Loving your enemies: Lesson from Dr King

Love for our enemies may compel us to downplay their abuse, but love for the victims should compel us not to.

“Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship.”

“We must recognize that the evil deed of the enemy-neighbor, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is. An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy.

Racists are nice people….

“Dr. E. Franklin Fraizer, in an interesting essay entitled ‘the Pathology of Race Prejudice,’ included several examples of white persons who were normal, amiable, and congenial in their day-to-day relationships with other white persons but when they were challenged to think of Negroes as equals or even to discuss the question of racial injustice, they reacted with unbelievable irrationality and an abnormal unbalance. This happens when hate lingers in our minds…”

I find the writings of Dr King useful in explaining how to love our enemy-neighbours (i.e. government supporters).

[Quotes from Dr Martin Luther King Jr., Strength to Love, Ch. 5: Loving your enemies]

They are enemies. (Eritrean president Issaias Afewerki and high-ranking officials)

Open letter to Jehovah’s Witnesses

Date: September 1, 2014

To:
Jehovah’s Witnesses
25 Columbia Heights
Brooklyn NY 11201-2483
USA

Deeply ashamed by the cruel and inhumane treatment of Jehovah’s Witnesses in my country, I am writing you this letter to express my solidarity with the persecuted Jehovah’s Witnesses in Eritrea. This September it will be 20 years since Isaac Mogos, Negede Teklemariam and Paulos Eyassu were imprisoned on Saturday, September 24, 1994. The first members of your congregation to suffer extended imprisonment and torture in Eritrea.

Since becoming an independent country in 1993, my country consistently harasses, imprisons, and tortures Jehovah’s Witnesses.

I have lived all my life in Eritrean capital, Asmara. A small city that was once upon a time the home town of Isaac Mogos, Negede Teklemariam, Paulos Eyassu, and many other imprisoned members of your congregation. Asmara has not been my home since I fled my country recently. I am not a Jehovah’s Witness but my family and I have friends who are; I am a witness to the integrity and high moral standards that members of your faith have.

Although I (and the Eritrean society in general) have very little to do with the actions of my government, it is never the less my pain when innocent members of my society are subjected to such inhumane torture and imprisonment, and it is my responsibility to at least stand in solidarity and be vocal when such atrocities are being committed in my home country.

The right for everyone to choose their own religion and to practice it is a God given right. It is also a basic human right stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. No human being has the right to torture another human being. No one has the right to take away the freedom of others and to force them to change their religion.

Sincerely,

Signed: Samuel N.

___________________________________________________

Left to right: Paulos Eyassu, Isaac Mogos, and Negede Teklemariam; in-chains for their faith since September 24 1994. Photo taken sometime 1996 (photo from https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jehovahs-Witnesses-in-Sawa-Prison-Camp-in-Eritrea)

Left to right: Paulos Eyassu, Isaac Mogos, and Negede Teklemariam; in-chains for their faith since September 24 1994. Photo taken sometime 1996 (photo source here )

List of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Eritrean prisons: 20 years in prison without being charged or sentenced

Take the pledge to show your support and solidarity with the persecuted Jehovah’s witnesses in Eritrea.

Click image to show your solidarity.

Click image to show your solidarity.

List of Jehovah’s Witnesses currently in prison in Eritrea

(None have been charged or sentenced. Data retrieved from JW.org on September 2014. Download list in PDF here: List of JW in Eritrea.) Continue reading

What of the Ethiopian Church

Ethiopian evangelical church worship

There is a peculiar lack of voice from Ethiopian Churches  about their brothers and sisters of Eritrea. The suffering of Eritrean Christians has yet to inspire gospel songs or sermons in any major conference.

So far I haven’t heard of any Ethiopian pastor or gospel singer talk about the persecution of Eritrean Churches. I am not aware of any special service done by the Ethiopians addressing issues of Eritrean Christians. This is not good. I am very fond of Ethiopian spiritual songs and sermons, they show great care and concern for their society. Why the silence on Eritrea?

P.S.: This blog is about silence of the Church in speaking publicly and NOT about silence towards God. One is not necessarily an indicator of the other.
I have written about the strange silence of Eritrean Churches on their own affairs (my articles “Mute and without opinion” and “Eritrean evangelical Christians are criminals” are some examples).

____________
Updated July 24

መራሕቲ ሃይማኖት ኤርትራ ብዝዕባ መንእሰያት ኤርትራ::

ዝኽሪ ነቶም አብ ሓደጋ ላምፐዱሳን አብ ተመሳሳሊ ሓደጋ ባሕሪ ኢጣልያን ዝሃለቑ ግዳያት ስነስርዓት ዝኽሪ አብ ዝተፈላልየ ከተማታት (ብጀካ ኣብ ኤርትራ ማለት’ዩ) ክካየድ ቀንዩ:: እዚ ዝስዕብ አብ ማንቸስተር ብ ምትሕብባር ሕብረት EYSNS.G ዝተገረ ስነስርዓት ዝኽሪ እዩ::

መንግስቲ ኤርትራ ን ሃይማኖታት ኤርትራ (ብኣጸዋውዓ መንግስትና “ሃይማኖታዊ ትካላት”) አፍ ክዓብስ ካብ ዝብል ነዊሕ ኮይኑ’ዩ:: ንኹሉ ተግባራት መንግስቲ “ፓለቲካ” ብምባል ሃይማኖታውያን መራሕትና አብ መሰረታዊ ጉዳያት ሕብረተሰብ ከይተረፈ ናይ ምስታፍ መሰል ክኽልክል ጸኒሑን ክሳዕ ሕጂ ብዓወት ተሳትፎ ሃይማኖታውያን መራሕቲ አብ ሕብረተሰብና ይኽልክልን አሎ (ብዛዕባዚ አስፍሕ አቢለ ጽሒፈ ኔረ):: ናይዚ ብመንግስቲ ኤርትራ ዝግበር ዘሎ ገበን ሓደ መርኣያ እቶም ነንመዓልቱ ዝኣስሮም ዘሎ መራሕቲ ሃይማኖት እዮም::

ገለ ሒደት ካብቶም ብእምነቶም መንግስቲ ኤርትራ ዝኣሰሮም እሱራት:-

ገለ ካብ እሱራት ኤርትራ

ገለ ካብ እሱራት ኤርትራ

እዚ ዝርዝር ብኸፊል ናይቶም ልእሊ 3,000 ብእምነቶም ጥራይ ዝተኣስሩ እሱራት’ዩ:: ንዝያዳ ሓበሪታ Eritrean Human Rights Electronic Archive ምውካስ ይከኣል::

______________________________

እዚ ከምዚ’ሉ ኸሎ: እቲ ኩሉ ነገር ዝሕድሶም ደገፍቲ መንግስቲ ኤርትራ መራሕቲ ሃይማኖት አብ ስነስርዓት ዝኽሪ ግዳያት ላምፐዱዛ ብዝገበሮ “ዓገብ ንበሎም” ዝሕመረቱ ዘረባ ተቖጢዖም “ሃይማኖት ግዳይ ፕለቲካ” ብምባል ይግረሙ ይርከቡ::

"ንምንታይ መንእሰያት ካብ ዓዶም ይሃድሙ ዝብል ሕቶ ጉዳይ መራሕቲ ሃይማኖት አይኮነን: ብመራሕቲ ሃይማኖት ክለዓል 'ውን የብሉን!!" (ድኹም ኣተሓሳስባ መንግስቲ ኤርትራን ደገፍቱን)

“ንምንታይ መንእሰያት ካብ ዓዶም ይሃድሙ ዝብል ሕቶ ጉዳይ መራሕቲ ሃይማኖት አይኮነን: ብመራሕቲ ሃይማኖት ክለዓል ‘ውን የብሉን!!” (ድኹም ኣተሓሳስባ መንግስቲ ኤርትራን ደገፍቱን)

መሳኪን ደገፍቲ መንግስቲ: ምናልባት ከምቲ ቲቨ-ኤረ ብዛዕባ ግዳያት ላምፐዱዛ ዝበለቶ “ዘይሕጋውያን ስደተኛታት” ስለዘይበሎም’ዶ ይኸውን? ዋላስ ብልቦም ተስደሚሞም ይኾኑ?

God Desires Good Government

{Excerpt from article by Derek Prince}

In his First Epistle to Timothy, Paul instructs Timothy in the proper order and administration of the local church, which he calls “God’s house” (See 1 Timothy 3:14-15). In chapter two he gives directions for the church’s ministry of prayer:

1I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; 2for kings, and all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. 3For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; 4Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:1-4)

“First of all,” Paul calls for “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks….” If we were to choose one term to cover all four activities, it would be prayer. The first duty of Christians meeting in fellowship is prayer. It is also their primary outreach.

In verse two Paul says that prayer is to be offered “for all men.” This agrees with the prophecy of Isaiah 56:7 where God says, “…Mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.” God is concerned with all men and all people,” and He expects His people to share His concern.

After “all men,” the first specific topic for prayer is “kings, and all that are in authority.” This may be summed up in the single word, the government. When praying for the government, what specific petition are we exhorted to make? Paul’s answer is: “…that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” Does the kind of government we live under affect the way we live? Obviously it does. Therefore, if we desire a good way of life, logic and self-interest alike indicate that we should pray for our government.

Continuing in 1 Timothy 2, Paul says in verse three, “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour….” The pronoun this refers back to the topic of verse 2, which we have summarized as “good government.” If we replace the pronoun this by the phrase to which it refers, we arrive at the following statement: “Good government is good and acceptable in the sight of God.” More simply still, “Good government is the will of God.”

Here is a statement with the most far-reaching consequences. Do we really believe it? To judge by the words and actions of many Christians, they have little or no expectations of good government. They are more or less resigned to the fact that the government will be inefficient, wasteful, arbitrary, corrupt, unjust. For my part I have studied this question long and carefully in the light of logic and of Scripture, and I have come to a deep conviction concerning God’s will in this area: The will of God is good government.

Why God Desires Good Government

Moving on to verse four, we find that Paul states the reason why good government is the will of God: God desires “…all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” God desires the salvation of all men so intensely that He made it possible by the supreme sacrifice of history, the atoning death of Jesus Christ on the cross. Through faith in Christ’s atonement, salvation has been made available to all men. However, for men “to be saved,” they must first “come to the knowledge of the truth” concerning Christ’s atonement. This is possible only if they have the Gospel preached to them.

Paul presents this issue very plainly in Romans 10:13-14: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” Unless the Gospel is preached to them, men cannot avail themselves of the salvation purchased for them by Christ’s atonement.

We may sum up the logic of this very simply. God desires “all men to be saved.” For this it is necessary for them to “come to the knowledge of the truth.” “Knowledge of the truth” comes only through the preaching of the Gospel. Therefore God desires the Gospel to be preached to all men.

What kind of government makes it easier to preach the Gospel? Good government or bad government? To obtain an answer to this question, we may briefly contrast the effects of good and bad government, in so far as they relate to the preaching of the Gospel.

On the one hand, good government maintains law and order, it keeps communications open, it preserves civil liberty, it protects freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. Good government, without becoming involved in religious controversy, provides a climate in which the Gospel can be preached effectively.

On the other hand, bad government allows the breakdown of law and order, permits unsafe travel conditions and poor communications, and imposes unjust and arbitrary restrictions. In all these ways, although in varying degrees, bad government hinders the effective preaching of the truth. At its worst, bad government either restricts or totally suppresses the universal right of all men to believe in God and to express their faith by public worship and proclamation. In one degree or another, we see these conditions in countries today.

Our conclusion therefore is that good government facilitates the preaching of the gospel, while bad government hinders it. For this reason, good government is the will of God.

Read full article at Herald of His Coming web page–Praying for our government.

Eritrean evangelical Christians are criminals.

Along with Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Bahai, some Moslem groups and the Orthodox Patriarch; Eritrea’s evangelicals are criminals. Let me list some of the crimes routinely committed by you — “Christian”:

By deciding  to practice your faith and attend outlawed congregations you routinely break the ‘law’–that explains why every-time you congregate you look over your shoulders and hide from the ‘law’ like a criminal. But you are a criminal!

Every time you accept money from your family abroad, you commit a crime by accepting smuggled money; for the government has outlawed foreign currency exchange.

If you decide Eritrean law is not for you and decide to leave the country, you are a criminal trying to abscond your national duty of indefinite conscription. Even worst you are a criminal crossing Eritrea’s national borders in hiding like a criminal (and you are a criminal!).

That time when your loved-one told you he is planning to flee the country and you prayed he would make it safely: you are a criminal for not reporting  him to the authorities but in fact aiding a criminal.

When your loved-one was imprisoned for attending prayer meeting and you begged your Lt. Colonel uncle to help free her. You are a disgusting criminal employing corruption to break the nations laws.

Once out of Eritrea you routinely bribe Sudanese or Kenyan officials to get papers and avoid being deported back. Unashamed to carry-on your criminal activities in foreign nations.

Eventually you seek asylum abroad due to political and religious persecution, but this is perjury and treason according to Eritrean government. A crime!

Many Christians (especially Evangelical Christians) are confused as to how to participate in Eritrean affairs. Many are not sure if they can reconcile dissidence with their faith. As a result many of the devout have decided to stay clear of Eritrean ‘politics’.

For instance; in-order to address the unbearable assaults from the regime many choose politically ‘neutral’ solutions. But any activity we do to help ourselves or our loved-ones can’t be politically neutral. Not in the current Eritrea anyway.

Mute and without opinion – Eritrean churches

[Article published at Awate.com with few edits]

“The church must be the guide and the critic of the State and never its tool.” writes Dr Martin Luther King Jr, outraged by the silence of many churches regarding racial injustice of his time. The church, or any religious institution for that matter, should not hope to earn favours or avert scorn from government by such means as self-censoring on issues that the government labels “politics”. Not when the issues are well within the domain of the church’s teachings. Dr King, in continuation, warns unless the church recaptures its position in society as a guide and critic of the state “…it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”1

No other institutions or organizations can claim as much influence on our language, customs and laws than our religious institutions. Almost every major node of the Eritrean life is influenced and marked by our religious belief; from birth to death and anything in between. Marriage, family, divorce, loss of a loved one, all are shaped by religious convictions and involvement of religious leaders and followers. The role of our religious institutions also extend to issues of global interest such the as spread of diseases, drought, famine, human rights issues, war and issues of environmental degradations to mention a few.

Regardless of many challenges throughout time, our religious institutions continue to render their services. They continue to be the source of inspiration, wisdom, hope and comfort to many. Unfortunately in the last two decades, manipulations of religious affairs by the current tyranny—I dare to say ‘internal threat to our religious institutions’—has tried to demolish all the above mentioned blessings and the positive images of our faiths consequently leaving many unsheltered.

The Church has opinions on what is right and what is wrong.

Almost half a century of Marxist style oppression has left religious institutions in Eritrean voiceless on a lot of issues that face our society today. Our religious institutions today have become silent and don’t seem to have an opinion, even on common-sense social and moral issues, especially if those issues are the sort that make the ruling party uncomfortable. I am particularly concerned with those smaller evangelical denominations. In my opinion these being the most persecuted by the government are yet the most silent in this regard.

There are of course situations where the silence of churches is understandable. The church may refrain from opinions simply because it is not well informed of the facts. It would be reckless of a church to base its understanding on information gathered from the news or social media. Other times the church may not respond simply because the issues are too trivial or irrelevant to its doctrines.

But there are plenty of other issues that are neither trivial nor irrelevant for the church to keep silent. Would you feel comfortable with a church deciding to keep its voice down in the midst of a genocide because the Rwandan authorities find it bad to their reputation? Would you find it appropriate of a Church to keep silent during the holocaust so as not to offend the Nazis? Do you think it is OK then for Eritrean churches to keep silent in the midst of arbitrary arrest, torture and murder of ordinary citizens.

I don’t believe the Church or church leaders should ‘spearhead’ freedom moments or even endorse any political organization, but it is only natural to expect the Church to spearhead on calling people towards honesty, justice, love and fear of God. These calls should be directed at the citizens, and equally at the leaders of the country.

How our country is administered should not only be left to non-believers.

The lack of sincere opinions on the part of Eritrean churches regarding the current government has left many practising Christians confused as to how to participate in Eritrean affairs. Many are not sure if they can reconcile activism with their faith. As a result of such confusion many of the devout have decided to stay clear of Eritrean ‘politics’. Many choose to focus only on short-term, ‘practical’ and politically ‘neutral’ activities. I am referring to activities that would directly affect themselves or their immediate families and friends only. I don’t know how one would square such a philosophy with the teachings of Christianity. Any activity we do to help even our immediate families can’t be politically neutral anyway. Not in the current Eritrea. In being practical to help our friends and family back home, we inevitably have to break Eritrean ‘government laws’—be it in smuggling in of currency, smuggling out of our loved ones, bribing Eritrean officials/prison guards, bribing Sudanese or Kenyan official to get papers, seeking asylum; the list is endless. If such actions are not considered dissidence and defiance to the Eritrean government, I don’t know what is.

I am not saying that Eritrean congregations lack sympathy to the suffering our people. I am just saying that many are unacceptably quiet about it. My concern is that many Christians are comfortable to restrict their activity only the spiritual side. They think that as men and women of faith, they should separate themselves from all the “dirty-politics” and just focus on spiritual activities such as prayer for Eritrea. There is nothing wrong with that,  just as there is nothing wrong with praying for the sick or the needy. But just as praying for the sick does not mean one forfeits the responsibility to actually help the sick, by the same measure, praying for Eritrea does not mean one forfeits the responsibility to actually take part in bringing about the change they are praying for. Prayer is never a reason for inaction.

Many Christian fellowships seem  to discourage  activism or involvement in opposition and dissident movements. But surely, works and prayer are NOT mutually exclusive. In fact both cannot be separated. If you ask someone to pray for the good of Eritrea, then they must also go about to do something for the good of Eritrea. No one has to be less of a Christian to be more of a citizen. Quite the contrary, the Christian faith demands responsible citizenship. An obedient Christian can be expected to be active in social, economic and political aspects of daily life and even join such associations. If a person has not learned to respect, tolerate and work with people of all faiths, he/she is not a good Christian after all.

Our confusion

A lot of such “confused” devout are comfortable with signing petitions to ask governments of Malta or Egypt or Israel, pleading on behalf of Eritrean refugees. Most find it acceptable to write sworn testimonies to friends seeking asylum, telling the host country of the credible threat to the life of their friend. Yet the same people are often very uncomfortable signing petition asking PFDJ to stop violence against Eritreans. Being silent about injustice is far from being neutral. We are responsible not only for what we say but also for what we do not say.

I would like to end with a quote from the book of Esther, where Mordecai senses hesitation of the queen—Esther—to plead with the king to stop the murder of her people throughout the Persian empire. Mordecai writes back to the queen starting with these words, “For if you keep silent at this time…”. He continues to warn her that her silence will be to the destruction of her household as well. I feel Eritrean churches (especially in diaspora) are also in a situation similar to the queen’s. For Eritrean churches to keep silent at a time like this is unacceptable.

I hope our churches will consider it their responsibility and speak-up with love and wisdom to abate the violence of our government to its own people. I also hope individuals will consider it their responsibility to be good citizens and fight for peace and justice. I left Eritrea two years ago and I remember many congregations there praying for an honest and God-fearing government. I hope that each of us will take it upon ourselves to be an answer to their desperate cry and invest our talent, time and money to ensure that evil does not continue to triumph in our land.

_______________________

References:
(1) Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love (Fortress Press, 1963)
(2) Book of Esther, (14:14 ESV)

Religious Tolerance — the only way to ensure peace does not come at the expense of freedom

Asmara City

Asmara City

In Eritrea you can find Mosques which teach that “there is only one God and Mohammed is his prophet”  a few blocks away from Churches that  teach “no one comes to the Father except through Jesus Christ”. The fact that such mutually exclusive religions co-exist peacefully without any compromise speaks of a tolerant society.

Much like the concepts of racial equality or democracy, everybody is for religious tolerance these days. But the term is not well understood among many. It is not uncommon to hear people using the term religious tolerance synonymously with open-minded or liberal. Such use is utterly mistaken. Why would you need ‘tolerance’ if people are not so convinced about their own religion’s correctness? If you are already open minded about religion, or even appreciate the value of having a multi-religious society, then there is no need for tolerance.

A religious tolerant society is when a person who believes that Jesus is the Messiah can respect and befriend a person who is convinced that Jesus is not a Messiah. Tolerance is when  a person who believes Muhammad is the Prophet can respect and befriend another who says Muhammad is not a prophet.

Tolerance requires a rejection of the others’ religion and lifestyle while at the same time accepting and accommodating them in society.

Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others. -John F. Kennedy

Since religious tolerance, or any kind of tolerance for that matter, does not exist among groups that don’t mind the others’ beliefs or lifestyle.  Religious tolerance exists only between people who are fully confident that that their religion is the correct and the others’ is incorrect. When people with such conviction choose not to impose their religion on each other, that is tolerance.

Religious tolerance is the only way to accommodate mutually incompatible faiths and ensure that peace and stability do not come at the expense of freedom and personal rights. Only in a society that respects and tolerates diversity can people truly make the choices they really want.