Lately, we’ve heard a lot about threats to religious freedom in the U.S. We don’t have to look very far to see the consequences of this truth: Attacks on mosques and temples have been consistently rising, and many fear for their physical safety due to their expressions of faith. Yet in November 2016, many Christians reported voting according to fears that their religious freedoms were in danger. On Thursday, the president signed an executive order purportedly to expand “religious liberty,” aimed at protecting Christian freedoms and extending their churches’ political power — which begs the question: Are Christians in the U.S. being religiously persecuted? It depends on who you ask. No really.
At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount we find the famous words of Jesus telling his followers that they are the salt of the earth. But then he gives a warning. “If salt loses its saltiness it is good for nothing and will be thrown out and trampled by men.” Paul reiterates this idea 1 Corinthians 13 when he says that if we have the truth and are uber-spiritual but we don’t have love we will be like a clanging gong. An annoying, loud, obnoxious noise that no one wants to listen to.
This begs the question: Persecution or clanging gong? What if Christians aren’t being persecuted? What if our loss of influence in culture is because we lost our saltiness? What if people are trying to get us to be quiet because we have become a loud, obnoxious, noisy gong? What if the pushback, marginalization, and ridicule we experience is brought about because we have failed to love and, instead, we’ve treated the world with arrogance, insensitivity, and self-righteousness? What if we are reaping what we sowed?
Faced with a fierce enemy driven by Muslim extremist ideology, the government has cracked down on funding for al-Shabab, the Somali group that claimed responsibility for killing 148 mostly Christian students at Garissa University College a week ago.
This week, Kenya froze the accounts of 85 groups and individuals, including bus companies and Muslim rights organizations, allegedly linked to the group. It has closed down one hotel in Eastleigh, a neighborhood in the Nairobi commonly known as Little Mogadishu because of its large concentration of ethnic Somalis.
But the freeze on Muslims for Human Rights and Haki Africa, two nongovernmental organizations, raised questions, since they are known for their work on improving the lives of Kenyans and fighting for human rights of all citizens.
“I am amazed that these human rights organizations are believed to have been supporting terror,” said Sheikh Juma Ngao, the national chairman of the Kenya Muslim National Advisory Council.
“I think the government needs to provide some evidence.”
From imprisonment to torture to beheadings, more Christians worldwide live in fear for their lives than at any time in the modern era.
That’s the message from Open Doors USA, which released its annual World Watch List on Jan. 7. Christian persecution reached historic levels in 2014, with approximately 100 million Christians around the world facing possible dire consequences for merely practicing their religion, according to the report. If current trends persist, many believe 2015 could be even worse.
“In regions where Christians are being persecuted as central targets, the trends and issues we track are expanding,” said David Curry, president of Open Doors, a nonprofit that aids persecuted Christians in the most oppressive countries and ranks nations based on the severity of persecution.
North Korea tops Open Doors’ list as the worst oppressor of Christians for the 13th consecutive year, but the list is dominated by African and Middle Eastern nations. Iraq, which experienced the mass displacement of Christians from its northern region, ranked third. Syria was listed fourth, due to the reign of ISIS in that war-torn region. Nigeria ranked 10th, due in part to the more than 1,000 Christians murdered or kidnapped by terrorist groups such as Boko Haram. Also included in the top 10 are Somalia, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, and Eritrea.
Pope Francis created his first batch of new cardinals on Saturday and used the ceremony to launch a new appeal for peace amid the violence racking so many countries.
Francis focused his remarks on the plight of Christians, but in an extemporaneous addition to his prepared text he also called on the church “to fight any discrimination” and “exclusion.”
“The church needs your compassion, especially at this time of pain and suffering for so many countries throughout the world,” Francis told the 18 new cardinals who were present in St. Peter’s Basilica, along with hundreds of other cardinals and bishops whose colorful vestments and diverse origins offered a grand tableau of global Catholicism.
People who hoped the Arab Spring would lead to greater religious freedom across the Middle East have been sorely disappointed, and a new Pew study confirms that the region has grown even more repressive for various religious groups.
“In 2011, when most of the political uprisings known as the Arab Spring occurred, the Middle East and North Africa experienced pronounced increases in social hostilities involving religion, while government restrictions on religion remained exceptionally high,” according to the report by the Pew Research Center.
The study shows the number of countries in the Middle East or North Africa with sectarian or communal violence between religious groups doubled from five to 10 during 2011, a year that coincided with most of the political uprisings of Arab Spring.
In a conference full of people who champion traditional religious values, Amardeep Singh knew that everyone might not appreciate his recounting of the “uncomfortable” cab ride he had taken the previous day.
Singh, a featured speaker at the second annual National Religious Freedom Conference in Washington on Thursday, told the several hundred attendees that his D.C. taxi driver had the radio tuned to a religiously minded commentator, who was explaining that women become lesbians because they had been abused.
His cab story — both his telling and the reaction to it — reveals fault lines in the coalition of Americans concerned that government and popular culture are eroding religious freedom and trying to banish religion from the public sphere.
In the aftermath of violence, a deep-seated illness of broken minds and spirits, a possibility toward healing always exists. The vicious anti-Semitic attack on a northern New Jersey synagogue exemplifies this possibility. Violence – religious intolerance – was not to have the last word, nor was forgiveness to be blindly shared. A searching for truth was to be engaged. This searching began in the blurring of demarcation lines between different faiths.
WASHINGTON — The persecution of Christians “vastly rose” in 2012 as radical Islamists consolidated power in Africa, according to Open Doors, a Christian missionary organization which publishes an annual list of offending nations.
Increasing threats to African Christians can be seen in focused attacks, such as the killings of Christians in Nigerian churches by the radical Muslim group Boko Haram, but also in the greater prevalence of radical Muslims in government, according to the California-based Open Doors.
In Mali, for example, which made the biggest leap on the “World Watch List,” from unranked in 2011 to No. 7 in 2012, a coup in the north brought fundamentalist Muslims to power.
“The situation in the north used to be a bit tense, but Christians and even missionaries could be active,” said Open Doors spokesman Jerry Dykstra.
Most people, Christian or not, know the story of the Good Samaritan. In it, a man, who is presumably an Israelite, is mugged on the road between Jerusalem and Jericho. A priest passes by without stopping. So does a Levite. But then a Samaritan — someone who belongs to a radically different socioeconomic and cultural group than the Israelite — stops to help. This is Jesus’ vision for us as we answer the question, “Who is my neighbor?”
So it should shock us, surprise us, and sadden us, when we hear about tragedies like the shooting at the Sikh gurudwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. For the victims of such attacks — whether they are Sikh, Muslim, Hindu — are our neighbors too.
Religious minorities continue to suffer loss of their rights across the globe, the State Department reported on Monday, with a rise in blasphemy laws and restrictions on faith practices.
Almost half of the world's governments "either abuse religious minorities or did not intervene in cases of societal abuse," said Ambassador-at-Large Suzan Johnson Cook at a State Department briefing on the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report.
"It takes all of us — governments, faith communities, civil society working together to ensure that all people have the right to believe or not to believe," she said.
Christians in Egypt, Tibetan Buddhists in China and Baha'is in Iran are among those without religious rights, the report states.
In Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, people have been killed, imprisoned or detained because they violated or criticized blasphemy laws. In Indonesia, a Christian was sentenced to prison for five years for distributing books that were considered “offensive to Islam.”
These statutes, the U.S. government says, silence people in countries that claim to be “protecting religion.”
Youcef Nadarkhani, the 35-year-old Christian pastor has been imprisoned in Iran since October 2009 after protesting a law that all children read the Quaran and being charged with evangelizing to Muslims. The trial date has been set for Sept. 8.
From the Christian Post:
"According to Present Truth Ministries, which has been closely monitoring the pastor's case, Nadarkhani will presumably be tried for crimes against security. 'We assume by implication that this means the charges of apostasy have been dropped since the new charges have been issued, but we have no confirmation of that,' the ministry said Thursday."
Did Jesus ever withhold love or healing for fear that he would give up too much of himself?
Did Jesus ever worry that the nature of God would change if he ate at certain tables, or touched certain kinds of people?
Of course not.
The Bible tells us that Jesus continually stepped out of the normative comfort zones of his day to extend his message of radical reconciliation.
I realized that my hesitation to embrace all people interested in an interfaith vision was mostly about my own fear, my own lack of faith. There was nothing Christ-like about it.
Last week Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, and world governments (including our own) publicly spoke out on an issue that has barely broken through the international news. On August 24, a massive program of violence against Christians began in the Kandhamal district in the Indian state of Orissa after a Hindu leader, Swami Saraswati, was killed by Maoist rebels. Retaliatory violence has claimed at least 25 lives and sent 10,000 Christians fleeing into the jungle. This is the same region [...]