The city of Houston has issued subpoenas demanding that a group of pastors turn over any sermons dealing with homosexuality, gender identity or Annise Parker, the city’s first openly lesbian mayor. Ministers who fail to comply could be held in contempt of court. “The subpoena of sermons and other communications is both needless and unprecedented,” Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) attorney Christina Holcomb said in a statement. “The City Council is engaging in an inquisition designed to stifle critique of its actions.” ADF, a law firm specializing in religious-liberty cases, is representing five Houston pastors. They filed a motion to quash the subpoenas arguing they are “unduly burdensome, harassing and vexatious.”
The subpoenas are just the latest twist in an ongoing saga over Houston’s new non-discrimination ordinance. The law, among other consequences, would allow men who identify as female to use the ladies room and vice versa. The City Council approved the measure in June. The Houston Chronicle reported that opponents of the ordinance launched a petition drive that generated more than 50,000 signatures—far more than the 17,269 needed to put a referendum on the ballot. However, the city threw out the petition in August over alleged irregularities. After opponents of the bathroom bill filed a lawsuit, the city’s attorneys responded by issuing the subpoenas against the pastors.
Some 400 Houston churches are part of the coalition opposing the ordinance. ADF attorney Erik Stanley said “The Mayor will not explain why she wants to inspect the sermons. I contacted City Hall for a comment and received a terse reply from the mayor’s director of communications saying “We don’t comment on litigation.” Among those slapped with a subpoena is Steve Riggle of Grace Community Church. The Pastor was ordered to produce all his sermons related to Parker, homosexuality and gender identity and to hand over “all communications with members of your congregation” regarding the non-discrimination law. “This is an attempt to stop pastors from speaking to the cultural issues of the day,” Riggle said.
The Rev. Dave Welch, executive director of the Texas Pastor Council, also received a subpoena. He said he will not be intimidated by the mayor. “We’re not afraid of this bully,” he said.” He accused the city of violating the law with the subpoenas and vowed to stand firm in the faith. “We are not going to yield our First-Amendment rights,” Welch said. ‘This is a complete abuse of authority.” Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, said pastors around the nation should rally around the Houston ministers. Perkins called the actions by Houston’s mayor “obscene” and said they “should not be tolerated.”
Many pastors have said they will not comply with the subpoena, putting them at risk of a “fine or confinement or both.” Christians across the nation are mobilizing to defend the Houston pastors. Dave Welch, the executive director of the Texas Pastor Council, is one of the five ministers who received a subpoena. He said he will not be intimidated by Annise Parker, nor will he comply with the city’s demands. “My answer to that is: Bring it on,” he said. Russell Moore, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission said the city needs to mind its own business. “It’s none of the government’s business.” Moore said. He could not believe the city had taken such drastic steps.
PAKISTAN COURT UPHOLDS DEATH PENALTY FOR CHRISTIAN WOMAN
The first Christian woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws has had her appeal rejected by the High Court in Lahore. Aasiya Noreen, commonly known as Asia Bibi, received the death penalty in 2010 after she allegedly made derogatory comments about the Prophet Mohammed during an argument with a Muslim woman. The Muslim woman had refused water from Asia on the grounds that it was unclean because it had been handled by a Christian. Asia was told to convert to Islam in order to become purified of her ritual impurity. Her rejoinder was perceived as an insult of Islam and hence she was accused of committing blasphemy.
Asia was first arrested in the summer of 2009, and has already spent five years in prison. Her defence team has one more opportunity to appeal her case by taking it to Pakistan’s Supreme Court. The case has attracted international attention, and Asia has had some high-profile supporters. Pope Benedict XVI appealed to the Pakistani government for clemency. The then-Governor of the Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, went to meet Asia in prison and prepared a petition for mercy, which he had intended to give to the President of Pakistan. Before he could convey the petition to the president, his own police guard killed him on account of his support for Asia and his characterization of the blasphemy laws as “black laws.”
Two months later, the only Christian member of the cabinet, Shahbaz Bhatti, was killed. Bhatti had also supported Asia and sought to reform Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. The Lahore High Court began hearing the appeal in March this year, but the case kept circulating among several judges who postponed its hearing. Legal sources said that judges were unwilling to decide the case because of fear of reprisal from extremist elements. After the hearing, Shakir said with the passing of time it had become difficult for higher court judges to dispense justice, which, he said, “is increasingly in the hands of the extremists.”
Though Asia has been held in prison for the past five years, safety has been a serious issue for her. Her husband, Ashiq Masih, and their three children live in hiding in another city. In December 2010, a prominent Islamic cleric in Pakistan offered half a million Pakistani rupees (roughly A$5,000) for anyone who could kill Asia. Since then, security around her has been increased in prison. Pakistan’s judges have in the past faced the wrath of countrymen upset with their decisions concerning blasphemy. The law is widely popular however amongst Muslims, thus putting pressure on the government to preserve it.
* for strength and peace for Asia, who has spent much of the past five years in solitary confinement for her own safety from inmates and even some guards. Pray also for her husband Ashiq, and their children, who live in hiding.
* for wisdom for her legal team, whose lives, families and careers are on the line due to their participation in Asia’s case.
* for a judge who will choose to put justice first and overturn Asia’s sentence. The rulings of Supreme Court judges create precedents for lower courts. Pray for influential people in Pakistan to enable the release of Asia and at the same time prevent havoc and targeted attacks.
VICAR OF BAGHDAD SHARES ONE MAN’S STORY OF FACING DOWN ISLAMIC STATE TERRORISTS
In Iraq, the huge crisis for the Christian community continues. The enormity of it is just beginning to sink in says one Anglican vicar who works in the region. ‘At least 250,000 people have been forced from their homes, their churches, and their towns,’ says Canon Andrew White, known popularly as ‘The Vicar of Baghdad.’ ‘They have been persecuted in ways too awful to describe. Their children have been killed, mutilated, and made to suffer in ways we never thought possible. Yet in the midst of all this, God’s glory has never left them’ Canon White said. In a recent post on his Facebook page he told of how Islamic State fighters broke into one of the Christian homes in the area.
‘There was the father of the family with his children. The ISIS people held a sword to each of the children’s necks and told the father, Yokhanna, that unless he converted to Islam they would all be killed. He looked at his children and said “I always want you and need you.” He could not even bear to consider that his children would be killed,’ Canon White reports. ‘With great reluctance, he said the words of conversion. ISIS left and he phoned me crying, “Abouna, Abouna (my father) they were going to kill my dear young children, they forced me to say the words of conversion and I said them. I love Yesua so much I will never leave my Yesua. Will He leave me now?”
‘I asked myself what would I have done if I were placed in that situation. I told Yokhanna that Yesua still loved him and would never leave him. That Yesua would always be part of his life and would always be in their home,’ Canon White said. Meanwhile the work at St. George’s Church in Baghdad continues, trying to help the thousands of displaced people in the wake of the Islamic State terrorist activities in Iraq. Food, drink, mattresses, baby’s cots, wheelchairs and much more are provided for those in need. The people have nowhere to stay; most have sought refuge in churches and schools where hundreds are left to sleep on the floor.
Recovering from a bout of hepatitis, Canon White said: ‘Today I shared in taking the funeral of Amelia, a wonderful lady of 102 who was the granddaughter of Smith Wigglesworth. I got involved with the family because my grandfather was at one time the assistant to Smith Wigglesworth. When he died, he was given Smith Wigglesworth’s Bible. Two days before my grandfather died he gave me the Bible and it has been with me ever since. It has come with me all around the world and has always been a source of great inspiration to me. I do pray each day that I may see the signs, wonders and miracles that Smith Wigglesmith saw, and by God’s grace I do.”
MALAYSIA: CHRISTIANS BANNED FROM USING THE WORD ALLAH
Little inflames Malaysia’s Muslim fundamentalists more than the fact that Malaysian Christians use the word ‘Allah’, even though it is just the Malay word for God. The issue has gained traction in recent decades as Malaysian Muslims have radicalised with many Muslim politicians exploiting the issue for political gain. A 7 year legal battle over the use of the word ‘Allah’ culminated in June 2014 when Malaysia’s highest court dismissed an attempt by Christians to have an October 2013 ban overturned. Therefore it is now official that Christians are banned from using the word ‘Allah’; it belongs to Islam. The ban is less about religion and more about putting minorities in their place, subordinating their status to that of Muslims.’
The other issue that inflames Malaysia’s Muslims is the number of Muslims leaving Islam for Christianity. Tensions rose in January 2013 after it was revealed that Malaysian Christians had been distributing Bibles outside a secondary school in Penang. At the time, the word ‘Allah’ was not restricted, so the Bibles were legal, as was the evangelism. Despite this, the president of the Malay Supremacist organisation Perkasa, commented ‘Muslims must unite to protect their religion. They must seize those Bibles which contained the term Allah and other Arabic religious terms, and burn them. This is the way to show our anger against disrespect to our sensitivity.’
On 8 October 2014 the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department responsible for law, Nancy Shukri, confirmed that the police and the Attorney General’s office had concluded that Ibrahim Ali would not be charged with anything because ‘he only meant to defend the sanctity of Islam’. The Christian Federation of Malaysia was quick to point out the problem with this ruling, warning that in viewing threats to burn the Bible as acts in defence of Islam, the government was giving ‘free rein to other extremists to do likewise”. By no logic, it said, could ‘a call to violent action be considered defensive’. The ruling establishes a dangerous precedent: defending the ‘sanctity of Islam’ guarantees impunity.
PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL —
* roll back Malaysia’s rising tide of Islamisation; may he raise up voices to say ‘No!’ to injustice and intolerance.
* open the eyes, ears, hearts and minds of Malay people to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in which there is hope not only for individuals, but for nations.
* bless the Church in Malaysia with divine wisdom as she navigates the language issue that essentially renders all Malay-language Bibles illegal; may the Lord our provider provide the Malaysian Church with all her needs.
Source: by Elizabeth Kendall, Religious Liberty Monitoring
Chinese Christians are playing a leading role in protests that have seen tens of thousands of people shut down the streets of Hong Kong. Protestors are angered by Beijing’s decision to control the list of candidates for the island city’s top leader in its first free election, slated for 2017. Some of the top leaders of the protests are Christians, including the teenage leader of the main student group and two of the three Occupy Central leaders. Cardinal Joseph Zen, 82, said he will spend his nights with the protestors until “we are either dispersed or arrested.” Though several of Hong Kong’s major churches have publicly taken a neutral stance, others are providing first aid, snacks, or refuge to protestors.
Christian symbols are highly visible, as demonstrators form prayer groups, carry crosses, and openly read their Bibles. While the Hong Kong protestors are demanding democracy, there is an undercurrent of a much older tension: between Christianity and Communist China. Christian churches have been sprouting in Hong Kong since the British took control in 1841. About 43 percent of the island’s 7.2 million people claim a religion—about 320,000 of them are Protestant Christians. Christians in Hong Kong claim that tolerance of Christianity especially has not been improving; in fact, in the recent two years persecution has strengthened.”
Chinese officials have grown increasingly wary of churches as their influence grows. The growth of Christianity means China is on pace to have more Christians than any other country in 15 years. That growth signals to officials that Christians are now “key constituents” who can play a significant role in society, but can also pose a real and powerful threat to the country’s atheism and Marxist ideology. An all-out campaign against Christians is unlikely, because of Christianity’s growing power within the country and international pressure. Chinese Christians can make an impact socially, as individuals, as long as they don’t become too high profile. When they become too prominent, that is when the party state is likely to step in.”
BISHOPS DEFEAT PROPOSALS FOR GREATER ACCEPTANCE OF HOMOSEXUALS AND DIVORCED CATHOLICS
Catholic bishops meeting at the Vatican narrowly defeated proposals that would have signalled greater acceptance of gays and lesbians and divorced Catholics, a sign of the deep divisions facing the hierarchy as Pope Francis continues his push for a more open church. While the various proposals received a majority of support from the bishops gathered for the Synod on the Family, they failed to receive the required two-thirds majority that would have carried the weight of formal approval and church-wide consensus. The vote was an abrupt about-face from a mid-term report from the Synod, which spoke of “welcoming homosexual persons” and acknowledging the gifts they have to offer the wider church.
The revised proposal on homosexuality, that “men and women with homosexual tendencies should be welcomed with respect and delicacy,” failed in a vote of 118 to 62; a similar statement about opening Communion to divorced Catholics who remarry outside the church failed in a vote of 104-74. Despite the divide, Francis received a standing ovation that lasted several minutes in his final address to the Synod, where he had called for “sincere and open” debate. After days in which divisions inside the Vatican spilled over into the press, the Pope described the two-week summit as a “journey together,” and like any human journey, one that featured moments of “desolation, tension and temptations”.
He said the role of the Pope was to guarantee the unity of the church, and that he would have been “very worried and saddened if there had not been these temptations and animated discussions.” Even though the sections on homosexuality and divorce did not pass with formal approval, Francis ordered them into the Synod’s final report so that Catholics could continue to debate the ideas. The latest vote, however, is not the final word. Francis plans to host a follow-up summit a year from now, and both sides are expected to spend the next 12 months trying to either reinforce existing policy or trying to nudge the bishops toward a more open approach.