Tuesday, April 23, 2019

RLPB 499. April Update, incl. Indonesia, Sri Lanka, China, Cuba, Malaysia, Nigeria, Sudan


Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 499 | Wed 24 Apr 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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)

-- Elizabeth Kendal

'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 16:33 ESV)

APRIL 2019 UPDATE -- during this period we prayed concerning

* INDIA (RLPB 496), where elections are currently under way, with the last of seven phases to take place on 19 May. Results will be announced on 23 May. Please pray for the Church in India and for a breakthrough against Hindutva.

* INDONESIA (RLPB 497), where elections were held on 17 April.

UPDATE: Counting to date indicates that Joko Widodo will win the presidential poll by a margin of around 10 percent. Despite this, Probowo Subianto is claiming victory and rallying his Islamist supporters, preparing them to protest if he is not declared the winner on 22 May. Analysts suspect that Subianto is inciting unrest so he might use his influence over the radical Islamists as leverage to secure seats in the cabinet for his Gerinda party. Meanwhile, Jokowi's running mate, the soon-to-be Vice President Amin Ma'ruf, is doubtless preparing to extract payment for the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) backing he provided which shielded Jokowi from Islamist attack and essentially got him over the line. None of this bodes well for Indonesian Christians. [See also Indonesia: from Pancasila to Islamisation, Religious Liberty Monitoring, 11 April.] Indeed, there is a real danger that, after the results are announced on 22 May, Indonesia's religious and ethnic minorities -- who voted overwhelming for Jokowi on 17 April -- might find themselves positioned as the objects of Islamist wrath. On top of that, they will also be forced to watch in horror as the NU agenda unfolds in parliament. Please pray for the Church in Indonesia.

* EASTER and the pivotal victory that Christ secured on the Cross. We prayed that the Church might be revived and emboldened to step out in faith to support the persecuted Church -- that we might be one that the world might believe (John 17:20-26). [See RLPB 498. Easter Reflection: A Redemptive Response to Persecution.]

EASTER CHURCH BOMBINGS IN SRI LANKA

St Sebastian's Church, Negombo 
Christians in Sri Lanka have long suffered at the hands of Sinhalese Buddhist Nationalists and even of Tamil Hindu Nationalists. However, the church bombings on Resurrection Sunday 21 April, perpetrated by a little-known Islamic terror group, were totally unprecedented. Muslims comprise only 9.7 percent of the population of Sri Lanka and, until now, fundamentalist Islamists have engaged in little more than menace. The six near-simultaneous bombings, targeting three churches and three hotels popular with foreign tourists, have so far claimed the lives of 359 people, including at least 45 children (CNN Live Updates) and left more than 500 wounded. Around half the fatalities occurred in these churches: the historic St Anthony's Church in Colombo, St Sebastian's Church in the neighbouring coastal resort town of Negombo and Zion Church (Protestant) in eastern Batticaloa.

For details see: Long War Journal
The bombings were carried out by nine Sri Lankan suicide bombers allegedly affiliated with National Thowheed Jama'ath (NTJ), which roughly translates as the National Monotheism Organisation. On 23 April Amaq News Agency released a statement in which Islamic State (IS) claimed credit for the Resurrection Sunday bombings. It also released a photo purporting to show the suicide bombers pledging allegiance to al-Baghdadi the day before the attack. According to the statement, Christians were the intended target because they are the ones who are at war with al-Baghdadi's Caliphate.

Whilst the IS spokesman did reference the New Zealand mosque attack, it was only to say that Muslims do not need an excuse to kill 'the mushrikin' (polytheists) -- on the contrary, it is their ongoing duty. [NOTE: IS deems Christians polytheists because of their doctrine of the Trinity.] Of course, neither Sri Lankans nor Christians had anything to do with the Christchurch attack, which was perpetrated by an Australian self-described atheist, ecofascist. If there is going to be genuine retaliation, then it is more likely to hit Australians at Gallipoli on Thursday 25 April (ANZAC Day). It would be foolish of IS to view Sri Lanka as a soft target.

Funeral grief, 23 April
footage from Sky News
Please pray for the Church in Sri Lanka; for those who are grieving, wounded and traumatised. Pray that God will redeem the situation for the good of Sri Lanka, to the benefit of the Church, and for the advance of the Gospel.

APRIL 2019 ROUND-UP -- also this month

* CHINA: CALLING ALL WILLING INFORMANTS

Guangzhou, the capital city of Guangdong Province, has become the first provincial capital in China to offer financial rewards to informants who report 'illegal religious activities'. Informants can earn between 5,000 and 10,000 yuan (US$1,500) for information that leads to the arrest of a non-Chinese religious leader, between 3,000 and 5,000 yuan for information that leads to the closure of a foreign religious group and between 100 and 3,000 yuan for information about locally organised unregistered (i.e., illegal) gatherings and their leaders. Ying Fuk-tsang, director of the Divinity School of Chung Chi College at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told South China Morning Post that the mobilisation of grass-roots officials and community groups for social control purposes, including cracking down on religious activities, is increasingly common. 'This will compress the survival space of house churches,' he said. 'Not only will they have to deal with the official crackdown but now also the threat from their neighbours.' Please pray for the Church in China.

* CUBA: A FRESH WAVE OF PERSECUTION RISES

In a referendum in February, Cubans voted in favour of amending the constitution to include modest reforms, to strengthen socialism, restrict religious liberty and pave the way for same-sex marriage. Because of its strong opposition, the Church was labelled counter-revolutionary' [see: RLPB 491 (27 Feb)]. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reports that since then some of Cuba's largest Protestant denominations have been banned from receiving foreign visitors. During April, a number of pastors affiliated with the Apostolic Movement were cited and interrogated by the police. After 20 years of ministry, the Nazarene Church in Granma has had its land confiscated. On 18 April Rev Ramon Rigal and his wife Ayda Exposito -- who are home-schooling their children with the support of a Christian college in Guatemala -- were detained in Guantanamo and put on trial for refusing to send their children to a government-run school. [NOTE: All schools in Cuba are run by the socialist government; there is no alternative as teachers are expected to 'instil socialist values'.] Please pray for the Church in Cuba.

* MALAYSIA: PASTOR 'DISAPPEARED' BY POLICE FOR 'PROSELYTISING'

Documentary on disappearance
of Raymond Koh
(14 Feb 2018)
Pastor Raymond Koh was abducted in broad daylight on 13 February 2017. The sophisticated operation -- conducted with military precision in less than one minute -- was caught on CCTV. No ransom demand was ever made and, instead of focusing on the crime, the police investigation focused on Koh's ministry and charity work among Muslims, work that had seen him accused of 'proselytising' and resulted in the family receiving death threats.

On 3 April the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) named the Malaysian police intelligence unit's Special Branch as the state actors responsible for the 'enforced disappearances' of Pastor Raymond Koh (64) and Amri Che Mat (45, a convert from Sunni to Shia Islam who was abducted on 24 November 2016 in a similar style to Pastor Koh). The investigation concluded that the men were 'disappeared' because of their religious activities. Pastor Koh's whereabouts and well-being remain unknown, as do the whereabouts and well-being of Amri Che Mat, and Pastor Joshua Hilmy and his wife Ruth Hilmy, who also disappeared in Malaysia in November 2016.

On Holy Saturday, Koh's wife, Susanna Liew, delivered a copy of the full Suhakam report [PDF] on the disappearance of her husband to the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), praying and hoping that by a miracle of grace, her husband might still be alive. Please pray for truth, justice and accountability. May Pastor Koh's family and the Hilmy family know the sustaining love and comfort of Christ.

*NIGERIA: INFANT DEDICATION CONCLUDES IN MASSACRE

They had been celebrating the
dedication of a child to God.
Morning Star News
On Sunday 14 April, Safaratu and her husband John Kabiru Ali dedicated their baby to the Lord in a special service in the Ruhaniya Baptist Church in Konshu-Numa village, Akwanga County in Nigeria's central, Middle Belt state of Nasarawa. Later in the day, as believers gathered for a celebration dinner, Fulani Muslim militants burst in and began shooting indiscriminately. Seventeen believers aged between 10 and 80-years died in the massacre, while eight others were wounded. The baby's mother is dead and its father is in a critical condition in the hospital's Intensive Care Unit. A funeral was held on Wednesday 17 April. Jacob Tantse told Morning Star News that 10 of those killed were members of the Ruhaniya Baptist Church; five were members of the Evangelical Reformed Church of Christ (ERCC); one was a member of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA) and one was a musician who had been performing for the guests. Please pray for those who grieve, for the wounded and those who are traumatised. Pray for the imperilled Church across Northern Nigeria.

* SUDAN: CHURCH OFFICIALLY JOINS PROTESTS

Church officially joins protests
While Christians have been participating (and dying) in the protests in Sudan since they commenced in December last year, the vulnerable and long-persecuted Church has refrained from taking an official position, deeming it simply too dangerous. As reported in RLPB 491 (27 Feb), the protests have been led by doctors and others from the Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), an outlawed umbrella group of unions. Prior to the 11 April coup through which President Omar al-Bashir was forced out of power, the SPA issued a statement in which it urged the Church to join the protests. 'You have suffered sectarian and psychological restrictions for years … [and you are] without the right to worship freely… We invite you to raise your prayers and sing hymns for our country.' After the coup, the Church did just that and stood openly arm-in-arm with Sudan's repressed and persecuted as they called for equality, dignity, justice, peace and an inclusive, representative, civilian government. A local Christian source told Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) that 'when the protesters saw the Christians joining the demonstrations they were very happy. They were extremely excited to sing with us.' What is happening in Sudan is amazing and very promising; an answer to the prayers of many! However, it is unlikely that those in power will relinquish it easily. Please pray that God will insert himself into the process and blaze the trail for the benefit of Sudan, the Sudanese Church and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

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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, April 16, 2019

RLPB 498. Easter Reflection: A Redemptive Response to Persecution


Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 498 | Wed 17 Apr 2019

RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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)


Easter Reflection: A Redemptive Response to Persecution 
-- by Elizabeth Kendal

In every war there is a pivotal, decisive battle which, while not ending the war, does determine its outcome. Whilst most people 'on the ground' -- soldiers and civilians -- will have no idea that the strategic dynamic has actually shifted, those in charge know exactly what has happened. Cognisant of the truth and with nothing to lose, the commanders of the losing side will unleash a response that is desperate, ferocious and punitive -- a response aimed largely at maximising their enemy's pain.

In the great cosmic drama of which we are a part, the pivotal, decisive battle was fought and won by the Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross; his victory evidenced by his resurrection. Despite this, the enemies of Christ resist their end and fight more violently than ever. However, no matter how challenging the Church's present reality might be, the outcome is assured, for 'all the promises of God find their "Yes" in [Christ]' (2 Corinthians 1:20). It is precisely because the promised Saviour/Redeemer fulfilled the task for which he was sent, that God's promise to Abraham -- that through his descendant 'all the families of the earth shall be blessed' (Genesis 12:1-3) -- is coming to pass.

Church in action: Nepal
For 2000 years, the Kingdom of God has been growing and spreading throughout the whole earth bringing blessing to the nations and families of the world (Matthew 13:31,32). It would be folly to think that such growth would go unchallenged. By the end of the 14th Century, the early Church that had grown and spread across the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia, had been reduced to a persecuted, subjugated remnant. During the past 200 years -- but especially the past 50-60 years -- the Church has grown phenomenally throughout Asia, Africa and South America. Today, God is doing a new work through which unprecedented numbers of Muslims are coming to faith in Jesus Christ. Unsurprisingly, this growth is not going unchallenged either.

Now it is true that God does intervene with miracles. Indeed, amazing stories are often told of people coming to faith through dreams and visions and miraculous healings and provisions. However, it is mostly the case that God works through his servants and ambassadors, through us, his Church. We are commanded to 'go and make disciples' (Matthew 28:16-20). The lost hear the Gospel of grace and the Church grows as believers obediently 'scatter the seed' (Matthew 13:1-23). The harassed and helpless find abundant and eternal life when the Church reaches out with sacrificial love. Generally, when the Church steps out in obedience and faith, God steps in with amazing grace.

From Jerusalem to 'the ends of the earth' (Acts 1:8)
An increasingly global Church. Map shows Percentage Christians

Though the decisive battle was fought and won by Christ on the Cross, the forces of evil continue to fight, resisting their end with 'the energy of despair'. Using every weapon in their arsenal, they fight with desperation and furious hatred. They fight covertly: exploiting weakness and tempting believers into sin, or even just diverting them from their divine calling. The forces of evil also fight overtly: unleashing repression, facilitating crippling discrimination and inciting violent persecution. Persecution is the devil's response to Kingdom growth, not the other way around! Which begs the question: has God provided the Church with a means to respond to persecution, a means that is redemptive, a means that might actually facilitate Kingdom growth, subverting Satan's plot and turning it on its head?

Life post-ISIS
Qaraqosh, Nineveh Plains,
Northern Iraq (Oct 2016)
The first thing the Church must do is remember that Jesus Christ fought and won the pivotal, decisive battle on the Cross. Consequently, the outcome is already certain. The Church must realise that precisely because persecution is a response to Kingdom growth, it is not a signal that it is time to disengage or retreat. On the contrary, persecution signals the exact opposite! Persecution signals that it is time to get involved, time to step out in obedience and faith to 'sow seed' and support those sowers doing dangerous work on the front-line and behind enemy lines. To support the persecuted Church is to support God's mission in hostile territory. Thanks to the unprecedented openness and connectedness of today's world, today's Church can know of persecution and respond rapidly for the saving of many lives.

Now it is true that God does intervene with miracles, and amazing stories emerge daily of miraculous deliverance, provision and intervention. Generally, however, as it is with salvation, so it is with survival -- God mostly chooses to work through us, his Church. The persecuted Church in the Middle East or Africa or Asia, or anywhere you wish to name, will survive and grow as we speak out (Proverbs 31:8,9), as we give generously (James 2:15,16) and as we commit to faithful, intercessory prayer (Ephesians 6:12-18) [see: www.ElizabethKendal.com/Action ].

Gethsemane: a still from Mel Gibson's
'The Passion of the Christ'
Furthermore, as we love and support our brothers and sisters across ethnic and denominational lines, Christ's High Priestly prayer in the garden is answered: 'Father ... I pray ... that they may all be one just as you, Father, are in me, and I am in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me ... that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me' (from John 17:20-26 ESV). We might think we can't make a difference; but that is a lie of the devil. Practical sacrificial love for the persecuted Church is actually one of the most subversive, redemptive, sanctifying and missional things we can do.

EASTER PRAYER

Merciful Father, we pray for churches that are essentially dead because they have failed to feed on your Word, failed to exercise their faith and failed to pass on the truth to the next generation. May the power that raised Jesus Christ from the dead revive your Church.

Compassionate Father, we pray for churches that have retreated behind locked doors and locked lips for fear of persecution. May the Holy Spirit who gives wisdom and guidance (Matthew 10:16-20) give your Church power and courage to act (Acts 2).

Gracious Father, we pray for churches that have neglected or even resisted your command to love the Body of Christ (Galatians 6:2), even when it is poor, needy and despised, bleeding, imprisoned and struggling to survive. May the love of Jesus Christ be shed abroad in our hearts (Romans 5:5) ... that we might be one, that the world might believe (John 17:20-26).

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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, April 9, 2019

RLPB 497. Indonesia: Polarisation, Islamisation and Bloodshed

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 497 | Wed 10 Apr 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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)


INDONESIA: POLARISATION, ISLAMISATION AND BLOODSHED
-- by Elizabeth Kendal

Indonesians will go to the polls on Wednesday 17 April to elect a president and vice-president, as well as a weak 136-seat Senate and a powerful 575-seat House of Representatives. They will also elect their provincial legislatures and local councils. Polling indicates that the incumbent President Joko Widodo (also known as Jokowi) will be returned as president with the conservative Islamic cleric Ma'ruf Amin, former Chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU, Indonesia's largest Islamic organisation), as his Vice-President [see RLPB 469 (22 Aug 2018)]. However, the gap between Joko Widodo and his perpetual rival, former Suharto-era military commander, Prabowo Subianto, has narrowed. Subianto and his running mate, the billionaire businessman Sandiaga Uno, have pitched their message not only to the poor who feel left behind by Jokowi's pro-development and pro-foreign investment policies, but to the more hard-line and intolerant, fundamentalist Islamists. Pundits expect the race to be not only close, but profoundly polarising.

Jakarta-based Amanda Hodge is the South-East Asia correspondent for The Australian. She comments that the differences between the two presidential candidates was on display in the two political rallies held on Sunday 7 April. In the morning, Subianto delivered an 'angry sermon against corruption and foreign plunderers to a sea of Islamic white'. Meanwhile, 'Jokowi's afternoon carnival celebrated a vast diversity of ethnicities, races and religions.' Hodge comments, 'Now, as in 2014 when the two men first faced off, many of Indonesia's ethnic and religious minorities fear under Prabowo a slide back into the authoritarianism of the Suharto era and a rise in Islamic chauvinism.' Even former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY, who is backing Subianto) has expressed fears 'that this nation will indeed be divided into two opposing sides who will forever be in conflict with each other'. Considering polarisation is but the inevitable consequence of Islamisation (see After Saturday Comes Sunday, page 62), SBY's fears are not only reasonable, they are probably profoundly understated.

Subianto rally Sunday 7 April; crowd estimated at 'perhaps 150,000'.
photo: James Massola

Of great significance for the Indonesian Church will be the election of provincial and local legislatures. This is because some of the most repressive and discriminatory, Sharia-based policies exist as provincial and district bylaws. In 2008 the head of the Constitutional Court called for Sharia bylaws to be scrapped on the grounds that they are unconstitutional and a threat to 'our national integrity'. Despite this, Sharia bylaws have only increased as more and more district legislators are coming from Islamist parties.

PAPUA BLOODSHED

Since its launch in December 2018, a military crackdown in the central highlands region of Indonesia's eastern Papua Province has forced some 32,000 mostly Christian indigenous Melanesian Papuans to flee their homes. Many are struggling to survive in the jungle where at least nine women have given birth. In the Mbua district, two school children were shot dead by Indonesian security forces (TNI). Across the Nduga region, the TNI has damaged or destroyed at least 34 schools and churches; it has also seized the SION GKI Mapenduma church for use as a military base. Reports and photos have emerged showing victims with deep burns. Canisters have been found which lend support to local claims that the TNI has been dropping explosive devices containing white phosphorous from helicopters. Naturally the TNI denies this. In fact, the TNI is denying there has been any destruction at all, claiming it is all a 'hoax'.

Papua. Click on map to enlarge
Benny Wenda, Chairman of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua has urged all Papuans in Indonesia to boycott the upcoming national elections. 'We respect Indonesia's right to hold elections in its own territory, but we will oppose the elections of the coloniser when they are forced upon us. We have tried participating in the elections of the colonial master before -- but we are still killed, tortured and discriminated against every day.' Tensions are escalating. These are watershed days for Papua.

For more detail see Religious Liberty Monitoring:
Indonesia: from Pancasila to Islamisation (11 April)
and
Papua: the Christian Crisis in Eastern Indonesia (14 April)

PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT GOD WILL

* awaken Indonesians to the dangers of intolerant fundamentalist Islam; may they be awakened as to what they will lose in the way of diversity, culture and harmony if they continue down this path of polarising Islamisation.

* lead Indonesians to vote for candidates who respect the traditional Indonesian values of 'unity in diversity' (Bhinneka Tunggal Ika) and 'pancasila' (which emphasises religious pluralism, social justice, civility, unity and democracy).

* bless his precious Church with wisdom, insight and grace in the face of escalating hostility and Islamic nationalism.

* intervene to effect a breakthrough regarding the situation in Papua; may human rights be addressed; may the mostly Muslim and Javanese Indonesian military be forced to withdraw; may the mostly Christian indigenous Melanesian Papuans be entitled to have a say on their future. May the Lord raise up friends among the nations and prayers throughout the Body of Christ.

'Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.' (Jesus, in John 16:16-24 (specifically verse 23).

SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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POLARISATION, ISLAMISATION AND VIOLENCE IN INDONESIA

Indonesians will go to the polls on Wednesday 17 April to elect a president and vice-president, a Senate and House of Representatives, as well as provincial legislatures and local councils. After decades of Islamisation, this election might be the most polarising yet with Islamic conservatism emerging as pivotal. Please pray that God will lead Indonesians to vote for candidates who respect the traditional Indonesian values of 'unity in diversity' and 'pancasila',which emphasises religious pluralism, social justice, civility, unity and democracy. Since December, some 32,000 mostly Christian indigenous Melanesians in the central highlands Nduga region of Indonesia's eastern Papua Province have been driven from their homes by Javanese-Muslim military violence. Demanding the end of Indonesian occupation, indigenous Papuans are preparing to boycott the elections. Tensions are soaring. 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 

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

RLPB 496. India: needs a breakthrough against Hindutva

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 496 | Wed 03 Apr 2019
RLPB is published weekly to facilitate strategic intercessory prayer.

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)


INDIA: NEEDS A BREAKTHROUGH AGAINST HINDUTVA
-- by Elizabeth Kendal

India's 2019 general election -- in which some 900 million eligible voters will elect the 17th Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament) -- will be conducted in seven phases from 11 April to 19 May. The Lok Sabha has 543 elected seats, and the party or coalition that holds a 272-seat majority selects the prime minister. Votes will be collated and the results announced on 23 May.

As a polytheistic religion, Hinduism has never been especially hostile to Christianity, seeing Jesus as just another god among many. Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) on the other hand, is more political than religious. In seeking to unite Indians as Hindus it presents Christianity as foreign and a threat to national security and social cohesion. Wherever Hindu nationalism advances, communalism and violent persecution of Christians escalates.

Indian PM Narenda Modi
The 2014 general election saw the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) win a simple majority of seats in its own right, something extremely rare in India's multi-party system where coalitions are the norm. Furthermore, the BJP managed to 'break out of the Hindu heartland and secure votes from all quarters -- geographic and socio-economic'. The popularity of BJP chief Narendra Modi was only part of the equation. The BJP's economic pitch to improve the lot of poor Muslims and Christians was also surprisingly effective. But mostly, the BJP's success was the culmination of decades of momentum generated by the near century-long, largely unchallenged, strategic advance of Hindutva ideology and forces. [See: 'Hindutva!' Religious Liberty Monitoring, 23 July 2014.] Indeed, Hindutva's advance has been so successful that the historically secular Indian National Congress party increasingly feels obliged to play the religion card too. The current campaign has seen Congress figureheads go to extraordinary lengths to present themselves as devout practising Hindus in the hope of reclaiming some Hindu votes.

As prime minister, Narendra Modi has advanced Hindutva by putting Hindutva ideologues in positions of influence in politics, education (including universities), research institutes, state-owned businesses and banks, as well as through the police, the army and the judiciary. Meanwhile, Hindutva is making headway through the tribal belt and even through north-east India by means of the Ekal Vidyalaya school network. Ekal Vidyalaya schools offer five years of free education and are affiliated with the Hindu nationalist Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and its parent body the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). It is unsurprising therefore that they have been criticised for stoking communalism and spreading hatred, especially towards Christians. It is also unsurprising that they are targeting areas where Christianity has either long been established or is growing. Hindutva forces are also exploiting the issue of illegal mass immigration of Bengali Muslims to stoke a dangerous fire of Hindu nationalism in the northeastern state of Assam, a fire which threatens to burn Christians as much as Muslims.

concentration of Christians based on 2011 census
India's southern Tamil Nadu state has long been a hub for Christian missionary training and sending. But in recent months a new trend has emerged: escalating Hindu nationalist violence against Christians. In addition to the incidents reported by Morning Star News [see RLPB 495 (27 March)], Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that, on Tuesday 19 March, a mob of Hindu Munnani (Hindu Front) and Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) activists attacked a prayer meeting being held in a private home. The believers were abused and assaulted before being dragged down the stairs and out onto the street where their Bibles and tracts were burned. On Sunday 24 March Pastor Allen Gobi was about to commence a prayer service in his Family of Jesus church (a member of the Synod of Pentecostal Churches) when the police arrived, shut down the service and escorted Pastor Gobi to the police station. There he was forced to sign a document acknowledging that he did not have permission to hold meetings on the premises. Local sources told CSW that the Hindu Munnani (Hindu Front) had submitted a petition to the police to take action against the church and that the complicity of state actors in disrupting prayer meetings is now a common pattern across the state. We must pray for a breakthrough against Hindu Nationalism.


PLEASE PRAY SPECIFICALLY THAT

* God will raise up voices of integrity and influence that will repudiate Hindu nationalism's highly seductive narrative and present Indians with a better way.

* Jesus Christ will continue to build his Church in India, a Church which is growing, especially among the nation's poor and long-oppressed Dalits (untouchables) and despite escalating persecution.

* the Holy Spirit will provide the Church with 'wisdom and understanding' for a strategy to reach the powerful and prosperous, highly resistant Brahmin caste (priestly caste, the highest caste in the Hindu world, and consequently the most resistant to egalitarian Christianity). '... may [you] be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding ...' (from Colossians 1:9-12). May the LORD effect a breakthrough.

* God himself will fight for India (Exodus 14:14) for the sake of his threatened, persecuted Church and for the sake of India's many millions who desperately need to hear the Gospel. 


SUMMARY FOR BULLETINS UNABLE TO RUN THE WHOLE ARTICLE
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INDIA NEEDS A BREAKTHROUGH AGAINST HINDU NATIONALISM

India's 2019 general election will take place in seven phases from 11 April to 19 May. The new parliament will be announced on 23 May. The Hindu nationalist BJP has ruled with a simple majority for the past five years. Its electoral success is the culmination of decades of strategic advance by highly organised Hindu nationalist forces. Hindu nationalism exploits religion for political gain. It seeks to unite Indians as Hindus and is deeply hostile to Christianity, which it demonises as a threat to national security and social cohesion. Wherever Hindu nationalism advances, communalism and violent persecution of Christians escalates. Hindu nationalism is even making headway in areas where Christianity has long been established and/or growing. Please pray for the Church in India and for a breakthrough against Hindu nationalism.

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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