When Government Thinks It Is God

Persecution China church cross“Over the past two years, [Chinese] officials and residents said, the authorities have torn down crosses from 1,200 to 1,700 churches, sometimes after violent clashes with worshipers trying to stop them….

“The campaign has been limited to Zhejiang Province, home to one of China’s largest and most vibrant Christian populations. But people familiar with the government’s deliberations say the removal of crosses here has set the stage for a new, nationwide effort to more strictly regulate spiritual life in China….

“In a major speech on religious policy last month, Mr. Xi…warned that religions in China must ‘Sinicize,’ or become Chinese. The instructions reflect the government’s longstanding fear that Christianity could undermine the party’s authority. Many human rights lawyers in China are Christians, and many dissidents have said they are influenced by the idea that rights are God-given.

“’What has been happening in Zhejiang is a test,’ said Fan Yafeng, an independent legal scholar in Beijing. ‘If the government views it as a success, it will be expanded.’”

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Martyr in China Buried Alive

Martyr buried alive Ding Cuimei(Zhumadian, Henan—April 18, 2016) Two members of a church demolition team in China’s central Henan province buried a house church leader and his wife alive on Thursday (April 14) when they tried to prevent the destruction of their church. Though the church leader managed to escape, the wife had suffocated to death by the time she was freed.

On April 14, a government-backed company dispatched personnel to bulldoze Beitou Church in Zhumadian, Henan province, after a local developer wished to take control of the church’s valuable property. Li Jiangong, the person in charge of the church, and his wife, Ding Cuimei, stepped in front of the machinery in an attempt to stop the demolition.

“Bury them alive for me,” a member of the demolition team said. “I will be responsible for their lives.”

Subsequently, a bulldozer shoved Li and Ding into a pit and covered their bodies with soil. Crying for help, Li was able to dig his way free, but Ding suffocated before she could be rescued.

On April 17, a China Aid reporter conducted a phone interview with an officer from the local police station, who stated that the two perpetrators from the demolition team are currently criminally detained while a criminal investigation team from the public security bureau reviews their case. The officer refused to disclose their alleged crimes.

According to local Christians, the various government departments managing the area did not show up to oversee the demolition. Li himself reported that police took an uncommonly long time to arrive at the scene after a report of the murder was filed.

“Bulldozing and burying alive Ding Cuimei, a peaceful and devout Christian woman, was a cruel, murderous act,” China Aid president Bob Fu said. “This case is a serious violation of the rights to life, religious freedom and rule of law. The Chinese authorities should immediately hold those murderers accountable and take concrete measures to protect the religious freedom of this house church’s members.”

Because of widespread media attention, government personnel are already pressuring Li not to disclose the details of the case. Meanwhile, Li is urging the justice system to examine the motive and circumstances behind his wife’s murder.

A video showing the extent of the demolition can be seen below.

China Aid exposes abuses, such as those experienced by Li Jiangong and Ding Cuimei, in order to promote religious freedom and rule of law in China.

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Hospice Care

U Einar 1950s cropped“Are We There Yet?”
March 24, 2016

Eight of us stuffed into two bench seats.
No air conditioning.
Squabbling in the back seat summoned
The voice from the front seat,
The voice behind the steering wheel:
“Do you want me to pull over?”
No, we definitely did not want him to pull over.
Again and again and again—our questions:
“Are we there yet?”
“How much farther?”
“How long till we get there?”

Today we are there.
This is the there we never wanted to reach.
This morning’s text message summons my tears:
“Dad is going home on hospice care…
Hospital bed, oxygen, wheel chair…
Heart function…Kidney function….”

Next week I will cross the country to be there.
For nine days I will have the peculiar privilege
To be there in ways that make me weep.
Roles reversing…
Instead of receiving care, I will provide care.
Instead of being the first to bed and last one up,
I will be the last awake and the first to rise.
Instead of being interrogated,
I may ask uncomfortable questions.
Today we are there.

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Naming Evil: Can the President Say, “Genocide”?

ISIL_massacreThe first step in stopping evil is to call it by its name. Today the US House of Representatives voted unanimously, 393-0, “to back a ‘sense of Congress. saying the crimes committed against Christians, Yezidis and other ethnic and religious minorities in the region amount to war crimes and in some cases, genocide,” http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/14/politics/isis-house-obama-genocide/index.html

“This is a threat against civilization itself when a group of people, ISIS–8th century barbarians with 21st century weaponry–can systematically try to exterminate another group of people simply because of their faith tradition violating the sacred space of individuality, conscience and religious liberty, you undermine the entire system of international order,”[sic] said Republican sponsor Jeff Fortenberry from Nebraska.

“It is clear that at least some of the war crimes are part of a planned genocide against the religious minorities in areas that ISIS occupies,” agreed California Democrat Rep. Brad Sherman.

Congress had already given the US State Department till March 17 to affirm genocide, but the State Department has declined to make any declaration.

The New York Times documented United Nations accusations of ISIL’s genocide:

Even Aljazeera has published the United Nations findings of ISIL genocide:

Will President Obama unmuzzle his State Department to say the word “genocide” against Christians and Yazidis!


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Private Solutions Beat Government

Voters who lean on the Bible agree strongly on compassion to the poor and marginalized. They strongly disagree on whether the best solutions are private initiatives or government.

kingml-crossCan compassionate action be legally mandated? Is merciful intervention most effective from a government bureacracy? Perhaps this was in the mind of our founders when they guaranteed “the free exercise” of religion in the First Amendment. Good religion cares for widows, orphans and aliens.

Karl Zinsmeister has a challenging article on private philanthropy versus governmental social justice: “In our country, private giving is a kind of alternate system of social action. For centuries, right up to the present moment, it has protected groups and viewpoints and styles of behavior that may be out of sympathy or fashion. Those who would tamper with the independence of philanthropy put those valuable protections, and their beneficiaries, in danger.”

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Saeed Abedini: Free at Last


Abedini Saeed hashtag 280x210American pastor, Saeed Abedini, was set free by Iran today after being imprisoned since September 2012.  He was jailed while he was working under the guidance of the Iranian government in launching an orphanage for Muslim children.

Abedini was serving an 8-year term in prison for his faith in God. He experienced internal bleeding from beatings, torture and psychological torment.

Christianity Today has a good article on the release here:

January Letter

In January 2013, he sent a message to his wife.

He wrote:

“I always wanted God to make me a godly man. I did not realize that in order to become a godly man, we need to become like steel under pressure. It is a hard process of warm and cold to make steel. This is the process of my life today. One day I am told that I will be freed and allowed to see my wife and kids on Christmas—which was a lie. And the next day I am told I will hang for my faith in Jesus. One day there are intense pains after beatings and interrogations. The next day they are nice to you and offer you candy….

“What is in us is stronger than what is in the world, and it has conquered the world.
“Pastor Saeed Abedini, in chains for our Lord Jesus Christ”

February Letter

In February he wrote to his wife again:
“The conditions here get so very difficult that my eyes get blurry, my body does not have the strength to walk….
“After all of the nails they have pressed against my hands and feet, they are only waiting for one thing…for me to deny Christ. But they will never get this from me…..
“I deeply need God’s saving grace so that I can be the fragrant scent of Christ in the dark house of Evin prison….
“So, see your golden opportunities in pressures and difficulties.
“See the Shining Morning Star in the dark times of your life.”

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Church-Based Theology

What is your compass? The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) is making a rapid—though unconstitutional—shift to church-based theology.

Church-Based TheologyGrowing up in a Lutheran parsonage with five brothers, we argued philosophy and theology…a lot. Sometimes we could resolve a question, sometimes not. The winning move was simple—logic and the Bible. As an adult I have discovered Christian traditions that navigate theology by a different compass. This came into focus for me in two conversations, the first on a jet and the second in a restaurant.

As the plane prepared to take off, my white-bearded seatmate was reading Latin Scriptures. I asked if he were a Catholic priest. No, he was an Orthodox priest, formerly Episcopal. His path of discipleship, leadership and church migration was a fascinating tale. He left the church he had known for a church where he could serve with integrity. I expressed my admiration.

I asked him about a growing trend in Lutheranism—praying for the deceased in funeral services. I grew up without this practice, but two recent hymnals (1978 and 2006) have added such prayers.  I mentioned Hebrews 9:27, “People are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.” He responded matter-of-factly, “Our people have always prayed for the dead.” In his mind, long-time Church practice validates something. He described the Church as preceding Scripture. The Church is his primary authority, his compass. He has a high view of Scripture, but he does not subscribe to the Reformation cry, “Word Alone” or “Sola Scriptura.” I understand his position of church-based theology.

A few months later I sat down with a national leader of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) for a delicious lunch and vigorous conversation. We munched and discussed church policy and theology—without reaching consensus. After an hour and a half, he succinctly summarized our positions: “We differ because your theology is more biblically based instead of church based.”

“That’s because the ELCA requires biblically based theology,” I said. “The ELCA Constitution declares that the Bible is the ‘Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its faith, proclamation and life.’ The ELCA Constitution does not allow us to have church-based theology.” (See Constitution of the ELCA 2.03, 7.22, 20.21.01, 20.51, 20.53.A11, excerpted below.)

He attempted to cite Martin Luther to support church-based theology. I repeated that the ELCA Constitution does not allow church-based theology; the Bible is our authoritative source and norm for faith, proclamation and life. He smiled and held to his position. My compass is the Bible; his compass is the church (when it decides in his favor).

How widespread is church-based theology as the compass among ELCA leaders? Our common confession in the ELCA affirms the Incarnation and Virgin Birth as declared in the Apostles Creed (Constitution of the ELCA 2.04) and in Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2 (2.03). However, bishops and confirmation curriculum reject the compass of Bible and Creeds for church-based theology. ELCA leaders misrepresent their operational values.

Bishop Mike Rinehart leads the Gulf Coast Synod and was second in balloting to Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton for that office. He published a pointed rejection of the Incarnation and Virgin Birth to prepare his pastors for preaching in Advent. “I certainly do not believe they [the ‘nativity stories’ of Matthew and Luke] are ‘historical’ in any modern understanding of historicity…. I think that the stories are made up.” (The article was written by Rinehart’s chosen assistant, Rev. Don Carlson.) http://bishopmike.com/2012/12/17/12-23-12-is-advent-4/

The Synod Constitution, however, requires that a bishop “teach…in accord with the Confession of Faith of this church” (S8.12)—including the Incarnation and Virgin Birth. Rinehart’s published rejection of biblical theology and ELCA Constitutions does not appear to raise an eyebrow among ELCA leaders; ELCA leadership embraces his church-based theology.

HereWeStand confirmation curriculum sows similar seeds of doubt and undercuts these foundational teachings in teaching the birth of Jesus, saying, “Luke is more like a storyteller than a historian.”

Ministers and bishops are welcome to embrace church-based theology as their compass, but the ELCA Constitution requires that they give up their ELCA credentials if this is their “Here I stand.”  They could minister honestly in a body with Church-Based Theology.

This church accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life.” (Constitution of the ELCA 2.03)

“An ordained minister of this church shall be a person…who accepts and adheres to the Confession of Faith of this church…. An ordained minister shall comply with this church’s constitutions, bylaws, and continuing resolutions.” (Constitution of the ELCA 7.22)

“Ordained ministers shall be subject to discipline for:
a. preaching and teaching in conflict with the faith confessed by this church….
d. willfully disregarding the provisions of the constitution or bylaws of this church.” (Constitution of the ELCA 20.21.01)

 “The recall or dismissal of the presiding bishop, vice president, or secretary of this church and the vacating of office may be effected:
a. for willful disregard or violation of the constitution and bylaws of this church” (Constitution of the ELCA 20.51)

 “The recall or dismissal of the bishop, vice president, secretary, or treasurer of a synod of this church and the vacating of office may be vacated: 1) for willful disregard or violation of the constitutions.” (Constitution of the ELCA 20.53.A11)

 “As this synod’s pastor, the bishop shall be an ordained minister of Word and Sacrament who shall:
a.  Preach, teach, and administer the sacraments in accord with the Confession of Faith of this church.
” (Constitution for Synods of the ELCA S8.12).

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