IRAQI CHRISTIANS TELL OF CRUCIFIXIONS TORTURE AND SEX SLAVERY
Islamic State (IS) jihadists hung Karlus, a 29-year-old cook, from the ceiling of the jail he was in, by a rope attached to his left foot. As blood poured from his foot, they beat and kicked him, rubbing salt into his wounds. He was sexually abused in prison by three women. He was told he would be shot dead; but for reasons he still does not understand, on the day his execution was due to take place, he was released. When IS seized control of Iraqi territory in the summer of 2014, they gave Christians four options: leave, convert to Islam, pay a protection tax or be killed. The vast majority fled, an estimated 120,000 in a few short weeks that summer. But those left behind were subjected to torture, forced conversion, sexual slavery and crucifixion, according to religious freedom charity ADF International.
Karlus told its researchers he had been unable to flee his home in Batnaya, a village outside Mosul, because he was looking after his disabled father. When the terrorists came to his house, they destroyed a cross and a picture of Jesus. “They even destroyed a piece from the Quran that was given to me by a friend,” he said. Karlus was treated in Spain for the injuries to his leg. Karlus was taken to a police station unconscious after retaliating when one of the jihadists hit him in the face. There began his seven-week ordeal at the hands of IS, after which he fled to Kurdistan, was treated in Spain for the injuries to his leg, and sought asylum in Jordan. Unknown to Karlus, his father had meantime managed to travel to Baghdad, but died there in August 2015.
Esam, a father-of-three from outside the town of Qaraqosh, said two of his wife’s relatives had not managed to flee Qaraqosh before IS arrived. They were abducted; the husband has not been heard of since and the wife “now lives with one of the IS amirs”. While reports have focused on Yezidi women being taken into sex slavery, Esam’s account suggests that Christian women and girls may have been targeted as well. “We heard of 12 Christian girls who are with IS. They may be more. Our bishop told people not to tell if they lose their girls: it is a shame on the family,” he said. Karlus and Esam are among the thousands of Iraqi Christians who have sought refuge in neighbouring Jordan.
While Iraqi and Kurdish forces and militias, with US and UK air support, are embroiled in the push to liberate Mosul from IS, many Christians from the city and its surrounding villages are too traumatised by their experiences to countenance returning. Some say they feel betrayed by neighbours who supported IS, and are no longer sure whom they can trust. Instead, many have applied for asylum in Western countries such as Sweden, Canada and Australia. One family recovering in Sweden is that of Esam’s brother-in-law. “My wife’s brother was crucified by IS,” Esam said. “He was crucified and tortured in front of his wife and children, who were forced to watch. They told him that if he loved Jesus that much, he would die like Jesus.”
Esam said the fighters tortured his relative; they cut his stomach open and shot him before leaving him hanging, crucified. “A Swedish organisation helped his wife and children; they are now in Sweden.” He added: “His wife has cancer.” In the ongoing instability in Iraq, Christians are not necessarily safe even if they escape areas held by IS. Baghdad has been home to the country’s largest Christian community for decades, but numbers have plummeted as sectarian violence sporadically ripped the capital apart and targeted non-Muslims in the wake of the US-led invasion. Twice in 2014, Alaa, a father-of-two living in the city, received death threats. The first was by phone; the second time, “someone wrote on our door, ‘Your day is coming to die, you infidels'”. These are no empty threats.
“My wife’s cousin was killed in 2010, in an explosion at a church. Another family member was abducted in 2009,” he said. The family left Iraq in November 2014 and flew to Jordan to register as refugees. Amid the ongoing violence and political instability in Iraq, Alaa sees little future for his family. “It is impossible to go back to Baghdad,” he said. “It is not possible to go back to Iraq. I can’t build a life there. I hope to go to Australia, but any country that will accept me, I will go there. I want to build a life and a future for my children.” Some of the damage done by IS has already begun to be reversed. Esam said friends of his who escaped Mosul after being forcibly converted to Islam had been “baptised back to Christianity”. Other aspects will take far longer.
Iraqi Christians who end up returning to Iraq know they return to a country whose sectarian fault-lines have been activated to lethal levels. Aid workers have warned that extensive reconciliation work will be vital if Iraq’s many different faith and ethnic communities are to cohere again, especially as levels of trauma among all sectors of the population are thought to be extremely high. In Jordan, Karlus reflects on his ordeal at the hands of IS members in Mosul. He concludes: “What happened is not easy, but in the end we must forgive. This is my destiny; maybe God is planning something for me.”
A fashion designer who is refusing to design clothes for Melania Trump is fuelling conversation on freedom of association and religious liberty in America, with conservatives and libertarians alike decrying the double standard. In a letter, designer Sophie Theallet said that it had been an honour to dress First Lady Michelle Obama, but that she would not even associate with Melania Trump. “As a company, our bottom line is not just about money,” she wrote, “We value our artistic freedom. As one who celebrates and strives for diversity, individual freedom, and respect for all lifestyles, I will not participate in dressing or associating in any way with the next First Lady. Statements made by her husband in the presidential campaign are incompatible with the shared values we live by,” she said.
But that line of reasoning is the same as that of Christian bakers and florists when they argue that providing services for same-sex wedding ceremonies violates their consciences and they must therefore decline to participate. Only, unlike the fashion designer, in the cases of such small business owners, state governments have gone after them for refusing. “We need to keep making this argument, because a lot of people still haven’t heard it,” said the Heritage Foundation’s Ryan Anderson, author of Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom, in a phone interview with The Christian Post. “One of the important things to do here is to show people how the Left wants to be free in their commercial transactions, their professions, their artistic endeavours, for the causes they care about.”
“Theallet doesn’t want to be a fashion designer for the First Lady, because she disagrees with the message that would send that she supported the First Lady and the new president and his policies. They don’t want to be sending that message. That’s very similar to the baker and the florist,” he added. Family Research Council President Tony Perkins noted that liberal “tolerance” is a one-way street. He said “I’m fine with designers declining to dress the Trumps. I’m not fine with the double standard, as Christian wedding vendors are prosecuted.” Libertarian Stephanie Slade expressed her distaste for the President-elect, saying that if she owned a business she, too, would not serve the incoming administration.
“Both are examples of associational freedom, the right to make decisions for yourself about how and with whom you spend your time and energy. This includes the right not to take on a client or project that elevates, in your view, a value you disagree with,” Slade said. “Rights must also be for those who will take positions you can’t fathom for reasons you can’t stomach. Free association, and the freedom to live out your convictions expressively in how you make a living, cannot be reserved for rock stars and fashion designers and other powerful liberals, while being denied to regular Americans,” she continued. Anderson believes the policy question comes down to when the presumption of liberty deserves to be trumped by government regulation.
“In general we have said there’s a presumption of liberty and we don’t need to override it. Racism in the South, and the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow said no. Racism isn’t going away. We do need to override that presumption of liberty and so we passed laws against having segregated lunch counters, against racist businesses that refuse simply to serve African-Americans,” Anderson said. “The question today is: Do we need laws like that on sexual orientation and gender identity? Do we need to say that every last baker in the state needs to bake a same-sex wedding cake? Or do we see that already the market is sorting these things out. The vast majority of bakers are more than happy to bake the cake, they are more than happy to make the money.
They support gay marriage and are in business to make a profit, so is there any reason for the government coercing the one evangelical baker and the one evangelical florist in a community that says they can’t do this.” Such cases highlight the clash between religious freedom and changing cultural norms.
Recently hundreds in Washington state rallied to support Barronnelle Stutzman, the florist whom the state Attorney General fined for declining to make custom floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding ceremony in 2013. Her case is being heard by the Washington State Supreme Court and should she lose, her attorneys will likely appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. “When the government can tell you what to do, what to create and what to believe, we do not live in a free America,” Stutzman said.
BANGLADESH FAILING MINORITIES TARGETED BY ISLAMIC EXTREMISTS
The government of Bangladesh has failed to protect its Christian and other minority populations, a report has claimed. The report, Under threat: the challenges facing religious minorities in Bangladesh, by Minority Rights Group International, said Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, and other minorities had suffered increasingly frequent violent attacks by Islamic extremists linked to Al-Qaeda. Islamic State (IS) has claimed responsibility for many of the attacks carried out, but the country’s government denies the group has a presence there. The 25-page report, found that IS-linked militants had murdered two people who had converted from Islam to Christianity, and two other Christians, in the first half of this year. IS said the second convert, knifed to death, was killed as “a lesson to others”.
“The authorities have not only shown a consistent failure to protect minorities but also to bring many of the perpetrators to justice,” the report said. It found widespread social prejudice and religious intolerance towards non-Muslim minorities, and “clear signs of wider support among some Bangladeshis” for extremist movements. Christians have long been subjected to discrimination and harassment, and the report described violence against minorities, such as sexual harassment, abduction and forced marriage, as “everyday” occurrences. Christian women, along with Buddhist and Hindu women, were often specifically targeted with sexual violence “to intimidate and displace communities from their land”, it said.
The authorities have not only consistently failed to protect minorities but also to bring many of the perpetrators to justice. Bangladesh has just one Christian MP, Jewel Areng, and the under-representation of non-Muslims in politics ensures that “religious minorities remain marginalised within Bangladesh politics”, the report said. However, last month a Catholic, Albert Costa, was elected to fill one of the highest offices of the opposition party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Mr. Costa will take over the presidency of the party’s youth wing. Thomas Muller, a security analyst from Open Doors International, said: “Christians and ethnic minorities in Bangladesh are second-class citizens and lack any real lobby support. It is therefore encouraging to see that a Christian was chosen to join the BNP leadership.”
On the same day the report was issued, a British newspaper quoted a senior Bangladeshi government official saying that Islam should no longer be named as the country’s state religion. Dr. Abdur Razzak of the ruling Awami League party said he believed Islam had been maintained as the state religion in the Bangladeshi constitution for “strategic reasons”. The Independent reported him saying “I am saying that Islam will be dropped from Bangladesh’s constitution when the time comes,” he said. “The force of secularism is strong in Bangladesh. There is no such thing as a ‘minority’ in our country.” Some commentators believe the Awami League, for which secularism is a guiding principle, kept Islam as the state religion because it feared losing votes.
CONCERNS AT NEW REGULATIONS ON CIVIL SOCIETY ACTIVITIES IN EGYPT
The Egyptian Parliament has passed the Civic Association Law, which places complete responsibility for administering civil society on government departments and the security apparatus. The arrangement comes after a government-sponsored bill containing similarly restrictive measures was unanimously rejected by rights groups in September. However, measures in the new legislation have been denounced as being even more draconian. The new legislation creates a body known as the “National Agency for the Regulation of Foreign Non-Governmental Organisations”, which will comprise officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Ministry for International co-operation and from State security bodies.
NGOs must apply to this agency for legal status, and prove that they meet registration conditions, such as not engaging in “activities that might harm the national security of the country, or activities that might violate the public order, morals, or health.” The law grants the government right of veto on any resolution passed by a registered organisation, and officials will have jurisdiction over other NGO business, such as board appointments and frequency of meetings. An application for registration that does not receive a response within two months is automatically rejected. Any organisation that conducts activities without legal permission risk five years imprisonment and extensive fines. This includes co-operating with any organisation that has links with any outside foreign body, including the United Nations.
In addition, NGO staff will be held criminally liable for any administrative error made by the government agency. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, “The restrictive nature of this new law gives the impression that it was enacted to regulate and curtail NGOs. Civil society is vital to the development of a democracy; however, the excessive penalties outlined within the legislation put its role at risk.” CSW has had concerns about the increasing pressures on NGOs for some time, but this latest measure is the most worrying development to date. It could potentially abolish important and established NGOs, including civil society organisations providing vital services and support across the country. We appeal to the Egyptian government to review this legislation as a matter of urgency.”
POPE FRANCIS PERMITS PRIESTS TO FORGIVE THE SIN OF ABORTION
Pope Francis has announced that any Catholic priest can grant forgiveness to a woman who has had an abortion. A year ago, Francis said that priests could forgive the sin of having an abortion during a special Year of Mercy. In his lengthy letter marking the end of that year, he said he would extend that option in perpetuity. “I wish to restate as firmly as I can that abortion is a grave sin, since it puts an end to an innocent life,” he wrote. “In the same way, however, I must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father.” Francis had previously declared that abortion was considered a “crime,” which required a higher authority than a priest to absolve. A woman might have to confess her sin to a bishop, rather than her parish priest.
Francis also extended another controversial idea that he tested out during the one-year jubilee. He had allowed priests from the breakaway sect Society of St. Pius X to hear confessions during that year, despite the fact that they differ from the church by rejecting the modern reforms of 1965’s Second Vatican Council. Francis said Catholics can still receive absolution from these priests, and he trusts the priests will work toward being in “full communion” with the church eventually. The 7,230-word letter, laid out as a teaching on biblical passages in which God shows mercy to sinners, contained many other suggestions, such as devoting one Sunday a year to biblical readings in church to remind parishioners of the importance of Scripture, and creating a World Day of the Poor to remember the need for greater charity.
NEW YORK COULD BECOME A MAJORITY CHRISTIAN CITY BY 2026
New York City (NYC) is undergoing a transformation. In 1989, less than 1% of New Yorkers attended church. That number has since grown to 5%, with a significant increase in just the past 5 years. According to church planter Tim Keller, Senior Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, when a minority group reaches 15% of the population, it becomes a movement. If true, New York City could be a majority Christian city by the year 2026. Millennials make up the fastest-growing segment of the church-going population. Churches like C3 Brooklyn are growing and thriving. It’s quite a scene, and some of the locals don’t know what to make of it, walking by with confused expressions, and muttering, “This is a church?” It’s just one of the booming congregations that make up the new NYC church.