Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Christian mission and persecution

Why the new rules for Christian witness will not solve the problem of persecution.

By Elizabeth Kendal,
Religious Liberty Monitoring, 6 July 2011

The Church is slowly waking up to the reality that we are living in days of escalating persecution. Global trends such as booming population growth, rapid urbanisation and mass migrations are converging, producing fierce competition for land, resources and power; creating societies that are increasingly difficult to govern, especially where institutions of governance were not already established. Add to this volatile mix the trend of escalating religious tension -- the result of converging religious trends -- and we have an incendiary environment.

This reality provides the context for the document:

Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World
Recommendations for Conduct

World Council of Churches
Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue
World Evangelical Alliance
28 June 2011

The WEA press release states: "This historic document is in part a response to criticisms levelled at Christians by some religious communities in what they perceived to be a use of unethical methods. In some case these objections have led to anti-conversion laws and violence."

Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue (PCID), said the text "will help us reduce unnecessary tensions and present the truth of God in a credible way to the world around us".

However, it is highly unlikely that the "Recommendations for Conduct" -- a document which provides Christians with principles to follow "as they seek to fulfil Christ's commission in an appropriate manner, particularly within interreligious contexts" -- will have their desired effect. While the document might be a handy tool in the hands of those engaged in "quiet diplomacy", it will not change the reality on the ground because the Church and her accusers are speaking totally different languages. As such, interpretations will continue to differ, and accusations will continue to fly. In fact the very existence of this document might lead to the situation where the Church will be expected to hold Christian evangelists, missionaries and humanitarians accountable for violent persecution.

The reality is: the intense hostility the church is facing in the early 21st Century has been building for decades. A mighty flood is upon us for which there is no quick fix and only one real solution.

NO QUICK FIX

On 21 August 2007, the UN's Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Doudou Diene, presented his report on Islamophobia and defamation of religion to the sixth session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). A profound anti-Western and anti-Christian bias was evident from the outset.

See UNHRC: Watershed Days
By Elizabeth Kendal, for WEA RLC, 19 Sept 07

According to the report, "defamation" of Islam produces Islamophobia which expresses itself as hatred of Muslims which in turn generates "extremism". As such, those who "defame" Islam should be held accountable for Islamic extremism (violence and terror).

Likewise, Christian missionaries were accused of having exploited freedom of expression to defame Hinduism, thereby creating militant Hindutva. According the UN report, "Christianophobia" is a consequence not of escalating intolerance, but of the "aggressive proselytism of certain evangelical groups".

The UN Special Rapporteur's report recommended therefore that international human rights covenants be reinterpreted and amended, and that "complementary standards" be adopted on "the interrelations between freedom of expression, freedom of religion and non-discrimination".

After much inter-religious dialogue, the World Council of Churches, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the World Evangelical Alliance appear to have taken the lead in the adoption and promotion of such "complementary standards".

Recommendations for Conduct

The document affirms Christian humanitarian service, but with the complementary proviso that exploitation of situations of poverty and of vulnerable people has no place in Christian outreach.

In reality it is virtually impossible to provide charitable services in hostile environments without being so accused. Think about it. How can a self-giving Christian humanitarian who in love desperately wants to ease the sufferings of the poor, downtrodden, infirmed and marginalised, avoid an accusation of exploitation?

Actually, the only way to avoid the charge of exploitation is to refrain from all Christian witness while serving impoverished, infirm and "vulnerable" people. Christians would have to refrain from witnessing to youths (children and teenagers). Christian aid workers would have to totally refrain from witnessing to the poor and marginalised. Christian pastors, doctors and nurses would have to totally refrain from witnessing to the sick and dying.

This of course, is precisely what the apostaphobic religious dictators of this world of want. "Yes please," they say. "Feed our poor, treat our lepers, dig our wells and build our schools, only don't threaten our authority by presenting an alternative truth."

And while it is fine to denounce the offering of allurements and rewards, one needs to understand that in some hostile environments a meeting place with seating is considered an allurement, and the offer of heaven a fraudulent reward.

Christians are also called to "reject all forms of violence, even psychological or social, including the abuse of power in their witness". But this will not appease India's Hindutva protagonists who regard conversion as violence. It will not appease those who accuse evangelical Christianity of cultural terrorism. Even Doudou Diene, the UN's Special Rapporteur, warned in his Aug 07 report that the "legitimate expression of ideas" could in reality be "ideological violence" or "intellectual violence". Is it psychological violence to warn of judgment? What is abuse of power in witness?

Along with this, Christians are also called to "reject violence, unjust discrimination or repression by any religious or secular authority, including the violation or destruction of places of worship, sacred symbols or texts".

While this fine statement presumably leaves individuals with the liberty to dispose of their own property -- idols, juju, shrines, texts -- as they see fit, those who have no understanding of the separation of church and state, those who don't understand liberty and only understand dictatorship, will expect religious and secular authorities to control and be held accountable for the deeds of individuals.

The text recommends that "churches, national and regional confessional bodies and mission organizations, and especially those working in interreligious contexts . . . [deepen] their knowledge and understanding of different religions, and to do so also taking into account the perspectives of the adherents of those religions", adding, "Christians should avoid misrepresenting the beliefs and practices of people of different religions".

The reality is however, that anything that is said about a religion or belief will misrepresent someone's personal perspective of that religion or belief. This strategy which recommends inquiring of the "street" over an examination of the texts is promoted primarily by Muslims keen to hide intolerant pro-Sharia, pro-jihad, anti-Semitic, anti-Christian fundamentalist Islam under a cloak of liberal, nominal, folk or secularised Islam.

The only way to deepen knowledge and understanding of a religion is to study its texts and then examine history in that light. And while "taking into account the perspectives of adherents" might be of value in revealing immense diversity of belief, it must be acknowledged that many, if not most adherents of religion are quite nominal, ignorant as to the contents of, and the demands made by, their own sacred texts.

Finally, a quote from the May 2006 consultation found in the Appendix (point 3), confirms the degree to which this document is influenced by world trends, while demonstrating the ultimate adoption of "complementary standards".

"We affirm that, while everyone has a right to invite others to an understanding of their faith, it should not be exercised by violating others' rights and religious sensibilities. Freedom of religion enjoins upon all of us the equally non-negotiable responsibility to respect faiths other than our own, and never to denigrate, vilify or misrepresent them for the purpose of affirming superiority of our faith."

Note: Christians are called to refrain from any exercise of religious liberty that might violate another's "rights and religious sensibilities". Does "rights" include the right not to be offended -- a now routine feature of contemporary anti-discrimination and equal opportunity law? What are "religious sensibilities" and how are they violated?

Furthermore, Christians are called to "respect faiths other than our own". Really? Must we respect Islam? Must we respect Hinduism? Must we respect Buddhism? Must we also respect Shinto? Where can we draw the line? Must we respect Aum Supreme Truth? Must we respect Voodoo? This language mirrors that of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference's "Combating Defamation of religions Human Rights Resolution 2005/3". Is the church really being called to follow in the OIC-led UN which now protects religions more fiercely than it protects humans, in particular the human's fundamental right to proclaim, pursue and receive truth?

This pulls the rug right out from under Principle 7, which affirms freedom of religion and belief while denouncing religious persecution and calling upon Christians to "engage in a prophetic witness denouncing such actions". For while this is a fine statement, to which all Christians should give a loud AMEN, how does one "engage in prophetic witness denouncing [religious persecution]" without being accused of arrogance, condescension and disparagement (principle 3); false witness (principle 10); disrespect, denigration, vilification and misrepresentation (Appendix 3); and of course "defamation" of religion (as per UN Resolution 2005/3, which expresses "deep concern that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism Islam with human rights abuses, violence or terrorism" (emphasis mine)).

The reality is, it is not possible today to denounce persecution without being so accused.

ONLY ONE SOLUTION

There is little doubt that at the root of most persecution in the world today, is hostility towards Christian witness / evangelism / mission. However, Christian witness / evangelism / mission provides the only solution to the problem of persecution.

"And they will do these things [hate you, persecute you] because they have not known the Father, nor me" (John 16:3 ESV).

Christians must step out in faith with the word of God, at the direction and in the power of the Holy Spirit, to seek to make the triune God known. And while we are cautioned to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves", we are also encouraged to commit ourselves to the Lord's care, and trust HIM (Matthew 10).

No matter how much integrity we practise, hatred, false accusations and persecutions will continue. "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12 ESV). Indeed if we are to truly imitate Jesus Christ, as the document asserts (Principle 2), then we must be prepared to suffer as he suffered.

The Principles for Conduct will do little to reduce religious tensions and persecution. All we can do is prayerfully walk by faith, not fearing man, with eyes fixed on Jesus -- our means, our goal and our role model (Hebrews 12:1-3) -- remembering the paradigm of Isaiah 2:1-4: that spiritual transformation is the foundation, not the consequence, of peace.

"I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry" (2 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV).