According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Public Enemy: Iran's Persecution Backfires

Regime's antagonism is increasing Christianity's appeal.
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/june/publicenemy.html

Trevor Persaud
posted 6/01/2011

A major spike in the harassment and arrest of Iranian Christians in recent months is re-vealing just how nervous the Islamic republic is about the prodigious success of house churches, say Iranian Christian leaders.

At least 202 Christians in 24 cities faced "arbitrary" arrest between June 2010 and January 2011, according to Elam Ministries. Elam, run by Iranian expatriates, counted 80 arrests over 2008 and 2009 combined.

"[Iran] has been substantially more public in its oppression of Christianity," said Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs. "Announcing it on the news, having the mullahs talk about it in their Friday sermons—it's just become a lot more out in the open."

"Persecution has escalated to an unprecedented level," said Abe Ghaffari, executive director of Iranian Christians International. While Iran's historic Armenian and Assyrian congregations usually enjoy freedom of worship, Farsi-speaking house churches hosting converts from Islam work under significant threat.

"In effect, recognition of Christians in the laws of Iran has now become basically recognition of an ethnicity rather than faith," said Hussein Jadidi, a human rights lawyer who recently fled Iran after he became a target in a Christmas sweep that caught 70 other Christians.

The government is concerned, observers say, because more and more Iranian Muslims are converting to Christianity. The house church movement is booming, with converts estimated in the hundreds of thousands. Evangelists are distributing large numbers of New Testaments, and satellite television continually beams Christian programs into the country.

"The government always used to deny that Iranians become Christians," said Elam's David Yeghnazar, but now the church has become too strong to ignore. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei declared the house church network "enemies of Iran" in an October speech, which analysts labeled a rare public acknowledgement of the movement.

"Religion is regarded as part of your national identity," said Issa Dibaj, an Iranian Christian who works as an Elam translator. "If you turn away from your religion … it's as if you have betrayed your country."

"In the past, [the government] would emphasize apostasy as the crime," Jadidi said. "They've changed their tactics; now evangelism, witnessing, and changing religion have become a security crime."

But now analysts say Islam is losing credibility after 30 years of theocracy. Resentment against the reigning regime is spreading and deepening—especially since the disputed 2009 national elections.

"Before the [1979] revolution, the clerics were promising that once Iran becomes an Islamic state, it would be utopia, it would be brotherhood, and everything would be fine," Dibaj said. But since then, Iranians "have seen nothing but war and fighting and international isolation and hatred, [and] they are thirsting for change."

"The Iranian public basically doesn't trust the government anymore," Ghaffari said, "and they don't trust the Muslim clergy anymore, because they have seen a lot of double standards and hypocrisy."

Converts in smaller communities still risk persecution from their own families, but tolerance is growing in urban areas and among the younger generation. "In fact," said Dibaj, "in places like Tehran and more educated communities, if you say, 'I have become a Christian,' they will respect you because of your courage and your independent thinking."

If anything, government persecution has made Christianity much more attractive, said Yegh-nazar. "When government officials are on television telling people not to read the Scriptures, that generates more interest in the Scriptures."

**********
 
Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Chinese_protests


Crowd in front of a McDonald's in Wangfujing on 20 February 2011

**********
 

Color Revolutions Map.png

 Colour revolutions is a term that was widely used by the media to describe related movements that developed in several societies in the CIS (former USSR) and Balkan states during the early 2000s. The term has also been applied to a number of revolutions elsewhere, including in the Middle East. Some observers[who?] have called the events a revolutionary wave, the origins of which can be traced back to the Indian independence movement in the 1920s, the Portuguese Carnation Revolution in the 1970s, and the 1986 People Power Revolution (sometimes called the "Yellow Revolution") in the Philippines.

Participants in the colour revolutions have mostly used nonviolent resistance, also called civil resistance. Such methods as demonstrations, strikes and interventions have been intended protest against governments seen as corrupt and/or authoritarian, and to advocate democracy; and they have also created strong pressure for change. These movements generally adopted a specific colour or flower as their symbol. The colour revolutions are notable for the important role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and particularly student activists in organising creative non-violent resistance.

Such movements have had a measure of success, as for example in Serbia's Bulldozer Revolution (2000); in Georgia's Rose Revolution (2003); and in Ukraine's Orange Revolution (2004). In most but not all cases, massive street protests followed disputed elections, or requests for fair elections, and led to the resignation or overthrow of leaders considered by their opponents to be authoritarian. Some events have been called "colour revolutions" but are different from the above cases in certain basic characteristics. Examples include Lebanon's Cedar Revolution (2005); and Kuwait's Blue Revolution (2005).
 
 

Why Beijing's Largest House Church Refuses to Stop Meeting Outdoors

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/aprilweb-only/beijinghousechurch.html

Shouwang vows to continue showdown until Christmas in hopes of ending Achilles' heel of unregistered churches: government pressure on landlords.

Promise Hsu in Beijing, China
posted 4/26/2011

Editor's note: As worldwide headlines noted the Easter season showdown between Beijing authorities and one of China's largest house churches, one Shouwang member offered Christianity Today this analysis.

The global media spotlight has recently centered on the meeting place of Shouwang Church in Beijing. Since April 10, the unregistered congregation of 1,000 mostly young professionals has been forced to worship outdoors after the landlord of its rented conference hall gave in to mounting government pressure and terminated the church's lease.

During the past three Sundays, numerous uniformed and plainclothes police officers were sent to a public square at Zhongguancun, known as "China's Silicon Valley," where Shouwang worshipers were supposed to gather. Hundreds of Shouwang members were detained, from a few hours to 48 hours. They worshiped—reading the Bible, singing hymns, and praying—after being loaded onto buses or held in police stations. Many others have been under house arrest. The church's leaders, including four pastors and three elders, have been under house arrest for most of the past two weeks. Some church members have lost their jobs or rented homes—or both.

On Easter Sunday, more than 30 people were rounded up at Zhongguancun, while many Shouwang members were confined to their homes. A young couple asked the police to drive them to the Zhongguancun square. The police agreed. They sang hymns, read the Bible, and prayed in the police car. They also gave the police officers a copy of the Bible and an autobiography about how a Chinese biologist became a Christian. The police car moved around the square. After the young couple finished worshiping, the police officers drove them home. The young couple shared their experience with fellow Shouwang members through the church's online forum, which was shut down in mid-April but resumed later.

It was not the first time that Shouwang Church made global headlines. In November 2009, when President Barack Obama had just wrapped up his first visit to China, The Wall Street Journal ran an opinion piece entitled "The China President Obama Didn't See." It was about 500 Shouwang members worshiping outside in a suburban park during a snowstorm after being evicted from the office space that the church had rented for three and a half years.

Shouwang began in 1993 as a home Bible study led by Pastor Jin Tianming, a son of an ethnic-Korean peasant family in northeast China who became a Christian while attending Beijing's prestigious Tsinghua University. In 2005, Shouwang began renting office space in order to integrate its 10 fellowships and open itself to the general public. The church also applied to register with the government, but was rejected and told to join the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, China's state-approved Christian body.

By 2007, Shouwang was arguably one of the largest house churches in Beijing, but remained almost unknown until it began publicizing its location troubles in Xing Hua, the church's quarterly magazine. One of its first issues had a special report on Shouwang's registration process, which gained attention from other house churches and those who were following Chinese Christianity.

Like almost all house churches, the Shouwang congregation has faced the issue of survival from the moment it was established. The most serious direct crackdown came during the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when on May 11 armed forces broke into Shouwang's Sunday worship in a rented office space and ordered the church to put an end to the worship. However, all three services from morning to afternoon were held as usual. Many worshipers were asked to give their names and contact information.

Amazingly, Shouwang survived the clampdown. Yet the church realized that pressure on the landlords of the facilities it rented was a weak point in both the survival and further growth of the congregation. It had been forced out of the previous rented venues, and in 2008 faced another eviction. So by the end of 2009, Shouwang raised and paid about $4 million for the second floor of the Daheng Science and Technology Tower in northwest Beijing's Zhongguancun area. Yet authorities once again interfered, and the property developer has refused to hand the key over to the church.

For now, it is not known when the outdoor worship will end. In a pastoral letter sent the night before Easter, Pastor Jin Tianming, who has been under house arrest, reaffirmed the stand on outdoor worship: "The 'outdoor' in the outdoor worship is not a means to an end but a stand we are making before our Lord of glory and the authorities. It is a kind of worship before the only true God who is the only head of the church. And in this particular period of time, it is a worship that is even more precious than any hymn or sermon and would much more please God."

For the past three Sundays of outdoor worship, Pastor Li Xiaobai has sent Shouwang members sermons based on the Book of Esther, a symbolic choice to illustrate God's unfailing salvation of his people. In the case of Shouwang, the issue of worship venue is a reflection of a deeper struggle over the legality of the non-state-owned church in China. More than 30 years after reforms were started, it looks impossible for the government to control everything. It has considerably shifted its ground on the economy, having allowed non-state-owned companies to exist and expand. Now it is increasingly faced with the continued rise of non-state-owned churches: something it has long considered the product of "Western culture."

Even a decade into the reform era, the Chinese government was still chained to its ideology that market economy was restricted to "the Western capitalist countries." It was Deng Xiaoping, China's de facto leader in the 1980s and 1990s, who admonished his colleagues to stop splitting hairs over "whether it is surnamed socialist or capitalist." "The policy," he said, "is okay if it works." This insistence on economic reform paved the way for the further expansion of private enterprises and the official recognition of private property. In fact, this has gone on to help the growth of house churches, making it possible for them to rent or even own places of worship.

If the current government leaders should carry on with this part of Deng Xiaoping's theory, they would probably help usher in the continued rise of China. They would see a newer China, where some truly respected schools, universities, research institutes, hospitals, and philanthropic foundations could grow out of house churches or those church-goers, similar to what has occurred in church history worldwide.

For now, it seems crucial for the Chinese government to better understand what the church is. On the bright side, the numerous detentions and arrests of Shouwang congregants might provide golden opportunities for police officers and their leaders to learn more about Christians and their faith firsthand. The police might find it strange when they read the following on a Shouwang Q&A fact sheet: "'What if the police arrest me because of my participation in outdoor worship?' Do not resist; let them take us away, just like a lamb to the slaughter. In our hearts, we know that we gather here to worship; and for the sake of worship, we will pay the price. We believe in what the Lord has said: 'Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.'" Once they detain or arrest those Christians, the police would see and hear how these people behave and speak.

There have been different opinions within Shouwang about the governing committee's decision to worship outdoors. Some have argued that the church could worship as separate groups indoors (since Shouwang currently has dozens of family Bible study groups and fellowships), and others warned that it was too sensitive to hold outdoor services while what has been called the "Jasmine Revolution" is spreading from North Africa to Asia. But the Shouwang governing committee has issued multiple open messages explaining the outdoor worship decision. In a letter, they said, "We ask the Lord to preserve the unity of our church, that despite of our different viewpoints, we may still be able to submit to and bear with one another."

As for how long the outdoor worship will last, Shouwang said that if the problem of a worship venue could not be solved, they would continue to worship outdoors until Christmas 2011. They would then reassess the situation and devise new plans for the coming year. This means Shouwang seems to be prepared for a long road ahead. In the history of the Christian church, a year or even a decade would not be a long time. But the next few weeks or months might witness another turning point for the church in a country whose ancient name is, surprisingly, "God's Land."

**********
Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Chinese_protests


Crowd in front of a McDonald's in Wangfujing on 20 February 2011
 
**********
 
 
Color Revolutions Map.png
 
 
Colour revolutions is a term that was widely used by the media to describe related movements that developed in several societies in the CIS (former USSR) and Balkan states during the early 2000s. The term has also been applied to a number of revolutions elsewhere, including in the Middle East. Some observers[who?] have called the events a revolutionary wave, the origins of which can be traced back to the Indian independence movement in the 1920s, the Portuguese Carnation Revolution in the 1970s, and the 1986 People Power Revolution (sometimes called the "Yellow Revolution") in the Philippines.

Participants in the colour revolutions have mostly used nonviolent resistance, also called civil resistance. Such methods as demonstrations, strikes and interventions have been intended protest against governments seen as corrupt and/or authoritarian, and to advocate democracy; and they have also created strong pressure for change. These movements generally adopted a specific colour or flower as their symbol. The colour revolutions are notable for the important role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and particularly student activists in organising creative non-violent resistance.

Such movements have had a measure of success, as for example in Serbia's Bulldozer Revolution (2000); in Georgia's Rose Revolution (2003); and in Ukraine's Orange Revolution (2004). In most but not all cases, massive street protests followed disputed elections, or requests for fair elections, and led to the resignation or overthrow of leaders considered by their opponents to be authoritarian. Some events have been called "colour revolutions" but are different from the above cases in certain basic characteristics. Examples include Lebanon's Cedar Revolution (2005); and Kuwait's Blue Revolution (2005).

Should the China Ambassador Worship at a House Church?

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/june/underdiscussion-jun11.html

Observers discuss whether the U.S. ambassador to China should worship at an unregistered church to 'publicly identify with the persecuted.'


"The U.S. ambassador should worship in a house church, especially if he is a Protestant Christian. If he is Catholic, he should seek out a so-called 'underground church.' Such actions would likely result in more media attention to religious persecution in China, and perhaps give hope to the persecuted. However, media attention would be fleeting. Moreover, such an act—even if done regularly—would be primarily symbolic, and U.S. international religious freedom policy has for too long been characterized by symbols rather than substance. What we should be asking the U.S. ambassador to China is what concrete programs he will initiate to convince the Chinese that religious freedom is in their interests. How will he ensure that U.S. religious freedom policy in China becomes more than words and symbols, as it has been under this administration?"

Thomas Farr, professor, Georgetown University

"If the Chinese government allows it, there should be no problem with the U.S. ambassador to China visiting a house church. Indeed, such visits demonstrate a mature bilateral relationship while signaling a stable and responsible China that is comfortable with its religious minorities."

Chris Seiple, president, Institute for Global Engagement

"It has been estimated that as many as 80 percent of China's Christians worship in unregistered churches. So if an ambassador wants to show support to China's Christians, it would be good if he or she recognized not only registered-church Christians, but those in unregistered churches as well. However, the Chinese government would no doubt take great offense at such a show of support, and it is hard to imagine the current administration spending goodwill capital with the Chinese government to show support for house-church Christians, in light of their other stated priorities and in light of the large amount of debt owed to China by the U.S."

Todd Nettleton, spokesperson, Voice of the Martyrs

"Before deciding where to worship, the ambassador should consult with leaders of both registered and house churches, and then pray for discernment as to what decision will best advance the gospel and strengthen the witness of the church in China."

Galen Carey, director of government affairs, National Association of Evangelicals

"I think the most important consideration of the next U.S. ambassador to China should be: 'What actions of mine will most benefit the Chinese house church?' At present, I don't think an attempt by a senior U.S. diplomat to visit a house church in Beijing or elsewhere would be a good thing, because it would likely endanger the house church itself … I think a far more powerful form of protest would be for the ambassador to refuse to meet with anyone from the Three Self Patriotic Movement until freedom of worship is granted to Shouwang. I think all U.S. Christian organizations should be lobbying hard to stop any further hospitality to the Three Self Patriotic Movement or Catholic Patriotic Association officials in the U.S. until there is full worship freedom in China."

David Aikman, author, Jesus in Beijing

"The effect on the perceptions of Christianity within domestic society is likely to be unfavorable. The Chinese Christian population is a tiny minority in China, no more than 8 percent of the total, and official and unregistered churches still labor under the stigma of being a 'foreign' religion. The history of the modern era in China is framed by the humiliating defeat by the British in the 1840s Opium Wars. It was in the wake of military defeat that most foreign missionaries entered the country with the protection of foreign gunships. As a small percentage of the population, tying their fates directly to foreign international pressure plays into the hands of the regime's propaganda, which frequently warns of threats posed by 'foreign enemy religious forces' to China's sovereignty."

Carsten Vala, professor, Loyola University (Md.)

"Politics and religion do not, and should not, mix, in China or here. I know this is not a popular view among some, but it is the prudent view. In China, when Christianity and politics got mixed up in the 19th and 20th century, there was trouble for U.S. policy. The popular view toward Christianity also turned negative. Such will be the same today if the U.S., for whatever reason, seeks to interject religion into the relationship. Having the U.S. ambassador visit an 'underground' church would be counterproductive."

Gordon H. Chang, professor of history, Stanford University

"Identification by an American government official would be the kiss of death for unregistered churches in China. For many reasons, some of them quite understandable, the leaders of China are afraid of any organized movement with connections to the outside, especially America. Though they have no political ambitions, Chinese Christians outside the officially sanctioned church have enough difficulty already; any perceived link to the American government will only further arouse the government's suspicion and ire. We should not add to the church's troubles by a well-meaning but counter-productive show of support."

G. Wright Doyle, Global China Center


Katrina Volunteers Continue, Even When it Costs Them

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/juneweb-only/katrinavolunteers.html

Volunteers remain willing to donate time and labor, even if it means that they have to pay.



Hurricane Katrina was over 5 years ago but work still needs to be done. Families are still displaced from their homes, living in trailers or with family. Resources exclusively for hurricane damage have run out but people are still in need of help. When all the focus was on hurricane recovery, many families with other needs were ignored or neglected. Epworth Project exists to respond to those who were affected by Hurricane Katrina and were uninsured or under-insured - whose unmet needs will not be covered by relief systems such as FEMA, the Small Business Administration or the Re Cross. Likewise, we seek to provide basic needs for those who are living in unfit conditions, whether caused by Hurricane Katrina or not.

Epworth Project provides a mission experience for youth, college students, young adults, and church groups of all ages who are interested in being part of rebuilding the greater New Orleans area. Our organized and energetic staff will make sure that all of the details are arranged for your visit including lodging, supplies, and entertainment ideas.

As a volunteer, you will transform the lives of the least, last, lost, and forgotten people of the greater New Orleans area. While you are working, your life will be transformed as well. We do what we do because we are still haunted by the pictures of devastation from Hurricane Katrina. With your help, we will continue to bring hope to the people of Louisiana.

Over the past 5 years we have been able to host 88,426 volunteers that have clocked 3,465,723 work hours in the greater New Orleans area. The economic impact from this work and help is $90.1 million. Thanks to you, we have been able to help 21,365 people repair 12,641 homes. Work is still being done. Please consider being part of the next 5 years.

If you are interested in an all-inclusive mission experience for your youth group, Epworth Project Summer Program can meet your needs! We are currently booking youth groups for the summer of 2012. Your trip will include lodging, food, building supplies, worship, devotionals, and fun! We will help students connect the physical work that they are doing with the unconditional love and grace from God.

Epworth Project in conjunction with Northshore Disaster Recovery, Inc. will provide spiritual, emotional, and physical resources to those affected by Hurricane Katrina, regardless of race, creed, color, sex, handicap, or religious preference.

How to Donate

Epworth Project is able to help more people because of the generous donations from churches, organizations, and individuals. If you would like to make a donation to help fund future ministry and service, please make check donations to:

Epworth Project and mail them to:

Epworth Project
360 Robert Blvd.
Slidell, LA 70458