive to the message of our speakers and contributed approximately $20,000 towards our projects of helping Christians in Orissa, India after the riots in late December. Our staff was left with a keep sense of thankfulness to God and to those who attended and excitement as we look ahead to the future.

I, unfortunately, had a less successful weekend. I arrived in Edmonton on Friday night quite tired and during the night erupted in itchy hives all over my body. I was able to make it through the conference even though I was rather run down but my colleagues more than compensated for my inadequacies. I went to bed that night hopeful for a good night's sleep in anticipation of speaking twice the next Sunday morning at Northgate Baptist Church.

It was not to be.

I woke up at about 4:30 am with an even worse case of hives than before. I began vomiting and was dehydrated, confused and suffering shortness of breath. Even in my confused state, I knew that I was in trouble. I asked my hosts if someone could take me to the hospital.

I was admitted to the ER rather quickly (it helps move things along if you are vomiting in the waiting room) and the medical staff began treating my symptoms aggressively. It was apparent that I was suffering some sort of allergic anaphylactic shock. Getting the symptoms under control, they rehydrated me and prescribed some medicine to me that they thought might help and I was discharged.

For the next 24 hours, things went not too badly. I went to my parent's home and enjoyed spending some time together. The hives faded some but not as I had hoped. Late Monday night, they struck again with a vengeance. I spent the entire night itching furiously. I awoke at 5:00 am to find my entire body covered with hives even worse than before. I was not going through the other symptoms yet but decided that I needed to get home to doctors who really knew who I was and whether this was related to my stem cell transplant. I booked a flight to Toronto online and within three hours was winging my way back. We went directly to Princess Margaret Hospital where Dr. Lipton prescribed even stronger medication than they had back in Edmonton for what they agreed was an allergic reaction to something (who knows what).

I am glad to report that I am feeling much better now and that the hives have virtually disappeared. But I am disappointed, of course, that I had to cut my time with my parents and brothers short. I am glad to be home, safe and sound with my family, but I had really hoped that I could do something "normal" like having a vacation for once without my health becoming an issue. I confess that I feel a little angry about that. I have had to cancel so many plans in recent years or curtail my activities because I just don't feel well. I wonder sometimes how I am ever supposed to fulfill my calling with a body that just won't hold up when I need it to. Is God trying to say something to me or is this an attack from the enemy designed to discourage me and diminish my trust in the Lord? I don't know right now. I do know that God uses weak vessels just as He used us last weekend in Edmonton. But from time to time I would like to have a less eventful life in regards to my health.

I would appreciate your prayers as I look ahead to a planned trip in early May to Europe to visit a number of our sister missions and other contacts that I have not been able to see for a while. I very much want to make this trip but after this last incident, there are those who are urging me to reconsider. Your prayers for guidance would be appreciated.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Comics and Controversy

While flipping through the channels on Sunday night, I caught an interview on CBC with Art Spigelman, a cartoonist and well-known graphic novelist whose work has been the source of controversy in the past few years. (To watch the segment for yourself, visit CBC's site. Or for some basic info read this recent National Post article).

In the June 2006 issue of Harpers magazine, Spigelman wrote an article in response to the Danish Muhammad cartoons controversy called "Drawing blood: Outrageous cartoons and the art of outrage." He also illustrated the magazine's cover art, which was a drawing of individuals of various races and religions that played upon several typical cultural/religious stereotypes and prejudices. There were splatters of red across the drawing which, according to Spigelman, were meant to suggest that the cover's artist had just been shot by offended individuals.

This issue of Harpers caused quite a stir around the world (in fact I wonder how I had not heard of it before). In Canada, the controversy began before the issue could even hit the stands of the country's largest book store chain, Chapters-Indigo, which refused to sell the issue because it reprinted the Danish cartoons.

In order to fully understand Spiegelman's views on censorship/political correctness and his artistic vision, I think I'll have to do some more research (get my hands on the actual Harpers magazine, for example, or one of his books). However, I do feel able to say that I believe Chapter-Indigo's decision was the wrong one.

It is Chapters-Indigo's right to choose what they sell (or don't sell); they cannot be forced to sell particular merchandise. But refusal to distribute Spigelman's article undermines Canada's commitment to true freedom of speech and expressions. It's disappointing to me that they would partake in this kind of censorship--especially when the very literature being banned was trying to encourage discussion and reexamination of censorship itself.

It seems to me that Spigelman's article was more than just another jab at the Islamic world. Sure, the cover art alone may have offended some of Chapters-Indigo's customers. But I don't think that Spigelman was merely seeking controversy for controversy's sake. I believe he had a legitimate reason for poking at society's sensibilities and that the cartoons were reprinted for a purpose beyond sheer provocation.

In light of the current Fitna video controversy, I suppose such a censorship act is akin to an internet service provider taking it upon themselves to block this very weblog because it links to the video?

True, the fight for free speech in Canada is comparatively better than the rights battles raging in countries such as China and Afghanistan. But that doesn't make it any less troubling to see calls for "political correctness" in Canada silence those who challenge citizens to, at the very least, continue to grapple with censorship and freedom of expression issues rather than simply surrender to other people's opinions and parameters.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

A Bit of Truth

As much as I love leadership and business management principles, there is a little more truth here than many of us executives would care to admit.


Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A Response to "A Common Word Between Us and You"

In October 138 Muslim scholars released a document entitled A Common Word Between Us and You calling for peaceful coexistence and mutual understanding. In response scholars at Yale Divinity School's Center for Faith and Culture drafted a response Loving God and Neighbor Together which was endorsed by a number of Christian leaders. Many, including myself, found the response misguided and unworthy of support. In the weeks that followed, some of the signatories, realizing their error, withdrew their support or expressed regrets that they had signed it. Some admitted that they had not read the statement carefully enough. Others defended their actions, admitting that the response was not what it could have been, but it was well-intentioned.

Good intentions aside, the need for a more adequate response by evangelical Christians was recognized by the International Institute for Religious Freedom (IIRF), of which I am part. Led by Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher, we wrestled for several weeks to come up with a response that we believed maintained a biblical balance between being gracious to the authors of the Common Word but also uncompromising in our commitment to the truth of Christ. While undoubtedly imperfect, I do believe that it is a significant improvement over the Yale response.

This week, the World Evangelical Alliance released the result of our work entitled We Too Want to Live in Love, Peace, Freedom and Justice. You can download a copy by clicking here.

Video Games

puppet More than three million people in Indonesia, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and top government officials, have flocked to cinemas since the middle of January to watch Ayat Ayat Cinta (Verses of Love), an Islamic romance by filmmaker Hanung Bramantyo.  The movie apparently deals with a host of sensitive issues such as Islam's treatment of women and multiple marriages as it recounts the story of Fahri Abdullah Shiddiq, an Indonesian graduate student at Egypt's Al-Azhar University, and his struggle to deal with life's problems through Islamic teachings.

The spokesman for the Indonesian president called the film an "antithesis" to the video Fitna which accuses the Quran of inciting violence.  Fitna, made by Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders and released on the Internet last week, was banned this week by the Indonesian government.  Indonesia has also threatened to block access to YouTube if the popular website does not remove all uploads of the Dutch video.

I wonder what the spokesman for the Indonesian president would say about the recent programme broadcast on Hamas's al-Aqsa television in which a Palestinian boy stabs President George W Bush to death in a new puppet show for children aired by Hamas-owned television in the Gaza Strip.  "I must take my revenge with the sword of Islam," the puppet child cries as he stabs the American president repeatedly.

Is it any wonder that the world is confused as to what Islam really stands for?