Johnny Hunt expresses urgency about Great Commission


Encouraged by attendance exceeding 8,600 registered messengers on the first day of the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting June 23 — twice as many as he expected — SBC President Johnny Hunt said there is a “sense of urgency” among the brethren, reports Baptist Press.

Hunt attributed much of the interest at this year’s meeting to his Great Commission Resurgence initiative. In a news conference following his re-election to a second term, he also addressed questions ranging from his opinion of controversial Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll to his view of Calvinism among Southern Baptists.

“I feel there’s a lot of energy in the halls,” said Hunt, pastor of Atlanta-area First Baptist Church in Woodstock. “Everybody’s talking the same talk: ‘We need this Great Commission Resurgence.’

“We are saying times have been desperate,” Hunt added. “Now I really do sense fellow Southern Baptists are saying we need to get serious.”

Asked about Driscoll, Hunt responded: “I don’t know him, never met him. A lot of young men like to follow his blogs and podcasts. It’s just been interesting.”

Referring to motions from the floor placing Driscoll and the network he founded, Acts 29, in a bad light, Hunt said, “[T]he entire premise of being a Baptist is sort of thrown under the bus when you start telling someone who they can or cannot fellowship with.” He said it is a matter that it should be left to the conscience and the priesthood of the believer.

About church methodology, Hunt said the SBC is a “great family fellowship” using varied methodologies which provide a healthy balance.

Hunt said it might be that some of the perceived tension across generations of Southern Baptists is rooted in several things, including methodology, dress and music.

Encouraged by what he said is the turnout of younger Southern Baptists, Hunt said, “[I]f we can move beyond our perceptions” and begin to “listen to heart of some of these young leaders,” Southern Baptists might be encouraged “to catch their passion.”

Hunt relayed his experience at a recent International Mission Board appointment service in Denver where 101 mostly young missionaries were sent out, with the “majority going to extremely hard and dangerous places.”

“With that type of commitment to Jesus Christ that they’re willing, many of them, to write their will before they leave with the understanding some of them will probably never return, I have a very difficult time spending my time talking about their jeans, whether hair is spiked or colored” or their musical tastes, Hunt said.

By building relationships with younger leaders, “if we see some areas of concern, at least we have earned the right to speak into them.”

On the continuing banter between Calvinists and those critical of the doctrine that attempts to describe God’s work in salvation, Hunt said the debate has raged for more than 400 years and is part of Baptist history.

“We have wonderful men and women on both sides. I think the Baptist tent is large enough for both,” he said.

Asked by a reporter if an invitation was made for President Barack Obama to address the SBC, Hunt said he knew of no such invitation.

But Hunt, the first known Native American SBC president, said, “I feel like we will have a resolution to really honor our president, especially in the context of being the first African American to be elected. We have much to celebrate in that.”

Hunt said he had ample opportunity to invite Republicans to speak, “but we felt that would send a wrong signal because we wanted to send prayer support to the new president and we are mandated to pray for our president.”

Speaking to proposed federal hate crimes legislation that some say could infringe on biblical preaching, Hunt said he was not overly worried as long as pastors “stay in the context of preaching biblical truth. And if the day comes that we would be imprisoned for the proclamation of the Gospel becoming that much of an offense, we would join about two-thirds of the rest of the planet.

“God forbid that I would travel to the Middle East to encourage those already in hostile settings while at same time being afraid to proclaim the message that I encourage,” Hunt said.

Returning to the Great Commission Resurgence, Hunt answered a question regarding media access to the meetings of the proposed GCR task force. He said media presence would be “counterproductive because we want people to be at liberty to share their heart.”

It could be “embarrassing where we’re just seeking wisdom,” Hunt added, “but we would love to have any and all of you at the meetings and as soon as it is over we’d be delighted to share what we came to by way of context.”

Hunt said he has “no desire whatsoever to touch the structure of the SBC and the truth is, I couldn’t if I wanted to. It would violate policy.” Hunt said perhaps more clarity in his early statements about the GCR document could have helped ease fears of drastic change.

Even if the GCR task force were rejected, traction already has been gained by efficiency studies at the Georgia and Florida conventions and at the Southern Baptist mission boards, Hunt said.

In responding to the first question asked at the news conference, Hunt predicted if the GCR were to pass that evening, he likely would name the members of the task force June 24 and it would include several seminary professors, a college president, an associational director of missions, pastors of churches of varied sizes spanning the country and ethnically diverse members.

“I don’t have all the names so I’d probably miss some,” Hunt said. “But I’d be quick to say it will be a very fair committee.”

Report from the Christian Telegraph

EGYPT: VILLAGE CHRISTIANS IN HIDING AFTER CLASH


Violence erupts on mere suspicion of a prayer meeting.

ISTANBUL, June 25 (Compass Direct News) – Nearly 1,000 Coptic Christians in Egypt are hiding in their homes after clashes erupted Sunday (June 21) between them and their village’s majority-Muslim population over the use of a three-story building belonging to the Coptic Church.

When on Sunday at 11 a.m. a group of 25 Christians from Cairo stopped in Ezbet Boshra-East, a village of about 3,000 people three hours south of Cairo by car, few villagers failed to take notice. Planning to visit local Christians and the Rev. Isaac Castor, the group had gathered outside the building owned by the Coptic Church, where the priest lives with his family.

Castor said only six of them had entered the building when Muslim neighbors approached the rest of the group waiting outside and began taunting them. A Muslim woman walked up to one of the visiting women, he said, and slapped her.

Soon village youths gathered and started throwing stones at the visitors and the building, and according to Castor within minutes hundreds of villagers, Muslims against Christians, were fighting each other in the streets of Ezbet Boshra-East. Castor’s car was also vandalized.

“They were all over the streets hitting each other with sticks and their fists,” Castor told Compass from his home by phone. “Some people were on top of buildings throwing stones; it was like a civil war.”

Sectarian tensions have previously flared in the village. Last July, when Castor first moved to Ezbet Boshra-East with his family, Muslims vandalized Christians’ farmlands and poisoned their domestic animals after services took place at the building owned by the church, according to International Christian Concern.

Since last July’s incidents, authorities have stipulated that only two Christians at a time can visit the building, and according to Castor this was the source of the fighting that erupted in front of the building on Sunday. The neighbors thought he was conducting a prayer meeting and not adhering to the rule set by local authorities.

In the violent clash in front of the church-owned building, 17 Christians and eight Muslims were estimated to have been injured. According to various reports, nearly 19 Coptic Christians were arrested and released the following day, along with the injured Muslims.

So far there is no concrete information on how the Christians were treated while in prison. During the arrests of the Christians, police vandalized many of their homes. Egyptian sources told Compass that police often turn the homes of those whom they arrest “upside down.”

Soon after the clashes, electricity and phone services were cut. Electricity was restored after 24 hours, but at press time telephones were still not operating. All communications happen via mobile phones.

Authorities also imposed a 6 p.m. curfew on the entire village, but Castor said Christians were too afraid to come out of their homes and were living off personal food stockpiles. He also said that a number of families had left the village to stay with friends and relatives in nearby towns and villages. Eyewitnesses visiting Ezbet Boshra-East yesterday confirmed that although there were Muslim villagers outside, there were no Christians walking on the streets.

Procedures vs. Tolerance

There is no church building in Ezbet Boshra-East, and so far the Coptic Church has not sought to obtain permission to build one. Nor has it officially applied for permission to use the three-story building as a place of prayer as an official association.

When a reporter from a major Egyptian TV channel asked Castor by telephone whether he had obtained permission for prayer and worship for the building purchased by the church, he responded, “Do I need to have permission if I was called to pray for a sick person?” He admitted in the interview, however, that obtaining permission would help to avoid clashes and that authorities should grant it quickly.

There are other villages around Ezbet Boshra-East, such as Talt three kilometers away, where there are Coptic associations. Also, official churches are established in Ezbet Boshra-West and El Fashn, both 15 kilometers (nine miles) away.

Castor said poor Muslim-Christian relations are reflected in the lack of an area church.

“There is no love or tolerance for each other, and I think this is wrong,” Castor said. “I’m worried about the future. I’m worried about the freedom of religion and the inability to build churches. There is bias. It is unfair and unacceptable that people don’t have the freedom of worship. If the current policies continue, the hate will continue.”

The village-wide violence on Sunday harkened to sectarian violence in Upper Egypt in 2000 in the area of El Kosheh, said Ibrahim Habib, chairman of U.K.-based United Copts.

“This degree of radicalization is a bad sign for the future of Egypt, when there is so much hate for people who are basically peaceful and just want to pray,” said Habib.

Egypt’s constitution provides for freedom of religion and worship under Article 46.

“What’s the value of a statement like this if it is not put into action?” he said of Article 46, adding that when government agencies do not promote freedom of worship but instead “become agents of persecution, they make a mockery of the constitution.”

Habib also expressed dismay that a whole village took umbrage only because they suspected a prayer meeting.

“How can private worship annoy people?” he said. “They are not broadcasting it. This is not fair. I’m really annoyed. They say Islam is tolerant, but is this tolerant? This is not tolerant at all.”

Other Non-Governmental Organizations in Egypt said that they expect reconciliation meetings to take place in Ezbet Boshra-East in the coming weeks.

Report from Compass Direct News

PAKISTAN: SUSPECTS IN RAPE OF CHRISTIAN GIRL CLEARED


Police in Muslim-majority nation suspected of corruption.

ISTANBUL, April 10 (Compass Direct News) – Police have declared three Pakistani men innocent of raping a 13-year-old Christian girl despite eye witness accounts and medical evidence indicating their guilt.

At a hearing in Nankana Sahib district court on April 3, police from the Pakistani town of Sangla Hill, 64 miles from Lahore, cleared 40-year-old Mohammed Shahbaz, 30-year-old Waqas Sadiq and 25-year-old Yousaf Sadiq of accusations of raping and threatening Ambreen Masih.

Shahbaz was the only suspect to attend the hearing, which was initially called to discuss terms of his pre-arrest bail. But Judge Ijaz Hussan Awan said he couldn’t set terms for bail if police didn’t want to arrest or detain him.

“In Pakistan it has always been like this – the wealthy person can approach the police and change the course of an investigation,” said prosecuting attorney Akbar Durrani. “Regarding Christians, they cannot put any pressure on the police for a fair investigation.”

Ambreen and her family accuse Waqas Sadiq and Yousaf Sadiq of kidnapping her and taking her to their family residence. The Masihs accuse the two men and Shahbaz of repeatedly raping her, releasing her after two hours and threatening to kill her if she informed authorities.

The three men, along with a relative, 25-year-old Zahid Riyasat, allegedly kidnapped her a second time on Feb. 5. When her parents started to worry about her absence, her father, Munir Masih, organized a search party with other local Christians. They found the three suspects at the house of the Sadiqs’ father, raping her at gunpoint, according to a First Instance Report (FIR).

As the search party approached the four suspects, the accused fired warning shots into the air and then ran away, Munir Masih said in the report.

Ambreen then returned home with her family. She said that when the captors originally abducted her, they said, “We will kill your parents if you tell them this.”

On Feb. 6 Masih obtained permission from the judicial magistrate of Sangla Hill for an official medical examination of Ambreen, which established that she had been raped. Her parents sought police to file charges against the three men, but officers responded only after CLAAS prompted them to open a case.

After police declared the three men innocent following their investigation, lawyers representing Masih accused family members of the suspects of bribing police.

“In that village, Christians are nothing for the Muslims, they make them work for them and sometimes make them work without paying them,” said CLAAS field worker Katherine Sapna.

The three accused men are part of a wealthy family of land owners in Sangla Hill. Ambreen comes from a poor background and has seven siblings. Her father works as a day laborer, and Ambreen and two of her sisters work as domestic servants.

Attorney Durrani has appealed to the Lahore High Court to put different police officers on the investigation. Although local police declared the three suspects innocent at the April 3 hearing, they did not deny that Ambreen had been raped. But the police did not suggest any other suspects, Durrani told Compass.

Around 60 Christian families live in Sangla Hill, located near the industrial city of Sheikupura, northwest of Lahore.

 

Murdered Christian

Police reluctance to prosecute crimes against Christians in Pakistan also has hampered Samson Joseph, attorney for the family of Adeel Masih, a 19-year-old Pakistani Christian believed to be the victim of an “honor killing” by two Muslims.

On April 1 the Sessions Court in Gujranwala held a hearing in which police declared the suspects innocent.

Masih was found dead in May 2008 in Hafizabad. Police originally declared his death a suicide, but his family and human rights lawyers believe relatives of a 19-year-old Muslim woman, Kiran Irfan, with whom Masih had a one-year relationship, tortured and killed him.

District police arrested her father, Mohammed Irfan, and her uncle, Muhammad Riasat, in July 2008 – two months after Masih’s family went to Gujranwala police, who initially declined to charge Irfan’s family with any crimes and effectively declared them innocent. A high inspector has reopened the case and taken the two suspects into custody.

Sapna of CLAAS said the case has taken its toll on the family of Adeel Masih, whose father is suffering psychological problems from the apparent murder.

Marriage between Christian men and Muslim women is forbidden according to a strict interpretation of sharia (Islamic law), and even social contacts such as these can incite violent reactions in Pakistan, a majority-Muslim nation of 170 million.

Report from Compass Direct News

KIWIS LACK SENSE OF HUMOUR


A Blog site called ‘Fush ‘n’ Chups –  a guide for Australians to living and working in New Zealand,’ has been copping a fair bit of criticism of late. The controversy over the site has also appeared in newspapers, including this morning’s ‘Daily Telegraph’ in Sydney, Australia.

The site’s resident Blogger likes to have a bit of a dig at our Kiwi (New Zealand) neighbours, which appears to be typical of Australian tongue in cheek humour. However, the New Zealanders have been getting a little hot under the collar and have been posting a number of aggressive responses in their comments on the Blog and its various posts. The owner of the site believes that New Zealanders need to develop a sense of humour.

Perhaps he is right. Visit the site at:

http://fushnchups.co.nz

PAKISTAN: CHRISTIAN FACES ‘BLASPHEMY’ ABETTING CHARGE, DANGERS


Human rights activist could face violence long after trial finishes.

CHICAGO, March 13 (Compass Direct News) – A Pakistani investigator has ruled out a charge against a Christian for “blaspheming Islam” but retained another for abetting blasphemy, and advocates worry the stigma of the charges could make him a target for local Islamists.

Hector Aleem, 51, remains in Adiyala Jail in Rawalpindi, near Pakistan’s capital of Islamabad. His lawyer said he believes law enforcement officers and community members framed Aleem for his social activism on behalf of Christians so that the stigma of the charges would subject him to the danger of violence.

The case began last November when a Muslim scholar received a text message insulting the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Authorities charged Aleem with violating sections 295c (blasphemy) and 109bb (abetting) of the Pakistani criminal code.

Investigating Officer Zafer Ikbal on March 4 ruled out the possibility of a blasphemy charge since evidence showed the message came from an unlisted phone number, not Aleem’s. This move followed a Feb. 2 decision by Judge Sakhi Mohammad Kohut to exonerate Aleem of blasphemy by moving the case from an anti-terrorism court to a magistrate court; with the change of court, the investigating officer had considered anew the possibility of a blasphemy charge.

Phone records in the investigation showed the original culprit had a one-hour conversation with someone at Aleem’s phone number. Aleem claimed that his assistant, Bashar Kokar, was the one who talked with the culprit. As a result, both men were incarcerated and charged with abetment.

In the meantime, Aleem’s attorney, Malik Tafik, has filed an application for bail. He said he hopes it will be approved at a session court hearing next week.

The crime of abetting does not carry a severe penalty in Pakistani criminal law. But in this case, Tafik said, its connection to blasphemy against Islam could put Aleem in danger of attacks by Muslim extremists even if he is found innocent.

“He will continue to be in danger from religious extremists after the case finishes,” Tafik said. “Even though he is only charged with abetment, he is still in danger.”

A Pakistani official concurred that those in the community opposed to Aleem’s human rights activism may have used the charges as a pretext to jail him. Khushdil Khan Malik, deputy secretary of Pakistan’s Ministry of Human Rights, said Aleem may have been framed due to his social activism as director of a small Non-Governmental Organization that lobbies for the rights of Pakistani Christians in Islamabad.

Last November, Aleem became involved in a land dispute between a congregation and the Rawalpindi Water and Sanitation Agency, which wanted to demolish their church building.

Blasphemy charges carry a particularly dangerous stigma in certain parts of Pakistan. Within Rawalpindi, there is a dedicated following of the Islamist political movement Sunni Tehreek, which has been involved in violent sectarian clashes with other Islamist movements in the last decade. When Aleem was transferred to a Rawalpindi anti-terrorism court for a hearing on Jan. 30, a crowd of 150 protestors gathered, shouting that his life would not be spared and that the police should hand him over to them.

But Malik said the case has nothing to do with sectarian tensions and resulted only from members of the municipality targeting Aleem because they opposed his campaign to save a church slated for destruction.

“Generally the relations between Muslims and Christians are good,” Malik said. “This was a false case against Aleem.”

Aleem’s bail application is pending. But due to current court strikes in Pakistan, the application may take a few weeks, said Katherine Sapna, a field officer for the advocacy group Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS). Lawyers are rallying against the government in a bid to reinstate former Supreme Court Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudry, who was deposed by former President Pervez Musharraf.

 

More ‘Blasphemy’ Cases

Christian legislators have called on the Pakistani Parliament to strike down its blasphemy laws, as they are frequently used against the Muslim-majority country’s Christian minority.

Punishment for blasphemy in Pakistan can potentially mean death, and the charges are easy to file. Private citizens can register a blasphemy case, whereas normal procedure calls for police officers to file charges.

According to a CLAAS report, police opened blasphemy charges against two Christians on March 1 in the village of Malukay, 55 miles southeast of Lahore. Walayat Masih and his daughter Sarina attended a fair in a graveyard to honor a deceased religious figure, Muharri Shah, revered by both local Christians and Muslims.

In the course of the celebrations, local Muslims thought that the Christians had improperly covered an Islamic inscription on the tomb. Soon a mob gathered and began attacking those Christians who weren’t able to flee. A crowd cornered Masih and his daughter and severely beat them until police arrived and took the victims to the police station, where they were charged with blasphemy.

CLAAS is investigating the case. The organization will represent the two in court if charges are not dropped.  

Report from Compass Direct News

PAKISTAN: ONE WOMAN DEAD IN ATTACK ON CHRISTIANS


Would-be rapist instigates attack in response to charges leveled against him.

ISTANBUL, March 9 (Compass Direct News) – Gun and club attacks on a Presbyterian church and neighboring homes in the predominantly Christian area of a village in Pakistan last week killed one woman and left 16 people wounded.

Seeking revenge for a robbery complaint that a Christian filed against him, local Muslim Waseem Butt on March 2 led groups of his friends and family members in indiscriminate attacks aimed at the Christian community in Sangu-Wali, village, near Aroop town in Gujranwala district, reported advocacy group Sharing Life Ministries Pakistan (SLMP).

Groups of between five and 15 Muslims arriving from different directions attacked the church and area homes, said Sohail Johnson, head of SLMP. During the violence, 45-year-old Shakeela Bibi sustained bamboo rod blows to the head and died before reaching the hospital.

“The death of my wife is an irreparable loss to me and my children,” Manzoor Masih, Bibi’s husband, told SLMP. “I am concerned that Muslims are very strong here, we are poor, and we can not afford enmity with them. They will kill us too.”

Armed members of the attackers prevented ambulances from attending the scene by firing shots into the air, according to the SLMP report.

SLMP and the Centre for Legal Aid Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS) reported that the attack followed an attempt by a Christian to file a First Instance Report (FIR) with police against two Muslims for robbery and attempted rape.

Imran Masih, 18, accused Butt and Zeeshan Butt of stealing a cell phone and 3,000 rupees (US$40) before trying to sodomize him. Masih reported that he was on his way home from work on Feb. 26 when the two Muslims attacked him, and that he managed to escape before they could rape him.

“The Christians are poor and have no weight here,” said SLMP’s Johnson, so Muslims assume, “‘We are Kashmiri, we are Muslim, we are rich – they are sweepers, they are poor, they are weak, they are the minority, how are they going to move a [criminal charge] against us?’ This was in their mind.”

The mother-in-law of the woman who was killed suffered head and spinal injuries in the attack. Naziran Bibi, 80, remained in the hospital along with two others at press time. Another 10 victims, most suffering from head injuries, were treated overnight and released the next day.

Police arrested Waseem Butt shortly after the FIR was filed, and in the past few days they have also tracked down and jailed two other suspects. Widower Masih named more than 10 people in the FIR, accusing them of murder and trespassing. The other attackers have fled the village. Police told SLMP that they will continue to pursue the fugitives and bring them to justice.

Masih, however, has come under pressure to drop the case. He has received both threats and offers for financial settlement, an official with the National Commission for Justice and Peace said. Yousaf Benjamin of the commission said Muslims “see that it is very easy for a Muslim to kill a Christian and then offer some money to the family.”

“So Mr. Manzoor [Masih] has to be an example for the others,” Benjamin said. “He should not hesitate to go for legal procedures. He should not go for the money, he should go to the court and see the decision they make.”

Disregard for the rights and liberties of minority Christians in Pakistan is worsened by a culture of bribery, which often precludes the poor from fair treatment by authorities and recourse to legal protection. But investigating police officer Mohammad Riaz has promised that officers will ask for nothing and do their utmost to help the victims.

“It was very shocking to me that the culprits trespassed in Christians’ houses and attacked females of the family,” Riaz told CLAAS and SLMP investigators.

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

FAITH AND ASSURANCE: Bishop J. C. Ryle


READER,

If you are a thoughtless, careless man about your soul, you will take no interest in the subject of this tract. Faith and assurance are mere names and words to you: they are neither land, nor money, nor horses, nor dress, nor meat, nor drink: like Gallio, you care not for them. Alas, poor soul! I mourn over you. The day will come when you will think differently.

Reader, if you really desire to go to heaven, and to go there in the Bible way you will find the subject of this tract of the deepest importance. Believe me, your own comfort in religion, and your peace of conscience, depend exceedingly on understanding the matter about which I am going to speak. I say then, that faith in Christ, and a full assurance of being saved by Christ, are two distinct things.


A man may have saving faith in Christ, and yet never enjoy an assured hope, like the Apostle Paul. To believe, and have a glimmering hope of acceptance, is one thing; to have joy and peace in our believing, and abound in hope, is quite another. All God’s children have faith: not all have assurance. I think this ought never to be forgotten.


I know some great and good men have held a different opinion: I believe that many excellent ministers do not allow the distinction I have stated; but I desire to call no man master. I dread as much as anyone the idea of healing the wounds of conscience slightly; but I should think any other view than that I have given a most uncomfortable gospel to preach, and one very likely to keep souls back a long time from the gate of life.


I would not desire to make one contrite heart sad that God has not made sad, or to discourage one fainting child of God, or to give a soul the impression that you have no part or lot in Christ, except you feel assurance. I do not shrink from saying, that by grace a man may have sufficient faith to flee to Christ, really to lay hold on Him, really to trust in Him, really to be a child of God, really to be saved; and yet to his last day be never free from much anxiety, doubt, and fear.


“A letter,” says an old writer, “may be written which is not sealed; so grace may be written in the heart, yet the Spirit may not set the seal of assurance to it.”


A child may be born heir to a great fortune, and yet never be aware of his riches, live childish, die childish, and never know the greatness of his possessions.


And so also a man may be a babe in Christ’s family; think as a babe, speak as a babe, and, though saved, never enjoy a lively hope, or know the full privileges of his inheritance.


Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ a man must have, beyond all question, if he is to be saved. I know no other way of access to the Father: I see no intimation of mercy excepting through Christ. A man must feel his sins and lost estate, must come to Jesus for pardon and salvation, must rest his hope on Him and on Him alone. But if he only have faith to do this, however weak and feeble that faith may be, I will engage, from Scripture warrants, he shall not miss heaven. Never, never let us curtail the freeness of the glorious gospel, or clip its fair proportions. Never let us make the gate more strait, and the way more narrow, than pride or love of sin have made it already. The Lord Jesus is very pitiful and of tender mercy. He does not regard the quantity of faith, but the quality He does not measure its degree, but its truth. He will not break any bruised reed, nor quench any smoking flax. He will never let it be said that any perished at the foot of the cross. “Him that cometh unto Me,” He says, “I will in no wise cast out” (John vi. 37). 1


Yes, reader! though a man’s faith be no bigger than a grain of mustard seed, if it only brings him to Christ, and enables him to touch the hem of His garment, he shall be saved: saved as surely as the oldest saint in paradise; saved as completely and eternally as Peter, or John, or Paul. There are degrees in our sanctification: in our justification there are none. What is written is written, and shall never fail: “Whosoever believeth on Him,” not whosoever has a strong and mighty faith, “Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed” (Rom. x. 11).


But all this time, I would have you take notice, the poor soul may have no full assurance of his pardon and acceptance with God. He may be troubled with fear upon fear, and doubt upon doubt. He may have many a question and many an anxiety, many a struggle, and many a misgiving, clouds and darkness, storm and tempest to the very end.


I will engage, I repeat, that bare simple faith in Christ shall save a man, though he may never attain to assurance; but I will not engage it shall bring him to heaven, with strong and abounding consolations. I will engage it shall land him safe in harbour, but I will not engage he shall enter that harbour under full sail, confident and rejoicing. I shall not be surprised if he reaches his desired haven weather-beaten and tempest-tossed, scarcely realising his own safety till he opens his eyes in glory.


Reader, I believe it is of great importance to keep in view this distinction between faith and assurance. It explains things which an inquirer in religion some times finds it hard to understand.


Faith, let us remember, is the root, and assurance is the flower. Doubtless you can never have the flower without the root; but it is no less certain you may have the root and not the flower.


Faith is that poor trembling woman who came behind Jesus in the press and touched the hem of His garment (Mark v. 25). Assurance is Stephen standing calmly in the midst of his murderers, and saying, “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God” (Acts vii. 56). Faith is the penitent thief crying, “Lord, remember me” (Luke xxiii. 42). Assurance is Job sitting in the dust, covered with sores, and saying, “I know that my Redeemer liveth” (Job xix. 25). “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job xiii. 13).


Faith is Peter’s drowning cry as he began to sink: “Lord, save me!” (Matt. xiv. 30). Assurance is the same Peter declaring before the Council, in after times, “This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts iv. 11,12).


Faith is the anxious, trembling voice: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark ix. 24). Assurance is the confident challenge: “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? Who is he that condemneth?” (Rom. viii. 33, 34).


Faith is Saul praying in the house of Judas at Damascus, sorrowful, blind, and alone (Acts ix. 11). Assurance is Paul, the aged prisoner, looking calmly into the grave, and saying, “I know Whom I have believed,” “There is laid up for me a crown” (2 Tim. i. 12; iv. 8).

Faith is life. How great the blessing! Who can tell the gulf between life and death? And yet life may be weak, sickly, unhealthy, painful, trying, anxious, worn, burdensome, joyless, and smileless to the very end.

Assurance is more than life. It is health, strength, power, vigour, activity, energy, manliness, and beauty.

Reader, it is not a question of saved or not saved that lies before us, but of privilege or no privilege, it is not a question of peace or no peace, but of great peace or little peace, it is not a question between the wanderers of this world and the school of Christ, it is one that belongs only to the school, it is between the first form and the last.

He that has faith does well. Happy should I be if I thought all readers of this tract had it. Blessed, thrice blessed are they that believe: they are safe; they are washed; they are justified. They are beyond the power of hell. Satan, with all his malice, shall never pluck them out of Christ’s hands. But he that has assurance does far better, sees more, feels more, knows more, enjoys more, has more days like those spoken of in Deuteronomy, even “the days of heaven upon the earth” (Deut. xi. 21). 2

Reader, whoever you may be, I exhort you never to be satisfied with anything short of a full assurance of your own salvation. With faith, no doubt, you must begin, with simple, child-like faith: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” But from faith go on to assurance. Rest not till you can say, “I know Whom I have believed.”

Believe me, believe me, assurance is worth the seeking. You forsake your own mercies when you rest content without it. The things I speak are for your peace. It is good to be sure in earthly things; how much better is it to be sure in heavenly things!

Make it then your daily prayer that you may have an increase of faith. According to your faith will be your peace. Cultivate that blessed root more, and sooner or later, by God’s blessing, you may hope to have the flower. You may not perhaps attain to full assurance at once: it is good sometimes to be kept waiting; we do not value things that we get without trouble. But though it tarry, wait for it. Seek on, and expect to find.

 

FOOTNOTES:

1 “He that believeth on Jesus shall never be confounded. Never was any; neither shall you, if you believe. It was a great word of faith spoken by a dying man, who had been converted in a singular way, betwixt his condemnation and execution: his last words were these, spoken with a mighty shout ‘Never man perished with his face towards Jesus Christ.'”  Traill.

2 “The greatest thing that we can desire, next to the glory of God, is our own salvation; and the sweetest thing we can desire is the assurance of our salvation. In this life we cannot get higher than to be assured of that which in the next life is to be enjoyed. All saints shall enjoy a heaven when they leave this earth: some saints enjoy a heaven while they are here on earth.” Joseph Carlyle. 1658.

EGYPT: COURT GIVES CHRISTIAN BOYS TO MUSLIM FATHER


Despite a fatwa from the Grand Mufti, Alexandria judge denies custody for mother.

ISTANBUL, October 2 (Compass Direct News) – Following the Appeal Court of Alexandria on Sept. 24 granting custody of 13-year-old Christian twins to their Muslim father, their mother lives with the fear that police will take away her children at any moment.

Kamilia Gaballah has fought with her ex-husband Medhat Ramses Labib over alimony support and custody of sons Andrew and Mario in 40 different cases since he left her and converted to Islam so that he could remarry in 1999.

The court ruled in favor of Labib in spite of Egyptian law’s Article 20, which grants custody of children to their mothers until the age of 15, and a fatwa (religious ruling) from Egypt’s most respected Islamic scholar, Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, giving her custody.

“This decision was dangerous because it was not taken in accordance with Egyptian law but according to sharia [Islamic] law,” said Naguib Gobraiel, Gaballah’s lawyer and president of the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organizations.

He explained that Egypt’s civic code calls for children under the age of 15 to stay with their mother regardless of their religion. Gobraiel said that sharia tends to favor the Muslim parent in such cases.

“They want to stay with their mother,” said Gobraiel. “They don’t know anything about Islam and sharia. They are Christians and go to church on Sundays.”

The twins have publicly stated their faith, and during a test in a mandatory religious class two years ago they scribbled only, “I am a Christian” on their answer sheets and otherwise turned them in blank. The twins intend to go on a hunger strike if they are forced to live with their Muslim father, whom they hardly know, sources said.

“We only want one thing,” said Gobraiel. “We want the law to be applied in our cases like this one, not the sharia, because the government owes us citizenship. This is a civilized, secular country, not a religious country.”

The decision of the presiding judge, El Sayed El Sherbini, to give the father full custody is not even based on sharia but is purely arbitrary, Gaballah and her eldest son George Medhat Ramses claimed, since the country’s State Mufti had granted custody to the mother in April 2006.

“We don’t want to give them to anyone or comply with the sentence,” Ramses told Compass. “All the legal ways have been wrong to us. We’ve been trying to make it as legal as we can, but the court has not been fair.”

Ramses, 21, who is also a Christian and lives with his mother and two little brothers, said the judged showed bias in favor of his father because he converted to Islam shortly after he left Gaballah.

“The decision was unfair and oppressive,” Gaballah told Compass. “I am treated differently than other Egyptians, as if this is not my own country.”

Gaballah, who has been fighting to keep her sons since the court decided in 2006 that custody of her sons should be given to her ex-husband, fears that her children will grow up without hope and a sense of justice.

“I am so sad and afraid about their psychology,” she said, “because they are facing something that is fundamentally against all the principles I have taught them.”

Gaballah said she is ready to keep fighting with the few means left in her power to keep her sons, even if it means tarnishing her with a criminal record by not handing them over to their father.

“And I’m determined to get justice in my own country, because it is my natural right and my sons’ right,” she said. “I cannot see how I can comply with the people who are taking my rights away from me and taking my children from me to give them to an unworthy father and another woman.”

Labib is now married to his third wife, with whom he has a 4-year-old son. He is a businessman working in exports and travels between Alexandria and Cairo.

Gobraiel said that he intends to send a clear message to Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak and the international human rights community that judgments like this one are hypocritical on the part of a government that claims to be “civilized.”

“How can they think we live in a civilized and secular country when they are applying sharia law on us?” he asked. “We will send a message to human rights organizations in Egypt and around the world to help us. We are angry and we want to declare it!”

 

Problematic Birth Certificates

Even under their father’s custody, the twins have the legal right to live with whomever they choose in two years, when they turn 15. But Ramses said he doubts the court would let them return to their mother.

“The same law that states that they should stay with mother until the age of 15 is the one that says they can decide where to live after the age of 15,” he explained. “If the court didn’t apply the first part of the law, they won’t apply the second.”

At the age of 16, when Mario and Andrew apply for their identification cards, they will face yet another hurdle, said Ramses. In 2005, Labib went to the population register and changed the twins’ birth certificates from Christian to Muslim, to reflect his own religion.

Now Ramses fears that a Sept. 23 court ruling in the case of Bahia Nagy El-Sisi, sentencing her to prison for three years for “forgery of an official document,” could be what awaits him and his little brothers. Nagy El-Sisi’s father had converted to Islam briefly in 1962, when she was 3 years old, and her documents were never altered to reflect the change as she remained a Christian. She and her sister discovered that their father had temporarily converted to Islam when the sister, Shadia Nagy, tried to issue marriage papers for her son.

Shadia Nagy was sentenced to three years in prison in 2007, also for “forgery.”

“These women are us in the future,” said Ramses.

Over the past few years, as Christians have found out about the twin boys’ case, Ramses said many have called them to give support. Many also have pledged to go on a hunger strike with the boys if they are handed over to their father.

“Christians see them as Coptic heroes and martyrs who stood up in front of all and said they were Christians and held on to it,” said Ramses. “All of them say they see the greatness of their ancestors and Christian heroes of long ago in them … and they carry a lot of respect and love for what they have done.”

Report from Compass Direct News