Thursday, April 29, 2010

Religious liberty organizations call for prayer in Nigeria

Key organizations that work on religious liberty issues around the world made strong statements on the killings and violence in Nigeria and launched a global campaign calling for prayer for that nation. In what is being called “The Cyprus Statement,” the Religious Liberty Partnership (RLP), with member organizations based in 18 countries, is calling the worldwide Christian community to pray for the crisis in Nigeria. 

The Cyprus Statement acknowledges some positive elements within Nigeria, including the role that the church is playing, but expresses deep concern about the ways in which the situation is being handled by the government.  In addition, the Statement calls on the worldwide Church to pray for work toward the religious rights of all Nigerians, to provide practical humanitarian support, and to support reconciliation efforts.

“Together as the RLP, we stand in support of Christians in Nigeria, calling upon the Church worldwide to pray for a restoration of lasting peace in Nigeria,” said Andy Dipper, CEO of Release International, sister mission of The Voice of the Martyrs Canada.  “Christians in central and northern Nigeria today face unprecedented persecution, with women and children suffering barbaric acts of violence.  In this context the Nigerian Church leadership are actively choosing to isolate those perpetrators of these recent killings by not retaliating, and relying on God to sustain them in their grief.”

To download The Cyprus Statement, please click here.

A call to prayer for congregation in China

VOMC partner ChinaAid recently shared the following request for prayer from a congregation facing oppression from authorities. Please pass on this appeal to your family and friends and pray for these persecuted brothers and sisters in China. blog pic

In February of this year, the Huaiyin District Office for Ethnic and Religious Affairs of Jinan Municipality officially ordered the abolition of the Jinan Seventh-Day Adventist Church, forcing the church's landlord to terminate the rental agreement on the church's gathering site. This latest intrusion and government action against the 7th Day Adventist congregation on February 27 forced the 39-year-old church change locations again, a persistent struggle throughout the church's history. Some members of the congregation refuse to leave continue to gather at the site. Recently, ChinaAid received the following letter from the Jinan 7th Day Adventist Church for prayer:

Dear brothers and sisters,

Please pray for us, as we have received an ultimatum, and this is the last week we are allowed to gather here. We are very concerned about the recent earthquake disaster in our country. We, the brothers and sisters of the (Jinan 7th Day Adventist Church) have actively donated to and prayed for the disaster-stricken areas. We love our country so much and are so attentive to the development of our country. Yet, we are persecuted over and over again for this.

The Shizhong District Branch of Jinan Municipal Public Security Bureau found our landlord and told him to drive us out. The Huaiyin District Office for Ethnic and Religious Affairs has repeatedly exerted pressure on Zhangzhuang Brigade, and the brigade spoke with the landlord on many occasions, demanding that he terminate the rental agreement. We, the several hundred believers, will very soon face the situation of not having a place to gather together for worship. In spite of their advanced age and poor health, the heads of our church have, on many occasions, spoken with the agency in charge of this matter, and each time they were answered with pressure or crackdowns by law enforcement.

We hereby ask you, brothers and sisters of the world, to pray for us and to pray for our compatriots in the disaster-stricken areas. We further request prayer for the rulers of our country and for the people of our country.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Should Christians be allowed to say 'Allah' in Malaysia?

A recent court case over a Catholic newspaper's use of the term 'Allah' has become a litmus test of tolerance in the multifaith country, reports The Christian Science Monitor.


By Simon Montlake, / Correspondent
posted April 20, 2010 at 5:41 pm EDT

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia —
Father Andrew Lawrence pulls a fat red binder from a shelf inside his cramped office, where he edits a weekly Roman Catholic newspaper. Inside the binder are reams of documents from its decade-long dispute with Malaysia's government over the right to refer to God as "Allah," as Muslims do.

For a small paper like the Herald (circulation: 14,000), such a legal case can be ruinous. But the row has spiraled into a litmus test of tolerance and political maturity in this multifaith country of 28 million people.

The "Allah" row stirs strong emotions here in part because it is as much about race and language – and politics – as it is about religion. It also exposes the historical divisions between west and east Malaysia, where the majority of the country's roughly 1.4 million Roman Catholics live.

On Dec. 31, the Herald won a three-year battle in the High Court, which overturned a government ban on its use of "Allah." The verdict sparked small protests by Malay Muslims and a spate of attacks on Catholic churches, a Sikh temple, and three mosques, allegedly by Muslim agitators.

The government has obtained an injunction and appealed the verdict, arguing that the ban is essential for national security.

For centuries, Christian Malay speakers have prayed to Allah, the Arabic word for God. In neighboring Indonesia, a majority Muslim country with a near-identical language, the use of "Allah" by Christians is uncontroversial, as it is across much of the Middle East.

"It isn't complicated. We use it in our churches. It's part of our prayers," says Father Lawrence.

Opponents say that Christians can use other Malay words for their translations and should leave "Allah" for Muslims. "For me, 'Allah' shouldn't be used by other religions. If they use 'Allah,' our kids might get confused," says Nur Fadilla Zaaba, a resident.

The government has also used this argument, saying that it increases the risk of conversions of Muslims, which is illegal in Malaysia. The High Court rejected this and other similar arguments, pointing out that the Herald is sold only to Christians and "had never intended or caused any conflict, discord of misunderstanding" in its use of "Allah."

Opposition lawmakers claim that Malaysia's coalition-run government, dominated by the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), uses the "Allah" issue to rally its base among Malay Muslims, who make up about 55 percent of the population.

Khairy Jamaluddin, a UMNO executive, argues that the party is trying to tamp down communal tensions. He says comparisons with Indonesia are misleading, as Islam has taken a more syncretic path there. "Malay Muslims have linguistic, religious, and ethnic ownership of the word because of the way that it came to Malaysia. For it to be used for a Christian God, it is an affront to them," he says.

While UMNO supports a ban, the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party has argued that there is no theological reason for it. In recent years, the party has moved toward the center. It even invited Lawrence to speak on the issue, he says.

In his office, Lawrence pulls out a rare 1619 Latin-Malay Bible that translates "God" as "Allah." "We have every right to use this word," he says.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Veil ban in Quebec mostly about scoring political points

The following is a thought-provoking piece written by Janet Epp Buckingham, Director of the Laurentian Leadership Centre in Ottawa, about a law introduced by the government of Quebec that bans women from wearing the niqab when working in a public office or receiving services from a public office. As Janet writes in the article, this is an issue that Christians may have a particular interest in.     

Veil ban mostly about scoring political points

By Janet Epp Buckingham

The government of Quebec caused a furor when it introduced Bill 94 on March 24. This law bans women from wearing the niqab when working in a public office or receiving services from a public office in Quebec. The niqab is a full face veil, usually leaving just the eyes visible.

According to news reports, only about 25 women in Quebec wear the niqab. This is not really about good public policy but about scoring political points.

Quebec's rationale for this bill is gender equality. The government sees the niqab as evidence of oppression of women. Premier Jean Charest made the intent clear in his press conference: "Two words: uncover face."

But if it passes, this bill could have a very serious impact on Muslim women who currently wear the niqab. It will limit their ability to obtain a wide variety of public services, including medical services and even attending school and university.

I confess I have always found myself unnerved by women wearing the niqab. I think it is the resemblance to a mask that makes me uncomfortable. I know some women wear the niqab to protect their modesty. But being confronted by a black scarf where a face should be always startles me.

Aside from the National Post's Barbara Kay, the English press has been opposed to this new law. It violates our most cherished principles as Canadians: tolerance and choice. But Barbara Kay says that this is not a choice about what women wear. She rightly points out there are many places where we do not have choice about what we wear. Men would not be permitted to wear masks on a children's playground, for example.

The first question we should ask is if this is a religious requirement. If it is, it is not only a human rights issue, but one that Christians have a particular interest in. Clearly, we do not want to see anyone's religious practices inhibited unless they cause actual harm. And even though the Quebec government promotes this as an equality issue, Christian practices are not always gender equal. Catholics and many Protestants do not have female clergy, for example.

But while Tarek Fatah, a Muslim commentator in the National Post, is adamant that the niqab and burka are not requirements of Islam, other Muslims argue that they are, or could be.

We have had some of these discussions even within Christianity. I attended Bible college with a woman who always wore a head covering. She argued to the rest of us that this was a religious requirement.

Women in Saudi Arabia are required by law to wear the niqab outside their homes. Salafi Muslim women in other countries will also wear it. Some Muslim women regard it as a symbol of devotion to Allah in the same way the hijab is. But no doubt, some women are coerced by their husbands or fathers to cover their faces.

If women are used to wearing the niqab and immigrate to Canada, they will feel strange going bare faced. They may even regard it as shameful.

If Canada is to welcome immigrants, how much should we accommodate their cultural practices? It does seem rather intolerant to force a woman to remove an item of clothing that is perfectly normal and even required in another country.

Is there any rationale, other than requiring conformity with our Canadian cultural expectations, to require women to bare their faces?

Many Islamic states have clothing police that require men and women to dress with a certain level of modesty. There is a certain irony that when they come to Canada they are forced to take things off, rather than put them on.

Since Quebecers live with language police who order them to have signs in French, they may be willing to live with a government that tells them how to dress. Or perhaps they are only comfortable with a government that tells other people how to dress.

The Overcomers: Christian beaten by Muslim brothers in Pakistan

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

B&Bs and crucifixes: Religious discrimination in the UK?

Shirley Chaplin, a Christian nurse in Britain, recently lost a discrimination claim after fighting a policy that barred her from wearing her crucifix to work.

As reported by Catholic News Agency,

Shirley Chaplin, 54, was told by the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust Hospital last year that the crucifix she has worn for almost 40 years on the job without incident needed to be removed for “health and safety reasons.”

04_06_2010_ChaplinChaplin refused to comply and consequently took the hospital to an Employment Tribunal which ruled on Tuesday that Chaplin is not facing discrimination, as it asserted that all employees are treated equally. Under the Trust's current uniform policy, however, one can wear a hijab for religious reasons but not a cross.

The NHS Trust argued that the crucifix and and chain could cause Chaplin or others harm if a patient caught hold of it, yet the nurse's offer to have a metal clasp inserted on her chain so it could easily be removed in such situations was rejected. The Trust suggested that the nurse wear cross earrings or “hide” the crucifix by pinning it on the inside of her uniform pocket.

Chaplin has worn the crucifix, a gift, since her confirmation in 1971. She intends to appeal Tribunal's ruling.

“What the Trust doesn’t realize,” the nurse continued, “as it seeks to enforce its uniform policy in the way it has, is that it sends out a very clear message to Christians working in the Trust or considering working for the Trust in the future that they will have to ‘hide’ their faith. The message is clear: Christians whose faith motivates their vocation and care of patients do not appear to be welcome at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust.”

“When employers or Government start to censor the conscience and convictions in this way it is a first step towards the demise of democracy,” she charged.

Andrea Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre, which helped represent Chaplin, said on Tuesday that “The extent to which the Trust is prepared to stop Mrs. Chaplin manifesting her religious beliefs is remarkable. We hope that the Employment Appeal Tribunal will reverse today’s decision and allow Mrs Chaplin to wear her Cross visibly, in the same way that doctors and nurses of other religions can manifest their religious beliefs.”

[For other reports on this case, click here, here, or here.]

Other Christians in the UK are facing similar legal challenges. Christian Bed & Breakfast owners, Mike and Susanne Wilkinson, found themselves in the centre of controversy after they denied a homosexual couple a double bed.

The Guardian reports:

A gay couple were turned away from a bed and breakfast by its Christian owner who claimed it was against her convictions for two men to share a bed. l_wilkinsons

Michael Black and John Morgan from Brampton, Cambridgeshire, booked a double room at the B&B in Cookham, Berkshire, for Friday night.

When they arrived, Susanne Wilkinson and her husband Francis refused to allow them to stay. The owner said later that she had turned them away because it was against her policy to accommodate same sex couples. Black and Morgan claimed they were treated like lepers as a result of their sexuality. They reported the matter to Thames Valley police and have given a statement to police. Under the Equality Act 2006 it is illegal to discriminate against people on the grounds of sexual orientation.

"Mrs Wilkinson saw us both before we got out of the car and immediately acted in an unwelcoming, cold way, but my boyfriend and I were polite and friendly.

"She said if we'd told her in advance she would have told us not to come."

She apologised for turning them away and she returned their deposit and was in no way abusive, the couple said.

Black said: "We want to try to prevent other people from going there and suffering discrimination. Whatever her private views, that I can't change. Legally she can't discriminate.

An article from The Daily Mail added:

Mrs Wilkinson admitted she had made assumptions in expecting a man and a woman when she took a booking from a Mr Black. She said she invited the men in before explaining 'courteously' why she could not offer them the room.

She insisted she was not homophobic and would have offered two single rooms, but the guest house was fully booked.

Her husband Francis, a former City worker, said it was a question of living by their faith.

'We live according to our values and our Christian beliefs. We are not homophobic,' he said.

'Of course everybody has the freedom to live as they choose but we feel that in our own home we have every right to say no to something we don't agree with.'

Defending his wife, he said she would have explained the situation 'gently'. 'We are sorry for the distress that was caused to them,' he added.

Swiss-born Mrs Wilkinson, a former air hostess, said: 'People just take it for granted that their lifestyle will be accepted wherever they go.

'If they had gone to a hotel I think it would probably be different, but this is my house, we live here with our children - it's our home that's the difference.'

Mrs Wilkinson said: 'This is part of my faith and I don't want the Government to tell me what I can and cannot believe.'

[for more reports, click here, here or here.]

What do you think? Do you think Shirley Chaplin should be free to wear her crucifix to work? Should Mike and Susanne Wilkinson be allowed to deny a double bed to homosexual couples? Are these cases of religious discrimination? What do you think should be the relationship between one's personal beliefs and how one behaves in their profession?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Prayer alert: Court hearing imminent for Maryam and Marzieh

A court hearing for Maryam Rustampoor and Marzieh Amirizadeh -- Iranian Christians who were arrested by security forces in March 2009 --  is scheduled for Tuesday, April 13, according to Elam Ministries.

MARYAM AND MARZIEH Maryam and Marzieh were arrested on March 5, their apartment was searched, and their belongings confiscated. It appears that their only "crime" is their steadfast commitment to Christ. On November 18, they were conditionally released from the notorious Evin Prison. Although they have been receiving medical treatment for the past five months, they remain weak and suffer from various illnesses. Yet, despite their frailties, they are determined to be faithful to the Lord and speak the truth in court whatever the consequence or personal cost.

Upon their conditional release in November, Maryam and Marzieh stated, "Words are not enough to express our gratitude to the Lord and to His people who have prayed and worked for our release." As they prepare for the hearing tomorrow, please continue to lift them to the Lord in prayer.

In particular, please pray that:

- The peace of God will protect their hearts and minds and keep them safe.

- They will completely recover from their illnesses and be strong -- physically, mentally and spiritually.

- They will know the presence of God in the midst of their trial.

- They will be set free.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Sudan: On the brink

As elections in Sudan draw closer, we strongly encourage you to read the following Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin to discover how you can pray for this country and its people at this time. Please also consider sharing this information with your friends, family, and church members so they too can raise Sudan to the Lord in prayer.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 050 | Wed 07 April 2010


In 1983 Sudan's Arab Islamist military dictator, Jaafar Numeiri, advanced his policy of national Islamisation by enacting Sharia Law (Islamic Law) across the whole of Sudan. When the African, predominantly Christian and animist Southerners resisted, Khartoum responded with Islamic jihad. For the next 21 years the Southern Sudanese suffered constant aerial bombardment, scorched-earth raids, enslavement, chemical weapons and government-made famines that could wipe out up to 100,000 Southerners in a couple of months (as in the Bahr El Ghazal famine of 1998).

On 2 Jan 2005 the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM, representing the Southerners) and the Arab Islamic Government of Sudan (GoS) signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ending the war.

According to the CPA a referendum on Southern self-determination must be held in January 2011, giving the government six years to 'make unity attractive'. During the interim period, all the various opposition groups from across the country were to be brought into a truly comprehensive peace process through participation in a democratically elected representative government. The CPA mandated that the elections be held by July 2009. Opposition groups planned to make a united stand against the regime and remove it democratically. The ultimate hope was that by January 2011, buoyed by the emergence of a united, secular, rights-respecting, democratic Sudan, the oil-rich South could be convinced to stay.

However, the Arab Islamist regime has done everything in its power to obstruct the process, including actively destabilising whole regions through conflict. Originally scheduled for July 2009, the elections have been postponed twice and are now due to be held over 11-13 April 2010. But the process has already been irredeemably compromised. A preparatory census was taken to determine legislative power in the national assembly, where constituencies will be weighted to local population. The census, however, was rigged. As many as 4-5 million Southerners displaced by war into the north have been counted as Northerners. Though some three million non-Arab Darfuris have also been disenfranchised due to displacement, the population of Darfur has exploded with a reported 322 percent increase in nomadic Arabs!

(Reeves, June 2009.) According to reports, the Janjaweed militias have not only ethnically cleansed whole towns of Darfuris, they have repopulated those towns with nomadic Arabs from neighbouring Chad, Niger and Mali, issuing them with Sudanese ID papers. Thus the regime has not only succeeded in robbing the Southerners of a large portion of their demographic base, it has totally changed the demography of Darfur -- all to its own advantage.

The ruling Arab Islamist regime (the National Congress Party, formerly the National Islamic Front) intends not only to win the elections to legitimise its power, but to secure a 75 percent majority in the National Assembly. It could then achieve its main aim of amending the Constitution and re-writing -- maybe even tearing up -- the CPA.

In summary: the 11-13 April elections, which are integral to the peace process, are already totally compromised to the advantage of the genocidal Arab Islamist regime in Khartoum. As members of the SPLM-led National Consensus (a coalition of opposition parties) have started voicing their intent to join the SPLM in their boycott of the elections, President al-Bashir has started threatening to cancel the referendum on Southern self-determination. Dark storm clouds of war are looming ominously over Sudan. If the clouds burst, the Church in Sudan will face faith-testing times. Please pray for Sudan's long-suffering, faithful, growing and yet seriously threatened Church.


* draw the eyes and hearts of every Sudanese Christian to HIM, and may the Holy Spirit increase their faith despite their circumstances. 'Be still and know that I am God.' (Psalm 46:10a ESV)

* empower and bless the preaching of the Gospel across Sudan, especially in the capital, Khartoum; may insecurity and uncertainty only serve to open ears and hearts to receive the Gospel, with revival in the Church, conviction of sin, and many surprising conversions.

* deliver Sudan from the terror of the totalitarian regime of Omar al-Bashir. 'The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him, but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming. The wicked draw the sword and bend the bows to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose way is upright; the sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken.' (Psalm 37:12-15 ESV)

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A father’s dance

The Voice of the Martyrs USA recently posted a touching video clip of Uzbek believer, Dmitry Shestakov, and his young daughter, Vera, dancing and laughing together. This video was taken prior to Dmitry’s arrest in 2007 for his religious activities (click here to find out more).

As VOM’s blog writer, Stacy Harp, put it, the video is “a great reminder to remember that our brothers and sisters who are imprisoned for their faith have families, and often children, they have to leave behind.”

We may not be able to fully understand the emotions Dmitry has experienced in prison or the pain of separation he and his family are undergoing. But a video like this, which allows a glimpse inside the everyday life of a suffering believer, is a reminder that they are like us; they are fathers, mothers, children, siblings, and friends.

Take a moment to watch this video and please pray for Dmitry, his wife, and their daughters. Pray that they will be reunited soon.