Can anything good come out of Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill? Well apparently yes!

From Cross Walk

Elder and worship leader Zach Bolen has resigned from Mars Hill Ballard. Bolen, a high profile elder at Mars Hill, is the leader of Citizens, a popular band which has become well known outside of Mars Hill circles. The band’s first album, the eponymous disc Citizens, was released in March 2013 and has enjoyed critical and commercial success. Bolen served at Mars Hill University District prior to coming to Ballard in February of this year. Bolen was one of the most popular and accomplished worship leaders at Mars Hill.

Bolen’s resignation comes amid significant staff changes at Mars Hill Ballard. Recently, popular biblical living pastor Phil Smidt was fired and then this week pastor Aaron Mead and elder candidate Tim Klassen resigned. In recent months, elders Nate Burke, Jon Krombein, and Mike Wilkerson also left Mars Hill Ballard.

The UK Christian music magazine Crossrhythms raved about Bolen and Citizens,saying:
“Clearly Citizens have a bright future ahead of them. As Breathecast commented, “Musically, Citizens have created a patented type of indie rock that flutters with the electronic beat of Switchfoot, yet shimmers with the emotional intensity of Hillsong United. Above all, Bolen sings with a sense of honest gravitas; it is as if leading worship is more than just a day job. Rather, he sings with a deep-seated passion that can only come from a man who knows grace.”

A single, You Brought Me Back to Life, was released around Easter from an album slated to be completed by August.

Although Bolen’s future in music and ministry looks bright, it will not include Mars Hill Church.

A Visual Journey Through Reformed Theology

Reformed Theology
click on the image to go to a larger version

 

Penal Substitution

A visual History of New Calvinism

https://s3.amazonaws.com/Challies_VisualTheology/new-calvinism-timeline.html

Rev Vince Anderson and his Love Choir – Dirty Gospel Music

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=95509253

5 Controversies That Still Plague the Church

And here’s the good news: Those hundreds of years have put many of these works in the public domain, which means you can benefit from the wisdom of our forebears, for free, on your laptop.

You may not agree with the thoughts of all these ancient theologians, but it’s still vital to be mindful of them. As C.S. Lewis once wrote, reading old books is worthwhile not because there is “any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes.” You won’t have to agree with all of these thoughts to find that wrestling with an older perspective is worth your time.

Here are five voices from church history to get you started:

1. Justin Martyr (100-165 AD) On The Destiny of the Unevangelized

What happens to people who die without hearing about Jesus? Does God condemn the majority of humanity, even though they never had a chance to be saved?

This debate flared anew with the 2011 release of Rob Bell’s Love Wins, but it’s hardly original to our time. Justin Martyr, one of the earliest Christian apologists, faced the exact same issue just a century after the life of Christ, when Hellenic philosophers claimed that the Christian God was unjust for this very reason.

Justin responded by arguing that God is constantly drawing all people to him according to their capacity, “always urging the human race to thought and recollection, showing that He cares for it and provides for men and women.” Some of the unevangelized, Justin suggests, may respond to God’s revelation in their own hearts and in nature, coming to saving faith through the work of Jesus without explicit knowledge of that work.

Read: Justin Martyr’s First Apology

2. Tertullian (160-225 AD) On Christians and Pacifism

When Tertullian was writing from Africa in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, Rome was at its peak. And as the new church spread throughout the empire, the question inevitably arose: Should Christians serve in the Roman military? Although Jesus had explicitly rejected violence for His followers, the gospels don’t record him telling the faithful centurion, for instance, to quit his job.

Faced with this issue, Tertullian argued for peace:

Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword? And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law? And shall he apply the chain, and the prison, and the torture, and the punishment, who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs?

Tertullian answers with a strong negative, suggesting Christians should avoid war even at the cost of martyrdom.

Read: Tertullian’s De Corona (The Crown), especially Chapter 11

3. John Chrysostom (347-407 AD) On Consumerism and Poverty

Though comparatively unfamiliar to Catholics and Protestants in the Western church, John Chrysostom is well-loved in the Orthodox tradition. A monk from Antioch, John was made the Bishop of Constantinople in 398 AD—a position he accepted unwillingly at the behest of the populace.

Installed in the most important pulpit in the most important city in the empire, John railed against consumerism in the face of poverty, preaching uncompromising sermons which would lead to his exile. In one homily, he chastises those who use fancy chamber pots while others starve: “So many poor stand around the Church; and though the Church has so many children, and so wealthy, she is unable to give relief to even one poor person…one voids his excrement even into silver, another has not so much as bread! What madness!”

Read: John Chrysostom’s homilies on Colossians, especially #7

4. Margaret Fell Fox (1614-1702 AD) On Women in Church

The “mother of Quakerism,” Margaret Fell was the wife of George Fox, the primary founder of the Quaker movement. A wealthy and educated woman, Margaret used her means to foster Quakerism in its early days, fund mission work, and support religious tolerance in England. She also argued in favor of full equality of the sexes within the church, writing while imprisoned for refusing to abandon her beliefs.

In “Women’s Speaking Justified,” Margaret makes a bold case, suggesting that those who silence women are doing the work of the devil:

Let this Word of the Lord, which was from the beginning, stop the Mouths of all that oppose Women’s Speaking in the Power of the Lord; for he hath put Enmity between the Woman and the Serpent; and if the Seed of the Woman speak not, the Seed of the Serpent speaks; for God hath put Enmity between the two Seeds; and it is manifest, that those that speak against the Woman and her Seed’s Speaking, speak out of the Envy of the old Serpent’s Seed.

Read: Margaret Fell Fox’s “Women’s Speaking Justified”

5. Roger Williams (1603-1683 AD) On Church and State

If you’ve heard of Roger Williams at all, it was likely via a quick mention in high school history class of his role in founding the state of Rhode Island. Roger was a Baptist in an age when it was dangerous to be a Protestant—much less one of those weird Protestants who rejected the idea of a state church. He left his native England to pastor in Plymouth, MA, but found himself expelled from the colony when he tried to separate his congregation from the English government.

After founding Providence, RI, Roger stirred up controversy first by advocating fair treatment of Native Americans, and then by calling for a separation of church and state. His groundbreaking defense of legal tolerance argued that “an enforced uniformity of religion throughout a nation or civil state, confounds the civil and religious, denies the principles of Christianity and civility, and that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh.”

Read: Roger Williams’ “The Bloody Tenent of Persecution”

Read more at http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/church/5-controversies-still-plague-church#iOgOU1PVTDcydQuv.99

A Dear John Letter to John Calvin

Dear John,

Ok, first off I know, “Dear John” letters are usually written between former lovers and we were never even friends. But, John, I tried. I really, really did.

I’ve heard for so long that my frustrations with Calvinism were really due to your Neo-Calvinist followers giving you a bad name. That made sense to me. After all, I couldn’t believe that some of the rephrensible and callous things being said and taught today would be derived directly from someone of your theological prowess. So, I wanted to give you a chance at redemption in my eyes.

Since you’ve been, um, not present in the body for the past 450 years, I thought the best way to get acquainted with the real Calvin would be to read the work you are most famous for. I’m talking, of course, about your Institutes of the Christian Religion.

In my effort to get to know you better I spent my last semester at Yale in a class devoted entirely to the reading and discussion of your epic work. I admit we didn’t make it through every single chapter (forgive us John, but the book is nearly 1,000 pages long and we needed time to discuss what we read each week), but we did make it through almost all of it (we mostly skipped a few chapter at the end about church polity). And even with those handful of overlooked chapters, I’m still willing to bet we made it through more of the Institutes than many of your followers today have read. (I say this as a Wesleyan, who has read far far too little of what Wesley actually wrote.)

I have to admit, John, you’re a brilliant guy and a great writer. Your passion and honesty were obvious from page one and at times refreshing given the way we so often dance around what we really think in the church today. I really admire your conviction and willingness to say what you believe to be true even if it wasn’t the popular thing to say. Without a doubt, you had some great things to say and, at times, I even found myself close to shouting “Amen!” Like the time you called out those who want to believe in the absurd notion that God can predestine some to heaven while not necessarily also predestining everyone else to hell, ”This they do so ignorantly and childishly since there could be no election without its opposite reprobation.” (3.23.1)

Ok, maybe, that amen wasn’t exactly for the reason you would like, but still, it counts for something, right?

Anyway, class is now over, our reading of your monumental achievement complete, and I’ve had some time to process everything you said.

So, can I be totally honest with you, John?

You crushed my hope for reconciliation.

I found your theology to be every bit as appalling – and maybe even more so – than your followers.

To be blunt, as a Christian, I don’t recognize your God and I have no clue what the good news is in the Institutes. That some people are saved no matter what? I guess that’s good for them. But you’re clear that God also creates people for eternal damnation,

By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, other to eternal damnation; and accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestined to life or to death. (3.21.5)
And you also say that God tricks some of those same people He dooms to hell into thinking He loves them by “instilling into their minds such a sense of his goodness as can be felt without the Spirit of adoption” simply so he “better convince them.” (3.2.11) John, what kind of perverse and manipulative God would do that?

But it gets worse.

Much worse.

For, according to you, God ordains every single horrific act of evil that has or ever will occur.

As you explain over,

Scripture, moreover, the better to show that every thing done in the world is according to his decree, declares that the things which seem most fortuitous are subject to him. For what seems more attributable to chance than the branch which falls from a tree, and kills the passing traveler? But the Lord sees very differently, and declares that he delivered him into the hand of the slayer. (1.16.6)
And over,

As all contingencies whatsoever depend on it, therefore, neither thefts, nor adulteries, nor murders, are perpetrated without an interposition of the divine will. (1.17.1)
And over,

Let us suppose, for example, that a merchant, after entering a forest in company with trust-worthy individuals, imprudently strays from his companions and wanders bewildered till he falls into a den of robbers and is murdered. His death was not only foreseen by the eye of God, but had been fixed by his decree. (1.16.9)
And over again, God is behind every act of evil that ever takes places,

I concede more – that thieves and murderers, and other evil-doers, are instruments of divine providence, being employed by the Lord himself to execute the judgments which he has resolved to inflict. (1.17.5)
In other words, if a child is raped, a family murdered in their sleep, or an entire population of people sent off to the gas chambers, that wasn’t just the act of evil men. It was the will of God.

And, of course, God doesn’t just have it out for us in this life; God has it out for some people for eternity too because as you say, “Those whom the Lord favors not with the direction of his Spirit, he, by a righteous judgment, consigns to the agency of Satan.” (2.4.1)

You say all of this wrath is due to our depravity. Ignoring Paul’s words affirming the complete opposite, you say ”wherever sin is, there also are the wrath and vengeance of God” (3.11.2) And as if to drive your point home at just how much God hates us, you claim that it’s not just adults that God despises, but infants too because they ”cannot but be odious and abominable to God.” (2.1.8) John, you go to great lengths to establish the total depravity of man, and I agree that we are indeed sinful people. But in the end, based on your own argument, the one looking the most depraved is God. For it is God, not humanity, who ordains evil and institutes eternal torture regardless of act or decision.

Yes, John, you’re right. All of these quotes and points are lacking in their immediate context, but they’re not random thoughts. They are, as you demonstrate so well, the logical conclusions of your theology of divine sovereignty and, therefore, at the very heart of what you believe about God. Worse, this isn’t a case of you overstating without thinking through the conclusions. You’re clear that this sort of God who ordains genocide, murder, rape, children abuse, and every other conceivable horrendous act is the God you worship.

Not surprisingly, you say that we should fear this God, not just honor and revere Him, but actually be terrified of Him. (3.2.26) I suppose on that point we are in at least partial agreement. If this is a God who arbitrarily ordains the death of children and the torment of people before they’re even born, then of course we should fear this God.

Which is why, John, I’ve got to be brutally honest with you.

I think your God is a monster.

I don’t say that casually or based on a handful of random one liners. I say it based on the foundation of your theological project and your insistence on a God who both ordains evil and creates people simply to torment them for eternity. John, this is not the God I find in the Bible, nor is it a God I think is worthy of worship. It’s a God who can only be feared for His arbitrary, callous, and evil ways, and pitied for his enslavement to wrath.

To me, John, your God looks nothing like Jesus of Nazareth. And, for me, that’s a big problem.

Now, John, it wouldn’t be a good breakup letter if I wasn’t clear about why I don’t like you like that anymore (or I guess ever did). I’m know a lot of those reasons are obvious already, but in the spirit of your Institutes, I don’t want to leave any room for doubt as to why we need to go our separate ways.

First, John, as awed as I am by your intellect, you’re way way way too overcommitted to your theological system. I know your methodology and meticulousness are derivative of your training as a lawyer, and while those can be great qualities in a person, in your Institutes your utter devotion to your theological system creates an unbelievable callousness that is totally foreign to the Jesus I meet in the gospels. Experience, reason, compassion, and even huge chunks of scripture are sacrificed on the altar of your theological system. Relationships require compassion, humility, and at a times a bit of flexibility. John, we’ve all got some work to do in those areas, but that’s especially true for you.

You also have a tendency to talk out of both sides of your mouth. This isn’t good for a relationship because it means I can never really trust what you’re saying. F0r instance, in order to acknowledge the obvious reality of freewill while defending your hardcore understanding of divine sovereignty, you try to create a make believe difference between compulsion and necessity, as if just because we necessarily have to act in a certain way because God has ordained it so, we’re not actually compelled to do that. (2.3.5) John, that makes no sense. Likewise, you argue that even though everything is determined by God long before we even exist, we’re still responsible for out actions. (1.17.5)

Look, I get it, you’ve got a system to maintain and you need to make sense of sin and guilt. But, John, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. Either we freely choose to sin and are therefore responsible or God causes us by divine decree to sin and, therefore, God is ultimately responsible. Which leads us to the worst doublespeak of all in your book. You make is clear that God ordains evil, but isn’t the author of it. John, buddy, as you heard throughout your lifetime, if God is the source of and the one who ordains evil acts, then God is the author of evil. Which means your God isn’t really as loving and good as you would have us believe. In fact, your God is pretty stinking evil.

Which is why, John, it’s hard not to conclude that Calvinism is a sustained exercise in the defense against the obvious. By which I mean you’re constantly on the defense against the obvious conclusions of your claims. To your credit you offer up an exhaustive defense. It just runs counter to basic logic. There’s just no way around the fact that you’ve simultaneously created a God who is the author of evil while rendering the Christian life irrelevant because if our eternal fate is already sealed, there is absolutely no point in bothering to live in any particular way.

Also, John, and I’m not trying to be mean here, but your use of scripture is just awful. I know, I know, I know. Who am I to criticize the great John Calvin’s exegesis? But buddy you cherry pick scripture like it’s your spiritual gift. You completely ignore the context of the verses you pick. And, with only a few exceptions, either ignore or dismiss out of hand any and all passages that contradict your position. But, John, I’m not sure that’s even the worst part of it for me.

As a fellow Christian I know this might be a little hard to hear, but you deal surprisingly little with what Jesus himself actually had to say. Sure, you talk about his role in salvation plenty, but when it comes to supporting your various claims, you seem to quote everybody but Jesus. In fact, I’m pretty sure you quoted the entire book of Romans. And yet the words of Jesus himself were few and far between. Knowing your bravado, I’m sure this wasn’t the case but it was almost as if you intentionally ignored him because some of the things he said threw a huge wrench your system that could bring the whole thing crashing down on itself, like that pesky John 3:16-17 loving the whole world and not just the elect nonsense or that stuff in Matthew 25 or James 2 where salvation by faith alone seems to be an unwelcome guest.

But, John, I think the ultimate problem between you and me is the starting point in your grand theological endeavor. For you, everything begins and ends with the glory of God. I wholeheartedly agree that giving glory to God is an important thing. But John, I don’t know what Bible you’re reading if you think that receiving glory is God’s primary interest in and purpose for mankind. If anything, the Bible is a sustained account of God’s disinterest in glory. It’s the story of a God who desires above all to be in a loving relationship with His people and God’s willingness to do anything to make that happen, including abandoning all sense of glory even to that point of death on a cross.

But perhaps the most ironic point in your emphasis on glory is that in your attempt to glorify God you destroy that very glory through your understanding of divine sovereignty and election. For if God ordains murder, rape, and abuse, while creating some people – maybe most people – for eternal torment, then that God is not worthy of glory. Period.

Now, I know your followers today will tell me I’m “misreading” you and don’t understand what you’re “really” trying to say. I heard a lot of that this semester as we tried to reconcile the words on the page with their practical implications. But this letter isn’t about the 450 years of interpretation and reinterpretation that have followed in your wake. I’m responding to the words you yourself wrote. And, for me, what you wrote was far too often abhorrent.

And can I tell you something else, John? I don’t think your followers today are nearly as comfortable with your theology as you are. At least, not a lot of them. Don’t get me wrong. You’re on an incredibly high pedestal for them, but time and time again I see them jumping through hoops and doing mental gymnastics to avoid or at least soften the very clear claims you’re making. And I see others rejecting out of hand some of the things you said, while trying to hold on to the rest.

But I get that. We all want to defend our heroes. The bigger issue I have, John, is that you have a tendency (cause I’ll be the first to admit they’re not all like this) to create incredibly arrogant and sometimes hateful followers who are just as cold, calculating, and callous in their theology and selective in their use of scripture as you are. Just like you, too many of your prominent followers today denounce their critics as heretics while praising God for a whole host of evil things that happen in the world from earthquakes and tornadoes to the marginalization, oppression, and destruction of people made in the image of God.

John, I don’t know how to say it any other way – you’ve got a bad habit of making disciples that aren’t very christlike in their love, mercy, compassion, and grace towards others.

Now, I know if you were still around to respond, you would probably tell me like you did so many of your opponents, that I’m a “virulent dog” (3.23.2) or maybe a satellite of Satan (3.17.1) because in my “rebellious spirit” (3.21.4) I have the audacity to question your understanding of God, God’s sovereignty, and election which I should never do (3.21.1-2) because by doing so I ”assail the justice of God.” (3.21.7)

Maybe you’re right.

Maybe I am an agent of Satan lost in my own heresy and sin and I just don’t realize it.

But John, I don’t think I am. Like the millions of Christians that came before you and billions that have come after, I believe in a God who confronts sin with grace, defeats evil with love, and offers redemption to all.

Which is why, John, it’s not going to work out between the two of us.

Maybe when I see you in heaven and we both see things a bit clearer, we can try this relationship thing again.

But for now, I think you would agree, we need to go our separate ways.

It’s what’s best for the both of us.

Grace and Peace,

Zack Hunt

The Evangelical in a Vacuum

Dog whistling and the Prosperity Gospel

Adam4d

Shot For Asking A Question: What We Can Learn From The Jars of Clay Fallout

by: Benjamin L. Corey
Dan Haseltine, lead singer of Jars of Clay, is learning the hard way that questions are frowned upon in these parts.
After a show in Australia he was invited to sit on a panel discussion where some of the co-panelists were lobbyists fighting against the legalization of same sex marriage. After the discussion, Haseltine realized he actually hadn’t given the entire subject enough thought, and wanted to process some questions to formulate a more thoughtful position. As he describes on his blog:
“I was immediately aware that I had not given much attention to the dialogue about gay rights. I knew it was a focal topic for many people in the church, and that it was a major issue in the growing partisanship of American politics, I just had not had the opportunity to think about it much.”

So, he did what someone should do when wrestling with an issue– he wanted to process the arguments. Unfortunately, he’s a public figure and decided to process the issue on twitter, which now has him feeling the Evangelical backlash.
Perhaps what most set people off was his twitter admission that he realized he was finding the argument against the legalization of civil gay marriage to be less than compelling, and asked if anyone had other reason to convince him:
“I’m trying to make sense of the conservative argument. But it doesn’t hold up to basic scrutiny. Feels akin to women’s suffrage. Is the argument born of isolated application of scripture or is it combined with the knowledge born of friendship with someone who is gay? I just don’t see a negative effect to allowing gay marriage. No societal breakdown, no war on traditional marriage. ?? Anyone?”

Let us just say, the tribe isn’t too happy about his questions. The response on their Facebook page was vile; fans saying they’re done, nearly every thread has been hijacked regardless of the actual original post, and there were even comments taunting same sex marriage supporters to commit suicide. One of the most disturbing aspects of the story is how the Conservative Christian Internet quickly began twisting his words into their headlines, especially the consistently dishonest folks over at Christian News Network. Headlines across the internet continue to read that Haseltine has “come out” as a gay marriage supporter, which continued to fuel the fire since that’s not what happened.
And of course, we have Michael Brown over at Charisma News who is quickly becoming the angry father figure on the American Christian landscape. I suppose no news would be complete without Michael’s predictable response.
All this, because he simply asked questions about the legality of civil, same sex marriage.

The Evangelical response to him simply asking questions on civil same sex marriage is quite telling, when we step back and look at the big picture from a cultural point of view. To get a 50,000 feet view of where various Christians land on the issue, consider the following graph which describes the six categories I see people landing in (there may be more, but this is just my view of things):

In understanding the issue and the significance of the Jars of Clay backlash, its important to understand how these categories work and some of the main concepts involved. Primarily, we must be able to distinguish civil from religious marriage. Marriages in our culture are only legal when recognized by the civil government. Everyone, regardless of faith tradition or none at all, gets a marriage license from the local government. When that licensed is signed and filed, the marriage becomes a legal marriage in the eyes of the state. To solemnize the marriage, one can choose to have the marriage blessed by their faith community (“religious” marriage) or they can have the marriage officiated by an officer of the state, such as a Justice of the Peace (civil marriage).
Historically, the most in-fighting that takes place is between category 1 and 2, as they are the most diametrically opposed. Category 2 would be the default conservative Christian stance, while category 1 would include some mainline traditions and those in progressivism proper (born out of mainline). There are also a number of progressive Evangelicals/Emergence landing in category 1, but not all of them by any means, so it’s important to not make any assumptions.
Typically, there is a strong response when someone shifts from category 2 to 1 (non-affirming to affirming)– which is understandable, that’s a massive shift. Where a growing number of Evangelicals are trying to find a peaceful solution in the current culture is by shifting not from 2 to 1, but from 2 to 3 or 4. These are Evangelicals who either have shifting theology (Category 4) or shifting social views (Category 3). Those in category 3 have realized that there are real societal benefits tied to legal (civil) marriage and that every member of society should have access to those benefits. As a result, they become a supporter of marriage equality even though their theology has not changed (they support the legality of SSM, but aren’t advocating for their faith tradition to endorse it from a religious aspect). Essentially, those in category 3 simply separate church and state in their own mind and feel very little rub in doing so- it gives people equal rights in society while maintaining religious freedom. Category 4 may share these same sentiments, but also has the component of shifting theology on the issue, so they arrive at a similar place, simply by slightly different means.
Here is where the Jars of Clay incident shows us something interesting from a cultural standpoint: we see that Evangelicals won’t even tolerate their own people separating church and state by moving into category 3, or even consider moving to category 3, since that’s all Haseltine did. He did not question theology, he did not say his faith tradition should begin solemnizing same sex marriages– he simply questioned if legal (civil) same sex marriage was the right and proper thing for a secular society to do. Classic separation of church and state.

However, he’s being treated like he moved all the way into category 1, which isn’t what happened. He reported via twitter that some radio stations are now pulling Jars of Clay from the radio– which wouldn’t shock me if he moved to category 1, but category 3? I think this is a new line being drawn in the sand for today’s Evangelical: you cannot separate church and state on this issue and still be in the tribe.

In the World Vision nonsense, we learned that Categories 4&5 were off limits, but now we see that even thinking of moving to #3 gets you booted from the tribe as well.
Clearly, Dan is learning that questions are frowned upon.
What can we learn from this? I think it’s clear: unwavering opposition to both civil and religious same sex marriage is now a hallmark of being Evangelical. No reasonable, middle ground (separation of church and state in the matter) will be allowed– and they are willing to fight a civil war to make this issue the foundation of American Evangelicalism.
Ugh. Aint nobody got time for that.
ADDENDUM: IN HINDSIGHT, I THINK THERE SHOULD BE A CATEGORY BETWEEN 4 AND 5:

- See more at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/formerlyfundie/jars-of-clay-fallout/#sthash.kHxAzpzd.dpuf

Persecution? Are you being killed or raped for your faith?

Age of intolerance: the war on religion

November 2, 2013

In Somalia, al-Shabab, which slaughtered scores of people at a Kenyan shopping mall in September, has reportedly vowed to kill every Somali Christian.

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By Barney Zwartz
As Christian villager Asia Bibi languished in a Pakistani jail awaiting death by hanging for drinking water from a Muslim cup, two suicide bombers killed 85 worshippers in a Peshawar church.

For Egypt’s Copts, who risk having the small cross-tattoos many wear on their wrists burnt off with acid by militant Muslims, the Arab Spring has been wintry. In August it got worse: Muslim Brotherhood supporters, blaming them for the army’s removal of president Mohamed Mursi, attacked more than 100 Christian sites – 42 churches were razed.

In Somalia, al-Shabab, which slaughtered scores of people at a Kenyan shopping mall in September, has reportedly vowed to kill every Somali Christian.

For Egypt’s Copts, who risk having the small cross-tattoos many wear on their wrists burnt off with acid by militant Muslims, the Arab Spring has been wintry. Photo: Nasser Nasser
In northern Nigeria, Boko Haram has butchered thousands of Christians, as well as Muslims they consider inadequately ideological – such as those seeking an education.

Four of every five acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed against Christians, according to the Germany-based International Society for Human Rights. The secular US think tank the Pew Forum says Christians face harassment or oppression in 139 nations, nearly three-quarters of all the countries on earth.

It is not just Muslims, who themselves often face horrendous persecution, who attack Christians. In the Indian state of Orissa, Hindu nationalists attacked Christians in a vicious pogrom in 2008, killing 500, injuring thousands with machetes, and leaving 50,000 homeless. A nun was raped and paraded naked through the streets, watched by police who arrested no one.

In Burma, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, Buddhist militants have murdered Christians, Muslims and Hindus. In 2010 the Burmese military attacked Christian minorities from helicopters, reportedly killing thousands.

These cases are horrific, certainly, but surely they are disconnected and accidental acts of cruelty and violence? Not so, rights observers say: they are all part of the biggest human rights challenge now facing the globe – religious intolerance – and also part of a largely unobserved global war on Christians. Things may be worse now for more Christians than at any time in history, including under the Roman Empire.

”War” does not mean a unified campaign directed by a single co-ordinating mind. But it is no exaggeration, Vatican analyst John Allen argues in his new book, The Global War on Christians, because it represents a ”massive, worldwide pattern of violence and oppression directed against a specific group of people, often explicitly understood by its perpetrators as part of a broader cultural and spiritual struggle”. If we are not honest enough to call it a war, we will not face it with the necessary urgency, he says.

What is happening? Why are Christians especially at risk, and why are Western governments, media and churches so reluctant to acknowledge it, let alone act? And, as some observers suggest, is religious persecution heading back to the West?

Religion is often only one factor in this violence, part of a combustible cocktail of racial, ethnic, economic and linguistic motives, but increasingly – such as with the rising tide of puritanical Muslim Salafists – it is the main or only reason. And in the countries where the problem is most severe, persecution has accelerated and deepened in the past two years.

The international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need last week launched its 191-page report Persecuted and Forgotten, challenging the international community’s willingness to stand up for religious freedom.

The report calls the flight of Christians from the Middle East an exodus of almost biblical proportions. ”Incidents of persecution are now apparently relentless and worsening: churches being burnt, Christians under pressure to convert, mob violence against Christian homes, abduction and rape of Christian girls, anti-Christian propaganda in the media and from government, discrimination in schools and the workplace.”

Long-time religious liberty analyst and advocate Liz Kendal says when she began monitoring religious violence 15 years ago, ”I was reporting on an attack here or there, usually a militant who came in and attacked a missionary. Now it’s pogroms where people massacre their neighbours with machetes and with impunity”. Kendal is the Melbourne-based advocacy director of Christian Faith and Freedom.

This is a frightening new feature, that neighbours join or lead the brutality. ”One of the disturbing things about Syria is not just all the al-Qaeda-linked groups, but that local Muslims welcome them. They want their Christian neighbours to leave,” Kendal says.

Persecution can be a nebulous term. Both Christians and Muslims in the West have used it to refer to non-life-threatening discrimination. American scholar Charles Tieszen’s definition is a good one: any unjust action of mild to intense levels of hostility, directed at people belonging to a religion resulting in varying levels of harm, in which the victim’s religious identification is the main motive.

Todd Johnson, of Gordon Conwell’s Centre for the Study of Global Christianity, estimates 70 million Christians have died for their faith, 45 million of them in the 20th century.

John Allen notes that ”this boom in religious violence is still very much a growth industry. Christians today are by some order of magnitude the most persecuted religious body on the planet,” suffering not just martyrdom but all forms of intimidation and oppression in record numbers.

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom, which monitors religious persecution and names the worst offenders in an annual report, listed 16 nations guilty of ”heinous and systematic” offences in its 2012 report.

Only one group is under attack in all 16 nations: Christians. (The countries are Burma, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.)

Open Doors lists 25 countries as most hazardous, 18 of them Muslim-majority nations – six in Asia, seven in Africa, eight in the Middle East, and four in the former Soviet empire. As Allen notes, this shows that it really is a global war.

The Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity, may soon be emptied of its adherents, and of other religious minorities. In Iraq, which had 1.5 million Christians before the first Gulf War, the total is now possibly as little as a 10th of that. Most have fled, but unnumbered thousands have been killed.

Muslims also suffer greatly – in Buddhist Burma and Thailand, in Hindu India and communist China, and in Muslim countries where their particular form is a minority. Hindus are persecuted in Buddhist countries, such as Sri Lanka. Iranian authorities, brutal against Christians, are even more vicious when it comes to Baha’is. Persecution seems an equal-opportunity affair.

Nor are Christians immune from perpetrating violence, as the world has seen in Rwanda, the Congo and Yugoslavia in the past 20 years. Yet when it comes to victims, they are well out in front. Why?

World Evangelical Alliance spokesman Thomas Schirrmacher says a number of factors combine. Christianity is much the biggest religion, so its numbers are likely to be large, and it is experiencing enormous growth in dangerous places where it makes established groups feel threatened. Religious nationalists tend to identify Christianity with Western colonialism. Christians, supported by better international networks, also tend to be more outspoken in advocating rights and democracy and in opposing corruption.

Dictators fear that Christians do not give them the undivided allegiance they demand (think North Korea, China or Vietnam), while some commentators even suggest Christians help bring suffering on themselves because of their willingness to turn the other cheek – militant Muslims might be more wary if they didn’t have impunity, if Christians too adopted suicide bombing.

Why, 1700 years after the Edict of Milan, in which Constantine decreed religious tolerance in the Roman Empire, is religious intolerance so savage? A number of cross currents have come together, including rising religious nationalism, Islamic fundamentalism driven particularly by Saudi Arabia’s petrodollars, victory for Islamists against Russia in Afghanistan, which sent the jihadis back to their various homes with ambitions entrenched, and the loss of American political influence after the global financial crisis.

This has been encouraged by a shameful apathy or denial by First World leaders. When it comes to secular politics, the victims are too Christian to matter much to the left, who are much more comfortable bashing the doubtless legitimate but comparatively minor target of Israel. And they are too brown or too foreign to matter much to most on the right.

Secularists also tend to think of Christians as the oppressor, not the oppressed. When they picture persecution, they turn to history: the crusades, the Inquisition, Europe’s savage 17th century religious wars, and colonial exploitation. But, as John Allen observes: ”Today we do not live on the pages of a Dan Brown potboiler, in which Christians are dispatching mad assassins to settle historical scores. Instead, they’re the ones fleeing assassins others have dispatched.”

He also cites two sets of ”blinders”. Christians in the West can overstate the struggles they face from an increasingly post-Christian state, which diminishes sympathy for the Christians in real danger. Second, Western powerbrokers tend to underestimate the role religion plays in persecution in the Third World, its consistency as a driver.

Liz Kendal says there was a brief period when the US made a difference through its religious freedom bill. Introduced in 1998, it worked well for a decade, but collapsed with the global financial crisis in 2008 when the US economic clout ”evaporated overnight and religious liberty was affected immediately, especially in China and Iran”, she says.

”Now the gloves are off. Persecution with impunity is the order of the day and no one can stop it. America could threaten sanctions, and things would settle down, but those days are over. ”

Kendal is scathing about Western churches, saying they often deliberately avert their eyes. ”The Western church is so happy having a nice time in celebratory worship, they don’t want the burden of this knowledge (of what is happening to their brethren). Pastors feel under pressure to have their congregations leave the church feeling upbeat.”

She says the churches have to stop expecting political solutions. ”The cavalry is not going to come over the hill, and it’s not where the church’s faith should be anyway.”

Her pessimism runs deep. Not only is religious persecution unstoppable in Islamic and other Third World countries, but it is on the way in the West, if in a different form, she says.

Where Christian social conservatism was once mainstream, she predicts Christians will face jail and other sanctions if they do not toe the fast-changing secular line on such issues as condoning homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

Cardinal Francis George, the Catholic Archbishop of Chicago, made a similar prediction, noting in 2010: ”I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.”

And why does mainstream Western media miss the big picture? ”That’s the million-dollar question, and I don’t know,” Kendal replies. She suggests it is a combination of ignorance by journalists about the historical and political context of persecution and a political correctness that will not allow them to criticise Muslims for fear of being labelled racist or Islamophobic. ”It’s just too hot to handle,” she says.

”Turn on your TV and there is a young BBC reporter in Syria saying ‘these freedom fighters are fighting for democracy’. And behind him are bushy-bearded jihadists waving a black flag and shouting ‘Allahu akbar’ [God is great], fresh from cutting throats.”

In Burma, Kendal says, Western journalists believe the regime’s talk of reform and don’t realise Aung San Suu Kyi has been silenced, or the religious hatred that is directed against ethnic minorities. In Sudan, the Islamic regime is running a declared jihad against the African Christians, who are sitting on the last of the country’s oil. ”It’s genocide taking place before our eyes, and we’re not talking about it.”

Paul Marshall, author of Blind Spot – When Journalists Don’t Get Religion, thinks another factor is that so few journalists are Christian. Thus they tend to think that religion doesn’t have any intellectual content, it is merely feelings and emotion, so it’s not worth the effort to learn about it.

Marshall, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute for Religious Freedom in Washington, says the churches, in turn, are not very good at talking to journalists. It’s easy, too, to overlook that opponents such as Osama bin Laden have had a coherent, intelligent view of the world, even if we disagree with it.

Meanwhile suffering Christians might find scant consolation in the knowledge they were warned – Jesus says, in the Gospel of John: ”In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

Barney Zwartz is religion editor.

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Really what has Christianity done for the world?

Apart from being involved at the beginning of science, systems of government, philosophy, art, schools, hospitals, the emancipation of women, the abolition of slavery, social welfare, helping form the basis of the moral code most people live by and introducing popular notions of justice, mercy, decency and compassion … what has Christianity ever really done for the world?

Milton Jones

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