Radical Muslims Strive to Expel the Mideast’s Christian Remnant

The following is a guest post from Harry Genet. 

Radical Muslims Strive to Expel the Mideast’s Christian Remnant

So how will the church survive and thrive?

July was an ominous month for Christians in the Middle East.

Fighters of ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, had swept across central Iraq from Syria the previous month, conquering even Mosul, Iraq’s third largest city. Now the roughly 30,000 Christians there (down from 60,000 a decade ago) were told that they had until July 18 to convert to Islam and pay a special tax, or leave. Then the Jihadists changed their mind. Over loudspeakers they announced that all Christians must leave by the next day—or be killed. The Christians—often with only the clothes on their backs—fled to already overcrowded Christian villages nearby. They continued on to the Kurdish-controlled northern sector of Iraq—semi-autonomous and more tolerant of Christians. As the Christians departed Mosul, ISIS painted the Arabic letter “N” in black on their houses (for “Nasrani” a designation for Christian) along with the stenciled “Property of the Islamic State.” For the first time in 1,600 years, the sound of church bells mingled with the Muslim calls to prayer have been extinguished in this once tolerant city.

Slightly more encouraging was the news from Sudan, where Mariam Ibrahim had been sentenced to death for apostasy in May. Born to a Christian mother and a Muslim father, she must, under Sudan’s version of Islamic law, be a Muslim. But her father abandoned the family when she was young. She was brought up as a Christian, married a Christian in 2011 and, when denounced to the authorities by a relative, refused in court to change her faith. She was sentenced to death by hanging and, soon afterward, delivered her second child in prison. An appeals court, perhaps influenced by the international outrage at the sentence, overturned it. She is now in the U.S., where her Sudanese-born husband is already a citizen.

While a majority of Muslims agree that the death penalty should be applied for apostasy, the original verdict in this case raised eyebrows. Prince Hassan of Jordan, for one, issued a bold condemnation. “There is no value in worship performed in the absence of free choice and volition,” he wrote in an article published in Jordanian newspapers.

In Afghanistan, the last public Christian church was razed four years ago. Meanwhile, a constitution drafted with the help of US diplomats while claiming freedom of religion, in fact contains a “repugnancy clause,” which basically says that not only converting from Islam, but virtually anything considered inconsistent with Sharia law, is illegal.

In Egypt, with the largest Christian minority of any Middle Eastern country (8 to 12 million), many Islamists blamed Christians for supporting the coup against Muhammad Morsi. They launched violent attacks on Christians and their houses of worship in what one author called the worst spate of violence aimed at the Christians since the fourteenth century. The mass migration of the Coptic Christian population has been termed “unprecedented.”

So how should American Christians pray for their oppressed brethren still in the Middle East?

In most Muslim countries, the dominant religious grouping uses its power to promote its message via the schools, the media, and the funding of preachers.

1.  Pray for more moderate Muslim leaders and for governments able to reign in the widely prevailing dominance of mosque over state.

Washington Post columnist and Wheaton College graduate Michael Gerson notes that it took many centuries for Christendom to accept a pluralism that extended to others the right to be a heretic. So why, he asks, is America, so rooted in religious pluralism, reluctant to use its influence to promote in Middle Eastern countries the right to be an “infidel”? Introducing democracy is one thing; protecting against the tyranny of the majority is just as vital.

2.  Pray that our government would more strongly condemn abuses, condition its aid on the protection of minorities, and support moderate forces in the region.

Our growing cluster of ministry partners in at least six nations of the region must have a reason for residence there considered valid by their host governments. They must also settle on low-profile methods of engaging neighbors and colleagues, concentrating on those with openness to exploring the gospel.

3.  Pray for courage and sensitivity for our partners, enabling them to communicate and disciple effectively in spite of the many barriers they face.

In centuries past, Muslim majorities and rulers coexisted with large Arab Christian populations. Although the Christians were relegated to second-class citizenship, they were not subject to violent intolerance. Today’s jihadists have brought brutality and intolerance to new levels. The declaration of a caliphate in late June by the leader of ISIS, with the nom de guerre of Abu Bakr Baghdadi, and his demand that Muslims swear oaths of fealty to him, may prove to be a providential piece of overreach and provoke a strong backlash.

Back in 2005, extremists turned their Sunni allies in Iraq’s Anbar Province into enemies by forcing locals’ young daughters to marry their foreign fighters, flogging people for offenses like smoking, and outlawing traditional religious and cultural practices. The counter-uprising of local tribes—with the help of American arms and money—was known as the “Awakening.”

4.  Pray for the Holy Spirit to initiate a record number of conversions, as appears to already be occurring in Iran. CT reports that last year 228 former Muslims participated in what Elam Ministries calls the Iranian church’s largest baptism in centuries. “Elam expects thousands more as the Islamic government’s crackdown on Christianity backfires, making the faith more intriguing to Iranians disillusioned with theocracy. In other words, Jesus—the enemy of their enemy—is becoming their friend.”

Here in the U.S., several evangelical leaders were among 188 Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox leaders who recently urged our government to do more to help the dwindling Christians of the region. But Fawzi Khalil, pastor of Kasr el-Dobara Church in Cairo, the largest evangelical congregation in the Middle East, described the kind of support they most desire. “We value so much the prayers and concerns of our Christian brethren around the world,” he said. “But we don’t believe outside pressure would be the best for our daily life with our Muslim friends.”

Summer Celebration 2014

Summer Celebration is this weekend, June 14 and 15, at College Church. We look forward to welcoming Stuart Briscoe who will be preaching Sunday morning, June 15, at 9:30 and 11:00 a.m., and Sunday evening at 6:00 p.m. For a full list of events, click here and watch the video below. Join us as we celebrate the start of summer at College Church!

Sermon Video: The Righteousness of God

The video from this weekend’s sermon, “The Righteousness of God,” from Romans 3:21 in “The Gospel of God” series is now online.

Romans 3:21 is one of the great texts in the Bible, and my prayer is that the confidence and hope of this passage will permeate through us all to God’s great glory.

You can watch the sermon here. Discussion questions about the sermon are available by clicking here.

The Gospel of God #29, The Righteousness of God

This weekend, the sermon comes from Romans 3:21 in the series “The Gospel of God” with a message entitled “The Righteousness of God.” Watch a video preview:

Sermon Video: Questioning God

The video from this weekend’s sermon, “Questioning God,” from Romans 3:12-20 in “The Gospel of God” series is now online.

This passage has at its heart Paul’s articulation of how it is that people can be shown their profound need of Jesus and His gospel. Its aim is to cause us to wonder at and appreciate and believe in the gospel that Paul has announced back in chapter 1 verses 16 and 17.

You can watch the sermon here. Discussion questions about the sermon are available here.

The Gospel of God #28: Questioning God

This weekend, the sermon comes from Romans 3:12-20 in the series “The Gospel of God” with a message entitled “Questioning God.” Watch a video preview:

Pastors and Their Kids

Barnabas Piper recently interviewed me for a blog series about pastors and their relationships with their children. You can read the interview here.

Sermon Video: Authentic Spirituality

The video from this weekend’s sermon, “Authentic Spirituality,” from Romans 3:9-11 in “The Gospel of God” series is now online.

This key passage in Romans provides us with a main point in Paul’s argument, and also with a foundational aspect of authentic spirituality today.

You can watch the sermon here. Discussion questions about the sermon are available here.

Interview with David S. Dockery

The following article was written for Evangelicals Now and published in their news publication for May 2014. In it I interview Dr. David S. Dockery, newly appointed president of Trinity International University:

dockeryWhat do you love about Trinity?

I love the mission of Trinity International University, which is to educate men and women to engage in God’s redemptive work in the world by cultivating academic excellence, Christian faithfulness, and lifelong learning. I love the stellar faculty members at Trinity who are committed to that mission. I genuinely admire their scholarship and their commitment to teaching, even as I love their dedication to students and to the work of the church. I love the staff at Trinity, the people who shape community, serve the students, and carry out the high calling of what I often call the hidden curriculum. I love the support and guidance that comes from the members of the Board who give of themselves for the good of Trinity. I love the heart of the students at Trinity, both undergraduate and graduate students. I am looking forward to getting to know all aspects of the university better in the days to come. I love Trinity’s intercultural and international commitments, expressed in the institution’s investment in the life and work of the global church. The list of things and people that I love at Trinity is long, but I will stop there. I am truly grateful to be a part of such a special institution.

What are the opportunities you envision for Trinity?

Trinity’s numerous opportunities are tied to the institutional strengths, many of which are listed above. There are many opportunities that are likewise associated with the challenges noted below. There are key opportunities to help shape Trinity’s expanding identity and influence in the world of Christian higher education. I think there are opportunities to help ensure Trinity’s ongoing commitments to evangelical faithfulness, to academic excellence and intellectual seriousness, to cultural engagement and service to the church, and to the enhancement of campus community and constituency involvement.  I am excited to think about opportunities to help the divinity school focus on its distinctive calling, even as we work to strengthen and expand the work of the undergraduate program. We have many opportunities, I believe, in the world of graduate programs, including ways to help the Trinity Law School mature and develop. I think that there are great opportunities associated with three of the centers at Trinity, the Bioethics Center, the Carl Henry Center and the Jonathan Edwards Center;  I believe that all three of these have incredible promise. We will trust the Lord to guide our steps as we prioritize our collaborative efforts to work together to address these many good opportunities that the Lord has provided for the Trinity community.

What are the challenges that you see for Trinity?

Trinity faces some of the same challenges that almost every other private college or university is facing at this time, things like the need for enrollment stability, revenue enhancement, finding the best and wisest ways to use technology, and other similar challenges that we share with our friends in the world of private higher education. Trinity certainly has not been exempt from the enrollment and revenue challenges over the past five or six years. Now, Trinity must prioritize enrollment management, student retention, services to students, and resource development. Likewise, Trinity must continue to address matters associated with faculty and staff development in order to help us pursue Christ-centered excellence in all that we do each and every day. Moreover, Trinity faces some rather unique challenges that are associated with its distinctive structure, a structure that includes a large divinity school, a smaller undergraduate program, and underdeveloped graduate programs, including the law school. In addition, Trinity has the challenge of serving and resourcing extension sites in South Chicago, South Florida, and Southern California. I personally think that each one of these challenges should also be seen as special opportunities for the university at this time. We are excited about finding solution-oriented ways to address each one of these challenges, trusting the Lord to grant us much wisdom and discernment in all of these matters. We certainly will need God’s help, blessings, and favor for the days ahead.

How can others pray for Trinity?

As I just mentioned, we need God’s wisdom, help, grace, favor, and blessings for the days to come. Please pray that the Lord would grant to us a sense of coherence in our identity and work, a sense of collaboration across the campus that would result in a new synergy in our shared efforts, and a team of administrators, faculty and staff who are working together shoulder-to-shoulder to advance the wonderful mission of Trinity International University. Please pray that the Lord would send us the right students, that he would expand our resources, and that he would grant us unexpected blessings for the calling that is ours. We must all come to a place of recognizing anew our sense of total dependence on our good and great God for his provision for Trinity. Please pray that we all would be found faithful in our leadership and our stewardship of the institution, working together to advance the gospel with which we have been entrusted, working together to advance a distinctive Christ-centered approach to higher education for the glory of God.


The Gospel of God #27: Authentic Spirituality

This weekend, the sermon comes from Romans 3:9-11 in the series “The Gospel of God” with a message entitled “Authentic Spirituality.” Watch a video preview: