Tag Archive for: International Religious Freedom

PERKINS: Hostility to Churches Fueled by Biden’s Anti-Faith Climate

“It’s an emotional moment,” Pastor Robin Lutjohann said quietly, surveying the rubble of his church. “It’s been a place of worship for a number of communities for over a century,” he told reporters after a six-alarm fire raged through the building Easter Sunday, destroying the Massachusetts landmark. “It fills me with sadness and dread about the work that is ahead of us,” Lutjohann admitted, wondering why anyone would have such malice toward Faith Lutheran. “If and when a person is found who has done this then we will pray for the power to forgive,” he insisted.

Unfortunately, his congregation isn’t alone in that prayer. An astonishing 436 churches in America were victims of criminal attacks in 2023, according to a new report from Family Research Council — more than double the number in 2022. From shattering stained glass and spray-painting relics to lighting five-gallon drums of gasoline on fire and riddling altars with bullet holes, houses of worship have become an increasingly dangerous target.

“You just feel the hate,” Rev. Jerome Jones shook his head, still shocked at the sight of his trashed Maryland sanctuary. Bibles, ripped into shreds that “looked like snow” on the pews, slashed upholstery, the big wooden cross — where congregants lifted their hands during the offering — torn down and tossed on the $100,000 of damage. From now on, Jones had to tell worshippers, “the cross is in your hearts.”

His Fowler United Methodist Church is just a few miles from the Maryland State House, a fact that didn’t shield Jones from the violence that too many U.S. congregations are experiencing. If anything, experts say, our country’s deepening political divides may be what’s fanning the all-too-real flames. The growing anti-faith rhetoric of the Left, led by the Biden administration’s own bigotry toward Christians, has made it open season on houses of worship. After just 55 acts of hostility in 2020 under Donald Trump, the aggression has skyrocketed from 96 (2021) to 195 (2022) to a staggering 436 acts last year.

None of this happened in a vacuum. Under the Biden administration, there’s one common denominator between the growing religious persecution abroad and the rapidly increasing hostility toward churches here at home: our government’s policies.

Frankly, Congressman Nathanial Moran (R-Texas) insisted on Tuesday’s “Washington Watch,” the biggest reason for this spike is probably because “this is the behavior that’s being modeled by the federal government.” When we see “the Department of Justice weaponizing its political views against everyday Americans and religious institutions and faith-based organizations, more of [these attacks] are going to happen.”

Under Joe Biden, men and women at the highest levels of government have not only condoned religious intimidation, they’ve encouraged it — refusing to investigate, hold culprits accountable, or worse, targeting Christians themselves. From the FBI to IRS, the Biden administration has spent the last three years criminalizing Americans with biblical views, only to turn around and complain about threats to democracy. What bigger threat is there than a government weaponized against its own people?

And sadly, this 800% spike in church attacks hasn’t just triggered terror here at home, it’s also had deadly consequences abroad. During my time as chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), I witnessed firsthand that when American leaders turn their backs on religious hostility, it sends a message that the world’s persecuted are on their own.

As my friend and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo understood: “If we got it right here in America, good things would happen all across the world.” If we get it wrong, we’re no longer just hurting ourselves, but millions of innocents who depend on the United States to fight against oppression around the world.

We see evidence of that failure in the freshly dug graves in Nigeria, in the Christians hiding deep within Afghanistan, even in the global calls for Israel’s ceasefire. Biden’s weakness on the international stage has escalated the threat for the world’s religious populations to a degree we’ve not seen in modern history. And the situation grows more dire every day.

When America ignores the indiscriminate slaughter of 8,222 Nigerian Christians in a single year — even going so far as to remove the nation as a Country of Particular Concern from America’s watch list— it gives permission for other world leaders to look the other way. Worse, it sends a green light to terrorists everywhere to continue their killings, abductions, land-grabs, and torture. But if Joe Biden can’t be bothered to condemn thugs and vandals at home, how could he possibly take on jihadists?

At its core, this is cultural terrorism, and it’s designed to silence us. The spiritual enemy of our soul has a goal to intimidate Christians everywhere into backing away from speaking biblical truth. So here’s what we’ve got to do: not yield.

Obviously, we need to take the appropriate precautions, so our people can come to church free of fear with the sole focus of worshiping the Lord. But then, we do something just as important: vote for men and women who respect and understand our vibrant First Amendment freedom, which is the ability — not only to worship God — but to live your life according to your faith. That means teaching your children. That means carrying your beliefs into the workplace.

So we need to be bold. We need to be courageous and live out our faith for the Lord in such a way as it brings honor and glory to him. Yes, we need to take the practical steps to make sure our churches are safe, but we cannot give in to those who would make us shrink back into the shadows of society. We need to continue to hold forth the banner of the Lord Jesus Christ — without apology.

AUTHOR

Tony Perkins

Tony Perkins is president of Family Research Council and executive editor of The Washington Stand.

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EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. All rights reserved. ©2024 Family Research Council.


The Washington Stand is Family Research Council’s outlet for news and commentary from a biblical worldview. The Washington Stand is based in Washington, D.C. and is published by FRC, whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview. We invite you to stand with us by partnering with FRC.

Report Catalogues Dozens of New Incidents of Persecution against Christians in the West

Religious persecution against Christians in the Western world is rising at an alarming rate, according to a new report from Family Research Council’s Center for Religious Liberty.

In the 2024 edition of “Free to Believe? The Intensifying Intolerance Toward Christians in The West,” the Center for Religious Liberty identified 168 incidents of anti-Christian hatred or discrimination from January 2020 to the end of 2023, including 33 incidents last year alone. Although 2020 (61) and 2021 (49) saw the most incidents of persecution against Christians, the majority were related to COVID-19 lockdown violations, but the report notes an increase in intolerance toward public and even private expression of biblical worldviews in the West.

The report states, “As the mainstream culture moves further and further away from a Christian worldview, Christian beliefs that contradict progressive secular values are increasingly denounced by the culture and wrongly portrayed as being hateful or bigoted.” It adds, “The past three years each having fewer incidents than 2020 does not necessarily indicate an overall decline in intolerance toward Christians. … Although FRC identified fewer incidents related to COVID-19 after 2020, incidents that we identified of Christians facing discrimination for their biblically informed beliefs increased.”

“This report is a warning call,” wrote FRC President Tony Perkins in a letter attached to the report. “It is shocking to see Western countries — the same ones we think of as free and open societies — take authoritarian measures against Christians simply trying to live out their faith. Hostility toward Bible-believing Christians is clearly and steadily rising in the West.” Perkins, former commissioner of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, added, “Religious freedom is the foundation for the human rights that Western democracies seek to promote abroad. Yet, the ability to promote this fundamental human right will be lost if we do not protect it within our borders.”

In comments to The Washington Stand, Center for Religious Liberty Director Arielle Del Turco said, “We remain clear-eyed about religious freedom conditions in Western democracies. It’s easy to take our rights for granted, but we are seeing governments across the West target Christians to be silenced, restricted, or fined for living out their faith or expressing their religious beliefs.” She continued, “Often, the pressure point revolves around Christians’ ability to speak about doctrine that contradicts mainstream secular orthodoxy on issues such as abortion, transgenderism, or same-sex marriage.”

Although the report is “far from exhaustive,” some of the 2023 incidents in the U.S. include:

  • An Ohio pastor being fined for allowing homeless to sleep in his church;
  • A Texas church being charged excessive fees by a county utility company and seeing those fees doubled after the church noted its tax-exempt status;
  • The Oklahoma attorney general suing a virtual school board for approving a publicly-funded Catholic charter school;
  • An Oregon couple being denied a foster care license due to their biblical views on sex and gender;
  • A California library cancelling a Moms for Liberty event when a speaker expressed biblical views on gender and biology;
  • A Georgia church being threatened with fines for hosting a car show as a form of community outreach;
  • A Christian school in Colorado being denied a religious exemption from a pro-LGBT state discrimination law;
  • An Oregon church being threatened with fines for providing free meals to the homeless;
  • A school counselor in Indiana being fired for speaking out against her school district’s preferred pronoun policy;
  • A Vermont Christian school being barred from a state tuition program for upholding biblical values on sex and gender;
  • A Christian high school coach (also in Vermont) being fired for saying that there’s a biological difference between men and women;
  • An Arizona elementary school district ending a teaching partnership with Arizona Christian University;
  • A California teacher being fired for refusing to comply with a policy hiding students’ gender transitions from parents; and
  • A Colorado cake shop owner being sued for refusing to make cakes celebrating gender transitions, Satanism, or marijuana use.

In the United Kingdom, two town councilors were penalized (one was even arrested) for speaking out against a local Pride parade, a school chaplain was fired for telling students they don’t “have to accept the ideas of LGBT activists,” and at least six people were arrested or fined for praying outside abortion facilities or holding pro-life signs.

In Canada, a pastor was arrested twice for praying outside a library drag queen story hour, a church was fined for hosting in-person services in 2020, and a teen at a Catholic school was arrested for organizing a protest against biological men using women’s bathrooms. A Christian hybrid school was shut down in Germany, a Maltese health care worker was charged with a crime for sharing in an interview how he left the homosexual lifestyle, a Norwegian city denied Christian organizations community grant funding due to their biblical views on sex and gender, a woman was arrested in Spain for praying the rosary, and a Swedish bakery was investigated for refusing to bake a same-sex wedding cake.

Perkins noted, “This report is merely a sampling of the rise of actions by Western governmental officials that target Christians’ ability to practice and express their faith, especially in the public square.” He explained that the report “is a call to individuals to vigorously exercise their religious freedom while at the same time calling upon government officials to recognize and prioritize the protection of this fundamental human right so that religious freedom can continue to be promoted around the world.”

AUTHOR

S.A. McCarthy

S.A. McCarthy serves as a news writer at The Washington Stand.

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EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. All rights reserved. ©2024 Family Research Council.


The Washington Stand is Family Research Council’s outlet for news and commentary from a biblical worldview. The Washington Stand is based in Washington, D.C. and is published by FRC, whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview. We invite you to stand with us by partnering with FRC.

Christian and Jewish Leaders Condemn ‘Political, Spiritual Persecution’ of Paivi Rasanen

An interfaith coalition has offered prayers of solidarity to two evangelical Christians facing their third trial for declaring that homosexuality violates the Bible, a position prosecutors call “War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.”

Despite two unanimous acquittals, Finland’s state prosecutor has taken an elderly member of parliament and a Lutheran bishop before the Supreme Court to answer for their traditional Christian beliefs on sexuality. Dr. Päivi Räsänen, who has served in parliament for 29 years, and Bishop Juhana Pohjola of the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland (ELMDF), are facing “spiritual persecution” for upholding the Scripture, said a letter signed by dozens of Christian and Jewish leaders.

“Once again you face unjust charges. For almost half a decade, you have confronted targeted legal harassment for simply living out your Christian faith, the direct result of not just political persecution but also spiritual persecution,” says the letter, which was led by Advancing American Freedom and released today. “Now, despite twice being unanimously declared not guilty at the Helsinki District Court and the Helsinki Court of Appeals, the prosecutor has filed another appeal, potentially forcing a third trial at Finland’s Supreme Court.”

Authorities have centered their legal case on a five-year-old social media post made by the MP, a member of the Christian Democrats Party, asking why her Lutheran church body would take part in an LGBT “Pride 2019” event. The post on Twitter, now X, included a photo of Romans 1:24-27, which clarifies that homosexual behavior is sinful.

Two years later, in April 2021, prosecutors charged Räsänen and Pohjola with “agitation against a minority” under the nation’s law against “War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.” Police arrested Räsänen and subjected her to 13 hours of police interrogation before her trial. Prosecutors dubbed the Bible verses in her tweet, a booklet the two wrote in 2004 expounding on biblical doctrine titled “Male and Female He Created Them: Homosexual Relations Challenge the Christian Concept of Humanity,” as well as comments Räsänen made on the radio in December 2019 as “hate speech.”

Räsänen and Pohjola were first acquitted by the Helsinki District Court on March 30, 2022. The three-judge panel ruled that prosecutors had violated the Christians’ right to freedom of expression contained in Section 12 of the Finnish Constitution, as well as noting the thorny legal questions posed if secular judges begin ruling on matters of religious doctrine. “It is not for the district court to interpret biblical concepts,” the court declared.

But within days, then-Prosecutor General Raija Toiviainen appealed the charges. Räsänen then faced a two-day trial last August 31-September 1. The Court of Appeals unanimously acquitted MP Räsänen and Bishop Pohjola on November 14, 2023. Under the law, social media posts must be intended to offend, and “there must be an overriding social reason for interfering with and restricting freedom of expression,” they ruled. The judges ordered the state to pay both defendants’ legal fees.

Finland’s current state prosecutor appealed the dismissal once again earlier this month.

“It is shocking that the Finnish state prosecutor has decided to target MP Räsänen for a third time, because she politely expressed her religious beliefs in public,” Arielle Del Turco, director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council — and who signed the letter — told The Washington Stand. “So far, the Finnish courts have been clear in affirming Räsänen’s right to express her religious beliefs. However, the process of being dragged through court is often the punishment itself.”

The thirst to continually prosecute the grandmother of 10 exposes the government’s intolerance and malice toward traditional Christian viewpoints, said Paul Coleman, executive director of ADF International, which is supporting Räsänen’s legal defense. “Dragging people through the courts for years, subjecting them to hour-long police interrogations, and wasting taxpayer money to police people’s deeply held beliefs has no place in a democratic society,” said Coleman. “As is so often the case in ‘hate speech’ trials, the process has become the punishment.”

The U.S. letter offers “prayers and encouragement” to the embattled pair “on behalf of the millions of Americans who support freedom of speech and freedom of religion.”

The letter assures that “you do not stand alone,” because “each one of us stands alongside you,” note its writers. “We are watching, and we are praying for you. The world is watching, and the world is praying for you.”

The signatories hope their fellow believers, and all those who value freedom of conscience and expression, will make that promise real as the West falls progressively under the sway of illiberal secular repression. “Christians around the world should continue to pray for and voice their support for MP Räsänen,” said Del Turco.

The faith leaders signing the letter include Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, former U.S. Senator Sam Brownback, former U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, former Ambassador Ken Blackwell, and Rabbi Yaakov Menken of the Coalition for Jewish Values, among many others.

The Lutheran pair’s case also attracted high-level support from Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas), who named Räsänen, detransitioner Chloe Cole, collegiate swimming record-holder Riley Gaines, and concerned parent Scott Smith his personal “heroes” at FRC’s 2023 Pray Vote Stand Summit. “She gives you hope,” said Roy. “She gives you a belief that we can stand up and stand athwart that kind of tyranny.”

Räsänen has reflected on the words of Jesus to rejoice in suffering, taking pride that each trial has allowed her to quote and explain the Bible’s teachings in depth.

“After my full exoneration in two courts, I’m not afraid of a hearing before the Supreme Court,” said Räsänen. An “acquittal from the Supreme Court would set an even stronger positive precedent for everyone’s right to free speech and religion. And if the court decided to overturn the lower courts’ acquittals, I am ready to defend freedom of speech and religion as far as the European Court of Human Rights.”

The letter reads in full:

To the Honorable Päivi Räsänen, M.D. and the Reverend Dr. Juhana Pohjola,

We have been following your case since 2019 and on behalf of the millions of Americans who support freedom of speech and freedom of religion, we write to show our support for you in these trying times and to offer our prayers and encouragement.

Once again you face unjust charges. For almost half a decade, you have confronted targeted legal harassment for simply living out your Christian faith, the direct result of not just political persecution but also spiritual persecution. Now, despite twice being unanimously declared not guilty at the Helsinki District Court and the Helsinki Court of Appeals, the prosecutor has filed another appeal, potentially forcing a third trial at Finland’s Supreme Court.

We are watching and we are praying for you. The world is watching, and the world is praying for you. As you once again prepare to stand trial for freedom of speech and freedom of religion, know that you do not stand alone. Rather, each one of us stands alongside you, praying and encouraging you along the way.

Sincerely,

Paul Teller, Executive Director, Advancing American Freedom
Frank Wolf, Former Member, U.S. Congress
Ambassador Sam Brownback, Co-Chair, International Religious Freedom Summit
Dr. Gregory P. Seltz, Executive Director, The Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty
Eric Patterson, Executive Director, Religious Freedom Institute
Tony Perkins, President and former Chair, Family Research Council and US CIRF
Ken Blackwell, Former U.S. Ambassador, United Nations Human Rights Commission
Maureen Blum, Executive Director, Catholics Count
Nina Shea, Senior Scholar and Director, Center for Religious Freedom, Hudson Institute
Douglas D. Punke, Senior Pastor, Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Fort Wayne, Indiana
Bunni Pounds, President, Christians Engaged
Rabbi Yaakov Menken, Managing Director, Coalition for Jewish Values
McKenna Wendt, Advocacy Manager, International Christian
Arielle Del Turco, Director of the Center for Religious Liberty, Family Research Council
Charlie Gerow, CEO, Quantum Communications
Robert F. Schwarzwalder, Jr., Ph.D., Senior Lecturer, Honors College, Regent University
Bethany Kozma, CEO, Keystone Policy
Robert K. Fisher, Meeting Coordinator, Conservatives of Faith
Kelly Monroe Kullberg, General Secretary, American Association of Evangelicals
C. Preston Noell III, President, Tradition, Family, Property, Inc.
David Kullberg, Co-Founder, Scandinavian American Gospel Alliance
Richard A. Vigurie, Chairman, FedUpPac.org
Jason Poblete, Esq., President, Global Liberty Alliance
Eunie Smith, President, Eagle Forum of Alabama
Melissa Ortiz, Founder, Capability Consulting
Dran Reese, President, Salt and Light Council
Saulius “Saul” Anuzis, President, 60 Plus Association
James L. Martin, Founder/Chairman, 60 Plus Association
John Suarez, Executive Director, Center for a Free Cuba
Nancy Schulze, National Strategic Director, Physicians for Reform

AUTHOR

Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.

EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. All rights reserved. ©2024 Family Research Council.


The Washington Stand is Family Research Council’s outlet for news and commentary from a biblical worldview. The Washington Stand is based in Washington, D.C. and is published by FRC, whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview. We invite you to stand with us by partnering with FRC.

If Hamas Isn’t Defeated, ‘It’s Open Season on Israel,’ Experts Say

On Monday, 24 Israeli soldiers were killed in the Gaza strip while attempting to establish a buffer zone for residents of the communities on the Israeli border so they could return home. It was during this process that a blast was triggered and two buildings collapsed. The fatal explosion made victims of two dozen soldiers, a tragedy that The Times of Israel called “the single deadliest incident since the start of Israel’s ground offensive in the enclave.” Several other soldiers were severely wounded.

Since the beginning of the war between Israel and Hamas, there’s been no shortage of pain and suffering. Thousands have died, many are still held hostage, and deadly conflict threatens to spread throughout the Middle East. Amid all the chaos, death, and destruction, many wonder: why keep fighting? Caroline Glick, a senior contributing editor at the Jewish News Syndicate and host of the “Carolyn Glick Show,” has an answer.

“We lost 24 soldiers [Monday]. It’s a big blow to the country. It’s a big blow to the families,” she shared on “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins.” But the hard truth is that “the fight must go on,” because this is “a fight for Israel’s survival,” she urged.

Since October 7, mass casualties have resulted on both sides. But at the heart of the matter, Glick emphasized, Hamas is a terrorist organization that has vowed not to end their brutal attacks until Israel is extinct. She pointed out that “Hamas, in and of itself,” does not “pose an existential threat” in the sense that they have atomic bombs. But rather, they’re a force that won’t stop building itself back up again, no matter the blows it receives. She emphasized, “They don’t have anything that animates them as a people other than killing Jews.”

But Hamas is not alone in their fury against the Jews. As Glick discussed, Israel has many enemies. Iran could be considered the “head of the snake,” with Hamas, the Houthis, Hezbollah, and other terrorist organizations connected to the Islamist regime. “And if we don’t finish the job with Hamas,” she added, “what we’re telling everybody is that it’s open season on Israel.”

Perkins pointed out that the Biden administration wants a two-state solution. Few involved in the war agree with that course of action, Glick noted. A two-state solution “would be a massive reward for terrorism,” she said. “There’s no support in Israel whatsoever for this, but … there’s no support among the Palestinians” either. She explained that the majority of Palestinians don’t want a two-state solution because they “just want to annihilate Israel.”

“I mean, it’s hard for us to get our heads around because [Hamas is] so evil and it’s so different from us,” she continued. “They worship death, and they seek literally to kill us all. … It’s not just in their charter. It’s what they say, and it’s what they do.” So essentially, Glick said, the Biden administration is asking Israel “to choose between impossible alternatives.” Perkins added, “It’s not the reasonable man theory.” Compromise is what Biden and the Left are pushing for, Glick agreed, but “you can’t compromise on this when it’s a zero-sum game.”

She emphasized that there are a “quarter of a million Israelis who are living as internal refugees,” both from the south and from the north, who won’t stop fighting. Ending the war with a cease fire, she warned, would leave “Hamas in power … Hezbollah at the border … [and] Iran to be nuclear.”

“After October 7th, everybody’s eyes are open to the danger,” Glick concluded. “[W]e’re a country that loves life, and we insist on surviving.”

AUTHOR

Sarah Holliday

Sarah Holliday is a reporter at The Washington Stand.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Two-State Solution Would be Israel’s Fatal Final Solution

EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. All rights reserved. ©2024 Family Research Council.


The Washington Stand is Family Research Council’s outlet for news and commentary from a biblical worldview. The Washington Stand is based in Washington, D.C. and is published by FRC, whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview. We invite you to stand with us by partnering with FRC.

The Role of Faith in Cuba’s Fight for Freedom

By the end of September 2021, the events of July 11 were a burning memory for Cubans. That July, which Cubans refer to as 11J, activists linked to a Facebook group called Archipiélago had requested authorization through letters to several provincial governments to hold a demonstration. They wanted to condemn violence and demand the release of political prisoners, respect for the rights of Cubans, and the resolution of political differences through democratic and peaceful means.

Archipiélago was led by a board of coordinators that presented itself as politically diverse. In reality, the majority of its members tended towards leftism, and the figure who enjoyed the greatest national and international media access was the playwright Yunior García.

Although García called for the first demonstration to be November 20, on October 7 the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces announced a series of military exercises from November 18 to 20, in what they called a National Defense Day. Archipiélago determined, then, to move the demonstration to the 15th, the day on which the island would open its borders to international tourism.

On November 15 (which became known as 15N), some 131 people were prevented from leaving their homes that day in Cuba, according to the complaints center of the Foundation for Pan American Democracy. Yunior García was one of them. He also experienced internet outages. In the next few hours, during and after the 15th, nothing was heard from him. The Archipiélago activists released a statement demanding information from the regime, and others blamed the state, thinking the worst.

The next day, García landed in Spain, and unraveled some mysteries during a large press conference. He said that days ago, unbeknownst to his colleagues and followers whom he had called to take to the streets, he had arranged a visa with the Spanish embassy, which was at that time controlled by a socialist PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español, the socialist and ruling party in Spain) government. García said that Cuba was not governed by a socialist tyranny, but by a conservative one. And he said that the financial pressure against the dictatorship — which he called “blockade” — had to be eliminated.

The dissident Guillermo “Coco” Fariñas described García’s escape as cowardly and unethical; He acknowledged that although it is understandable to be afraid, “when he assumes leadership, one has to go ahead.” And he considered the call for 15N as a way to counteract the still vibrant spirit of 11J, “an operation of discouragement aimed at the effervescence that exists within the Cuban youth that was designed by people who want a soft landing, a guilty cohabitation with the military dictatorship in the exercise of power.”

Despite the failure of the 15N call and the disappointments derived from his leadership, several Cubans sincerely put their hopes and efforts in that demonstration as a way to channel their rejection of the Marxist regime. Several Christians were among them.

That day, in the peripheral Havana municipality of El Cotorro, Pastor Carlos Sebastián Hernández Armas, historian of the Western Baptist Convention, also expressed his desire for change in totalitarian Cuba, joining the call of 15N. That day he posted a selfie on his Facebook. He wore the characteristic elements of the call: a flower and a white sweater. A fingerprint was stamped on the sweater, with an empty space in the center in the shape of a cross.

The photo was accompanied by this verse in 2 Samuel 22:2-4: “The Lord is my rock and my strength, and my deliverer; My God, my strength, I will trust in him; my shield, and the stronghold of my salvation, my high refuge; my savior; You freed me from violence. I will call on the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I will be saved from my enemies.” It is not just any verse, but one that speaks of resistance, confrontation, of at least two opposing visions that strain the social rope.

In the city of Cárdenas, Matanzas, Reniel Rodríguez or “Lunático,” the name with which he baptized his X profile and his YouTube channel (“Lunatico Debates”), was 15 years old on 15N. That day he called from a corner, through a live broadcast, for the city’s inhabitants to take to the streets. He was dressed in white, as the Archipiélago call had requested, and with a flower in his hand.

He walked around town for a while. While he was walking, he received a call. It was a local Communist Party official, who ordered him to delete the video of the call and return to his house. Frightened, Reniel obeyed. Forty-eight hours later, things got worse. Several police officers were stationed in front of the secondary school where Reniel studied. They asked about him. A teacher took him from school to the military, and he was taken to a Comprehensive Training School (EFI) of the Ministry of the Interior, a penitentiary center for minors.

In just 24 hours, the teenager’s case went viral on the social networks of Cubans inside and outside the island. Several Christians raised their voices about him.

On November 18, 2021 at 11 p.m., Iván Daniel Calás called through his social media account on X to pray for Reniel, a “15-year-old boy who is in prison.” Calás said that everyone was welcome, and along with the #FreeLunatico hashtag he referred to the biblical verse in Hebrews 13: 3: “Remember the prisoners, as if you were prisoners together with them.”

Reniel and Calás had met years before. On Twitter, they were public opponents on issues such as abortion, of which the former was a defender. Precisely that topic brought them together shortly before the arrest, when Reniel had accepted, after months of scientific and philosophical arguments, the continuity and value of human life from the moment of conception.

On 15N, in the center of the capital, a human rights activist and member of the apostolic movement was trying to attend the call. Near the Parque del Quijote, in the populous neighborhood of El Vedado, Yoantone Marrero, better known as Tony Máx, was able to shout “Long live freedom! Long live democracy! Long live free Cuba!” before agents of the National Revolutionary Police arrested him.

The overwhelming repression of the 15th did not go unnoticed in the eyes of Cuban evangelical leaders. Bárbaro Abel Marrero, an academic and Baptist pastor whose analyses of the introduction of gender ideology by totalitarianism have garnered repercussion in recent years, dedicated a text titled “The ignominy visited Santa Clara,” about the harassment of Cubans and relatives of prisoners who demonstrated for political changes, the infamous acts of repudiation.

Marrero, rector of the Baptist Theological Seminary of Havana, began his account by stating his connection with Santa Clara, his hometown, the city of the 19th century patriot Marta Abreu. “Perhaps that is why it affected me so much to be a virtual witness of the disgusting events that stained its streets this November 15,” he confessed.

“I intercede for the unfortunate people who have degraded themselves to such vileness (to repress pacific protesters), so that they can sincerely repent, for their own good,” he expressed. “Finally, I cry out for the families who have been lacerated by abject arrows of hatred, that their wounds be healed and that their cause be vindicated; that they may not be overcome by evil, as the apostle Paul teaches, but that they may overcome evil with good. Father, have mercy on Cuba.”

AUTHOR

Yoe Suarez

RELATED ARTICLE: Cuban Christians and the Fight for Freedom of Expression

EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. All rights reserved. ©2024 Family Research Council.


The Washington Stand is Family Research Council’s outlet for news and commentary from a biblical worldview. The Washington Stand is based in Washington, D.C. and is published by FRC, whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview. We invite you to stand with us by partnering with FRC.

Anti-Christian Hate Crimes Spike in Europe

A new report is documenting a drastic rise in anti-Christian hate crimes across Europe. The Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe (OIDAC Europe) published its annual report last week, detailing a 44% increase over the course of 2022 in social hostility towards and violent attacks against Christians as well as acts of vandalism and desecration against churches.

According to the report, 748 anti-Christian hate crimes were committed in Europe last year, 38 of which were violent physical attacks and three of which were murders. Arson attacks were also more common than in years past and churches were targeted for firebombings and vandalism, especially in France and Germany. In fact, arson attacks nearly doubled over the course of one year, rising from 60 attacks in 2021 to 106 in 2022.

The OIDAC Europe report noted that “there had been a surge of clear extremism-motivated attacks.” The majority of these attacks were committed by groups with far-left, satanic, Islamic, feminist, or LGBT affiliations. In comments to The Washington Stand, Irish Freedom Party founder and president Hermann Kelly said, “The increase in the number of anti-Christian hate crimes is truly shocking in a supposedly Christian continent. The presence of many millions of the Islamic faith which preaches hatred, domination, and annihilation of all non-Muslims has no doubt added greatly to the rise in anti-Christian violence.”

He added, “A second spike in the anti-Christian pincer movement is that of aggressive and militant secularism of the far Left. Incredibly, they find common allies and goals in the silencing of Christian public presence and influence in European society.”

In its report, OIDAC Europe also noted a growing movement to suppress religious liberty and criminalize Christian practices. In Ireland, for example, the government has been promoting what OIDAC called “Europe’s most extreme ‘hate speech’ bill.” The Criminal Justice (Incitement to Violence or Hatred and Hate Offences) Act would shift the burden of proof to the accused, who would have to demonstrate that they did not intend to “spread hate.” The bill criminalizes private materials, such as memes on a phone or books on a shelf, and could potentially outlaw Christian teachings on such subjects as LGBT ideology.

The bill, if enacted, would also allow police officers to obtain warrants to investigate suspected “hate speech” without presenting any evidence to a court. Other European nations have also seen “hate speech” legislation weaponized against Christians: two Catholic bishops in Spain have been prosecuted for repeating the Catholic Church’s teachings on marriage and sexuality, numerous “street preachers” have been arrested in the U.K. for allegedly causing “distress” to those who disagreed with Christian teachings, and Finish parliamentarian Päivi Räsänen was charged with “War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity” for quoting Scripture.

Others have seen “hate speech” policies weaponized in areas like academia. In Ireland, schoolteacher Enoch Burke was dismissed from his post and eventually jailed for refusing to call a student by transgender pronouns. Welsh teacher Ben Dybowski was fired after being asked to share his Christian position on homosexuality and abortion during a confidential, mandatory diversity and gender awareness training session. U.K. teacher Joshua Sutcliffe was sacked for sharing his Christian views on marriage with students, and school chaplain Bernard Randall was dismissed for delivering a homily critical of the LGBT agenda.

Another area of concern is abortion “buffer zones,” designated areas outside of abortion facilities where prayer, protest, and pro-life counseling are legally prohibited. These “buffer zones” are becoming prevalent in Ireland, Germany, Spain, and the U.K. Last year, pro-life activist Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was arrested for silently praying outside an abortion facility in England. The Catholic woman held no rosary and did not speak aloud but simply stood in silence. She was arrested, tried, and acquitted, and then arrested again two weeks after the acquittal on the same charges.

Arielle Del Turco, director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, commented to The Washington Stand, “The preservation of religious freedom relies not just on good laws and legal victories, but also on cultural support. Sadly, we are looking at plummeting cultural support for the rights of Christians in the West and a rise of intolerance against the Christian faith, particularly when that faith is proclaimed boldly in the public square. This is symptomatic of the larger trend of secularization. As culture becomes increasingly secular, people understand and value it less. Christian beliefs about the human body, sexual ethics, or the exclusivity of Christ can be seen as offensive or even oppressive.”

She further noted, “Over time, this leads to greater erosion of religious freedom and cultural support for Christians simply wanting to live out their faith or express their beliefs.”

In its conclusion, the OIDAC Europe report stated, “As freedom of thought, conscience, and religion is a cornerstone for free and democratic societies, we hope that states will not compromise on the protection of these fundamental rights, and thus ensure an open and peaceful climate in our societies.” Hermann Kelly forcefully added, “Only a return to Christian faith, family, fecundity, and education will give culturally and demographically dying Europe the chance of a future.”

AUTHOR

S.A. McCarthy

S.A. McCarthy serves as a news writer at The Washington Stand.

RELATED ARTICLE: The ‘Responsibility Liberation’: Why Men Need to be Part of the Pro-Life Effort

EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. All rights reserved. ©2023 Family Research Council.


The Washington Stand is Family Research Council’s outlet for news and commentary from a biblical worldview. The Washington Stand is based in Washington, D.C. and is published by FRC, whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview. We invite you to stand with us by partnering with FRC.

FACT CHECK: Does Zelensky Respect ‘Religious Liberty’ in Ukraine?

An edited clip of former Vice President Mike Pence seemingly telling Tucker Carlson that decaying American cities are “not my concern” instantly went viral, but Pence’s most controversial statements at the Family Leader Summit, about Ukraine’s respect for “religious liberty,” have passed without comment.

The moment came when Carlson asked if the former vice president, who made a return visit to Ukraine in June, had pressed President Volodymyr Zelensky about his “treatment of Christians within Ukraine.” Pence replied, “I raised [the issue] with the leader of the Orthodox Church when I was visiting Kyiv and asked him about concerns about religious liberty. He assured me that the Zelensky government in Ukraine was respecting religious liberty.” (You can watch the exchange here.)

Pence’s answer seems definitive, but those who cherish religious liberty need to identify its verbal sleight-of-hand: Pence met with the “leader of the Orthodox Church” whom Zelensky’s discriminatory policies benefit, not the Christians they harm.

Is Zelensky’s government “respecting religious liberty” in Ukraine? Let’s examine the facts.

Which “Leader of the Orthodox Church” Is Which?

Two major churches in Ukraine call themselves Orthodox. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), the historic body founded in 989 A.D., has perhaps 10,000 churches. The Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), a coalition of breakaway parishes and formerly unrecognizedgroups which the Patriarch of Constantinople declared autocephalous in January 2019, has an estimated 7,000 parishes. Pence met with Metropolitan Epiphaniy of the OCU, whose news service announced the meeting at the famous golden-domed sanctuary. Metropolitan Onufriy of the UOC would likely have given Pence a difference assessment about the Ukrainian government’s respect for “religious liberty.”

Zelensky Discriminates against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church

During his exchange with Pence, Carlson noted, “The Zelensky government has raided convents, arrested priests, has effectively banned a denomination — a Christian denomination, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, within Ukraine — has persecuted Christians.” That nearly echoes the words of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which reports that from February through the end of April, Zelensky’s “[g]overnment and local authorities took several measures targeting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC).” Government agents “searched places of worship and other UOC facilities, issued notices of suspicions against clergymen, and placed several of them under house arrest.” Since the beginning of the conflict, seven regional councils have banned all “activities of the UOC,” overstepping their legal authority.

Ukraine’s Parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, has introduced numerous bills to redistribute church property from the disfavored UOC to the favored OCU, some with Zelensky’s personal approval:

  • Draft law No. 8221 — which bears the Orwellian title, “On ensuring strengthening of national security in the sphere of freedom of conscience and activities of religious organizations” — would forbid any church from using the title “Orthodox” unless it is (in the words of the state news agency, UKRINFORM) “subordinated to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine” (OCU);
  • Bill No. 7403 strips the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) of its tax-exempt status;
  • Draft Resolution No. 8012 transfers the historic monastic properties of the Kyiv Pechersk and Pochaiv Lavra — a sacred site in Orthodox history — from UOC to the OCU; and
  • Draft law No. 8262 bars the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) from using state property.

Some UOC parishes have had their property “transferred” to the jurisdiction of the OCU by people who do not belong to the parish. “[V]illagers who are not parishioners of the UOC church organize a meeting of the territorial community. At such meetings, they simply declare: We are Orthodox, and we believe that there will be only an OCU in our community,” reports the independent weekly newspaper Fakty i Kommentarii.

Zelensky’s government revoked the citizenship of 13 UOC clerics near the first of the year.

In a smaller act of aggression, earlier this month the Rada amended the state labor code to change the date of Christmas, which the UOC traditionally celebrated on January 7 due to its use of the Julian Calendar, to December 25, the revised date the OCU allowed last fall and formally adopted this spring. Since 2017, the government had recognized both dates for Christmas; now, in theory, an observer of the traditional date might not be able to get the day off work to attend church. The bill — personally introduced by President Zelensky— also changed two other national holidays associated with religious feasts to the OCU’s date: the Protection of the Mother of God (to October 1 from October 14) and the Baptism of Rus, considered independence day (July 15 from the 28).

Evicting Monks Quietly, so Tucker Carlson Won’t Report It

The most visible sign of the Zelenskygovernment’s dispute with the UOC is the historic Kyiv Pechersk and Pochaiv Lavra. Zelenskyofficials placed the monastery’s abbot, Metropolitan Pavel, under house arrest from April 1 until June 29; he presently resides in the Lukyanivska pre-trial detention center, which Radio Liberty described as “infamous for its terrible conditions, with detainees enduring cold, crowding, and crumbling walls.”

The government originally aimed to evict the monks from the historic monastery by March 29, less than three weeks after the March 10 announcement. Although the eviction order remains tied up in court, Ukrainian government authorities began sealing buildings at the monastery. Eventually, monks and a large number of faithful Christians protected some of the property, but not before the National Reserve sealed buildings 68, 69, 70, 71, and 115. Officials have not sealed any additional buildings since July 6, and the official who oversees the National Reserve, Oleksandr Tkachenko, resigned two weeks later.

High-ranking officials in Zelensky’s party have acknowledged that seizing possession of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra could be complicated, since then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych extended the UOC’s lease for another 49 years on July 17, 2003 — 20 years ago this month. But the deputy leader of Zelensky’s Servant of the People faction in parliament, Yevgenia Kravchuk, believes the government will get the historic monastery in its clutches gradually, particularly since “the majority of the deputies” in the Ukrainian government support Zelensky’s proposal. For now, she wants the government to bide its time.

“It is very important not to show physical aggression. All this can create a false picture of some religious oppression. Then various foreign conservative journalists, such as Tucker Carlson, believe me, will do a separate report on it,” Kravchuk warned. Then American voters “can start asking their congressmen, referring to the so-called religious persecution in Ukraine.”

Religious Liberty ‘an Invalid Argument’: Zelensky’s Deputy

“Some say: ‘Let’s not interfere in religious matters.’ But this, it seems to me, is now an invalid argument,” said Zelensky’s deputy, Kravchuk. Some Ukrainian Orthodox Church priests and faithful are “not yet ready to fully transition to OCU,” but “[w]e have to go through it.”

What is behind this drive to dispossess the Ukrainian Orthodox Church? “The main thing is the political leadership of President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has repeatedly stated that Ukraine needs spiritual independence,” said Kravchuk. Indeed, Zelenskygave a speech last December 1 promising to create “spiritual independence. We will never allow anyone to build an empire inside the Ukrainian soul.”

Some officials have already paid the price for resisting religious discrimination. Olena Bohdan led Zelensky’s State Service for Ethnopolitics and Freedom of Conscience (DESS), which oversees the government’s religious policies — until her findings contradicted the state line that the UOC was aligned with Moscow. Bohdan combed through UOC church documents and concluded that the UOC had removed everything establishing its “subordination and dependence” upon Moscow. Zelenskythen fired her. Bohdan told Radio Liberty she lost her job because, while she tried to act “from the standpoint of constitutional principles,” she was pressured “to find a way to disband the UOC.”

Is the UOC Controlled by Russia?

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church severed ties with the Russian Orthodox Church over the invasion of Ukraine, which it wholeheartedly opposed. “War is the worst sin in the world. It forces us to look at another person not as an image of God, but as an enemy to be killed. Therefore, there is no excuse for those who start wars,” said Metropolitan Onufriy. The church has taken concrete steps to underscore its independence from Russian church authorities and, as noted, Bohdan documented the UOC’s separation from the Patriarchate of Moscow.

The Zelensky government justified expelling UOC monks from the historic monastery on the grounds that the monks secretly aid Russia — but Zelensky’s “proof” of UOC’s Russian collusion underwhelms. Last November 22, National Police pilfered through monks’ private quarters, searched 350 monastery buildings and visitors’ quarters, checked the identities of 850 people on the grounds, and administered polygraphs to 50 people (including some monks). They found a few thousand rubles (1,000 rubles is worth $11 U.S.) and a handful of pamphlets containing sermons by the Patriarch of Moscow Kirill, possibly brought by pilgrims from Russia. (Imagine if Americans visited the monastery, and the government busted the monks because they found dollar bills and a book by Billy Graham.) They also claim someone overheard one of the monks singing a song that discussed “awakening the Russian world” (Russkiy mir), a concept akin to Manifest Destiny — but Bohdan said the lyrics were so ambiguous, they may have asked “for Russia to wake up and stop its armed offensive on Ukraine.” The UOC has condemned the Russkiy mir notion, as Met. Onufriy declared, “We do not build any ‘Russian world;’ we build God’s world.”

Things became more heated after a missile fell on Transfiguration Cathedral in Odessa. “The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has had nothing in common with your understanding for a very long time,” UOC Archbishop Viktor Bykov of Artsyz wrote to Moscow Patriarch Kirill, likening him to an abusive father. “We condemn this maniacal aggression of the Russian Federation against our independent country.”

Yet even the most anti-Russian clerics agree Zelensky’s government tramples on their unalienable rights. A group of more than 300 UOC priests who support autocephaly condemned “Russia’s Satanic aggression against Ukraine,” while slighting the Zelensky government’s “flagrant violations of the rights and freedoms of the citizens of Ukraine who are the clergy and believers of the UOC.”

Ukrainian Government Demanding UOC Cease to be Orthodox?

Zelensky’s government is pressuring the UOC to take a step that could effectively eliminate it from the communion of the Orthodox Church. After Bohdan’s ouster, DESS demanded the UOC cut all ties with Moscow by declaring itself autocephalous; on July 25, officials reiterated their demand for the “the complete and unconditional rupture” of communion. Typically, other national Orthodox churches grant autocephaly to a church body; it is not asserted unilaterally. And there are never two autocephalous churches in the same territory. If the UOC declares independence, it could lose communion with all other Orthodox churches, a necessary element of Orthodox ecclesiology. Meanwhile, the churches associated with Constantinople maintain communion with the OCU, effectively rendering it the nation’s only Orthodox body.

Eastern Europe has Little Sense of ‘Religious Liberty’

Though the concept of religious liberty has patristic roots, it arose in the West from the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 — a treaty that had no impact on Eastern Europe. The entire region has varying degrees of toleration for church authorities. Thus, none of this should suggest Russia would impose Western-style conscience rights in Ukraine beyond those respected in Russia today. Authorities say Russian troops have destroyed hundreds of Ukrainian churches, tortured evangelical pastors, and repressed the OCU and sects such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Ukrainian Christians have seen the government expropriate and redistribute their property for decades. After decades of trying to eradicate all religion, in 1946 Soviet authorities tried to liquidate Ukraine’s Byzantine Catholic parishes — former Eastern Orthodox churches that submitted to papal authority in 1596 after Catholic Poland conquered the nation — by closing or transferring its remaining 4,119 churches and chapels to the Orthodox Church. The communists did this throughout the USSR, because the official Orthodox hierarchy at the time reported to or belonged to the KGB. The UOC’s reaction to the invasion shows those days have ended. Drawing on his history of persecution, the current leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, has said no Ukrainian “should be persecuted for belonging to some church structure.”

The Verdict

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government has pressured Ukrainian Orthodox Church clergy and laity to affiliate with the OCU, raided UOC monasteries, attempted to evict monks on flimsy evidence, interfered with the internal operations of a church, legally impeded traditional Orthodox Christian observances, and openly favored one faction over another.

Mike Pence met with the benefactor of Zelensky’s religious discrimination, who told him everything’s fine. That statement drew less attention than a “gotcha” moment during the Family Leader Summit, but it should be more concerning for those who value religious liberty, or truth.

Unfortunately, this assurance is false.

AUTHOR

Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.

EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. ©2023 Family Research Council.


The Washington Stand is Family Research Council’s outlet for news and commentary from a biblical worldview. The Washington Stand is based in Washington, D.C. and is published by FRC, whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview. We invite you to stand with us by partnering with FRC.

Good News from Iran: A Million New Christian Believers

What first comes into your mind when you see the word “Iran” in the headlines?

Some of us immediately reflect on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s relentless efforts to develop a nuclear weapon, while their government-sponsored mobs chant, “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” For others, it’s Iran’s relentless military aggression in the Middle East and assassination squads elsewhere. Meanwhile, those of us who focus on international religious freedom recall that year after year, Iran is listed as one of the 10 worst persecutors of Christians in the world.

But there is another story that isn’t widely reported in our American media. Amazingly, there’s an explosive number of conversions to Christianity taking place in Iran.

I first became aware of this surprisingly good news when I lived in Israel — it was talked about among groups who were focused on Middle East evangelism. Then after I returned to the U.S., I read an unexpected report by Daniel Pipes, a Jewish researcher and author and friend of mine who wrote about it for Newsweek:

“Something religiously astonishing is taking place in Iran, where an Islamist government has ruled since 1979: Christianity is flourishing. The implications are potentially profound.

“Consider some testimonials: David Yeghnazar of Elam Ministries stated in 2018 that ‘Iranians have become the most open people to the gospel.’ The Christian Broadcasting Network found, also in 2018, that ‘Christianity is growing faster in the Islamic Republic of Iran than in any other country.’

“This trend results from the extreme form of Shi’ite Islam imposed by the theocratic regime. An Iranian church leader explained in 2019: ‘What if I told you the mosques are empty inside Iran? What if I told you no one follows Islam inside of Iran? …What if I told you the best evangelist for Jesus was the Ayatollah Khomeini [founder of the Islamic Republic]?”’

Confirming these statements, a significant survey taken in 2020 by Gamaan, a secular Netherlands-based research group, reported that there are far greater numbers of Christian believers in Iran than ever before — more than a million. In fact, those involved with the “house church” movement in Iran are convinced that there are likely several million Christian believers there.

In my research and interviews, it has become clear that new Christians’ witness to others is mostly shared in quiet conversations, encouraged by low-profile online Bible studies, and affirmed by visions, dreams, and miraculously answered prayers. Due to their risky circumstances, recent Christian converts are enthusiastically communicating about their changed lives with friends and loved ones — but quietly and carefully. However, their discreet but persistent witness accounts for the extraordinary number of new Iranian believers, who meet in small house churches.

These house churches are usually comprised of no more than 10 to 15 believers. On a given day, they arrive, one by one, at a small apartment or some other nondescript location. After the last one enters, the door closes and locks, and they all take a deep breath and relax, greeting each other warmly.

A few minutes later, the little gathering begins to sing — very softly, accompanied by a quietly strummed guitar. They are cautious, not wanting their voices to be heard beyond the apartment’s thin walls. But soon, with closed eyes and hands lifted heavenward, they are lost in praise and worship music. Later a teaching from a biblical passage is offered and a communion service takes place. And finally, after more conversation they leave, one by one.

Some house churches have continued for years without intrusion by government authorities. Others have experienced devastating interferences.

Sudden invasions by state authorities can happen at any time; only rarely are they preceded by a threatening text message or phone call. Everyone knows about Christian gatherings in which, without warning, a dozen or more officials have burst into a small meeting and roughly arrested everyone there. Typically, these authorities also literally tear apart the residence, searching for laptops, phones, evangelistic publications including Bibles and other books, DVDs, and videos. They’re looking for anything they can confiscate and label as “evidence” against the Christians. Arrests are made based on accusations such as “insulting Islam,” or conducting “deviant activity” that “contradicts or interferes with the sacred law of Islam.”

The house church participants, including recent converts, know very well that the aftermath of such raids can also be perilous: continuing threats of violence, lost employment, expulsion from school or university, confiscated cash, and the endangerment of other family members. And everyone knows that sexual violence against a mother, wife, girlfriend, or daughter is likely to follow. Still, with all this in mind, Iranian house church Christians are extraordinarily courageous. And sometimes the price they pay for their boldness is exceptionally painful.

Prominent organizations who report on Iran’s abuse of Christian believers, including the Vatican and several Protestant groups, declare that the regime has recently increased its abuses, including surveillance, arrests, and imprisonment of house church leaders and those who worship in their homes.

And true justice seldom follows. Open Doors acknowledged that their watchdog organization is “appalled by the testimonies of violations of due process that took place in the court rooms, including humiliating remarks from the judge, the court’s unconcealed favor for the prosecutor’s side, the defendants’ occasional lack of access to a lawyer, and verdicts issued in less than 10 days — clearly — without sufficient consideration of evidence.”

As I’ve learned about the many abuses suffered by our sisters and brothers in Iran, I have also been awestruck by their courage and boldness — and by the remarkable results. More than a million new converts — called Muslim Background Believers (MBB) — are reading the Bible for the first time, praying, gathering in small groups, and sharing their new faith with friends and family, despite the risks. Their faith is amazing, encouraging, and inspiring.

Today, when we see “Iran” in the headlines, we are wise to be concerned. Let’s pray for God’s intervention into the regime’s deadly intentions. But let’s also remember our little-known but rapidly growing Christian family inside Iran’s borders. Their bold example of courage in the face of persecution shines brightly amid the ever-increasing darkness in the Middle East.

AUTHOR

Lela Gilbert

Lela Gilbert is Senior Fellow for International Religious Freedom at Family Research Council and Fellow at Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.

EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. All rights reserved. ©2023 Family Research Council.


The Washington Stand is Family Research Council’s outlet for news and commentary from a biblical worldview. The Washington Stand is based in Washington, D.C. and is published by FRC, whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview. We invite you to stand with us by partnering with FRC.

Chinese Communists ‘Hope to Erase’ Christianity: Report

Last August 25, several faithful gathered around one of the largest churches in China’s Shanxi province to watch it dissolve into dust. Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities had planted explosives inside Beihan Catholic Church, bringing its 131-foot-tall bell tower crashing to the ground. In a bout of déjà vu, the 10-year-old church had been built on the site of another church, which the CCP demolished in 1990.

Many Chinese religious systems believe in reincarnation — but in Communist-controlled China, a cycle of destruction repeats itself for Christians, according to a comprehensive, 63-page report from ChinaAid.

The Chinese Communist Party has continued to destroy churches, arrest and abuse Christians, forcibly “disappear” clergy, prevent believers from expressing their faith online, and attempt to coerce Christians into proclaiming Marxist principles from the pulpit in place of the Holy Bible. The report’s “partial list of persecution cases in 2022,” broken down by province, takes up 20 pages.

“The CCP implemented various strategies against Christians in 2022. By using the new measures against religious content online and the infamous zero-COVID policy, authorities limited or eliminated Christian gatherings,” recounted ChinaAid President Bob Fu. “By using charges of ‘fraud,’ the Chinese government financially suffocated the house church movement.”

The report details the forcible disappearance of 10 clergy from Hebei prince’s Xuanhua diocese — including two Roman Catholic bishops — and another 10 priests in the province’s Baoding diocese. Those allowed to remain in the country may be forced out of their ministry by government interference. Fengwo Township Religion Bureau showed up at a church last January to tell parishioners the bureau deemed their pastor, Huang Yizi, unfit to preach sermons, because of his arrest record — for refusing government orders to remove public crosses.

The government has told Christians not to evangelize, preach, print, proselytize, or in some cases pray — especially in the name of Jesus. While preventing many registered churches from worshiping in person, allegedly to stop the spread of COVID-19, Jiangsu province also made it a crime “to illegally preach online, give sermons, interpret scriptures, chant,” etc. Police visited churches that persevered. “Village cadres came to me yesterday and asked me not to preach religion on WeChat. Now we are not even allowed to say the word Jesus in our prayers, or ‘trust in the Savior,’” one Chinese citizen told her U.S.-based family.

The government also tried to prohibit Christians from carrying out their scripturally mandated duty to pray for those in authority. “Our church has received orders from government officials. Now when we pray in WeChat groups, we’re not allowed to say, ‘We pray for those in power,’ let alone pray for President Xi Jinping by name or ask God to make him repent. These are all forbidden now. Some of us used to pray for China’s top government leaders, but that’s not allowed anymore,” another believer told a family member who had emigrated. “We don’t know if we can still pray together in WeChat groups after this March.”

To stifle the growth of house churches, the government has treated tithing and other standard Christian economic activities as a form of “fraud.” In July, police arrested Pastor Qin Sifeng and coworker Su Minjun of Beijing Lampstand Church for “illegal business activities” when it printed hymns for the church to sing. Officials have repeatedly postponed their trial, originally scheduled for last November, effectively imprisoning them indefinitely. Others received swift, crushing punishment. Officers arrested a believing couple, Chang Yuchun and Li Chenhui, in December 2021 for printing Christian books; last May, a court sentenced them to seven years in prison and a fine of nearly $37,000 (U.S.).

The report notes the heart of the persecution campaign: the determination to follow through with what the CCP called the “Sinicization of Religion” at the Chinese Communist Party’s 20th national Congress last October 16. The party demands churches teach Communist principles and revise religious dogma in light of socialism.

“Their goal is not only to curate a ‘socialist-friendly’ church; they hope to erase it,” said Fu. “Previously, they asked for sole allegiance to the Communist Party, but since the 20th National Party Congress, they shifted their emphasis to aligning with Xi Jinping.”

To this end, government officials insist the church cede the education of children to the secular, socialist state. Last May, CCP officials reminded college graduates and students of their official policy: “No one may use religion to carry out activities that obstruct the national education system.” They have effected this policy by shutting down church-operated schools, including the Wenzhou Bowen Bible School and Wenzhou Bible School in Zhejiang province last August, or fining those who hold religious education conferences nearly $21,000 (U.S.). Fined people who rented out facilities to a church school and illegally held a human rights lawyer who represented Christians under house arrest.

These measures likely violate the wording of the Chinese constitution, which states Chinese citizens “enjoy freedom of religious belief” and the right to attend “normal” services — but the document, written by Communists, does not define normal services.

The problem of religious persecution is as old as Marxism itself. Karl Marx considered religion the opiate of the masses. Yet suppression of Christians appears to have intensified as China has gained economic and military strength over the last two decades. The U.S. State Department has classified the People’s Republic of China as a “Country of Particular Concern” since 1999.

The CCP faces credible and consistent charges of committing “deaths in custody and that the government tortured, physically abused, arrested, disappeared, detained, sentenced to prison, subjected to forced labor and forced indoctrination in CCP ideology, and harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups for activities related to their religious beliefs and practices,” noted the State Department’s most recent report on Chinese religious freedom, published last June.

Despite their oppression, Chinese Christians remain resilient. Last February 20, “Christian activist Zhou Jinxia held up a sign to preach the gospel to Xi Jinping,” knowing it would result in arrest.

China Aid’s new report coincides with an emboldened China that has increasingly begun saber-rattling, provocatively sending spy craft to hover over the U.S. mainland. While the CCP has begun “brazenly pushing the limits, to see how far they can go,” said the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn. “President Biden’s administration has consistently demonstrated weakness, showing a willingness to act against adversaries like the Chinese Communist Party only after the public outcry was so deafening that they could not ignore it,” Rep. Green told The Daily Signal.

This overseas aggression has bled into the CCP’s treatment of Christians, as officials have attempted to reach beyond its own shores to harass or kidnap ethnic Chinese living in the United States. They also sanctioned Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.

“The international community needs to know about these trends and developments” of Beijing’s persecution of Christians “as China continues to rise on the global stage,” said Fu. Unless Western Christians stand up for their brethren, Chinese Christians believe the cycle of destruction will continue.

AUTHOR

Ben Johnson

Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.

EDITORS NOTE: This Washington Stand column is republished with permission. ©All rights reserved.


The Washington Stand is Family Research Council’s outlet for news and commentary from a biblical worldview. The Washington Stand is based in Washington, D.C. and is published by FRC, whose mission is to advance faith, family, and freedom in public policy and the culture from a biblical worldview. We invite you to stand with us by partnering with FRC.

Christian Charity Worker in Malta Prosecuted for Sharing Testimony About Rejecting Homosexuality

A Christian charity worker in Malta faces prosecution for sharing his personal testimony about rejecting homosexual activity on the radio.

Matthew Grech, 33, a trustee of the Christian nonprofit Core Issues Trust, will face trial on Feb. 3, 2023, at the Court of Magistrates in Valetta, along with the presenters of a media outlet, PMnews Malta. Prosecutors claim Grech and the presenters violated Chapter 567, a Maltese law banning “conversion practices.”

Grech told The Daily Signal that Maltese authorities are targeting “ANY DISSENTING OPINION about LGBT” issues, threatening free speech in the name of suppressing “conversion therapy.” He insisted that “there is no proof that people are being forced to ‘become straight’ anywhere on the island” of Malta, which became the first European country to ban “conversion therapy” in 2016.

“You advertised conversion practices and this breaking article 3 (a) (iii) of Chapter 567 of Maltese laws,” the police wrote in a summons on June 29, 2022. The police wrote that Grech violated the law on April 6, 2022. The law defines “conversion practices” as “any treatment, practice or sustained effort that aims to change, repress and, or eliminate a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and, or gender expression.”

Grech did not advertise any form of “conversion therapy” on that date, according to the transcript. Rather, he told his personal story and advocated for a therapist’s freedom to counsel clients as they would direct, without government intervention.

Grech said he was confused about sexuality during his teenage years, and he started a same-sex relationship when he moved to London, keeping that relationship secret from his family. “When I was in London, a woman came up to me and began to share the gospel with me, and she started telling me about Jesus and what He did for us on the cross,” he said. “I went into a church, and I can say that I loved it. I felt accepted. I felt loved.”

“Jesus consumed my life,” he added. “His presence brought a freedom, a freedom that I never had, joy and continuous peace in my life.” He read the Bible and saw clear condemnations of homosexual activity. “This is the basic gospel, that one needs to repent from sin, and homosexuality is not the only sin.”

Then Grech spoke out against the law banning “conversion therapy.” He noted certain forms of therapy to address underlying trauma that may, as a byproduct, deal with some unwanted same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria.

“Many forms of therapy involve that you control one aspect of yourself,” he said. “To control yourself is not a bad thing, to an extent. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit from a biblical perspective is self-control.”

“Many times, they discover that when someone helps them overcome trauma and pain that was behind their homosexual attractions, or their transgenderism… they find that they no longer look at the same-sex in the same way,” he explained. “Nobody said to them, ‘If you do this, or hear this, or stop doing this, you will become straight…’ These were genuinely in emotional crisis and looked for help.”

Grech laid out the police’s claim against him. According to policeman Neil Farrugia, and confirmed by Inspector Roderick Attard, who wrote the summons, PMnews Malta published on its website and Facebook page an advertisement for the interview regarding “conversion practices.” The news outlet went on to broadcast the interview on April 6 on Facebook Live, where the presenters introduced Grech as secretary general of the Christian conservative political party ABBA and a representative of International Federation for Therapeutic and Counseling Choice (IFTCC), which the police characterized as a group promoting and providing “conversion practices.” (Grech does work with IFTCC, though he disputes the characterization.)

Police also claim Grech advertised “conversion practices” and promoted their efficacy. “They claim that both the programme as well as the ‘advert’ come against provisions of article 3aiii of Chapter 567 in Maltese law,” he told The Daily Signal. Authorities are also charging the presenters for providing a platform for the “advertisement.”

“Evidence clearly shows that Matthew Grech did not violate the statute,” Jeanise Dalli, Grech’s attorney, told The Daily Signal. She also claimed that “this prosecution undermines Matthew’s freedoms under Malta’s constitution and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, particularly his Fundamental Human Right to freedom of expression and his Fundamental Human Right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” The Christian Legal Centre is also assisting in Grech’s defense.

Grech said Malta’s legislature began working on an amendment for the law on Monday. He said the amendment “will aim to redefine the advertising clause of the law to include the publishing, advertising, displaying, distributing, referral and circulation of any material promoting the practice. This is very concerning for all Christians in Malta, as it is clear that what they are after is ANY DISSENTING OPINION about LGBT.”

Even if the legislature expands the law, this will not affect Grech’s case, Dalli said, since Maltese criminal law cannot be applied retroactively.

Grech also noted that the government’s move to amend the law comes shortly after Grech’s pastor reported to the police a satirist who posted on Facebook that Grech’s church, River of Love, should be carpet-bombed. The satirist also compared the church to the Islamic State (ISIS).

Maltese police declined to comment on this story for The Daily Signal. The attorney general’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

This article was originally published by The Daily Signal.

AUTHOR

Tyler O’Neil

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