Christian Persecution and Conversion in Nigeria

Nigerian Christians have suffered a decade of murderous attacks from militant islamists, in particular the killer cult of Boko Haram. 

At the same time, Christianity has been growing. The Pentecostal movement is flourishing in Nigeria with all night prayer services drawing thousands of worshipers. 

The old saying is, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” 

Present-day martyrs for Christ are no exception to that. 

From PRI The World:

Credit: Rowan Moore Gerety

Under an open-air pavilion built to seat a million people, children sleep on mats spread out on the cobblestones while their parents enter their 6th consecutive hour of worship.

All-night prayer vigils are at the core of the country’s booming Pentecostal movement. Some churches draw worshippers in the hundreds of thousands.

At one church, the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Friday night vigils take place in what locals call an “auditorium.” It’s a covered pavilion the size of 87 football fields, and it’s not quite big enough. The church has already cleared ground for a bigger one. 

In fact, it’s something of a pattern: the church’s old pavilion was demolished a few years back, and now vendors have set up shop on the old foundation.

Once the service starts, all these people selling, they’ll close their shops and go inside the auditorium to listen to the word of God,” says Wale Akande, a volunteer who stands by the auditorium, welcoming visitors to the Holy Ghost Service in a fluorescent green vest.

The pavilion here was built in 2000 to seat a million people. It’s basically a corrugated rooftop. The ground below is paved with cobblestones and lined with thousands of crude wooden benches and plastic chairs. Akande says attendance is down tonight because of rain; the pavilion is only a third full.


Is It Possible to Have Individual Freedom of Conscience and Gay Marriage?

The debate is boiling down to a wall-punching, head-butting disaster. 

On the one side, there are gay marriage advocates who decry religious freedom and personal conscience exemptions to participation in gay marriage except for the most isolated cases, and even that quickly comes into question as discussions proceed.

On the other side, are gay marriage opponents who decry the loss of personal freedom of expression and religious liberty. They quickly move to a position of banning gay marriage to preserve their freedoms. 

Those who advocate each position have worked themselves into such a froth that they are incapable of civil discussion, much less actual compromise. I have been a victim of this myself. I lost a friend who I thought of as my brother, a friendship spanning decades of our lives and which had given both of us a great deal of love, loyalty, fun and support. He ended this friendship with the finality of an amputation because I could not support gay marriage. 

That is the level of acrimony and nastiness this issue raises. 

But in truth, the argument itself is based on considerations which have ample precedence in American life and jurisprudence to allow any and all of us to live together in harmony. America has a historic tradition of honoring freedom of conscience as it pertains to religious faith. The most poignant example of this is the exemptions we allow for those whose religious faith demands that they not participate in combat. 

We even extend this to people who are not members of a faith which demands it.

I know because a friend of mine obtained conscientious objector status after he was in the military during the Viet Nam war. He made this request based on his personal conviction that killing anyone was murder. It was not based on his faith, since he was a member of a church that did not teach this. 

The United States Army granted him conscientious objector status. I have also known Mennonite men who were granted conscientious objector status because of their faith. 

So why can’t we work out something for gay marriage? I am not talking about exemptions for established churches, even though that is absolutely necessary if America is going to be America. I am talking about preserving the conscience rights and right to religious freedom of all American citizens. 

Gay marriage zealots can be single-minded, intolerant and destructive in how they approach their cause. They resort far too often to labeling everyone who disagrees with them as bigots or some such and then excoriating and slandering these people and institutions in a concerted way that can only be described as character assassination. 

My own friend, who I would have trusted with my life, has gone on the internet and written things about me to hurt me. None of these things he’s said advance the cause of gay marriage. They are simple expressions of hatred because we disagree over this issue. 

I’m not sure what causes this level of ugliness. People who fought the great Civil Rights battles of the mid twentieth century did not engage in it, and the level of oppression and suffering they were battling makes any complaints that homosexuals have pale by comparison. 

Perhaps the difference is that Martin Luther King Jr led from a Gospel standpoint. He based his cause in the inalienable human rights found in the Gospels of Jesus Christ. People sang hymns, prayed and talked about how they were saving the soul of America before they left to face the firehoses that were turned on them in Civil Rights marchers. 

Their bravery and their powerful witness to their own humanity not only won the day, it did indeed, ennoble the soul of this nation. 

No cause can do that if it stoops to the level that some of the gay rights advocates have chosen in their work for gay marriage. There is no nobility in slander, name-calling and bald-faced bullying. There is certainly nothing of a higher calling in attempts to advance your desires by attacking and limiting the basic human rights of other people. 

That, at root, is what freedom religion and freedom of personal conscience are: Basic human rights. The freedom to believe in God and to follow your own faith is second only to the basic right to life and freedom from violence in the hierarchy of human rights. It is what separates us from the animals. 

Alone of all the creatures on this planet, we know that we are going to die. Also alone of all the creatures on this planet, we know that there is right and wrong and dignity to every human soul.

Can there be human rights for gay people and freedom of religion for everyone?

Certainly.

Is gay marriage a human right for gay people? I don’t think so.

To be honest, I think that gay marriage, if it is regarded as the same as marriage between a man and a woman, is a delusion. Two men or two women are not the same as a man and a woman. There are basic legal rights that gay couples should have, simply because the laws of America have to be for everyone. But marriage between two men or two women is simply not possible. We can all pretend and call it marriage. But that won’t make it so. 

The next question is, should gay people have the same civil rights as other Americans?

Of course.

Should every American, gay or straight, have the right to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion?

Absolutely. That’s not only imperative, it’s easily done if people of good will try to do it. 

We can work it out. We can even work it out if we change the definition of marriage. 

But will we?

I don’t know the answer to that. 

We have the means and the power. The last question is simply, do we have the will?

Blumenthal Announces Bill to Overturn State Abortion Laws

A small group of members of the United States Congress announced plans today to introduce a bill that sounds as if it would completely federalize abortion.

The proposed legislation, by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn) is designed to override state regulations on abortion clinics. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA, Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Lois Frankel (D-FL) are backing the bill.

I know this is going to sound odd, but the thing that disgusts me about this the most is the title they’ve given the bill. They’re calling it the Women’s Health Protection Act. That really raises my feminist ire.

I am so sick of hearing abortion equated with “women’s health.” What, I ask you, about ovarian cancer? Or, rape? Or egg harvesting? How about sex-selected abortion?

Or … dare I say it? … unsafe, unclean abortion processing stations that call themselves clinics and that are run by doctors without hospital privileges who allow non-doctors to perform abortions and prescribe dangerous drugs without proper medical evaluation? How about outpatient surgical clinics — whose only surgery is abortion — that do not have the basic health and safety equipment that is required of every other outpatient surgical clinic?

It is so wonderful that members of the United States Congress want to spare women the egregious requirements of having doctors who are licensed and have hospital privileges and do the procedures themselves rather than farming them out to underlings. I think we need to start doing that for prostate surgery and gall-bladder surgery and appendectomies. Those are “routine” too. Let the nurse do the surgery and use doctors who can’t practice in a nearby hospital. Do it without proper medical equipment.

But wait. This is only women we want to spare the rigors of good medical care while they exercise their “right” to “women’s health” by having abortions.

If you ever wondered how someone like Kermit Gosnell was able to operate for so long, let me explain it you. This is how.

The Gosnells are protected by “abortion advocates” who oppose any and all regulations of abortion clinics.

Do they ever ask about the women who end up in clinics like Gosnells?

Or what about the women who have abortions performed by non-doctors, or who are prescribed RU-486 by a staffer with no ultrasound beforehand?

Bleeding to death from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy evidently doesn’t constitute a “women’s health” problem if the rupture was caused by an abortion drug. That’s what can happen when non-doctors prescribe these drugs without proper medical evaluation.

Why is it onerous to provide women with the same outpatient surgical care that the law requires for every other kind of surgery? Why is abortion so much more important that, ummmm, women’s health?

The emphasis on abortion at the cost of every other right, every other need and all safety precautions is not only demeaning to women, it endangers them. This proposed law is particularly egregious because it is a law against passing a law. When you read the language in the thing, it is not a statute that stands on its own. It is rather a proposal to codify limitations on what laws the states may consider.

That’s far-reaching and rather sinister. The idea has almost limitless applications that go far beyond abortion or any issue. It strikes to the heart of the notion of separation of powers in a federalist government. I expect more legislation by other members of Congress acting on behalf of special interest groups that attempts to shut down the states from enacting laws on all types of subjects, many of which will involve corporations and special interest money.

This particular piece of legislation will not become law for the simple reason that it will not get a hearing in the Republican dominated House of Representatives. However, it will be a campaign fundraiser for the Ds and a campaign issue for the Rs.

The abortion issue is necessary for both political parties. If you don’t know that, you don’t know American politics.

From Senator Blumenthal’s website:

(Washington, DC) – Today, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) – joined by U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and U.S. Representatives Judy Chu (D-CA-27), Marcia Fudge (D-OH-11), and Lois Frankel (D-FL-22) – announced the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013.

The Women’s Health Protection Act would protect a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion by stopping restrictive regulations and laws – such as those in place in states including Texas and Wisconsin – intended to curtail reproductive health services for women.

 

 

The Big Duh of Pope Francis’ “Bombshell Quotes”

Jesus Christ was a revolutionary.

Not, mind you, the gun-toting, building-blowing-up, people-killing kind of revolutionary. If we would just pull the shades off our eyes, we’d see that killer revolutionaries are old hat, trite and not really all that unusual. People have been killing people since Cain and Abel.

Jesus was the kind of revolutionary who lights the spark of ideas that wind through the centuries, slowly elevating all of humankind. He was the counter-cultural, upside-down uber revolutionary of all time who taught us that the God who made everything everywhere loves us and knows all about us down to and including every single hair on our heads.

This attention to life and love is universal, it seems, since the same Jesus told us that not even a bird falls from the sky but that the God of everything, everywhere knows and takes note of it. This is the God Who looked at creation and said, “It is good.”

Jesus is a revolutionary today, just as much as He was in first century Palestine.

His Vicar, Pope Francis, has been speaking and teaching this same revolutionary message that His Master taught 2,000 years ago. He hasn’t changed the message. Pope Benedict taught the same Good News, as has every other Vicar of Christ. Despite their failings and weaknesses, not one of these men has ever departed from the Gospel Good News of Jesus Christ to teach a false gospel of god made in our image.

For reasons that I think have a lot more to do with the Holy Spirit than those who are slavering over the Holy Father’s teachings would ever admit, this old wine of the Gospel has become new again in Pope Francis’ way of expressing and living it.

“Bombshell” is the word that pundits attach to comments he makes that are nothing more nor less than what the Church has taught from the beginning. I keep hearing about these “bombshell” comments from people who are offended or upset by them.

So, I’m going to go over them and try to explain why the only thing new about them is the simple fact that the revolutionary teachings of Jesus Christ are always new and always challenging. Following Him is not now and never has been for sissies.

Here are a few examples of statements the press has termed a ‘bombshell.’ Give them a look. You’ll see what I mean.

1. Who am I to judge?

What this statement is not:

Pope Francis’ said this in relation to a priest who is in a prominent Vatican position, and who had fallen into public sexual sin in his past. This particular priest also happens to be homosexual, so his sexual sin was with other men. The Pope simply said that if a man has repented and is trying to live his vows and the Church teachings, “Who am I to judge?’

This was not a statement that gay sex is ok. It was not a statement that it’s ok for priests to break their vows.

What this statement is:

It was an affirmation that we are all made new in Christ. I am the recipient of this same grace, as, if you will be honest, are you.

St Paul murdered Christians before he became the great apostle. St Peter denied he ever knew Christ and cursed His name before he became the first pope.

If a priest falls off the chastity wagon and then repents and lives his vows afterwards, how is that different from you and me? Who, as the pope said, are we to judge?

2. And I believe in God, not in a Catholic God, there is no Catholic God, there is God and I believe in Jesus Christ, his incarnation. Jesus is my teacher and my pastor, but God, the Father, Abba, is the light and the Creator. This is my Being.

What this is statement is not:

Pope Francis was not saying that all truth is equal and one “god” is as good as another. He was not saying that Jesus is just one among many Gods.

What this statement is:

The Pope was telling us that there is One God, that Jesus Christ is His son, and that this Jesus is Lord of all, including the Catholic Church and the Pope. The Church doesn’t own God. God owns the Church.

3. The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.

What this statement is not:

The Pope is not saying that Church teaching is picayune and that we can ignore it.

What this statement is:

The Pope is saying “by grace you are saved and that not of yourself.” You can not earn heaven. Jesus Christ has saved you. We belong to Him, or we don’t. It’s our choice.

4. We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.

What this statement is not:

It is not a repudiation of 2,000 years of Christian teaching on the sanctity of human life and holy matrimony. The Holy Father is not undoing what Jesus did at the Wedding of Cana. He is not saying that the early Christians were wrong when they condemned child sacrifice and abandoning disabled children and baby girls.

What it is:

The Holy Father is telling us that abortion and gay marriage are not the only sins against life and against God. As I sometimes jokingly say, you can’t claim, “I am anti-abortion, so that means I can rob all the banks I want.” We need to live out the whole Gospels in our Christian walk, not just one or two commandments.

5. It hurts me when I see a priest or nun with the latest-model car. You can’t do this. A car is necessary to do a lot of work, but, please, choose a more humble one. If you like the fancy one, just think about how many children are dying of hunger in the world.

I’m not even going to try to explain what this is not. It’s obvious what the Pope was saying to priests and nuns: Walk the walk.

It applies to the rest of us, too, which may be why some people get so upset about it.

Dolan: Christian Persecution is “a Humanitarian Catastrophe’

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God love Cardinal Timothy Dolan. 

He took the podium at the annual fall assembly of Catholic Bishops to speak out for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ. 

Public Catholic reader, Manny, sent a wonderful letter to Cardinal Dolan a few weeks ago, encouraging the Cardinal to do all that he could to help persecuted Christians. Perhaps we should all take to our word processors and send letters.

Christians need to stand in unity with persecuted Christians and not be intimidated by foul-mouthed attacks from those who seek to silence us. People who try to deny the persecution of Christians and who attack those who speak out for them are fellow travelers and enablers of those who carry the guns, wield the clubs and light the flames. 

From Catholic News Agency:

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York addresses the USCCB Fall meeting Nov. 11, 2013. Credit: Addie Mena/CNA.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York addresses the USCCB Fall meeting Nov. 11, 2013. Credit: Addie Mena/CNA.

.- Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, urged his fellow bishops to be advocates of Christians persecuted for their faith around the world, encouraging prayers as well as action on their behalf.

In his address to the assembly, Cardinal Dolan said one million Christians have been killed for their faith in the first years of the 21st century, which he called “a new age of martyrs.” Citing the Pew Research Center, he said that over 70 percent of the world’s population lives in countries with restrictions on freedom of religion.

He declared a “humanitarian catastrophe” in Syria, where two Orthodox bishops have been kidnapped amid the ongoing civil war. He said the Iraq war and its consequences have “devastated” Iraq’s ancient Christian community. The 2012 attack on Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad resulted in a massacre of 58 Christians.

The cardinal also noted a “serious escalation of violence” against Christians in Egypt, where dozens of Coptic churches have been burned. An August attack on a school run by Franciscan nuns resulted in the rape of two teachers. Three nuns were paraded “as prisoners of war.”

There have also been attacks on African Christians, such as shootings of priests and church burnings …

Cardinal Dolan said the situation in India is “grave” in the aftermath of the 2008 Orissa massacres that killed hundreds of Christians and displaced thousands more. Thousands of homes and about 400 churches were destroyed. 

In addition, the cardinal noted the pressures on Christians in China, such as the state supervision and imprisonment that faces Catholic bishops and other religious leaders.

In light of these grave global challenges, Cardinal Dolan made several suggestions for action.

The bishops should encourage “a culture of prayer for persecuted Christians,” both in private prayer and in liturgical intercessions …

He encouraged the bishops to make others aware of the suffering of other Christians through their columns, blogs, speeches and pastoral letters … ask pastors to preach on the topic … encourage Catholic media to “tell the stories of today’s new martyrs.”

The bishops can insist that U.S. leaders listen to persecuted Christians and make their protection “a foreign policy priority,” he added, observing that this has not been a high priority for presidential administrations of either major political party.

Oklahoma Supreme Court Does It Again

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12 Weeks Ultrasound

 

Oklahoma’s Supreme Court overturned a second pro life bill this week. This one concerned trans-vaginal ultrasounds. 

I’ve been waiting for this decision before I commented on all this. Now, I’m going to wait and get my head organized. 

Then, I imagine I will have a few things to say. 

Here is the CNN Report:

Washington (CNN) – Oklahoma lost another round in its effort to restrict abortions when the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday declined to hear an appeal in a case that would force women seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound first.

The justices, without comment, refused to accept the state’s appeal over HB 2780, which would require healthcare providers to perform an ultrasound scan before terminating a woman’s pregnancy.

Lower state courts found the law unconstitutional. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said those judges did not give proper legal weight to previous high court rulings allowing some regulation and restriction on abortions.

The new law mandated that pregnant women seeking an abortion be given the chance to view the ultrasound image and be given a medical description, including “the dimensions of the embryo or fetus, the presence of cardiac activity, if present and viewable, and the presence of external members and internal organs, if present and viewable.”

Neither the woman nor her doctor would be punished or penalized if she refused to look at those images, but the procedure, performed either vaginally or abdominally, and the explanation would be required.

How to Help the Philippines

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Typhoon Haiyan was one of the worst storms ever recorded.

America dispatched forces, at the request of the Philippine government, to help with the devastation caused by Hurricane Haiyan.

From NBC News:

American forces were dispatched to the Philippines as the Pacific island country struggled to cope Sunday after one of the most powerful storms in recorded history killed thousands — possibly as many as 10,000 — and wreaked damage far worse than expected.

“At the request of the government of Philippines, Secretary Hagel has directed U.S. Pacific Command to support U.S. government humanitarian relief operations in the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan,” the Department of Defense said in a statement late on Saturday night.  

The first wave of U.S. force  — a team of 90 Marines and sailors — flew to Philippines on Sunday to assist with search and rescue operations and provide air support, the Marines said in a statement.

The Pope offered prayers and urged Catholics everywhere to pitch in and help these people.

From Catholic Herald.co.uk:

Pope Francis led prayers for people hit by a deadly typhoon in the Philippines and surrounding region, and asked that concrete aid be sent soon.

During the Angelus with pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square yesterday, the pope expressed his concern and prayers for the estimated tens of thousands of people dead and others affected by Super Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated parts of the central Philippines over the weekend.

“I wish to express my closeness to the people of the Philippines and that region that has been hit by a terrible typhoon. Unfortunately the victims are many and the damage is enormous,” he said.

He asked the tens of thousands of people gathered in the square to join him in a moment of silent prayer “for these brothers and sisters and let’s try also to make our concrete help reach them.”

In response to the tragedy, Pope Francis made an initial donation of $150,000 for the relief efforts through the Pontifical Council Cor Unum.

The money, sent through the local churches hardest hit by the storm, was earmarked to support “assistance for the displaced and those impacted by the flooding,” the Vatican said in a written statement.

The pope also sent a telegram to Philippine President Benigno Aquino saying he was “deeply pained by the destruction and loss of human lives”.

In the message, he also encouraged civil authorities and rescue workers in their efforts and prayed that God would offer “the nation strength and consolation.”

Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican-based confederation of humanitarian agencies of the Catholic Church, reported today that more than 9.5 million people are in need of aid and 600,000 people have been forced from their homes.

Here is a list of places you can contact to give aid to the people in the Phillipines:

Catholic Relief Services

Caritas Manila

Save the Children 

Salvation Army

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee

Samaritan’s Purse

Anglican Overseas Aid 

Philippine Red Cross

Supporting Our Troops

Remembering those who serve.

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Pope Francis: Sinners Repent. The Corrupt Do Not.

Pope Francis gave a hard-hitting homily during his daily morning mass.

“We are all sinners,” he said. “But we are not corrupt. The corrupt remain in a state of self-sufficiency and don’t understand humility.”

This is a homily for the “Christian” West, if there ever was one.

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Helping Others … Helps You

What sort of people take part in Catholic Volunteer Services? How does volunteering affect their lives?

The short answer is good people, whose lives are enhanced by the experience.

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