This is the last edition of International News for 2016. We wish all our readers a blessed and wonderful Christmas and look forward to continuing to serve you throughout 2017 when the newsletter resumes on Monday 9th January 2017.
Abraham Lincoln had his “Team of Rivals.” John F. Kennedy had his “Wise Men.” While history hasn’t yet given a nickname for President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet and his executive team, it’s starting to look like he’s surrounding himself with men and women of faith. Here are some of his selections, as of December 2.
Vice President: Gov. Mike Pence
The vice president-elect grew up as an altar boy and made a “commitment to Christ” in college and has described himself as a “Christian, a conservative, and a Republican,” in that order. As Indiana’s governor, he signed a bill to protect religious freedom in his state and shortly before Election Day, he made a special appeal to Christians, telling them his “faith always comes first.”
Attorney General: Sen. Jeff Sessions
The multi-term Alabama senator was one of the first supporters of Trump’s campaign and soon thereafter became an advisor. Now, he’s the president-elect’s pick for attorney general. The choice is not without controversy. Sessions has had to dodge accusations of racism stemming from his work as a prosecutor in the Justice Department. As a child, Sessions was active in Boy Scouts activities and the Camden Methodist Church. He later went to a Methodist-affiliated college, Huntingdon, and he’s served as a leader and Sunday school teacher at his family’s church, Ashland Place United Methodist Church in Mobile.
Secretary of the Treasury: Steven Mnuchin
The man who served as the finance chairman for Trump’s campaign is now being tapped to head the department made cool by Alexander Hamilton: Treasury. Mnuchin had worked as a partner at Goldman Sachs for 17 years before launching his own hedge fund, “Dune Capital Management.” While there, he’s invested in several blockbuster films, including “Avatar,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” and the critically panned yet commercially successful “Suicide Squad.” Mnuchin, who is Jewish, could be subjected to a confirmation fight in the Senate since many opponents are likely to zero in on his involvement in the 2008 housing market crash.
Secretary of Commerce: Wilbur Ross
When Trump meets the members of his cabinet, he won’t be the only billionaire at the table. His nominee to run the Commerce Department, Wilbur Ross, can also stare at a nine-figure bank account. The investor has a spot on Forbes’ exclusive list and a net worth of $2.9 billion. Ross, who attended an elite Catholic school as a youth, is an avid art collector. He became known as the “King of Bankruptcy” for his knack for buying beaten-down companies with the potential to deliver profits, including the casino of then real-estate magnate Donald Trump.
Secretary of Health and Human Services: Rep. Tom Price
Before becoming a Georgia congressman, Rep. Tom Price was known as Tom Price, M.D., due to his career as an orthopaedic surgeon in the suburbs of Atlanta. Dr. Price has long been a vocal critic of the Affordable Care Act and has proposed dismantling and replacing it. Price, a Presbyterian, has a voting record that aligns with conservative Christianity. He is opposed to same-sex marriage, federal funding for abortion, and federal requirements that insurance plans cover contraception with no co-pay.
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: Dr. Ben Carson
The world-famous neurosurgeon burst onto the national scene following a controversial and politically charged speech directed at President Obama during the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013. Carson was raised in poverty by a mother who could not read, and he endured more than his fair share of racial abuse in school. He persevered through it all before becoming a pioneer resident at Johns Hopkins (the details of which can be seen in the movie “Gifted Hands,” starring Cuba Gooding, Jr.) The soft-spoken neurosurgeon is a member of the Seventh-Day Adventist church and is open about his faith. In an interview, he talked about relying on God after a diagnosis with cancer, saying, “I just said, ‘Lord, if it’s time for me to go, You know what is best. I don’t want to go, but I trust You,’ and I was at peace.”
Secretary of Transportation: Secretary Elaine Chao
Elaine Chao has had her fair share of visits to the Roosevelt Room, as she previously served as a cabinet official under the administration of President George W. Bush. As his secretary of labour, she was the first Asian-American woman to hold a cabinet-level position. Chao, who came to America at the age of 8, is married to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is a Southern Baptist. Earlier this year, McConnell sat down with CBN’s David Brody to talk about his legacy – and his faith.
Secretary of Education: Betsy DeVos
During the campaign, Trump said he wanted to shrink the Education Department and shift responsibilities to the state and local government. To accomplish that task, he’s nominated Michigan’s Betsy DeVos for education secretary. DeVos, an ardent supporter of school choice, is the daughter-in-law of Amway founder Richard DeVos. The elder DeVos, by the way, has a net worth of $5.1 billion… higher than Trump’s. According to Religion News Service, Betsy DeVos has “deep roots” in the Christian reformed community. She graduated from Calvin College and now attends Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan – the same church once made popular by Rob Bell.
Ambassador to the United Nations: Gov. Nikki Haley As the governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley called for the Confederate flag to be removed from the grounds of the state Capitol after the racially charged shootings of nine parishioners in a historically black church in 2015. Just last week, as the death penalty trial for the alleged perpetrator, Dylann Roof, got started, Haley issued a call to prayer. She immigrated to the Palmetto State from India with her Sikh family and converted to Christianity after marrying Michael Haley 20 years ago. In 2010, Haley referenced her faith in Christ by saying it “has a profound impact on my daily life and I look to Him for guidance with every decision I make. God has blessed my family in many ways, and my faith in the Lord gives me great strength. Being a Christian is not about words but about living for Christ every day.”
Director of the CIA: Rep. Mike Pompeo
While voters of Kansas’ 4th Congressional District overwhelmingly wanted Pompeo to return to Washington for a fourth term in the House (Pompeo won with 61 percent of the vote), they may have to settle for a replacement. Instead of serving on Capitol Hill, Trump asked Pompeo to serve as the head of the CIA. Pompeo previously denounced Obama for his decision to close the CIA’s black sites and also his requirement for government interrogators to adhere to the rules of the Army Field Manual (in basic English: no secret prisons, no torture). Those are probably not issues Pompeo talked about at the Eastminster Presbyterian Church, where he taught a fifth grade Sunday School class.
National Security Advisor: Ret. Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn One of the most outspoken opponents of radical Islam is now the chief advisor to a president with no foreign policy experience. Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a former intelligence officer, was named as Trump’s national security advisor. In an interview with CBN, he said that ‘America is at war – and the sooner we realize that, the sooner we can defeat ISIS.’ He has called Islam a “political ideology” that “hides behind being a religion” and likened it to a “cancer.” Flynn says he was “born and raised in an Irish-Catholic family of blue-collar Democrats.”
CASTRO’S DEATH WON’T END REPRESSION OF CUBAN CHURCH
The death of Cuba’s revolutionary leader Fidel Castro will not reduce the harassment to which the Church is already subjected, an analyst at Open Doors has warned. Following Castro’s death at the age of 90 last month, Paul Groen told World Watch Monitor: “Fidel’s regime really has been a huge source of suffering for the Church,” referring to communist rule instigated by Castro in 1959 and continued by Fidel’s brother Raul since 2006. Raul Castro’s effort to have more contact with the Catholic Church has strengthened its public role, and Fidel openly expressed his admiration of Pope Francis, the first Latin American pope and an outspoken critic of economic inequality. Francis has visited the island twice since his election, once for a long-awaited meeting with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch, Kirill.
One church leader explained how the regime had affected the Church in Cuba. He said: “We learned to patiently put up with life’s afflictions. We learned to forgive, to love our enemies, to live through our faith without human defence. We learned to know the power of God in supplying what we need, health for our bodies, providing this sense of fulfilment, peace in the eye of the storm. We learned the most important lesson of a believer, which is knowing that God is the only being that we need.” But Groen said local church leaders are concerned about what might eventually replace the communist regime, which for decades has been isolated by the US trade embargo. He said they are concerned that materialism and other Western values might flood the island if it opens up to more international trade.
Cuban church leaders chose not to comment publically on Castro’s death. The Catholic bishops’ conference in Havana issued a brief and carefully worded statement expressing “our condolences to his family and the authorities of the country”, entrusting the communist leader to Christ, “the Lord of Life and History”, and praying “that nothing would disrupt the coexistence among Cubans”. “Christians in Cuba face harassment, surveillance, discrimination and the occasional imprisonment of leaders,” said Groen. “New churches and seminaries cannot be built, and foreigners may enter the country with no more than three Bibles.” Aid work carried out by the Church is also subject to government control.
Officials have demanded churches hand over donated goods, such as food and building materials they were distributing to people whose homes were destroyed or damaged by Hurricane Matthew. Church leaders said officials believed the state should be responsible for the material needs of the people. There has however been an improvement in the government’s treatment of the Church over the last two decades, with Christians no longer subject to beatings, imprisonment or even murder that terrorised the Church in previous decades. Raul Castro will continue governing the way his brother did. The restrictions on the Church that existed before Fidel’s death are likely to be maintained, at least until the elections in 2018 when Raul said he will resign as president.”
BEN CARSON ON HOW TRUMP COULD UNLOCK THE CHURCH’S PROPHETIC VOICE
Though once rivals on the Republican circuit, Dr. Ben Carson now serves President-elect Donald Trump as a godly counsellor in an unofficial capacity. As Trump describes removing the Johnson amendment, Carson told a group of evangelicals exactly how the move would free pastors to help return America back to Judeo-Christian values. “If we get the Johnson Amendment rescinded, pastors can talk about what’s right and wrong again,” Carson said as part of the Salt and Light Lecture. Officially, the Johnson Amendment prohibits those with 501(c)(3) tax distinctions like churches and ministries from engaging in political commentary. The amendment is often cited as to why pastors refrain from discussing controversial sins, such as homosexuality, in their pulpits.
“Now we hear pleasant things and everybody sings “Kumbaya,” and it’s not an accurate representation of the world we live in,” Carson says of today’s churches. “If we rescind the Johnson Amendment and people are not afraid of losing their tax status, then we will see Judeo-Christian values return to the American forefront. Trump isn’t the only advocate of rescinding the amendment. Erik Stanley, Senior Legal Counsel and head of the Pulpit Initiative for the Alliance Defence Fund, writes for the Los Angeles Times: The Johnson Amendment allows the government to determine when a pastor’s speech becomes too “political.” That is an absurdly ridiculous standard. A pastor’s speech from the pulpit that talks about candidates from a Scriptural point of view is religious speech.”
Stanley went on “That speech doesn’t become political any more than a pastor’s speech becomes commercial when he gives a Scripture-based assessment of the current financial debacle on Wall Street. Allowing government agents to make that determination is as absurd as asking a first-grader to design and build NASA’s next space shuttle. The Johnson Amendment also allows the government to parse the content of a pastor’s sermon to determine whether it violates the law. That is called a content-based restriction on speech, which the (First) Amendment’s free-speech clause prohibits unless the government has a compelling reason for censorship. Without the amendment, Carson says, America can once again receive conviction from its pastors and become a godly nation once more.
But churches are not in as much danger as they might expect. “The truth is, no church has ever lost its tax-exempt status for either endorsing or opposing any political candidate or endorsing or opposing a local, state or federal law,” said Mat Staver, Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel. “Voting is both a privilege and a duty. The future of America is at stake every time we face a national election, and this past election was one of the most important elections in recent history. I encourage pastors to remove the muzzle that secularists want to put on them and exchange it for a megaphone to speak Biblical truths regarding social and moral issues.” In 2008, a host of pastors preached sermons on religious freedom, abortion, homosexuality, immigration, the environment during the election season.
CHRISTIAN GOVERNOR QUESTIONED BY INDONESIAN POLICE AMID BLASPHEMY FURORE
The only Christian governor in Indonesia is being investigated by police in a blasphemy case, amid on-going calls from Muslim groups for his imprisonment. Investigators questioned the Governor of Jakarta, Barsuki Purnama, known as “Aho”, for 8 hours at the National Police headquarters in South Jakarta last week. The outcry against Ahok began after he quoted a verse in the Qur’an that forbids using the Islamic scripture for political gains in a speech. Some Muslim leaders accused him of insulting Islam by quoting from the Qur’an, and he apologised. An edited version of his speech was posted online and went viral, sparking outrage. At a mass rally in Jakarta demonstrators called for Ahok’s removal from power. On 16 November police declared that he was being investigated.
The incident coincides with a rise in terror attacks targeting Christians, and some activists and politicians fear Indonesia’s increasingly fragile secular constitution is under strain. Muslim leaders have called for the public to respect the legal process while the investigation continues. But the outrage caused by the speech, by radical Muslim groups, has increased concerns that the majority-Muslim republic is swaying towards extremism. Indonesian police recently gave permission for a large-scale rally against Ahok to take place. Earlier the National Movement to Save Indonesia Ulema Council’s Fatwa mobilised tens of thousands of demonstrators to take to the streets of the capital in protest. Estimates of the number of participants varied between 50,000 and 150,000.
In response, rallies were held in support of Ahok. Christians, activists and some Muslim politicians expressed solidarity with minority groups against the tide of growing intolerance. Ahok said he has no intention of giving up as the republic’s first Christian governor for decades, and has remained positive about his re-election bid. The Ahok case is one of a series of incidents that have seen radicals challenge political and civil affairs. In August, a man attacked a priest with an axe during a Mass in North Sumatra, and failed to detonate a bomb in his backpack. Earlier this month, a two-year-old child died and 3 other young children were injured when a man threw petrol bombs at a Protestant church in East Kalimantan Province. Some Indonesian Christians said they fear the attack was connected to Ahok’s case.
Terrorism experts said that a 5 year de-radicalisation programme had not succeeded in reducing extremism. Analysts have been especially concerned by moderate Muslims’ hostility towards Ahok. Tens of thousands of moderate Muslims recently rallied alongside hardliners. The Muslim Times ran an opinion piece arguing that Ahok losing his blasphemy case could be the tipping point for a shift from pluralism and stable democracy in a shift towards a more conservative form of Islam. Human rights campaigner Andreas Harsono voiced concerns that the accusation may be being used as a “political tool” to derail Ahok’s re-election campaign. For Christians, much hangs in the balance. Some see their on-going security tied to the fate of Ahok. The coming months could hold much uncertainty for them as well.
HOW GYPSIES IN UK MOVE FROM FORTUNE TELLING TO FERVANT CHRISTIANITY
At a time when large numbers of people are drifting away from formal religion, one church is bucking the trend. Huge numbers of Gypsies and travellers in England now say they’ve joined a new movement called Light and Life. Those who join have given up drinking alcohol and fortune-telling, and many have even abandoned their traditional Catholic faith. The movement, which is Gypsy-led, has grown rapidly in the past 30 years with up to 40% of British Gypsies belong to it. There’s no way to prove that claim, but most Gypsies and travellers will agree that there is a surge in people joining. It’s centred on inspirational preaching, and miracle healing. About 6,000 Gypsies and travellers recently attended the church’s UK convention.