PERSECUTION SQUEEZE ON CHRISTIANS AS DANGEROUS AS VIOLENCE
Most of the 200 million Christians under pressure for their faith don’t experience violence but a ‘daily squeeze’ which is more insidious and, if left unchallenged, can lead to violence. Religious persecution around the world is growing both in scale and severity, Open Doors’ CEO Lisa Pearce told UK Parliamentarians at the launch of the 2018 Persecution Watch List. The most dangerous countries to live in as a Christian are also those which are ‘specialists’ in ‘the squeeze’: the pressures a Christian experiences in their day-to-day life, from education and work to family life, from cradle to grave. These countries use tools including surveillance, arrests, discrimination and unjust laws, to grind down the Christian community in the hope Christians will disappear. This pressure can be more insidious than violence, Open Doors says.
Hannah from Pakistan told about a 23-year old Christian, a promising writer, who was completing her degree: “When she handed in her dissertation her supervisor asked why she was so interested in minority rights, especially those of the Christian ‘untouchables’. When she said that it was because she was one of them, the supervisor suggested she change the text of a certain chapter or it may be interpreted as blasphemy”. Another medical student did not receive a promised reward for his work, but instead faces relentless discrimination in the hospital where he works: he has to drink from a different cup to his colleagues and eat in a different room, all because “there was the rumour that his father had decided to become a Christian”, Hannah says.
Young graduates in Egypt face challenges as well because of their faith, Michael from Cairo added. They have little chance of finding a job because they are Christian: “Their CVs are shredded, as are their dreams and hopes”. His own father worked in the public sector for 30 years but was never allowed to become head of his department. He also knows of a sandwich chain that openly advertises on the front of their shops that they do not employ Christians. Young women are particularly vulnerable because of their gender and their Christian faith, Open Doors USA CEO David Curry said: “Christians in these [hostile] communities are overwhelmed, and, in areas where extremists wield power, police forces and governments can’t be relied upon to protect individual Christian women in these communities.”
Michael knows the stories of how in Egypt “a girl is kidnapped and after many months the family will hear news from her, namely that she has converted to Islam. But not of her own choice. She was forced to marry a Muslim man”. Children are feeling the ‘squeeze’ in school where they are mistreated by teachers. UK MPs heard how nine-year old Mina came home one evening and went up to his bedroom where he tore apart his Bible, saying “Why can’t I be a Muslim? It is so much easier to be like other children in my class”. A lot of the ‘squeeze’ is fuelled by the trend where ethnic and national identity is defined by one ‘acceptable’ religion, according to the Open Doors.
In India alone, 635 Christians are known to have been detained without trial, or unfairly arrested and imprisoned, in the last 12 months. The pressure on freedom of religion or belief, left unchallenged, can turn into violent persecution for both Christians and those of other religious minorities and of no faith too. Lisa Pearce said Western governments continue to chronically underestimate the pressure religious freedom is under around the world. The parliamentarians were told that the upcoming meeting of the Commonwealth heads of government in London in April is an opportunity to address this issue. Eight of the 50 countries on the World Watch List where it is most difficult to live as a Christian are members of the Commonwealth: Bangladesh, Brunei, India, Kenya, Malaysia, the Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
TRUMP WILL NOT ALLOW PEOPLE OF FAITH TO BE BULLIED OR SILENCED
There’s been a big breakthrough for those who have any connection with health care who might have faced moral or religious objections they had against something they were asked to do. They’ll have a powerful friend in the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division set up by the federal government’s Health and Human Services (HHS) Department. HHS’ Roger Severino, director of its Office of Civil Rights, said on a media call, “For too long governments big and small have treated conscience claims with hostility instead of protection. But change is coming and it begins now.” He pointed back to one of President Trump’s major goals.“On May 4th, 2017, we reached a turning point in America,” Severino explained.
“On that day, President Trump issued a religious liberty order and changed the course on the issue of religious freedom.” He said of Trump, “He promised to vigorously enforce federal law in relation to the protection of religious freedom. He said we’re a nation of tolerance, and we will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced.” Severino said forming the Conscience and Religious Freedom Division was “a major step forward in fulfilling this promise. We enforce conscience protections in the healthcare field,” Severino explained. “These protections have been under-enforced in the past but now we are back in business.” One example where the Obama administration had been slack in protecting workers, involved those who for religious or moral reasons wanted no part in performing or assisting with abortions.
Severino said, “Whatever you think about abortion, the American people should not be forcing others to assist in, perform, or refer women for abortion.” When the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, Congress responded with laws to protect those health care workers from discrimination and from getting screened out of the medical profession. But that’s exactly what’s happened in numerous cases in the last few years. As David Christiansen of the Family Research Council put it, “Unfortunately, the prior administration narrowed their interpretation of the laws related to pro-life conscience protections, and ignored the threat posed against doctors, nurses, and even churches that lost pro-life health coverage.”
Severino insisted, “Nobody should be required to give up their religious belief or moral convictions as a condition of trying to help others through health care.” Christiansen reacted, “We’re encouraged that this administration is taking non-discrimination laws seriously and will begin to investigate cases where the government has punished pro-lifers.” Severino suggested this fight against discrimination over religious objections is one that goes all the way back to the start of the United States. “The founders of our nation knew that if you respect conscience, you’ll end up with a more diverse and free society,” he said.
“This goes back to traditions from the very beginning when Quakers were exempted, for example, from military service on questions of conscience.” Many in the Trump administration believe the protection of conscience and religious freedom has gotten short shrift in recent years. As Severino put it, “This civil right, in many ways the founding civil right because it is in our First Amendment, deserves at least as good treatment and as much energy and dedication as every other civil right.” Those involved one way or another with the health care field who feel they’ve faced discrimination can reach out to this new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division.
CHRISTIANS THREATENED IN BOLIVIA HAVE THE FINAL SAY
Evangelical Christians in Bolivia feared that the new laws could undermine the country’s constitution, which accords religious freedom for everyone. New provisions in the Bolivian penal code stated: “Whoever recruits, transports, deprives of freedom or hosts people with the aim of recruiting them to take part in armed conflicts or religious or worship organizations will be penalised with 5 to 12 years imprisonment”. In a statement, the National Association of Evangelicals in Bolivia (ANDEB) stated that there was inadequate citizen participation in the drafting process of the legislation, adding that the new penal code is “imprecise, ambiguous, and contradictory.”
After a meeting of the ANDEB with regional churches, a public declaration was issued by the body representing evangelical Christians on a national level. It said, Evangelical Christians are “deeply worried” about the new Penal Code, that could ban evangelism and prevent other Christian events from happening. Evangelical churches in Bolivia are organisations recognised by the Bolivian state, and are legal entities”. The ambiguous writing of article 88.1 “paves the way for interpretations that can be used against our religious organisations”. This new situation collided with the Bolivian Constitution, which protects religious freedom and freedom of worship for everyone.
Evangelical Christians started to take to the streets to protest against the changes in the Penal Code. Events, gatherings, prayer meetings and meetings of spiritual intercession for the country were organised in all cities and places where there are evangelical Christian churches and organisations. A National Day of Prayer and Fasting was called with Churches across the country uniting together to ask God to intervene in the situation. After the day of prayer and fasting the President went on national TV to say that in the name of national stability he was going to revoke his new law. What a wonderful answer to prayer organised and led by a united Church.
NEW PUSH TO SPREAD THE GOSPEL THROUGHOUT ALL U.S. COLLEGE CAMPUSES
Two of the biggest Christian campus ministry organizations in the U.S. have launched a new partnership to reach the more than 1,800 campuses they say are unreached. InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA and CRU (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) are inviting other campus ministries and churches to join them in the campaign they’re calling #everycampus. Jason Thomas, executive vice president for field ministry at InterVarsity told CBN News, “We would love to see a Gospel movement planted in every campus in the country, particularly in every campus that has at least 1,000 students.”
The unreached campuses include smaller state schools, liberal arts colleges, community colleges, historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and tribal colleges. “These traditionally underserved communities are why it’s not surprising that there’s no ministry there,” said Thomas. “You need a different kind of effort to contextualize the Gospel in those places.” CRU and InterVarsity have partnered to launch the website everycampus.us that they hope will spark a prayer movement as an initial step. They’re asking students, professors and churches to take responsibility for a campus, prayer walk it, and post a picture with the hashtag #everycampus.
They’re also planning a platform with campus ministry resources and a coaching centre where those with a vision can get practical help. Mark Gauthier, executive director of CRU’s U.S. campus ministry, says he’s encouraged that the two ministries are collaborating and believes that all campuses will be reached with the Gospel. “The goal is zero,” he told CBN News. “Zero campuses without an expression of a student ministry by 2025.” “It’s not about CRU or InterVarsity. It’s not about who gets to take credit for it,” he added. “It’s about reaching the students and professors of this country.”
Thomas says he sees today’s students more interested in movements than particular organizations, noting the energy around the #metoo campaign and Black Lives Matter. “There’s a general disposition to movements and what God may be doing more than what organizations are doing,” he said. The two organizations are also working to develop a database for those involved in campus ministries to communicate what’s happening at their school.
A crackdown on ‘cults’ in Yunnan province has led to mass arrests of Christians with many now facing long jail sentences. Six members of a church in the Lincang area have just been handed sentences of up to 13 years after a court convicted them of being part of a ‘dangerous sect’. Please pray for our family in Yunnan, under pressure from officials who accuse them of cult activity. The sentencing of Lincang Christians last week is the latest fallout of a co-ordinated campaign against the so-called Three Grades of Servants organisation which began in 2016. Officials used the campaign as a pretext to round up about 200 Christians across Yunnan: some Christians have already been convicted, while others are awaiting trial.
The authorities have recently told some of the lawyers defending church members that they are suspected of defending their clients ‘illegally’ and that their qualifications will be ‘reviewed’. Meanwhile, the Chinese judiciary in neighbouring Guizhou province is putting severe pressure on house church Christians. A court has just upheld a decision to fine Pastor Yang Hua and Pastor Su Tianfu of Huoshi Church almost $800,000 after decreeing that church offerings were ‘illegal income’.
* Please pray for justice for the six Christians from Yunnan who have just been given hefty sentences: Ju Dianhong (13 years), Liang Qin (ten years) and Zhang Hongyan, Zi Huimei, Yang Shunxiang and Zhang Shaocai, whose sentences range from four to eight years.
* Please pray that Yunnan officials will realise the fundamental importance of religious freedom and see that Christians pose no danger to the state.
* Ask God to flood Pastor Yang Hua’s prison cell and Su Tianfu’s home with His presence and peace. Pray that the church offerings will not have to be paid to the state.
President Donald Trump has promised to continue pushing an anti-abortion agenda in the rest of his time in office. Speaking to pro-life supporters in Washington for the March for Life rally recently, he said: “Under my administration, we will always defend the very first right in the Declaration of Independence and that is the right to life. Every unborn child is a precious gift from God.” He praised the thousands of anti-abortion activists gathered on the National Mall for having “such big hearts and tireless devotion to make sure parents have the support they need to choose life. You’re living witnesses of this year’s March for Life theme, ‘Love Saves Lives,” he added.
Trump also criticised the controversial later term abortion procedure, calling them “wrong” and a practice that has to change. That is why we march, that is why we pray, that is why we declare that America’s future will be filled with goodness, peace, joy, dignity and life for every child of God,” he said. US Vice President Mike Pence, who addressed last year’s March for Life in person, introduced the president as the “most pro-life president in American history”.
Billy Graham died last Wednesday at the age of 99. The world renowned evangelist, who has been listed on Gallup’s most admired list 61 times since 1955, more than any other person, passed away peacefully at his home in Montreat, North Carolina, after struggling with various health problems linked to his advanced age. Let us give thanks to the Lord for the testimony and life of Billy Graham. Please pray for his family in their time of grieving and celebrate his life and witness. Pray Matt 25:21.