Justice for Religious Minorities

7 08 2019
micheile-henderson-03NMNUqHPdE-unsplash

  Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

 

 

How should the majority religion treat those of minority religions in their land?

My experience in both my home nation of the United States and my residence nation of Indonesia is that those of minority religions are often treated unjustly:

  • It is difficult to get permits to build houses of worship
  • Minority houses of worship are often protested, and sometimes vandalized or forcibly closed
  • It is more difficult to rent a home or get a job
  • Anyone leaving the majority religion to join a minority religion may be persecuted
  • The government is quick to address perceived threats from the minorities, but sometimes overlooks both threats and actual violence from the majority faith

In other nations which are less pluralistic, such as certain places in the Middle East, discrimination against the religious minorities is even more apparent, and at times, deadly.

If only there was a standard of conduct towards religious minorities that all nations and communities could agree on…one in which the majority religion agrees to protect the minorities’ homes, their houses of worship, their jobs, their legal status, their freedom of worship, their freedom to choose their own religion, their right to be conscientious objectors in time of war, their freedom from any compulsion by the majority…but what national or community leaders would dare teach their majority constituents such a standard? Would your pastor or mayor speak out in support of this? Would your imam or ayatollah bravely take a stand?

There is one religious leader who has courageously stated and enforced such a code, and it might surprise you who I’m talking about. I’m talking about the Prophet Muhammad.

One of the oldest Christian monasteries in the world was built at the foot of Mt. Sinai in Egypt, St. Catherine’s Monastery. The monks claim that Muhammad visited them several times and maintained friendly relations. Muhammad wrote a letter to them now known as the Ashtiname, or Covenant of Muhammad, and this document has become the basis for much modern-day peacemaking discussion, especially by Muslim religious leaders, and even cited in a controversial case in Pakistan defending a Christian on trial! Here’s what one translation of the letter says:

“This is a message from Muhammad, son of Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.

Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries.

No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.

No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight. The Muslims are to fight for them. If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray.

Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation of (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”

In all my years living in Indonesia, oh how I have longed for a Muslim leader to start a speech like Muhammad’s letter above: “Christians, we are with you!” Muhammad’s Ashtiname—a Persian word meaning “Book of Peace”—is the standard Muslim majority nations and local communities should aspire to in how they treat religious minorities.

The standard for Christian majority nations and local communities comes from Jesus: “Love your neighbor as yourself…love your enemies…do to others as you would have them do to you…by welcoming the stranger, you welcome me.” (Matthew 22:39; Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:31; Matthew 25:34-45) In other words, “Muslims, we are with you!”

If you live in a community where you are in the religious majority, I appeal to you to consider the religious minorities in your midst and care for them with the high standards set by Muhammad and by Jesus

Advertisements




World Religions Quiz

24 07 2019

WhatsApp Image 2018-11-09 at 5.18.27 PM(10)How much do you know about world religions?

A Pew Forum study of nearly 11,000 Americans done this year found that most of us can’t even correctly answer half of a basic world religions survey.

Think you can beat the average? Take the survey here.

I thought I should take the challenge since I teach a World Religions class to high school students. I was relieved to get a perfect score. 🙂

Besides teaching, I am also involved daily with Muslims in Indonesia, and occasionally take time to chat on issues of faith with an online interfaith discussion group. I’ve learned a lot from those interactions that I never learned in books.

Here are my 3 takeaways from the survey results—

  • Most of us don’t know much about the beliefs of those of other religions.

In fact, as a Christian I’m embarrassed to say that in general, Jews, atheists and agnostics know more about others’ faiths than we Christians do.

Why? Pew Forum found that it wasn’t related to Jews, atheists and agnostics having higher education (though they do). I suspect that it comes down to who we choose to interact with and whether we’re willing to ask honest questions.

  • The #1 greatest factor discovered by Pew Forum backs up my theory: personally knowing people from other faiths is the single most significant determining factor as to understanding the beliefs of other faiths. Out of 32 questions on the full survey, those who only knew members of 0-3 other religions scored an average of 8.6 right answers. But those who knew members of 7-9 other religions scored a whopping 19.0 questions right, far above the average.
  • How this connects to peacemaking is also interesting—Pew Forum added a “feeling thermometer” of how respondents felt about those of other faiths. Not surprisingly, the more we know about another’s faith, the more warmly we feel toward them; and the less we know about their faith, the more cool or even suspicious we might feel toward them.

If we apply this principle to social issues such as the anti-Semitic graffiti in Santa Monica this week, or the 26 times mosques have been targeted in liberal, multi-cultural California in the last decade–with everything from arson to death threats to bomb threats to actually stabbing a worshiper–my guess is that whoever is behind such horrendous deeds has never tried to make a Jewish or Muslim friend.

While taking a World Religions class can be helpful, the most meaningful thing we can do toward building a world of understanding and peace is to make a friendship with someone who believes differently than we do.

Watch for opportunities this week—if your heart is open, you might be surprised at the situations God will bring across your path to meet someone different than you. Or if you’re really adventurous, go on a John 4:4 adventure, and intentionally go where people are different than you. Then write and tell me what happened!

[The complete summary of the Pew Forum survey can be found here.]





World Refugee Day–Faith over Fear

19 06 2019

Praying With RefugeesA bomb threat at the hotel where we were supposed to teach English caused us to cancel our classes one day. Thankfully, there was no bomb, and we could carry on teaching English here in Indonesia.

That’s the closest I’ve come to a bomb.

I’ve never watched missiles fall from the sky and wipe out my city.

I’ve never watched my apartment building crumble in a cloud of smoke, and wonder where I could go to be safe.

I’ve never lost track of family members—not knowing if they were killed in the mass destruction, or lying wounded somewhere, or taken to a refugee camp with no way of contacting them.

I’ve never been forced to leave everything I know and flee to a foreign land, giving up my dreams of the life I wanted for the new goal of just staying alive.

I’ve never been a refugee.

June 20th is World Refugee Day. It’s a time to take our eyes off ourselves for a moment, and consider our hurting “neighbors.”

Last year on June 20th, the United Nations reported that 2017 had record numbers of refugees around the world, 68.5 million people. That’s a new person displaced every two seconds.

God’s heart for refugees cannot be ignored. In the Bible, when a neighboring nation like Moab (modern-day west Jordan, but at the time an enemy to Israel) was attacked and had to flee their homes as refugees, God let us in on his emotions in Isaiah 15-16: “Oh, how I grieve for Moab! Refugees stream to Zoar…” The Moabites beg Judah, “Give the refugees from Moab sanctuary with you. Be a safe place for those on the run from the killing fields.” And God responds, “I’ll join the weeping. I’ll weep right along with Jazer, weep for the Sibmah vineyards. And yes, Heshbon and Elealeh, I’ll mingle my tears with your tears!” (Message translation)

Jesus himself was a refugee. His family fled Herod’s killing spree for the safety of Egypt. Aren’t we all glad Egypt took Jesus in, and didn’t turn him back at the border?

Taking in a refugee family can be a scary step of faith. Just ask Wolfgang and Chantal Massing, who were hesitant at first to disrupt their comfortable lives, but their faith in Christ prevailed. They invited a Syrian refugee family into their home and their hearts.

I love Chantal’s challenge to all of us: “Trusting more than fearing has got to be learned.”

On June 20th, what can we do to celebrate World Refugee Day?

  • Pray for refugee families, for peace in their homelands, for just immigration laws that welcome the hurting and the stranger.
  • If you know a refugee family, reach out to love them today.
  • Check to see if there are organizations in your city that help refugees, and ask them how you can get involved. Chantal started by donating items—she wound up with a gorgeous Syrian baby who called her “Grandma.”
  • Contact your government officials in support of legislation that helps refugees (ask me for more information if you’re interested).

My family has been blessed living in Indonesia by a wonderful Muslim family that took us in to live with them our first 3 months here, helping us to figure out how to do life in a whole new world. They became like a second family for us. Where would we be today without them?

Their kindness is exactly what Jesus expects of his followers when he charges us, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:35-40 ESV)





Isra Mi’raj and Your Supernatural Encounter

2 04 2019

HeavenHappy Isra Mi’raj to all my Muslim friends today!

For those Muslims who live as minorities, I pray for a peaceful day of celebrations. My heart was broken with all of yours by the tragic shootings in Christchurch, NZ. I’m thankful for the gracious response of the Anglican Christians who demonstrated the true heart of Christ by opening their doors for Muslims to come and pray while their mosque was closed, and the hundreds of volunteers who are providing food, transportation, free legal advice, and other demonstrations of practical love.

For my many Muslim friends who live as the majority in nations such as Indonesia where I live, I hope you’ll be ready to come alongside your suffering minorities with a similarly generous, peace-loving heart.

For my Christian friends who don’t know what the Isra Mi’raj holiday is about, it commemorates the Prophet Muhammad’s supernatural journey in one night to visit both Jerusalem and heaven. It includes a symbolic purification of his heart by Gabriel, meeting several of the most famous prophets in heaven such as Adam, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, and meeting God.

Can ordinary seekers of God ask for supernatural encounters, such as meeting a prophet, or visiting heaven? Or are such encounters reserved only for the most holy?

I personally have never met a prophet face-to-face or been taken up to see heaven, but I know many people who have. A quiet housewife I’ve known for years suddenly encountered Jesus walking into her kitchen. Two junior high girls in our church were caught up into heaven for several hours and described to my pastor amazing things they would have had no other way of knowing. There’s an entire book of the Bible called “Revelation” that tells how Jesus’ close friend John visited heaven, and was told about the future of humanity. There are literally thousands of documented cases of ordinary people having supernatural experiences like these.

A 20-year-old Indonesian girl who was living with us saw a crowd on the street and stopped to find a young man having an epileptic-type seizure. She drew near and prayed for healing. The man stopped shaking and jumped up, asking, “Where did he go?”

“Who?” our friend answered.

“The man dressed in white. The man who touched me and healed me.”

No one in the crowd, including our friend, had seen this supernatural being, but the epileptic man saw him and received a healing touch. A supernatural encounter such as this might be only a prayer away.

Would you like to visit heaven? Talk directly to Jesus? Why not take this holiday of Isra Mi’raj as an opportunity to ask God for a supernatural encounter. Jesus taught us, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

If you have already had such an encounter, or if you pray this prayer and receive one, please tell me about it in the comments section below!

Happy Isra Mi’raj! Happy supernatural encounters!





Curing the Christmas Blues

15 12 2018

IMG_20181216_081000197The holidays can be the toughest time of year. Especially if you’re alone.

As I write this, my wife is out of town helping a friend through surgery. My daughter is taking off on a train trip with her friends. And my son is an ocean away at university. Being alone at Christmas can make you long for the days of bickering over which Christmas movie to watch, awkward political conversations with the in-laws, and fighting both weather and traffic to visit grandma’s house.

No wonder people struggle with depression at Christmas. Being with extended family is stressful. Being without family feels extra-lonely at Christmas.

Before all the vibrant reds and greens drift into forgettable grays or those depressing blues, here are two ways to save Christmas:

  • Do something you like

In C.S. Lewis’s novel The Screwtape Letters, an older demon guides a younger demon in how to ruin a person’s life. In Chapter 13, he warns the demon to keep the human from reading a book he enjoys, or taking a walk out in nature that he loves. These simple pleasures come from God, and make the human feel “that he was coming home, recovering himself.”

Unacceptable, the older demon warns. “All the healthy and out-going activities which we want him to avoid can be inhibited and nothing given in return, so that at least he may say…’I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither  what I ought nor what I liked.’”

The demon continues: “Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years [or a holiday!] not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why.”

This Christmas, make it a point to do something you like—read a novel, take a walk, bake Christmas cookies for someone, decorate a Christmas tree just for yourself—there are a million pleasures God has given us that can bring joy to our world.

  • Engage with the human race

In the Ted Talk “How to Make Stress your Friend” by Kelly McGonigal, I learned that the neural-hormone oxytocin is released when we’re under stress; however, it’s also released when we hug someone. Kelly’s conclusion is that “when oxytocin is released in the stress response, it is motivating you to seek support. . . Oxytocin makes you crave physical contact with your friends and family, it enhances your empathy, it even makes you more willing to help and support the people you care about. . . So when you reach out to others under stress, either to seek support or to help someone else, you release more of this hormone, your stress response becomes healthier, and you actually recover faster from stress. I find this amazing, that your stress response has a built-in mechanism for stress resilience—and that mechanism is human connection.”

Whether it’s the stress of traffic, shopping, and annoying relatives, or the stress of loneliness, our human tendency to run from the pain and isolate ourselves actually makes things worse. We need people—if not someone who cares for us, at least someone to care for.

So my second piece of advice for curing the Christmas Blues is to connect with someone you love, even if it has to be by Skype or phone; and reach out to someone who needs to be loved. Babysit someone’s kids, serve Christmas dinner at a shelter, ask in your local retirement home who is unlikely to have family visit, and listen to their stories for an hour. Or check which university students near you can’t make it home for the holidays (like my son!) and invite them for dinner. You won’t just be a blessing to them—you’ll discover a stress resilience inside yourself that leads to joy.

As C.S. Lewis reminds us, wasting our holidays on “nothing” would be a shame. Joy comes when we stay active doing things we enjoy, and when we give and receive love.

Merry Christmas!





Children Bombing Children—The Surabaya Church Bombings

23 05 2018

Church bombing family

The family that bombs together…

On May 13, 2018 a Muslim family of six took on three suicide bombing missions, attacking 3 churches in Surabaya, Indonesia. At least 18 people died, and dozens were injured.

A nine-year-old Muslim girl blew herself up in front of a church. An eleven-year-old Christian boy died.

Children raised to kill children. What has become of us?

That evening a bomb accidentally went off in a nearby apartment complex, killing a Muslim man, his wife and oldest child as they were preparing it for an attack. Their other kids happened to be playing outside and their lives were spared. Had the bomb been successfully armed, perhaps those children would have been carrying it to the next target.

The following day another local Muslim family of five suicide-bombed the police station. Their youngest, an eight-year-old girl, somehow survived the blast. I imagine she won’t make it back to her 2nd grade classroom in time to finish the semester with her friends. And if she does, how will they look at her now?

Indonesia is no stranger to terrorist attacks. However, this is the first time children have been sacrificed. These families are said to be inspired by ISIS.

I am not against Islam. I count several Muslims among my closest friends. Like Jesus, I try to be most critical about my own religion’s problems.

But I hope that my Muslim friends will agree with me, this is an example of religion at its ugliest.

David Garrison writes: “There is an evil in Islam, as with all religions, when it is used to control and manipulate its followers or incite them to violence against those who would exercise their freedom of conscience to embrace a different way. Islam today is perhaps the most intrusive and egregious world religion at squelching nonconformity of belief. We must remember, though, that Islam is probably no more controlling than was Roman Catholicism in the Middle Ages or, closer to home, Puritanism in the early years of Anglo-American history. One can only hope that Islam, too, will experience a reformation in its relationship to its adherents.” (From A Wind in the House of Islam p.233)

Historically, Christianity has done equally heinous and barbaric deeds. We have no right to condemn, for we need God’s mercy as much as modern-day Muslims do. Thankfully, the Bible and the Qur’an agree that Jesus is God’s mercy to us.

When we receive God’s mercy, we have mercy to give to others. These two are always connected. As Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

If we want God to show mercy to us on the Judgment Day, neither bombing our “enemies” nor condemning them will do. Receiving mercy requires two things—1) being merciful to others; and 2) receiving Jesus, God’s mercy to us.

I implore my Christian friends who are wounded and outraged at this tragedy, to pray as Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing.” (Luke 23:34)

I urge my Muslim friends to become activists within Islam to promote this saying of Muhammad from the Hadith:  “Those who are merciful will be shown mercy by the Most Merciful. Be merciful to those on the earth and the One in the heavens will have mercy upon you.”

When religious leaders kill their own family members who want to leave the faith; when minorities from other religions are beaten or killed if they refuse to convert or refuse to follow Sharia Law; when parents teach their children that God wants to kill the children of other religious faiths, O my dear Muslim brothers—as Garrison said, “There is an evil in Islam.” I pray that you will not stand idly by, but will passionately pursue a reformation of mercy.





The Black Panther Challenge

3 03 2018

Marvel Studios poster taken from hamiltontheater.net

I finally found time this weekend to go watch The Black Panther. LOVED IT!!

This hugely entertaining film addresses the question of “What do we do with the blessings God has given us?” Not two, but three different arguments are put forward:

+  use those blessings to protect us and ours (Black Panther’s fathers’ traditional wisdom)

+  use those blessings to help the needy who are not part of us (Black Panther’s love interest)

+  use those blessings to dominate those who are not part of us (Black Panther’s cousin)

In the middle of this triangle stands the Black Panther, king of the technologically advanced Wakanda. He feels responsible to protect his nation; but he also begins to feel responsible to share with the rest of a hurting world.

*SPOILER ALERT* In one of the post-credit scenes, we learn the Black Panther’s final decision when he addresses the UN with this quote:

“More connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis, the wise build bridges while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another as if we were one tribe.”

This is not an original idea—it’s been said before by people such as Isaac Newton, Martin Luther King Jr., and Pope Francis, among others. But it is a truth worth repeating, and a truth worth making a Marvel movie about.

Here’s my follow-up question for you: When is the last time you used your talents, skills, or money to help someone who is not a member of any of your groups? someone who had no way to pay you back?

Put another way: When is the last time you intentionally stepped out of your world into someone else’s world simply to bless them?

I think of my wife, who celebrated Valentine’s Day last month in an unusual way. She bought roses (not unusual) and gave some to our daughter and to me. But she saved out two red roses to give to strangers (unusual!). Then she prayed and asked God who to give them to.

She zipped downtown on her motorbike and followed God’s leading to a middle-aged woman, pulled up next to her, said “Happy Valentine’s Day!” and gave her a rose. The woman’s jaw dropped, her eyes lit up, she couldn’t believe this was happening. My wife shared that it was like no one had given this woman flowers ever in her life, she was so happy. Something similar happened with the second woman God led her to.

Our family doesn’t move in the same social circles as those two ladies, but a simple rose has built a bridge. This prophetic act reminds us that we’re all connected, we’re all “one tribe,” and our blessings are meant to overflow on others.

So whether we’re kings or paupers, let’s take to heart God’s commission to our father Abraham in Genesis 12—we’re blessed to be a blessing.