Wednesday, December 16, 2009

035. Trends in religious liberty call for prayer

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 035 | Wed 16 Dec 2009

This longer end-of-year RLPB on the trends in religious liberty should provide intercessors with plenty to think and pray about over Christmas-New Year and beyond.


During the decade 1998-2008 America used its power and prosperity as leverage to influence religious liberty globally. This was through its International Freedom from Religious Persecution (IFRP) Act of 1998 that tied international religious liberty to US foreign policy. Religious liberty abusers could face sanctions (subject to political expediency) whilst those who made advances in religious liberty were rewarded. For a decade, dictators restrained their most belligerent anti-Christian elements and inclinations for the sake of US economic relations. Meanwhile, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIFR) -- the independent religious freedom monitoring body created by the Act -- was phenomenal in raising awareness of religious persecution. A negative consequence of this US advocacy was that the Church (particularly the Protestant Church) increasingly placed its faith and hope in political power.

Two events in late 2008 proved pivotal regarding religious liberty, with the trend that religious liberty is now in decline the world over. In August 2008, Georgia moved to impose its sovereignty over its rebel province of South Ossetia. When Russia responded to 'protect Russian citizens', the US support Georgia was expecting never came and US impotency -- a consequence of being bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan -- was exposed for all the world to see. Weeks later the US credit bubble burst, triggering a financial crisis with global ramifications. The two things the US had been using as leverage for international religious liberty -- military and economic power -- withered, virtually overnight.

We no longer live in a Cold War world or a world dominated by one super-power. States are shuffling into power blocs and today the world's most repressive and rights-abusing states ignore the US (which had used its power to moderate behaviour) and look to Russia along with three of the world's worst human rights abusers: China, Iran and Saudi Arabia. As it seeks to recover from 70 years of brutal Communist repression followed by a decade of chaotic plundering, Russia has begun reviving its historic Orthodox Christian culture. Long an advocate for Middle Eastern and Balkan Christians repressed and threatened by Islam, Russia may yet emerge again to be a defender of Eastern Christians. The extent to which Protestants benefit will depend on the success of US/NATO - Russia detente.

As we head into 2010, China is emerging as a serious problem. The West's inverted political theory -- that economic reform leads to human rights reform, rather than the reverse -- has finally been discredited. China emerged from the IFRP Act decade prosperous and with its 'loagai' unscathed. (The loagai is a vast network of more than 900 Mao-era re-education and reform-through-labour camps. These state-owned enterprises exploit prisoners -- including prisoners of conscience -- as unpaid labour and are integral to the Chinese economy.) Persecution escalated through 2008 and 2009 and all evidence indicates that it will continue to escalate. In October Uyghur Christian Alimjan Yimit (36) was sentenced to 15 years in prison on the false charge of 'providing state secrets to overseas organisations' (see RLP 474, Xinjiang, China: Persecuted for the sake of 'harmony'.17 April 08). On 25 November house church leader Yang Rongli of the Linfen Church in Shanxi Province was sentenced to seven years in prison while four other Linfen Church pastors were sentenced to some four years each. They had been kidnapped en route to Beijing where they planned to petition the government over the razing of their meeting place (see RLPB 031, China Ascendant -- Persecution Intensifying. 18 Nov 09).

Meanwhile the situation for Christians in the Muslim world is deteriorating rapidly. Middle Eastern regimes that had restrained (even if just in token measures) anti-Christian Islamic zealots to bolster their religious liberty credentials with the US now have no motivation to do so. In fact some regimes are themselves so threatened by Islamic fundamentalism that they find it more politically expedient to bolster their Islamic credentials. They appease fundamentalists by tolerating or even supporting their implementation of Sharia Law and by subjugating and eliminating 'infidel' Christians.

Despite 'secularism' and 'democracy', persecution is escalating and intensifying across India, fuelled by impunity. Persecution is also emerging as an issue in the West, where churches are finally discovering what living in a post-Christian culture is going to entail. Not only is there more godlessness, more hopelessness, more violence, more authoritarianism, more corruption, more perversion and more hostility to Christianity, there is less restraint in law or culture to protect believers from the hatred of the world (John 15:19).

These are the trends in religious liberty as we head into 2010. What we need now is a new trend to emerge in Christian churches towards radical faith that embraces intercessory prayer for the persecuted church as integral to Christian life and worship. As the world trend is for persecution to escalate, may the Church trend be for a return to faith and hope in Jesus Christ, for the Church's power lies not in the world but in our faithful God. 'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6 ESV)'


* awaken the Church to the truth that sanctuary and salvation are found in God alone.

* revive the Church so that intercessions will fill the heavens and blessing and Holy Spirit power will rain down to sustain, deliver, sanctify and build up the Church amidst challenging trends.



Worldwide trends indicate persecution will escalate as religious liberty continues to decline. So to meet this challenge we pray that another trend will develop: that churches across the world will come to see engagement with and intercessory prayer for the persecuted church as integral to Christian life and worship. As the world trend is for persecution to escalate, may the Church trend be for brotherly love, spiritual unity, radical faith and intercessory prayer to escalate for the sake of the Kingdom and glory of God. 'Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6 ESV)'