Wednesday, April 28, 2010

053. April Update; incl. Australia, Iran, Nigeria, USA

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 053 | Wed 28 April 2010

APRIL 2010 UPDATE -- During April we prayed concerning . . .

SUDAN, where fraudulent elections have crushed hopes for a united, secular, democratic Sudan.

* UPDATE: As was inevitable, the Arabist, Islamist, dictatorial, genocidal regime of Omar al-Bashir won the elections. Al-Bashir won 68 percent of the presidential votes, while candidates belonging to al-Bashir's National Congress Party (NCP) won the majority of seats in the National Assembly as well as governorships of 13 of the North's 14 states. Western powers, including the US, while acknowledging the election was flawed, are accepting the results as legitimate, citing progress in the 'process of democratisation'. (In reality, the only 'progress' that has been made has been in the art of cheating.)

The southern-based Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) will control Southern Sudan, having won 93 percent of the vote in the South. The SPLM has abandoned the oppositional National Consensus alliance and renewed its own alliance with al-Bashir's NCP. South Sudan's President, SPLM leader Salva Kiir, will also be Sudan's Vice President. So al-Bashir rules, the opposition is divided, and the SPLM thinks it can guarantee South Sudan (home to 80 percent of Sudan's oil) a smooth secession by empowering and entering into an alliance with the lying, cheating, oil-dependent NCP of al-Bashir. Travesty! Pray for Sudan's Christians.

UK, where the controversial Equality Bill that will challenge Christian consciences has now passed through the parliament and awaits only Royal Assent to become law.


KYRGYZSTAN, where the Church is praying that the new inclusive government will be able to establish security and address the repressive Religion Law (enacted January 2009). Kyrgyzstan is awash with rival clans, drugs and guns. The risk of State collapse and conflict is high. Please pray for the Church in Kyrgyzstan.


APRIL 2010 ROUND-UP
-- also this month . . .

* AUSTRALIA: VICTORIAN STATE GOVT. PASSES EQUAL OPPORTUNITY BILL

On 15 April, Victoria's State Labor Government, in alliance with the Greens, passed the highly controversial Equal Opportunity Bill 2010 in the upper house by 21 votes to 17. Even though the Bill that passed was considerably weaker than the Bill initially proposed, it will still negatively impact churches as well as religious schools, charities and other bodies. The Act empowers the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) to investigate at will, even in the absence of a complaint, and requires non-discrimination in employment unless it can be proved in the appeals tribunal (at great expense) that the attribute in question (such as belief or lifestyle) is an 'inherent requirement' of the job. The employment of ministers and pastors is about the only exception. (Note: The Victorian EOC was the force behind the 5-year-long vilification case launched by the Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV) against two Christian pastors in 2002.) The Victorian Government's next project is a review of hate laws, possibly widening them to include 'prejudice'. Pray for God to awaken and prepare the long-comfortable Australian Church.


* IRAN: CHURCH FACING INTENSIVE PRESSURE

Middle East Concern reports that on 11 April Iranian security agents under the orders of the Revolutionary Court arrested a young believer named Daniel (19) during a raid on his Isfahan home. Electronic equipment and books were confiscated. The charges against Daniel include establishing a house-church. On 14 April, security officers raided a fellowship meeting in the Karaj home of house-church pastor Bahnam Irani. The officers confiscated property and assaulted Bahnam as they arrested him. The believers who were present were all required to give details to the police of how they were converted and who baptised them. They have been warned that they will face further questioning. This is the second time Pastor Bahnam Irani has been imprisoned for his faith. Please pray for the besieged and persecuted Church in Iran.


* NIGERIA: PASTOR AND WIFE MURDERED IN BAUCHI

On 13 April eye witnesses saw suspected Islamic militants drag Rev. Ishaku (or Ishaya) Kadah (48) and his wife Selina (45) from their home in Boto, Bauchi State, northern Nigeria. The militants murdered the couple and burned their bodies, which were found only hours later. Ishaku and Selina served with the Church of Christ in Nigeria, and their home was also used as the church's headquarters. On 22 January Islamic militants had set fire to their church which was being used to shelter Christian refugees fleeing religious violence in neighbouring Plateau State. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the 19 northern states and Abuja has appealed for government action to address the issue of persecution of Christians in the north. CAN has urged persecuted Christians to remain calm and to continue to pray for peace in Nigeria.


* USA: FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATION IN THE BALANCE

The US Supreme Court heard the case 'Christian Legal Society v Martinez' on 19 April. The case concerns anti-discrimination provisions at Hastings College of the Law (part of the University of California) that maintain that student group membership and leadership positions must be open to all students without discrimination. In 2004 the Christian Legal Society (CLS) introduced a requirement that its members sign a statement of faith and abstain from 'unrepentant participation in or advocacy of a sexually immoral lifestyle'. ('Members' then have voting rights and are eligible for leadership roles.) As a result, Hastings de-registered the group. The CLS sued, contending that Hastings' anti-discrimination policy violated the CLS' First Amendment right to associate with those it chooses and to select members and officers committed to promoting its beliefs and values. After the Lower Court ruled in favour of the College, CLS appealed to the Supreme Court. After hearing the case, the justices are split on the issue. Their precedent-setting decision is due before July.

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Jesus said: 'If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. . . . I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. . . . I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.' (John 15:19; 16:1, 33 ESV)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

052. Kyrgyzstan: opportunities, though threat remains.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 052 | Wed 21 Apr 2010

KYRGYZSTAN: OPPORTUNITIES, THOUGH THREAT REMAINS

The former Soviet Republic of Kyrgyzstan became an independent state in 1991 under the leadership of Askar Akayev. Akayev introduced multi-party democracy and ensured that Kyrgyzstan had a level of openness unknown to its neighbours. However, after the US Transit Centre was established in December 2001 at Manas air base just outside the capital, Bishek, Akayev descended into massive corruption and nepotism. But corruption and openness don't mix so, to allow corruption to flourish, openness and liberty had to be repressed. Akayev also learnt he could play the 'Cold-War-is-not-over-yet' game, pitting Russia and the US against each other for financial gain. However, US funds did not benefit the Kyrgyz population. While the masses remained impoverished, the Akayev clan grew very rich and very powerful.

The March 2005 'Tulip Revolution' that ousted Akayev was not a US-sponsored 'colour revolution'. Rather it was a people's revolt that, despite its violence, won the support of the US which claimed it was part of the domino effect of democracy. The US quickly transferred its business to the new president, Kurmanbek Bakiev, who quickly became even more corrupt than the man he had deposed. Furthermore, President Bakiev's son, Maksim, reportedly earned himself as much as $8 million a month monopolising the sale of fuel to the base. Meanwhile, the masses remained impoverished with unemployment hovering around 18 percent. History was repeating itself and for all America's human rights rhetoric, it clearly saw the transit centre at Manas as a higher priority -- something not lost on the repressed and abused masses of Central Asia.

As corruption, repression and hardship escalated, the masses (especially in the more Muslim south) increasingly leaned towards the 'Islam-is-the-solution' message preached by the Islamic fundamentalists of the Ferghana Valley in southern Kyrgyzstan. To counter their influence, the Bakiev regime brutally crushed dissent and further escalated repression, a strategy that only served to fuel the cycle. On 12 January 2009, a highly repressive Religion Law was enacted. Whilst its primary target was the Islamic revolutionary Hizb-ut-Tahrir, Protestant Christians (around 0.5 percent) have been caught in its anti-'new', anti-'foreign', anti-'small gatherings', anti-'religious literature', anti-'missionary' net. Because Protestant Christianity is 'divisive' -- winning converts from amongst Muslims and Russian Orthodox -- the regime exploited repression and persecution of Protestants as a convenient and easy way to appease aggrieved elements.

In late 2009, confident there was no organised opposition, Bakiev increased taxes and the cost of utilities. The first price hike came on 1 January 2010 and the second would hit six months later. Thus in the middle of winter, as temperatures dipped to minus 20 degrees Celsius, many Kyrgyz citizens found themselves forced to choose between spending 80 percent of their salary on utilities, or turning off the gas, electricity and hot water. On 6 April 2010, anger and despair spilled into the streets. The protests escalated rapidly until the security forces, under the control of President Bakiev's brother, Zhanybek Bakiev, opened fire on the protesters, killing more than 80 and wounding hundreds more. However, Bakiev was ultimately ousted and, after initially retreating south, he has since fled to Belarus.

The new inclusive interim administration led by Rosa Otunbayev will hold democratic elections and a referendum on an amended constitution later this year. This provides a wonderful opportunity for religious liberty to be restored. The churches have been active throughout the crisis caring for the injured, visiting hospitals, holding prayer vigils, assisting with efforts to clean up the streets and repairing damage to public facilities. Kyrgyz ethnic-religious nationalism is a serious threat. On 19 April, a violent mob of around 1000 ethnic Kyrgyz -- all well organised outsiders -- rampaged through the village of Mayevka on the outskirts of Bishek. Five were killed as the mob burned homes and seized land belonging to ethnic Russians and Turks. Local Kyrgyz reportedly intervened to defend their besieged neighbours. Islamic forces will doubtless be viewing Kyrgyzstan's present vulnerability as their great opportunity.


WE PRAY THAT GOD IN HIS GRACE AND MERCY WILL:

* bless and multiply the witness of the churches -- just as Jesus blessed and multiplied the loaves and fishes (Matthew 14:13-21) -- so that the little they have to offer might impact many.

* intervene in the conversations and debates over the new constitution, so that religious liberty will be restored and human rights will be protected.

* intervene against the plots of those who would create havoc in Kyrgyzstan, seeking their own advancement rather than the good of the nation and all its constituent peoples.

'When he [Jesus] went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.' (Matthew 14:14 ESV)

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OPPORTUNITIES IN KYRGYZSTAN, THOUGH THREAT REMAINS

On 6 April, the Kyrgyz people rose up against the regime of the obscenely corrupt dictator, President Kurmanbek Bakiev. Bakiev's security forces (controlled by his brother) opened fire on the protesters, killing more than 80 and wounding hundreds. Despite this, the protesters prevailed and Bakiev was ousted. The interim administration is struggling to contain an eruption of violent Kyrgyz ethnic nationalism. This new inclusive administration led by Rosa Otunbayev will hold democratic elections and a referendum on an amended constitution later this year. This provides a wonderful opportunity for the restoration of religious liberty and other human rights. The local church has been active throughout the crisis, praying, caring for the injured and assisting with the clean-up. Please pray for Kyrgyzstan and for the Church in Kyrgyzstan.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

051. UK: understanding religious liberty.

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 051 | Wed 14 April 2010

UK: UNDERSTANDING RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

Earlier this month, Christian nurse Shirley Chaplin (54) lost her appeal against the National Health Service (NHS) which demanded she remove the small cross she had worn around her neck throughout her 30-year nursing career. When she refused she was demoted to a desk job. An employment tribunal panel ruled that the health department was right to demand her 'jewellery' be removed as it could 'scratch patients'. Subsequent to this however, the department ruled that Sikh nurses may wear bangles, and Muslim nurses may be exempted from the NHS dress code mandating that doctors and nurses wear short sleeves to help prevent the spread of deadly hospital superbugs. Similarly, Scotland Yard has decreed that Muslims will not be charged with criminal assault if they throw shoes at police, regarding this not as criminal assault, but a form of Islamic ritual protest. Many Britons are confused and troubled by the way their historic freedom to exercise their Christian belief is being eroded while minority rights are being advanced.

Most Westerners simply don't appreciate the degree to which their freedoms are intrinsically linked to Judeo-Christian culture. Nor do they appreciate the degree to which that culture is dependent upon a Biblical foundation. Consider this as an illustration: Judeo-Christian culture is a tree that grows out of Biblical soil and religious freedom is a fruit of that tree.

Throughout history, whenever a community has stopped attending to its Biblical foundation, the culture has declined and its fruits have failed. The only way to restore the fruits is to revive the culture. And the only way to revive the culture is to attend to the foundations.

Religious freedom was integral to the Protestant Reformation (1517). The Reformation not only advanced Biblical truth but the right of individuals to read it in their own language (championed in London by John Wycliffe as early as 1377) and exercise it without persecution. Britain's historic human rights advocacy and missionary endeavours were the fruits of a post-Reformation Protestant culture that promoted the Bible.

Rip the foundations away, however, and the tree and its fruit go with it. Even if the foundations are eroded only slowly and subversively, the tree eventually withers and dies as its roots cannot provide sustenance or stability. And everyone knows that a transplanted tree will not successfully take root, grow and fruit unless the soil is good in the first place. Furthermore, the post-Reformation Protestant culture of Christian liberty is so dynamic that unless that soil is right it will not be able to sustain or support it. Even when the soil is good, if the roots are withered through neglect and drought, renewal of the plant through the restoration of its root system will only be possible through considerable struggle and long-term diligent care.

This is the situation facing the UK. Foundations long neglected are being both subversively eroded and openly demolished, for UK elites determined some time ago (undemocratically) that evolution mandates a transition to a 'post-Christian' culture. Therefore renovations are in order. However, it is coming as a shock to many to learn that 'fruits' long taken for granted -- such as religious liberty, benevolence and 'manners' -- are withering and disappearing before their very eyes. It is also coming as a shock to many in the demolition crew that they do not have control of the situation. Before they even get a chance to build their utopia, other builders with stakes in the game are moving in as soon as a space opens up. Furthermore, these new builders (some very dangerous) are winning hearts and minds amongst the UK's identity-challenged youth.

The controversial Equality Bill -- which will challenge Christian consciences and criminalise Christian values -- completed its progression through the UK parliament on 6 April and now merely awaits Royal Assent to become law. (For more about the Equality Bill watch Religious Liberty Monitoring.)

Whilst many voices are declaring that the UK is already 'post-Christian', that is not the case. The UK is in transition. This is why we can still implore: 'Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die.' (Revelation 3:2a ESV)


WE PRAY THAT, IN GRACE AND MERCY, GOD WILL:

* bring revival to the British Church, so that by repentance and through the empowering of the Holy Spirit, she might have the vision, wisdom and courage to face the struggle ahead, as well as the vision, strength and perseverance to see it through.

'LORD, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O LORD. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.' (Habakkuk 3:2 NIV)

* bless the gospel witness of all his servants throughout the UK, so that testimony spoken in faith and obedience will be used by the Holy Spirit to convert multitudes.

'For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes . . .' (Romans 1:16a ESV)

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RELIGIOUS LIBERTY CHALLENGED IN THE UK

On 6 April the UK parliament passed the controversial Equality Bill which will challenge Christian consciences. Freedom to exercise Christian beliefs is being eroded by laws that criminalise Christian values to advance minority ones. Religious freedom is a fruit of Judeo-Christian culture that grows out of and is sustained by Biblical foundations. As the foundations are eroded the culture suffers and its fruits fail. UK culture is in transition and some Britons are realising it is not for the better. Religious liberty is in decline. (For instance a Christian nurse has been banned from wearing a small cross around her neck as 'jewellery' that might 'scratch patients', whereas Sikh nurses may wear bangles for their religious reasons.) Please pray for a revival that will energise the Church for the long struggle ahead.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

050. Sudan on the brink

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 050 | Wed 07 April 2010

SUDAN ON THE BRINK

In 1983 Sudan's Arab Islamist military dictator, Jaafar Numeiri, advanced his policy of national Islamisation by enacting Sharia Law (Islamic Law) across the whole of Sudan. When the African, predominantly Christian and animist Southerners resisted, Khartoum responded with Islamic jihad. For the next 21 years the Southern Sudanese suffered constant aerial bombardment, scorched-earth raids, enslavement, chemical weapons and government-made famines that could wipe out up to 100,000 Southerners in a couple of months (as in the Bahr El Ghazal famine of 1998).

On 2 Jan 2005 the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM, representing the Southerners) and the Arab Islamic Government of Sudan (GoS) signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) ending the war. According to the CPA a referendum on Southern self-determination must be held in January 2011, giving the government six years to 'make unity attractive'. During the interim period, all the various opposition groups from across the country were to be brought into a truly comprehensive peace process through participation in a democratically elected representative government. The CPA mandated that the elections be held by July 2009. Opposition groups planned to make a united stand against the regime and remove it democratically. The ultimate hope was that by January 2011, buoyed by the emergence of a united, secular, rights-respecting, democratic Sudan, the oil-rich South could be convinced to stay.

However, the Arab Islamist regime has done everything in its power to obstruct the process, including actively destabilising whole regions through conflict. Originally scheduled for July 2009, the elections have been postponed twice and are now due to be held over 11-13 April 2010. But the process has already been irredeemably compromised. A preparatory census was taken to determine legislative power in the national assembly, where constituencies will be weighted to local population. The census, however, was rigged. As many as 4-5 million Southerners displaced by war into the north have been counted as Northerners. Though some three million non-Arab Darfuris have also been disenfranchised due to displacement, the population of Darfur has exploded with a reported 322 percent increase in nomadic Arabs! (Reeves, June 2009.) According to reports, the Janjaweed militias have not only ethnically cleansed whole towns of Darfuris, they have repopulated those towns with nomadic Arabs from neighbouring Chad, Niger and Mali, issuing them with Sudanese ID papers. Thus the regime has not only succeeded in robbing the Southerners of a large portion of their demographic base, it has totally changed the demography of Darfur -- all to its own advantage.

The ruling Arab Islamist regime (the National Congress Party, formerly the National Islamic Front) intends not only to win the elections to legitimise its power, but to secure a 75 percent majority in the National Assembly. It could then achieve its main aim of amending the Constitution and re-writing -- maybe even tearing up -- the CPA.

In summary: the 11-13 April elections, which are integral to the peace process, are already totally compromised to the advantage of the genocidal Arab Islamist regime in Khartoum. As members of the SPLM-led National Consensus (a coalition of opposition parties) have started voicing their intent to join the SPLM in their boycott of the elections, President al-Bashir has started threatening to cancel the referendum on Southern self-determination. Dark storm clouds of war are looming ominously over Sudan. If the clouds burst, the Church in Sudan will face faith-testing times. Please pray for Sudan's long-suffering, faithful, growing and yet seriously threatened Church.

WE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO:

* draw the eyes and hearts of every Sudanese Christian to HIM, and may the Holy Spirit increase their faith despite their circumstances. 'Be still and know that I am God.' (Psalm 46:10a ESV)

* empower and bless the preaching of the Gospel across Sudan, especially in the capital, Khartoum; may insecurity and uncertainty only serve to open ears and hearts to receive the Gospel, with revival in the Church, conviction of sin, and many surprising conversions.

* deliver Sudan from the terror of the totalitarian regime of Omar al-Bashir. 'The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him, but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming. The wicked draw the sword and bend the bows to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose way is upright; the sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken.' (Psalm 37:12-15 ESV)

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SUDAN ON THE BRINK

On 2 January 2005, after 21 years of violent Islamic jihad, the ruling Arab Islamist regime in Khartoum signed a Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) with the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, which represents the African, predominantly Christian, Southern Sudanese. The CPA mandated democratic elections by 2009 and a referendum on Southern self-determination in January 2011. The twice-postponed elections are now due 11-13 April 2010. The preparatory census was rigged and the polls are unlikely to be free or fair. By winning a majority in the Assembly, the regime would not only legitimise its power but it could then amend the Constitution and re-write the CPA. Boycotts and threats are causing tensions to soar. Please pray for Sudan's long-suffering, faithful, growing and yet seriously threatened Church.