Violence against Christians in Orissa continues after almost an entire week. The Christian community in India is beginning to mobilize to show solidarity with the believers in Orissa and to urge the government to intervene more effectively to stop the rioting. The following is a recent update from India. Continue to uphold our brothers and sisters in Orissa.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Thursday, August 28, 2008
So, the Olympics are over—the flame extinguished, the stadium empty, the television stations back to their regular schedules. But there continue to be plenty of reasons to uphold China in prayer. And even though the newspapers may have moved their spotlight away from China, news services dealing with Christian persecution continue to release reports confirming the country as an environment of opposition for Christians.
One such report is the recent arrest of Bishop Jia Zhiguo on August 24, shortly before the Olympic ceremonies had concluded. The elderly leader was dragged out of a cathedral in Wuqiu where he had attended a morning mass service. He has reportedly been taken to an unknown location.
This is hardly the first time Zhiguo has faced persecution. In fact, this is the twelfth time he has been arrested by police and he has been under house arrest for months. During the Olympics, the government had him under 24-hour surveillance by police. Police had even built a shack outside his home so they could keep him under close watch.
One priest made the following comment in response to the bishop's arrest: “After the Olympics, everything is back to the way it was before in China.”
It’s easy to see the truth behind such a statement. It's would be easy also to get discouraged or dismayed by it. The key, of course, is being compelled to prayer by such words. Prayers of supplication, yes, but we can continue to say prayers of joy too. After all, before the Olympics, we heard incredible testimonies of believers refusing to deny their faith in Christ despite threats, harassment, and imprisonment. Before the Olympics, more and more Christians were becoming aware of the trials facing fellow believers in China. Before the Olympics, nonbelievers--even persecutors--were coming to faith in Christ.
There was hope that the event would help change China for the better--or at least that the promises made during by the government regarding improvements in human rights would be kept. But it's a truth undeniable that God was at work in this country long before there word "Olympics" was even uttered there. And he will continue to be. The Olympic flame may be extinguished, but the light of His faithfulness shines on.
Posted by Adele at 8/28/2008
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
It's been a productive reading time for me this month. I hope you will take the opportunity to check out some of these books.
1. John A: The Man Who Made Us by Richard Gwyn. To my shame, I admit that this is one of the first books on Canadian history that I have ever read and the first on one of our prime ministers. That said, I could not have picked a better one to start with. A highly entertaining and educational read, this book is the first of a two-volume set by Richard Gwyn on the life of Canada’s first Prime Minister, John A. MacDonald. I highly recommend it.
2. Meditations on the Cross by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A collection of sermon by the famous German martyr on the theme of the cross. Certainly a mixed bag, as far as a collection is concerned. Some of them are excellent (e.g. the chapters on discipleship and the cross and the treasures of suffering). Others are almost incomprehensible (i.e. almost anything taken from his book Ethics). I had considered making this book available to our supporters but decided against it after having read it. I am afraid that too many would be disappointed.
3. Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus. Written by the man who is recognized as the creator of microcredit as a means of helping the poor and who won a Nobel Peace prize for it. Tells the story of how Yunus began and developed the concept small loans to the poor in Bangladesh as a means of helping them help themselves and how this continues to be perhaps the most effective means of really assisting the poor; far more so that providing handouts or relief aid. This is an important book that project officers working in developing countries really should read. Highly readable as well.
4. The Return of History and the End of Dreams by Robert Kagan. Interested in understanding world events in the 21st century? Want to know why the hopes and expectations that came after the fall of communism in eastern Europe failed to materialize? Want to know why increased trade does not (and never really has) resulted in increased human rights? Read this book. It only took me a couple of hours but it was well worth it.
5. Dancing Under the Red Star by Karl Tobien. The story of Margaret Werner, an American citizen living in the Soviet Union with her family, who was 17 years old when the secret police came for her father on trumped-up charges of treason. Left destitute, she and her mother fought extreme cold and near starvation, taking whatever jobs they could find. Seven years later, in 1943, the police came for Margaret. Accused of espionage, she was sentenced to 10 years' hard labor in Stalin’s gulag. Tobien, her son, describes the appalling privations and backbreaking work in her Siberian prison camp. We will be making this book available in our monthly newsletter and online in October.
6. The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag by Kang Chol-hwan. North Korea is today one of the last bastions of hard-line Communism. Its leaders have kept a tight grasp on their one-party regime, quashing any nascent opposition movements and sending all suspected dissidents to its brutal concentration camps for "re-education." Kang Chol-hwan is the first survivor of one of these camps to escape and tell his story to the world, documenting the extreme conditions in these gulags and providing a personal insight into life in North Korea. We will also be making this book available online and in our October newsletter.
That’s it for another month. If you have any books that you would recommend, let us know.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/27/2008
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
We are being swamped with reports of attacks on Indian Christians in Orissa state. This week's Persecution and Prayer Alert will focus solely on the violence being faced by believers there. The following is an India television report of a young woman who was burned to death by Hindu militants on Monday at the orphanage where she worked.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/26/2008
The woman in this picture is famous for a face of fear. Vietnamese-Canadian Kim Phúc is best known as the girl in the centre of a well-known photograph of burned children fleeing a bombed village during the Vietnam War.
But today, hers is a face of forgiveness. I recently heard Phúc read her essay “The Long Road to Forgiveness” on National Public Radio. It is an honest, insightful and moving piece about how she overcame her anger against her attackers, which was like “a hatred as high as a mountain,” and reached a place of peace and forgiveness through her faith in Christ. As she notes, this transition did not happen overnight. In fact, one of the most refreshing aspects of her essay is its emphasis on forgiveness as a difficult an ongoing process—not sudden or easy or static.
Phúc still suffers pain from the severe burns she sustained. But I can hear the enduring peace in her voice, even in her stricken state. “Forgiveness made me free from hatred,” she says.” I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days but my heart is cleansed.” It is a peace beyond human reason, perhaps beyond comprehension; it comes only through a relationship with the holy.
Some of the most horrific persecution stories we receive involve young Christians who are victims of brutal violence because of their faith. Like Phúc, many of them will forever suffer pain and bear scars from their childhood trauma. There is Ami Ortiz, the son of an Israeli pastor who was severely injured by a letter bomb. There is Nankpaqk Kumzwam, a Nigerian boy who was slashed in the shoulder and shot in the back when Muslims attacked his church, killing his parents and siblings. There is Elina Das, a Bangladeshi pastor’s daughter who was gang raped by Muslims. These young believers, all under the age of seventeen, have undergone experiences more traumatic than many adults undergo in a lifetime.
And yet, the Lord can guide these children too to mercy and hope amidst affliction. I know this. I pray for this. And I hold words like Phúc’s, and testimonies of persecuted Christians who have similarly embraced the power of love and forgiveness, against the feelings of anger and disgust that flare up when I hear of children suffering such atrocities. It is utterly humbling to be reminded that we serve a God who is not famous for His fear, but for His perfect forgiveness.
Posted by Adele at 8/26/2008
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Increasingly reports are coming out that not only did China deliberately break its promises to improve human rights for its citizens leading up to the Olympics but that during the Olympics restrictions were increased on churches and that there are crackdowns planned after the crowds, reporters, and athletes have gone home. The following is a report from Compass Direct:
Religious Freedoms Threatened as Olympics Draw to Close
House churches asked not to meet during Games; new crackdown planned for October.
By Sarah Page
DUBLIN, August 20 (Compass Direct News) – As the Olympics draw to a close, new evidence of religious freedom abuses offers a stark contrast to China’s efforts to provide religious services for athletes and visitors during the Games.
China hired religious clerics to provide these services and published a special bilingual edition of the Bible for distribution to athletes and official churches during the event. Simultaneously, officials asked house church leaders in Beijing to sign documents agreeing not to hold services during the Games, the China Aid Association (CAA) reported on August 13.
More ominously, China has planned a new crackdown on four “troublesome elements,” including house church leaders, for October, when most Olympic athletes, tourists and journalists will have left the country, CAA reported on Monday (August 18).
A British-based Christian charity, the Bible Society, provided funding for a special bilingual Olympic edition of 30,000 full Bibles and 10,000 New Testaments for distribution in the Olympic Village and to registered churches in the Olympic cities, the Catholic News Agency reported in June. The Amity Printing Press, China’s only government-approved Bible publisher, printed the books in a new multimillion dollar facility that opened in Nanjing in May.
The Chinese government claims that Amity produces more than enough Bibles to meet the needs of the Chinese church, a claim many religious freedom organizations dispute. Amity also prints Bibles for export internationally.
A report circulating before the Games declared that China had banned Bibles from the Olympic Village, but this report proved false.
Officials also hired religious clerics from the five government-approved faiths to provide services for athletes and tourists during the Games. The five groups are Buddhists, Taoists, Muslims, Protestants and Catholics; each one answers to a specific religious institution appointed to oversee their activities.
Restrictions in Place
In the lead-up to the Games, officials asked a number of house church pastors to sign a document agreeing to forego any activities at “Christian gathering sites” or meeting points while the Games took place, according to CAA.
Under this agreement, house churches were banned from gathering from July 15 to October 15, a total of 17 weeks. Those who broke the agreement would face “disciplinary action.”
The agreement asked that house churches “refrain from organizing and joining illegal gatherings and refrain from receiving donations, sermons and preaching from overseas religious organizations and groups that have a purpose.”
The Union of Catholic Asian News confirmed in a report on August 7 that officials had forbidden bishops and priests in unregistered Catholic churches to administer sacraments or do pastoral work during the Games.
Officials placed several underground bishops under house arrest and forbade them to contact their priests, the report added.
In Wuqiu village of Jinxian county, Hebei, police erected a small “house” in front of the cathedral presided over by underground Bishop Julius Jia Zhiguo in order to provide a facility for 24-hour monitoring of the bishop.
Additionally, Bishop Joseph Wei Jingyi of Qiqihar in northeast China received phone calls from government officials asking if he planned to hold any religious gatherings during the Olympics. Wei said he would stay at home and pray for the success of the Games.
Prior to the Games, police banned several Christians from meeting with visiting U.S. government officials and asked others to leave Beijing for the duration of the event.
Police in July repeatedly asked house church pastor Zhang Mingxuan and his wife Xie Fenlang to leave Beijing. When they refused, police on July 18 entered a guesthouse where they were staying and drove them to Yanjiao in neighboring Hebei province.
When Zhang granted an interview to BBC journalist John Simpson, police detained Zhang and Xie before the interview could take place. (See Compass Direct News, “Chinese House Church Pastor Detained,” August 7.)
On August 10, police seized house church pastor and activist Hua Huiqi when he attempted to participate in a service at the government-approved Juanjie Protestant church in Beijing, where U.S. President George Bush was scheduled to appear.
Hua, still in hiding, wrote a letter to Bush later that day, pleading for prayer for his personal safety and for freedom of belief for all Chinese people. (See Compass Direct News, “Chinese Christians Plead for Relief as Olympics Continue,” August 13.)
More prayer may be requested in coming months. China’s Communist Party (CPC) will launch a nationwide crackdown on four “unstable social elements” in October, CAA reported on Monday (August 18).
These elements were listed as illegal Christian house church leaders, petitioners, human rights defenders and political dissidents.
Outlined in a secret government directive passed to CAA, the crackdown is designed to coincide with a new campaign for “20 more years of political and social stability” in China.
In a speech on June 16, Zhou Yongkang, head of the Political and Legal Committee of the Central Committee of the CPC, called for “extraordinary measures” to be taken against these elements in order to protect the CPC’s continuous rule and reform programs.
The Beijing Municipal State Security Bureau has also begun a new citizen informant initiative, requiring ordinary citizens to report individuals and organizations posing a threat to national security, including those who “engage in activities that endanger state security by utilizing religions,” according to CAA.
So, what do you think? Will Christians in China really experience an improvement in their right to worship freely, as the Chinese government and the IOC assured the world? Are groups like VOMC and CAA too skeptical of the Chinese government? Give us your opinion.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/24/2008
Friday, August 22, 2008
With the resignation of President Musharraf of Pakistan this week, the question that I have been asked by reporters is, what difference will this mean for Christians in Pakistan.
The truth is, it probably won't make of a difference at all.
Many Christians and their leaders publicly rejoiced when Musharraf took power in 1999 in a bloodless military coup, as the civilian government had been rather indifferent, even hostile, to its tiny Christian minority. Many felt that Musharraf would provide a secularizing influence on the country, standing as a bulwark against the rising threat of militant Islam. This he did, to varying degrees of success. He did attempt to deal constructively with the infamous blasphemy laws which are abused to intimidate and punish Christians who run afoul of Muslim neighbours and business rivals, but was forced to back down after intense pressure from Muslim clerics.
Now many of the same leaders are rejoicing at the return to civilian rule and claiming that persecution rose during Musharraf's rule. It all smacks of political opportunism to me; just making sure that you are seen to be on the winning side.
Christians in Pakistan make up only a tiny minority of around 1.5% of Pakistan's population. As such, they are subject to constant societal discrimination and liability to violent attacks. It probably doesn't matter much who is in power, since the persecution really doesn't come directly from the state so much as it does from mobs who are unlikely to be punished regardless of who lives in presidential palace.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/22/2008
Thursday, August 21, 2008
I am really irritated by former-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s recent criticisms of Stephen Harper for not attending the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. In bypassing the Beijing Olympics, he claimed on Monday to the press, Prime Minister Stephen Harper had undermined the work that every Canadian leader since John Diefenbaker has poured into improving relations with China. He also added that he believes China has made a lot of progress in respecting human rights in recent years.
As the Prime Minister’s assistant press secretary said, however, that is ironic that Chrétien “somehow skipped the '94, '98, 2000 and 2002 opening ceremonies. Based on his remarks, should we conclude that relations with those countries were damaged because Prime Minister Chrétien did not attend four out of five Olympic games that took place while he was prime minister?"
The fact is, Chrétien’s complaint is built on the very thing that drove his government’s foreign affairs policies when he was the prime minister - money. Chrétien is heavily involved in business in China as a consultant for clients with deep commercial interests in the country. As prime minister, Canada’s foreign affairs policy was heavily influenced by business interests, as was evident in Sudan when the government refused to get involved even when it was proven that revenues from Canadian oil companies were helping fund the Sudanese government’s genocidal activities against civilians in the south of the country. Is it any wonder that the former PM has such an affinity with a government that is involved in the same activity in Darfur, Sudan today? It was embarrassing to be a Canadian in Sudan at in the 1990's, as we served persecuted Christians who were being bombed by planes fuelled at Canadian-owned airstrips. It is embarrassing now as our former PM chooses to side with a government whose activities in Darfur, Tibet, and towards religious dissidents before and during these Olympic games have shown to the world just how "free" this country really is and how much we can trust their promises.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/21/2008
Monday, August 18, 2008
China was praised by the International Olympic Committee when it announced that protest areas would be set up for the Olympics. According to the BBC, a total of 77 applications have been received to stage protests during the Olympic Games period. Want to guess how many applications have been approved?
Apparently no application has managed to meet China's strict rules on who can and cannot stage a protest. According to a spokesperson from Beijing's public security bureau, the majority (74) were withdrawn because the problems they raised could be better dealt with by "relevant authorities or departments through consultation."
How very convenient. Rather than having to say “No” to protests, the Chinese have rigged it so that they never have to say “Yes” either.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/18/2008
In what can only be seen as another sign of the increasing privatization of religious belief, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario are proposing changes that will no longer allow doctors in Ontario to opt out of such things as prescribing birth control or morning-after pills, assisting same-sex to conceive children, or doing abortions when it goes against their moral convictions or religious beliefs. Physicians would also not be allowed to refuse to do referrals in such cases. Failure to comply would result in the doctor losing his/her right to practice medicine in Ontario.
Personal beliefs and values and cultural and religious practices are central to the lives of physicians and their patients. However, as a physician’s responsibility is to place the needs of the patient first, there will be times when it may be necessary for physicians to set aside their personal beliefs in order to ensure that patients or potential patients are provided with the medical treatment and services they require.
Physicians should be aware that decisions to restrict medical services offered, to accept individuals as patients or to end physician-patient relationships that are based on moral or religious belief may contravene the Code, and/or constitute professional misconduct.
Jill Hefley, a spokeswoman for the college, told that the National Post that the reason for the draft was because of changes being made to the Ontario human rights system that could see doctors facing more complaints from patients who feel they are being discriminated against. In other words, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario will now become a watchdog for the Ontario Human Right Tribunal.
Once again, we see how gender, sexual orientation, and abortion “rights” are seen as more important that religious rights. The message that is being clearly sent to Ontario doctors is, “Believe what you will in your homes and churches, but you don’t dare bring your faith into your workplace or society in general.”
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/18/2008
Friday, August 15, 2008
Yes, I know… not that old question again. WWJD? I admit that it has been overused. But it is a valuable question to ask from time to time. Of course, sometimes it's difficult to know exactly what Jesus would do in given situations. But lately, I have been reflecting on the antics of some Christian activists who protested in Beijing just prior to the Olympics and the question came to mind. Would Jesus have done this?
Would Jesus have trashed several hotel rooms in Beijing by painting murals and slogans on the walls protesting China's human rights abuses and then broadcasting what He was doing on the Internet? Is what really amounts to vandalism, a legitimate method of protest for His followers?
Would Jesus have written a press release several days in advance of going to China, announcing His arrest with ominous wording like “It is not known when Jesus, a leading religious expert, will be released” and then deliberately gone to the most highly guarded location in Beijing (Tiananmen Square) and provoked the authorities until they made His “prophetic” press release a reality? Would He have made sure His disciples called home to Galilee to make sure that the press release was sent out, exactly word-for-word what they had written from the comfort of their own home days earlier. Would His followers have assured those who accidentally found the press release days earlier on the Internet, that He actually wasn’t looking to be arrested and hoped that the press release would not be needed, knowing full well that He planned to go off to Tiananmen Square, with cameras rolling, making sure to record the inevitable arrest?
What do you think? Does the end justify the means?
Don’t noble ends require noble means?
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/15/2008
This afternoon, I received an email from a ministry in Pakistan that we have partnered with from time to time, asking for our urgent prayers during this time. They ask us to pray for:
The safety and security of CLAAS Pakistan staff at this time when they are getting threatening phone calls from Islamic fanatic groups. The main reason for the present threats is that they are fighting in courts on behalf of several young girls (some of them as young as 10 years old!) who have been kidnapped, raped and forcefully converted to Islam.
Pray particularly for Mr Joseph Francis and Ms Aneeqa Akhtar who have already have been assaulted earlier on this year by Islamists and whose lives are in danger. Pray for God's protection over them.
Pray for sisters Saba (13) and Anila Younis (10) who were kidnapped, forcefully converted to Islam and one of them was forcefully married to a Muslim man. Now they have been recovered and sent to a shelter home rather than to their parents. Pray that their court hearing on the 20th of August will be successful and that they will be able to be re-united with their parents.
Please pray for Saba's and Anila's parents also, pray that God will ease their pain and that they will be united with their girls. Remember here the parents and families of other victims of persecution and pray that God will give them strength and comfort them in these difficult times.
Pray for Danish Masih and his family. Danish uprooted his life a short while ago after he was wrongly accused of Blasphemy by other workers in a factory. He is in hiding now fearing for his life. Pray that he and his parents and wife will experience God's peace at these difficult times.
Pray for CLAAS Pakistan staff dealing with several cases of forced conversion including Sonia who was kidnapped and converted to Islam and then married to a Muslim man in June 2008. CLAAS has taken this case to the court but the court has not been able to deliver justice. Her abductors have refused to produce Sonia in the court because she has embraced the Islam. Therefore, her Christian parents cannot have her back.
Please pray for CLAAS UK staff and volunteers who are working hard to bring issues like the misuse of the Blasphemy laws and forced conversions to Islam to the attention of international organisations and communities. Pray that their voice will be heard and these issues taken into consideration by international representatives who can challenge Pakistani government officials on these matters.
Pray for the political situation in Pakistan and for the impeachment of President Musharraf. As we all know that Pakistan is going through very hard times, especially politically and economically.
The present government has decided to impeach the President. We pray that that Lord will give wisdom to the politicians and other people involved in this process and that the result will be beneficial to all the people of Pakistan.
Won't you take a few minutes and pray for Pakistan today?
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/15/2008
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Gulf News, a paper from the United Arab Emirates, has reported that a Saudi man working with the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice recently killed his daughter for converting to Christianity by cutting out her tongue and burning her to death. A few days before her death, the girl had written on a blog that she was a member of that her life had become an ordeal after her family members grew suspicious about her after she had a discussion about religion with them. She wrote that her brother had found some Christian articles written by her as well as a cross sign on her computer screen. Angry, he blamed her conversion on the Internet.
It was surprising to me that this story actually made it into an Arab paper at all (even in as liberal a Muslim country as UAE). But it is worth noting that the reporting of this story makes no comment that the killing of this girl was an inappropriate act by her father. Rather than making any mention of how wrong this action was, the author gives the incident a postmortem by blaming the Internet:
Saudi religious scholars have frequently warned against the dangers of Christian internet websites and satellite TV channels which attract Muslim youngsters to change their religion.
They decreed that watching these channels or browsing these websites which call for conversion to Christianity by various means is against the teachings of Islam.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/13/2008
Sunday, August 10, 2008
The recent threat of protests by the Westboro Baptist Church at the funeral of Tim McLean in Winnipeg has added another dimension to the debate over freedom of expression in Canada. Some are suggesting that since the members of this church were not Canadians, they were not protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and hence, had no right to protest or even enter the country. I might be swayed by this argument except that I believe that freedom of expression is a universal right that cannot be limited by the Charter.
It might be argued, however, that freedom of speech was not an issue in this case at all. As a funeral may be considered a private or religious meeting and not a public one, I am not convinced that Westboro Baptist can claim to have a right to spread their message in such a forum. As you will see below, religious meetings are also protected from disruption in the Canadian Criminal Code.
It seems to me that freedom of expression was not really at stake here for the same reasons that we do not feel bound to post every comment that is sent to this weblog. We state under our “Comment Policy” that we reserve the right to moderate all comments and either approve them or not approve them for any reason without explanation. This is not censorship since we defend the right of anyone to fully express their opinion on their own website or blog. As a private website, we can determine what gets said and not said. This is the essence of free speech; the right to say (or not say) whatever one wants said. The same holds true for private meetings like church services and for what goes on in one’s home. People have the right to say what they want in public or in their own meetings but they cannot force others to provide the medium for their message, be that a website, magazine, or religious service. If they want to speak, let them speak on their time and on their dime (this was one of the issues in the recently dismissed human rights complaint brought against Maclean’s magazine by the Canadian Islamic Congress).
In addition, it is worth considering that there are also legal protections for Canadians against such behaviour under the Canadian Criminal Code Sections 63 (1), 176 (2) and (3) , and 264 (1) and (2) which read as follows:
63. (1) An unlawful assembly is an assembly of three or more persons who, with intent to carry out any common purpose, assemble in such a manner or so conduct themselves when they are assembled as to cause persons in the neighbourhood of the assembly to fear, on reasonable grounds, that they
(a) will disturb the peace tumultuously; or
(b) will by that assembly needlessly and without reasonable cause provoke other persons to disturb the peace tumultuously.
Disturbing religious worship or certain meetings
176. (2) Every one who wilfully disturbs or interrupts an assemblage of persons met for religious worship or for a moral, social or benevolent purpose is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.
(3) Every one who, at or near a meeting referred to in subsection (2), wilfully does anything that disturbs the order or solemnity of the meeting is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.
264. (1) No person shall, without lawful authority and knowing that another person is harassed or recklessly as to whether the other person is harassed, engage in conduct referred to in subsection (2) that causes that other person reasonably, in all the circumstances, to fear for their safety or the safety of anyone known to them.
(2) The conduct mentioned in subsection (1) consists of
(a) repeatedly following from place to place the other person or anyone known to them;
(b) repeatedly communicating with, either directly or indirectly, the other person or anyone known to them;
(c) besetting or watching the dwelling-house, or place where the other person, or anyone known to them, resides, works, carries on business or happens to be; or
(d) engaging in threatening conduct directed at the other person or any member of their family.
These protections do not, in my opinion, impede on one's right to freedom of expression.
I am thankful that the planned protest by Westboro Baptist actually never took place. I am thankful for those who stood with the family during their time of grief. I am thankful for a country where, for now, we still have freedom of expression even though there are those who are seeking to suppress it in the name of not offending another’s religion or sexual orientation. I am also thankful for a country that protects the rights of its citizens to have private meetings without harassment. It is on this last basis that Westboro Baptist and groups like this should be addressed, not on the basis of whether we like what they are saying.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/10/2008
Turkmenistan is one of those countries you don't hear about much unless you are involved in defending and assisting Christians there. Asia News published a helpful summary of religious repression in this central Asian nation based on a recent survey by Forum 18 (click here for the full report):
Religious freedom violations are systematic in Turkmenistan, repression by the authorities is almost scientific, the Forum 18 news agency reports. Article 11 of Turkmenistan's Constitution may recognise everyone’s right to profess any religion, individually or jointly with others, but religious groups must register with the authorities to engage in any kind of activity, even prayers.
Registration means providing the authorities with a great deal of information, including where people meet and organisers’ names.
Authorities reserve the right to deny authorisation to meet and police raid prayer meetings and private homes even when believers have informed the former.
By and large the right of assembly, free speech and the right of movement are non-existent. Anyone involved in unauthorised religious activity is liable for heavy fines or even prison.
For the Catholic Church only the Holy See nunciature in Ashgabat is recognised—two priests are allowed to celebrate mass in what is diplomatic territory.
Legal groups must also allow state officials to attend their meetings, read all their documents and go through all their financial reports, which must show each donation and contribution.
President Kurbanguly Berdymukhammedov’s pledge during the 2007 elections to allow greater religious freedom has remained a dead letter.
In schools and in public life reading the Ruhnama (Book of Soul) by the late President Niyazov remains compulsory. Every place of worship must have a copy of the book.
Islam, which is the religion practiced by a majority of Turkmenistan’s five million people, is even more tightly controlled.
The Committee for Religious Affairs appoints the chief mufti and the main imams. It also appoints all Muslim and Russian Orthodox clergy.
Chief Mufti Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah, who was in favour of greater autonomy for Muslim clergy, was imprisoned from 2004 to 2007 on charges that were never made clear. He was replaced by someone hand-picked by the Committee for Religious Affairs.
Dispensing religious education is banned even within one’s own community. This year for example the secret police raided classes in which Protestant religious teaching was given; during the operation they seized religious texts and threatened the teachers.
The same applies to Muslims, except for the Muslim theological section in the History Faculty of Magtymguly Turkmen State University in Ashgabad which admits a few students.
Religious literature must receive prior state approval and religious material is often seized.
Most religious websites are not accessible from within the country.
You can find out more about Turkmenistan and recent incidents of persecution taking place there from The Voice of the Martyrs' website by clicking here. Please uphold the church in Turkmenistan in your prayers.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/10/2008
Saturday, August 09, 2008
I have been following developments at the funeral of Tim McLean to see if members of the Westboro Baptist Church would show up after reports came out last night that a few members had slipped across the Canadian border despite attempts to keep them out of the country. According to the Winnipeg Free Press, the funeral started without incident and without any sign of the Westboro gang.
There were, however, about 250 people who didn't attend the funeral but waited outside the Westwood Community Church just in case the protesters showed up. According the Free Press, many said they didn't know McLean but they lined the road because they believed the McLean family had the right to grieve in peace and they were prepared to peacefully block any protesters. About ten police cars were also patrolling the area.
In a way, this is not entirely surprising, as Westboro members had said in interviews yesterday that they were having second thoughts about picketing, citing concerns for their safety. Perhaps... but I wonder if they knew that had they been stopped by a peaceful demonstration, any real publicity would have been lost. And that, I believe, is what they were really after.
I could say more about publicity seekers and demonstrations (I have some real concerns with some of the so-called Christian protests that took place this week in Beijing) but I will leave it there for now. But let me add this thought; I wonder about the validity of protests that seem to be calculated to draw more attention to the protestors than those they are supposed to be protesting for.
Give me a couple of days and I might have more to say. I am still struggling whether it is worth stepping into this hornet's nest in the first place.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/09/2008
Friday, August 08, 2008
I read this morning that Canadian border guards have been told to bar members of Westboro Baptist Church who planning to protest the funeral of Tim McLean on Saturday. McLean, of course, is the 22-year-old who was killed and beheaded on the Greyhound bus in Manitoba last week. Yesterday afternoon they were stopped at the border and denied entry into Canada but have vowed to try other border crossings.
For the sake of the family, there is a part of me that supports this action by the government. I think most people do. I support our government’s right to decide who can enter our country and who cannot. If they are successful, however, and get in, our society, of course, guarantees the right to free speech and freedom of religion and acts like this are one of those unfortunate outcomes that are allowable under these very freedoms. I just hope they never get the opportunity to exercise these rights. The Winnipeg Police Service has said they were not planning to block the funeral protest if the group does successfully cross the border. This is a lawful response. They are prepared to be on hand if necessary, however, if things should get out of hand.
I hope that it doesn’t, as much as I could understand wanting to strike out at these hate mongers, especially if I knew or was related to Tim. But if these folks do manage to show up at the funeral, I hope that any Christians who attend will surround them, block them from being seen and pray for them. They need to know the true God of the Bible, not the hateful, shaking-with-rage deity they claim to serve.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/08/2008
Wednesday, August 06, 2008
I am all in favour of free speech. But my blood boiled when I learned today that members of the controversial, Kansas-based, Westboro Baptist Church are planning on picketing the funeral of Tim McLean, the young man decapitated on a Greyhound bus last week outside of Winnipeg. According to a brochure posted on the WBC website, “God Hates Canada. Yes, indeed. The irreversible curse of God upon fags and fag-enablers - the ‘botch of Egypt...that cannot be healed.’ Dt. 28:27. God is punishing Canada, for passing laws against WBC - by exposing Canadians as cannibals and highway decapitaters (sic). WBC prays for more and worse calamities from God. We'll picket their funerals.”
This is the same small group that has protested at the funerals of hundreds of U.S. soldiers killed in the Iraq war, claiming that their deaths are a sign of God’s judgment on America.
While I support their right to free speech, as abhorrent and obnoxious it is, bringing disrepute to the name and cause of Christ, folks like these make me feel shame and, if only for a moment, think that perhaps they really should be forcibly silenced. I just feel terrible for the family of this young man, whom I sincerely hope can understand that these people do not represent Christ or His people.
Is Jesus really the only way? I concluded yesterday’s blog by asking, “So what does the Bible have to say? Let’s take look.
In Ephesians 2:1 we read that mankind, apart from God, is “dead in trespasses and sins.” According to verse 3, we are “objects of wrath” subject to the judgment of God. Apart from Christ, each one of us is spiritually dead. Romans 1:25 adds that we are “alienated from the life God.” Galatians 4:4-8 tells us that we are enslaved to false gods or false ideas about God, not knowing God. When we didn’t know God, Romans 8:7 tells us, we were “hostile to the Word of God”, disobedient to the will of God, subject to the wrath of God. We were, to put it simply, rebels without a cause and without a hope. Jesus said that mankind loves darkness rather than light (John 3:19), and Paul adds in Romans 1-3 that we all rebel against whatever spiritual light we do have. When we look at own lives with any sense of honesty, we recognize that this is true.
Even as Christians, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, recipients of new life from God, joint heirs with Christ, we still tend to walk away from God and resist His control over our life. Why is that? As we look at Scripture, we realize that there really is something, deep within each of us that resists God and His Lordship over our life. It’s been part of us since Adam’s fall (Genesis 3). As David stated it in Psalm 51:5, “Surely I was sinful at birth; sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” This rebelliousness is part of us; not from creation but as a result of the Fall. It’s a part of who we are as sinners. Little wonder that Paul describes in Ephesians 2:12 the state of those without Christ as “having no hope and without God in the world.”
Hopeless. Godless. That’s how Paul describes those who have never heard. We really are in a spiritual mess, as human beings. Read any newspaper. Read any history book. Look around you and look at how people treat each other. Look at any society. There are no “noble savages.” Look at your own life, at your deep, hidden thoughts. What does this tell you about the spirituality of mankind?
Rather than loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:37), our heart is darkened, our soul degraded, our mind depraved, our wills (our strength) bent on selfishness (Romans 1-3). Mankind is consistently revealed in Scripture as being tragically, universally, and inevitably sinful. We cannot allow ourselves any kind of romantic, noble, “Star Trek” view of mankind that sees the race as being essentially good and progressively getting better. Neither the Bible nor daily life will allow us to come to this conclusion.
Are we as bad as we could be? No, but none of us is as good as we should be. We were created to be in fellowship with God, bearers of His divine image. Jesus came to make this a reality again. Through His death, he opened the way to God (Hebrews 10:20). If it were possible to be in fellowship with God apart from Christ, then why did Jesus come to dwell among us? Why the ultimate sacrifice on God’s part? Why send His only Son, if salvation was possible apart from Him?
Only the sacrifice of the sinless one could pay the penalty for our sins. Only His death could pay the price for our salvation. Only His resurrection could give life to those who were spiritually dead.
But what about those who have never heard this gospel?
The Bible makes it clear that those who have never heard the gospel will be judged not because they did not hear or respond to the gospel, but because of their refusal to live up to whatever spiritual light they did have (Romans 1-3). As Paul looks at the heathen religions of his day, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he declares in Romans 1 that they have exchanged the truth for a lie and worship the creation rather than the Creator. The Scripture is rather unanimous in its judgment that God does not view the various religious systems of the world as evidence of mankind groping after God or seeking after Him, but as being rebellion against Him (Romans 1:22-25; Deut. 32:17; Ps.106:36-39, et al.) As Karl Barth rightly pointed out, judged in the light of revelation, “religion is unbelief. It is the one great concern…of godless man.” (David Mueller, Karl Barth. Word, 1972:92) Thus, Paul concludes in Romans 3:11-12 by quoting the Old Testament, that there is really no one who seeks after God.
We may conclude, therefore, that mankind is judged by God, not because of his/her lack of faith in Christ, but because of is/her ungodliness. Not only does each individual fail to live up to God’s standards, but no one lives up to what he/she knows to be right.
I should note, however, that if there were a person in some remote (or even some not so remote) part of the world where the gospel has never been preached, but who is open to receive salvation, I believe that God would see to it that someone goes to share the gospel with that person. This may explain why God leads certain Christians to certain parts of the world to serve as missionaries. God, in His wisdom, compassion, and foresight, brings the good news to prepared hearts. We have such a man in Acts 10, a Roman by the name of Cornelius to whom God sends the apostle Peter to share with him how he might have eternal life. In no way, however, does the text indicate that he has saved prior to
Peter’s presenting the gospel to him. The need for the special revelation of God’s plan of salvation was necessary for him to receive the gift of eternal life. The Bible gives no basis for any thought of someone coming to God apart from faith in the finished work of Christ, nor apart from hearing the message of salvation from a human messenger. As Romans 10:14, 15 says, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"
This is the reason for the critical role that missions plays in the plan of God. God, in His wisdom, has chosen to spread the good news of His salvation through His people. To us has been given the responsibility to make disciples of all nations (Matt.28:17-20). The task of the church is not to dialogue but to evangelize and establish churches in all nations. Our calling is not to discover grace and truth in other religions, but to be instruments of grace and truth as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ; grace and truth that will set the captives free.
Someone once asked me, “Why are we so lucky to have the gospel, while others have not heard?” How would you answer?
In Genesis 12, we find God making a covenant with Abraham, establishing a relationship with him. Why? So that through Abraham all nations of the world would be blessed (Gen.12:3). Jesus echoes this in His commission to His disciples when He calls us to make disciples of all nations (Matt.28:17-20). We have been blessed in order that we may be a blessing to the world. This is why we are so “lucky.”
God has established a relationship with us so we, in turn, can bring others into a relationship with God our Father, and His Son. We have been blessed so that, through us, God might bring all people to Himself, as many as would believe. This is our responsibility as individuals and as local churches.
If we hold that people can be saved apart from Christ, why did Jesus bother to die? And if we were to say that a person could go to heaven by living a good life and being sincere, do we not end up affirming salvation by works? This, Scripture will not allow (cf. Acts 13:39; Romans 2:12, 12; 3:20; all of Galatians; Ephesians 2:8,9).
We really must keep the truth firmly in mind that there is really no such thing as an “innocent” human being. No one will be able to say to God on Judgment Day, “God, you were unfair!” In Romans 3:19. Paul points out that on that Day, every mouth will be silences because all will know that they are getting exactly what they deserve. They will know that they are receiving the just consequences for their behaviour and beliefs. In the meantime, God is reaching out, preparing hearts by His Spirit to receive the Gospel, and sending out men and women to bring the good news of what Jesus has done for them. Salvation is all a work of God, from beginning to end. Indeed, there is indication in Scripture that one of the reasons Jesus has not yet returned is that He is giving people more time to repent (Acts 3:19-22; 2 Peter 3:3-9). God is concerned about people of all nations, and in His wisdom He has chosen to use us to bring Him salvation to the world. With every blessing comes a corresponding responsibility. For this reason, it is the responsibility of every Christian to be involved in world missions to some degree. It is a critical part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. He was lifted up on the cross so that people everywhere would be drawn to Him (John 12:32).
Is Jesus really the only way? On the basis of Scripture, we must conclude, “Yes.” Jesus, Himself, said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The apostle Paul, standing before the Jewish high court declared, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). He held to this position to the end of his life when he reminded Timothy, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men” (1Timothy 2:5,6).
There is one God, one mediator, one name, one way to God. For those of us who have come through this one way, who have bowed before the Lord and accepted His work on the cross on our behalf, our calling is to be involved in taking this message to all people in all places. God has entrusted His life-giving message to us.
What part can you have in making it possible to every man, woman, and child in this generation to have the opportunity to hear and understand the gospel and receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour? What specifically do you think God would have you to do?
Tuesday, August 05, 2008
A June report by the Pew Research Center revealed some interesting statistics. Of the American evangelicals surveyed, 57 percent reported believed that "many religions can lead to eternal life." I am not sure that Canadian evangelicals would score any higher; perhaps we might even score lower. Of course, this figure may be somewhat off. Some have suggested that perhaps many evangelicals may have confused the term "religion" with "denomination." If true, this would cast doubt on the validity of the 57 percent figure. However, a recent LifeWay Research poll wasn’t much more encouraging when it found that 31 percent of Protestant churchgoers believe a person can obtain eternal life through "religions other than Christianity."
In the fall of 2006, Christianity Today asked a number of evangelical theologians what they believed would be the greatest challenge that they would face in the next fifty years.
Most answered that they believed that evangelicals will face increasing pressure to compromise the exclusive gospel for a pluralistic world.
I agree. This trend has been evident for many years but more so in recent years.
Evangelicals need to have a clear answer to the simple question, “Is Jesus really the only way to God?” Of course, this question begs several others.
• What about other religions? Aren't they evidences of people seeking after God?
• Surely sincerity must count for something?
• Won't God just accept someone's faith as being directed towards Him, if they never had the chance to hear and respond to the gospel?
• Certainly it can't be fair, if they never had the chance, can it?
• What makes us think we're the only right ones?
For many, even among those who call themselves evangelicals, evangelism has become a dirty word, an imperialistic sentiment. What we really need to do, it is asserted, is to dialogue, find common ground, discuss, and learn from each other's faith. But evangelize, proselytize? How dare we! How dare we presume to hold the only key to salvation!
This is the issue. And behind it is the question, "Is Jesus really the only way?”
A number of years ago, when I was serving as a pastor in southern Manitoba, a member of my church came to my office one morning, honestly seeking some answers to this question. She had gotten into a discussion with some of her relatives on this issue and was confused. I told her that I'd give it some thought and get back to her in a couple of days. That evening, after supper, I drove back to my office and, sitting down at the computer, I began to compile some of my thoughts. As I looked through my files and thought about discussions and study that I had done on the topic. As I worked, two things became clear to me.
The first was the realization that any discussion on this issue must, inevitably, be centred on what the Bible teaches. As a Christian, I must believe that the Bible is absolutely true in all that it speaks about. It is the revelation of God's will, a setting forth of reality from a God who knows all things and who has chosen to reveal truth to mankind in such a way that mankind can understand, yet without error. In all that the Bible affirms, it is to be believed; in all that it commands, it is to be obeyed; in all that it touches upon, it is authoritative. Without this basic tenant concerning Scripture firmly established right from the beginning, any discussion on this topic will, inevitably, degenerate into a confusing, philosophical debate and conjecturing where differing opinions are pitted against each other, each claiming equal authority. Without such a view of Scripture, meaningful discussion on this topic will prove to be virtually impossible. The Scriptures must be the foundation for our opinions on this issue. If two people can agree on this, and believe that what the Bible says is true, then they can talk; they have a common denominator for determining truth. If not, than any talk will probably be futile. I cannot emphasize this strong enough! We must allow the Bible to speak, allowing it to determine our beliefs in this matter (as in all matters of faith and practice), if we claim to be followers of Jesus. The revelation of Scripture must be kept centre.
The second thing that became clear to me that evening were the theological ramifications that accompany the question, "Is Jesus really the only way?" Think this through with me.
• The doctrine of God comes under scrutiny. Is He just? Is He fair?
• The doctrine of Christ is at stake. Was Jesus mistake when He claimed to be the only way to the Father in John 14:6? And if He isn't the only way, what was the purpose of His coming?
• The doctrine of salvation must be examined. Did Jesus really have to die if people could be saved apart from faith in Him? Was the cross really necessary?
• The doctrine of mankind becomes suspect. Is man really inherently sinful as the Bible depicts him to be? Is he truly a rebel against God, or does each person possess a element of good (or godliness) within that makes him basically good, needing only a push in the right direction?
• The doctrine of sin becomes an issue. Is a person really responsible for his/her actions? Isn't sincerity good enough? Isn't evil just a matter of personal opinion, cultural standards, or societal expectations?
• The doctrine of end-times must be evaluated. Is there a future reckoning; a time of reward or punishment? And on what basis will people be judged? Will be a second chance after death?
• The doctrine of the church is challenged. Is the church really responsible to share the good news with those who have never heard? And if so, could it not be conceivable that the "good news" could become "bad news" if a person was saved before a missionary comes but rejects the gospel when the missionary brings it to his community? Is the church really God's unique witness to the world? Perhaps He will find other ways of having the gospel given to all people. Added to the fact, why bother to undergo persecution and suffering if the faith of your persecutors is just as valid as yours? Why not just convert and end the suffering? Surely God will understand? Why die for something that isn’t so exclusive?
Is Jesus really the only way? It becomes obvious, doesn't it, that this is more than just some academic question best left to be debated in scholarly journals or seminary classrooms, but which really has very little "practical" impact on "real" life. It is a question that touches upon every major doctrine of the Christian faith. Indeed, it is not an exaggeration to say that the issue goes to the very core of the Christian faith. How we answer this question has profound implications on what we believe and how we will fulfill Christ's commission.
So what does the Bible have to say?
Watch for my blog tomorrow….
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/05/2008
Monday, August 04, 2008
Tomorrow we welcome a member to the VOMC family as Erin Hesselink joins us as our new staff writer. She will be taking on some the responsibilities that Adele Konyndyk has been handling for the past two years, while Adele takes on some of the responsibilities of Bernie Daniel who leaves us for a teaching position at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton. Erin is a recent English major BA graduate (honours) from Redeemer College and we are looking forward to her contribution to the Communications Team here at the mission. Please pray for Erin and Adele in the coming weeks as they each get oriented to their new responsibilities.
We wish Bernie all of the best with his new job, even though we will miss him a great deal. It seems fitting that the feature article in the August edition of The Voice of the Martyrs Newsletter (“In the Shadow of the Olympics, In the Shadow of the Cross”) was written by him. A great finale to two years of ministry here at VOMC.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/04/2008
Sunday, August 03, 2008
In my earlier weblog on the recent decision by Dean Skoreyko to take a complaint to the BC Human Rights Tribunal, I mentioned that if "such a complaint helps put these tribunals out of their misery or motivates reform, then it may serve a useful purpose, but I doubt that this will be the result, nor do I think that this is his intent."
I received a one line email yesterday from Dean in which he states that this is exactly his intent. So, I admit that I was wrong. But I am left wanting to know more.
I confess to being intrigued by this approach that Dean is taking here, although I still have mixed feelings about what I consider an abuse of the tribunal complaint system being used even for a purpose that I agree with. Of course, one could also argue that Dean is simply making the most of a stupid system in order to get it fixed.
I would be interested to know what the rest of you think. And if you are reading this, Dean, feel free to get in touch again and explain more about what your thinking is here. I will be happy to give you some space to let your views be known.
Posted by Glenn Penner at 8/03/2008
Saturday, August 02, 2008
I don't know about you, but I am entirely disgusted by the very thought of the Beijing Olympics. The behaviour of China and the International Olympic Committee has been reprehensible from the start and recent days have only revealed just how rotten to the core the whole thing is. I have decided that I am simply not going to watch the Olympics this time around. The only hope is that these Games will be such a mess that the world will see the real China rather than the one the communist government wants to portray on television; edited, scripted, controlled and censored. This editorial published in the National Post really says it well, I think.
A black eye for the IOC
National Post Published: Friday, August 01, 2008
Kevan Gosper, an Olympic si lver medallist with Australia's 4x400 track relay team in the 1956 Summer Games, was forced to whack the panic button yesterday. Mr. Gosper is the top press liaison for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and is the man who had assured the international media for months that the Chinese government had agreed not to impose censorship on foreign reporters covering the Beijing Olympics. Naturally, it was pretty awkward for Mr. Gosper when China announced earlier this week that it would do exactly that.
Just two weeks ago, IOC president Jacques Rogge had repeated assurances that "there will be no censorship of the Internet" in sections of Olympics venues used by foreign reporters. The issue had been considered an important one, not because foreign reporters will have any trouble evading the so-called "Great Firewall of China," but because it was China's chance to demonstrate to the world that it understands Western free speech norms, recognizes them to some degree as an ideal and is capable of letting foreigners report on its country without the restrictions that it still chooses to impose on its own media.
Mr. Gosper had to admit to the world press that China was not stabbing the IOC in the back by changing tack on censorship with just over a week to go before the opening ceremonies. In fact, unidentified IOC members had reached a behind-the-scenes accord permitting censorship several months ago, yet allowed Mr. Gosper and his boss, Mr. Rogge, to go on making asses of themselves. (Hein Verbruggen, the head of a "co-ordination commission" to whom Mr. Gosper reports, has attracted suspicion by virtue of both his position and his reaction to the news; he calmly told an Olympic house newspaper that no promises of "full access" had ever been made by China, suggesting that he saw no reason for fuss.)
"I regret," a visibly angry Mr. Gosper was forced to acknowledge in a press conference, "that it now appears [the Beijing organizing committee] has announced that there will be limitations on Web site access during Games time … I also now understand that some IOC officials negotiated with the Chinese that some sensitive sites would be blocked on the basis they were not considered Games-related." The "sensitive sites" turned out to include some belonging to the BBC and Deutsche Welle, as well as Wikipedia, which has quietly become a staple resource for journalists over the years.
The black eye is one of the greatest ever for the IOC, which has, to put it mildly, not always covered itself in glory in the past. It appears that the organization was content to let lies be spread by its representatives in order to attract the world press to China under false pretenses. The IOC's business depends on our continued appetite for the myth of the Olympics as a place for fair play and the pursuit of excellence. In the long run, if it pays no attention to these norms as an institution, it cannot dream of being respected as a peddler of them.
Increasingly, the Beijing Games appear to be a trainwreck in the making; the censorship controversy has been compounded by fears that efforts to guarantee outdoor competitors a breathable atmosphere will fail; by a last-minute algae invasion of an aquatic venue; and by accusations that Chinese selectors may have violated age limits for gymnasts. At this moment, one would surely have trouble finding an Olympics viewer, an athlete or a national official who does not consider the awarding of the Games to Beijing to be a mistake.
The good news, if any is to be found, is that a series of humiliations may do more to create real pressure for openness in China than a squeaky-clean, smooth-running Games ever could. It is possible that the Leninist maxim "The worse, the better" applies. China has invested enormous national prestige in the Olympics -- there must be those in officialdom whose lives are (literally) at stake -- but has apparently decided to proceed using the Communist tools of central planning, deception and state-imposed "harmony" of thought and action.
Very well: Let's see whether a Western commercial spectacle can be successfully staged under such circumstances. Like the old division of West and East Berlin, it has become a rare laboratory experiment in comparing ways of life. And, as with Berlin, the existing Chinese government may not be fully prepared for the implications of the result.
Earlier this week, I mentioned the latest stunt pulled by one of the “stars” of the stupid reality TV competition Kenny vs. Spenny as a plane fly over Toronto with a banner that read "Jesus Sucks." I asked how we should respond.
Well, here's one response that I am not entirely surprised by, given the latest controversy over the abuse of human rights tribunals in this country.
B.C. resident files complaint over 'Jesus Sucks' stunt after watching it online
Craig Offman, National Post Published: Friday, August 01, 2008
A British Columbia resident has filed a complaint with the province's Human Rights Tribunal after watching an episode of the prankish television show Kenny vs. Spenny online. Dean Skoreyko said he took offence to the slogan "Jesus Sucks," which was put on an airplane banner, pictured, and flown across Toronto skies earlier this week. Masterminded by Kenneth Hotz, the show's co-creator, the stunt was part of a contest between Mr. Hotz and co-host Spencer Rice to see who could offend the greatest number of people. Mr. Skoreyko, once a potential Conservative Party nominee in the federal Okanagan-Shuswap riding, said that he filed the complaint on behalf of the "silent majority" of Christians who would object to the antics, adding that these kinds of commissions apply double standards, often favouring minority interests.
While I am struck with a sense of irony over this, I cannot say that I support Mr. Skeryko's response, especially as he claims to be doing on behalf of "silent" Christians across the country. I don't need someone speaking on my behalf (not that I am very silent). If such a complaint helps put these tribunals out of their misery or motivates reform, then it may serve a useful purpose, but I doubt that this will be the result, nor do I think that this is his intent. This is as much an abuse of the system as the other complaints that I have featured on this blog. The fact that it is a Christian doing it this time is, while ironical, no more justifiable.
I am happy to say that Persecuted Church Weblog is back in action after being locked out by Blogger for two days. Their robots apparently decided a few weeks ago that we and many other innocent blogs had characteristics of being "spam" blogs. After finally having a real human look us over, they apparently realized the error of their ways, decided to "do no evil" (Google's motto) and set us free from their chains.
I will be posting a few things over the weekend regarding China, the Olympics, and an update on the Jesus Sucks event that took place on Monday here in Toronto. So keep your eyes peeled.