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Christianity Today Europe Published Articles

Suing for Peace: Can Clerics Reconcile Armenia and Azerbaijan Better Than Courts?

Image: Courtesy of Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, Information Services
Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill I reads a joint statement flanked by Armenian Catholicos Karekin II (left) and Azerbaijan Grand Mufti of the Caucasus Allahshukur Pashazade (right) in Moscow on October 13.

After 17 tries, there is still no peace in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Almost a year ago, Russia brokered a November 2020 ceasefire to end the 44-day war between Azerbaijan and Armenia over the Caucasus mountain enclave. Azerbaijan reclaimed most of its internationally recognized territory occupied since 1994 by ethnic Armenians, who demand independence.

Armenia has been a Christian nation since A.D. 301. Azerbaijan is majority Muslim. But spiritual leaders have been no more successful than politicians or generals at securing reconciliation.

Yet that has not stopped Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill I from trying.

“Our religions have a unique peace-making potential,” he stated at last week’s tripartite summit of top clerical leaders. “No matter how difficult Armenian-Azerbaijani relations are at this stage, we believe that it is faith in God, and love, that can help heal the wounds.”

And they are many.

The post–Soviet Union conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh—called Artsakh by Armenians—killed 30,000 people and displaced 1 million. As Azerbaijan recaptured the territory—slightly larger than Rhode Island—last year, another 7,000 were killed. Mutual acrimony has characterized relations, with both sides accusing the other of destroying their religious heritage.

The first meeting of spiritual leaders was held in 1993. The 16th in 2017. Simply by bringing these leaders together…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on October 19, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Egypt’s President Promotes Religious Choice During Human Rights Rollout

Image: Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP / Getty Images
A neon sign portraying now President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (center) between Coptic Pope Tawadros II (left) and Grand Imam of al-Azhar Shiekh Ahmed el-Tayeb (right) during a rally in Cairo in May 2014.

Committing Egypt to a five-year program of human rights reform, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi did not mince words about religion.

“If someone tells me they are neither Muslim nor Christian nor a Jew, or that he or she does not believe in religion, I will tell them, ‘You are free to choose,’” he said. “But will a society that has been conditioned to think in a certain way for the last 90 years accept this?”

The comment sent shockwaves through Egyptian society.

“Listening to him, I thought he was so brave,” said Samira Luka, senior director for dialogue at the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services. “Sisi is fighting not only a culture, but a dogma.”

Last month, the government released its first-ever National Human Rights Strategy after studying the path of improvement in 30 other nations, including New Zealand, South Korea, and Finland. The head of the UN Human Rights Council praised the 70-page document as a “key tool” with “concrete steps.”

Egypt’s constitution guarantees freedom of belief and worship and gives international treaties such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the force of law. But Article 98 of the Middle Eastern nation’s penal code stipulates up to five years in prison for blasphemy and has been used against atheists and Christians alike.

Will Sisi’s words signal a change?

Since his election in 2014, Egypt’s head of state has consistently spoken about the need to “renew religious discourse,” issuing a challenge to Muslim clerics. And prior to the launch of the new strategy, his comments even hinted at a broader application than atheism.

“We are all born Muslims and non-Muslims by ID card and inheritance,” Sisi stated. “Have you ever thought of … searching for the path until you reach the truth?”

Egypt’s ID card indicates the religion of each citizen. It can be changed to state Muslim in the case of conversion, but cannot be changed to Christian. Prominent public figures have called to remove the label, and debate ensued at the new strategy’s launch. Some argue the ID’s religion field is used by prejudiced civil servants and private businesses to discriminate against the minority religion.

Sisi’s timeframe of “90 years” roughly corresponds to the 1928 founding of the Muslim Brotherhood. And Luka’s “dogma” indicates a widespread social acceptance of interpretations of Islam that privilege the religion’s place in law and culture.

According to a 2013 survey by the Pew Research Center, 88 percent of Egyptian Muslims believe converting away from Islam should be punishable by death.

Calling for the application of sharia law, the Brotherhood won Egypt’s presidency in 2012, only to be overthrown by then-defense minister Sisi the following year after massive popular demonstrations.

Since then, Egypt declared the group to be a terrorist organization, and has moved to eradicate their influence from public life. Thousands—including unaffiliated liberal activists—are in prison or self-imposed exile. Bahey Eldin Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), called Egypt’s human rights situation “catastrophic.”

Concerned, President Joe Biden withheld $130 million of $1.3 billion in yearly aid to Egypt last month, conditioning it on the release of human rights and civil society activists.

Three days earlier—on September 11—Sisi launched the new human rights strategy to a national television audience. In addition to his comments about religion, he declared 2022 to be the “year of civil society.”

But a new law passed this summer to regulate NGOs was largely panned by human rights advocates. And Hassan stated that the 9/11 timing indicated the document’s primary audience. So too did the fact that the drafting committee was headed by the foreign minister.

“Before it was circulated in Egypt,” he said, “the strategy was published on the webpage of the Egyptian embassy in DC.”

A week later, charges were dropped against four NGOs.

Egyptian Christians, however, are far less critical…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on October 18, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

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Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: Tayyouneh

God,

Have mercy on the dead—and mercy more for living.

The dead have faced their lot in life and now must face their judgment.

What awaits them? Your books say. In faith we trust your goodness.

But here in life we stand confused. We long, instead, for justice.

A cloud is hovering o’er our land; some add misinformation.

Accusations left and right. In faith, we trust our leaders.

And who can blame us? Who can bring the evidence untainted?

So much is left to fester, spoil. Questions asked, unanswered.

Why bring weapons to the street, intending only protest?

Why the summoned from one side, when years the nitrate idled?

Why reversal from the head of victims’ families’ spokesman?

Why the snipers—if there were—to escalate the tension?

But God the questions do not end. They go back years and decades.

Assassinations left and right. No faith, no trust, no closure.

Why must Lebanon suffer so? A land of brains and beauty.

Iran. Or Syria. America. France. Or entity of Zion.

Or maybe faults are all within. Corruption. Lies. Sect-centric.

Have we failed Beatitudes? Mercy. Meek. Peacemaking.

Let us be the pure in heart. They, you say, will see you.

And if we see you right and true, will we see Lebanon also?

Dispel this cloud and right the wrongs. Remove the scourge that plagues us.

It may be him. Or him. Or him. It is the sin within us.

But prune this cedar, cut the branch that rots and is not fruitful.

Your fire awaits—but not the root. Burn not the tree entire.

God, your mercy for the dead. Most act in faith, for principle.

But God, your mercy on us all. In sackcloth, and in ashes.

Amen.


To receive Lebanon Prayer by WhatsApp, please click this link to join the closed comments group.

Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.


Sometimes prayer can generate more prayer. While mine is for general principles, you may have very specific hopes for Lebanon. You are welcome to post these here as comments, that others might pray with you as you place your desires before God.

If you wish to share your own prayer, please adhere to the following guidelines:

1) The sincerest prayers are before God alone. Please consult with God before posting anything.

2) If a prayer of hope, strive to express a collective encouragement.

3) If a prayer of lament, strive to express a collective grief.

4) If a prayer of anger, refrain from criticizing specific people, parties, sects, or nations. While it may be appropriate, save these for your prayers alone before God.

5) In every prayer, do your best to include a blessing.

I will do my best to moderate accordingly. Thank you for praying for Lebanon and her people.

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Africa Christianity Today Published Articles

Vaccine Campaign at Zimbabwe Churches Praises What’s Done in Secret

Yvonne Binda stands in front of the congregation, all dressed in pristine white robes, and tells them not to believe what they’ve heard about COVID-19 vaccines.

“The vaccine is not linked to Satanism,” she says. The worshipers, members of a Christian Apostolic church in Zimbabwe, are unmoved. But when Binda, a vaccine campaigner and member of an Apostolic church herself, promises them soap, buckets, and masks, there are enthusiastic shouts of “Amen!”

Apostolic groups that infuse traditional beliefs into Pentecostal doctrine are among the most skeptical in the southern African nation when it comes to COVID-19 vaccines, with an already strong mistrust of modern medicine. Many followers put faith in prayer, holy water, and anointed stones to ward off disease or cure illnesses…

Integrated into the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHCD) in 1993, the Apostolic churches cooperate alongside the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ), the mainline Zimbabwe Council of Churches, and the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference.

“God has given us science and intelligence, in addition to divine intervention in healing,” EFZ president Never Muparutsa told CT. “People must not shun vaccines based on 666-style conspiracy theories.”

Binda is one of nearly 1,000 members of various religious groups recruited by the Zimbabwean government and UNICEF to try gently changing attitudes toward vaccines from within their own churches.

Muparutsa, however, is hesitant about this approach.

As vice president of the ZHCD, he estimates 30–40 percent of evangelical and mainline Christians are “skeptical” about the vaccine, and told CT it is not his place to take sides. He “encourages” Zimbabweans to do as he and his family have done—but will not “promote.”

“That sounds like marketing,” he said. “I do not preach about vaccines; I preach about Jesus.”

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on October 15, 2021. I contributed additional reporting. Please click here to read the full text.

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Americas Christianity Today Published Articles

Pew: US, France, and Korea Are Most Divided—Especially over Religion

Image: Illustration by Christianity Today / Source Images: Saul Martinez / Stringer / Brandon Bell / Mohamed Rasik / Getty Images

“Conflict” is a troublesome word to describe a society. But increasingly across advanced global economies—and particularly the United States—their societies believe it is the correct label.

If there is any good news, religious conflict lags behind.

The Pew Research Center surveyed almost 19,000 people in 17 North American, European, and Asia-Pacific nations this past spring about their perception of conflict across four categories: between political parties, between different races and ethnicities, between different religions, and between urban and rural communities.

The US ranked top or high in each.

A global median of 50 percent see political conflict, 48 percent see racial conflict, 36 percent see religious conflict, and 23 percent see urban-rural conflict.

But in the US, 9 in 10 viewed political conflict as “serious” or “very serious.”

Asian nations varied considerably. South Korea matched the US at 90 percent seeing serious political polarization, with Taiwan third at 69 percent. Singapore was lowest overall at 33 percent, while Japan was 39 percent.

France (65%), Italy (64%), Spain (58%), and Germany (56%) followed Taiwan.

In terms of race, the US ranked first again, with 71 percent seeing serious conflict. France was second at 64 percent, and South Korea and Italy third at 57 percent. Singapore again ranked lowest, at 25 percent.

South Korea had the highest perception of religious conflict, at 61 percent. France followed at 56 percent, and the US at 49 percent. Germany and Belgium registered 46 percent each. Taiwan was lowest, at 12 percent.

Nearly 1 in 4 French (23%) saw religious conflict as “very serious.”

Age plays a role in perception. Pew noted that adults under 30 are significantly more likely than those ages 65 and older to see strong religious divisions in Greece (60% vs. 24%), Belgium (62% vs. 38%), Japan (42% vs. 22%), Italy (49% vs. 30%), the US (58% vs. 42%), Spain (24% vs. 10%), and Taiwan (17% vs. 7%).

Conversely, Canadians under 30 are significantly more likely than Canadians ages 65 and older to say there is no strong religious conflict (78% vs. 65%). Religious diversity, however…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on October 13, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

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Africa Christianity Today Published Articles

Christians Welcome Coup in Guinea

Image: John Wessels / Getty Images
Guinean religious leaders gather at the Peoples Palace in Conakry ahead of the first session of talks with Colonel Mamady Doumbouya on September 14, 2021.

In its 63 years of independence, Guinea has had three presidents. Last month, the West African nation suffered its third coup d’etat.

This time, says the local Christian minority, their Francophone country might just get it right.

“Alpha Conde cannot return,” said Etienne Leno, a Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) pastor. “We are praying that the new military authorities—who we find to be wise and intelligent—will be led by God.”

On September 5, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, head of the Guinean special forces, ousted the 83-year-old president. Once an imprisoned opposition leader, Conde became the nation’s first democratically elected head of state in 2010 and won a second term in 2015.

Leno originally found much hope in Conde’s mandate, which was ushered in after the international community aided domestic forces to remove the military junta that violently seized power in 2008. Conde improved the business, tourism, and energy sectors, restoring Guinea’s global reputation.

Local infrastructure was neglected, however, and the Oregon-sized nation lagged in domestic development. One-third of the economy was linked to the mining of bauxite, the primary resource for aluminum. Guinea boasts the world’s largest reserves, but foreign companies dominate the extraction.

Despite 7 percent annual growth, nearly 50 percent of the 13 million population lived in poverty. And by late 2019, 36 percent of the country believed Guinea was moving in the wrong direction.

And then Conde made his power grab. He pushed through a March 2020 referendum for constitutional changes to reset his term limits and in October won reelection again. Both votes were challenged by violently suppressed protests.

Almost a year later, Doumbouya had had enough.

He promised no political witch hunt as he “made love to Guinea,” but it was nonetheless clear that opposition would not be tolerated. As the colonel—sworn in on October 1 as Guinea’s interim president—assembled a national dialogue, protests in support filled the streets and Christians noted the surprising calm.

Five days after the coup, the Association of Evangelical Churches and Missions of Guinea (AEMEG)—affiliated with the World Evangelical Alliance—issued a televised statement recognizing the new authorities. Catholic and Muslim groups made similar announcements. “Relations are good in general,” Leno told CT. “Our message is…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on October 13, 2021. Please click here for the original text.

Categories
Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: Pandora, Proper

God,

Everything is legal, and yet so much is wrong.

God your will gets buried in the ethics of our world.

Money making money, much sheltered then offshore.

Your blessing—yes—but where the tax with which to bless the poor?

Nix subsidies and welfare. The state needs revenue.

Power plants run empty as the grid produces nil.

Still the courts are working, with orders to suspend.

Or then to start, yet file again—but justice to evade?

Prime minister signs papers, immunity to lift.

Then speaks as well of special court that never saw a trial.

Relations now with Syria—ten years of civil war.

Lebanon was squeezed, must breathe, communicate with neighbor.

Iran then came to visit, pledged aid it does not have.

At least not yet, a deal may come, the region is preparing.

But IMF stands ready, the government engaged.

No pledge; instead, must implement a long list of reforms.

Who can stand and argue? For Lebanon is stuck.

All this, oh God: We hang our heads with but ourselves to blame.

We could adopt a theory, with partisan insight.

The other side just beats it down, yet then offers its own.

Is it only interests? The strong suppress the weak?

Maybe yes, and then they cloak their power in right and good.

Where then is salvation? Oh God, what do you want?

None of us can see a path that fixes every fault.

God, your kingdom coming. It’s here, but still, not yet.

Help us each in our small strength to curb systemic vice.

Pray for every leader. Call out every sin.

Our cause without you God is hopeless. Of Lebanon, redeem!

Amen.


To receive Lebanon Prayer by WhatsApp, please click this link to join the closed comments group.

Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.


Sometimes prayer can generate more prayer. While mine is for general principles, you may have very specific hopes for Lebanon. You are welcome to post these here as comments, that others might pray with you as you place your desires before God.

If you wish to share your own prayer, please adhere to the following guidelines:

1) The sincerest prayers are before God alone. Please consult with God before posting anything.

2) If a prayer of hope, strive to express a collective encouragement.

3) If a prayer of lament, strive to express a collective grief.

4) If a prayer of anger, refrain from criticizing specific people, parties, sects, or nations. While it may be appropriate, save these for your prayers alone before God.

5) In every prayer, do your best to include a blessing.

I will do my best to moderate accordingly. Thank you for praying for Lebanon and her people.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Good News for Iraq’s Christians: More Autonomy, Less Dhimmitude

Image: Courtesy of Archbishop Bashar Warda
Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Bashar Warda stands in front of the Catholic University of Erbil, located in the Iraqi Kurdistan capital city’s Ankawa district.

This week, the Christian enclave of Ankawa in Erbil, the capital city of Iraqi Kurdistan, was designated by the autonomous region’s prime minister as an official district, giving believers there administrative autonomy starting next week.

They will directly elect their own mayor, and have charge of security.

Prime Minister Masrour Barzani called Ankawa a home for “religious and social coexistence, and a place for peace.”

Archbishop Bashar Warda, the Chaldean Catholic archbishop of Erbil, called it an “important” and “strategic” decision.

“Our confidence in the future of Kurdistan makes us encourage Christians not only to stay,” he said, “but also to invest in this region.”

Ordained a priest in 1993, Warda was consecrated in his current position in 2010. With Iraq’s hemorrhaging of Christians since the 2003 US invasion, Warda’s bishopric in the autonomous Kurdish region soon became a providential band-aid.

Beginning in 2014, ISIS drove Christians from Mosul and their traditional homeland in the Nineveh Plains, and thousands took refuge in Erbil and other cities in the secure northeast. From 1.5 million Christians in 2003, the Chaldean Catholic church now estimates a population of fewer than 275,000 Christians.

Warda has long been investing to turn the tide.

In 2015, he established the Catholic University of Erbil, and has coordinated relief aid from governments and charities alike. The situation stabilized following ISIS’s defeat in 2017.

But freedom does not come from politics alone. Two years ago, Christians endorsed widespread popular uprisings against the political class. Violently suppressed, the movement’s main celebrated achievement was early elections under a new law designed to promote better local and small-party representation.

Polls open on October 10, and a quota gives Christians five of 329 seats in parliament. However, Warda’s Baghdad-based patriarch has called for a Christian boycott, fearing fraud.

Warda wants a Christian revival. Buoyed by the March visit of Pope Francis, he believes that ISIS broke the fundamental religious and cultural underpinnings of Islamic superiority. Christians no longer are seen as second-class citizens.

In an interview on the sidelines of the IRF Summit convened in Washington in July, Warda told CT about his welcome of missionaries, the Catholic way of witnessing to Muslims, and whether a revived Christian influence in Iraq will lead to future church growth.

Since the defeat of ISIS in Iraq, what challenge has been hardest for the church?

With all the displaced people, images of scattered tents immediately come to mind. But the hard part is not to provide them with food, sanitation, or medical supplies. This is not easy, but it is obvious.

The hard part is to restore their dignity. They understand that ISIS is a criminal gang. And they can bear the wounds of the innocent, knowing they had nothing to do with this dispute.

But their question is “Why?” yet also “What now?”

Men are the providers for the family. Sitting around doing nothing, they tell me, “Bishop, we don’t want money; we want a job. I want to deserve my food.”

Suppose there is aid sufficient to rebuild homes, churches, and schools and even to provide jobs. You have said that this is not enough. It does not establish the basis of citizenship and pluralism.

That is true. But without homes, churches, schools, and jobs, the people will leave the country. And then there are no citizens left.

With a rebuilt community, you can go to the government to speak about the constitution, defending the people’s full rights under the law. There is a link. First have the community; then talk about implementing ideals.

Before ISIS, when the community was stable, were you able to seek your rights?

For 1,400 years there was a sort of social contract: Islam is the religion of the nation, and you are the People of the Book. But know that Islam is the honorable religion of God, which means you are second. In the Quran it says…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on August 8, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: Dawdle or Resolve?

God,

There is desperation. A man from fuel has died.

To siphon gas from tank to tank he erred and swallowed much.

But what if he just waited? This week the lines are gone.

The price too high for most to have, at least the petrol flows.

But this belies the problem. He lived from hand to mouth.

How can one wait and thus not eat while “process” takes its time?

Success depends on order. And order on a plan.

Perhaps it comes together, slowly, linking state to state.

From Jordan to Damascus: An expedited hope.

The electricity will come, and pipelines getting fixed.

An IMF team forming.  Soon audit central bank.

Then experts backed by parties can perhaps bailout secure.

For time is of the essence. A year-plus gone to waste.

Was it all deliberate, casting doubt on all work now?

The port probe is suspended. And angry families fume.

A plan and process—incomplete—if justice brushed aside.

Transparency is needed. Accountability.

God, let the order forming now reflect the right and good.

Do they all just dawdle? Or is resolve sincere?

God, our prayers are with them—and above them, seeking more.

Empower them in service. Secure funds with reform.

The leader is essential, but the system sets the rules.

Replace them if found faulty. Repentance does the same.

It’s not the man, but character, that counts in your design.

But help it happen quickly. And deeply, to be real.

God, how Lebanon needs your help. Transform us. Save us. Heal.

Amen.


To receive Lebanon Prayer by WhatsApp, please click this link to join the closed comments group.

Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.


Sometimes prayer can generate more prayer. While mine is for general principles, you may have very specific hopes for Lebanon. You are welcome to post these here as comments, that others might pray with you as you place your desires before God.

If you wish to share your own prayer, please adhere to the following guidelines:

1) The sincerest prayers are before God alone. Please consult with God before posting anything.

2) If a prayer of hope, strive to express a collective encouragement.

3) If a prayer of lament, strive to express a collective grief.

4) If a prayer of anger, refrain from criticizing specific people, parties, sects, or nations. While it may be appropriate, save these for your prayers alone before God.

5) In every prayer, do your best to include a blessing.

I will do my best to moderate accordingly. Thank you for praying for Lebanon and her people.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

How a Jewish Evangelical Won Trust with Arab Muslim Leaders

Image: Courtesy of Joel Rosenberg
Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman (right) greets Joel C. Rosenberg at the Royal Court in Jeddah on September 10, 2019.

Fans of Joel Rosenberg’s Middle East apocalyptic fiction can now read his real-time account of real-world peace.

Through behind-the-scenes meetings with kings, princes, and presidents, the Jewish evangelical and New York Times bestselling author had an inside scoop on the Abraham Accords.

For two years, he sat on it.

His new nonfiction book, Enemies and Allies: An Unforgettable Journey inside the Fast-Moving & Immensely Turbulent Modern Middle East, released one year after the signing of the normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), finally tells the story.

During an evangelical delegation of dialogue to the Gulf nation in 2018, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ), told Rosenberg of his groundbreaking and controversial plans—and trusted the author to keep the secret.

Named after the biblical patriarch, the accords were Israel’s first peace deal in 20 years. In the five months that followed, similar agreements were signed with Bahrain, Sudan, Kosovo, and Morocco.

Might Saudi Arabia be next? Mohammed bin Salman’s (MBS) comments to Rosenberg remain off the record. But asked if his reforms might include building the kingdom’s first church, the crown prince described where religious freedom falls in his order of priorities.

Enemies and Allies provides never-before-published accounts of Rosenberg’s interactions with these leaders, in addition to Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah. Included also are exchanges with former president Donald Trump and vice president Mike Pence.

CT interviewed Rosenberg about navigating politics and praying in palaces and about whether he would be willing to lead similar evangelical delegations to Turkey or Iran:

You describe your relationships, especially with the UAE’s MBZ, as ones of “trust.” How did you nurture that? Did you sense it was different than their official diplomatic connections?

I’m not sure I have a good answer for that. Why would Arab Muslim leaders trust a Jewish evangelical US-Israeli citizen?

In the case of King Abdullah, he had read my novel and decided to invite me to his palace rather than ban me from his kingdom forever. The book was about ISIS trying to kill him and blow up his palace. In our first meeting, we spent five days together, and it was not on the record. We were building trust.

I didn’t have that with any of the others. In every case, we were invited rather than us going and knocking on the door. With the case of [MBZ], his ambassador Yousef Al Oteiba had seen the coverage of our Egypt and Jordan trips. He has very good relations with these countries and was able to get the backstory, asking, “Who is this guy Rosenberg? How did it go? Should we do the same?”

I think it has much more to do with being a follower of Jesus Christ. They didn’t know me, but they seemed to trust that followers of Christ who call themselves evangelicals would be trustworthy. That we are genuinely interested in peace, in security in the region, and in a US alliance with the Arab world. And in terms of the expansion of religious freedom, all of them wanted to talk about these things.

They were making a bet that the evangelical community in the United States, while being deeply—though not uniformly—pro-Israel, still has a deep interest in peace and assessing their countries and their reforms fairly. It was the sincerity of our faith that led to trust.

But you still had to nurture trust. How?

I’m sure they vetted me, and in reading my work, they saw I have a deep respect for Muslims. I’m not infected with Islamophobia. I’ve traveled from Morocco to Afghanistan. And I’ve done what I can to strengthen Christian communities in the Arab and Muslim worlds. I’m not your classic…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on October 1, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

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Christianity Today Persecution Published Articles Religious Freedom

Pew: Religious Terrorism at Record Low, Government Persecution at Record High

Image: Carl Court / Getty Images
A man cries as he prays in the street near St. Anthony’s Shrine one week on from Easter terrorism attacks that killed more than 250 people, on April 28, 2019 in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Government restrictions on religion are at a global high.

Social hostility toward religion, however, is at its lowest level worldwide since ISIS.

So says data analyzed by the Pew Research Center in its 12th annual measurement of the extent to which 198 nations and territories—and their citizens—impinge on religious belief and practice.

The 2021 report, released today, draws primarily from more than a dozen UN, US, European, and civil society sources, and reflects pre-pandemic conditions from 2019, the latest year with available data.

Matching a peak from 2012, 57 nations (29%) record “very high” or “high” levels of government restrictions—an uptick of one nation from 2018. The global median on Pew’s 10-point scale held steady at 2.9, after a steady rise since the baseline of 1.8 in 2007, the report’s first year measured.

Regional differences are apparent: The Middle East and North Africa scored 6.0; Asia-Pacific scored 4.1; Europe scored 2.9; Sub-Saharan Africa scored 2.6; and the Americas scored 2.0.

But across the globe, restrictions are present.

Most common, according to Pew, is “government harassment of religious groups.” More than 9 in 10 nations (180 total) tallied at least one incident. Also common is “government interference in worship.” More than 8 in 10 nations (163 total) recorded incidents.

And nearly half (48%) of all nations used force against religious groups. China, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), Sudan, and Syria tallied over 10,000 incidents each. For example, Pew noted…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on September 30, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: Lukewarm Lull

God,

Within the lull, bless Lebanon.

Waiting for subsequent steps.

Will new leadership deliver?

What crisis will come next?

France promised to stand with the nation.

The prime minister promised reforms.

Officials have threatened the port probe.

New nitrates have threatened the peace.

Skilled resources are leaving.

While donated fuel arrives.

Is the expat disenfranchised,

With vote rescheduled March?

Only you, God, see clearly the future.

Only you, God, know what must take place.

 Join somehow your mercy and justice.

Uproot, plant again, harvest well.

Stability you do not promise.

The lukewarm you threaten to spit.

Make cold in godly mourning.

Make hot for hungered good.

Our incomes destroyed by the world’s worst inflation.

Our dignity crushed as we wait for our gas.

God, solve these problems of finance and transport.

Expose every criminal who manipulates well.

Keep us secure in your favor.

Humiliate not your beloved.

But humble us truly. Our nation

Might then rise again. May it be.

Amen.


To receive Lebanon Prayer by WhatsApp, please click this link to join the closed comments group.

Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.


Sometimes prayer can generate more prayer. While mine is for general principles, you may have very specific hopes for Lebanon. You are welcome to post these here as comments, that others might pray with you as you place your desires before God.

If you wish to share your own prayer, please adhere to the following guidelines:

1) The sincerest prayers are before God alone. Please consult with God before posting anything.

2) If a prayer of hope, strive to express a collective encouragement.

3) If a prayer of lament, strive to express a collective grief.

4) If a prayer of anger, refrain from criticizing specific people, parties, sects, or nations. While it may be appropriate, save these for your prayers alone before God.

5) In every prayer, do your best to include a blessing.

I will do my best to moderate accordingly. Thank you for praying for Lebanon and her people.

Categories
Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Moroccan Christians Welcome End of a Decade of Islamist Government

Man walking past voting wall, Marrakesh, Morocco

For the first time in his life, Rachid Imounan cast a vote—and overturned Morocco’s Islamist-oriented government.

He is not alone.

Turnout surged to 50 percent as liberals routed the Justice and Development Party (PJD), which led the North African nation’s parliament the past 10 years. Its share of the 395-seat legislature dropped from 125 to 13.

The PJD finished eighth overall.

“We thank Jesus, the Islamists are gone,” said Imounan, a church planter who lives in the southern city of Agadir. “God answered our prayers, and now we have the government we wanted.”

Aziz Akhannouch of the National Rally of Independents (RNI) was sworn in as prime minister by King Mohamed VI on September 11, after his party captured 102 seats. He is tasked with forming a coalition government to guide Morocco through its current economic downturn.

A constitutional monarchy, Morocco has held multi-party elections since its independence in 1956. But to stave off protests during the Arab Spring, in 2011 the king instituted reforms and transferred significant power to the prime minister.

Mohamed VI retains final say over several government positions, however, and is revered as “Commander of the Faithful” as a direct descendant of Islam’s founding prophet Mohammed.

Christians described “liberal” parties as those that favor freedom—excepting challenges toward the person and position of the king, whose authority is respected by all political entities. Islamists, meanwhile, wished to impose sharia law, cover women, and remove pork and alcohol from neighborhood supermarkets.

“Akhannouch is a businessman. Whether you worship the sun or the moon, he doesn’t care,” said Youssef Ahmed, one of Morocco’s few second-generation Christians.

“He won’t persecute anyone.” Open Doors ranks Morocco…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on September 21, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: Whither Authority

God,

He had to say something, he’s the person in charge.

He thus shrugged his shoulders and said that he’s sad.

The fuel violates sovereignty, it came from Iran.

But no sanctions please as we didn’t arrange.

Could he have done something? At the border refuse?

But then suffer the optics with cars in long lines?

Adding three days of gasoline, it claims to break siege.

At least it is something as few else will help.

He then raised the prices; the subsidy shrinks.

But did he even do it or someone somewhere?

A policy statement, the details vague.

Tough issues shelved until when? We don’t know.

An IMF loan bid. Two power plants or three?

A year of reforms, the strong president vows.

The central bank audit, it then will extend

To all other ministries—corruption rots.

The country moves forward, the steps taken are good.

But all the same measures discussed long ago.

While subpoenaed ministers failed to arrive

At their court summoned hearings. Illegal, they say.

God, thank you for government—a responsible start.

Now give them the courage to govern in fact.

Take decisions unpopular—if they are right.

And find the consensus to drive through reforms.

Some say they’re all criminals, and maybe some are.

God, we want justice to jolt Lebanon.

But with none of us angels, we all must repent.

Let me list my own among sins of this land.

We have to pray something, what else can we do?

We’re tired and we’re anguished. But you’ve put us in charge.

You’ve given authority, it came from your son.

Now help us to use it—the heavens arrange.

We fight against darkness, in the spiritual realm.

We rebuke the spirits of greed, fraud, and lies.

They surround our leaders, who thus need our prayers.

God, heal our country, drive us to our knees.

Amen.


To receive Lebanon Prayer by WhatsApp, please click this link to join the closed comments group.

Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.


Sometimes prayer can generate more prayer. While mine is for general principles, you may have very specific hopes for Lebanon. You are welcome to post these here as comments, that others might pray with you as you place your desires before God.

If you wish to share your own prayer, please adhere to the following guidelines:

1) The sincerest prayers are before God alone. Please consult with God before posting anything.

2) If a prayer of hope, strive to express a collective encouragement.

3) If a prayer of lament, strive to express a collective grief.

4) If a prayer of anger, refrain from criticizing specific people, parties, sects, or nations. While it may be appropriate, save these for your prayers alone before God.

5) In every prayer, do your best to include a blessing.

I will do my best to moderate accordingly. Thank you for praying for Lebanon and her people.

Categories
Christianity Today Europe Published Articles

Evangelicals Endorse Unprecedented Ecumenical Plea for the Environment

(TIZIANA FABI/AFP via Getty Images)

In their first joint statement ever, the spiritual leaders of Christianity’s three largest denominations addressed the United Nations.

“Listen to the cry of the earth, pledging meaningful sacrifices,” stated their appeal. “We must decide what kind of world we want to leave to future generations.”

Pope Francis of the Roman Catholic Church; Bartholomew I, ecumenical patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church; and Justin Welby, the evangelical Anglican archbishop of Canterbury, issued their plea this month to delegates attending next month’s UN climate summit in Scotland.

Noting that life on “the earth which God has given” has become an “urgent matter of survival,” the three leaders framed inaction as a severe injustice.

“The people bearing the most catastrophic consequences of these abuses are the poorest on the planet,” they stated, “and have been the least responsible for causing them.”

The Lausanne/World Evangelical Alliance Creation Care Network (LWCCN) “wholeheartedly endorsed” the statement.

“The environmental crisis represents the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced,” said Ed Brown, LWCCN co-catalyst for creation care, “and is a monumental failure to obey the clear command of Scripture to care for God’s creation.”

Francis, Bartholomew, and Welby urged corporations to seek “people-centered profits.” They called on nations to “stop competing for resources, and start collaborating.” But they also called on Christians to pray, celebrating…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today, on September 16, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: Govern with Tears

God,

The prayer is simple: Help the government to work.

Whatever broke the impasse now decisions can be made.

So many still are skeptical.

The problems still so large.

But hope must come from somewhere while the people wait and see.

God, we ask their blessing: Discernment, wisdom, strength.

Some are hailed as capable though party links are clear.

No politics in cabinet,

Said its head. With tears

He pledged his utmost effort for the mothers, children, poor.

God, use well his millions. And too the widow’s mite.

Talents spent on your behalf can reap a hundredfold.

Many have been hoarding.

But many more have shared.

Now bless these hidden helpers who keep Lebanon afloat.

God, we seek your rescue. And justice to protect

The least of these from most of them whose welfare they devoured.

True, not all are guilty.

But each one blames the rest.

Accountability must reign if Lebanon is to heal.

God, bring down the prideful. The humble, elevate.

May this long-awaited government pursue your holy will.

Reforms must be forthcoming.

Each sect must serve the whole.

You have formed this cabinet; to fix things, or to judge?

God, we give them to you. Our hope, for you reserved.

Forgive their sins and cleanse their hearts so that their plans succeed.

My conscience, too, is guilty.

I share my nation’s faults.

Lift us up out of this pit—redeem me, them, and all.

Amen.


To receive Lebanon Prayer by WhatsApp, please click this link to join the closed comments group.

Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.


Sometimes prayer can generate more prayer. While mine is for general principles, you may have very specific hopes for Lebanon. You are welcome to post these here as comments, that others might pray with you as you place your desires before God.

If you wish to share your own prayer, please adhere to the following guidelines:

1) The sincerest prayers are before God alone. Please consult with God before posting anything.

2) If a prayer of hope, strive to express a collective encouragement.

3) If a prayer of lament, strive to express a collective grief.

4) If a prayer of anger, refrain from criticizing specific people, parties, sects, or nations. While it may be appropriate, save these for your prayers alone before God.

5) In every prayer, do your best to include a blessing.

I will do my best to moderate accordingly. Thank you for praying for Lebanon and her people.

Categories
Americas Christianity Today Middle East Published Articles

Crusaders No More: What Arab Christians and Muslims Think of Mascot Changes

Image: Illustration by Mallory Rentsch / Source Images: Courtesy of Valparaiso University / Subjug / Getty Images

Nestled in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, Evangel University will no longer evoke the Middle East—or the Middle Ages.

Since 1955, the flagship Assemblies of God institution has cheered on its Crusaders, replete with helmeted knight and steed.

This semester, the university will soon announce its new mascot after considering almost 300 submitted suggestions—including 77 animal names, 69 military names, and 38 biblical names. The change was made in light of the school’s 55,000 alumni serving internationally.

“The world has changed significantly since the 1950s, when the Evangel community, intending to depict strength, honor, and commitment to the faith, first identified a Crusader as the school’s mascot,” stated interim president George O. Wood in March, when the decision was made to drop the name.

“Today, we recognize that the Crusader often inhibits the ability of students and alumni to proudly represent the university in their areas of global work and ministry.”

For some alumni, the change is a long time coming. The review process first began in 2007.

“When you want to share the love of Christ, you don’t want to identify with something that shuts down conversation,” said Emily Greene, class of 2008. “It is the equivalent of saying ‘jihadist’ to a US Christian, evoking a cruel persona.” Greene grew up as a history-loving missionary kid in Muslim-majority Kazakhstan. But her father…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on September 9, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: Syria Intertwined

God,

Prayers are said for gasoline, as people wait in line.

Naught to do but ask your help in hope it will remain.

And prayers are said for Shiite sheikh, as people mourn his death.

Tributes came from every sect, remembering his cause.

But do these prayers all miss the mark? Do they reveal a focus on

The nation as deciding force? On Lebanon, strong and sovereign?

God, we pray that this might be, for agency and power.

Yet Syria—torn by civil war—is still the land of reckoning.

The novel solution proposed by the States would power Beirut via Cairo-Amman.

But to work it needs sign-off, Damascus to say: Yes and you’re welcome, we’re back in the fold.

And even Resistance will flow from the north, as oil imported from Tehran docks there.

Avoiding the sanctions it’s loaded on trucks, to then cross the border—a smuggling in reverse?

God, why must work-around characterize our land?

God, can we not solve our problems ourselves?

Ever so clever, dodge this way and that—as names and portfolios circle and fall.

Ever the posture in cabinet formation: To squeeze a concession while all around burns.

God, forgive us.

God, rebuke.

God, empower us.

God, inspire.

What can we pray we have not asked already? God, we are tired. We are weary, depressed.

We need you to lift up our spirits and heal us. We need a reminder your justice will come.

Until then give us patience in every gas station. May prayers be exchanged, not gunfire or fists.

And honor the efforts of every true cleric, aiming to serve you through country and sect.

God, maybe Syria intertwines with our nation.

Let these prayers—centered here—bless us both, and beyond.

Amen.


To receive Lebanon Prayer by WhatsApp, please click this link to join the closed comments group.

Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.


Sometimes prayer can generate more prayer. While mine is for general principles, you may have very specific hopes for Lebanon. You are welcome to post these here as comments, that others might pray with you as you place your desires before God.

If you wish to share your own prayer, please adhere to the following guidelines:

1) The sincerest prayers are before God alone. Please consult with God before posting anything.

2) If a prayer of hope, strive to express a collective encouragement.

3) If a prayer of lament, strive to express a collective grief.

4) If a prayer of anger, refrain from criticizing specific people, parties, sects, or nations. While it may be appropriate, save these for your prayers alone before God.

5) In every prayer, do your best to include a blessing.

I will do my best to moderate accordingly. Thank you for praying for Lebanon and her people.

Categories
Asia Christianity Today Published Articles

Dari TV Host: Afghanistan Will Now See ‘Pure Christianity’

Shoaib Ebadi

Afghanistan and its neighbor Iran share the Persian language. Now that the Taliban will rule from Kabul again, might the countries begin to also share a spiritual trajectory?

In 1979, the shah of Iran was overthrown in an Islamic revolution. The crackdown that followed ended the Western Christian presence in the nation. Yet today the Iranian church is one of the fastest-growing in the world, as the ruthlessness of the mullahs led many to sour on Islam and some to find new faith in Jesus.

Satellite TV ministry played a great role in spreading the gospel in Iran, and continues today across the border in Afghanistan. Christian ministry SAT-7 began broadcasting in 2002 in Farsi, the Persian dialect spoken in Iran, and in 2010 Shoaib Ebadi began its first prerecorded programming in Dari, the Persian dialect spoken in Afghanistan. His show Secrets of Life went live in 2014, and today is accessible across the whole nation.

The 55-year-old Ebadi was born in Afghanistan but became a Christian in 1999 as a refugee in Pakistan. The following year he emigrated to Canada, and today heads Square One World Media, producing Christian media in various languages around the world.

He told CT about the history of the Afghan church, the impact of the US military upon it, and his hope that “pure Christianity” might now gain a hearing in his homeland.

Some statistics put the number of Christians in Afghanistan at 8,000. Can you give us a brief history of the church?

There was a Protestant church building constructed in 1970 in Kabul during the time of the shah, but it was destroyed when the monarchy was overthrown in 1973. The Catholics had a church in the Italian embassy since 1933. But these churches were only for foreign nationals, not Afghans.

There were a handful of believers in the 1950s, as American professionals came to Afghanistan and opened an eye hospital and a technical college. Later on, in the 1990s, tentmaker missionaries came as English teachers and NGO workers. And I was in a fellowship of about 30–40 Afghan believers in Pakistan. Most eventually went to the West.

These are probably the first Afghans to know Christ in the modern era, but God only knows.

So how did the Afghan church develop after the Americans came in 2001?

Some of the believers from Pakistan, as well as other refugees who fled to Iran, went back to Afghanistan after…

This article was originally published at Christianity Today on August 30, 2021. Please click here to read the full text.

Categories
Prayers

Lebanon Prayer: Eight Per Day

God,

No progress still on cabinet.

Not smiling face, not bearded one.

No progress still on Beirut port.

The probe on hold, as leaders balk.

But who can attend to these files of note—

Essentials of governance, justice, for all—

While sitting in gas lines or home in the dark?

Or worse yet a victim of crime on the rise.

Gunshots at stations.

Fuel tankers seized.

Gangs mark their area.

Eight incidents a day.

God, how long can this go on?

October, if the subsidies lift?

But then the price just bankrupts more.

The middle class is pummeled whole.

Worse off are the very poor

Whose numbers only ever rise.

Where is the promised ration card?

Was nearly ready, weeks ago.

At least the dollar help will come,

Though that took months to make agree.

But who will get it, when, and how?

No cabinet, no justice. Why?

God, you know.

And God, you cry.

Is it a weeping with shoulders bent inward?

Collapsed in despair and unable to act?

What can you do when the men you appointed

Instead rob the vineyard and beat those you send?

Or is your response a loud outcry of anger?

Stirred to your core you will rise up and raze

Every last vestige of Lebanon. Death.

But one last ditch effort:

Send first your son.

Who will it be, God?

They killed the son—it brought salvation.

And then your wrath was rightly poured

Only on those who truly deserved it

While others found refuge confessing their sin.

But who among all Lebanon’s faithful children

Might come forward to lead something new, something true?

Perhaps to be beaten.

Perhaps to succeed.

But call them forth, God.

Save the vineyard.

Renew.

Amen.


To receive Lebanon Prayer by WhatsApp, please click this link to join the closed comments group.

Lebanon Prayer places before God the major events of the previous week, asking his favor for the nation living through them.

It seeks for values common to all, however differently some might apply them. It honors all who strive on her behalf, however suspect some may find them.

It offers no solutions, but desires peace, justice, and reconciliation. It favors no party, but seeks transparency, consensus, and national sovereignty.

How God sorts these out is his business. Consider joining in prayer that God will bless the people and establish his principles, from which all our approximations derive.


Sometimes prayer can generate more prayer. While mine is for general principles, you may have very specific hopes for Lebanon. You are welcome to post these here as comments, that others might pray with you as you place your desires before God.

If you wish to share your own prayer, please adhere to the following guidelines:

1) The sincerest prayers are before God alone. Please consult with God before posting anything.

2) If a prayer of hope, strive to express a collective encouragement.

3) If a prayer of lament, strive to express a collective grief.

4) If a prayer of anger, refrain from criticizing specific people, parties, sects, or nations. While it may be appropriate, save these for your prayers alone before God.

5) In every prayer, do your best to include a blessing.

I will do my best to moderate accordingly. Thank you for praying for Lebanon and her people.