Monday, December 17, 2018

RLPB 484. Iran & China: Herod's Choice

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 484 | Wed 19 Dec 2018


Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)


IRAN & CHINA: HEROD'S CHOICE 
-- Elizabeth Kendal

Born in hardship and forged in the flames of persecution, there can be no doubt that the burgeoning Persian and Chinese Churches will have significant and strategic roles in the spread of Christianity through the 21st Century and beyond. Today, however, the spiritual battle is fierce as Satan resists his demise with 'the energy of despair' (Jacques Ellul). The outcome, however, is not in doubt, for victory was secured on the Cross. As Christ builds his Church and as God fulfils his promises to bless the nations and fill them with his glory, the need of the day is that the persecuted church be supported in prayer.

IRAN: PRE-CHRISTMAS CRACKDOWN

More than 140 Iranian believers have been arrested in the lead up to the Christmas season -- 114 in the first week of December alone. Raids have occurred in at least ten cities, targeting a variety of Christian groups. Whilst most of those arrested were released after hours or, in some cases, days of interrogation, those suspected of being leaders remain in detention. All those arrested had their mobile devices confiscated and were ordered to cease contact with Christian groups. Arrested in Ahvaz on 2 December, sisters Shima and Shokoofeh Zanganeh (aged 27 and 30 respectively) were physically assaulted during interrogation, before being transferred to Sepidar Prison. The whereabouts and condition of other prisoners remain unknown. Regime-backed media reported the unsubstantiated claim that some of those arrested were foreign nationals who had taken Iranian names. A rumour such as this is doubtless designed to further the regime's false narrative that Christianity is a tool of hostile foreign powers intent on subverting the state. But, like Chinese Christianity, Persian Christianity is an indigenous movement growing uncontrollably in the virtual absence of foreign missionaries. Linked to the revival in Persian culture (as distinct from Islamic or revolutionary culture), the Persian Church is growing despite all regime efforts to suppress it.

CHINA: CRACKDOWN IS JUST BEGINNING 


Pastor Wang Yi with wife, Jiang Rong
The leader of Chengdu's Early Rain Covenant Church, Pastor Wang Yi – arrested on the evening of Sunday 9 December [see RLPB 483 (12 Dec)] – is being held in criminal detention without access to family, friends or a lawyer; he has been charged with inciting subversion of state power. His wife, Jiang Rong, is being kept in solitary confinement in 'residential surveillance in a designated location'. The couple's 11-year-old son is with his grandmother, Chen Yaxue (73). Several other church leaders have also been charged with criminal offences. Some 47 students taken from the dormitories of Covenant Seminary were fingerprinted and detained at the nearby Xinjin County Legal Learning Centre (believed to be a re-education facility) before being deported to their hometowns. 

Founded in 1978 by
Pastor Samuel Lamb,
Rongguili Church attracts
5000 worshippers per week.
Now - activities suspended.
source: SCMP, 16 Dec
Since the Chinese Communist Party's (CCP's) new Religious Affairs Regulations came into effect on 1 Feb 2018, persecution has escalated to levels unseen in decades. That said, President Xi's crackdown has only just begun. On Thursday 13 December police raided a gathering of a house church in Sanmenxia, Henan, and arrested three ministers. On Saturday 15 December -- in what is without doubt the CCP's most brazen act to date -- police raided a children's Bible class in Rongguili Church in Guangzhou's Yuexiu district, confiscating property and more than 4000 books.  Previously, the church had been all but untouchable because of its fame and size. Founded in 1978 by 'house church father' Pastor Samuel Lamb (1924-2013), Rongguili Church attracts up to 5000 worshippers a week. Today, entry points to the church have been cordoned off and all its activities suspended.

HEROD'S CHOICE

Two thousand years ago, Magi from the East arrived in Jerusalem seeking 'the one who has been born king of the Jews'. Disturbed by this news, King Herod summoned his chief priests and teachers of the law, who confirmed to him from scripture that the Christ (Messiah) would be born in Bethlehem. Herod had a decision to make. Reasoning 'if he is king then I am not', Herod made the fateful choice many autonomous people make: he rejected Christ. He also made the choice many powerful 'kings' make: he chose violence [Matthew 2]. Herod died, but Jesus lives! [Matthew 28]. Like Herod, the Iranian regime and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have heard God's word and chosen violence as if through it they will annul divine revelation and cancel divine promise. Like Herod, they are wrong! Their days are numbered; they will die, but Christ will live and 'all the promises of God find their Yes in him' (2 Corinthians 1:20 ESV).


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO

Ebrahim Farouzi
* bless and sustain Iran's persecuted Church and especially those in prison on account of their faith.

Pray especially at this time for the severely persecuted Ebrahim Firouzi (32) who is incarcerated with violent criminals and terrorists in the maximum security Rajaei Shahr Prison in Karaj [see RLPB 416 (26 July 2017)]. Firouzi's ailing mother, Kobra Kamrani (56), died on 3 December. After refusing all requests to permit mother and son to meet one last time, the authorities then also refused to grant Firouzi leave to attend his mother's funeral, thereby compounding his grief. Lord have mercy.

'But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.' (Psalm 3:3 ESV)

* bless and sustain China's persecuted Church and especially those in prison on account of their faith. Pray especially at this time for Pastor Wang Yi and the severely persecuted Gao Zhisheng

* grace the Persian and Chinese Churches with faith to stand firm; grace in abundance, and divine wisdom to know how to navigate these increasingly difficult days.

'If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.' (James 1:5 ESV


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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HEROD’S CHOICE

Two thousand years ago, Magi from the East arrived in Jerusalem seeking 'the one who has been born king of the Jews'. Disturbed, King Herod summoned his religious advisers who confirmed from scripture that the Christ would be born in Bethlehem. Reasoning 'if he is king then I am not', Herod made his fateful choice: rejecting Christ, he chose violence. Like Herod, the Iranian regime and the Chinese Communist Party have heard God's word and chosen violence, breaking up house churches and arresting hundreds in major pre-Christmas crackdowns. Like Herod, they think their violence will annul divine revelation and cancel divine promise. Like Herod, they are wrong! Please pray for Iran and China and the Persian and Chinese Churches this Christmas, particularly those who are in prison because of their faith.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

RLPB 483. China: The CCP's War on Religion Heats Up

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 483 | Wed 12 Dec 2018

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)


CHINA: THE CCP'S WAR ON RELIGION HEATS UP
Chinese Communist Party (CCP) strikes Early Rain Covenant Church
-- Elizabeth Kendal

Generally it is the case that when serious persecution flares, the persecuted will strategically retreat 'underground' and endeavour to continue their ministry in secret. This is a totally legitimate response, rooted in the premise that as 'sheep in the midst of wolves', we must be 'wise as serpents and innocent as doves' (Matthew 10:16 ESV).  Sometimes God calls individuals and even whole churches to resist the oppressor as did the apostles Peter and John in Acts 4:18-20. This too is a totally legitimate response which exposes evil by drawing it out into the light, albeit at the cost of one's own life or liberty. Both responses are legitimate; both are used by God. Each is a calling and should not cause division.

Located in Chengdu, the capital city of China's south-western Sichuan Province, Early Rain Covenant Church has 'about 500 followers but their weekly gatherings spread across 12 meeting points around Chengdu, attracting more than 800 church-goers on a weekly basis'. Unregistered on principle, Early Rain Covenant Church is committed to open ministry, irrespective of circumstances. [See interview with June Cheng, World Magazine (May 2016).] Undeterred by the escalating persecution or the new Religious Affairs Regulations [see Religious Liberty Monitoring (25 Jan 2018)],  Early Rain has continued to operate openly. It conducts unregistered worship services, prayer meetings and Bible studies, as well as running its unregistered Covenant Reformed School (which caters for some 40 primary school students) and Covenant Seminary (with some 100 students). It has also continued to evangelise openly in the street and publish sermons on-line. Its policy is best summed up in its 'Guide for Churches' (May 2018): 'The highest law of the Christian is the Bible. Any law that contradicts the Bible we will disobey by non-violent methods.' As you might imagine, Early Rain church poses a serious problem for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Some 200 Early Rain members were arrested in a crackdown in May. While all were released within 24 hours, the church was put on notice, warned that if it refused to comply with CCP regulations then it would be closed down by the end of the year. Alarmed by the escalating persecution, Early Rain church leaders organised a petition. Entitled, A Joint Statement by Pastors: A Declaration for the Sake of the Christian Faith, the petition was published on-line on 30 August with 198 signatures; top of the list was Early Rain's Pastor Wang Yi (45, a former legal scholar). By 5 September the list had grown to 439 signatures, leading observers to question if this might mark 'a significant moment in the country's Church and State relations'. Then, on Saturday 8 December -- with persecution soaring to levels unseen in decades -- Pastor Wang Yi published a 7300-word manifesto on social media entitled 'Meditations on the Religious War', in which he condemns the CCP, likens President Xi to Caesar and Pharaoh, and urges Christians to embrace civil disobedience.

Early Rain Covenant Church, Chengdu.
(photo: Zhongming Jiang) World Magazine (April 2016)

On Sunday 9 December Chinese police fanned out across the city of Chengdu. At around 6pm they snatched the church's cameraman from off the street outside the church. Then, in co-ordinated lightning raids throughout the night, they broke into the homes and workplaces of Early Rain members. By 9pm the church's phone line had been cut and members' social media channels were blocked. Police pressured members to sign a document agreeing to never again visit Early Rain Covenant Church, which it labelled an 'evil cult'. More than 100 members and key church leaders, including Pastor Wang Yi and his wife Jiang Rong, were arrested for refusing to sign. Assistant deacon Zhang Guoqing is one of two church members released on Monday morning. He is essentially under house arrest, watched around the clock by 'security personnel' posted in his home.

Elder Li Yingqiang, who ditched his phone and fled when he heard the police were coming, was the sole Early Rain church elder to escape arrest that night. He spoke to World Magazine's June Cheng: 'Pray that God would give us the courage and the strength to deal with this persecution,' he said. 'That those [in detention] would be a good witness, and that the church members wouldn't compromise, but instead … they would know God is real and that He will protect them.' China Aid (CAA) reports that Elder Li Yingqiang was subsequently arrested on 11 December. As CAA founder Bob Fu notes, 'Many house churches have been closed this year in China's harshest religious suppression in decades.' [That includes Beijing's 1600-strong Zion Church; see RLPB 474 (26 Sep).] Fu believes the attack on 'Early Rain Covenant Church represents a major escalation of religious persecution in China'.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT

* the Holy Spirit will be powerfully and palpably present with all Early Rain members arrested in recent days; may they be sustained by God's presence, assured of God's love, filled with God's wisdom and gifted with God's words.

'You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.  For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.' (Matthew 10:18-20 ESV)

* God in mercy will restrain cruel and angry hands, and in grace use the witness of believers to bring conviction of sin, liberating truth and the light of life into China's dark and secret places.

'The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it' (John 1:5 ESV).

* all China's anxious, fearful, incarcerated and 'disappeared' believers will experience the sustaining reality of God's 'everlasting arms', especially over the coming Christmas season ... remembering in particular the severely persecuted (tortured) and 'disappeared' Christian lawyer, our brother, Gao Zhisheng.

'There is none like God, O Jeshurun [Israel], who rides through the heavens to your help, through the skies in his majesty. The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.' (Deut 33:26-27 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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THE CHINESE COMMUNIST PARTY'S WAR ON RELIGION HEATS UP

Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu city, Sichuan Province, is committed to open ministry irrespective of circumstances. Though unregistered and under pressure, the church has continued to worship openly, run a school and seminary, conduct street evangelism and publish sermons on-line. Undeterred by arrests and threats, Pastor Wang Yi (45) openly continues to challenge Communist Party policy. On Sunday evening 9 December police launched co-ordinated lightning raids on the homes and workplaces of Early Rain members, pressuring them to sign a document agreeing to never again visit Early Rain Covenant Church, which it labelled an 'evil cult'. Over 100 members and key church leaders were arrested for refusing to sign. Two have since been released. Chinese prisons are cruel; violence is routine and normal. Please pray for China and its Christians.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

RLPB 482. Australia: Religious Freedom in the Balance

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 482 | Wed 05 Dec 2018

Please forward this prayer bulletin widely, and encourage others to sign up to the Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin blog. "The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective." (James 5:16 NIV)


AUSTRALIA: RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN THE BALANCE
-- Elizabeth Kendal

In Australia, religious freedom is facing its most serious threat to date. Throughout the nation's short history, the idea that religious freedom is a fundamental human right has simply been taken for granted. Consequently, no legislation has ever been enacted to protect religious freedom. As far as legislation goes, religious freedom only exists in negative terms -- through exemptions in anti-discrimination law. The religious exemptions became a necessity after the law's list of protected attributes was expanded to include attributes such as gender identity and sexual orientation. As is increasingly evident, these are matters on which conservative religion and progressive cultures clash. Strip the religious exemptions away and religious freedom is not protected, meaning charges of discrimination can be brought against religious institutions that simply adhere to their values. Unfortunately in Australia, the cultural-Marxist's 'Long March through the Institutions' has been extremely successful. Consequently, 'equality' and 'non-discrimination' -- as distinct from universal human rights (which have their roots in the Judeo-Christian worldview) -- are now regarded as the benchmarks by which rights are established.

PM Scott Morrison (l) and
Labor leader Bill Shorten (r)
Having been riven by an internal culture war (conservatives vs progressives) Australia's governing Liberal National Party (LNP) has now been reduced to a minority government. Brimming with confidence, the progressive opposition Labor Party has gone on the attack, eager to humiliate the LNP ahead of approaching federal polls (slated for May 2019).  Riding the progressive wave that has swept up Australia's urban elites, a confident opposition has gone on the attack. In its sights is the increasingly contentious issue of religious freedom. Exploiting the community outrage whipped up by false reports that the government wants to grant faith-based schools the right to summarily expel gay children and sack gay teachers, the opposition has proposed legislation to strip religious exemptions from anti-discrimination law.

Labor introduced its Bill into the Senate on 29 November. Attorney-General Christian Porter warned that 'Labor's bill represents radical change because it provides no legislative ability for schools to act in accordance with their beliefs and the tenets of their faith. It completely removes the ability of religious educational institutions to maintain their ethos through what they teach and the rules of conduct they impose on students.' In short, religious institutions involved in education -- including Christian schools, theological colleges, churches and Sunday Schools -- would lose the right to teach, select staff, and enforce rules in accordance with their values. In the absence of religious freedom protections, they would immediately fall prey to hostile anti-discrimination 'lawfare' initiated by LGBTQ activists, before which they would be utterly defenceless.

Regardless of what the progressive Labor-led opposition may or may not be able to pull off during this last sitting week before Christmas, polls indicate that Labor is on track to win the next federal election in a landslide. On 24 November Victorian state voters re-elected 'the most progressive government in the nation' in a landslide. This was despite its pre-election promise to double the budget deficit and despite its commitment to strip religious exemptions from anti-discrimination law, which would shred religious liberty in the state. It is highly likely that this scenario will be repeated at the federal level in early 2019. The situation is both serious and fluid. The tide has turned and intolerance is rising. Religious freedom hangs in the balance.

For a detailed report see,
Australia: Will Religious Liberty Slide into Oblivion?
Religious Liberty Monitoring (5 Dec 2018).


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY FOR GOD TO

* redeem Australia's religious freedom debate to awaken, revive, re-energise and embolden the Australian Church; may God breathe life and strength into the Australian Church (Ezekiel 37:10).

* redeem Australia's religious freedom debate to awaken Australian citizens as to the importance of the fundamental universal human right of religious freedom; may ears long blocked to the message of the Church be opened; may minds captured by lies be liberated, and may many hard hearts be softened.

* magnify and empower Australian voices of liberty -- in politics, in media and in civil society; may the Lord -- in mercy for Australia's children -- give 'strength to those turn to back the battle at the gate' (from Isaiah 28:5,6 ESV)


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE 
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AUSTRALIA'S RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN THE BALANCE

On 29 November the opposition Australian Labor Party introduced legislation into parliament that proposes religious exemptions be stripped from anti-discrimination law. Because Australia lacks legislation to protect religious freedom as a fundamental and universal human right, Labor's Bill would mean religious institutions involved in education -- including Christian schools, theological colleges, churches and Sunday Schools -- would lose the right to teach, select staff and enforce rules in accordance with their values. Religious institutions would immediately fall prey to hostile anti-discrimination 'lawfare' initiated by LGBTQ activists, before which they would be utterly defenceless. Regardless of what the Labor-led opposition may or may not be able to achieve now, polls indicate that Labor is on track to comfortably win the next federal election (due May 2019). Religious liberty hangs in the balance. Please pray.

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Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com