Should Christians join Violent Protests?

14 02 2018

Iran welcomed the new year with violent protests leaving many dead. In many other nations such as Iraq, Ethiopia, Tunisia, Bangladesh, South Africa and Ukraine, frustrations with corrupt, abusive and unjust governments have sparked angry riots. Christian citizens of these nations often feel all the pain that others feel—and sometimes more. In these cases, is it justifiable to join in violent protests?

This week I was so encouraged to receive a letter from someone who has read my novels, and is personally wrestling with this very issue. She writes—

 

You have had an impact on us beyond what you know. My husband, who DOES NOT read novels, ever, submitted to reading A Way Out of Hell out loud with me during vacation last summer. It really impacted him. Our adopted country, ________, is descending into political chaos. 60% of the country is strongly protesting the defacto reign of 6%. Protests, which have occurred often in many places, often turn violent. Protestors throw stones; the government responds with bullets. Over 20 people have died in such ways in each of the last 2 months. [This week] the protestors have called for a general strike over much of the country. General strike means nothing is open–in fact, if you drive your car down the street, it will be burned up. We are again praying against violence and for a just solution to longstanding grievances.

Religious leaders of all faiths have been calling for non-violence, but still individual Christians, in total frustration, participate in the protests and maybe even in the violence. My husband is now writing a paper on the practical as well as theological reasons for non-violence (Influenced by A Way Out of Hell) to stimulate discussion among the [Christian] leaders with whom we work. We have toyed with the idea of making a special trip to ________ to gather these guys together to discuss this. So far there is no consensus among our brothers there that this is the right time for that, or that [outsiders] should involve themselves in what might appear to be “politics.” So right now we just keep praying. However, I think it is safe to say that we would not have even considered doing such a thing before reading your book. You can pray that God will give us wisdom, and our beloved adopted country justice and peace. The alternative is a bloodbath that is beyond imagination.

 

The way of Jesus is an inherently revolutionary way. He stood against the same issues of corruption, abuse and injustice. But His Kingdom was not to be established by force. “Put away your sword,” Jesus said to Peter. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword.”

Instead, Jesus called all men to become their true selves—for tax collectors, Roman soldiers, and other perpetrators of injustice to repent (literally, “to change their way of thinking”); to tear down walls not built of stone, but of racial and social prejudice, religious arrogance, and of using power for any ambition less noble than serving; to establish a Kingdom based on love.

People in pain are tempted to do anything to make the pain stop. They don’t see far enough ahead to realize that using violence to stop one pain only produces another. Jesus saw past the pain to the society He wanted to build on the other side. The only way to achieve it was to demonstrate radical, self-sacrificial love IN the pain. This is our high calling as His followers.

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“Baton Packs a Punch”

12 11 2017

photo from standard.co.uk

I was greatly encouraged to read this recent review of my writing on Amazon. The reviewer, Carolyn Klaus, kindly permitted me to post it here on my blog as well. Enjoy!

I just finished A Way Out of Hell. Wow. It is a tightly woven thriller that has haunted me, day and night, since I began reading it aloud to my husband during a long car trip recently. He doesn’t do novels, but has been as engrossed as I. I cannot recommend this book too strongly.

The author captured my interest by the excerpt on the back cover: “The Intelligence agent leaned back in the chair with his hands pressed together, tapping his lips. ‘If ISIS is indeed here, I want you to find their terrorist cell and take it down. And I want you to do this…’ he paused, ‘…non-violently.'” Was such a thing possible? Yes, as a Christian, I had heard Jesus’ commands to “love your enemies” many times. It hadn’t seemed to me a very practical approach to combating terrorism. But then, the evening news wasn’t showing me very much success from other methods.

Both A Way Out of Hell and the first book in this series of three, Someone Has to Die, demonstrate the author’s intimate knowledge of the many cultures of Indonesia—and of human nature. Carefully chosen details paint the characters and their environments with convincing reality. More impressive to me was the deep sympathy with which the author depicts the inner life of each of the characters—from terrorist to prejudiced pastor. I found myself empathizing even with the bad guys.

But this was not just a highly entertaining read. Baton packs a punch. Peacemaking, realistically, is difficult, risky, and costly. It is not for the faint-hearted or for hirelings. But as the Muslim former jihadist hero says, “The only true and lasting change happens when men’s hearts, like my own, are changed. And men’s hearts are never changed by fear, intimidation, control, threats, or violence. All of these only succeed in reproducing themselves in those we want to change. Fear produces hatred, hatred produces threats; threats produce violence; violence produces anger; anger produces more hatred, then more violence, and the cycle never ends. The only way toward true peace is to stop that cycle and start a new one. There is another cycle we can choose…” Baton has shown how this could work in the real world today. I’ll be thinking about this for a long time. I hope a lot of others– Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and those without religion– read this and do the same.





Are Christians Persecuted more than Muslims?

1 04 2017

Indonesian church burned by angry extremists (www.newson6.com)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel thinks so, calling Christianity “the most persecuted religion in the world.” Other Western leaders have made similar statements. But I began to wonder, is it true? So the research began…

The first thing I discovered is that in terms of how many nations persecute those of another religion, Christianity and Islam are neck-and-neck. In measuring both government harassment and social harassment over the last ten years, Christianity and Islam are ranked #1 and #2 every year, frequently changing places, but averaging persecution in about 80 nations of the world. In terms of where they are persecuted, it seems to be a tie.

The major difference I found is in how, or to what extent, they are persecuted. While it may be difficult to get mosque permits in the US just as it is difficult to get church permits in Indonesia, there are other more severe forms of persecution studied that show clearly Christians are suffering more greatly overall than Muslims. These variances are catalogued as “Low, High, Very High” or sometimes “Extreme.” Muslim majority nations have numerous cases of long prison sentences or angry mobs beating someone to death because they questioned a religious teacher, shared any thoughts deemed “anti-Islamic,” or converted from Islam to Christianity, whereas it’s very rare to hear of such cases in Christian majority nations.

For example, in Brian Grim’s insightful TED talk, he notes that the disparity between High or Very High Government Favoritism in the Middle East and N. Africa is 95%, while the rest of the world is only 12 %. Similarly, Sectarian or Communal Violence in the Middle East and N. Africa is 50%, while the rest of the world is only 11%. These regions of High or Very High persecution are almost all Muslim majority nations persecuting their minorities, including smaller Muslim groups but especially Christians. And when the government favors one religion to the detriment of other religions, it tends to result in a higher rate of social hostilities. In many cases, heinous crimes against minorities even go unpunished.

In every list I found of the worst offenders of religious persecution, Muslim-majority nations dominated the list.

  • US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in their 2016 report listed 17 nations of highest concern and 11 of those are Muslim majority, with a 12th nation, Nigeria, devastated by the Islamic extremists Boko Haram. The only Christian majority nation on the list, Central African Republic, has been torn apart by civil war. Of the 10 nations of high concern, 6 are Muslim majority, none are Christian majority.
  • The Pew Forum’s 2014 report showed that the Middle East and North Africa are roughly three times more religiously restricted by governments, and experience roughly five times more social hostility than the Christian majority nations. Combining these two features of persecution and applying it just to the world’s twenty-five largest nations, Pew Forum ranks the large nations with greatest religious persecution as follows: Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, Russia and Turkey—again, 4 of 5 are Muslim majority.
  • Open Doors 2017 World Watch List claims that persecution of Christians has, for the third straight year, reached a record high. They count 215 million Christians that suffered high, very high or extreme persecution last year. Of the Top Ten nations with Extreme persecution, all except North Korea are Muslim majority nations.

This is a difficult subject to talk about with my Muslim friends, mainly because much of the media in the West, and many Christians, have concluded that the problem is Islam, that religious persecution and violence is an essential part of the Islamic faith. Most of my Muslim friends do not actively persecute those of other religions, and they would claim persecution and violence are not a part of their faith. So who is right?

I would like to make an appeal to both sides—

  • To my CHRISTIAN friends: Unless you want to claim as part of the Christian faith the KKK, the Serbian Christian genocide of Bosnian Muslims, the Christian-majority Central African Republic’s slaughter of minority Muslim groups, and a host of other historic examples when evil men used religion as an excuse for violence, please don’t assume that your Muslim co-workers and neighbors will support violence in the name of Islam either. Ask about their feelings—they may be more horrified than you are. In fact, they may personally know victims of Islamic extremist violence. Please remember that Muslims are also victims of horrific persecution at times, such as the massacre of the Rohingya in Myanmar. And please speak up for justice for the minorities around you.
  • To my MUSLIM friends: If you live in a Muslim majority nation, it’s time to stand up and demand justice for your minorities. Keeping silent or claiming ignorance of what others do in the name of Islam does not reflect the character of the Most Merciful, Most Compassionate. One of the reasons that extremist groups thrive is that they’re freely allowed to preach their poisonous ideologies. Meanwhile, governments show favoritism to one religion over others. And the majority of peace-loving Muslims turn a blind eye. If you don’t want your religion criticized by others, do something to change this situation.

Let’s work together to stop all types of persecution against all types of people, and work towards a just and true peace.





Fighting God’s Enemies

6 03 2017

  Religion can bring out the best or the worst in mankind. It brings out the best, for example, when we follow the Great Commandment to love God with all our hearts and to love our neighbor as ourselves; or as similarly commanded in Islam, habluminallah, habluminannas.

Religion brings out the worst in mankind when we decide that we need to fight those people that we believe are God’s enemies—as though God is incapable of dealing with them Himself!

By bombing an abortion clinic, vandalizing a mosque, gunning down people in a gay night club, or honor-killing a family member who chooses to change her religion, we have left the most basic teachings of our faith in order to “help” God bring judgment against those we disapprove of.

In spite of all our efforts at peacemaking, such tragedies still happen—such as the kidnapping of Pastor Raymond Koh in Malaysia.

On February 13, in broad daylight, three black SUVs forced Mr. Koh’s white sedan to the side of the road and masked men abducted him, while five other vehicles operated by masked men kept traffic away from the kidnapping. But while the police were slow to respond,  CCTV footage from a nearby building appeared on social media recording the entire event.

The Koh family offered a reward for any information about Raymond, but for the last three weeks there has been only silence—no ransom demands or news of any kind. The Koh family is not rich enough for this abduction to be financially motivated. The only logical conclusion is that it was religiously motivated.

This is not how the Prophet Muhammad treated Christian pastors! By referring to the Ashtiname of Muhammad, or the Charter of Medina (and its modern parallel The Marrakesh Declaration), it’s clear that Muslims were commanded by their Prophet to not only establish religious freedom for minorities, but even to protect them.

A survey of how Jesus treated those of other religions leads us to a similar path of peace. When dealing with non-Jews such as Romans, Syrians, Canaanites and Samaritans, this is what Jesus DID: healed, delivered, told them to share their miracle stories, revealed himself as Messiah and King, praised them for their faith, praised them for exhibiting the righteousness God wants, and announced they’d feast in heaven with the earlier prophets. This is what Jesus DIDN’T do: follow his own culture’s prejudicial norms, condemn, rebuke, warn of judgment or hell, argue theology or debate, quote the Scriptures, explain the Gospel unless they asked, or ask them to change anything. He certainly didn’t condone any violence against them, teaching his followers by his own self-sacrifice to overcome evil with good.

The greatest barrier to peace today is not any particular religion—it is misguided religious followers that pursue hatred and violence in the name of God. [This is what my novel A VIOLENT LIGHT is all about!]

Please pray with me for the speedy release of Pastor Raymond Koh, and for his captors to return to the most basic tenets of their faith—habluminallah, habluminannas.





“Book of the Year” Nomination–Vote for Peace!

4 02 2017

awooh-front-cover   I’m happy to share that my recent thriller on confronting ISIS with the non-violent way of Jesus, A WAY OUT OF HELL, has been nominated for “Book of the Year” award in general fiction!

One of the criteria the judges will look at is votes from readers like you! Much like American Idol, I NEED ALL MY FRIENDS TO GO TO THE CONTEST WEBSITE AND VOTE FOR MY BOOK!

Here’s the website: Book of the Year 2017

It only takes about 1-minute to vote!

1) Enter your Name and Email Address

2) Select your identity as READER

3) Scroll down to find A WAY OUT OF HELL by Jim Baton in the FICTION / GENERAL section and SELECT

4) Scroll to the bottom of the page and fill the small circle if you don’t want to receive promotional emails

5) Click SUBMIT

   Winning an award like this is likely to get the message of peace out to more people.

After you vote, if you would please forward this post to those people you know who love peace and ask for their support, I’d really appreciate it too!

Thank you so much!

 





Unifying America

9 01 2017
from HGTV website

Chip Gaines on HGTV’s “Fixer Upper”

Generally, those who have reviewed my novels on terrorism and peacemaking have been encouraging if not enthusiastic. However, I was recently blessed by a brutally honest reviewer who objected to some aspects of my newest book, A VIOLENT LIGHT.

This reviewer drew conclusions that because some characters in the book acted the way they did, that I must be anti-law enforcement, anti-veterans, anti-gun owners, anti-self-defense, and anti-sharing your faith. This person decided that because of how some characters tried to build bridges across the religious divide, that I must be a universalist. All of these assumptions were incorrect.

I felt the parallels right away when I read about HGTV stars Chip and Joanna Gaines from the show “Fixer Upper” getting blasted as LGBT haters because they attend a church that preaches that Biblical marriage is between a man and a woman.

I love Chip’s response: “We want to help initiate conversations between people that don’t think alike. Listen to me, we do not all have to agree with each other. Disagreement is not the same thing as hate, don’t believe that lie.”

Those who attacked Chip and Joanna are similar to the reviewer who struggled with my novel—they perceive issues through dichotomous, black-and-white thinking: “If it’s not this, it must be that.”

  • If you don’t support the war, you must be disrespecting our veterans
  • If you don’t support gay marriage, you must hate those of LGBT identities
  • If you don’t try to convince people of other religions that your religion is superior to theirs, you must be a universalist

We heard plenty of this narrow thinking during the recent presidential campaign. One friend basically told me, “If you are critical of anything Trump has said or done, you must be supporting Hilary,” while another implied, “If you agree with any one thing Trump has said or done, you must be endorsing racism, sexism, xenophobia and a host of other evils.” Neither of these people took the time to actually understand what I thought about either candidate or the issues, having instantly pigeon-holed me with “not this, so that” thinking.

I know some of my Christian friends question why I work for peace alongside Muslims when, according to their thinking, I should be convincing Muslims to agree with my religious views first before working with them. Once again, here’s Chip’s brilliant perspective: “If your position only extends love to the people who agree with you, we want to respectfully challenge that position. We propose operating with a love so real and true that you are willing to roll up your sleeves and work alongside the very people that are most unlike you.

“Fear dissolves in close proximity. Our stereotypes and vain imaginations fall away when we labor side by side. This is how a house gets unified.”

What a good word for America, and for our world! Disagreement should never limit our capacity to love and serve others. Can we post this on the wall of the Senate and House chambers? How about at city-wide pastors’ meetings? Or at any community event?

The truth is that most issues are complex, most people are complex, and anyone who tries to get a group of people to agree on every single thing is probably a cult leader. Assuming that someone who disagrees with us must be on the opposite end of the spectrum from us, must be intolerant or a hater, does not extend to them the grace that we wish would be extended to us in all of our complexity.

Where I live and pursue peace in Indonesia, our current president Joko Widodo models well what Chip is saying. While the extremists were issuing fatwas forbidding Muslims from even wishing Christians a “Merry Christmas,” our Muslim president ignored them and joined the Christians in their Christmas celebrations. Yasser Arafat did the same every Christmas between 1995-2000 attending Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and Armenian church celebrations with the Christian minorities in Bethlehem.

Both cases opened the door to accusations from the black-and-white thinkers. Christians speculated that the president must have become a Christian. Muslim extremists concluded that the president must have left the true faith. Both sides were guilty of dichotomous fallacies; the truth was that though Joko Widodo and Yasser Arafat disagreed with the minority Christians in matters of religion, it didn’t stop them from showing honor, support, and perhaps even love. Nelson Mandela, a Christian, experienced the same treatment when joining prayers at a mosque of minority Muslims in South Africa. But these men rose above such narrow thinking because “this is how a house gets unified.”

Our divided nation cannot wait for us all to agree as a prerequisite to progress. It’s time we “roll up our sleeves and work alongside the very people most unlike us.” As we do, we’ll learn to understand each other, and undoubtedly change each other in the process.





My Voice, Your Voice, His Voice

3 10 2016

It’s always a good feeling to be interviewed—whether on television or by a child doing homework for AWANA—it’s affirming to know that someone wants to hear what I have to say, that my voice is being heard.

Honestly, I don’t have much to say about 99% of the issues in our world. I love to listen to what others are saying, and do my best to hear God’s voice amidst the chatter. But there are a few issues that I care deeply about, to which I’ve given my life.

So if you’d like to hear my thoughts about any of the following topics (and much more!), in a moment I’ll direct you to three new places to connect with me!

  • What inspired you to write about ISIS?
  • Is ISIS coming to America?
  • Are jihad attacks more likely to come from refugees, illegal immigrants, or US citizens?
  • Is Islam a peaceful religion, or are its true followers those who promote violence?
  • What could healing Abraham’s broken family look like today?
  • What authors or books have influenced you?
  • What’s your favorite book of all time?
  • What’s your response to this current presidential election?

You can find recent interviews I’ve done at the following websites:

http://mybookplace.net/jim-baton/

https://anita-thoughtsonchristianity.blogspot.co.id/

Also, if you drop by your local Christian bookstore and pick up the November issue (already on shelves today) of Today’s Christian Living magazine, you’ll find my award-winning article, “Christmas with a Killer.”

I take the responsibility of my platform to speak very seriously. If you have a blog, Facebook page, magazine, newsletter, church or small group, and you’d like me to write something for you on the topics of Islam, peacemaking, writing, or prayer, please contact me!

And whatever platform God has given you, I hope you are developing the message He wants you to speak into your sphere of influence. Your voice needs to be heard! It’s time for us to believe that His voice can speak through your voice and my voice.