International Church News

Indonesia’s Christian governor Ahok fails in re-election bid, as ‘blasphemy’ trial continues

Ahok’s trial, which has overshadowed his campaigning for election as Governor of Jakarta, is being seen by some commentators as a test of Indonesia’s commitment to pluralism. Photo: Jakarta Post video
Ahok’s trial, which has overshadowed his campaigning for election as Governor of Jakarta, is being seen by some commentators as a test of Indonesia’s commitment to pluralism. Photo: Jakarta Post video

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preliminary results suggest that Jakarta’s Christian governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (better known as “Ahok”), has failed in his re-election bid, as his trial for “blasphemy” goes on.

Ahok is accused of insulting a Qur’anic verse during a campaign speech. Hard-line Islamist groups have rallied large crowds against him in recent months, yet he was still able to rely on a strong support base, making it a very tight contest. Indeed, the result still came as a shock to many voters, as Ahok won the first round of voting in February.

His rival, Anies Rasiyd Baswedan, a former education minister and a Muslim, is reported to have won 58 per cent of the votes. Official results will be announced early next month.

Ahok congratulated his opponent and in a televised news conference said: “We now will come together and forget this campaign. Jakarta is home for all of us.” Indonesians expressed their surprise at the result on social media, comparing the outcome with the shock results of the US elections and Brexit (Britain’s decision to leave the EU), but Ahok called on his supporters not to dwell on their disappointment.

Erlier this month, during a court appearance to deal with the blasphemy allegations, Ahok said he had been the target of racist and religious attacks since he was elected to public office in 2005. Muslims make up more than 80 per cent of Indonesia’s population, and the election has been seen as a test of Indonesia’s secular identity.

Jewish Priests Offer Paschal Lamb Just Hundreds of Meters From Temple Mount

The altar is made ready for the Paschal Lamb at the Sanhedrin reenactment of the Korban Pesach (Passover sacrifice). (Adam Propp) Read more at https://www.breakingisraelnews.com/86336/photos-priestly-sacrifices-revived-paschal-lamb-offered-god-jerusalem/#Yb7rrCsLRFudlpiG.99
The altar is made ready for the Paschal Lamb at the Sanhedrin reenactment of the Korban Pesach (Passover sacrifice). (Adam Propp)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Breaking Israel News

After a court battle to gain police permission, the Sanhedrin held a full reenactment of the Passover sacrifice and Temple service Thursday evening in a manner reminiscent of the glory that was once the Temple. This year, the ceremony was closer to the Temple Mount, where the service would take place if the Temple were standing, than ever before.

For the last fifteen years, the Sanhedrin has hosted a full-dress reenactment of the Passover sacrifice in Jerusalem. With humble beginnings and intended more as a public lesson, the ceremony has grown. Every year, more people attend and the ceremony itself develops in complexity, becoming more like the actual ceremony in the Temple.

On Thursday, Kohanim, men from the priestly caste, dressed in special garments that adhere to Biblical requirements and perform the ceremony accompanied by musical instruments specially prepared by the Temple Institute for use in the Third Temple. A lamb was sacrificed under supervision of a representative of the government veterinary ministry, and subsequently roasted as mandated by the Torah.
Read more at https://www.breakingisraelnews.com/86336/photos-priestly-sacrifices-revived-paschal-lamb-offered-god-jerusalem/#Yb7rrCsLRFudlpiG.99
Read more at https://www.breakingisraelnews.com/86336/photos-priestly-sacrifices-revived-paschal-lamb-offered-god-jerusalem/#Yb7rrCsLRFudlpiG.99

Anglican religious leaders in Africa advance the fight against malaria

Bishop Cleophas Lunga, Anglican Diocese of Matabeleland, Zimbabwe, delivers a sermon on Ash Wednesday as part of the fifth annual Isdell: Flowers Cross Border Malaria Initiative Round Table meeting held in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Photo: Justin Schroeder for Isdell:Flowers Cross Border Malaria Initiative
Bishop Cleophas Lunga, Anglican Diocese of Matabeleland, Zimbabwe, delivers a sermon on Ash Wednesday as part of the fifth annual Isdell: Flowers Cross Border Malaria Initiative Round Table meeting held in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. Photo: Justin Schroeder for Isdell:Flowers Cross Border Malaria Initiative

[J.C. Flowers Foundation] On March 1 – 3, bishops from Angola, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe called for increased commitment to malaria elimination during a round table meeting in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. The meeting, hosted by the Isdell:Flowers Cross Border Malaria Initiative, provided a platform for religious leaders to emphasize the critical role of the Anglican Church in the fight against malaria.

Bishop Cleophas Lunga of the Anglican Diocese of Matabeleland, Bishop David Njovu of the Anglican Diocese of Lusaka, Bishop Luke Pato of the Anglican Diocese of Namibia, and Bishop Andre Soares of the Anglican Diocese of Angola were joined by government officials from several countries, including Dr. Elizabeth Chizema, director of the National Malaria Elimination Centre in Zambia.

While significant progress has been made towards malaria elimination in the region, those living in remote, impoverished communities along the countries’ four borders remain at risk and continue to die from malaria. Many of these communities lack access to health care and basic infrastructure, yet the Anglican Church is present and continues to implement malaria programs that provide malaria education, testing and treatment and bed net distribution.

Chris Flowers and Neville Isdell, co-founders of the Isdell:Flowers Cross Border Malaria Initiative, lauded the work of the bishops, and emphasized the need for collaboration across borders – a sentiment echoed by Zimbabwe’s minister of Health and Child Care, Dr. David Parirenyatwa.

General Dr. Kaka Mudambo of the Southern Africa Roll Back Malaria Network (SARN) delivered Parirenyatwa’s remarks during the official opening of the Round Table on March 1.

“The Zambia-Zimbabwe (ZAM-ZIM) cross-border malaria initiative is unique because of the role of the Anglican Church, which is mobilizing grassroots and community-based participation in the planning and implementation and evaluation processes,” said Mudambo on behalf of the minister. “We are all determined to see [malaria] elimination in the ZAM-ZIM districts and our strong collaboration with the Zambia Ministry of Health will ensure maximum support from the two governments.”

Throughout the three-day meeting, the bishops took part in discussions surrounding cross-border collaboration. Of particular importance, the bishops and other attendees disused the need to reduce or eliminate border tariffs – as they create added barriers for malaria elimination, including burdensome fees for the transport of bed nets and other commodities used to fight malaria.

The conference, which began with an Ash Wednesday service at the Church of the Resurrection in Victoria Falls Town, served as a rallying call for communities of faith, particularly the Anglican Church, to continue its important work in the fight against malaria.

Profits and prophets: are you watching?

prophetsSome nine years on from the financial crisis of 2008, the global banking giant HSBC has just reported a 62 per cent fall in profits. Brexit and the US election were cited as key factors behind the sharp drop in profitability, illustrating again how volatile this fundamental sector remains and how globalisation, for all its positives, means we live in surprisingly uncertain times. Bound together as we are, unconnected events in widely different parts of the world can quickly have a domino effect that is felt by all.

‘Uncertainty’ seems to be an apt word for our times. Things many of us once held in high esteem are being eroded: capitalism, globalisation, international institutions and perhaps even democracy itself. And we in the UK are at the heart of this uncertainty. This week the debate in
the House of Lords has centred on the government’s Brexit bill, but because there is no government majority in the House, further uncertainty looms. Amendments to the bill will be sought and from both Remain and Brexit perspectives it will feel as if democracy is being undermined. We all want certainty, but it seems we can no longer agree on what it looks like.

As Christians should we really be surprised by the uncertainty of the times we are living in? In Matthew 24 and other passages, scripture makes it abundantly clear that there will be a times of immense destabilisation, of earthquakes and wars, when the influential are corrupt and deceive. When Mark 13 speaks of these times, it comes with a command of how we as Christians should respond, one that is given more force by the abrupt ending to the section. We are to “watch”, and yet this spiritual discipline is so overlooked by many of us – even in a social media age when news is available at the click of a button.

Clearly quickly digesting news and being watchful are two different things. Being watchful requires deeper reflection, developing a discerning spirit and ever enquiring: “What is it, God, that you are saying in these uncertain times and calling me to do?”

In the Old Testament God gave prophets to speak into the events of the day whereas now God is calling the whole body to be watchful. The reasons are sobering and clear – it’s to ensure we are personally ready, able to stand secure in our faith, but also to serve as a reminder of our part in God’s mission to be a voice for the Certain One in these uncertain times. Our message is a message of hope, a message that the cross offers an eternal future that is certain and starts right now for those who will accept the gift of amazing grace in Jesus. The certainty of the gospel is made all the clearer in these uncertain times. Being watchful also goes beyond our personal spiritual welfare to thinking collaboratively and strategically about how we as a united force can make Jesus known. Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17 is ultimately a prayer for greater collaboration because it is through our working together we can be most effective.

These are all powerful reminders to be watchful, to be mindful of the bigger picture and to remember how a coordinated approach is most certainly needed.

The question is: are you watching?

(The Evangelical Alliance)

English bishops call for “fresh tone” to sexuality debate

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] The bishops of the Church of England have ruled out any change to the Church’s doctrine on marriage and sexuality; while calling for a “fresh tone” in the way the issue is handled. In a report on behalf of the House of Bishops published today (Friday) ahead of next month’s meeting of the General Synod, the Bishop of Norwich, Graham James, said that Anglicanism has always been “a contested tradition” where different views are held together; and he suggests that that this approach should be extended to sexuality. The bishops propose that existing law and guidance should be interpreted with “maximum freedom” without changes to the law, or the doctrine of the Church.

The report will be discussed by General Synod members in small groups on Wednesday 15 February; ahead of a plenary “Take Note” debate.

church“Our vocation to be the spiritual home for all the people of England has, historically, enabled us to work together despite the distinctives of catholic, evangelical, and liberal traditions,” Bishop Graham said. “We recognise that for many holding a conservative view of scripture the underlying issue at stake is that of faithfulness to God’s word and this raises ‘first order’ questions in relation to the heart of the gospel. For others, the imperative to read scripture differently stems from a parallel conviction.

“It is our present determination to remain together as witnesses to the unity of the Triune God that forces us to try to hear the scriptural, theological and missiological arguments of those with whom we disagree profoundly. We believe that, in some way perhaps hidden from us, they still have something to teach us about the Kingdom of God – already here and still to come.

“It is the responsibility of the bishops to help the Church to identify the next steps – not necessarily toward a ‘solution’ but towards greater clarity about what is at stake and how the good news of God in Jesus Christ can be shared more effectively. We are called to live the gospel and share it with those whose lives we find attractive and those whom we find hard to love; with those who hear willingly and those who reject us – because God alone understands the impact the gospel will have. It is in this calling to everyone that all agree that today we fall short as part of the Body of Christ and that we must do better.”

He said that contemporary Western cultures perceive the Church’s current teaching as “undermining, even contradicting, our Lord’s command that we should love one another as ourselves.”

He continued: “Whether that is the fault of our teaching or of the culture around us is not the core missiological issue for the Church today. If we are heard as lacking in love, our ability to proclaim the God of love as revealed in Jesus Christ is damaged or negated. No Church that is committed to God’s mission can live comfortably with that situation. But it is in the nature of a Church like the Church of England that the way through this is profoundly contested.

“This is true domestically where, over many years, serious study of scripture and theology has reached conflicting conclusions in the way we handle the faith we have inherited. It is also felt keenly because of the position of the Church of England within the Anglican Communion and the worldwide Church, since the question of proclaiming the gospel within culture must take account of the widely differing cultures around the world, where human sexuality is often a touchstone issue, but in contradictory ways.”

Bishop Graham said that the bishops’ proposed approach would mean four practical developments:

  • establishing across the Church of England a fresh tone and culture of welcome and support for lesbian and gay people, for those who experience same sex attraction, and for their families, and continuing to work toward mutual love and understanding on these issues across the Church;
  • the creation of a substantial new teaching document on marriage and relationships, replacing or expanding upon the House’s teaching document of 1999 on marriage and the 1991 document Issues in Human Sexuality;
  • guidance for clergy about appropriate pastoral provision for same sex couples; and
  • new guidance from the House about the nature of questions put to ordinands and clergy about their lifestyle.

women-311422_960_720The bishops do not propose to change the law that prohibits clergy from solemnising same-sex marriages; or to authorise or commend any liturgy of blessing for same-sex partnerships. But they are suggesting that they will provide guidance for clergy who wish to offer prayers for same-sex couples, which would specify “what may not take place and offering advice about what may.”

Bishop Graham said that the issue of church unity was one of the theological themes that emerged as the bishops discussed the issue. “The unity of the Church is much more than resistance to institutional fragmentation, though it is not a bad motivation for it,” he said.

“We want to continue to ‘walk together’, to use the phrase from the Primates’ Meeting a year ago, in a way that is based on a common commitment to biblical truths but recognises our continuing disagreement with one another. We want to maintain and indeed deepen the communion we currently have with one another across our serious disagreements on this issue, a possibility to which some involved in the Shared Conversations would testify.

“We do not accept that those disagreements make some kind of major fracture in our Church inevitable at this point, nor that it is time to start planning for division.

“The unity of a particular Church is not something that can be detached from the unity of the Universal Church. As well as continuing and deepening communion within the Church of England as we begin to deliberate on next steps in this area, we want to listen to and learn with other Churches in and beyond the Anglican Communion, seeking together the mind of Christ. In doing so, account has to be taken of the fact that the overwhelming majority of those Churches subscribe to the traditional teaching on marriage reflected in our own doctrine and teaching.

“Moreover, the Church of England’s own position in the Anglican Communion – membership of which is defined by being in communion with the See of Canterbury – inevitably means that any departure from its doctrine and teaching would have implications for the Communion

“The unity of the Church cannot be detached from our common faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and therefore from the teaching through which that gospel is faithfully passed on. In following this approach, the Church of England would be continuing to affirm unequivocally the doctrine of marriage set out in [the C of E’s Canons], and to be able to expound it with confidence as the Church’s teaching.

“Given the distinctive relationship between doctrine and public worship in the Church of England, that also requires that what happens in our services consistently reflects that teaching.

“At the same time, the Church of England would also be accepting that it has a pastoral and a missional duty to articulate its doctrine in this area as in others in the light of changing circumstances and in the light of fresh insights about truth, goodness and justice. Faithfulness to the doctrine we have received cannot be a pretext for neglecting that duty.”

Church’s homosexuality debate tops 2016 news stories

By Joey Butler (UMNS)

With the election of the denomination’s first openly lesbian bishop and the creation of a special commission to examine church law on homosexuality, the ongoing debate over sexuality issues in The United Methodist Church was considered the top news story in 2016 by church communicators.

In a United Methodist News Service poll, coverage of the Commission on a Way Forward came in first place out of 34 ballots cast by communicators in the United States, Africa and Asia, along with News Service staff. Second was the Western Jurisdiction’s election of the Rev. Karen Oliveto, a married lesbian, as bishop.

The denomination’s global response to natural disasters was third, followed by the election of 15 new U.S. bishops and bishop elections in the central conferences. Fifth was the story of a Philippines United Methodist Church compound that gave sanctuary to 4,000 farmers and indigenous people following an outbreak of violence at a protest.

First: Commission on a Way Forward

In the months before General Conference 2016, the church’s stance on human sexuality seemed to lead all discussion, and that played out once the church’s top legislative assembly began its session. Delegates on opposite sides couldn’t even agree on a method for discussing the issue, much less the issue itself.

Delegates ultimately voted to accept the recommendation of the Council of Bishops to delay further debate on homosexuality and name a special commission that would completely examine and possibly recommend revisions of every paragraph in the Book of Discipline related to human sexuality.

The 32-member Commission on a Way Forward is made up of a mix of bishops, clergy and laity of diverse views on the subject — although the group’s membership has faced criticism.

The Council of Bishops said it intends to call a special General Conference in 2019 — expected after the commission begins looking at the church’s teachings on homosexuality and church unity.

Bishop Bruce R. Ough reads a statement about sexuality and the church from the denomination's Council of Bishops on May 18 at the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Ore. Photo by Paul Jeffrey, UMNS.
Bishop Bruce R. Ough reads a statement about sexuality and the church from the denomination’s Council of Bishops on May 18 at the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Ore. Photo by Paul Jeffrey, UMNS.

Second: Oliveto election

While General Conference delegates elected to “pause” debate over LGBTQ clergy, the Western Jurisdiction kept moving, electing and consecrating the first lesbian bishop in the denomination. Bishop Karen Oliveto is now serving the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area.

Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS Delegate Pierre Kasongo (right) and other members of the Tanganyika delegation vote on legislation while supporters of full rights for LGBTQ persons in the life of The United Methodist Church stand with their mouths taped shut outside the bar of the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Ore., to symbolize the way LGBTQ people feel they are silenced by the church
Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS
Delegate Pierre Kasongo (right) and other members of the Tanganyika delegation vote on legislation while supporters of full rights for LGBTQ persons in the life of The United Methodist Church stand with their mouths taped shut outside the bar of the 2016 United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Ore., to symbolize the way LGBTQ people feel they are silenced by the church

Oliveto, former pastor of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco, was elected July 15 at the jurisdiction’s quadrennial meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona. She has been legally married to her long-time partner, an ordained United Methodist deaconess, for more than two years.

On the heels of Oliveto’s election, members of the South Central Jurisdiction voted to ask the Judicial Council for a declaratory decision regarding same-sex church leaders. The church’s top court will consider the petition when it next meets, in the spring of 2017.

Third: Disaster response

The United Methodist Church, through churches, annual conferences, the United Methodist Committee on Relief and individuals, stepped up again and again to help after natural disasters. From historic flooding in Louisiana, South Carolina, West Virginia, Iowa, Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, to damage from Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, Cuba and the United States, to drought in sub-Saharan Africa, typhoons in the Philippines and tornadoes in Indiana, United Methodists were there.

Fourth: Episcopal elections

United Methodists around the world elected or re-elected new bishops. In the United States, the 15 new bishops included a record seven women in four jurisdictions, highlighted by the first African-

American woman bishop in the Southeastern Jurisdiction. Elections in the central conferences began in October with the re-election of Bishop Christian Alstedof the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference.

Elections were held Nov. 28-Dec. 4 in the Philippines, with the re-election of all three active bishops — Rodolfo A. Juan, Pedro M. Torio Jr. and Ciriaco Q. Francisco.

The West Africa Central Conference, meeting Dec. 13-16, elected the Rev. Samuel J. Quire Jr., administrative assistant to the bishop in Liberia, as Liberia’s new bishop.

Other episcopal elections still upcoming:

• Congo Central Conference, March 6-10, 2017

• Germany Central Conference, March 15-19, 2017

Thousands of farmers sought shelter at Spottswood Methodist Mission Center after government forces fired on their peaceful demonstration. Three were killed, 18 severely injured, close to a 100 wounded and scores missing. The center sheltered thousands of women, men and children for three days. Photo courtesy of United Methodist Bishop Ciriaco Q. Francisco.

Thousands of farmers sought shelter at Spottswood Methodist Mission Center in the Philippines after government forces fired on their peaceful demonstration. Three were killed, 18 severely injured, close to 100 wounded and scores missing. The center sheltered thousands of women, men and children for three days. Photo courtesy of United Methodist Bishop Ciriaco Q. Francisco.

Fifth: Church offers sanctuary

A United Methodist Church compound in the Philippines gave sanctuary to 4,000 farmers and indigenous people after an April 1 protest for food relief turned deadly. Three protesters were killed and more than 100 injured when security forces fired on the crowd blocking a major highway. Protesters poured into the Spottswood Methodist Mission Center for refuge.

Though the action sparked tension with government authorities, church leaders expressed solidarity with the protesters.

Other stories garnering votes:

• Five conferences passed some version of a non-conformity resolution related to restrictive church law on homosexuality. The New York Conference ordained openly gay clergy, in opposition to church law.

• United Methodists in Michigan and throughout the church came together with zeal to help Flint, Michigan, residents deal with contaminated water. Churches collected and distributed water and the conference appointed a water crisis coordinator.

SELECTING THE TOP 5

Conference communicators and editors, as well as United Methodist News Service staff, vote each year on what stories were the biggest news in the denomination.

A first-place vote counts five points, second place four, and so on. If two stories get the same number of points, the number of first-place votes is used as the tiebreaker.

• About 1,800 people attended the organizing meeting of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, which declared its intention to lead Methodism in a more evangelical direction. Organizers announced their hope is to work within The United Methodist Church, while leaving open the possibility of moving outside it.

whenad2• Many United Methodists supported Native American protests against the Dakotas Access Pipeline, including the bishops of the Western Jurisdiction, who sent a letter to President Obama expressing support for the Standing Rock Sioux.

• Hillary Clinton, a lifelong United Methodist, became the first woman to head a major party ticket for U.S. president, later losing the Nov. 8 election to President-elect Donald Trump.

• United Methodists and their relatives were among the dead in a massacre in Beni in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Aug. 13.

• General Conference 2016 voted to discontinue membership in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, which The United Methodist Church helped found more than 40 years ago. Five annual conferences later voted to rejoin the organization at either national or state levels.

Freedom of religion or belief ‘the defining issue of our time’

by Claudia Atts, Worldwatch Monitor 

An Egyptian Christian prays moments before his beheading on a beach in Libya (2015).
An Egyptian Christian prays moments before his beheading on a beach in Libya (2015).

 

Over 100 parliamentarians from 60 countries met this week in Berlin for a series of workshops and seminars under the title, “An Embattled Right: Protecting and Promoting Freedom of Religion of Belief”.

The second conference of this size after last year’s meeting in New York, it was organised by the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFoRB) and hosted by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

IPPFoRB is an informal network of parliamentarians and legislators from around the world committed to combatting religious persecution and advancing freedom of religion or belief, as defined by Article 18 of the UN Universal Declaration for Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

support2“Make no mistake, with 74% of the world’s population living in countries with high or very high restrictions or hostilities, freedom of religion or belief is an embattled right and the defining issue of our time.”–Canadian MP David Anderson

German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened the last day (14 Sep.), a public symposium with about 300 participants – including NGOs, church representatives and media – held in Germany’s Parliament, the Reichstag. She was met with great enthusiasm; many expressed gratitude to Germany for its “welcome” policy, and for sheltering so many refugees from countries where minority Christians are being persecuted – Syria, Iraq and many others. Merkel assured the conference that on her foreign visits she addresses her concerns that human rights are not being upheld – in countries like China, Iran and Pakistan.

Volker Kauder, parliamentary group leader for the Christian Democratic Union of Germany. Claudia Atts
Volker Kauder, parliamentary group leader for the Christian Democratic Union of Germany.
Claudia Atts

She said that in Germany she wants to promote compulsory religious education for every child in school – about every major religion, as well as philosophy and ethics – though it’s not in her power to enforce this. Better education is the key to understanding and ensures a productive dialogue between cultures and religions, she said.

“The logical consequence of freedom is a living and kicking plurality,” said Merkel.

But she stressed that, for her, the wearing of a full veil in public hinders integration: she said that in public places such as courts, or for government employees such as teachers, this should not be allowed.

Volker Kauder, parliamentary group leader for Merkel’s conservative Christian Democratic Union of Germany Party (CDU), who’s campaigned against the persecution of Christians for their faith, summarised the global situation: persecution and the violation of human rights have never been worse than at this moment, he said. Whereas in previous years the persecution came from governments, he said it’s now coming from non-government forces such as ISIS, Boko Haram and others, and in countries where governments are dysfunctional or where leaders turn a blind eye.

The only positive development he shared was from India’s Odisha state, where nationalistically-motivated Hindus have persecuted Christians: he said intervention by the German government and his persistence in talking to leading Indian government figures has helped to ensurevictims have been paid compensation andguilty parties have been sent to jail. “No leader wants to be accused publicly of being a persecutor”, said Kauder. He encouraged more MPs to join the IPPFoRB and promised to promote it in the Bundestag in the coming week, as German MPs will be debating religious freedom.

According to Johannes Singhammer, Vice-President of the German Bundestag, Coptic Christians in Egypt now have a better measure of religious freedom. He was concerned that the on-going war in the Middle East is destroying the historic Christian heritage of thousand-year-old buildings. Of more than a million Christians in Iraq before the 2003 war, at least 700,000 have fled the country. Quoting information from Open Doors, an international charity that supports Christians under pressure, he said persecution is on the rise compared to recent years. “Persecutors are operating in the dark, so it’s our responsibility to bring their deeds to light,” said Singhammer. Although the discussion “should not lead to digging trenches between religions”, one solution, he said, “could be to cut the money flow to oppressive governments”.

Greek MP Theodora Bakoyannis said later: “The time for Europeans’ soft politics is over. We won’t change anything only by hinting and talking. We are all guilty of putting our economic interests first, and our moral and ethical beliefs second. We have our hierarchy all wrong… Nobody stops Saudi Arabia. They are building and financing mosques in several European countries and installing their own imams there, and nobody dares to do anything against that because of trade relations. And on the other hand no church building is allowed in their country.”

Another participant added: “Saudi Arabia is equipping ISIS with German and European weapons“. (German media Der Spiegel reports that a German weapons manufacturer sent armed helicopters and machine guns to Saudi Arabia earlier this year, while the UK sent 3 billion Euros’ worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia in 2015.)

rf_j_n_figelJán Figel from the Slovak Republic was introduced as the first Special Envoy for the promotion of Freedom of Religion or Belief Outside the EU. While welcoming the creation of Figel’s new post, Volker Kauder bemoaned the fact that Figel can give only two days a month to the role and has only one assistant. Kauder promised he would try to change this.

A Macedonian MP pointed out that many other countries should have special envoys. He praised Germany as a role model for debating the issue in Parliament, as did Rabbi David Saperstein, US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom. Saperstein said the subject seemed to be a “no-go” in American debates in the Senate.

Asiya Nasir from Pakistan, a founding member of the IPPFoRB, was another speaker. Nasir, a Christian, is in her third term as a parliamentarian in the National Assembly of Pakistan, where she is in the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Party as a minority MP, and said she has earned the respect of Muslim MPs. In Pakistan, she said, churches are allowed to have their own buildings and gather for services, but that they are prohibited from sharing their faith with non-Christians. The blasphemy law prevents Christians from doing so, she said, and it has also been misused to persecute Christians. She cited the example of Shahzad and Shama Masih, a young Christian couple burned alive by a mob after they it was announced from a mosque’s loudspeakers that they had burnt a copy of the Qur’an.

It is due to Nasir’s work as an MP that mosques are no longer allowed to use their speakers for this purpose. She said her motto is, “You cannot progress in isolation”, and that she continues to work with other minorities who are also deprived of their rights.

Another representative was Vian Dakhil, the only Yazidi member of the Kurdish party in the Iraqi parliament. She described the situation of the Yazidis, a Kurdish minority. Since August 2014, she said the Yazidis have been attacked, killed and enslaved by ISIS. Thousands of men have been killed, 6,000 women and girls have been kidnapped and raped, hundreds of thousands live as refugees in tent camps. Sometimes she said they are able to buy back girls from ISIS for US$1,000, but the girls have been heavily traumatised.

Four advocacy letters addressing specific religious-freedom concerns in Eritrea, Pakistan, Sudan and Vietnam were signed by the parliamentarians and attendees. In them were several names of church leaders who are imprisoned, in detention or under house arrest solely for practising their religion. Also criticised in the letters were: torture of prisoners, the confiscation and demolition of church buildings, and forbidding the distribution of books and scriptures. Volker Kauder announced that delegations would be revisiting these countries to assess whether any progress is made.

P Asiya Nasir, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, Pakistan. Claudia Atts
P Asiya Nasir, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, Pakistan.
Claudia Atts

Another result of the conference was that an African MP announced that an African IPPFoRB group had begun in conjunction with the meetings in Berlin. Leonardo Quintao, a Brazilian MP, shared that a South American IPPFoRB branch will meet later this year in Paraguay.

David Anderson, an MP from Canada and member of the IPPFoRB Steering Group, said: “Make no mistake, with 74% of the world’s population living in countries with high or very high restrictions or hostilities, freedom of religion or belief is an embattled right and the defining issue of our time. Freedom to believe is what shapes our common humanity and, if we are not careful, we risk losing it.” Summing up the conference, he reminded MPs that they are “multipliers” responsible for bringing in even more people, and that “the marathon has only just begun”.

“We have come far in a short time. Starting with only five MPs three years ago, we are now an ever growing network and have accomplished much,” said Abid Raja, MP in Norway, also on the steering committee. Many agreed that one of the biggest strengths of the IPPFoRB is that it’s an organic network and not a set, inflexible organisation.

As an example of success, Raja cited a recent visit to the government of Myanmar by MPs of five countries to address human-rights violations. Baroness Elizabeth Berridge, Member of the House of Lords, UK and steering member of the IPPFoRB, noted that the North American team is less likely to address problems in North Korea than, for example, an Asian team; Malaysian MP Charles Santiago confirmed this by reporting a positive dialogue with the North Korean embassy in Malaysia. (www.worldwatchmonitor.org)

 ‘ISIS on a mission to exterminate Christians’

Shiraz Maher, senior research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King's College London, in a 2015 photo. Morten Brakestad / Stortinget / Flickr CC
Shiraz Maher, senior research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London, in a 2015 photo.
Morten Brakestad / Stortinget / Flickr CC

By the World Watch Monitor

The  so-called Islamic State will not stop until it has “exterminated” all other religious groups, according to a former Islamic extremist now working in counter-terrorism.

“They’re on a mission – a programme of extermination – to wipe out everyone else,” said Shiraz Maher, a former member of Islamist group Hizbut Tahrir, speaking this week in London as he promoted his book, “Salafi-Jihadism: The History of an Idea”.

Maher said wiping out Christians, in particular, is a “very important part” of IS’s ideology. He said that although they were “religious amateurs” with “weak theology”, their claim to have restored the Caliphate – by appointing Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as “God’s representative on earth” – has given them a strong position, which leaves other Muslims with a choice: reject that claim or to “do whatever he says”.

Who is Shiraz Maher?
Born in Britain, Shiraz Maher became a member of the Islamist group Hizbut Tahrir after 9/11, saying it had “activated” anti-American ideas picked up during several years in Saudi Arabia. He left the group after the 7/7 London bombings, and criticised its ideology, claiming it led to terrorism. He now works as a senior research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London.

However, Maher, a senior research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College London, said IS’s ideology did “not necessarily need to resound” with all of its followers – only the leadership. He said this was one of the group’s greatest strengths – its ability to attract people without developing more than a “tokenistic” theology.

‘Mosul will be held for some time yet’

“We’re losing,” said Maher, when asked about the current status of the fight against IS. “The Syrian crisis is a huge disaster for everybody. Only the jihadists are winning. These groups are very entrenched, they aren’t going anywhere. ISIS is not suffering any kind of existential threat.”

Maher said he thinks Mosul will be held “for some time yet”, saying that “for the past year Iraq’s army has been saying they’ll recapture it in three months’ time”. He said he thought the same was true of Raqqa – IS’s de facto capital – because to lose either of these bases would constitute an “existential threat”, whereas other territory is expendable.

World Watch Monitor has reported on the anguish of the Christians displaced from Mosul more than two years ago. On 6-7 August,prayer services were held in Internally Displaced People camps across the country to mark the “Black Day” in 2014 when IS took the towns surrounding the northern Iraqi city, such as Qaraqosh.

What is Salafi-jihadism?

Maher explained that Salafi-jihadists like IS are desperate to return to what they view as the “golden era” of Islam, when Muhammad and the two generations after him provided an “authentic” example of what it is to be a Muslim. He said that while they believe it is impossible to attain to the “level” of Muhammad, it is possible to emulate the “pious predecessors”.

Maher said Salafi-jihadists hold five core beliefs, which are expanded upon in his book:

1. Jihad – It is necessary to engage in combat to truly partake in “jihad” (holy war).

2. Excommunication – It is possible to “excommunicate” other Muslims by engaging in “takfir” – accusing another Muslim of being impure.

3. Loyalty – Muslims owe a special loyalty to other Muslims and, by virtue of this, a disloyalty to others and a disavowal of their beliefs.

4. Monotheism – While all Muslims are monotheists, Maher said there is some disagreement as to how to “demonstrate belief in this concept”. For Salafi-jihadists, he said “you can’t be a true monotheists unless you fight jihad”.

dayoflord5. An Islamic State – The ideal is to create a state governed by Muslims in accordance with Sharia.

Maher said that all Muslims would be able to identify to various degrees with these concepts, but that their interpretation of how to “realise their monotheism” (be the best Muslim they can be) will be different. He said that even among “Salafis” – those desperate to attain to the level of the “pious predecessors” – there are many “quietists”, who “aren’t concerned with changing the world” and whose expression of monotheism will be played out on a purely personal level, such as ensuring their beard is the “correct” length.

These Salafis, he said, spend their time “trying to better themselves or to resolve esoteric debates … and place a huge emphasis on social stability”.

Al-Qaeda ‘trying to win hearts and minds’

Maher contrasted IS with Al-Qaeda, which he said has changed its tactics to a “more pragmatic” approach aimed at gaining public support.

He gave the example of Al-Qaeda’s recent suspension of Islamic punishments in the areas it governs in Syria’s north-western Idlib province, and contrasted this with the continued brash brutality of IS.

Al-Qaeda, Maher said, are able to justify their relative leniency by citing, in line with Islamic doctrine, that punishments can be suspended “in times of calamity”. He said that Al-Qaeda produced “hundreds of pages of booklets to explain or justify its actions”, whereas IS will just boast about its actions with a short video or one-paragraph press release.

Maher warned that the “genuine public support” that exists for these groups in some places will make them “much more intractable in the long run”.  (https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org)

 UK government funds security at places of worship

 

[Anglican Communion News Service] The U.K. government have announced a £2.4 million ($3.1 million) fund to help secure places of worship in England and Wales.

Churches, mosques and temples have been invited to bid for grants if they can show that they are at risk of attack from religious hate crimes. Synagogues are excluded from the program because the government has provided a separate grant to the Community Security Trust, a charity that provides protection services to Britain’s Jewish communities.

bible-1089968_960_720The scheme was launched June 26 by Britain’s senior home affairs minister, Amber Rudd, as she outlined a Hate Crime Action Plan. This will include a study into how the different police forces in the country understand and respond to hate crimes; and a commitment from the government to “give young people and teachers the tools they need to tackle hatred and prejudice, including through a new program to equip teachers to facilitate conversations around international events and the impact they have on communities here in the UK.”

The action plan was launched following a rise in racist incidents since the UK voted to withdraw from the European Union. This has led in particular to an increase in anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents.

donateArchbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has frequently spoken out against the rise in racist incidents since the EU referendum. Earlier this month, at the Church of England’s General Synod in York, he said: “It is perfectly clear that the result and the referendum campaign had “exposed deep divisions in our society, of which we were aware already” and he called on the Church to “respond with a fresh effort in integration.”

“The result [of the referendum] has released a latent racism and xenophobia in all sectors, and challenges the prevailing consensus of tolerance and acceptance, thus threatening other areas of welcome liberalization,” he said.

Speaking at the launch of the Hate Crime Action Plan, Rudd said that “Those who practice hatred send out a message that it’s okay to abuse and attack others because of their nationality, ethnicity or religious background; that it’s okay to disregard our shared values and promote the intolerance that causes enormous harm to communities and individuals.

“Well, I have a very clear message for them. We will not stand for it. Hatred has no place whatsoever in a 21st century Great Britain that works for everyone.

“We are Great Britain because we are united by values such as democracy, free speech, mutual respect and opportunity for all. We are the sum of all our parts – a proud, diverse society. Hatred does not get a seat at the table, and we will do everything we can to stamp it out.”

A government spokesperson added that its commitment to tackling hate crime was “underpinned by some of the strongest legislation in the world”, including “specific offenses for racially and religiously aggravated activity and offenses of stirring up hatred on the grounds of race, religion and sexual orientation.

“The government has worked with the police to improve our collective response to hate crime including ensuring the recording of religious based hate crime now includes the faith of the victim, a measure which came into effect this year.”