Hindu Extremists Turn Tribal, Animist Villagers against Christians in India

Guru Kuldi. (Morning Star News via social media)

NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – About 20 villagers questioning Christians gathered for worship in a home in Odisha state, India were animists who worshipped objects in nature and other gods, but Hindu nationalists had led them there.

“Why have you left your ancestral faith and begun following the Christian faith?” a few of them asked, in succession, accusing them of trying to convert everyone in Kendupada village, Dhenkanal District. “If everyone in the village becomes Christian, where would the village gods go?”

In an increasingly common phenomenon, Hindu nationalists trying to drive a wedge between tribal peoples and Christians had persuaded the villagers that those who had left their beliefs, sacrifices and other rituals had betrayed their ancestors, gods, and the country of India. The Hindu nationalists then obtain tribal support for political candidates and policies and introduce Hindu beliefs and practices into animist religious systems, analysts say.

“They were told that no Christian would be allowed to stay in the village and strictly instructed them not to share the gospel with anybody,” said Sukanta Naik, a volunteer for the Evangelical Fellowship of India, who visited the 27 Christians after the mob attacked them that day (Feb. 20).

The villagers issued threats to the five families of the house church, pressuring them to return to their ancestral beliefs, and when the Christians refused to do so, the tribal animists and Hindu nationalists began to beat them, Naik said.

Pandu Tirai. (Morning Star News via social media)

Pandu Tirai. (Morning Star News via social media)

“They grabbed three women – Raibari, Sabita and Malati – and paraded them around the village while beating them severely,” he told Morning Star News.

The women sustained serious internal injuries, and Raibari, 54, injured her left eye, while the 26-year-old Sabita’s right hand was hurt. In all, seven Christians were reported to have sustained serious injuries as a result of the attack.

The five families, the only Christians in a village of 206 families, had all previously practiced native tribal religions, with four of them converting in the past two years and one family eight years ago.

Rango Kuldi, 52, the first in the village to become a follower of Christ, was beaten ruthlessly and still complains of pain, Naik said. His son, Guru Kuldi, an 18-year-old high school student, received stitches from a deep cut on his head. Rango Kuldi’s wife, Dusama, suffered internal injuries.

Pandu Tirai, 62, was beaten badly on his right ear, which bled relentlessly, sources said. He has lost his hearing in the ear. When Naik visited him nearly a month after the attack, his ear was still bleeding.

“The doctor has advised a scan,” Naik said.

Raju Chatar, 40, sustained an injury on his left leg and continues to have swelling. Uchhaba Taison, 32, the husband of Malati, sustained several blows on his back and internal injuries, besides visible external wounds.

Some of the injured were admitted at the hospital at Kamakhya Nagar, nearly 35 kilometers (21 miles) from their village, while others were treated at a local clinic.

“They got their treatment done at their own expense, even though the police station in-charge had instructed the assaulters to pay for the Christians,” Naik told Morning Star News.

The five Christian families fled their homes to save their lives, taking refuge in a neighboring village for almost a week.

Arranged Agreement

After the Christians filed a First Information Report (FIR) at a local police station, officers summoned the families and the assailants and brokered an agreement, Naik said.

“The police personnel have instructed the Hindu extremists not to interfere in the Christian worship services and fellowship meetings,” he said. “We wonder how long the extremists will abide with the instructions. Such warnings have been issued to them even in the past, but to no avail.”

In spite of the opposition and ostracization from villagers, the Christian families remain steadfast in their commitment to Jesus, he said.

“Though they have begun to find relief in their physical bodies, fear has gripped their minds, and they need much prayer,” Naik said.

Kendupada village, nearly 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Bhubaneshwar, the state capital, is an undeveloped area where most of the population follows the tribal faith with the exception of a few Hindus.

“Lately Hindu right-wing groups have been very active here in reaching out to the tribals and indoctrinating them,” Naik said.

The remote Christian families are overseen by a pastor from Mayurbhanj, nearly 350 kilometers (217 miles) away. He travels regularly to offer them care.

Odisha, where Christians make up less than 2.8 percent of the total population, was known as Orissa when the worst persecution of Christians in India took place there in 2008. More than 120 people lost their lives, at least 50,000 people were internally displaced and more than 6,000 Christian homes were destroyed and damaged.

The hostile tone of the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, against non-Hindus, has emboldened Hindu extremists in several parts of the country to attack Christians since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took power in May 2014, religious rights advocates say.

India ranked 11th on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 World Watch List of countries where Christians experience the most persecution, up from 15th the previous year, and ahead of Saudi Arabia, Nigeria and Egypt.


Staff Members at Emergency Maternity Ward in Pakistan Kill Christian, Relatives Say

Sunil Saleem died at the hospital after doctors beat him to death, relatives said. (Morning Star News)

LAHOREPakistan (Morning Star News) – Medical staff and security guards at a major government hospital in Lahore, Pakistan on Monday (March 26) killed a Christian father of four and injured five members of his family, including the pregnant sister he had brought because she was in labor, sources said.

Anil Saleem said that he, his brother Sunil Saleem and other relatives had taken their pregnant sister Kiran Kashif to the emergency labor ward of the Government Services Institute of Medical Sciences (commonly known as Services Hospital), because she was suffering labor pains.

“Kiran went to the doctor on duty, Dr. Saira, who was playing with her cell phone while sipping on tea,” Anil Saleem said. “Dr. Saira told Kiran to wait outside until she finished her tea. We waited for some time, but since Kiran was experiencing severe pain, she again went inside the ward to request for immediate attention.”

As soon as the woman in labor approached Dr. Saira, she started cursing her for not waiting and told a nurse to attend her, he said.

“When my sister protested against the rude behavior, the doctor started slapping her, throwing her on the floor,” Anil Saleem said. “She asked my sister how dare a Chuhri [a derogatory term for Christians] question her order?”

On hearing the commotion, Anil Saleem, his brother, brother-in-law Kashif Ashiq and cousins Raza Guddu and Kashif Robin entered the ward, but as soon as she saw them, Dr. Saira shouted to the other doctors and security guards to lock the ward’s doors from the inside and “teach these Christians a lesson,” Anil Saleem said.

“Around 15 to 20 paramedical staff and security guards and eight to 10 young doctors, including Dr. Salman, Dr. Irfan, Dr. Hasan and Dr. Sahi lunged at us with iron rods, chairs, leather belts and other things and started beating us,” he said. “Sunil, a police constable in the National Highway and Motorway Police, tried his best to placate the assailants but they continued to beat him mercilessly, kicking and punching him in the groin and chest until he fell unconscious.”

Anil Saleem and the three other men tried to defend themselves, but they were greatly outnumbered and were saved only when police arrived, he said.

He said that the doctors also beat the crew of a local news channel who happened to be in the hospital at that time; published reports indicate the altercation spilled into the hospital corridor, which they caught on film.

After a delay in treatment, Sunil Saleem died for lack of timely emergency medical assistance, he said.

“Most of the doctors fled after the incident, while those who were present paid no attention to our cries to help our dying brother,” Anil Saleem told Morning Star News.

Sunil Saleem leaves behind his wife and four children, the eldest son 10 and the youngest barely 3 months old.

Anil Saleem, who works for the state-owned Sui Northern Gas Pipeline Company Limited as a staff attendant, said that although police registered a First Information Report (FIR No. 163/18) under sections related to murder and violent rioting, they have not arrested any of those named in the killing.

“The police called us to the station today for conducting our medical examination but we refused to go with them as they wanted to take us to the same hospital where we had been subjected to torture and also lost our brother,” Anil Saleem said. “Moreover, we have registered a murder case against the doctors and other staff members, so how could the police even think that the hospital staff will treat us fairly?”

Services Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr. Amiruddin told Morning Star News that the doctors were “innocent” as the family had attacked them first.

“I can’t say anything for sure, but I’ve been told that the patient’s family started the quarrel after they were told to wait,” he said.

Amiruddin declined to comment on Sunil Saleem’s death, saying a committee headed by a former principal of Allama Iqbal Medical College, Eice Muhammad, will investigate and submit a report within three days to Specialized Healthcare and Medical Education Secretary Najam Ahmed Shah.

The hospital administration has filed an application for a counter-FIR against the family for violent rioting and injuries to medical staff. Hospital officials claim that the conflict arose because doctors refused to carry out a C-section on the sister of Anil Saleem.

Anil Saleem denied this version, reiterating that the violence grew out of Dr. Saira’s unprofessional remarks. He also denied that family members had injured anyone seriously, though he acknowledged they acted in self defense.

The Young Doctors Association has issued a threat to the Punjab government that it will call a strike in all government hospitals across the province if police do not withdraw the FIR registered against the hospital staff within two days.

Rights activists suspect the government will use the police to pressure the impoverished family into reaching an out-of-court agreement with the accused doctors.

Punjab Province officials released a press statement saying that Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif had taken notice of the matter and ordered authorities to arrest those involved in the rioting and murder. Despite the chief minister’s orders, no arrest was made at this writing.

Sunil Saleem’s sister, Kashif, had yet to give birth at this writing.

Disbelief

Expressing serious concern over religiously-motivated violence perpetrated by doctors at a government hospital, political and human rights activists told Morning Star News it reflected growing prejudice towards minority communities, particularly Christians and Ahmadis.

“We had barely overcome the Sajid Masih incident, and now we have got this lynching inside a government hospital,” said Christian rights activist Napolean Qayyum. “It pains to say this, but the Pakistani government has failed to make this country safe for its minority communities, especially Christians. The government showed no interest in investigating the federal officers involved in the inhumane torture on Sajid Masih and Patras Masih, so I don’t think there’s any hope for justice for the Christians in this case as well.”

Shunila Ruth, a lawmaker with the the opposition Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), echoed the sentiment.

“It’s shocking that even doctors, who are supposedly educated and have taken an oath to save lives regardless of caste, color or faith, have resorted to such acts of religious intolerance and violence,” she said, adding that had the state showed some courage against religious persecution of minorities in the name of blasphemy, the situation could have been different.

Ruth said that the Punjab government was directly responsible for the crime and should therefore compensate the family.

“All those involved in the incident should be arrested immediately, specially the lady doctor who provoked the attack on the Christians, and the state itself should guarantee punishment for each one of them,” she said.

Rights activist Rufus Solomon said the harrowing ordeal had marred Easter enthusiasm among Christians.

“I am still trying to digest the fact that doctors took the life of an innocent man,” Solomon said. “What hope can one have for justice to the family if police have been unable to arrest even one of the accused?”

He added that the crime shows that an anti-Christian narrative propagated by such ultra-extremist, Islamist clerics as Khadim Hussain Rizvi of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah (TLYR) is gradually gaining traction among Muslims, who make up more than 96 percent of Pakistan’s population.

“Rizvi and other mullahs continue to spew hatred publicly against Christians and Ahmadis, but what is the government doing about it?” he said. “Nothing, absolutely nothing.”

Pakistan is ranked fifth on Christian support organization Open Doors’ 2018 Word Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.


Coptic teacher charged with contempt of religion for questions about Muhammad

A Coptic teacher at an Egyptian state school has been charged with contempt of religion after including wordplays in a set of questions about Islam’s prophet, Muhammad.

Magdy Farag Samir, 49, a teacher of social studies at Barot Preparatory School for Girls in Beni Suef Governorate, asked his students: “Where was the prophet Muhammad born?” He then suggested three options: 1. Yathrib (in Saudi Arabia). 2. Mecca (also in Saudi Arabia) 3. Hafiza Abo Tartour (Abo Tartour is a village in Egypt, but also the word for a cone hat).

He also asked: “Who was the nurse of the prophet Muhammad?” The two options were: 1. Halima Al-Saadia (the correct answer). 2. Halima Bta’at El ta’amiya (“Bta’at El ta’amiya” translates as “a seller of falafel”, a Middle Eastern dish).

Beni Suef Directorate of Education received a complaint against a Coptic teacher following an "insult" to the prophet Muhammad (World Watch Monitor)
Beni Suef’s Directorate of Education received an official complaint against Magdy Samir for his alleged blasphemy (World Watch Monitor)

“The students and their parents considered this as an insult to the prophet Muhammad and Islam,” said a relative of the teacher, who did not wish to be named, “But Magdy didn’t mean any kind of insult, he did that just to facilitate the right answers to the two questions.”

Samir was forced to transfer to a different school following the incident, which took place in December, but the parents of his former students also submitted a formal complaint against him to the governorate’s Directorate of Education, which was then sent to the Public Prosecution Office for investigation.

On 14 March, Samir was arrested and charged with contempt of religion. He was initially detained for four days, but a day later his detention was extended to 15 days, pending investigation.

“The revolution of June 2013 was supposed to get rid of the religious regime,” a human rights activist from Minya, who also did not wish to be named, told World Watch Monitor, “But this has not been achieved so far. Many Copts are being charged with contempt of religion and jailed for nothing … because the revolution dropped the Muslim Brotherhood but left their ideology unchanged.”

"Convictions for contempt of religion are 'harsh' against Copts" - Coptic lawyer (World Watch Monitor)
Convictions for contempt of religion are “harsh” against Copts – Coptic lawyer (World Watch Monitor)

“Egypt’s law of contempt of religion only applies to one side – Islam,” he added. “Crimes of contempt in Egypt only refer to contempt of Islam.”

A Coptic lawyer from Beni Suef, who again wished to remain anonymous, told World Watch Monitor: “The judicial system has recently discriminated against Copts and perpetrated injustice. Copts face judicial discrimination most blatantly in prosecutions for blasphemy.”

Convictions for contempt of religion are “harsh” against Copts, said another Coptic lawyer, from Cairo. “The accused person is charged with several offences, such as ‘provoking sectarian strife’ and ‘contempt of religion’. This is done in order to increase the term of their incarceration,” he said.

“People accused of contempt of Islam are not only sanctioned by the courts but also ostracised by their community, who force Copts to leave their homes,” the lawyer added, saying extremist Muslims play a significant role in cases of contempt of Islam filed against Christians – by assembling in front of courts to put pressure on judges.


Kidnapped Girl’s Church Calls on Buhari to Win Her Release from Boko Haram in Nigeria

Leah Nathan Sharibu. (Morning Star News via family)

OSNigeria (Morning Star News) – Islamic extremists in northeast Nigeria retained the only Christian among more than 100 kidnapped girls who were freed last week, prompting the head of her church denomination to call on President Muhammadu Buhari to obtain her release.

Boko Haram refused to release Leah Nathan Sharibu, 15, because she would not renounce her faith and convert to Islam, according to released Muslim girls. The Rev. Jeremiah Gado, president of the Evangelical Church Winning All (ECWA), said in a press statement on Friday (March 23) that her parents are members of the ECWA congregation in Dapchi, Yobe state, in northeast Nigeria.

“We call on the federal government and all its agencies to ensure the immediate release of Leah Sherubu, who is a member of ECWA, without any conditions,” Gado said. “We condemn in strong terms any attempt to forcefully convert anyone from one religion to another. As a church we continue to pray for her release and the release of all abducted Nigerians.”

Leah was among more than 100 girls kidnapped at a public high school, Government Girls Science and Technical College, Dapchi, by Boko Haram on Feb. 19. Five of the kidnapped girls died from the “stress and trauma” of being kidnapped, including one who was trampled to death, but the girls were not mistreated, one Muslim girl reportedly said. The other girls, numbering at least 101 according to government registers, were released on Wednesday (March 21).

Lado said the ECWA was moved by the courage of the teenager who declined to renounce her faith in the face of threats from the terrorists.

“The Evangelical Church Winning All salutes the courage, doggedness, and faith of Leah Sharubu,” he said. “She has not been released because she refused to denounce her faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as a Christian.”

Buhari had said earlier through a spokesman, Garba Shehu, that his administration would not cease efforts to get Leah released.

“His heart goes out to the isolated parents who must watch others rejoice while their own daughter is still away [in captivity],” Shehu said. “The lone Dapchi girl, Leah, will not be abandoned.”

Denying that any ransoms were paid or prisoners swapped, the administration has said friendly countries and international organizations helped negotiate the release of the girls.

Parents

Khadija Grema, one of the freed girls, reportedly said Leah was not released because she refused to recant her faith in Jesus Christ.

“They freed all of us except one girl, Leah whom they said would not go because she was a Christian,” Khadija said. “The people that took us away were all speaking Kanuri and Arabic. They didn’t tell us any meaningful reason why we were freed and returned. They just said we are Muslims, and they felt it was right for them to free us so that we will not suffer.”

Leah’s mother, Rebecca Nathan Sharibu, told Nigerian online news outlet Premium Times that her heart was broken when she searched through the released girls on Wednesday and could not find Leah. She reportedly collapsed and had to be taken to a hospital after learning her daughter had not been released.

“What her schoolmates that returned told me was that my daughter was told she must recite the Kalima Shahada [the Islamic profession of faith],” she told the Premium Times. “They said my daughter would only be brought back home the day she recites Kalima Shahada.”

Leah insisted that she did not know how to recite it, and that she was not brought up as a Muslim, the girls told her.

“She then pleaded with her friends that if they eventually made it home successfully, they should inform we, her parents, to continue to help her pray for God to protect her and bring her home safely as well; that whether she survived or not, she still needed prayers,” Sharibu said.

Leah’s father, Nathan Sharibu, told Nigerian radio station Raypower that he was told his daughter was not released because she refused to deny Jesus Christ and recant her Christian faith.

“I called the parents who are in Dapchi,” he told Raypower. “They said she was a Christian, that’s why they could not release her. They said she cannot be released until she becomes a Muslim. And my daughter said she would never be a Muslim.”

Sharibu called on the Nigerian government to ensure his daughter is released.

“The Nigeria government must do all within its powers to go and bring back my daughter, the same way they did to others,” he said.

Bukar Kachalla, father of one of the abducted schoolgirls and secretary of the parents group, told journalists in Dapchi that they were saddened when they learned Leah had not been released.

“We were told by the Boko Haram that she was not released because she refused to put on hijab,” he said.

The Rev. Yakubu Pam, chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Northern Nigeria Chapter, said Boko Haram’s demand that Leah convert vindicates Nigerian church leaders’ position that the terrorist group targets Christians.

“The federal government of Nigeria, which has been in touch with her captors, should hasten effort and ensure that Miss Leah Nathan Sharibu and other Chibok Christian girls are released,” Pam told Morning Star News.

About 100 of the 276 girls kidnapped by Boko Haram from the town of Chibok, in Borno state, in 2014 are still missing.

Boko Haram, whose name is loosely translated as, “Western education is a sin,” has fought for nine years to impose sharia (Islamic law) on all of Nigeria, killing tens of thousands of people and displacing more than 2 million. Boko Haram militants reportedly warned parents of the returned Dapchi girls not to send their daughters back to school.

In 2015 the Nigerian military began taking back most of the territory Boko Haram had controlled, but many areas remain, and the terrorists are still mounting isolated attacks.


Pakistani Christians Must Reveal Religion to Vote or Apply for Jobs

Court: Pakistani Christians Must Reveal Religion to Vote or Apply for Jobs

Pakistan’s citizens must now declare their religion when applying for identity documents, or if they want to work in government or register to vote, Islamabad’s High Court ruled this month.

Applicants who disguise their true religion defy the constitution and betray the state, the judge stated. Their true religion must now also be visible on birth certificates, ID cards, voters’ lists, and passports.

Those who apply for a job in the judiciary, armed forces, civil services, and other government jobs also need to submit an affidavit declaring the Khatm-i-Naboowat (that Muhammad was the final prophet), stated Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui in his ruling, as reported by Pakistani newspaper Dawn.

Human Rights Watch’s Saroop Ijaz said the judgement “would enable and incite violence,” in particularly directed at the Ahmadi community, Reuters reported.

“All [the judge’s] specific instructions are about ensuring and finding out who is an Ahmadi,” human rights lawyer Jibran Nasir told Reuters. He said the order would provide the government with lists of who belonged to which religious minority.

Pakistani passports already show the holder’s religious belief. A local source told World Watch Monitor (WWM) that minority groups, such as Christians and Ahmadis, did not object against this because it has benefited them in, for example, applying for asylum elsewhere.

A previous move by the government in 1992 to try to add citizens’ religious belief to their ID cards, however, was met with protests by Christians, who said they would face economic and social exclusion. The idea was then shelved.

Christians and Ahmadis are two of a number of minority groups in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, who together make up an estimated 20 percent of the total—mainly Sunni Muslim—population. The Ahmadis face a lot of discrimination because they are considered non-Muslims; to call themselves Muslim or to refer to their faith as Islam is a punishable offence under the country’s blasphemy laws.

Christians are already instantly recognisable in Pakistan because of their names—men are given the surname Masih, deriving from Messiah. But this is not the case for Ahmadis, making the new ruling more of an issue for them, as they can no longer hide their identity nor safely claim to be Muslim.

During the hearings, the court learned how a group of 10,000 Ahmadis apparently changed the religious status on their Computerised National Identity Cards to Muslim when applying for a government job. They would then change it again once retired.

The court case was opened following a petition by Islamist political party Tehreek-e-Labaik, which opposed a parliamentary initiative to the change of wording in electoral law, suggesting replacing the religious oath with a simple declaration.

The proposed bill, however, also made room for Ahmadis to take part in elections on general seats, even though they are labelled “non-Muslims” in the constitution. Following large-scale protests, the government reinstated the original text.

In his verdict, the judge ordered parliament to develop legislation and amendments to existing laws “to ensure that all the terms specifically used for ‘Islam’ and ‘Muslims’ were not used by the persons belonging to any of the minorities for hiding their real identity or for any other purpose.” If no appeal is filed, parliament has to follow the court’s directives.

WWM’s source said the court only has jurisdiction in Islamabad, so this could be first and foremost a “political stunt.” But “it still sends a strong message how the debate about religion has gone deeper and deeper in Pakistan, and religious minorities—especially Christians—are being affected by this.”

The court order will make minority groups even more vulnerable, according to Nasir Saeed, director of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance, and Settlement (CLAAS-UK), who told Independent Catholic News the government should rather promote harmony and religious tolerance and establish peace in the country. All Pakistanis, including minorities, need to know they are secure, protected, and equal before the law, he said.


All Nigerian Schoolgirls Have Been Released Except the Only Christian

All Nigerian Schoolgirls Have Been Released Except the Only Christian

International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Boko Haram has released all but one of the Dapchi schoolgirls who were kidnapped on February 19. The only girl who was not released is also the only Christian among the group. Her name is Leah Sharibu and she is only 15 years old.

The girls were released by Boko Haram in a ceremony in the town of Dapchi. The terrorist organization reached an agreement with the Nigerian government that there would be no interference with the return. In the early hours of March 21, Boko Haram drove into the town with nine trucks and unloaded all of the girls, except the five that died during the kidnaping, and Sharibu.

One of girls who was released confirmed to The PUNCH“One girl, Leah, is still with them [Boko Haram] because she is a Christian. About five are dead but it was not as if they killed them – it was because of the stress.”

Saddened by the continued absence of his daughter, Nata Sharibu, Leah’s father, told RayPower 100.5, a Nigerian radio station, “They gave her the option of converting in order to be released, but she said she will never become a Muslim.” He continued, saying that he is “very sad [that she has not been freed] but [is] also jubilating, too, because [his] daughter did not denounce Christ.” 

It has also been nearly four years since the abduction of the 276 schoolgirls from Chibok. Today, there are still more than 100 schoolgirls missing from that incident. The vast majority of the Chibok girls were Christian as well. Since the incident in Dapchi, Borno and Yobe states have closed down all boarding schools in order to protect their children. This, however, is one of the main goals of Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden.” Giving in to the group’s goals will only further incite them to continue their attacks and abductions.

ICC’s Regional Manager for Africa, Nathan Johnson, stated, “It is truly joyous that these girls were able to rejoin their families. However, we wish to see Leah returned as well. This cowardly act has shown that the terrorist organization truly despises Christians and their faith. We call on the Nigerian government to act swiftly to secure the release of Leah and the remaining missing girls from Chibok.”


Church Told They Can’t Print Word ‘Jesus’ on Signs at Public Shopping Center

Church Told They Can't Print Word 'Jesus' on Signs at Public Shopping Center

An Australian church was told that they could not use the word “Jesus” in their advertisements for their Easter church events.

The Daily Mail reports that Elim Church in New South Wales, Australia paid for digital signs which they wanted to display at Erina Fair shopping center. The signs were to read “the greatness of His Power. Jesus is Alive!”

The shopping center manager, however, told Martin Duffy, the pastor of the church, that the word “Jesus” was offensive and would have to be replaced with “Risen Christ.”

But, argued Duffy, “The phrase ‘Jesus is alive’… is the core message of the Christian faith and what Easter’s really all about.”

“It’s a good message. I think there’s a minority group out there that are constantly distorting the message of Jesus Christ. It’s just going on and on,” he continued.

The manager of the shopping center, Lendlease, has since reversed the decision and will allow the word “Jesus” to be printed on the church’s sign.

“It was an error of judgment to ask Elim Church to change its messaging, and we apologise unreservedly,” they said. “Lendlease values diversity and inclusion, and we welcome people of all backgrounds at our shopping centres.”


SEE CHINESE COPS DESTROY EVANGELICAL MEGACHURCH

Chinese authorities demolished the $2.6 million building of a 50,000-member evangelical congregation in the country’s northern Shanxi province.

The order to destroy the Golden Lampstand Church in the city of Linfen apparently came from China’s top officials instead of the less-powerful local authorities, according to the Christian organization China Aid.

 It’s the second large church building to be demolished in the province in the past month.

People’s Armed Police forces used excavators and dynamite to destroy the building in Linfen, which had been financed by the congregation.

The church is among the nation’s unregistered congregations, meaning it is not within the government-controlled system and therefore is deemed illegal by the communist regime.

China guarantees “freedom of religion” in its law but not in practice, as authorities use technicalities such land or building violations to destroy churches. The state-run Global Times newspaper cited an unidentified local official claiming the church did not hold the necessary permits.

Demolition of Golden Lampstand Church in Linfen, China (Photo: China Aid)

“The repeated persecution of Golden Lampstand Church demonstrates that the Chinese government has no respect for religious freedom or human rights,” said China Aid’s president and founder, Bob Fu.

China Aid noted that on Sept. 13, 2009, when the building was under construction, church members who slept at the site to guard it were awakened by 400 officials who beat them and razed the building. Thirty of the members were in critical condition.

State media at the time said the church leaders were charged with illegally occupying farmland and disturbing traffic order.

The church’s two pastors were arrested in 2009. Yang Xuan spent three-and-a-half years in prison and Yang Rongli was imprisoned for seven years.

Yang Rongli, who has been under government surveillance since her release in 2016, described the demolition Tuesday to a China Aid reporter.

“The police surrounded the Golden Lampstand Church. Patrol wagons guarded the church. Workers smashed the church’s glass,” she said. “At this point, excavators are digging into the church, but we are not allowed to enter or watch. The village head and the police from the local police station warned all the believers against entering the church. Now, we really have no idea what is going to happen.”


Senate confirms nominee whose faith triggered Bernie Sanders’ rage

Then-Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

The Senate has confirmed Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee to be deputy director for the Office of Management and Budget.

What makes Vought’s nomination novel is the fact that his Christian beliefs enraged Sen. Bernie Sanders, who lost to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic presidential-primary race.

“This nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about,” Sanders seethed when Vought was being interviewed by the Senate.

The senator referred to a piece Vought wrote that expressed the Christian doctrine that Jesus is the only way to salvation.

On Wednesday, it took a tie-breaking vote by Vice President Mike Pence to confirm Vought.

When Vought came before the Senate last June, Sanders shouted at him, noted David French in National Review.

Sanders: Let me get to this issue that has bothered me and bothered many other people. And that is in the piece that I referred to that you wrote for the publication called Resurgent. You wrote, “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned.” Do you believe that that statement is Islamophobic?

Vought: Absolutely not, senator. I’m a Christian, and I believe in a Christian set of principles based on my faith. That post, as I stated in the questionnaire to this committee, was to defend my alma mater, Wheaton College, a Christian school that has a statement of faith that includes the centrality of Jesus Christ for salvation, and …

Sanders: I apologize. Forgive me, we just don’t have a lot of time. Do you believe people in the Muslim religion stand condemned? Is that your view?

Vought: Again, Senator, I’m a Christian, and I wrote that piece in accordance with the statement of faith at Wheaton College:

Sanders: I understand that. I don’t know how many Muslims there are in America. Maybe a couple million. Are you suggesting that all those people stand condemned? What about Jews? Do they stand condemned too?

Vought: Senator, I’m a Christian …

Sanders (shouting): I understand you are a Christian, but this country are made of people who are not just — I understand that Christianity is the majority religion, but there are other people of different religions in this country and around the world. In your judgment, do you think that people who are not Christians are going to be condemned?

Vought: Thank you for probing on that question. As a Christian, I believe that all individuals are made in the image of God and are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their religious beliefs. I believe that as a Christian that’s how I should treat all individuals …

Sanders: You think your statement that you put into that publication, they do not know God because they rejected Jesus Christ, His Son, and they stand condemned, do you think that’s respectful of other religions?

Vought: Senator, I wrote a post based on being a Christian and attending a Christian school that has a statement of faith that speaks clearly in regard to the centrality of Jesus Christ in salvation.

The video of the entire hearing is online.

The Family Research Council described Sanders’ attitude as “religious bigotry.”

The group also launched a petition signed by more than 55,000 Americans calling on Sanders to apologize for his unconstitutional religious test.

FRC President Tony Perkins said: “It was a shocking moment to watch a United States senator declare that holding to a central tenet of Christianity that Jesus is the only way of salvation is enough to render a well-qualified nominee unfit for public service. Vought’s biblical view of salvation is no different than what Billy Graham preached for more than six decades.”

He said, “Thankfully, 49 senators and Vice President Pence in his tie breaking vote sent a message that public servants can express their biblical views on salvation without fear of being held to an unconstitutional religious test. ”

Perkins said the thought that Sanders “is a senator who almost won the Democratic Party’s nomination for president – a man who thinks there’s no room in the public square for people who believe the Bible – is a chilling one.”

“I congratulate Russell Vought and thank President Trump and Vice President Pence for standing up for the freedom of every American to believe and live out those beliefs in the public square,” Perkins concluded.

Sanders’ diatribe triggered responses, including one from Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., who said, “There was some dispute in a … hearing about Russell Vought and his faith … about is he too much of a Christian to be able to serve. I just want to make a public statement that that’s appalling to me … Article XI of the Constitution says there no religious test for any officer of the United States and that shouldn’t even have been a discussion in that committee hearing.”

French noted at the time that Sanders’ “tirade was certainly outrageous.”

“This is what happens when our national polarization breeds both ignorance and intolerance, and when intolerance trumps even the rule of law,” he said. “(One wonders: Would he grill an Islamic nominee in a similar fashion?)”

French said Sanders “personifies the arrogant contempt for Evangelicals that so often marks the secular American elite.”

“They don’t understand Protestant Christian theology. They read the worst stories of Christian behavior and presume that those stories fairly represent Evangelical beliefs. So they try to drive Evangelicals from the public square, and in so doing they become the intolerant scolds they imagine their foes to be. They hate Christianity, and use political power to try to suppress its influence. They presume that their Christian opponents would do the same. Thus, they spark the exact kind of religious conflict that the founders sought to avoid.”

He finished with a warning about Sanders and his ilk.

“Sanders’ actions also show the fragility of one of our core constitutional protections. There is no right or ability to sue Sanders into compliance. He can vote however he chooses, and there is no cause of action to compel him to cleanse his mind of unconstitutional motivations when he casts those ballots. Thus, one of our nation’s most important traditions depends on senators simply doing the right thing. But when our politics gets this polarized, it’s easy to justify ignoring the Constitution or rationalizing away its requirements for the sake of an alleged greater good. That’s what Sanders did here, and given the ignorance and intolerance that dominates our national debate, we can expect him — or others who think like him — to do it again.”