Mere Links 07.30.14
Wednesday, July 30, 2014, 10:00 AM

Middle Eastern Christians Face Calamity
Richard L. Russell, Crisis Magazine

The Middle East is embroiled in chaos and what little remains of the ancient Christian communities there are being destroyed with the latest tragic turn of events in Iraq.

Obama Taps First Non-Christian to Serve as U.S. Ambassador for Religious Freedom
Lauren Markoe and Brian Pellot, Religion News Service

Rabbi David Saperstein, named the most influential rabbi in America in 2009, will head the Office of International Religious Freedom.

Dodging Bullets Over Religious Freedom
Jim Tonkowich, Juicy Ecumenism

We are dodging bullets, bullets that would be fatal to our way of life because they are aimed at our religious freedom.

Immigration: A Principled Catholic Approach Avoids Emotionalism
Samuel Gregg, National Catholic Register

Church teaching on immigration articulates a framework for thinking — rather than merely emoting — through the immigration issue in a manner consistent with Catholic concerns for liberty, justice, human flourishing and the common good.



During Ramadan, God Pours Out His Holy Spirit
Wednesday, July 30, 2014, 9:51 AM

Earlier this week Moslems around the world celebrated the feast of Eid al-Fitr, an important religious holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting.  During Ramadan, Moslems set aside time to seek their god by abstaining from earthly pleasures.  Moslems pursue the cleansing of their souls through fasting from sunrise to sunset, and refrain from bad habits (I guess blowing up stuff and killing folks doesn’t count as bad habits for some).  At the beginning of Ramadan, I wrote on these pages asking for prayer for Moslems around the world that God would move in the lives of millions of Moslems to introduce His Son, Jesus Christ, as their Lord and Savior.  This Ramadan, the Moslem world is in great chaos.  Christians are being driven from their homes and are being martyred daily throughout the Middle East and parts of Africa.  Fighting between Islamists in Gaza and Israelis threatens to engulf that region in a larger and more dangerous war.

In addition to writing for Mere Comments, one of the great privileges in my life is to correspond with and disciple new Christian believers from around the world who were formerly Moslems.  As I wrote on these pages at the beginning of Ramadan, today there are areas of the Moslem world that never had one church before, but now there are dozens that started in the past several years.  Unbeknownst to most Christians, missiologists estimate that more Moslems have become Christ-followers in the recent past than in the previous 13 centuries.  During this year’s Ramadan, I have exchanged email correspondence with numerous new Christians from the Moslem world.  (Although I have changed the names to protect both their security and privacy, the cities and countries cited are correct.)  Among the new Christians, there was Farhad and Daniyal from Teheran, Iran; Aahil from Islamabad, Pakistan; Aaban from Al Sulaymaniah, Iraq; Rehan from Rabat, Morocco; Rayyan from Shiraz, Iran; Usman, Bilal, and Zaroon from Dhaka, Bangladesh; Zeeshan from Qusantinah, Algeria (incidentally, the most beautiful city you have never heard of); Hamza from Kabul, Afghanistan; Arisha from Kuwait City, Kuwait; Imran from Tunis, Tunisia; Ali from Sanaa, Yemen; Shahzaib from Doha, Qatar; Ashaz from Khartoum, Sudan; and Ibrahim and Waqas from Jakarta, Indonesia.  We can rejoice that God is pouring out His Holy Spirit throughout the Moslem world.  As St. Paul taught us in his epistle to the Romans, where evil doth abound, grace even more doth abound.

One of my observations in corresponding with these new Christian believers is how much their hearts and minds parallel what St. Paul wrote about the Jews of his generation in Romans 10:2, “For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge.”  As we learn from 1 John 4:8, the God of the Holy Bible is love, an impossibility for Allah.  In fact, among Allah’s 99 attributes, love is not one of them.  The Koran never says that Allah loves all mankind, much less sinners.  But the God of the Bible is loving and merciful, and ready to forgive anyone who will come humbly and in repentance to God through His Son, Jesus Christ.  And Moslems are drawn by the love and forgiveness offered by Isa Ibn Maryam, the al-Masih (the Messiah).

We rejoice with the angels in Heaven over each lost sinner who comes to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  I urge you to please remember in prayer our new brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ from Moslem backgrounds.  As one can expect, the formerly-Moslem Christian believers will be severely persecuted.  But despite great persecution, imprisonment, and martyrdom, with many others losing their homes and loved ones, my prayer for them is that these new Christians will boldly serve our Lord Jesus without fear.  They have truly counted the cost, and know the pearl of great price of their newfound faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  May God bless each of them richly.



Mere Links 07.29.14
Tuesday, July 29, 2014, 10:00 AM

Higher Calling, Lower Wages: The Vanishing of the Middle-Class Clergy
David R. Wheeler, The Atlantic

As full-time pastors become a thing of the past, more and more seminary grads are taking on secular jobs to supplement their incomes.

Religious Leader Looks to West For Help for Iraqi Christians
Natalie Johnson, The Daily Signal

The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch is appealing to the international community for action against ISIS’ expulsion of Christians in Mosul, deeming the situation as “21st century genocide.”

Shivering in Tolkien’s shadow
Josephine Livingstone, The Economist

Middle Earth has swallowed up our understanding of the Middle Ages.

Court Rejects Atheists’ Attempt To Remove Ground Zero Cross from Museum
The Becket Fund

Recognizing the important role that religion plays in society, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order on Monday rejecting the effort by American Atheists, Inc. to force the National 9/11 Museum to remove the Ground Zero Cross from its display or to include a plaque honoring atheists alongside the Cross.



Mere Links 07.28.14
Monday, July 28, 2014, 10:00 AM

N is for Narzareth
Russell Moore, Moore to the Point

Christians around the world are changing their social media avatars to the arabic letter “n.” In so doing, these Christians are reminding others around them to pray, and to stand in solidarity with believers in Iraq who are being driven from their homes, and from their country, by Islamic militants.

When They Set Fire to Our Monasteries
Philip Jenkins, Aleteia

Day by day, we hear new horrors about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East. Now, believers living under ISIS control in northern Iraq must choose between conversion to Islam, payment of protection money, or death. Ancient churches and shrines are already in flames.

Conservatives Write an Assertive New Script to Fight Abortion
Jeremy W. Peters, New York Times

While Democrats hope the decision will help them draw Republicans back into an uncomfortable debate over women’s rights, many conservatives relish the fight and welcome putting abortion at the center of the midterm elections.

Moving In and Moving On: Cohabitation Is Less Likely Than Ever to Lead to Marriage
Scott Stanley, Family Studies

Cohabitation seems to be moving toward being a form of dating with no implications about a couple’s odds of marrying.



Please Pray for Asia Bibi
Monday, July 28, 2014, 9:56 AM

101206ff68d51dc7393ddec436495735277ccf Please Pray for Asia BibiMany around the world rejoiced at the arrival in Rome last week of Mariam Ibrahim, accompanied by her husband and their two beautiful children.  Many of us were moved at seeing the family’s meeting with Pope Francis.  And while we rejoice that she and her family will be coming to the United States soon (her husband is an American citizen), we must remember that there are many who continue in chains for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  On these pages over the past several years, I have written about the plight of one such victim of anti-Christian persecution, Asia Bibi.  Asia Bibi is a Pakistani Christian woman who was sentenced to death under Pakistan’s notorious criminal code section 295(c), which prescribes the death penalty for “insulting” Mohammed and Islam.  She is a Roman Catholic rural farm worker and mother of five.  In June 2009, while working in the fields, she was sent to bring water for the other farm workers.  Some of the Moslem workers refused to drink the water she brought as they considered water touched by Christians to be “unclean.”  Her co-workers then complained to the authorities that she made derogatory comments about Mohammed.  What was the derogatory comment she purportedly made against Mohammed?  The Moslem women claimed Asia Bibi said: “I believe in my religion and in Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for the sins of mankind.  What did your prophet Mohammed ever do to save mankind?”  Asia Bibi is illiterate, and is considered an uneducated woman, but she asked a deeply profound question.  Islam teaches that one cannot know and experience assurance of eternal salvation.  Of course, her hearers had no ready answer to her simple question.  But six days after this incident, a violent mob came to her family’s home, damaged it, and assaulted and beat her and members of her family.  In response, Pakistani police arrested her, and she spent more than one year in jail awaiting trial.  Finally, in November 2010, The Honorable Judge Muhammed Naveed Iqbal sentenced her to death by hanging, and he fined her the equivalent of $1,100, a large sum in rural Pakistan.  Her verdict was later upheld by the Lahore High Court.  Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari refused to pardon her after large demonstrations were held against her.  My readers may remember that several Pakistani government officials who publicly called for Asia Bibi’s release and the abolition of the Pakistan’s blasphemy law have been assassinated, including the Governor of Punjab, Salmaan Taseer, who was murdered by his bodyguard.  Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian member of Pakistan’s cabinet, was assassinated for speaking out on her behalf as well.  Moreover, each time that a Christian villager is accused of blasphemy, Christian neighbors are forced to flee the area out of fear that they are next in line to be accused of the same “crime.”

Asia Bibi’s case is now up for further appeal by the High Court of Lahore, Pakistan.  In fact, for the fifth time over a number of years, the hearing for her appeal didn’t happen.  No reasons are ever given for the delay, and no new hearing dates are set.  The excuses given for the delays have been varied; there have been sick judges and sick lawyers who couldn’t make it at the appointed day and hour.  As you can well imagine, the government fears the people if she is released, and the government further fears that financial donors from the international community will cut off or curtail foreign aid if she is executed.  Pakistan, an erstwhile ally of the United States in what used to be the war against terrorism, has received tens of billions of our tax dollars in foreign and military aid over just the past decade, and continues to receive large sums.  Thus, with the moral courage of Pontius Pilate, the High Court judges find every excuse not to give Asia Bibi her day in court.  And justice delayed is justice denied.

Mariam Ibrahim’s recent visit with His Holiness in Rome reminds me of a Christmas letter sent to Pope Francis by Asia Bibi last November.  She thanked Pope Francis and all the churches praying for her and credited the prayers of God’s people for her survival after more than four years in prison.  She wrote the following in pertinent part:

I am very grateful to all the churches that are praying for me and fighting for my freedom.  If I am still alive, it is thanks to the strength that your prayers give me.  I just want to trust the mercy of God, who can do everything, that all is possible.  Only God will be able to free me.  Holy Father, I want for you to accept my best wishes for the New Year.  I know you pray for me with all your heart, and this gives me confidence that one day my freedom will be possible.

She expressed her desire to be in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome to pray with Pope Francis for Christmas 2014.  Please pray for Asia Bibi and her family, and let us work together so that we can see her worshiping our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in Rome later this year.



Mere Links 07.25.14
Friday, July 25, 2014, 10:00 AM

Professor Wins Lawsuit Protecting His Religious Freedom
The Keating Center

After seven years, Mike Adams won his lawsuit against University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). Professor Mike Adams, a criminology professor, sued UNCW in 2007 after he was discriminated against because of his conservative, Christian views.

Sudan Christian Woman Spared Death Sentence Meets Pope in Rome
Elisabetta Povoledo, New York Times

Meriam Ibrahim, a Christian woman whose death sentence in Sudan for refusing to renounce her faith set off an international protest, arrived in Rome on Thursday morning to a hero’s welcome and a private audience with Pope Francis.

10 Great Summer Reads for Catholics
Kevin D. Sullivan, OnFaith

From Thomas Merton to Shūsaku Endō, these enduring books encapsulate some of the best in religious writing.

Europe’s High Court Defends Marriage
John Paul Shimek, Aleteia

Talking heads on MSNBC and other networks contrasted the state of American liberalism with the perceived success of European progressivism, lamenting the American failure to move in Europe’s direction. Then, about one month later, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) lowered the boom on European progressives. And, the wind was taken out of the sails of American liberalism.



100 Days of Captivity for Nigerian Students
Thursday, July 24, 2014, 10:56 AM

MichelleObamaBringBackOurGirls 100 Days of Captivity for Nigerian StudentsJuly 24, 2014, is the 100th day of captivity for the remaining 219 teenage girls still held by Boko Haram terrorists.  On April 14, nearly 300 school girls were kidnapped from a school near Chibok in northeast Nigeria.  Approximately 57 students managed to flee shortly after they were captured when Boko Haram terrorists went to attack another village.  According to a mediator working with Boko Haram, two of the girls have died of “snake bites,” while another twenty are seriously ill.  Rallies to support the young women will take place today around the world.  There will also be a rally today at noon at the Nigerian embassy in Washington, D.C.  Among the invited speakers at the Washington, D.C., rally will be Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas.  Chibok and nearby villages are particular Boko Haram targets because they are enclaves of devout Christian believers in the predominantly Moslem northern Nigeria.  Further, the leader of Boko Haram released a video in which he mocked the #BringBackOurGirls campaign famously championed by Mrs. Obama and Secretary John F. Kerry’s Department of State.

Sadly, since April, international attention for the school girls has waned, and media reports indicate that the 219 students are being held captive in the Sambisa Forest, which is an area of thick jungle and open savannah, bordering on sand dunes at the edge of the Sahara Desert.  There have been reported sightings of the girls and their captors in neighboring Cameroon and Chad as well.  Adding further tragedy to the kidnappings, eleven parents have died since the mass kidnapping.  Seven of the girls’ fathers were among 51 killed earlier this month after another attack by Boko Haram in the village of Kautakari.  Further, at least four more parents have died of heart failure and other illnesses blamed on the trauma caused by the kidnapping.  The British Daily Mail reported that community leader, Pogu Bitrus, said one father of two of the kidnapped girls simply went into a coma-like condition, where he repeated the names of his daughters until he eventually died.  Every village in the area of Chibok has been attacked and ransacked, along with all the villages bordering Cameroon.  The Boko Haram attacks continue despite the fact the Nigerian military has placed the area under a state of emergency since May 2013.  Although the Nigerian military presence has increased dramatically in the area, soldiers often refuse to deploy to villages under attack even when there are advanced warnings, which is typically the case.  In addition, transportation in the area is hampered because the frequent Boko Haram attacks have left the roads impassable with burned-out automobiles and other debris.

On this 100th day of the captivity of the school girls, please remember to pray for their release, and to pray for their families who are suffering greatly.  Please also pray for their persecutors that they might turn from their wickedness, and come to follow the Lord Jesus Christ.



Mere Links 07.24.14
Thursday, July 24, 2014, 12:01 AM

Five Rules for Consoling the Dying
Russell E. Saltzman, First Things

There are some things that should never be said to the dying. I’ve never bothered developing a comprehensive “no-no” list but years of parish ministry have attuned me to the particularly egregious.

The Problem With Britain’s Latest Suicide Bill
Alistair Macdonald-Radcliff, Aleteia

Suicide and killing people are two things that the Church has always declared to be wrong. It has therefore been of considerable interest in the UK this last week that a proposed law was put forward for debate which would authorize assistance with both.

Islam’s Religious Exemption From Criticism
William Kilpatrick, Crisis Magazine

udging from their behavior, most policymakers seem heavily invested in Islam’s survival. Their reasoning goes roughly as follows: Islam is a religion; religion is a stabilizing force in society; therefore, the flourishing of Islam is vital to the stability of the Muslim world. Hence, the consensus view is (and has been for a long time) that it is desirable to prop up Islam and provide bailouts when needed.

What We Talk About When We Talk About ‘Birth Control’
Karen Swallow Prior, Christianity Today

Meaningful debate requires us to define the terms of discussion.



Mere Links 07.23.14
Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 10:00 AM

Raise Your Voice for Religious Liberty
Jennifer A. Marshall, The Gospel Coalition

The backlash against simply participating in civil discourse about an important topic of public concern is alarming.

A Line Crossed in the Middle East
Mark Movsesian, First Things

What the end of Christianity in Mosul means for Christians everywhere.

Hobby Lobby and Employment Discrimination
USCCB, Crisis Magazine

To dismiss concerns about religious freedom in a misguided attempt to address unjust discrimination in the workplace is not to advance justice and tolerance. Instead, it stands as an affront to basic human rights and the importance of religion in society.

George Whitefield at 300
Credo Magazine

We live in a day when those in the church want to have their ears tickled. We do not want a sermon, but a “talk.” “Don’t get preachy, preacher!” is the mantra of many church goers today.



Mere Links 07.22.14
Tuesday, July 22, 2014, 10:00 AM

ISIS to Christians in Mosul: convert, pay or die
CNN

Just days after the militant group the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria said they killed hundreds of Syrians, dozens of Iraqi Christian families are now fleeing the ISIS-controlled city of Mosul, hoping to avoid a similar fate.

Europe Moves to Outlaw Organ Trafficking Worldwide
Matthew Robertson, Epoch Times

An official European representative body has promulgated a new convention outlawing the trafficking in human organs, calling on all countries to become signatories to it and criminalize the practice and punish offenders.

Uncle Sam Eavesdropping Outside the Confessional
Aaron Taylor, First Things

The state of Louisiana may be about to go where even rabidly anti-Catholic England in the seventeenth century dared not.

The Parent Trap
Ross Douthat, New York Times

The pattern — a “criminalization of parenthood,” in the words of The Washington Post’s Radley Balko — still looks slightly nightmarish, and there are forces at work here that we should recognize, name and resist.


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