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Tough love

"Tough love" Continued...

Issue: "Rathergate," Sept. 25, 2004

While authorities do arrest individual Christians, such a large-scale raid is unusual, especially so close upon the heels of another pastor's arrest in May. According to Jubilee, this is the first time the entire leadership of a church has been arrested since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Those released had strict orders not to evangelize.

"It has to be indicative of a sudden chill towards Christian minorities," says Ann Buwalda, Jubilee's U.S. director. "I think somehow the Iranian authorities must have been slipping, and they're trying to get a better handle on who's in leadership . . . they didn't just shut the church down."

In February Islamic hardliners won control of the parliament after the Council of Guardians disqualified thousands of reform candidates. These officials are "very nervous" because Christianity is spreading in Iran, says Hormoz Shariat of International Antioch Ministries: "They feel that control is getting out of their hands and want to send the message, 'We're watching you.'" Apart from traditionally Christian communities, such as Assyrians, the number of Muslim converts may be between 4,000 and 20,000, up from about 500 in 1979.

India: Christians are looking for a long-awaited reprieve from Hindu extremist violence, but it may take awhile. The surprise defeat of the Hindu nationalist BJP last April meant an official return to traditionally secular government led by the Congress Party. The returning officials quickly quashed anti-conversion legislation in some states, but vigilante attacks on Christians continue.

Among several reported by the Institute on Religion and Public Policy (IRPP): 300 Hindu fundamentalists burned Bibles and tore down the tabernacle of the Church of Our Lady of Charity in Orissa on Aug. 26; Father Job Chittilappilly in Kerala was killed on Aug. 28 after receiving threatening phone calls against his social work among Hindus; and armed attackers beat up two parish priests on Aug. 22 in Jharkhand state, leaving one in a coma.

IRPP president Joseph Grieboski said institutional improvement, such as repealing anti-conversion laws, only goes so far. Far-reaching change will only come with better attitudes among political leaders toward religious minorities and Dalits, the lowest Hindu caste: "Just because the BJP is no longer in power does not mean the steps they put forth will change overnight."

China: One hundred a month seems to be the new tally authorities are aiming for in arrests of house-church leaders. According to the China Aid Association, authorities arrested 100 at a retreat in Henan Province on Aug. 6. A month earlier on July 12, roughly the same number were arrested in Xinjiang state in western China. Same story on June 11 in the central city of Wuhan, where members of the 5-million-strong China Gospel Fellowship were arrested.

Authorities released most church members in Xinjiang and Wuhan, but ordered those in Wuhan to stay at home, hampering their ability to roam and evangelize. Most surprising was the arrest of Samuel Lamb after Sunday worship on June 13, the first time in 14 years that authorities have clamped down on the activities of the house-church leader perhaps most well known in the West, according to Compass News. Mr. Lamb reportedly leads 3,000 worshippers a week in Guangzhou.

So why the sudden swoop on Christians? According to China Aid, the Communist Party's Politburo members recently met to discuss how to handle religious affairs in the country and decided to crack down on "illegal religious activities." They have also ordered their propaganda machinery to spread atheism more vociferously.

Colombia: Masked gunmen sprayed worshippers with bullets at an evening church service in Puerto Asis on Sept. 4, killing three and injuring 13, Compass News reports. Army officials pegged the assailants as guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), saying they disliked the church discouraging youth from joining the Marxist militants. Local authorities, however, believe the men were targeting a former police officer in the congregation, who was seriously wounded in the attack.

Guerrillas have launched a spate of attacks on Christians in the last two months: The second-largest rebel group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), kidnapped a Roman Catholic bishop on July 24 but released him three days later after an international outcry. Two rebel groups, including ELN, have agreements with evangelicals not to target them for kidnappings, but FARC continues to issue threats. Members released a government agronomist and evangelical Christian in June after a three-month captivity.

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