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At Crosswalk.com and Religion Today, one of our greatest concerns is for the persecuted church worldwide. The persecution of Christians by governments, rebel and militia forces, and religious groups of other faiths needs to be at the forefront of our prayer and giving priorities for the coming new year. Because of the importance of this issue to all Christians, this issue of Religion Today Summaries offers a review of significant events and trends affecting the persecuted church in 2002, and thoughts on what the impact of these trends may have on the Body of Christ in 2003.
Situations, Trends May Impact International Church in 2003
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
EDMONDS, WASHINGTON (ANS) -- With its roots going back to 1846, World Evangelical Alliance is an international body that networks and facilitates the discipling of nations through national and regional evangelical alliances in 123 countries. In a year-end report released December 30, the WEA highlights trends in major trouble spots around the world.
"As 2002 draws to a close, it is important for Christians to prayerfully commit to freedom for people of all faiths as part of our Christian faith. Some say it is impossible for people of various religions to live together. It may be possible to find ways to co-exist, but to develop a stable civil society, religious freedom and security must be integrated. A level playing field gives everyone freedom to worship" said Kathi Graham, North American Representative for the Religious Liberty Commission of World Evangelical Alliance.
"The Religious Liberty Commission of World Evangelical Alliance identifies global trends to alert people to the ongoing struggles faced daily by believers worldwide," states Rev. Johan Candelin, Executive Director of the commission. "Christmas is a time to meditate on the mystery of God and His gift of life through Jesus Christ and the impact of that gift as people live out their daily lives."
WEA Religious Liberty Commission Researcher Elizabeth Kendal presents significant trends of 2002 that will impact the church in 2003. Portions of her article follow. The full textof her report is available at http://www.evangelicalalliance.org.au/rlc/postings.
Trend One: A continuing struggle in Communist Asia between increasing openness and maintaining control.
"China leads the way in this struggle and has the potential to be a strategic positive influence on its neighbors. There is a long way to go, as the case of Hong Kong's Article 23, the persecution of the South China Church and Pastor Gong Shengliang, and the re-arrest of pastor Peter Xu all demonstrate," said Kendal.
"Yet we are not without hope. A leading Chinese evangelical recently said that he believed the Chinese leadership was realizing that it could not win its battle against the Church and was gradually giving up and accepting that it has to learn how to live with it."
North Korea continued to fluctuate wildly, however, 2002 saw massive changes induced by total desperation. "One wonders how much longer the regime of Kim Jong-Il can maintain its consistent, relentless, appalling cruelty and repression," Kendal said.
Vietnam is one Communist Asian nation where the situation has markedly deteriorated. The Hmong tribe, located in Vietnam, Laos, China and Cambodia, is under intense persecution. This will be a major issue in 2003.
Trend Two: Rising nationalism linked to religious identity is bringing increased levels of persecution to religious minorities, especially evangelicals. "Political parties and religious majority leaders prepared to play this dangerous game can increase their power and influence at the expense of social harmony. Nationalism linked to religious identity and built on a platform of fear has become the political tool of the modern era," Kendal said.
Orthodox Church -- The Orthodox Church is linked to the nationalism in Belarus and Russia. "Can President Lukashenko maintain his oppressive dictatorship in the face of international pressure through 2003? What happens in these strategic nations sets a precedent for other states in Central and Eastern Europe with large Orthodox populations, such as Ukraine, Bulgaria, Moldova and Romania," said Kendal.
Hindutva -- In contrast to the predictions of many political analysts, Hindutva is alive and well in India, fed on a revived and winning diet of fear by politicians who are experts at this game.
Buddhist -- Buddhist nationalism complete with anti-Christian violence has been on the rise in Sri Lanka for some time. Cambodia has seen it's first sign of Buddhist nationalism. With seven months to go before elections in Cambodia, the battle is on to win the support of Cambodia's influential Buddhist monks.
Trend Three -- "The War on Terror has poured fuel on the flames of Islamic renewal across the Muslim world and exaggerated the polarization between the Islamic and non-Islamic communities. Polarization has also increased between hard-line and moderate Islam with many moderates being drawn into the hard-line, radical, purist camp," Kendal said.
"For decades the Islamic renewal movement has advocated a departure from secularization and modernization and a return to 'pure' Islam along Qur'anic lines. This movement increased in momentum through the 1990s. However, when the War on Terror commenced (interpreted by many in the Muslim world as a war on Islam) the Islamic renewal movement took on the status of a unifying, anti-crusader / anti-West protest movement," she said.
Pakistan -- All have seen a profound shift towards radical Islamic, pro-shari'a parties. Only in Morocco, while Islam increased their representation, did they fail to seize power or influence.
"This rise in Islamic zeal and identity, together with the rise in Islamic militancy, backed by the Islamic renewal movement and a bottomless pit of oil money, is set to create serious challenges for religious liberty and for the Church, especially and immediately in the needy and vulnerable regions of Africa," Kendal reported.
Cote D'ivoire is, in a very generalized sense, representative of Africa as a whole. The future of Cote d'Ivoire could be prescriptive of the future of much of central and sub-Saharan Africa.
Nigeria has elections due in or before April 2003. Religion is threatening to be a major and divisive election issue.
Sudan straddles a fence between yielding to Islamic pressure to Islamise the nation by force (acknowledging that through its new oil wealth it has the weapons to do so) or to appease the "anti-terror" West (where many prospective oil markets are located) and work towards a peaceful settlement for Southern Sudan. Talks resume in January 2003 and peace is closer than it has ever been.
Indonesia also straddles a fence between appeasing the hardliner Islamics whose influence is considerable and growing, or protecting minorities, dispensing justice and appeasing the West in regard to dealing with terrorism. Indonesia's ability to confront issues of terrorism, jihad and justice will determine the direction Indonesia goes in 2003.
Iran is one Islamic nation where reform is definitely on the agenda. It will be a most interesting nation to watch in 2003.
Morocco, under the leadership of King Mohammed VI, is leading the Arab world in terms of democratic reform and freedom. This will be another interesting nation to watch.
Future Trend -- If there is an attack on IRAQ in 2003, it will doubtless lead to "retaliatory" attacks against Christians, particularly Christian minorities in Muslims nations, Kendal said.
Middle East -- The conflict and the situation for Palestinians is a major obstacle to good relationships between Christianity and the Arab nations. Much "goodwill" work is needed.