Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this. – Revelation 1:19
Clockwise from upper left: Church burning in Peshawar, Pakistan; feminists attack a cathedral in San Juan, Argentina; cross burning in Pakistan – courtesy Abiz Nawaz; massacre of Christian students at Garissa University College in Kenya; army tank sale to Nicaragua; young Christians pray in a burned-out church in Egypt; RSS Hindu paramilitary rally in India.
Weekly Commentary May 14-20, 2017
One story this week is such a demonstration of the love of Christians for others that it deserves to be headline news around the world.
The Central African Republic city of Bangassou has been the scene of recent violence by the militia known as anti-Balaka [“anti-machete” in the Sangho language]. The anti-Balaka militia originally formed as a defense against the Muslim Selenka [“Coalition”] militia during 2014. Widely reported around the world as a “Christian” militia, it is nothing of the kind. Christian leaders in the country have described anti-Balaka as composed of animists and syncretic Christians who engage in animist rituals. Anti-Balaka began in 2014 to kill Muslims who had nothing to do with the atrocities perpetrated by Seleka, and attacked Christians who attempted to hide and protect their Muslim neighbors.
So it should be no surprise that an attack by anti-Balaka on May 14, 2017 caused nearly 1,000 Muslims to flee to Bangassou’s largest mosque in the hope that they would find protection. They did. News reports have not mentioned police or UN peacekeepers – such people may well have been present – but they do mention the hundreds of Christians who surrounded the mosque to inhibit an anti-Balaka attack. One of them was the leader of the Catholic Church in the city, Bishop Juan Jose Aguirre Munos. The anti-Balaka forces opened fire on the crowd. Several were injured, and one unidentified man who happened to be standing right next to Bishop Munos was killed.
This event is reminiscent of the March 24, 1964 martyrdom of Fr. Herman Rasschaert, who was killed while attempting to stop a mob attack on a mosque in Gerda, Simdega, Jharkhand state, India. In both cases we see Christians who have taken the lesson of the Gospels very seriously, who have shown they are willing to lay down their lives for their neighbors, no matter what their neighbors may think of Christianity. This is a sobering thought in this age of renewed religious war. These are acts of heroism and faith that should make us sober, frighteningly so.
And we should ask: why is this not headline news?
Our report this week (click here to read) contains the links to this original story. We have a total of 23 stories from 16 lands, including more named victims from the Palm Sunday church bombings in Egypt and the attempted murder of a priest while at the cathedral altar in Mexico City. Please read this report and again please let it inspire us in prayer and faith.
Weekly Commentary May 7-13, 2017
Several Christians have been freed from captivity this week, two in China, two in Sudan, and 82 in Nigeria, as described in this week’s report (click here to read). Another Chinese Christian escaped the country with her two children and made it to Thailand and from there to the U.S. – her story included a dramatic race to the Bangkok airport with U.S. diplomats while pursued by Chinese diplomats. An Iranian Christian was granted asylum in the United Kingdom.
Of course these stories were the exceptions. Christians were killed or died from ill treatment in Burundi and Egypt, and an elderly bishop in China who had been persecuted during the Cultural Revolution died of natural causes. An impoverished Christian has been abducted in Pakistan and it is not known if he is alive or dead. Churches and their members were attacked in various ways in Bangladesh, China, India, Spain, and Sudan.
Monastery of the Holy Face, Alicante, Spain – courtesy Wikipedia
The most important story may be the conviction and imprisonment of Indonesian Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as Ahok, on blasphemy charges. Please read our report this week for details on the conviction and the public response – it includes an analysis by a priest that raised the specter of a military coup but also cited the inspiring peaceful response of Ahok’s Christian supporters. In effect Ahok has been a pawn in the continuing civil war within Islam, a civil war that will determine not only the future of authentic democracy in Muslim majority nations but the fate of millions of Christians and Muslims throughout the world. The Muslims who have lost this battle in Indonesia are the natural allies of Christians and others who support a pluralistic and peaceful society. There are more battles to come, including Ahok’s appeal of his conviction (and similar battles outside Indonesia), and so we need to pray for him and for all who truly desire and seek peace.
Weekly Commentary April 30 – May 6, 2017
This week our report (click here to read) has two items from the West. First, the psychiatric hospitals operated by a Catholic religious order in Belgium have surrendered to the prevailing winds and agreed to allow euthanasia on their premises. The Catholic clerics on the board of directors were outvoted by the lay members and have expressed their opposition. Not only are these clerics against the murder of their patients, but they are aware that this decision will be used as propaganda by anti-Christians that the church has surrendered. Indeed, this propaganda claim has already happened.
The second Western case involves Professor Anthony Esolin, Dr. Esolin has been under pressure to resign from his tenured position at Providence College in the U.S. due to the expression of his Christian views, and he has just announced that he has done so. Our report lists his reasons, which are completely understandable.
Both of these incidents again show the fundamentally totalitarian nature of current opposition to the Christian view of the world. Dissent from the secular view of the world is not to be tolerated.
Elsewhere we have many of the usual stories of oppression and desecration, and a few acts of deliverance.
In Pakistan a Christian was sentenced to life imprisonment for blasphemy in a case where someone else bought a cell phone in his name and then texted offensive messages to a radical Muslim cleric. A Christian janitor was publicly beaten for the poor hygienic conditions at his hospital. Another abducted teen girl has been freed by a court, thank God. The parishioners at a church have been under pressure by their neighbors to convert to Islam or abandon their homes.
Christ Assemblies Church International, Faisalabad – courtesy Christians in Pakistan
In the Central African Republic a refugee camp for Christians has been in operation since a Muslim attack in October 2016. An Open Doors relief worker named Nathan described the conditions in this UN protected camp:
“…More often than not, prolonged camp life disrupts family life and social structures. Out of boredom, fathers can turn to drinking and prostitutes. Children can get out of control. But as I walk around the hundreds of identical grass-thatched huts, I am surprised to see a high level of organization and order. I see no traces of alcohol or products for brewing it. What I do see is whole families sitting chatting in front of huts, and sober fathers interacting with obedient children. I wonder if this has something to do with the many well-attended ad-hoc churches in the camp.”
Once again we have evidence (as we have reported before, click here to read) of the closeness to heaven of the Christians in the Central African Republic, despite – or because of? – their great distance from a material and worldly paradise. There is more such blessed news amid the sorrow from that land on our report this week, please read it and allow it to inspire you in prayer.
Weekly Commentary April 23-29, 2017
This week’s report (click here to read) covers 19 countries on 13 pages, of which three – China, India, and Pakistan – occupy almost half of the report. However, the worst stories of martyrdom are from Egypt, where another hospitalized victim of the Palm Sunday church bombings has succumbed to his injuries, and Madagascar, where a priest was killed during a robbery.
Franciscan Friary – Ambendrana Antsohihy, Madagascar – courtesy Fides
Another evil story came from Egypt. Parents of an abducted teen girl received a phone call: stop your attempts to recover her or we will put an explosive vest on her and send her into a church.
Another teen girl was abducted in Pakistan but was then returned to her family. Other cases from that country include a meeting to free another teen girl, the abduction and torture of a young man who had befriended a Muslim woman, a church arson attack, a riot against a Christian ghetto, and the refusal of the Supreme Court to expedite the appeal of Asia Bibi, who has been on death row since 2009 for alleged blasphemy.
In China the installation of video cameras in churches has continued, as has harassment of ministers for various reasons. The good news is that one bishop has been released from imprisonment and it appears that a Christian civil rights attorney is about to be released.
In India we also have some good news. A new state governor widely known for his anti-Christian opinions met with local bishops and pledged some cooperation [time will tell if it is honest: many such meetings have few good results] and six Christians who were arrested in 2009 on false illegal conversion charges were finally acquitted for lack of evidence – both their accuser and the alleged victim denied their guilt years ago but the case continued to drag on due to bigotry. These good stories are countered with the destruction of a hilltop cross and the imminent expulsion of three long time missionaries.
Another good story comes from Nigeria, where an abducted priest has been released.
Other stories include tribal warfare in the Congo, assaults in Ethiopia and Uganda, secret police attacks in Kazakhstan, Sudan, and Tajikistan, and discrimination in Vietnam.
There are also two stories from the United Kingdom and the United States which reflect each other. In the U.S. a cardinal archbishop has criticized the leader of the Democratic Party who had called for the exclusion of anti-abortion – and therefore most Christian – members of the party from its ballots, and encouraged members of the party to seek the renunciation of this exclusionary call. In the UK a bishop gave a strong homily on Easter Vigil:
“In our world, two dangerous ideologies are mounting. Just as in the 20th century it was Communism versus Fascism, so in the 21st a new battle is brewing…secularists are on the rise in local government, in education, in the media, in the social services…they propose Orwellian changes to our language and place ever more draconian restrictions on religious expression…They are totalitarian. They are destructive of the human person. They pose a grave threat to human happiness and to a healthy society…this is now having lethal consequences for the weakest, for the unborn child, for the handicapped, the elderly, the dying. This is why this Easter, as Christians, it’s time we said, ‘enough is enough!’. We need to rise up to the challenge. We need to roll back the agenda”.
If the day ever comes in which full-blown Christian persecution arises in the democratic West, this week may seem in retrospect as one of the signposts on that journey. Our prayers and our actions will help determine how and where that journey goes.
Weekly Commentary April 16-22, 2017
The one good outcome on this week’s report (click here to read), in a worldly sense, is the freedom of a Pakistani woman from a forced marriage. This woman has been abducted, escaped, abducted again, and then escaped again. Finally she was freed from this marriage – a marriage to which she never agreed – by a court that granted her a formal bill of divorce. This is a highly unusual outcome, and we can thank the British Pakistani Christian Association (BPCA) for their diligence and creativity in resolving this incident. Incidentally, if any reader is looking for a Christian charity to support that has been doing good for suffering Christians, the reader can put the BPCA at the top of their prospective list. It is on ours.
Otherwise our report is the usual ten page compilation of atrocities.
In China a Taiwanese minister was detained for leading a congregation in song on a Saturday. The government there has been stepping up video surveillance of Christians.
The Christian governor of Jakarta in Indonesia has apparently lost his bid for re-election – recall that he was charged with blasphemy just before the campaign began. His concession speech should set a standard for humility. His trial will continue.
Another Christian woman has been abducted in Pakistan.
Some local officials in Vietnam attempted to detain a priest on Easter. His parishioners surrounded him and got shoved around, and the attack stopped after another priest phoned the provincial officials and convinced them to intervene.
A cathedral in Kathmandu, Nepal, was subjected to an arson attack but damage was minor. This cathedral was also the scene of a bombing in 2009 that killed three including a 15 year old female student.
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Cathedral, Kathmandu, Nepal – courtesy Wikipedia
At least 12 Catholic Christians were killed in Nigeria at an Easter Vigil Mass. Their bishop publicly blamed the state governor for their deaths, and was backed by local Protestant clergy.
A 35 year old priest died in Venezuela on Holy Saturday from meningitis. How is this martyrdom? He died due to a lack of medicine, and thus in union with his countrymen who also suffer at the hands of a government whose god is a political ideology and not the true God of Scripture. The government did not order his death in hatred of the faith, but they might as well have.
A teenaged boy was brutally murdered in Egypt on Holy Thursday while on his way for tutoring. We also have more news concerning the Palm Sunday church bombings there. One more injured Christian has died, and another has been identified. The newly identified martyr was a church volunteer security guard who can be seen on a security video directing the bomber to the metal detector seconds before the detonation. The following week his place was taken, by his son, who said “I’m continuing what he started. Why worry or be afraid? He has gone to heaven, and I am ready to join him if necessary”. So that too is a story with a good outcome, though not in a worldly sense at all.
Weekly Commentary April 9-15, 2017
Tomorrow April 16, 2017 is the Paschal Celebration. It has many names, including Pascha, Easter, and Resurrection Day, the differences due to language and culture across the world. Christians differ on the setting of the date of celebration, but this year the different calendars aligned and so by happenstance they are united. Christians are also united in their faith that this day is the celebration of their salvation through the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.
This year it is also the day that ends a week which showed how much we need salvation.
Our report this week (click here to read) includes the Palm Sunday suicide bombings of two churches in Egypt by the Islamic State. At least 45 were killed and 126 injured. In the first attack the bomber was able to enter the church in Tanta and self-detonate among the choir of deacons. The second attack happened at the security checkpoint outside the Coptic cathedral in Alexandria, killing 17 including several Muslim police and pedestrians. Pope Tawadros II was officiating in the cathedral, and was so upset that he refused to move to a safer location (as if there was one) and prayed. The brother of one of the murdered deacons later said “I want to say to my martyred brother: ‘I love you so much and I want to be like you’. I also want to say something to ISIL: ‘I’m ready to die for my faith, like my brother. It’s my desire to follow him in this. I’m waiting for you, so don’t delay and please tell me which church you will bomb next so I can wait for you there. I look forward to meet Jesus, so please don’t delay, as I wait for you’”. The apparent fatalism is unnerving, but not the indomitable faith behind it.
Mar Girgis Church, Tanta, Egypt – courtesy Kaled Desouki / AFP / Getty
A Christian was burned to death in a debt dispute in Pakistan. In another incident in that country, a Muslim college student named Mashal Khan was killed in his dormitory by a mob composed of hundreds of his fellow students. Reportedly his ‘crime’ was to have made comments on his Facebook page – which he titled ‘The Humanist’ – that were favorable towards the widely persecuted Ahmadiyya branch of Islam. It should be noted that the perpetrators were extremely proud of their actions: they made a video of the murder and posted it to social media! Christian leaders were quick to condemn the murder, as we report, but it should also be noted that many eloquent statements came from Muslims:
Hamza Arshad, analyst and journalist: “Look at where our society has come to. A mere charge of blasphemy can unleash a fiery volcano that engulfs you, as holy zealots shout slogans. Our society has become a furnace of seething emotions. The way the young man was killed and the traditional indifference of law enforcing agencies was shocking but not surprising because no one tries to save a person once he is charged of blasphemy…No breeze of critical thinking is permissible in this pressure cooker, the mindset we have minted. The only move people are willing to make is towards intolerance…We may be fighting the Taliban and other Jihadis but acts of mob justice in blasphemy cases with clubs, iron bars and guns are like holy cows”.
Muhammad Jibran Nasir, human rights activist: “Let me say it today in clear terms on how we have created a society where students become murderers. Generals who polluted young minds and weaponized religion for violent means and criminal ends decided to remain quiet and let it happen…Politicians…sing the praises of Mumtaz Qadri [the murderer of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer]. Mainstream political parties…patronize terror outfits and form electoral alliances with them giving them space to spread their narrative…We did not lose only Mashal Khan but also hundreds of students who became murderers today. We all are responsible”.
Abdul Hameed Gondal, writer: “Nothing will happen. What kind of generation are we educating in universities? These students do not belong to any extremist outfits like TTP or ISIL…The extremist thinking exists in our homes as well”.
Rana Inam, attorney and online newspaper editor: “it is really sad that a religion, which teaches us to sharpen the knife before slaughtering animals so that they feel less pain, can at the same time allow that a human be brutally killed in its name”.
These statements show that many see the need for Godly salvation in their lives, even if their cultural and religious backgrounds inhibit their ability to see how that salvation should come. As Christians we need to remember that we are called to reject indifference and to accept evangelization for the benefit of all, to the ends of the earth. The empty tomb tells us that our salvation is at hand, and that we are to tell the world it is already bought by Jesus Christ. The world is ready to hear the Good News…though not all.
Weekly Commentary April 2-8, 2017
The good news in this week’s report concerns the joint effort of the churches of Iraq to rebuild the country in a true ecumenical movement. We also have the legal victory of a Christian student in Florida in the U.S. after he had been the victim of false accusations by his Muslim college professor, and the release from prison of a Christian in China.
Christians have been reported as killed in the Central African Republic (though without names), Egypt, Mexico (in 2009), and the United States. A church in France suffered an arson attack, and several have been under threat in Indonesia.
Armenian Evangelical Church, Alfortvillem France – courtesy Le Parisien
We also have a number of reports with strange, ominous overtones:
- The situation in Venezuela has continued to worsen, with church leaders standing in opposition to the dissolution of the national legislature and the continuing deprivation of basic necessities. One bishop has begun to coordinate the transfer of refugees to his counterpart in Colombia (imagine, Venezuelans have begun to flee to a country which in recent decades has lost one-fifth of its own citizens to flight abroad!).
- The Democratic Republic of the Congo has continued to see attacks by militias that have grown while the central government has continued to try to remain in power despite constitutional restrictions.
- A bishop in Greece spoke on his country’s demographic suicide.
- Prominent Nigerian Christians were questioned by the government in an apparent attempt to build a criminal case against their media campaign to stop anti-Christian violence. This is an unprecedented attack in that country, at least since the end of the Biafran War.
- The organized crime-driven civil conflict in Mexico appears to be worsening, as if that were possible.
- In Paraguay – the first time that country has appeared on these pages – a bishop was cut off from television for remarks on the constitutional crisis there.
- A Syrian bishop spoke on the latest nerve gas attack there
Several other examples of these strange blends of anarchy and tyranny (or its precedents) can be found in this week’s report – please click here to read. Meditation on these events tells us that we not only need to pray for this world, but we need to be wise so that we be aware of these things, and to find a proper way to respond to each, and so let us pray for wisdom also.
Weekly Commentary March 26 – April 1, 2017
This week’s report is again largely a compendium of abductions, arrests, and assaults, with a few homicides thrown in. A priest was killed in Mexico and another was abducted and thankfully released. A Pakistani sanitation worker was killed in a targeted assassination after having refused to clean an outhouse on a Sunday. A non-Trinitarian Christian was identified as one of the victims of the jihadist attack near Parliament in London. And as is our policy on missionaries and religious pilgrims, we also reported on the deaths of 13 retreatants on a highway in Texas in a vehicular accident caused by texting.
We have two reports on Western style persecution, both of which involve abortion.
Abortion has always been extremely problematic for Christianity, largely due to the Gospel account of Mary meeting her cousin Elizabeth. There are no serious defenses of the subject from Christian scholars which can be cited as supportive of the practice as such (yes, Thomas Aquinas once created an alternate hypothetical, but that is not the same thing). In the early Roman Empire women flocked to join the Church because its position on abortion and contraception allowed them to escape a very real oppression of their time.
Today’s world is very different. The Christian view is under attack. From a pluralistic view this is strange, since pluralism tends to promote tolerance. In this week’s report (click here to read in full) we have two stories which give a real sense of the cause and extent of the attack.
The first comes from Belgium. The Catholic University of Louvain is one of the oldest Christian institutions in the world. A professor of philosophy introduced a critique of abortion in one of his classes for debate, a campus feminist group violently complained, and the professor has now been suspended. Universities throughout the West for decades have promoted critiques of Christianity with few complaints, but here one man stated a position that should be the purpose of the Christian institution he served and that institution turned on him. This is disheartening beyond words.
The second account is from California in the U.S. Two Christian investigative journalists have been indicted by the state’s Attorney General for secretly recording abortion clinic managers negotiating the illegal sale of tissue harvested from aborted children. There are several facets to this story. The state’s legal position is extremely weak. NBC television prevailed in court in a similar case. Animal rights groups did the same with animal abuse at poultry farms, and the state not only did not prosecute them but used their videos to prosecute the farmers, thus introducing evidence of selective prosecution. The conclusion to make of the state’s indictment is that either they know they will lose but are willing to use the process as punishment at the behest of their abortion masters, or else they believe they will overturn precedent and constitutional liberties as they work to further the advancement of abortion as the premier sacrament of their de facto state religion. Either way they are wrong, and corrupt. The one bright spot has been the actions of the two journalists, who have comported themselves with great probity and courage. They are a great example for Christians and others of good will everywhere. Please pray for them and for our future.
Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium – courtesy Wikimedia