Jordan Deports Evangelical Christians

Jeremy Reynalds | ASSIST News Service | Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Jordan Deports Evangelical Christians

March 11, 2008

AMMAN, JORDAN -- Evangelical Christians are being criticized in Jordan where dozens of seminary students and missionaries have been deported, a report said.

According to a report by United Press International (UPI), the deportations could affect Jordan's $2.3 billion tourism industry, which markets the country's Biblical sites heavily to evangelicals around the world, The Washington Times reported.

“The king has to realize there is a cost to this reaction. Christians are an important part of the economic well-being of Jordan,” UPI reported that Keith Roderick, a Washington representative for Christian Solidarity International, said.

Some Jordanians reportedly feel American evangelicals are trying to bring down their beliefs and customs by pushing American values.

“They come as individuals, and they exploit the citizens of this nation, recruiting them for their interests,” UPI reported World Council of Churches representative Awda Qawwas said.

UPI reported that religious leaders in Amman said they have “been complaining for many years about the role of missionary groups in Jordan.”

The proselytizing of Muslims to Christianity is against the law in Jordan.

The expulsions were reported Jan. 29 by the evangelical news service Compass Direct. On Feb. 20, the acting foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, read a statement by the Council of the Church Leaders of Jordan condemning the Compass report.

Compass reported that following Judeh’s statements about foreign groups that “broke the law and did missionary activities,” the Jordanian parliament on Feb. 21 passed a resolution condemning the Compass article.

“We categorically condemn and reject the false report which is aimed at damaging Muslim-Christian relations in Jordan,” the lower house of parliament said, according to Agence France-Presse.

More Deportations

Compass commented it has been unclear what the government considered false in its report. The news service said the fact of Christians being deported was further verified as authorities on Feb. 10 expelled an Egyptian pastor with the Assemblies of God church in Madaba – one of five evangelical denominations registered with the government.

Married to a Jordanian citizen and the father of two children, Compass said Sadeq Abdel Nour was handcuffed and blindfolded and taken to the port city of Aqaba. There he was placed on a ferry to Egypt.

The week prior, Compass said an Egyptian pastor from a Baptist church in Zarqa was arrested, held for three days and also returned to Egypt by ship from the port city of Aqaba.

The 43-year-old pastor is married to a Jordanian woman and the father of three children.

In addition, Compass reported, a foreign Christian studying Arabic left Jordan on Feb.18 after intelligence police ordered her to exit the country by February 20. Officers accused the student of studying Arabic to conceal her work evangelizing Muslims, based on the fact that she attended an Arabic-speaking church.

Compass said that authorities did not provide a written explanation for the deportation of either of the two Egyptian pastors. A government minister contacted by Compass did not respond to numerous requests for information regarding the expulsions.

According to Compass, pastors from both the Assemblies of God and Baptist denominations, officially recognized by Jordanian authorities, declined to comment on the incidents.

However, Compass reported, a member of the Council of the Church Leaders of Jordan, which includes clergy from the Catholic, Orthodox and Armenian churches, confirmed the deportations.

“The government said they have their own reasons to kick them out, but personally I don’t know why,” said council secretary John Nour.

Government Urged Council’s Statement

Compass reported Nour told the news service that an official from Jordan’s Foreign Ministry had approached the council, Jordan’s highest Christian body, requesting that it respond to accusations of increased pressure on foreign Christians printed in the Jan. 29 Compass article.

“They gave us a paper about why (the foreigners) have been deported,” Nour told Compass by telephone from Amman. “None of them were working legally under a church name, and if they were working under a (registered) church in the country, they were not doing what they were supposed to do.”

Compass said the bishops’ Feb. 4 response, posted in English on Jordan’s U.S. embassy website until it was removed several days later, received widespread coverage in Arabic media.

The statement said that errors in the Compass article “distort the truth and harm relations between Muslim and Christian citizens.”

Compass said but other than disagreeing on the number of Christians in Jordan, 4 percent as opposed to 3 percent, and denying claims that local Christians feared the government might regress on its policy of religious tolerance, the statement failed to identify any specific inaccuracies in the Compass article.

Contacted about the council’s statement, Nour complained that the article failed to obtain comment from a council member or from a government official regarding the missionary accusations, although the Jan. 29 story did quote a Jordanian official who requested that his name not be used.

Compass said the head of Jordan and Palestine’s lay Orthodox council told Compass that the article was incorrect in its claims that religious freedom in Jordan was under threat.

“We Christians in Jordan have all the rights and freedoms of every citizen,” Dr. Raouf Abu Jaber said from Amman.

The Feb. 4 statement denounced around 40 foreign groups that it said came to Jordan under the “guise of charitable organizations,” and were a “threat to public security.”

“It was not against the (local) evangelical people,” Nour told Compass. “The evangelical churches have a lot of respect here from the traditional churches and from the government.”

The Baptists, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Nazarene Church, Assemblies of God and Free Evangelicals have been in the country for decades and are registered with the government.

However, Compass reported, as some of the deportations have showed, the government opposition is not limited to missionaries unaffiliated with the five registered evangelical denominations. Nour said that foreign missionaries even with permission to work under registered evangelical churches had been deported for breaking the law by passing out Bibles in Muslim areas.

“Here the religion of the country is Islam, and according to the law you are not allowed to go out and reach Muslims,” Nour told Compass. But he later modified this statement, saying that everyone was free to share his faith with anyone who came to a church to request information.

Further questioned by Compass about Jordanian law, Nour specified that all Jordanian citizens were guaranteed freedom of religion as long as it did not “interfere with other religions.”

Compass reported that many of those deported in 2007 told Compass they were questioned by intelligence police about alleged evangelistic activity among Muslims.

Dr. Jaber of Jordan’s Orthodox lay council explained that Jordan’s traditional churches generally reject the idea of evangelizing Muslims, or vice versa, in order to preserve mutual respect between the religions.

“We (Christians) are well represented on all levels of government, and therefore we would like to keep this balanced society,” Jaber told the news service. “To co-exist we must have a respect.”

Jaber told Compass that evangelists from the United States who came to Jordan to preach often caused problems by angering Muslims and Christians alike and breaking the law. But he said he was unaware of which specific law forbade preaching to members of another faith.

Seminary Harassed

Compass said that following the council’s statement, Al-Jazeera and Saudi newspaper Al-Watan claimed on Feb.17 that the Jordanian government had decided that it would expel 40 Christian missionary groups. The government minister did not respond when contacted by Compass regarding the claims.

In his comments to parliament, Compass reported that acting Foreign Minister Judeh did not identify any groups that had been carrying out “illegal” missionary activities. Neither did he specify the details of these activities.

In an apparent reference to the Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary (JETS), Compass reported the church council said it had asked the government not to allow foreign missionary groups to establish a “theological institute” in Jordan.

“They attract poor and unemployed youths, drawing them from our churches, and tempting them with facilitations and missionary jobs in Jordan and various Arab countries,” Compass reported the Feb. 4 statement said.

Compass said that at least 10 foreign students attending JETS were denied entry and deported last August and September while returning for the 2007-2008 academic year.

Though recognized by several international accrediting organizations, the seminary has been unsuccessful in its attempts to acquire official accreditation under Jordan’s Ministry of Higher Education.

Compass said that JETS eventually registered under the Ministry of Culture in 1995, five years after its inception, but the government continued to regularly deny a number of its foreign students and professors residency.

Many have been forced to enter the country on tourist visas and have overstayed the time limit in order to complete their studies.

© 2008 ASSIST News Service, used with permission