Please Pray for Persecuted Christians in Ukraine
Wednesday, September 24, 2014, 11:40 AM

Foreign policy attention for most Americans has now shifted away from Russian disruptions in Ukraine.  But the threats from Russian president Putin’s aggression continue.  The Russian military tests and probes air defenses in Alaska, as well as those of other nations, as the attention of Americans has shifted to events in Iraq and Syria.  However, in Ukraine, the situation continues to be deeply troubling, and particularly so for evangelical Christian believers who face persecution and martyrdom.  On September 18, 2014, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress in Washington.  In his speech, Mr. Poroshenko declared Ukraine’s right to self-defense and territorial integrity, and asked the United States to provide military aid and ongoing political support.  His speech concluded with a standing ovation from American lawmakers.  (Some of my readers may remember that on December 5, 1994, the United States and Great Britain made commitments to protect Ukraine from Russian aggression in exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons under The Budapest Memorandum of Security Assurances.)  After President Poroshenko’s address to Congress, the United States announced an additional $53 million in economic aid to Ukraine, which is, of course, petty cash compared to what United States taxpayers have given, for example, in foreign aid to Hamas in Gaza.

Ukraine’s evangelical Christians today carry a heavy burden from the country’s conflict with pro-Russian separatists and their Russian allies.  As one example, Vladimir and Elena Velichko, and their eight children ages 2 to 16, lived in one of the towns attacked by pro-Russian separatists.  Vladimir was an evangelical church leader, but as a result of the fighting, Vladimir sent his wife and children to another city for safety.  Elena said, “He took us to the train station, and we said goodbye.  He said, ‘I love you.’  He kissed me and kissed the children, and left.”  On June 8, 2014, their church was half empty as many parishioners had left the city because of the fighting.  But when church services ended, a number of church leaders were kidnapped.  Elena said, “The church called and said that my husband, along with three other believers, had been taken by men who were waiting outside the church.”  A church deacon who was present at church that morning, Alexander Gayvoronski, said, “The men wore masks and had machine guns.  They told the four Christian men to get into their cars.”  The men were later found shot multiple times, and Elena’s husband was burned in an abandoned car.  Elena powerfully said, “I don’t hate my husband’s killers.  It is easy to start asking questions.  Why did this happen?  But if I keep thinking about this it will only wear me out.”  That same day, pro-Russian separatists burned down a furniture factory that belonged to other evangelical Christians in that town.  It was clear that the pro-Russian separatists were targeting the city’s evangelical community.  Sergey Demidovich, an evangelical leader in Eastern Ukraine, said Ukrainian Christians face constant threat.  Demidovich said, “I never thought in the 21st century, in [a] free country as Ukraine, it was possible to experience this level of persecution.  The separatists saw Protestant Christians as enemies.  They viewed us as cults.  All the Protestant churches in the city were either taken over by rebels or forced to close.  We were forbidden to meet for services, and the leadership forced to leave or be under risk of arrest.”

Many evangelicals in Ukraine believe that the persecution is linked to pressure from the Russian Orthodox Church.  Anatoly, an evangelical pastor from Luhansk in eastern Ukraine, said, “When I was in prison, a rebel soldier told me they have an order to kill all the Christian pastors who are not part of the Russian Orthodox Church.”  Perhaps that is so or not, but it is not an uncommon perception in light of the fact that great persecution against evangelical Christians took place during the Soviet era, when such persecution was often aided by Orthodox clergy and prelates.  And yet today, media reports indicate that only four percent of Russia’s self-identified Orthodox Christians attend church regularly, and Russia has among the highest rates of abortion, divorce, prostitution and corruption in the world.

Importantly, Elena only asks from us prayers for her and for her eight young children.  Today, there are thousands of refugees and other affected families in Ukraine.  With winter approaching, it is vital that we pray for our brothers and sisters as we seek to do all that we can to help, even as the eyes of the world have now turned elsewhere.  I encourage you and your churches to pray for the Ukrainian Christians, both Orthodox and evangelical, that they will seize every opportunity for presenting the Holy Gospel.  The crisis in Ukraine is not over, but the opportunity to reach those without Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is greater than ever.  May God comfort the families of all of the victims of repression and persecution in Ukraine, and may God give peace to the memory of Vladimir Velichko and his fellow-martyrs.

Update from Iraq and Syria – How to Help
Wednesday, September 24, 2014, 10:53 AM

iraqi refugees cnewa Update from Iraq and Syria   How to HelpOne to One: The blog of the Catholic Near East Welfare Association provides a wealth of concrete information about the church’s relief activities in Iraq and Syria. In addition to providing tangible goals we can act on, the site also serves as an inspiration for Christians wishing to create their own aid projects.

If you wish to donate to CNEWA (and dislike the idea of entering financial information online—I know I do), you can send a check to the address below; they’ll acknowledge your gift with a letter. Since CNEWA provides care to several countries (Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, India, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria), specify the country you wish to support on the check. Bear in mind that although a remnant of Iraqi Christians remain in Iraq, many displaced Christians have landed in Jordan and Syria.

1011 First Avenue
New York, NY NY 10022-4195

Web site:

Phone Number: (212) 826-1480.

CNEWA is a ministry of the Roman Catholic Church. I welcome information about aid programs from other front-line Christian groups that are offering direct emergency aid, and a physical presence, to our persecuted brethren.

Mere Links 09.24.14
Wednesday, September 24, 2014, 10:00 AM

Demons Believe and Tremble before the Real Presence
Msgr. Charles Pope, Aleteia

A reflection on the theft of the eucharist by satanists.

Many religions heavily concentrated in one or two countries
Conrad Hackett and Joseph Naylor, Pew Research Center

While Christians and Muslims are more widely distributed around the world, the other groups have a majority of their populations in just one or two nations, according to 2010 estimates from our Global Religious Landscape report.

100 Christians, Including Children, Arrested During Major House Church Raid in China
Stoyan Zaimov, Christian Post

Over 100 Christians, including children, were arrested during a major house church raid on Sunday in Foshan city in China’s Guangdong Province. Close to 200 police officers stormed in during the service, eyewitnesses said, believed to be part of a large-scale crackdown on Christians in the country.

Plan to send 300,000 new Bibles into Iran
Hugh Tomlinson, The Times

A new Persian translation of the Bible will be smuggled into Iran to feed a growing Christian community in the Islamic republic, defying a campaign of persecution by Tehran.

Mere Links 09.23.14
Tuesday, September 23, 2014, 10:00 AM

The Death of Thomas Cranmer
Nathan Busenitz, The Cripplegate

Four hundred fifty eight years ago, a crowd of curious spectators packed University Church in Oxford, England. They were there to witness the public recantation of one of the most well-known English Reformers, a man named Thomas Cranmer.

Women religious fight human trafficking
Michael O’Loughlin, Crux

They traverse an “underground railroad” system as they make their escape from their captors. They stay in safe houses, scattered across the country to hide and protect them.

Modern Attitudes Toward Marriage Lead to Loneliness
Rachel Lu, Crisis Magazine

Two stories last week (one amusing and one sobering) provided material for (gloomy) reflection on love and marriage in the modern world.

Fight Church: Can You Love Your Neighbor While Pummeling Him?
Patrice Stilley, The Federalist

Among the thorny theological questions that divide men, one that hasn’t been much considered is “Can you love your neighbor as yourself, and at the same time, knee him in the face as hard as you can?” In fact, that very question is posed by one of the subjects of Fight Church, the new Lionsgate documentary by Daniel Junge and Bryan Storkel, that follows the fights and faith journeys of a more than a half dozen mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters in and out of the ring.

Mere Links 09.22.14
Monday, September 22, 2014, 10:00 AM

Yale chaplain’s resignation reflects larger mainline tensions over Israel
Religion News Service

When an Episcopal chaplain at Yale University seemed to suggest that Jews were culpable for Israel’s actions against Palestinians and a related rise in global anti-Semitism, his comments not only led to his resignation but rekindled a debate within mainline Protestant churches about how to respond to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Are We Catholics First or Americans First?
Heather King, Aleteia

The law of the land and the Higher Law.

How Obamacare Forces You to Subsidize Plans That Cover Elective Abortion
Sarah Torre, The Daily Signal

Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) confirms that’s just another broken promise. Here are three things you need to know about abortion and Obamacare.

Satanists want to give out materials in Orange schools
Lauren Roth, Orlando Sentinel

A religious group called The Satanic Temple is making plans to hand out literature in Orange County Public Schools later this school year, following distributions by atheist and evangelical Christian groups.

Lagniappe – Sunday Mass in Old Jaffa City
Sunday, September 21, 2014, 7:00 AM

Longtime Touchstone supporter, Gina Danaher, visited Israel this June with a varied group of Christians, among whom was her Roman Catholic friend, Maureen. One Sunday the two set out to find a local Catholic Mass for Maureen and were shocked to discover that many churches in the city have moved their celebrations to Saturday, in conformance with prevailing local custom—they were empty. Gina was undeterred:

“At this point we had failed to locate a Catholic Church in our area of Tel Aviv, so I thought maybe we would find a Mass at St. Peter’s in Jaffa. Maureen didn’t want to trouble me, but at least I wanted to see this old church… since this church was built to commemorate Peter’s vision at Cornelius’ house in the Book of Acts. By this time Maureen had given up on a Sunday Mass, but when I went into the church, a mass was being served by a Korean priest and a Korean deacon to about 23 South Korean deacons-in-training.”

“Their worship songs were sung beautifully and accompanied by one of the young men on a small size, travel guitar. They sang “All in All”, just as we do at Grace Fellowship, but in Korean. This brought tears to my eyes as I filmed them.

As we talked to these young men after the Mass, we learned that they were completing their training as deacons and were visiting the Holy Land as a part of that training. They would then proceed to Rome. Their tender love of Christ was humbling.”

Thanks, Gina.

Mere Links 09.19.14
Friday, September 19, 2014, 10:00 AM

A Tale of Two Churches
Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., Aleteia

What happens when the State establishes itself as a rival religion through administrative coercion?

The Arab Christian Dilemma
Luma Simms, The Federalist

Arab Christians perceive themselves as caught between radical Islam on one side and Israel on the other. I know. I am one.

Christianity Is Not Going Away
Mark Tooley, On Faith

Over the last decade, ostensibly secular New York City has seen increased church attendance and increased numbers of “born-again” believers.

We’re Winning the War on Global Hunger
Joe Carter, Acton Institute

One of the most underreported stories of the last decade is about good news: we’re winning the struggle against chronic hunger around the globe.

Air Force Surrenders at First Whiff of Grapeshot
Thursday, September 18, 2014, 1:42 PM

It was on this date, September 18, 1947, that the United States Air Force became an independent branch of the military.  Although the beginnings of the Air Force go back to 1907, it was only in 1909 that the Army bought its first airplane.  By the start of World War I, the Army owned five airplanes.  From the humble beginnings, at its height in World War II, the Army Air Corps, as it was known then, had as many as 80,000 airplanes.  Today, the Air Force has approximately 5,600 active airplanes.

On these pages, I wrote earlier this week about the unnamed atheist airman from Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, who the Air Force was not allowing to re-enlist because he refused to conclude his oath with “so help me God.”  Although the “so help me God” language has long been included in the enlistment oath by federal statute, until October 2013, an airman could opt for an alternate phrase and omit the “so help me God” language.  Because he was not being allowed to re-enlist, the airman threatened to sue the government with assistance from American Humanist Association attorneys.

However, at the first whiff of grapeshot over this matter, the Air Force has surrendered.  Effective September 17, 2014, both enlisted members and officers may omit the words, “so help me God” from their oaths if they so choose.  The Air Force made this change based upon a legal opinion from the Department of Defense General Counsel (an Obama appointee).  According to the legal opinion, an individual may strike or omit these words if preferred.  So again, under the Obama Regime, a long-established federal law only means what he wants it to mean.  Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James (also an Obama appointee) stated, “We take any instance in which Airmen report concerns regarding religious freedom seriously.  We are making the appropriate adjustments to ensure our Airmen’s rights are protected.”  I suppose that the rights of Christian Air Force Academy cadets aren’t included.  A copy of the Air Force press release is available here.  Please continue to pray for our soldiers and airmen, particularly for those who serve in harm’s way.  Or should we no longer care?

Mere Links 09.18.14
Thursday, September 18, 2014, 10:00 AM

The Might of Moral Obligation

Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, Preachers Institute

The invisible and extremely mysterious activity of the hidden God in the Book of Esther is profitably contrasted to His clear, open, and miraculous intrusions into history in the Book of Daniel.

Finding Hope: Protecting Religious Freedom In Prison
Elise Hilton, Acton Institute

“Prison is a hopeless place.” That’s how one former inmate describes it. What can give hope? The freedom to practice one’s faith, even behind bars and barbed wire.

San Francisco Moves to Enshrine Right to Sex-Selective Abortions
Rachel Lu, Aleteia

The city takes a stand against bans on sex-selective abortions—even though the practice is still legal in California and 41 other states.

Biblical Theology and the Sexuality Crisis
Albert Mohler

Western society is currently experiencing what can only be described as a moral revolution. Our society’s moral code and collective ethical evaluation on a particular issue has undergone not small adjustments but a complete reversal. That which was once condemned is now celebrated, and the refusal to celebrate is now condemned.

Mere Links 09.17.14
Wednesday, September 17, 2014, 10:00 AM

The New Progressive Argument: For Kids, Marriage Per Se Doesn’t Matter
W. Bradford Wilcox, Family Studies

Can the salutary effects of an intact, married family for kids be achieved without the marriage? Not likely.

The Heart of the Gendercide Problem
Elizabeth Gerhardt, Christianity Today

What the church can do to address the issues underlying global violence against women.

A Tale of Two Churches
Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.,

Once upon a time there was a church founded on God’s entering into human history in order to give humanity a path to eternal life and happiness with him. The Savior that God sent, his only-begotten Son, did not write a book but founded a community, a church, upon the witness and ministry of twelve apostles.

Incest and Pornography: More Similar Than We Think
Christopher O. Tollefsen , Public Discourse

Although we uphold the cultural taboo on incest, we accept something with precisely the same negative effect on integrity, marriage, and family: pornography.

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