Don’t express beliefs…


Sarah Kuteh

 

“You can’t know in advance whether someone would be offended by a comment.”


President Xi Jinping | photo: Wiki

President Xi Jinping | photo: Wiki

 

The Chinese Government released a set of proposed amendments to its rules regulating religious affairs in early September, showing that President Xi Jinping is attempting to exert even greater control over how religion is practised…

China: religious control increased

Faith schools under fire


 Faith Schools under fire

(view online version here)

In October, a Christian school had Ofsted recommend that an Imam be invited to lead collective worship and that failure to promote ‘British values’, as interpreted by the Ofsted team, could lead to its closure by the Department for Education.

Trinity Christian School, a small independent school in Reading, was rated ‘excellent’ for its provision for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development in November 2013. It was told that pupils were ‘well prepared for life in modern, multicultural, democratic British society through the teaching of the Christian principle to “love thy neighbour’’ ’.

However, following an inspection in October, just 11 months later, brought about by a request for the school to change its status and extend its intake to include older pupils, it was deemed not to be meeting the revised Department for Education requirements.

This issue ‘dominated’ the inspector’s questions, the school said, and ‘at no point were any questions asked about other aspects of the curriculum or the quality of teaching assessed through lesson observations’.

In order to comply with the new regulations, Trinity Christian School was told it should ‘actively promote’ other faiths, and the principles of the Equality Act 2010, including the ‘protected characteristics’ enshrined within that law (which includes gender reassignment, sexual orientation and civil partnerships), and was warned against promoting a ‘particular lifestyle’. It is understood that no sex education lesson, or Christian teaching on biblical values were observed by the Ofsted team.

Requesting a review

The school’s governors have written to the Education Secretary urging her to review the controversial new education standards introduced in late September which this, and other faith schools, have fallen foul of. The standards are reported as being formed as a result of the alleged ‘Trojan Horse plot’ in Birmingham, where head teachers and governors, over the past year, were removed from post in some schools and Islamists put in their place with the result that extremist teaching took place. However, the government plans to tighten up these particular standards predate the ‘Trojan Horse plot’.

In the letter to Secretary of State Nicky Morgan, John Charles, the chairman of governors at the school, said: ‘From November 2013 to October 2014 the school has continued the same provision for pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development which Ofsted adjudged excellent in November 2013. Yet, immediately following the introduction of the revised school standards, the school is threatened with the prospect of closure. We cannot understand how such a change in thinking can take place within a year. It is an explicit aim of ours to encourage pupils to serve and respect other people, appreciate different cultures and ideas and equip them for life in society.

But the comments made by Ofsted, as a result of the new regulations, undermine our aims and would prevent us from teaching in accordance with our Christian foundation.’

A spokesman for the Christian Institute said: ‘At the beginning of the summer we warned that if the government brought in these regulations then they would be enforcing political correctness in schools. We also said there would be hostility to the religious, and ethical, viewpoints of religious schools. The Department for Education said it would never happen, but since then we’ve been finding case after case where that’s exactly what’s going on’.

A Jewish school’s experience

Earlier in October, the National Association of Jewish Orthodox Schools (NAJOS) said it was ‘appalled’ by questions asked during recent surprise inspections. The pupils were asked whether or not they had a boyfriend, how babies are made and whether they knew that two men could marry. The girls were reported as feeling ‘bullied into answering inspectors’ questions’ and were left feeling ‘traumatised and ashamed’.

A high-attaining Catholic school experienced similar treatment and, although initially failing its inspection, reports were made that the decision is under review by the school’s local authority due to complaints about the Ofsted report.

There are two deeply concerning thoughts which come to mind as one reads about the experience of Trinity school with the new regulations.

Law ignored for some

Firstly, back in 2011, a ComRes survey asked 500 parents about collective worship patterns in their child’s school. Over 60% said that a daily act of worship of a ‘wholly, mainly, broadly Christian character’ was NOT taking place. In county schools (those which are not faith based) Ofsted do not even specifically monitor and report on collective worship. This perhaps accounts for the actual and anecdotal evidence that collective worship, a legal requirement placed on schools, is not taking place. And yet in an independent school where the law is being followed (though it doesn’t have to apply to the school as it is the right of the governing body of the independent school to set its own policies), staggeringly, they are told by Ofsted that inviting in an Imam to lead collective worship is more acceptable.

In state schools where a large portion of the school is of one faith, or no faith, the school can apply to be released from the ‘wholly mainly broadly’ measures by a ‘determination’. This would allow for worship to be done of an Islamic character for example, in that school. So it is doubly baffling that the independent school was given this suggestion to meet the new standards.

Secondly, the judgment of Ofsted shows a poverty of intellect. It has compared the teaching of traditional family values to that of Islamic extremism. It has ignored the biblical teaching of having a loving acceptance of ‘tax collectors and sinners’ and those with whom someone may disagree, and just assumed that hatred must be the outcome of disagreement.

‘Convicted’ despite the evidence

This ‘judgment’ has been formed on what appears to be evidence that wasn’t there, and seems based on that particular Ofsted’s team own prejudices about what Trinity school must be teaching the pupils under their care.

This is most troubling, as they are being ‘convicted’ despite the presence of evidence which shows them to be not guilty.

Ruth Woodcraft / The Christian Institute

This article was first published in the December issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Help for those fighting or grieving a suicide… and some other great links.


Links Worth A Look

Enjoy the following links!

A Faith To Live By – Christians: The world’s most persecuted people

Be Thinking.org – Do Christians hate homosexuals

9 Marks – Should I tell my spouse about struggles with sexual purity?

Desiring God – Help for those fighting or grieving a suicide

Albert Mohler – Are Christian Missionaries Narcissistic Idiots? – A response to Ann Coulter

St. Helen’s Bishopsgate Preaching Matters: Andrew Sach ‘Persecution in 1 Peter’


Here is the newest instalment of the video series from St. Helen’s Bishopsgate designed specifically to ‘equip, encourage and inspire those who teach God’s word.’

‘In this month’s Preaching Matters Andrew Sach shares his thoughts on the kind of persecution facing Christians in 1 Peter.

How has this helped you as you teach God’s word?

Fearless love: Astounding Stories of God’s Intervention in Islamic Africa


No one comes to know Jesus except by God’s own hand. This is nowhere more evident than where believers are persecuted for their faith.

When he calls people, he gives them the faith to stand their ground, and fulfils his purpose in them.

Fatima grew up in a rural region dominated by savannah and a hot semi-arid climate, close to one of Africa’s strongest Islamic cities with a population of about ten million. In recent years, other Islamic nations have financed this city to make it a stronghold of an expanding Islamic influence on the continent.

Fatima helped her family by farming groundnuts and fetching water from the wells, and joined in annual Ramadan festivals, celebrating the original revelation of the Qur’an, and the Qurbani Eid (or Eid Al-Adha), commemorating ‘Abraham’s offering of Ishmael on the mount’. She watched as several village leaders were sponsored in different years and flown to Mecca for the annual hajj. Her region considered itself the strongest and purest Islamic region south of the Sahara, and deviations from the faith brought swift punishment.

Saved and rejected

25 years ago, when Fatima was married, she was asleep in her home when a man dressed in white appeared to her. He said: ‘I am Isa [Jesus]. I bring you truth’. She woke up the next day a new person. Her husband recognised it immediately, and threw her out of the house. Her instantaneous rejection was a great shock, but she could not go back and deny the truth. The villagers also said she must leave. She walked alone down the long hot dirt track to reach the main road to the city. The Lord comforted her and said he was sending a woman to look after her.

When she reached the tarmac road, she spotted a car pulled up by the roadside. The driver, a Christian woman, was having engine trouble. Fatima stopped to help and together they got the car started. Before this driver had set out that day the Lord had spoken to her, telling her he was sending a lady she would look after. She knew Fatima was that person and asked her if she needed a lift — quite a risk for a Christian to take unless they know it is from the Lord! So, on the first day of her new faith, Fatima was on her way to a nearby Islamic city to live with her new friend. The lady discipled her and Fatima spent a year in her home, learning the Scriptures.

Return to her village

This wonderful mentoring period was not to last. At the end of that year, an attack against Christians broke out and Fatima’s friend was among over 2,000 people murdered. However, she had sown seed into Fatima’s life that would bear much fruit. Her faith strong, Fatima returned home to her village, hoping she could spread the gospel.

Although the village community allowed her to stay, she was not reunited with her husband. For ten months she was persecuted for her faith, from beatings to being denied basic rights, such as permission to buy or rent land for farming, access to the village wells, or food beyond that which sustained her life. She grew weak under the persecution and considered renouncing Jesus.

She prayed, ‘Lord, this is not helping anyone. No one is being saved. It would spare me a lot of trouble to say I do not believe in you any more’. But the Lord answered, telling her that he had a purpose, and that she should be patient a little longer.

Asked to pray

Two months later, something happened that turned things around. One of the young women in the village had been chronically ill for a long time with an unknown disease; there was no doctor to diagnose the illness and no cure for her ailment. No treatment available helped her. The villagers called in the traditional healers, the old women with knowledge of herbs and the witchdoctors, but they could do nothing. The Islamic clerics came to pray, but this did no good.

Fatima heard the people of the village talking: ‘We will ask Fatima to pray and see if that helps’. She did not want anything to do with this — she was in enough trouble already, and if the lady was not healed when she prayed, things would get even worse for her. But the elders insisted. So Fatima went to the young woman and prayed that the Lord would heal her, in Jesus’s name. Ten minutes later, the woman, who had been bedridden for months, was up and cooking food for the people of her house. That day 64 people in the village became Christians. Fatima’s former husband was not among them. She has remained unmarried since she met Jesus.

People were being saved in nearby villages. Not all of Fatima’s disciples are open worshippers; some come at night and meet outside the villages for Bible studies.

A visit to Fatima

30 churches have now been started in this Islamic district, all overseen by this strong woman. (We know several women whom God has saved and is using to boldly spread the gospel where angels and men would fear to tread! They have kind hearts, but they are also resolute for the truth and immoveable.)

We paid Fatima a visit. En route to the village, we passed through towns where the atmosphere of aggression sent shivers up our spines as Muslims glared in our direction. A simple roadblock on our way out would easily allow them to seize our small party. But we put that out of our minds as we continued on the road which haphazardly meandered through village after village.

The anger displayed towards us seemed at harsh variance with the neat, beautiful environment. The contrast of colours made a striking setting: the tawny mud-brick huts with their thatched roofs, the lush green of the maize crops by the dusty road … Many of the villagers carried farming tools, or balanced firewood or bundles of yams on their heads, all modestly dressed in brightly-coloured flowing African clothing, the women with headscarves and the men with soft fez caps. But joy was absent from their faces, and the reality of their harsh lives was never far from our minds.

In each village we saw a mud-brick complex with a corrugated iron roof and a large cross of unfinished wood on the side of the building. These were the church meeting places that Fatima was overseeing. Her boldness and courage was (and is) highly admirable. At any time there could be an attack against this growing Christian community.

As foreign visitors, we were not in as much danger as the people there. If there was to be a negative reaction against our brief stay, it would most likely be directed at Fatima’s church after we had left, yet they were eagerly awaiting our arrival. (Indeed, the Bible college’s partnership with Fatima may help the gospel spread even more. People are impressed that international visitors come to see the Christians in their villages.)

The gathered congregation were singing when we arrived in Fatima’s home village, where an interpreter, an architect who supports her ministry, had driven for three hours to be there to help with the meeting. Some churches that are keen on missions support village pastors with motorcycles, or pay them a small wage to enable them to establish and maintain churches in outlying places. Fatima is known and respected by a few churches far off that help her in this way, assisting pastors serving in the churches she has established. During our visit we spoke to the congregation, and before leaving promised to do what we could to support the work.

This article is an extract from Fearless Love: Astounding Stories of God’s Intervention in Islamic Africa by James Andrews with Emma Newrick, published by Authentic Media (ISBN 978 1 850 789 826, £8.99), and is used with permission.


World news – Nigeria: bombed


Joshua Dabo, like other young Christians in Jos, had dreams for his life.

He had graduated from a Christian high school, Mt. Olives Secondary School, and at 31 was finally looking forward to attending university. He was among the 120 people from the Christian community on Bauchi Ring Road who paid to watch a classic soccer match, Barcelona FC v. Real Madrid, on TV at an outdoor bar (called a ‘viewing centre’ in Nigeria) on the night of December 10. A few minutes into the match, televised in a corrugated sheet metal hall at Yangwava Television Viewing Centre at Ukadum village, a bomb went off. Dabo was decapitated. He was the lone fatality in three bomb blasts targeting viewing centres in predominantly Christian areas of Jos during the Spanish soccer match; at least ten others were injured in the blasts, leaving four in critical condition, including two in a coma.

Compass Direct

World news – Laos: rest in peace?


Officials in late December forced Christians in a Lao village to give up their faith in order to bury a family member in the village graveyard.

In Huey, Ad-Sapangthong district of Savannakhet Province, the village’s eight Christian families quickly began to arrange a funeral for a woman called Wang who died on Christmas Day. On December 26, however, village officials ordered that her body be buried according to Buddhist funeral rites or be taken to a burial ground in Savannakhet city. Lacking the resources for a city burial, the 40 Christians reluctantly agreed. But the village monk then refused to carry out the ceremony because Wang was a Christian. With Wang’s body already decomposing and officials demanding that they recant, the Christians verbally agreed to cease practising their faith in order to bury her in the village cemetery. Once the funeral was over, five of the families told church leaders in another city that they regretted their decision and that they would continue to worship God.

Compass Direct

World news – Iraq: violence against Christians


In December, a young Christian couple were killed and a Christian man kidnapped, heightening fears about the increasing threat to the Christian community now US troops have left the country.

Adnan Elia Jakmakji (34) and his wife Raghad al Tawil (25) were shot dead in their car on December 13. Their two sons were wounded as gunmen sprayed the vehicle with bullets. The family was ambushed in Mosul, northern Iraq, by an armed group.

The previous day, Sermat Patros, a 29-year-old Christian man, was kidnapped from his family’s home furnishings store in Ankawa in the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan. He was held for three days, during which his captors demanded a $500,000 ransom. Sermat, who was blindfolded and tied down during his ordeal, was rescued by a SWAT team on December 15 to the great relief of his 21-year-old wife Amal and the local Christian community.

The kidnapping followed an outbreak of anti-Christian violence in Kurdistan which erupted in the city of Zakho after Friday prayers on December 2. Hundreds of Muslims, apparently incited by the imam’s sermon, headed from a local mosque to businesses owned by Christians and Yezidis, another minority group; they set alight 25 properties, including shops and hotels. At least 30 people were injured, and several million dollars’ worth of damage was caused. The mob swelled to more than 3,000 and moved on to attack Christian property in three other areas.

The following morning, more than 100 people, mainly youths, threw stones at a church and homes belonging to Christians in Almansoria. On December 5, leaflets were put on the walls of the burned shops threatening the owners with death if they reopened them.

Kurdistan Region President Massoud Barzani said on December 3 that instability in the region was unacceptable and that a special committee will investigate the incidents and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Thousands of Iraqi Christians have moved to Kurdistan to escape anti-Christian violence in other parts of the country; this region is increasingly looking less of a safe haven for them.

Barnabas Fund

World news – Indonesia: call for tolerance


Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, speaking at an event held by the Batak Christian Protestant Church (HKBP), the largest Protestant denomination in Indonesia, on December 4, called for tolerance and condemned religious intimidation.

He said: ‘Our nation’s diversity is a strength, a gift from God which we must preserve. Therefore, we must not force our will onto or intimidate our brothers in performing their religious duties. Tolerance is non-negotiable’.

The speech came as Indonesian churches are once again under threat by Islamist extremists. A group in the town of Pracimantoro, Central Java, has appealed to the local government for the demolition of five Protestant churches in the area. It claims that they do not have building permits. The churches have received authorisation from the office for religious affairs in the provincial capital, but the local government is refusing to hand over the official documents. The leader of the Islamist group is also the head of the local government Department for Religious Affairs, which may explain the hold-up.

Tension is rising in the area amid rumours of demolition threats that have been circulating in a series of documents.

Churches harassed

Christians in Indonesia face many obstacles regarding the construction of church buildings. Obtaining all the required permits is a long-winded and complicated process, which can take five to ten years. Approval is required from a quorum of residents in the surrounding area as well as the local Interreligious Dialogue Committee. Officials often come under pressure from radical Islamists to block church building projects.

In addition to the five Protestant churches in Central Java, nine churches in West Java have come under threat by extremists. One of them, GKI Yasmin Church in Bogor, has come under severe and sustained harassment from both the authorities and Islamists. The congregation has been forced to hold services on the street in front of its half-constructed church since the authorities revoked its building permit. They have refused to allow GKI to reopen in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling.

HKBP in Bekasi suffered a similar ordeal and was eventually forced to drop its campaign to build a new church after an elder was stabbed and a minister beaten in 2009.

Barnabas Fund