Turks Threaten to Kill Priest over Swiss Minaret Decision


Slap to religious freedom in Switzerland leads to threat over church bell tower in Turkey.

ISTANBUL, December 15 (CDN) — In response to a Swiss vote banning the construction of new mosque minarets, a group of Muslims this month went into a church building in eastern Turkey and threatened to kill a priest unless he tore down its bell tower, according to an advocacy group.

Three Muslims on Dec. 4 entered the Meryem Ana Church, a Syriac Orthodox church in Diyarbakir, and confronted the Rev. Yusuf Akbulut. They told him that unless the bell tower was destroyed in one week, they would kill him.

“If Switzerland is demolishing our minarets, we will demolish your bell towers too,” one of the men told Akbulut.

The threats came in reaction to a Nov. 29 referendum in Switzerland in which 57 percent voted in favor of banning the construction of new minarets in the country. Swiss lawmakers must now change the national constitution to reflect the referendum, a process that should take more than a year.

The Swiss ban, widely viewed around the world as a breach of religious freedom, is likely to face legal challenges in Switzerland and in the European Court of Human Rights.

There are roughly 150 mosques in Switzerland, four with minarets. Two more minarets are planned. The call to prayer traditional in Muslim-majority countries is not conducted from any of the minarets.

Fikri Aygur, vice president of the European Syriac Union, said that Akbulut has contacted police but has otherwise remained defiant in the face of the threats.

“He has contacted the police, and they gave him guards,” he said. “I talked with him two days ago, and he said, ‘It is my job to protect the church, so I will stand here and leave it in God’s hands.’”

Meryem Ana is more than 250 years old and is one of a handful of churches that serve the Syriac community in Turkey. Also known as Syrian Orthodox, the Syriacs are an ethnic and religious minority in Turkey and were one of the first groups of people to accept Christianity. They speak Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, a language spoken by Christ. Diyarbakir is located in eastern Turkey, about 60 miles from the Syrian border.

At press time the tower was standing and the priest was safe, said Jerry Mattix, youth pastor at the Diyarbakir Evangelical Church, which is located across a street from Meryem Ana Church.

Mattix said that threats against Christians in Diyarbakir are nothing out of the ordinary. Mattix commonly receives threats, both in the mail and posted on the church’s Internet site, he said.

“We’re kind of used to that,” Mattix said. He added that he has received no threats over the minaret situation but added, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we do.”

Mattix said the people making threats in the area are Muslim radicals with ties to Hezbollah “who like to flex their muscles.”

“We are a major target out here, and we are aware of that,” Mattix said. “But the local police are taking great strides to protect us.”

Mattix said he also has “divine confidence” in God’s protection.

The European Syriac Union’s Aygur said that Christians in Turkey often serve as scapegoats for inflamed local Muslims who want to lash out at Europeans.

“When they [Europeans] take actions against the Muslims, the Syriacs get persecuted by the fanatical Muslims there,” he said.

The threats against the church were part of a public outcry in Turkey that included newspaper editorials characterizing the Swiss decision as “Islamophobia.” One Turkish government official called upon Muslims to divest their money from Swiss bank accounts. He invited them to place their money in the Turkish banking system.

In part, the threats also may reflect a larger and well-established pattern of anti-Christian attitudes in Turkey. A recent study conducted by two professors at Sabanci University found that 59 percent of those surveyed said non-Muslims either “should not” or “absolutely should not” be allowed to hold open meetings where they can discuss their ideas.

The survey also found that almost 40 percent of the population of Turkey said they had “very negative” or “negative” views of Christians. In Turkey, Christians are often seen as agents of outside forces bent on dividing the country.

This is not the first time Akbulut has faced persecution. Along with a constant string of threats and harassment, he was tried and acquitted in 2000 for saying to the press that Syriacs were “massacred” along with Armenians in 1915 killings.

In Midyat, also in eastern Turkey, someone recently dug a tunnel under the outlying buildings of a Syriac church in hopes of undermining the support of the structure.

At the Mor Gabriel Monastery, also near Midyat, there is a legal battle over the lands surrounding the monastery. Founded in 397 A.D., Mor Gabriel is arguably the oldest monastery in use today. It is believed local Muslim leaders took the monastery to court in an attempt to seize lands from the church. The monastery has prevailed in all but one case, which is still underway.

“These and similar problems that are threatening the very existence of the remaining Syriacs in Turkey have reached a very serious and worrying level,” Aygur stated in a press release. “Especially, whenever there is a problem about Islam in the European countries, the Syriacs’ existence in Turkey is threatened with such pressures and aggressions.”

Report from Compass Direct News 

Kyrgyzstan: Religious freedom survey, December 2009


In its survey analysis of freedom of religion or belief in Kyrgyzstan, Forum 18 News Service finds that the state continues to violate its commitments to implement freedom of religion or belief for all. Limitations on this fundamental freedom and other human rights have increased – in both law and practice – under President Kurmanbek Bakiev.

A harsh new Religion Law was adopted in 2009, despite international protests, and a similarly harsh new Law on Religious Education and Educational Institutions is being drafted. There are also plans for a new Law on Traditional Religions.

State actions, including banning unregistered religious activity and raids on meetings for worship, show little sign of either a willingness to implement human rights commitments, or an understanding that genuine security depends on genuine respect for human rights.

As a Baha’i put it to Forum 18: "Our country has so many urgent problems – poverty, the lack of medicine, AIDS, crime, corruption. Why don’t officials work on these instead of making life harder for religious believers?" Kyrgyzstan faces the UN Universal Periodic Review process in May 2010.

Report from the Christian Telegraph 

Australian Territory Approves Same-Sex Civil Ceremonies


By Patrick B. Craine

CANBERRA, Australia, November 11, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has legalized civil partnership ceremonies for homosexuals.

Same-sex couples in the ACT have been able to register their union since last year, but were not permitted a ceremony.

The legislature of the territory, where the nation’s parliament is located, passed the bill on Wednesday, following an amendment banning opposite-sex couples from obtaining the civil unions.  The bill was moved by the ACT’s Greens party.

The ACT’s amendment was passed so as to satisfy federal requirements that such unions not mimic marriage.

"We understand that this is not same-sex marriage," said Shane Rattenbury, the Greens member who drafted the bill.  "This legislation is another step along the road to full equality for same-sex couples in Australia, and we are delighted that the assembly has passed it today."

The federal Commonwealth Parliament, which has the power to override legislation passed in the country’s two territories, has strongly opposed same-sex "marriage," and the ACT legislature has been fighting with them for same-sex civil unions since 2006.

That year, the ACT passed legislation approving same-sex civil unions, but their attempt was struck down by then-Governor General Michael Jeffery on the advice of then-Attorney General Philip Ruddock.

The law would have effectively granted same-sex couples the same rights and benefits as married couples, simply leaving out the term "marriage."  At the time, then-Prime Minister John Howard said the ACT’s move sought to undermine the nation’s 2004 Marriage Amendment Bill, which established marriage as a union between one man and one woman, and specifically excluded same-sex "marriage."

Regarding the current bill, one member of the ACT’s legislature, Vicki Dunne, who serves as shadow attorney-general, predicted that the federal government would stop the bill.  "It is almost certain the Commonwealth will intervene," she told the Telegraph.  "It still sounds like a marriage and it still feels like a marriage and therefore it probably is a marriage."

Last year, the federal government granted new legal and financial benefits to same-sex couples by making changes to about 100 federal laws.  Nevertheless, they continued to declare their intention to uphold the true definition of marriage.

"The government believes that marriage is between a man and a woman so it won’t amend the marriage act," said Attorney-General Robert McClelland.

Australia’s Senate has now initiated an inquiry into the Marriage Amendment Bill, however, hearing arguments this week both for and against same-sex "marriage."  The submissions the committee received, totalling more than 20,000, were against same-sex "marriage" by a ratio of two to one.

This Report from LifeSiteNews.com

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THE ‘NEW CALVINISM’: A Review of the Peter Masters assault on the new breed of Calvinists


I have recently come across an article penned by Peter Masters of the ‘Metropolitan Tabernacle, in London, England. Writing in the ‘Sword & Trowel’ 2009, No 1, Peter Masters attacks what he calls the ‘New Calvinism,’ in a scathing assault on what he sees as the merger of Calvinism with Worldliness.

See: http://www.metropolitantabernacle.org/?page=article&id=13

I have also come across an article written by Collin Hansen (to which Masters refers) in the September 2006 edition of ‘Christianity Today,’ in which he investigates what he calls a resurgent Calvinism, a Calvinism that is making a comeback and shaking up the church. This resurgent Calvinism is that which Peter Masters criticizes.

See: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/september/42.32.html

Peter Masters calls the Hansen article a book, so I am not sure that the entire ‘book’ appears in Christianity Today or whether it is an excerpt from it.

The Hansen article doesn’t come to any conclusions about Calvinism, though it does include a number of people and their comments that are opposed to Calvinism. It also includes people and their comments that wholeheartedly support Calvinism. There seems to be a sigh of relief that the Calvinist resurgence finds its root in the Scriptures and has a major commitment to them and what they teach, so all is not as bad as may first appear.

It is difficult, not being familiar with Collin Hansen, to pinpoint just where he himself stands on ‘Calvinism’ from the article itself.

However, in the Peter Masters article it is clear that he stands opposed to the ‘New Calvinism’ that he detects in the resurgent Calvinism of our day in England and the United States. Far from being pleased with the rise in numbers of those holding to Calvinistic teachings, he is concerned over what he perceives as a merging of Calvinism with Worldliness, and on some points I would have to agree.

I am not yet convinced that he is right in every area of his criticism of resurgent Calvinism as I do not believe you need to embrace the Puritans ‘legalism’ in respect to matters indifferent in order to appreciate the Puritans overall. Nor do I think you need to embrace that legalist spirit in order to stand alongside the Puritans in those matters vital to Christianity, especially from a Reformed perspective.

However, I do agree with some of what Peter Masters has to say concerning the ministry of some of the men he recognizes as leaders in the ‘New Calvinism.’ For example, I would agree with a large amount of what Mark Driscoll has to say and teach – but the manner in which he teaches it, using language that can be described as offensive, is not the way to do it. I have not heard Driscoll preach myself, but I understand he often uses questionable language in order to be relevant to the lost of this current age. What Masters has to say in this respect is quite right in my opinion.

I also question the need to embrace so readily the entertainment of the world as part of the worship service. So as to be clear, I have listened to a lot of secular music, though I draw the line at what I find to be unwholesome and much of today’s current music in exactly that and I largely do not listen to it. I do not believe it necessary however, to imitate the secular style of music and to import it into the worship service. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this means the entire banning of contemporary music, just that greater care needs to be taken in reaching a position on whether to include it in the worship service at any particular time – not including it simply to be ‘relevant.’

I, like Peter Masters, have grave concerns about the Calvinism that I hold to (Particular Baptist) being united with a Charismatic style of it. For me, this has no place and I find it difficult to believe that leaders of such calibre as John Macarthur and John Piper are happy to be united in conferences where Charismatic worship practices occur, etc.

I think overall Peter Masters is saying what I have been saying about the growing trend in reformed circles towards pragmatism. He says it a lot better than me of course. There is a growing embrace of church growth like behaviour and seeker sensitive styled practices that embrace worldliness as a means of attracting people to church.

I found myself being concerned with whole far Peter Masters went in his denunciation of the ‘New Calvinism.’ However, the more I think about it the more right he seems to be.

Masters calls many of the ‘New Calvinist’ leaders brilliant men and I would agree with him. I greatly admire John Macarthur and his associates, and I am sure I would also find much of what John Piper and the others have to say equally as helpful. But I am concerned with what Peter Masters has outlined in his article. I am also a little confused because I thought this was the sort of thing that John Macarthur has also decried in many of his books. I find myself finding it difficult to believe that he could be caught up in this blend that the ‘New Calvinism’ appears to be.

I certainly don’t write off everything that this resurgent Calvinism is doing. I know these men are wholeheartedly committed to the same truths as the Reformers and Puritans held dear. i do not doubt that at all. I also think they are doing much good. But if what Peter Masters is highlighting is true of this movement, than there is great need for concern I think. The real and full consequences of this approach will not be seen until the next generation and I fear those consequences will bring much harm to the church.

PAKISTAN: PASTORS ARRESTED FOR USE OF LOUDSPEAKERS


Police claim amplified Easter Sunday service defamed Islam.

ISTANBUL, May 27 (Compass Direct News) – Nine pastors from two neighboring villages in Pakistan could face prison time for using loudspeakers to broadcast prayers and sermons from their churches on Easter Sunday.

Martinpur and Youngsnabad, 150 kilometers (93 miles) east of Lahore, are majority Christian villages. The nine pastors who lead congregations there say that local Muslim security forces have twisted the law to solicit a bribe.

Police arrested and detained Hafeez Gill, Fahim John, Maksud Ulkaq, and a catechist from the Catholic Church in Youngsnabad identified only as Saqab at 10 a.m. on May 16. While en route to the police station, the officers told them they would be released if they offered a bribe, according to the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS). The pastors refused and were detained, but following a public outcry from their parishioners they were released at 2:30 p.m.

Reports indicate the arrest was premeditated. A leader in the village council invited the pastors to his house for a meeting, but when they arrived in the morning local police were waiting for them.

They were taken to the police station, where Station House Officer Mirza Latif showed them two First Instance Reports (FIR) registered on May 11 claiming they had misused their speakers. The FIRs, however, state the pastors misused the speakers on Easter Sunday, which happened nearly a month earlier.

The FIRs accused the pastors of misusing their loudspeakers under Section 3/4 of the Amplifier Act. Their attorney said the reasons for their arrest were both religiously and financially motivated.

Police claimed that the church leaders had used their loudspeakers to amplify messages defaming Islam. The FIRs, however, make no mention of the content of their remarks.

“The police wanted to cause humiliation to the pastors and were also asking for money,” said CLAAS attorney Akhbar Durrani.

The case was registered by a special branch of local police forces charging the four Youngsnabad pastors. On the same day, they filed charges against the five pastors in Martinpur: Shahazad Kamarul-Zaman, Mumbarab Kuhram, Hanuk Daniel, Amar Sohail, and a fifth pastor unnamed in the police report.

Nasir Bahatti, president of the Youth Welfare Association in Youngsnabad, a Christian social organization, said the church had permission to amplify the service and that the arrests were religiously motivated.

“There is no reason to ban the loudspeaker,” he said. “They are banning our worship and prayer. But we have permission [to use them] on particular days such as Christmas and Easter.”

If the FIRs are not withdrawn, the pastors will go to court over the alleged loudspeaker violation. Police released them from jail on May 16 under the condition that they obtain bail at an upcoming hearing.

The church loudspeakers broadcasted the church prayers and sermon for villagers unable to attend the service, as is custom in some Christian villages. Pakistani law limits the use of loudspeakers in Christian worship services to a specific time allotment (and usually to villages and towns with a small Muslim population), but these restrictions were not enforced in the almost-entirely Christian villages of Youngsnabad and Martinpur.

Few such restrictions, however, are placed on Pakistani mosques. The five daily calls to prayer, Friday sermons, and Quran recitations on Islamic holidays are frequently amplified on loudspeakers. The double standard follows a traditional Islamic dictum in which church bells were not allowed to ring in areas under Islamic rule.

“The Muslims in this nation can worship according to their prayer method, so why can’t we if we are all given equal rights?” Bahatti said.

The standard of living is relatively high in these villages due to a well-educated population. There are longstanding missionary schools in the villages, and much of the population has lived abroad. English missionaries founded Youngsnabad and Martinpur 120 years ago during British colonial occupation.

Some rights groups worry that the harassment of Pakistani Christians in villages such as Martinpur and Youngsnabad could mean deteriorating conditions for religious minorities in areas once considered secure.

CLAAS reported that vandals completely ransacked a church in Bannu Cantt, in the North West Frontier Province, on May 12. They destroyed the altar, burned Bibles, and broke pews. Although the city is located in a province that borders Afghanistan, where Taliban rebels have been active, it was thought to be a relatively secure area, according to the report.

Pakistan remains in turmoil as the military moves into Swat Valley to uproot the Taliban, which has established Islamic law (sharia) in the embattled area. An estimated 2 million Pakistanis have become refugees by fleeing the area after a government evacuation order.

Report from Compass Direct News

SRI LANKA: PARLIAMENT TO VOTE ON ANTI-CONVERSION LAWS


Draft ‘Bill for the Prohibition of Forcible Conversions’ enters final phase.

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, January 26 (Compass Direct News) – The Sri Lankan Parliament may soon enact laws designed to restrict religious conversions.

A standing committee assigned to consider a draft “Bill for the Prohibition of Forcible Conversions” presented its report to Parliament on Jan. 6, suggesting minor amendments that clear the way for a final vote in February. The provisions of the bill criminalize any act to convert or attempt to convert a person from one religion to another religion by the use of force, fraud or allurement. Those found guilty of breaking the law could be imprisoned for up to seven years and/or fined up to 500,000 rupees (US$4,425).

The Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thero, a member of the Buddhist Jathika Hela Urumaya party (JHU or National Heritage Party), first proposed the draft in 2004. While the JHU claims the bill is designed to stop unethical conversions, civil rights groups and Christian churches say it will infringe on the constitutional rights of freedom of religion and legitimize harassment of religious minorities.

Buddhists form a 70 percent majority in Sri Lanka, with Roman Catholics constituting 7 percent and Protestant Christians only 1 percent of the population.

After the first reading of the bill in Parliament in August 2004, 22 petitions were filed in the Supreme Court challenging the validity of the draft legislation.

The Supreme Court determined the draft bill to be valid except for clauses 3 and 4(b), which it deemed unconstitutional. These clauses required any person who converted or participated in a religious conversion ceremony to report to a government official and prescribed punishment for failure to report such conversions.

The draft was then referred to a parliamentary standing committee for further review. In its report, presented to the House on Jan. 6, the committee made a few amendments to the original draft in keeping with Supreme Court recommendations. The most notable amendment was the deletion of the need to report conversions and the punishment prescribed for not reporting them.

These amendments paved the way for the draft bill to be passed by a simple majority vote when it is presented for a final reading in Parliament this February.

Chief Opposition Whip Joseph Michael Perera, however, has requested a two-day debate on the draft bill on grounds that it would affect all religions.

 

Fulfilling Campaign Promises

The JHU, founded and led by Buddhist clergymen, made anti-conversion legislation a cornerstone of its debut election campaign in 2004, when it won nine seats in Parliament. With the possibility of an early general election this year, the bill has become a matter of political survival for the JHU.

At a press briefing on Jan. 7, Ven. Ellawela Medhananda Thero, a Buddhist monk and Member of Parliament representing the JHU, called on all political parties to vote in favor of the bill.

“People expected us to fulfill two goals,” he said. “One was to end unethical conversions and the other was to liberate the country from the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. That is why we entered politics.”

Ven. Medhananda Thero added that the purpose of the bill was to protect all major religions in the country from fundamentalists and unethical conversions.

Sri Lanka’s Christian community and civil rights groups have strongly objected to the draft legislation. Far from stemming alleged forced conversions, they claim the bill will become a weapon of harassment through misapplication, limiting the fundamental rights of thought, conscience and religion. These rights include the right to adopt a religion and the right to practice, observe and teach religion.

The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka (NCEASL) said in a recent press statement that, “It is our gravest concern that this bill will grant legal sanction for the harassment of religious communities or individuals, and offer convenient tools of harassment for settling personal disputes and grudges, totally unrelated to acts of alleged ‘forced’ conversion.”

 

Banning Compassion

According to Section 2 of the draft bill, the offer of any temptation such as a gift, cash or any other gratification to convert or attempt to convert a person from one religion to another is punishable with up to seven years of prison and a maximum fine of 500,000 rupees (US$4,425) – equal to approximately three years’ wages for the average Sri Lankan citizen.

Sri Lankan Christians have repeatedly expressed concern that key sections of the draft bill are open to wide and subjective interpretation that could criminalize not only legitimate religious activity but also legitimate social action by faith-based organizations or individuals.

“A lady who heads a charitable trust caring for orphans asked if she could be charged under this law, since she is a Christian and some of the children she cares for are not,” a lawyer told Compass. “Many people will now think twice before helping the poor or needy, for fear of being accused of committing a criminal act.”

Ironically, on June 4, 2008, in his address to the new Sri Lankan ambassador to the Holy See, Pope Benedict XVI had acknowledged the Sri Lankan government’s appreciation of the Catholic Church’s charity work in the country.

“Such action is a concrete example of the Church’s willing and prompt response to the mission she has received to serve those most in need,” he said. “I commend any future measures which will help guarantee that Catholic hospitals, schools and charitable agencies can continue to care for the sick, the young and the vulnerable regardless of ethnic or religious background.”

He went on to assure the government that “the Church will continue in her efforts to reach out with compassion to all.”

On Jan. 8, at his traditional New Year meeting with all ambassadors to the Holy See, the pope appeared to be addressing concerns over anti-conversion legislation.

“The Church does not demand privileges, but the full application of the principle of religious freedom,” he said. He also called on Asian governments to ensure that “legislation concerning religious communities guarantees the full exercise of this fundamental right, with respect for international norms.”

Since the first draft anti-conversion bill was presented to Parliament in 2004, the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka, NCEASL and Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka have repeatedly called for an alternative solution based on inter-faith dialogue with fair representation of all religious communities.

“Enactment of laws to regulate something as intrinsically personal as spiritual beliefs will not contribute towards resolving disagreements and promoting religious harmony,” said Godfrey Yogarajah, executive director of the World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission. “On the contrary, it will create mistrust and animosity.”  

Report from Compass Direct News