Finally Spring for Iraqi Christians
The vaulted ceilings are charred and gray, almost like a cemetery. A simple plastic chair sits where the altar once was, looking out into the rubble of an empty church where a single soldier stands, looking around. Like the locals, he’s almost gotten used to the destruction. Ashes and toppled crosses mark the place where so many happy memories were made — marriages, baptisms, Christmas services. Now, the sanctuary is a pile of wreckage, a memorial to the march of ISIS that burned and bombed its way through town.
For more than two years, Muslim extremists smashed their way through cities like Qaraqosh, trying to erase thousands of years of Christian history. Now, the 30-mile trek to Mosul looks more like a trail of ruins. Slowly, like the quiet arrival of spring, that’s starting to change. Signs of new life are popping up around the city that used to be home to a thriving population of Christians. Fathers and sons are painting over the ISIS graffiti on town buildings; volunteers from Qaraqosh are rebuilding a giant cross on the side of the main road; priests are holding mass despite the mounds of debris.
But perhaps the greatest sight was this past Sunday when, for the first time since ISIS drove the Christians out, crowds of people made the pilgrimage back to the Nineveh plain for Palm Sunday. Our friends at Open Doors USA marveled at the picture of thousands of Iraqi Christians waving palm trees and shouting “Hallelujah!” “Two and a half years ago,” a young teacher said, “we were displaced and we almost lost hope to ever return here. But today, we are here again, because of Jesus; because we had hope in Him.” As you can see, he told the relief workers, looking around, “The Christians have returned to Qaraqosh!”
In a few days, the town will celebrate Easter — knowing, as so many do, the risks. Like people around the world, they understand what could happen. For Christians in the Middle East, there is no peace — not even on Easter Sunday. They’ve watched deadly explosions rock churches from Syria to Nigeria. Still, they are not deterred. “Easter is a message to humanity — a message of new life,” a university professor told Open Doors. “After torture, after hardships, after tough conditions, there will be life again. Just pray for us to be protected,” he says. “To be sound and safe in our country from now on.”
While the international church prays, Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom Sam Brownback plans to act. Trump’s new fixture at the State Department is more determined than ever to fight for every person to worship freely. At events marking the U.S.‘s declaration of genocide against Christians, he raised the importance of the issue to audiences across DC. “It is more dangerous now than any time in history to be a person of faith,” the former governor pointed out, citing the terrible conditions in Burma, China, and Venezuela. “We are at a critical moment for the future of religious minorities globally,” he warned. And fortunately, there’s a man in the White House who understands that. “I would like to see religious freedom be for this administration what climate change was for the last,” Brownback said.
Of course, the new secretary of state will be critical to that effort. As conservatives have said from the beginning, former CIA Director Mike Pompeo would be an excellent partner in the fight for the rights of the persecuted church. A fellow Kansan, he understands how vital religious liberty is to America’s interests abroad. If you haven’t contacted your senators and encouraged them to support Pompeo’s nomination, make sure you do. The fate of our freedom — and of millions of brothers and sisters in Christ — depend on it!
Originally published here.
Views of the Pews
The 2016 election should have put a lot of stories to rest — including the supposed collapse of evangelical Christianity. A year and a half later, the media still can’t wrap its head around our numbers, which continue to hold steady even when other faith groups decline. If there’s a population in danger of extinction, a new analysis points out, it isn’t evangelicals!
For the liberal media, who’ve been trying to put evangelicals on a milk carton for 30 years, the real story is the free fall of mainline Protestants. In a study of the General Social Survey, Aaron Earls insists that pundits have been focusing on the wrong demographic. If they want to explain the drop in church attendance, it’s time to look somewhere else. “In the mid 1970s,” Earls points out, “close to 30 percent of Americans attended a mainline Protestant church. After decades of membership loss, only 10 percent said they attended in 2016.” In fact, he says, “Since 1990, there has not been a single year of growth for mainline Protestant church attendance.”
Add that to the rise of the “religiously unaffiliated” (which, at 22 percent is just a couple points behind evangelicals) and some of the trends start to make sense. While America’s faith landscape is changing, evangelicals have held surprisingly steady. “Since 1972, evangelical church attenders have grown from 18 percent of the population. After reaching 30 percent in 1993, the share has hovered around 25 percent, ranging from 27 to 23 percent.” Some of that goes to the heart of evangelicalism, which calls us to go and make disciples of Christ. There’s a natural growth component in our faith, as more people are brought to the saving love of Jesus.
Evangelicals do a better job holding on to their young people, Lisa Green explained a couple of years ago. “About two-thirds of those raised in the evangelical tradition are staying in the faith — a rate surpassed within Christianity only by the historically black church.” That’s not to say there isn’t work to be done. Millennials are slipping away from their faith roots at an alarming rate, thanks in large part to the liberal indoctrination they’re getting in government schools and college campuses. Parents have to be increasingly vigilant, taking every opportunity to reinforce their values at home.
As for mainline churches, empty pews are just part of the problem. Empty preaching is the other. When a denomination abandons the truth or waters down Scripture’s teachings, it reduces church to another hour of Dr. Phil — which is something Americans can get without ever leaving home. That abandonment of principle is leading to a decline in membership, especially among the more liberal denominations. As more churches move away from biblical authority, their attendance suffers. Ask the Episcopal Church, whose membership is a fraction of what it once was after its leadership endorsed same-sex marriage.
That’s the problem with our aggressively secular and sexualized culture — it’s chipped away at the idea that truth is absolute. And lately, too many churches are reflecting the culture instead of confronting it. On the bright side, this survey is a good opportunity for the authentic church to separate itself from the mush and stand up for the message of radical faith. Yes, we need to speak the truth in love — but speak the truth nonetheless.
Originally published here.
Tennessee and Kentucky Schools: God in, Guns Out
They’re four simple words, but in the face of so much confusion and tragedy, they might just be the four students need most. Tennessee legislators are counting on it, hoping their bill to post “In God We Trust” in schools will give their kids something positive to focus on for a change.
The debate over what Congress and parents can do to stop gun violence will rage on, but there are small, significant gestures — like putting the national motto up in local classrooms — that might at least start sending the right message. Arkansas, Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Wyoming are all considering it, especially after the horrible events of Parkland led everyone to wonder just how wise it had been to kick God out of schools. Tennessee’s bill passed the state senate unanimously before its impressive showing (81-8) in the house.
“Our national motto is on our money. It’s on our license plates. It’s part of our national anthem,” said the measure’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Susan Lynn. “Our national motto and founding documents are the cornerstone of freedom, and we should teach our children about these things.”
If Gov. Bill Haslam signs the bill (and he hasn’t indicated whether he will), it will take effect immediately. Tennessee would also join the near-dozen states that have decided to make public statements about the importance of God in public life.
In Kentucky, leaders aren’t just stopping at physical displays. Bluegrass officials are considering a bill that would set aside the last Wednesday in September as “A Day of Prayer for Kentucky’s Students.” “Given all that our students are facing…” Rep. Regina Huff (R) said soberly, “our students need to know that we are standing with them. We all need to embrace this and be united in an effort of support in each individual’s manner of prayer for our schools, students, and administrators.” Gov. Matt Bevin (R-KY), who’s been a champion of religious liberty, agrees that the problem isn’t guns — it’s the culture. “We can’t celebrate death in video games, celebrate death in TV shows, celebrate death in movies, celebrate death in musical lyrics, and remove any sense of morality and sense of higher authority — and then expect that things like this are not going to happen.”
It’s time, he said, for a repentant nation to call on God. The Kentucky House must agree. It passed the bill by an 83-5 landslide.
Originally published here.
This is a publication of the Family Research Council. Mr. Perkins is president of FRC.