Abdolreza Haghnejad and Yousef Nadarkhani: Christians in Iran

Yousef Nadarkhani still looks set to become the first Christian executed for apostasy in Iran since 1990. Unfortunately, he may be merely the first in a new wave of Iranian persecutions–yet the media has hardly noticed.

Abdolreza ‘Matthias’ Haghnejad, a pastor in the Evangelical Church of Iran, was arrested August 17 while on a pastoral visit. It is not known where he is being held, or what charges he may face, and he does not have access to a lawyer.

Haghnejad and others were arrested last April, but acquitted in mid May when Mohammed-Ali Dadkhah, a human rights lawyer, took on their case. Despite this high-profile acquittal, other Iranian Christians have also been arrested in recent days:

Last month, a Christian man and woman were detained in Iran. The man was released but the woman, Leila Mohammadi, was arrested and is believed to be behind bars in Evin prison.

CSW’s Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said: “It is vital that the Republic of Iran ensures due process and ends this practice of incarcerating persons simply on the basis of their faith as this is in clear violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

“Those who, like the pastor, have been arrested must either be charged and tried in a timely manner or released, and all detainees must be allowed contact with their families and lawyers.”

Stories like this are on the rise in Iran, a fact that has largely been ignored in the media despite having been addressed at the U.S. State Department and by Canadian officials.

Arrests are not the only setbacks Iranian Christians have had to endure:

In August a consignment of 6,500 Bibles was confiscated as it was being transported between the cities of Zanjan and Ahbar in the north-western province of Zanjan. In a comment on the seizure, Dr Majid Abhari, advisor to the social issues committee of the Iranian parliament, declared that Christian missionaries were attempting to deceive people, especially the youth, with an expensive propaganda campaign. He also indicated his belief that all religions are strengthening their power to confront Islam.

This rhetoric is the latest in a stream of condemnations of Christians from members of the Iranian regime, who have attempted to demonise Christians as western-backed conspirators, ‘parasites’ and ‘like the Taliban’.

Christians are not the only religious minorities to be targeted in Iran; Sufis and those in the Baha’i community have also seen an uptick in persecution.

Iran’s treatment of its own legally-protected minorities may prove a harbinger of things to come in its relations with the rest of the world. That’s especially relevant given the nation’s penchant for nuclear weapons development. As Walter Russell Mead observed,

Interestingly, like many stories of Christian persecution in the Middle East and elsewhere, the stories of Iranian Christians and Pastor Nadarkhani have received widespread attention in the US religious press — and are covered much more episodically and lightly if at all by mainstream outlets.  The contrast not only undermines public credibility in the mainstream press as readers take this as evidence of an anti-Christian or anti-western PC bias in the press; it blinds those who rely on mainstream reports to the actual state of US public opinion.

For many Americans, evidence of how Iran treats its Christian minority is an indicator of the kind of uses to which it would put nuclear weapons.

This should concern even those who are uninterested in what happens to Iran’s Christians. Iran persecutes its own people–why should should it treat other nations any better, especially if it gains access to nuclear weapons?

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Good News From Libya–For Now

As Libyan rebel forces occupy the capital at Tripoli, it’s natural to wonder whether the presumed ousting of Moamar Qaddafi will lead to something even more insidious than his tyrannical regime.

It’s a distinct possibility, but perhaps not for the reasons you expect.

Unlike in Egypt, where it’s likely that coming elections will usher in rule by members of the radical Muslim Brotherhood, it appears that dangerous Islamists have managed only a relatively small showing in Libya. That may change, but for now this looks like good news.

That doesn’t make matters any easier for the Libyan citizens who will no doubt endure many more months of conflict and uncertainty before a new government is established (if that is, indeed, what lies ahead–even that is still unclear), but it is certainly good news for the rest of the world–at least for now.

Of course, this may all change very quickly. Walid Phares points out,

… the Obama administration and European governments stood with the rebels in the uprising against the tyrant of Libya. It was the right thing to do. But as in the previous revolutions we’ve seen in this region, the West abandoned the secularists, liberals and minorities and partnered with the Islamists.

If this repeats itself in Libya, we would have replaced one devil — the traditional authoritarians — with a new devil: the Islamist authoritarians.

For now, however, it appears that Libya is not like Egypt. There is still potential for good to come out of this conflict. Small potential, perhaps, but potential nonetheless.

Image via Flickr.

 

Pornography, PETA Style

I would have thought that anyone arguing for a connection between PETA and pornography would have to suggest that objectification of women expressed via pornography was comparable to the objectification of animals in the meat industry production lines. Treating women like pieces of meat and then treating animals like only objects made of meat, as opposed to living creatures, would be a connection that, I think, could be made without too much of a stretch. Continue reading Pornography, PETA Style

Freedom Sunday 2011

March 13 was Freedom Sunday, an international effort by congregations around the world to raise awareness about the problem of human trafficking and organize efforts to oppose it around the world. Freedom Sunday coincides with the first Sunday of Lent in the western calendar for a reason. It was for freedom that Christ set us free, when we were slaves to sin and death, and our mighty Savior calls us to follow Him in pursuit of freedom for all.

At Saint Ann Chapel in Palo Alto, California, guest blogger Father Robert Kemp gave the following sermon:

2008 was a bad year for Berkeley, California.  First, the City Council told Army Recruiters they were “unwelcome intruders” in a motion expelling the recruiters from the city.  After 140 businesses threatened to leave the city and the Federal and State Legislative bodies took up measures revoking all Federal and State aid to the city, the City Counsel had to recant and publically admit that money is more precious than ideology.  After that embarrassing debacle, Lakireddy Bali Reddy, the largest and wealthiest landlord in Berkeley, was released from prison.  Lakireddy was caught in 2001 operating a sophisticated slave ring in the heart of Berkeley.  Between 1986 and 2000 he smuggled between 25 and 100 Indians into the United States.  Many of those imported were young women who were forced to work in Reddy’s prominent and well-liked restaurant Pasand Madaras Indian Cuisine for no pay while many others were forced to work as his concubines.  Some of the biggest and loudest proponents of fair trade, equality and work-force liberation were served by slaves. Sadly, slavery is not extinct.  Slavery did not end when English Parliament adopted the Slavery Abolition Act in August of 1833.  Slavery did not end on January 1, 1863 with Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation.  Nor did slavery end on December 18th, 1865 when the 13th amendment prohibiting slavery was enacted.  Slavery still exists, it exists in the United States, it exists in California and it exists in the Bay Area.

But why should we care?  Why should we care when Albanian parents sell their 3 year old to buy a color television?[1] Why should we care when 9 year old girls in Lima, Peru are bought by pimps and sold to highest bidder?  Why should we care when 12 year old Cambodian girls are sold to businessmen who want to bring good luck on their new economic quests by having sex with a virgin? Why should we care when thousands of children in the Ivory Coast are forced to work in the cocoa fields to drive down production cost so that we can buy cheap chocolate?[2] Why should we care when Cargill, a major cocoa importer, admitted it did not eliminate child slavery in its cocoa supply line because they did not have enough, and I quote ‘market incentive’ to do so? Why should I care when Nike pays a 10 year old pennies a day to make shoes, when it means that I can get a great deal on a new pair of running shoes? Why should I care when Nike admits to using child labor, but then says the problem is too difficult to stop.[3] Why should we care that there are roughly 27 million slaves in the world today and that there are approximately 218 million exploited child laborers?

In the days of Isaiah, the Israelites did not care about the plight of the widow, the weak and the helpless, they did not care that slavery and prostitution were all too common; they did not care about justice.  What is shocking is that while Israel turned a blind eye to injustice, they turned a microscope to worship.  They became deeply concerned with getting worship right, with saying the right things at the right time, doing the appropriate actions at the appropriate time and offering the correct sacrifice in liturgical precision.  In other words, they were just like the Pharisees who were so religious they forgot to love.  In the midst of this religious lovelessness, Isaiah proclaimed that fasting was pointless if not accompanied by love that was actively seen in feeding the poor and weak.  He told them worship was a waste of time if worship did not transform their hearts to love by breaking the chains of injustice.  He told them sacrifices were bloody abominations if they did not out of love set the oppressed and enslaved free.  Nor was Isaiah alone in this proclamation.  Years earlier God told the Israelites through the prophet Amos

I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

If we do not care about the 27 million slaves in the world, if our hearts are immune to love, then our worship is at best a waste of time and at worst, an abomination. We should care, because love demands it.

Does that make the church a mere social club for good works?  Does that make the Christian a religiousified social worker? No, may it never be for those who champion the church as a social club for good works have a fundamental theological error, they believe God operates on a quid pro quo, if I do this, then God will do that.  However, God, the one true God: Father, Son and Spirit, does not operate on a Quid pro Quo, he operates on a Quid pro Amor – This for Love. Everything that we do is originates from love.  That is why St. Paul said

If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

The point of worship is not to appease God, but become more like him through love, as St. John said,

Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” (I John 4: 7)

The point of worship is not entertainment, but the transformation of a loveless heart to a love giving heart.  The point of breaking the yokes of the oppressed, the point of setting the captive free is not to simply do good deeds, it is to love others just as God the Father has loved us.

For we were once slaves; we were slaves to sin and the wages our slave master paid was death.  Jesus, however, took our wage upon himself and purchased our freedom with his blood and through the death and resurrection of Jesus we have been set free and given the gift of life. Thus, a failure to love those who are now enslaved is a failure to understand to love of Jesus that accomplished our own salvation.  A failure to lovingly take upon ourselves the cost to free those who are now enslaved is a failure to understand how much our freedom cost the Son of God. In other words, a failure to love in thought, word and deed the least of all people is a failure to love the greatest of all persons, Jesus Christ.  Why should we care about the 27 million slaves in the world today? Because once we too were enslaved and while we were still enslaved, God loved us and sent his Son to purchase our freedom and now that we have been loved by God we are to shower this love upon others.

My dear Sisters and Brothers, there are two religious roads in life.  One road is wide and smooth.  It is the Quid pro quo road and it is the road of mere religious duty that demands nothing more than occasional piety and liturgical observance.  It is the road that Isaiah and others warned not to take for it leads nowhere.  The other road is narrow with steep switchbacks up to the pinnacles of life, but it also plunges into the darkest valleys.  It is the road of love and it demands our life, our soul and our all, but in end it leads us into the presence of God.  All those who walk on this road through faith are not alone, for they walk hand in hand with Jesus.  It is not a road we can walk through our own strength, but the flesh and blood of Jesus will sustain our weary legs, his grace will upload our tired heads and his love will maintain our beating heart.  Therefore, let us pray that through the grace of Jesus Christ, we will walk on this road of love and break the yokes of oppression that are enslaving our fellow brothers and sisters.

ALMIGHTY God, who hast created man in thine own image; Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil, and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice among men and nations, to the glory of thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


[1] http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/9-29-2003-45984.asp

[2] http://www.newint.org/columns/currents/2009/04/01/corporations/

[3] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/nike-admits-to-mistakes-over-child-labour-631975.html

Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak is gone: Long Live the Muslim Brotherhood?

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down this morning, and there’s no way to know what will happen next. While one should, on principle, welcome the departure of a tyrant, the fact is the Egyptian people might very well become less free now that Mubarak is gone.

That’s because—as anyone who has paid attention already knows—it’s likely that Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s best organized political force, will now take the reins. The Muslim Brotherhood ‘s supreme goal is the worldwide institution of Sharia law, and to say that they are dedicated to this goal is to insult them by understating their devotion.

Sharia is fundamentally anti-democratic. The Brotherhood has a history of manipulating democracy inorder to bring about its ultimate downfall, so don’t let the specter of free elections convince you of the group’s virtues. The Brotherhood might take leadership in Egypt violently, or they might do so democratically; either way, the danger to Egyptian freedom is very real.

And so is the danger to you. Because, despite what National Intelligence Director James Clapper would have you believe, the Muslim Brotherhood is no friend of the United States: it is one of the world’s most deadly radical terrorist groups. Consider, just for starters, their self-proclaimed motto:

Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. Qur’an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.

The word jihad here does not refer to an internal struggle for holiness, and dying in the way of Allah has nothing to do with dying to self—at least, not for the Muslim Brotherhood. It surely does mean something like that to the millions of moderate Muslims who do not wish to see you dead, but there’s a reason those moderates are not part of the Brotherhood.

James Clapper told House Intelligence Committee members Thursday that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is “a very heterogeneous group, largely secular, which has eschewed violence and has decried al-Qaeda as a perversion of Islam.” The claim is so baldly false as to be nearly humorous, as is Clapper’s insistence that the Muslim Brotherhood has “no overarching agenda, particularly in pursuit of violence, at least internationally.” As John Podhoretz points out,

This is one of the most reckless and irresponsible statements ever made publicly by an American official at a critical and delicate moment. If one of the key figures in the making of the administration’s foreign policy is already making excuses for the Muslim Brotherhood, the president needs to signal immediately that the United States does not view this evil and destructive force with rose-colored glasses. Hard to say how Obama can do that in a way that will be meaningful and still allow Clapper to remain in his office.

Clapper’s office has since offered a clarification, stating that Clapper is aware the Brotherhood is not a secular organization, but not before U.S. academics had a chance to defend his claims—proving that, even in the United States, Brotherhood ideology has already taken root.

Who knows—perhaps Egypt will come out alright. Perhaps the Muslim Brotherhood will not take leadership. I pray so. But realize, as you cheer the fall of a tyrant, that your Egyptian friends are not the only ones in danger here.

image credit

An Open Letter To Mohamed Abdel Moniem El-Sawy

An open letter to Mohamed Abdel Moniem El-Sawy:

I must admit, I don’t understand everything about the different segments of your Islamic faith—anymore than I understand everything about all the different denominations of Christianity. But they say actions speak louder than words, and I do understand that you and thousands of other Muslims in Egypt were willing to put aside differences in creed to unite for the sake of peace in your nation.

Thank you for being willing to protect the Coptic Christians in Egypt who were afraid for their lives this Christmas. You put yourselves in very real danger when you offered yourselves as “human shields.” Fortunately, the deadly New Years’ Eve attack was not repeated, and no one was hurt.  Thank you, all the same, for being willing to sacrifice yourselves for my Christian brothers and sisters.

I admire the theme emerging from your actions: “We either live together, or we die together” for indeed, these were no mere words. You were willing to literally put your life on the line in support of your fellow Egyptians, despite the religious differences which can so easily separate neighbors.

Just as we Americans learned from Abraham Lincoln that a house divided against itself cannot stand, the world can learn much the same from your actions last Thursday. We do not have to be threatened by all of our differences, and it’s good to be reminded that, for the sake of a nation, people will act on the courage of their convictions. There is much here to be admired.

Thank you.

Editors note: We offer our sincere condolences for the families of those who were shot on an Egyptian train today.

Image credit

Malaysia, Myanmar, and Hillary Clinton

EO has been quiet lately, but our editors surely haven’t.  Here’s one of my latest, from the New Ledger:

Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim is in Australia this week, speaking on social justice, democracy, and his own legal woes.  He has also addressed the recent release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition politician, declaring that her release will mean nothing until she is permitted to take her place as the elected leader of Myanmar.  Anwar has used Suu Kyi’s release to attract attention to his own political problems, arguing that Australia ought to speak out in the face of atrocities in both Myanmar and Malaysia:

“But I think they’re ill-advised if they proceed in this way…. I’m not suggesting that [the Australian government] should interfere, but they should express their views, they should promote civil society, as a vibrant democracy they’ve a duty…. But I think the issue of democracy, human rights, rule of law, they’re not something that you can just ignore. But I’m of course appreciative of the fact that Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd took time, and we had very, very useful discussions, some issues affecting both countries, and of course my personal predicament. But I always make it a point that they should extend the issue, the issue of freedom, human rights. It goes beyond Anwar’s personal case.”

The problem here is that “Anwar’s personal case” is very different from Suu Kyi’s, and Malaysia’s political landscape has little in common with Myanmar’s.

Read the rest here.

And from the Daily Caller:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton neatly sidestepped a messy diplomatic tangle Tuesday when she canceled her plans to meet with Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.  Only time will tell whether her last-minute schedule change adequately conveyed her apparent reluctance to add status to a controversial figure, but one thing is certain — Anwar’s anti-Semitic rhetoric and ties to dangerous terrorist finance groups mean he deserves none of the status a visit would have afforded him.

Though Anwar has spent the past decade gathering respect in Washington, his ties to terrorist finance groups like the Muslim Brotherhood clearly falsify his claims to represent the sort of moderate Islam the United States has so eagerly courted.  Al Gore’s defenses notwithstanding, Anwar is exactly the sort of Islamist radical in moderate’s clothing the U.S. must denounce.

Far from being the Malaysian “Voice of Democracy” his website touts, Anwar is in fact the co-founder of, and a trustee at, the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), an American front organization for the Muslim Brotherhood.

The IIIT has a long history of proven and alleged terrorist finance ties.  Just two years ago, for example, Temple University refused funding from the IIIT, citing serious concerns about the organization’s terror-financing connections.

In 1991, the Muslim Brotherhood named the IIIT in a list of 29 likeminded “organizations of our friends” that aimed to destroy America and turn it into a Muslim nation.

In 2003, U.S. prosecutors submitted evidence that the IIIT had a hand in funding Sami al-Arian, the convicted Palestinian Islamic Jihad fundraiser.  The same document also stated that “IIIT president Taha Jaber al-Alwani once signed a copy of a fatwa declaring that jihad is the only way to liberate Palestine.”

And the United States isn’t the only nation that has noted the Virginia-based IIIT’s problematic ties; in 2007, Malaysian Muslim feminist Zainah Anwar alleged that the organization had indirectly endorsed Islamic polygamy by removing from new translations of the Quran some widely accepted notes on the supremacy of monogamous marriages.

Anwar has done little to disguise his association with the IIIT, even tweeting recently that he was visiting the organization during a trip to the United States.  Despite these and other problematic ties, Anwar continues to be a well-loved figure in Washington circles — a fact that Clinton did not hesitate to point out during her tour of Malaysia.

This is surprising, given President Obama’s praise for Anwar’s political enemies at the ASEAN summit in New York last week.  Obama’s enthusiastic endorsement of Prime Minister Najib’s call for a Global Movement of Moderates should leave no room for Anwar’s brand of Islamist extremism, but that hasn’t kept U.S. officials from voicing their support of Anwar’s cause.

Read the rest here.

Photo credit Image and Commonwealth Office

Social Justice and the Cross: A False Dichotomy

Something’s rotten in the state of Christendom.  In the third century, Cyprian was bishop of Carthage.  The church had recently survived the Decian persecutions and Cyprian controversially urged his congregants to welcome back into the body of Christ those who had denied their faith under duress.  Then plague struck North Africa.  As the collective personas non grata, Christians found themselves blamed for the devastation.  In 257, Emperor Valerian opened new persecutions against Christians, including the execution of Pope Sixtus, the exile of Cyprian, and the ordered execution of all Christian leaders.  In the midst of this chaos and persecution, Cyprian did the unthinkable: he ordered all Christians of Carthage to do what no one else in the city was willing to do.  He ordered them to take on the suicide mission of caring for plague victims.  These were people who actively supported the murder of Christians, and the believers faced nearly certain death by tending to the needs of the victims dying of plague.  And yet under Cyprian’s leadership, they did so willingly.

The face of Christian charity in America is somewhat different.  Today, we find ourselves embroiled in modern entanglements of post-Enlightenment theology and the ever-present problem of greed disguised as self-interest.  When books like Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger find serious challenges from books like Successful Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulation, and a prominent Mormon with several daily talk shows on TV and radio instructs Christians in the theological legitimacy of social justice, Christians have strayed from the radical charity of the early church.  While most thinking Christians thankfully dismiss both anti-biblical extremes, we still find ourselves drawn into a debate that bogs down radical actions of Christian charity.  Humanitarian and theologian Christian Buckley argues

Just as the masses left Christ two thousand years ago when His call became difficult, His ways became unpopular, and His perspective became detested, we are being challenged to walk away from Christ’s humanitarianism.

We draw Christian charity battlelines and accuse each other from across no man’s land.  We obsess over one question: Should we serve people in order to share the Gospel with them, or is service sharing the Gospel with people in need?

In Humanitarian Jesus: Social Justice and the Cross, authors Christian Buckley and Ryan Dobson present the answer to this modern quandary by examining the Body of Christ, both His physical incarnation and the actions of His followers.  In the first half of the book, Buckley lays out the main points of both arguments, service for evangelism and evangelism as service.  He marks the major turning points in each movement and presents biblical support for both and exposes the weaknesses of each approach.  But the argument culminates in the obvious conclusion: you can’t have one without the other.  Evangelism and charity must be united for either to be authentic.

Dobson and Buckley interviewed dozens of Christians who serve as exemplars of how to act on our Savior’s instructions.  From missionaries to social workers, surfers to abolitionists, the interviewees make a compelling case for the futility of the false dichotomy of service versus evangelism.  Jerry Wiles, president of Living Water International, says it best:

It is more effective, and, to paraphrase an African head of state, “You can’t minister to dead people.  You can’t do health care to dead people.  You can’t educate dead people.  You’ve got to have them alive first.”  The first thing is to bring physical life.  It is true that if you just bring the water without the message, you just extend their physical life.  It’s not a matter of either-or with us.  It’s both – and in every case.  It’s not a choice… I don’t think that’s ever the option – the gospel or good works.  I don’t think we have to make that choice because God’s going to provide a way to bring the gospel when you engage people and meet their physical needs.

It’s hard to argue with a man who’s dedicated his life to ensuring access to safe drinking water for people around the world.  It’s even harder to do so from a country that uses hundreds of millions of gallons of safe drinking water to fill our swimming pools.  Interview after interview in the book comes to the same conclusion: There should be no division between evangelism and service.

During His ministry, Christ didn’t divide evangelism and service.  Neither should we.  Buckley and Dobson didn’t need to write a book to make this argument.  This isn’t an argument that needs winning; it’s an argument that needs living.  Being right isn’t enough.  We must, as Saint Paul exonerated the church at Ephesus, “walk in a manner worthy of our calling.”  As my priest, Father Matthew Weber says,

We cannot be whole Christians without both these things.  We cannot be whole human beings without both these things.

Followers of Christ brave enough to dive into the trenches of radical Christian service understand that truth.  Those of us who sit comfortably in the industrialized world continue to bicker.  We need to sacrifice our greed on the altar of grace, take up our cross and follow Him, proclaiming His name all the way.  We’ll then find then that there is no division between evangelism and service.  We’ll find there is only Christ.

Evangelical Or Reformed?

I consider myself an “evangelical” four days a week.  The other three, well, I’m not so sure.  This ambivalence toward the label seems to be part and parcel of being a Reformed (especially confessional) Christian in America today.  To be Reformed is necessarily to be suspicious of “those American evangelicals”, with their mega churches and praise bands.  The real issue, of course, is not the size of the church building or the type of music played within.  The real divide is theological.  The majority of Christians in American today who call themselves evangelicals do not hold to the major tenants of the Magesterial Reformation (Lutheran, Reformed, and Anglican).  This was not always so.

According to Mike Horton, in a recent article on the relationship between Reformed and evangelical Christians, “Luther’s followers first called themselves “evangelicals” (from “evangel,” meaning gospel), and the term became virtually identical with adherence to the key tenets of the magisterial Reformers, in distinction from Rome and Anabaptism.”  So the label “evangelical” was first coined by Lutherans, and for most of its subsequent history was almost synonymous with “Reformed.”  Moreover, according to Horton, it was these evangelical Lutheran, Reformed and Anglican churches that founded the modern missions movement and the World Council of Churches.  When these ecumenical organizations and many of the denominations represented by them began to stray from orthodoxy into liberalism, the label “evangelical” was used to describe doctrinal fidelity and rigorous orthodoxy.  “Evangelical”, “missional”, and “doctrinal” were all terms that went hand-in-hand.  Alas, this was a different time.

According to Horton, things began to change for the worse:

Somewhere along the way, however, the evangel became increasingly separated from evangelism; the message became subservient to the methods. Today, it is taken for granted by many that those most concerned about doctrine are least interested in reaching the lost (or, as they are now called, the “unchurched”). We are frequently challenged to choose between being traditional or missional, usually with little definition offered for either. Where the earlier evangelical consensus coalesced simultaneously around getting the gospel right and getting it out, increasingly today the coalition is defined by its style (“contemporary” versus “traditional”), its politics (“compassionate conservatism” or the more recent rediscovery of revivalism’s progressivist roots), and its “rock-star” leaders, than for its convictions about God, humanity, sin, salvation, the purpose of history, and the last judgment.

Horton traces one of the main causes for this change to the Second Great Awakening, and especially to one of its leading figures, Charles Finney.  The problem, he says, is that such “revivalist” movements and leaders essentially constituted America’s own Counter-Reformation.

Going beyond Rome’s Counter-Reformation in the direction of Pelagianism, Finney denied original sin, the substitutionary atonement, justification, and the supernatural character of the new birth; and he created a system of faith and practice tailor-made for a self-reliant nation.  Evangelicalism…was the engine for innovations. In doctrine, it served modernity’s preference for faith in human nature and progress. In worship, it transformed Word-and-sacrament ministry into entertainment and social reform, creating the first star-system in the culture of celebrity. In public life, it confused the Kingdom of Christ with the kingdoms of this world and imagined that Christ’s reign could be made visible by the moral, social, and political activity of the saints. There was little room for anything weighty to tie the movement down, to discipline its entrepreneurial celebrities, or to question its “revivals”…

Horton is quick to admit that this broad-stroked picture focuses only on the negative and ignores the positive, but he believes such a picture is necessary because, in his estimation, the average is still a “net loss.”  His solution (which I have expounded upon in much more detail here) is that we should treat “Evangelicalism” not as a substitute for the local church, adopting minimalist “Merely Christian” statements of faith, but rather as a kind of “village green”, where different robustly theological traditions (such as Lutheran, Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal, etc.) can all come together both for dialog and debate as well as joint projects (such as missions), without abandoning their very distinctive traditions.

In the coming weeks, I will be expounding upon some of the traditions of the Reformed wing of Evangelicalism (including that perennially touchy subject of Predestination).  My hope is not to distance Reformed theology from American evangelicalism nor to “take back” the label, but simply to demonstrate how one can be both deeply planted in a single tradition (and, moreover, taking the finer details of that tradition very seriously), without somehow ceasing to be evangelical.   In the meantime, I would like to hear readers’ thoughts on Horton’s proposed idea of looking at Evangelicalism as a “village green” (or Lewis’s “Mere Christianity”).  Is it a helpful solution?  Is it practical?  Let me know!

Anwar Ibrahim: Not the Bright Spot We’d Hoped For

As Israel struggles to defend itself, Islamist voices around the world still stridently condemn the Jewish state for stopping the flotilla bringing aid to Hamas. Shockingly, one of those voices is Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim — the former media darling and favorite of the foreign-policy teams of both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

In a remarkable development, B’nai B’rith International has urged the U.S. to end its relationship with Anwar, citing his “…anti-Jewish and anti-Israel slanders, such as his April 30 assertion that Israeli spies are ‘directly involved in the running of the government,’” and his active role in sparking the recent resurgence of anti-Semitic sentiments in Malaysian politics.  In a letter addressed to the State Department, the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations, and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the venerable organization argued that “[a] purveyor of anti-Jewish hatred such as Ibrahim should not enjoy the measure of legitimacy that a positive relationship with the United States would confer upon him.”

Statements like these are symptomatic of a larger resurgence of anti-Semitism in Malaysian politics—a resurgence that Anwar himself has helped spark.  While the current Malaysian leadership is eager to be counted among our Muslim-majority allies, Anwar and his party are another story.  Anwar, who was long mentored by the publicly anti-American anti-Semite Mahathir Mohammed, has continued Mahathir’s legacy despite having been disowned by him in the late 1990’s.  Anwar’s conspiracy-theory laden charges of Israel’s secret takeover of the Malaysian Police IT unit bear all the marks of Mahathir’s influence—and he isn’t stopping there.

At the “Justice and Peace for Gaza” roundtable in Malaysia on June 4th, Anwar continued his anti-Semitic verbal assaults by attacking an American public relations firm, previously hired for minor work by the Malaysian Prime Minister, as an agent of Jewish influence: the firm, Anwar said, is “able to influence the oldest Jewish body to attack me personally… and to ask [other] countries, mainly the United States, to consider me an enemy because I’m seen as an enemy of Israel.”  Anwar declared that he was being subjected to retribution for his previous statements before the Malaysian Parliament, in which he claimed that Jews were working to manipulate Malaysian policy for America’s benefit.

Purveyors of anti-Semitism are often dealers in anti-Americanism, and Anwar Ibrahim is no exception.  He went on to attack President Obama, telling some one hundred Malaysians at the roundtable, “Obama is weak. He only said that he ‘regretted’ the attack [on the Gaza flotilla] when we actually need action.” This theme of weakness in the face of alleged Jewish interests was a continuation of one Anwar advanced several weeks back, when he accused the Malaysian government of bending to Jewish pressure in participating in sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program.

Statements like this make it clear that in asking the U.S. government and policymakers to end their erstwhile cordial relationships with the Malaysian opposition leader, B’nai B’rith is doing us a significant favor. There is simply no place for American engagement with traffickers in anti-Semitism, for both moral and pragmatic reasons.  Withdrawing support from Anwar will not solve the problem of world-wide anti-Semitism, but it will help put America on the right side of the issue.  If American policy makers choose to distance themselves from Anwar and his anti-Jewish hate speech, perhaps they will also distance themselves from others whose foul rhetoric we have wrongfully ignored.

While Anwar has spent years polishing a genteel Western image, his conduct and associations in Malaysia prove that he is every bit the sort of anti-American radical the U.S. must avoid.  Anti-Semitic statements like the ones B’nai B’rith has condemned show that Anwar’s public stances on major issues like race and foreign policy vary wildly depending on his own political needs.  And, despite his recent acceptance at places like Johns Hopkins University, where he was invited to teach for a year in their School for Advanced International Studies, he is quick to link his own anti-Semitism with anti-Americanism.

When asked about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict he told CNN, “Stoking the flames of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism is a good distraction from the stench in their own backyard, namely rampant corruption, denial of basic human rights, abuse of power and the suppression of civil society.”

Most Americans failed to realize that he was describing this as a useful strategy, not condemning it.  We overlook it at our own peril, however, as our eager search for bright spots in a largely unwelcoming Islamic populace makes it all too easy for our policy makers to rest contented when they think they’ve found what they’re looking for.

The Obama administration will have to keep this in mind as it seeks to strengthen relations with the Islamic world in general and Malaysia in particular.  It’s not always easy to tell the difference between our friends and our enemies among the people of the Muslim faith, but in Anwar’s case the problems are clear to anyone willing to pay attention. ‘