EGYPT DISEASED WITH DISCRIMINATION SAYS COPTIC BISHOP
An Egyptian bishop has called for an end to discrimination against the country’s Christians, urging the government to do more to control the situation in villages across the country. “We have to recognise everyone in Egypt as citizens of equal rights and obligations,” said Bishop Makarius in an Arabic interview to Christian website Copts United. The bishop’s statements, translated to English by World Watch Monitor, indicate the church is unhappy that attacks continue without legal redress. Six weeks ago, Bishop Makarius won the praise of many Copts by standing out against extrajudicial “conciliation sessions”, whose judgments Christians often are pressured into accepting, to settle claims outside courts.
Describing discrimination as a disease afflicting his country, Makarius said “marginalising Copts incapacitates part of the Egyptian body.” Since May, Copts have suffered at least two mob attacks. On 20 May, a Copt grandmother was stripped naked while Christian homes were attacked after a rumoured affair between a Christian and a Muslim. Reports of another Christian turning his home into a church prompted thousands of angry Muslims to go on the offensive in a village off Alexandria on 17 June. The May attack, as well one on 29 June, took place in Makarius’s diocese of Minya, whose main city lies 250 kilometres south of Cairo. Elsewhere, a Coptic priest was killed in Sinai on 30 June. The attack was claimed by the ‘Islamic State’, which termed the Christian minister “an infidel fighter”.
In other parts of the country, a priest’s daughter survived a neck stab on 2 July, a nun died of a “stray” bullet on the Cairo-Alexandria motorway on 5 July, and a fire broke out in a Christian kindergarten on 9 July. The outspoken bishop was quoted by Catholic Agenzia Fides on 10 July saying the pace of attacks in recent weeks has increased to one every 10 days. In his Copts United interview, Makarius called for a country welcoming every Egyptian. “Anyone, Muslim, Christian, Jewish or Baha’i should be a welcome addition to this country. Anyone, regardless of their belief, can be a benefit to this country,” he said. The Copts’ list of grievances include restrictions against church construction, and exclusion from employment.
Thought to be 10% of Egypt’s population, the country’s estimated 9 million Christians have long complained of unequal opportunities when it comes to senior and mid-level state jobs, including in the army, the police force, the judiciary, the diplomatic corps, and education. “Everyone ought to have an equal chance to jobs,” the bishop said during the interview. “Among other illnesses, Egypt is diseased with discrimination. I wish the government presence is better felt on village level,” Makarius said, describing most, if not all villages within his diocese, as under the sway of different powers that may not always work in the best national interest. In recent years, several villages and towns have seen attacks against Copts, often flaring at the slightest perceived provocation.
Turning to another sore spot, Makarius called for reforming Article 98 of Egypt’s constitution, which concerns “defamation of religion” and, he said, mainly targets Christians. “We could accept the current article, no matter how harsh, were it applied even-handedly. But it seems to only apply to Christians,” Makarius said, complaining that numerous instances of contempt of Christianity have gone with impunity. “The Egyptian constitution contradicts itself. Some articles stress freedom of expression, while expressing a contrary opinion against Islamic religion is quickly judged as defamation,” the bishop said. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights has documented scores of cases of blasphemy since 2011. Civil rights lawyer Hamdi al-Assyouti estimates that 90% of blasphemy charges are filed against Christians.
CHURCH LEADERS RESPOND TO MARTYRDOM OF FRENCH PRIEST
Church leaders have responded to the murder of French Roman Catholic priest Father Jacques Hamel. Father Hamel was killed by supporters of Daesh as he and a small congregation celebrated Mass at a Church in Normandy. The assailants were subsequently shot and killed by French security forces. The Church of England’s Suffragan Bishop in Europe, David Hamid, has written to the Archbishop of Rouen to express his “deep sorrow” at Hamel’s death and to “extend the assurance of our communion in prayer and love in Christ.” In his letter, Bishop David said: “We Anglicans join other Christians in expressing our solidarity and closeness to the people in your diocese in the face of this brutal attack. We pray for Father Jacques, that the Lord may receive him into his arms of love and grant him eternal rest and peace.
“We pray for the faithful of his parish who are troubled and shocked by this act of violence that took place in the middle of the celebration of the Mass. We pray for the people of France, that they may be comforted by God during this period of insecurity, fear and violence.” The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, issued a joint statement with the other five Presidents of the ecumenical group Churches Together in England, including the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols. In their statement, the Church leaders said: “We are deeply saddened to learn of the brutal murder of our brother. That a man of peace who had dedicated his life to serving people could be killed during Mass is testimony to the evil that drives the actions of those who commit such a crime.
“We offer our deepest sympathy to his family, friends and parishioners. We pray for the wellbeing of those who were taken hostage, their families and the entire community served by Fr Jacques; indeed we pray for the peace of France, Europe, the Middle East and the world for which Jesus, the Prince of Peace, gave his own life. “We call upon all people of goodwill to pray and work for justice and peace. In particular, we implore everyone to help people everywhere to pursue the path of peace and human flourishing – which is the will of Creator God.” The general secretary of the Conference of European Churches, Father Heikki Huttunen, said that the pan-European ecumenical body received news of the attack “with shock and great distress.”
He said: “Father Jacques gave his life while officiating the Holy Eucharist. He was known as a man of reconciliation and dialogue with people of all faiths and none. “He exemplifies the Christian understanding of martyrdom. Of the victory over the dark powers of violence and death and the eternal perspective created by love and experienced through the Eucharistic gathering.” The acting general secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev Dr Hielke Wolters, said: “We convey our sympathies to the people of France and particularly to the community of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray for this latest eruption of violence. We join their grief. “It is particularly distressing when worshippers and the professed religious are singled out, because their lives are put at the service of all.
The French President Francois Hollande convened a meeting of the country’s religious leaders in a demonstration of unity. Afterwards, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, addressed journalists flanked by leaders of other Christian denominations as well as Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist leaders, the Reuters news agency reported. “We cannot allow ourselves to be dragged into the politics of Daesh which wants to set the children of the same family against each other,” he said. The attack on Father Jacques was one of a continuing series of attacks in mainland Europe that have targeted, in particular, France, Belgium and Germany.
HOW TO COPE WITH THE UNCERTAINTY, ANGER AND FEAR OF TODAY
I want to focus on the mood today in America, France, much of Europe and in many other parts of the world. It is a time of extreme uncertainty, a time of anger and fear, a time of division and polarization, of escalating violence. Think of the growing racial tensions in America, of the divisiveness of the presidential elections, of the polarizing of whole groups of Americans. Think of the uncertainty of the future, of the raging debate over immigration. Think of the fear of another ISIS attack. No wonder Americans are buying guns at unprecedented rates. It makes them feel secure. But all the guns in the world will not produce peace of mind, and there is not a politician on the planet who can instil real hope into a nation in turmoil. Only God can bring security in the midst of the storm, and peace in the midst of chaos.
Only God can bring hope in the midst of despair and life in the midst of death. The answers that America and France and the nations so desperately need are found only in God – meaning the one true God, fully expressed in Jesus, in contrast with Allah, the God of the Quran. Jesus spoke about a time in the future that would be so traumatic that “people will be fainting from fear and from the expectation of what is coming on the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Luke 21:26, NET). This will be far beyond anything we have yet seen. Yet this was His counsel to His followers: “But when these things begin, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28, NET). Our perspective is different from the perspective of this world, although we feel pain like everyone else and we mourn and weep like everyone else.
We know that this world will be shaken, that everything we see is only temporal, and that our hope is in an eternal God who gives us eternal life and eternal hope that can outlast the hell of this age. That’s why the psalmist could write, God is our refuge and strength, a helper who is always found in times of trouble. Therefore we will not be afraid, though the earth trembles and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with its turmoil. There is a river – its streams delight the city of God, the holy dwelling place of the Most High. God is within her; she will not be toppled. God will help her when the morning dawns. Nations rage, kingdoms topple; the earth melts when He lifts His voice. (Psa. 46:1-6, HCSB)
Now is the time for those who have taken refuge in the Lord to shout out to the world, “There is a better way! Turn away from your sins and your fleshly plans and put your hope in the living God.” We know that human kingdoms will fall and that human hopes will be dashed. But we also know that God’s kingdom will last forever and that whoever hopes in Him will not be disappointed. “The name of the LORD is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe” (Prov. 18:10, NIV). Whoever you are, whatever you are going through, if you call out to Him and run to Him for safety, you will find a place of escape from the storm. As Jesus said to His disciples, “In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage – I have conquered the world” (John 16:33, NET).
Source: by Michael Brown, Christian Commentator in America
TRUMP VICE PRESIDENTIAL RUNNING MATE A BORN AGAIN CHRISTIAN
Donald Trump’s vice presidential running mate, Mike Pence, has had a “strange” religious conversion narrative, according to author Craig Fehrman who wrote about him in 2013. While Pence grew up in a big Irish Catholic family of Democrats in central Indiana, serving as an altar boy, attending parochial schools and idolizing John F. Kennedy, he converted to evangelical Christianity through the influence of a nondenominational fellowship group in 1978, while a freshman at Indiana’s Hanover College. “I simply made a personal decision for Christ,” Fehrman said Pence told him in 2012. One of Pence’s many former slogans is that he’s “a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order”- and “there’s no doubt that he loves his family, his state, and his God,” Fehrman wrote about him in a 2013 piece.
In a speech introducing Pence as his running mate at the recent Republican Convention, Trump veered to an array of other topics as well. One was concerns by evangelicals about their political activities. “You are absolutely shunned if you’re an evangelical if you want to talk religion, you lose your tax-exempt status,” he said, noting that his advisers had shepherded a pledge to repeal the “Johnson amendment” into the Republican Party platform. “We’re going to get rid of that horrible Johnson amendment and we’re going to let evangelicals, we’re going to let Christians and Jews and people of religion talk without being afraid to talk,” the Republican presidential nominee said.
Sponsored by Lyndon Johnson in 1954 when he was a Texas senator, the amendment limits political activities for non-profits classified as tax exempt. The law does not apply to individuals. An array of Jewish groups, among them the Reform movement, endorse the church-state separations embedded in the law. The thrice-married Trump, a onetime casino magnate who as a celebrity frequently boasted of a prolific romantic life, was perceived at the outset of his campaign as unlikely to draw evangelical support. While many evangelical leaders have shunned him, several back him and he drew substantial support from self-identified evangelical voters during the primaries.
CRACKDOWN IN CHINA AS CHILDREN NOT ALLOWED TO ATTEND RELIGIOUS ACTIVITIES
House church members in China have been threatened with legal action if they continue to allow their children to attend church services or participate in religious activities. A local government office in China’s Guizhou province delivered the ultimatum to parents attending Huaqiu Church. Parents were told that their children would be barred from college and military programs if they allowed them to attend services, reports the Christian human rights group China Aid. “This notice was sent to all of the schools in Huaqiu,” Mou, leader of the Huaqiu Church, said. “The public security intend to cleanse us and ask us to join the Three-Self Church.” After sending the notice, government officials told members of the church that they had to sign a document agreeing that they would no longer take minors to church.
The document also declares that any children who attended the church would be ineligible for the college entrance exam or admittance into a military academy, and parents would be sued. Huaqiu church has been prevented from holding services for the past two weeks. “Huaqiu is in a dark place,” said Mou. China Aid reports that China’s legislation already dictates that children under the age of 18 may not receive any religious education. The Three-Self Patriotic Movement, China’s government sanctioned Protestant church, specifically bans its members from teaching youth any religious doctrine and prohibits children from partaking in religious activities. One church member has already left the church so that his grandson’s acceptance into the military academy program would not be remitted.
TRANSGENDERS NOW TO SERVE OPENLY IN US MILITARY DESPITE GRACE CONCERNS
The Pentagon will allow transgender people to serve openly in the U.S. military. Defence Secretary Ash Carter made the announcement after studying the issue for almost a year. He says the change takes effect immediately. “Our mission is to defend this country and we don’t want barriers unrelated to a person’s qualification to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier, sailor or Marine who can best accomplish the mission,” said Carter. Carter says that out of 1.3 million active duty service members about 2,500 are transgender. Transgender service members will now receive the same medical coverage as any other military member. Before the new policy most of them went outside the military medical system to obtain medical care.
“This is inconsistent with our promise to all our troops that we will take care of them and pay for necessary medical treatment,” said Carter. For current members of the military that includes coverage of hormone therapy and gender re-assignment surgery. Incoming service members must already be in a “stable” gender. Carter’s announcement comes despite concerns from senior military leaders who feel the department is moving too fast and that more time is needed to work through the changes.