High Court Affirms Death Sentence for Asia Bibi
Thursday, October 16, 2014, 4:05 PM

On these pages, I have written a series of blogs regarding the plight of Asia Bibi.  My regular readers will recall that 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 47-year-old Roman Catholic rural farm worker and a married 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.  One of the great differences between the Holy Bible and Islamic teaching is that the Holy Bible teaches in Ephesians 2: 8 and 9 that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and our salvation does not depend upon our good works or any personal merit.  In contrast, the Qur’an teaches that salvation is by sincerity and good works (see, e.g., Qur’an 3:135; 7:8-9, 21:47, 66:8-9).  Thus, Islam teaches that one cannot know and experience God’s assurance of eternal salvation unless one dies in jihad.

Six days after the water incident, a violent mob came to Asia Bibi’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 princely sum in rural Pakistan.  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.

In my blog from last July regarding Asia Bibi, I wrote the following:

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.

However, in recent days, the High Court in Lahore rejected her appeal and upheld her death sentence.  Over the past four years, Christian lawyers in Pakistan have been working on the appeal of her case, along with numerous others who sit on Pakistan’s “blasphemy death row.”  Although Asia Bibi was represented in court by her legal team and had support from the Provincial Minister for Minorities Affairs, as well as support from human rights activists from other NGOs, the courtroom at her appeal was packed with lawyers from the Islamic Organization, Khatam-e Nabowat, and an estimated twenty mullahs who were there to support the complainant.  The New York Times reported:

The Lahore courtroom was packed with clerics and members of extremist groups who supported the prosecution, and they erupted in celebration upon hearing the two-judge panel’s decision to dismiss Ms. Bibi’s appeal.  “Let us celebrate by distributing sweets!” said one cleric who was reciting verses from the Quran throughout the almost two-and-a-half-hour court proceeding.  “I am very happy,” said Qari Salaam, a co-worker of Ms. Bibi’s and the main complainant in the case.  “The judges have given a verdict on merit, and Asia deserved it.”

Ms. Bibi’s husband, Ashiq Masih, expressed disappointment after the verdict.  As he left court, he poignantly said, “We were hoping for some relief, but alas.”  Asia Bibi now has 30 days to appeal to the Supreme Court of Pakistan.  The New York Times, quoting unnamed analysts, noted that given the huge backlog of cases at the Supreme Court, it could take at least three years before her appeal will be heard.

Last Christmas, Asia Bibi wrote a letter to Pope Francis, in which she thanked him and all the churches praying for her.  She credited the prayers of God’s people for her survival after years in prison.  In her letter to Pope Francis, she expressed her desire to be in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome to pray with Pope Francis for Christmas 2014.  Lord Jesus, may it be so.  Please continue to pray for Asia Bibi and her family, and her legal team, and let us work together so that she can worship or Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in Rome later this year.

Mere Links 10.16.14
Thursday, October 16, 2014, 10:00 AM

Has the Catholic Church Changed Its Teaching on Sex and Marriage?
Robert P. George, Public Discourse

Amid reports of “earthquakes” and “seismic” shifts, we ought to remember the Catholic Church’s moral teachings in their wholeness, which have not shifted at all.

What Should Evangelicals Make of the Rome Synod on the Family?
Russell Moore, Moore to the Point

Should all of this even matter to those of us who are Protestants? We do not, as Martin Luther put it, accept the authority of popes and councils “since these have often contradicted one another.” And yet, there are some important questions posed here, that we should consider.

Christian group to turn former abortion clinic into memorial garden
David Yonke, Religion News Service

A Christian ministry plans to turn an abandoned abortion clinic into a memorial garden for the unborn.

The Vindication of Christian Sexual Ethics
David French, National Review Online

This is exactly the time when Christians should step forward with a different ideal, the holistic, healthy, and proven model of sobriety always, chastity before marriage, and fidelity afterwards — all because marriage is sacred, our bodies are a temple to God, and we love our spouses more than we love our own lives.

Mere Links 10.15.14
Wednesday, October 15, 2014, 10:00 AM

Can Christians Still Go to Harvard?
Kirsten Powers, The Daily Beast

America’s colleges are increasingly hostile to religion, but Veritas, a Christian organization, has found a way to thrive.

The Solemnization of Marriage
Kevin DeYoung, The Gospel Coalition

If gay marriage is right, then there is almost nothing in the old Book of Common Prayer that is right.

Surrogacy: The Twenty-First Century’s New Baby-Making
Christopher White, The Federalist

Pro-surrogacy groups argue it’s time the law recognizes some women as breeders.

A Pastoral Failure
Matthew Schmitz, First Things

Instead of addressing sin, the document calls for “dialogue and cooperation . . . with the social structures.” The clunkiness of the phrasing makes me very much doubt the prospects of the dialogue (clarity being a prerequisite of conversation), though it is indeed important to address the economic conditions that make married life difficult.

Mere Links 10.14.14
Tuesday, October 14, 2014, 10:00 AM

Christianity in elite academia? It’s risky business
Margery Eagan, Crux

“I was a newly appointed associate dean at a dinner party with the sophisticated administrative elite at Berkeley,” Reimer said, “and over cocktails someone made a comment that ‘there were no Christians here at Berkeley.’ Sheepishly, I told the group that this is not so, and that I was a Christian. One of the deans retorted, ‘Well, at least there are no Republicans here.’ ”

Adam, Ralph, Moses and Man
Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, Preachers Institute

With respect to biology, perhaps some attention should be given to a recent theory that interprets the biblical Adam as a literary metaphor for the human race or for some early portion thereof.

Nigeria’s ‘megachurches’: a hidden pillar of Africa’s top economy
Tim Cocks, Reuters

When a guesthouse belonging to one of Nigeria’s leading Christian pastors collapsed last month, killing 115 mostly South African pilgrims, attention focused on the multimillion-dollar “megachurches” that form a huge, untaxed sector of Africa’s top economy.

General Theological Seminary and Progressive Christianity
Frederick Schmidt , Patheos

Reluctantly, I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason the faculty has been treated so callously is because our commitment to progressive Christianity is a fragile thing, rooted more in a commitment to progressive political views than it is to views grounded in an understanding of God’s will.

Mere Links 10.13.14
Monday, October 13, 2014, 10:00 AM

The Church of England and Moral Hazard
Betsy Childs, First Things

Certainly, ministers should be allowed to hold political views and to speak about them. But the Church of England needs to give careful thought to the kind of moral hazards that can arise from behavior like Sizer’s.

The Incomprehensibility of Sin: A Problem for Apologetics
Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, Preachers Institute

Following the lead of Holy Scripture, the Church has consistently proclaimed that Christ is victorious over three enemies: Sin, Death, and Satan. All three, alas, pose special difficulties for those outside the Christian faith we are proposing to them.

Africans to Westerners at synod: We’ve got our own problems
Inés San Martín, Crux

During the Oct. 5-19 Synod of Bishops on the family, many of the biggest surprises are coming from the African continent, where the challenges vary greatly from those of Europe and the US.

China’s One-Child Policy: Pro-Choice and Pro-Life Must Work Together to End Forced Abortion and Gendercide
Reggie Littlejohn, Public Discourse

Forced abortion and gendercide are not pro-life or pro-choice issues. They are human rights issues.

Indiana State Trooper Sued for Witnessing to Jesus Christ
Monday, October 13, 2014, 9:28 AM

On August 9, 2014, Ms. Ellen Bogan, 60, was pulled over by Indiana State Trooper Brian Hamilton for an alleged illegal pass while speeding.  During the traffic stop, Trooper Hamilton issued a warning ticket.  (A warning ticket for speeding and an illegal pass?  They are so nice in Indiana!)  However, Ms. Bogan has now alleged in a lawsuit filed on her behalf by the American Civil (Criminal?) Liberties Union (“ACLU”) against Trooper Hamilton that he asked her if she had accepted Jesus Christ as her personal Savior, and whether she attended church.  She further alleged that he gave her a pamphlet that outlines “God’s plan for salvation,” which includes a recommended suggestion to “realize you’re a sinner” and to “realize the Lord Jesus Christ paid the penalty for your sins.”  (Yes, it is true that all speeders are sinners.)  The pamphlet, published by the First Baptist Church of Cambridge, Indiana, advertised a radio program called “Policing for Jesus Ministries” hosted by “Trooper Dan Jones.”  In an interview with the Indianapolis Star, Ms. Bogan said, “It’s completely out of line and it just — it took me aback.  The whole time, his lights were on.  I had no reason to believe I could just pull away at that point, even though I had my warning.”  You can read the lawsuit here.

Indiana University Professor of Law Jennifer A. Drobac, who holds a doctorate in law from Stanford University Law School, told the Indianapolis Star, “The most important thing for people to understand is that the First Amendment specifies that the government shall not prefer one religion over another religion, or religious adherence over anything else.  The police officer is representing the government … so that means, as a representative, this person, while on duty, while engaged in official action, is basically overstepping and is trying to establish religion.”  Of course, Professor Drobac did not speak to the issue of the Trooper’s free speech rights.  In fact, Micah Clark of the American Family Association of Indiana, told USA Today, “I have people pass out religious material all the time, and it doesn’t offend me.  [This case] might not be the most persuasive time to talk to someone about their faith, but I don’t think that a police officer is prohibited from doing something like that.”  Mr. Clark is questioning whether a police officer should lose his right to free speech merely because he is wearing a badge.  After all, according to Indiana State Police spokesman Captain David Bursten, there is not a specific policy that addresses officers who distribute religious materials.

Over the years, I have attended a number of events sponsored by the Fellowship of Christian Peace Officers (www.fcpo.org), and I know that we have many devout brothers and sisters in Christ who deal daily in a sordid and dangerous world that is unimaginable for most of us.  (According to the National Law Enforcement Officers organization, through October 12, there have been 91 police officers killed in the line of duty across the United States in 2014.)  But I have to admit that if I were pulled over and an officer asked me to consider conversion to Islam, the Church of Euthanasia, or the Creativity Movement, I would be deeply troubled.  However, if he were to ask me to consider Scientology, or The Church of All Worlds, or even the Prince Philip Movement, it would simply be a funny story to tell my buddies at work and at the gym.  In my recent blog about the Fields of Faith event at government-run schools, one commenter noted, “One English teacher asked [my son] on the first day what the religion of every student was and made it clear she did not believe in God.  Knowing her stance and the way she required self-disclosure left [my son] feeling pressured and defensive about his faith.”  In contrast, Ms. Bogan was able to drive away from Trooper Hamilton with a warning ticket within a few minutes, but my commenter’s son and his classmates will have to sit through her class for an entire academic year.  But if the State of Indiana decides to punish and/or fire Trooper Hamilton, then so should lots of teachers and school administrators in government schools, and professors in state universities be punished as well.  After all, as Professor Drobac claims, a government employee, “while on duty, while engaged in official action,” should not be allowed to impose their religious (and consistent with Professor Drobac’s logic, a non-religious) worldview.  In any event, Ms. Bogan, a gaggle of ACLU lawyers, at least one judge, and a jury of Ms. Bogan’s peers will now be eternally responsible for their study and response to the Holy Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Please pray for Trooper Hamilton and for Ms. Bogan.  I know that attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom are also reading this blog, and I think that Trooper Hamilton may need some help from you very soon.  And if you wish to contact Indiana Governor Mike Pence, you can reach his office via email at http://in.gov/gov/2333.htm.  I already let Governor Pence know how I stand on this matter.

St. Symeon the New Theologian
Sunday, October 12, 2014, 12:00 PM

st symeon the new theologian 207x300 St. Symeon the New TheologianBy what boundless mercy, my Savior,
have you allowed me to become a member of your body?
Me, the unclean, the defiled, the prodigal.
How is it that you have clothed me
in the brilliant garment,
radiant with the splendor of immortality,
that turns all my members into light?
Your body, immaculate and divine,
is all radiant with the fire of your divinity,
with which it is ineffably joined and combined.
This is the gift you have given me, my God:
that this mortal and shabby frame
has become one with your immaculate body
and that my blood has mingled
with your blood.
I know, too,
that I have been made one with your divinity
and have become your own most pure body,
a brilliant member, transparently lucid,
luminous and holy.
I see the beauty of it all, I can gaze on the radiance.
I have become a reflection of the light of your grace.

St. Symeon the New Theologian (949 – 1032)
Excerpt from A Neglected Masterpiece of the Christian Mystical Tradition by Father John A. McGuckin:

The Byzantine saint and poet Symeon the New Theologian (949–1022) is one of the Christian world’s greatest mystics, if such a term can properly be used of ancient writers. It is here applied for the sake of convenience, and for the purpose of unveiling the author, as it were, who is not only a visionary of the highest order within the Eastern Orthodox tradition, but equally one of the Christian world’s most lyrical and rhapsodic writers. It is a startling fact that it is only in recent years that his works have become available in English translation, and a sadder one that his name is still largely unknown to a wider public who would otherwise undoubtedly be interested in a spirituality suffused with light and hope and one of the most profound senses of the mercy and compassion of God. The situation of neglect is comparable to finding something of the quality of the works of San Juan de la Cruz still awaiting an edition.

Amazon’s St. Symeon page with works translated into English:
St. Symeon

Lagniappe – Dawn Rodgers & Eric Wyse
Sunday, October 12, 2014, 7:00 AM

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it! ~ Psalm 118:24

Wonderful Merciful Savior

Wonderful, merciful Savior
Precious Redeemer and friend
Who would have thought that a lamb could
Rescue the souls of men
Oh, You rescue the souls of men

Counselor, Comforter, Keeper
Spirit we long to embrace
You offer hope when our hearts have
Hopelessly lost the way
Oh, we hopelessly lost the way (more…)

Sacred Music – Part Three
Saturday, October 11, 2014, 9:00 AM

Third of four episodes of the BBC’s series on Sacred Music.
Byrd & Tallis: Singing the Lord’s song in a strange land

Mere Links 10.10.14
Friday, October 10, 2014, 10:00 AM

Mercy and Marriage at the Synod
Ross Douthat, New York Times

Since I haven’t written anything new lately on the debate over communion for divorced and remarried Catholics, the highest-profile (or at least most divisive) issue likely to be discussed at the synod of bishops that began meeting this week in Rome, I thought that I should link back to a few of my posts on the subject.

Why do so many liberals despise Christianity?
Damon Linker, The Week

Liberals increasingly want to enforce a comprehensive, uniformly secular vision of the human good. And they see alternative visions of the good as increasingly intolerable.

The Defense of Marriage Isn’t Over
Ryan T. Anderson, Public Discourse

Monday’s action from the Supreme Court is a setback for sound constitutional self-government and for a healthy marriage culture. So where do we go from here?

Is It Fair To Criticize Missionary Doctors?
Aaron Earls, The Federalist

An atheist provides yet another unintentional compliment to doctors who serve in Christ’s name.

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