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  • NEWS | Christians from Mosul Say They Have Been Targeted For Months

    AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) --The fall of Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, to Islamist militants in early June sent half a million residents scurrying for safety, but Christians from the city say they were targeted long before Iraqi security forces abandoned the major political and economic hub.

    "We, Christians, have been objects of kidnapping, torture and killing by extremists hoping to extort money from us or to force us to convert to Islam -- for several months," said a young Iraqi Catholic man from Mosul, who identified himself simply as "Danny."

    Danny and about 350 Catholic families escaped the Mosul area to Jordan over the past three months, said Father Khalil Jaar, who is responsible for much of the church's care for Iraqi and Syrian refugees in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

    Jordan currently hosts some 300,000 Iraqi refugees and more than 600,000 Syrians registered with the U.N., but authorities say there are more than 1 million Syrians sheltering inside the country.

    "All the people are suffering. But as we are a minority -- minority Christians -- it is normal to suffer more than the others. But even the Muslims are suffering from these fanatic people," Father Jaar told Catholic News Service.

    "They don't have mercy on anyone, Christian or Muslim. The only answer they have is to kill them."

    "That's why people are afraid when they heard that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant came and occupied their region. They immediately left their houses and came looking for a secure place," the priest said.

    Suad Saeed and her family escaped Iraq, arriving about three months ago in Jordan after ISIL militants killed her husband and kidnapped her son, demanding an enormous ransom to have him freed.

    "They killed my husband in front of my son. He's badly traumatized from this horrific ordeal. I desperately asked everybody I knew to help me pay the ransom. I couldn't suffer another loss," the Catholic woman told CNS. "Afterward, we had no other choice but to flee for our lives."

    Mosul and the surrounding Nineveh plain are the traditional heartland of Iraq's Christian communities. Many Christians escaped to this region when they were forced to leave the capital, Baghdad, and other areas in recent years due to violence, kidnappings and bombings of church buildings.

    "Christians are alarmed at the ISIL takeover of Mosul, fearful that this will further accelerate the decline of the Christian presence in Iraq," according to rights group Middle East Concern.

    Following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq that toppled long-time dictator Saddam Hussein, violence against Christians rose, with reports of kidnappings, torture, church bombings and killings. Some Christians were pressured to convert to Islam under threat of death or expulsion, and women were ordered to wear Islamic dress. Many fled the turbulent country for the West.

    Now, Iraq is again facing some of the deadliest sectarian violence in years.

    The U.N.'s human rights chief, Navi Pillay, warned June 13 that she was "extremely alarmed" by reports of "summary executions" of civilians and Iraqi military by ISIL fighters in the Mosul area.

    "The full extent of civilian casualties is not yet known, but reports received by ... the U.N. Mission in Iraq suggest that the number of people killed may run into the hundreds and the number of wounded is said to be approaching 1,000," said Rupert Colville, U.N. Human Rights Commission spokesman.

    It is also believed that some civilians may have been killed in Iraqi military shelling in the area.

    Many political analysts blame Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for the country's descent into sectarian strife. They say that he refused to live up to promises to include Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority -- once all-powerful under Saddam -- as part and parcel of Iraq's political process, instead, keeping power for himself and his Shiite majority.Others also blame the U.S. for ridding Iraq's seasoned military of members who served under Saddam, opting instead to create a whole new cadre of armed forces. Some of these disaffected former soldiers have joined the Sunni Muslim ISIL fighters to battle Iraq's predominantly Shiite military.

    ISIL's end goal is to see an Islamic state established in vast parts of Iraq and Syria and stretching throughout the Middle East.

    ISIL already gained control of Fallujah in January and recently took over Saddam's hometown of Tikrit. It has its eyes on Baghdad.

    Observers say in some towns ISIL controls it has begun to impose Shariah, Islamic law. Boys and girls must be separated at school; women must wear the niqab or full veil in public. Shariah courts dispense often-brutal justice, music is banned, and the fast is enforced during Ramadan.

    Middle East Concern reports that at least one Assyrian church in Mosul was burned down in the recent violence.

    Christians feel particularly vulnerable, especially in light of the treatment they received in Raqqa province in northern Syria, where ISIL, an al-Qaida offshoot, has also established its authority.

    In February, ISIL commanders there forced Christian community leaders to sign a contract agreeing to a set of stringent conditions, according to Middle East Concern. These included the payment of a special tax to retain their Christian identity instead of conversion to Islam, conducting Christian services only behind closed doors so as to be neither visible nor audible to Muslims, and adherence to Islamic commercial, dress code and dietary regulations.

    Although most of Mosul's residents have tried to escape to the nearby Kurdish autonomous region, Father Jaar said he believes some of the Christians may yet turn up in Jordan.

    "As soon as I heard that ISIL occupied Mosul, I have been preparing myself," the priest said. "I am quite sure that a big wave of refugees will come here because Jordan is the only country in the region where people can find a secure place."

    Read more »
  • "What the Ethiopian Church Can Teach Us"

     

    Often when leaders return from mission trips, they exalt the areas of strength in the churches they just visited over the apparent shortcomings in their own church. Sometimes this comes across as a form of manipulation to get their church to “behave correctly,” but other times, that difference stands as a contrast and a helpful, convicting reminder. My intent here is to highlight that reminder. Read more »
  • Boko Haram largely responsible for rise in African terror attacks - report

    Nigeria’s Boko Haram militant group has been one of the main causes for an increase in terrorist attacks in Africa, according to a US Department of State report on terrorism. The report found that global terror attacks last year fell to their lowest level since 2005, but increased significantly in Africa.

    Africa experienced 978 attacks in 2011, an 11.5% increase over the previous year. Boko Haram conducted 136 attacks in 2011, up from 31 the previous year, according to the annual Country Reports on Terrorism.

    The Country Reports on Terrorism noted that in Africa, foreign fighters, a small number of al-Qaeda operatives, and other indigenous violent extremists continued to pose a threat to regional security throughout East Africa in 2011.

    “Al-Shabaab continued to conduct frequent attacks on government, military, and civilian targets inside Somalia while the group’s leadership remained actively interested in attacking US and Western interests in the region,” the report said.

    It added that in the Trans-Sahara region, “al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) continued kidnap for ransom operations against Western Europeans and Africans. AQIM conducted small-scale ambushes and attacks on security forces in Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. Regional efforts to contain and marginalize AQIM continued, as did capacity building efforts of military and law enforcement personnel. Conflict in Nigeria continued throughout the northern part of the country with hundreds of casualties as indigenous terrorist attacks increased. The Nigerian extremist group, Boko Haram, claimed responsibility for some of these attacks.”

    Ambassador Daniel Benjamin, the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, said that he was very concerned about the activities of Boko Haram. “We have been working to address the issue of insecurity in northern Nigeria. And this is a top priority for the Department. We’re concerned about Boko Haram's activities. We’ve been engaging with the Nigerian Government in particular at the highest levels to move them towards greater engagement with communities that are vulnerable to extremist violence by addressing the underlying political and socioeconomic problems in the north.”

    Nigeria experienced a steady increase in terrorist attacks in 2011, particularly in the northern states of Borno, Yobe, Bauchi, Gombe, Plateau, and Kaduna as well as in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). Elements of Boko Haram increased the number and sophistication of attacks in six northern states and the FCT, including two vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) suicide bombings in Abuja, the report said. In the latter half of the year, the lethality, capability, and coordination of suspected Boko Haram attacks rose steadily. Incidents included:

    · On January 28, five suspected BH gunmen killed the Borno State All Nigerian People's Party (ANPP) gubernatorial candidate and six others, including two plain clothes policemen and the younger brother of the incumbent governor of Borno state.

    · On May 12, unidentified gunmen kidnapped two engineers (British and Italian nationals) from their residence in the city of Birnin Kebbi (Kebbi state), about 30 miles from the international border with Niger. A German employee of an Italian construction company managed to escape the same attack. BH had not released these hostages at year’s end.

    · On June 16, a terrorist detonated VBIED in the parking lot of the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) headquarters in Abuja, killing a police officer, the driver of the car that exploded, and at least two others. The blast damaged at least 50 vehicles and shattered windows on the south side of the NPF headquarters building.

    · On August 26, a terrorist rammed two exit gates of the United Nations (UN) headquarters compound in Abuja and crashed into the lobby of the building before detonating his VBIED, killing 24 persons and injuring over 120 persons. BH claimed responsibility via BBC-Hausa radio.

    · On October 16, suspected BH members killed one policeman during a pre-dawn bomb attack on the 34th mobile police force base in Gombe state. Assailants burned 15 vehicles, destroyed a building, and looted an armory that police had recently re-stocked with weapons and ammunition.

    · On November 4, multiple VBIED and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks in Yobe and Borno states targeted security force offices, including the NPF, SSS, and the Military's Joint Task Force (JTF) offices, as well as several markets and 11 churches. At least six attacks occurred in Yobe and four in Borno, including a failed VBIED attempt at the JTF headquarters in Maiduguri. Terrorists killed over 100 people, including nearly 70 bystanders at a major traffic circle in the center of Damaturu, Yobe state.

    In response to the growing terrorist threat, Nigeria made several legislative and legal efforts to combat the scourge, including the introduction of the Terrorism Prevention Act of 2011 in June, which included provisions prohibiting terrorist financing and providing for the seizure of funds and property held by individual terrorists or terrorist organizations. Nigeria also cooperated closely with the US Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance programme and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) programmes, which provided training to bolster the capacity of Nigeria's law enforcement agencies to address terrorist incidents.

    Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb militants were also active in Niger, and conducted kidnap for ransom operations there. “Porous borders and the huge expanse of Niger not under full government control provided opportunities for terrorists to move about the area,” the Country Report on Terrorism noted. “The presence of Boko Haram (BH) in northern Nigeria also posed a threat. Niger was committed to fighting AQIM and BH, but without external support and greater regional cooperation, Niger will likely remain vulnerable to terrorist activity.”

    Niger was a victim of AQIM attacks, kidnappings, and anti-government operations. On January 7, two French citizens were kidnapped from a restaurant in Niamey. The two hostages died during an immediate rescue attempt by French and Nigerien forces near the Malian border. On February 24, AQIM released two Africans and a female French national who had been kidnapped in Arlit in September 2010. Four male French nationals taken in the same incident remained in AQIM captivity at year’s end.

    Somalia was another terrorist hotbed, with near-daily IEDs, grenade attacks, and assassinations targeting government security forces and African Union troops leading to the deaths of hundreds of civilians as well as security personnel.

    Although the security situation in Somalia remained dire, the State Department noted that in 2011, with the assistance of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and Somalia’s neighbours, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) made significant gains in degrading al-Shabaab capability and liberating areas from al-Shabaab administration. “However, foreign fighters and al-Shabaab members remained in many parts of south and central Somalia and continued to mount operations within Somalia and against neighbouring countries.”

    “A multi-front offensive commencing in February by the TFG, AMISOM, and TFG-allied forces against al-Shabaab resulted in significant territorial gains in the capital city of Mogadishu and key cities of southern and central Somalia. Ethiopia, Kenya, and associated Somali forces liberated areas from al-Shabaab control in the Gedo, Lower Juba, and Hiraan regions of Somalia. In August, al-Shabaab withdrew from many Mogadishu districts, leaving the TFG and AMISOM in control of the majority of districts in Somalia’s capital for the first time since the Ethiopians left in 2009. By the end of 2011, the TFG and its allies were poised to make further territorial advances against al-Shabaab in southern and central Somalia,” the report continued.

    “Al-Shabaab remained in control of much of southern and central Somalia, however, providing a permissive environment for al Qaeda operatives to conduct training and terrorist planning with other sympathetic violent extremists, including foreign fighters. The capability of the TFG and other Somali local and regional authorities to prevent and preempt al-Shabaab terrorist attacks remained limited.

    “Al-Shabaab’s withdrawal from conventional fighting in and near Mogadishu resulted in a change of al-Shabaab tactics to asymmetrical attacks against AMISOM and the TFG. These attacks resulted in the increased use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) that became more advanced. In late 2011, al-Shabaab with increasing frequency employed IEDs against Kenyan and anti-al-Shabaab Somali forces in South/Central Somalia.

    “In 2011, al-Shabaab and other violent extremists conducted suicide attacks, remote-controlled roadside bombings, kidnappings, and assassinations of government officials, journalists, humanitarian workers, and civil society leaders throughout Somalia. Al-Shabaab also threatened UN and other foreign aid agencies and their staff. Two examples of high-profile al-Shabaab terrorist attacks included a truck bomb that detonated in Mogadishu on October 4, killing over seventy.”

    Neighbouring Ethiopia was threatened by instability in Somalia, as well as domestic groups, such as the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Despite the Ethiopian government’s peace agreement with the United Western Somali Liberation Front (UWSLF) and a faction of the ONLF in 2010, elements from both groups, as well as the OLF, continued their attempts to target Ethiopian government officials and infrastructure.

    Kenya suffered a number of terrorist incidents in 2011, including:

    · On October 14, two Spanish nationals working for a non-governmental organization were kidnapped in Dadaab refugee camp, in northeastern Kenya, where they remained in captivity at year’s end.

    · In the early morning of October 24, a hand grenade was tossed into a night club in downtown Nairobi, injuring 14 Kenyan patrons. Later that day, another grenade exploded at a crowded bus stop, killing one and injuring 16 others.

    · On October 27, in the northeast, a vehicle carrying officials from the Ministry of Education was attacked, leaving four dead.

    · On October 28, a police vehicle was heavily damaged after driving over an explosive device.

    · On November 5, suspected al-Shabaab militants hurled grenades into a Pentecostal church in Garissa town, killing two people and seriously injuring five others. The same day, a police vehicle escorting a UN convoy to the Dadaab refugee camp sustained minimal damage when it hit an improvised explosive device.

    · On November 22, two police officers were injured when their vehicle was ambushed by suspected al-Shabaab militants near Liboi (near the Somali border).

    · On November 24, a military truck patrolling on the outskirts of Mandera struck a land mine, killing one soldier and seriously wounded five others. Later on the same day, a hotel and a shopping center in the northern town of Garissa were attacked with hand grenades, killing five and injuring several others.

    In response to a series of kidnappings of Westerners, Kenya initiated military action in Somalia against al-Shabaab militants on October 16, 2011. “Al-Shabaab responded to the Kenyan incursion into Somalia by threatening retaliation against civilian targets in Kenya. Arms smuggling, reports of extremist recruiting within refugee camps and Kenyan cities, and increased allegations of terrorist plotting enhanced recognition among government officials and civil society that Kenya remained vulnerable to terrorist attack,” the report said.

    Elsewhere in Africa, the Country Reports on Terrorism document said that in the Democratic Republic of the Congo there were three principal foreign armed groups that posed a threat to security and stability: the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (known by its French acronym as FDLR) and two Ugandan armed groups, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and Allied Democratic Forces/National Army for the Liberation of Uganda (ADF/NALU). 2011 witnessed numerous attacks by the LRA, FDLR, and ADF. The ADF remained active but has suffered setbacks due to a number of FARDC offensives. MONUSCO attributed 32 attacks to the LRA in the month of June, making it the most active month, while September was the least active with only five registered attacks.

    The report noted that the DRC's inability to control its porous borders and its lack of authority over remote areas provided opportunities for terrorist organizations seeking safe havens. “The Government of the DRC lacked complete control over some areas of its territory, especially in the East where various armed groups operate, and had very limited capacity to monitor and disrupt potential terrorist threats,” the report said.

    Insecurity also affected the DRC’s neighbour Rwanda, with at least six reports of grenade explosions or attacks in Kigali or along Rwanda’s border with the DRC in January, March, and July 2011. The grenade attacks typically targeted areas where Rwandans congregated, such as transportation hubs and markets, resulting in up to 61 people injured and two killed.

    Mali experienced a significant uptick in terrorist activity during 2011, including:

    · On October 23, an AQIM-affiliated group kidnapped three aid workers – two Spanish and one Italian – from a Polisario-run refugee camp near Tindouf. AQIM are suspected of holding the hostages on Malian soil.

    · On the night of November 23-24, armed individuals possibly affiliated with AQIM kidnapped two French nationals in Hombori, Mopti Region, and reportedly delivered them to AQIM, which is believed to be holding them on Malian soil. Malian security forces arrested two suspects involved in the kidnapping; investigations continued at year’s end.

    · On November 25, armed assailants possibly affiliated with AQIM kidnapped three European tourists and killed a fourth in Timbuktu city, Timbuktu Region. The hostages – Dutch, Swedish, and South African/British nationals – were reportedly being held on Malian soil; the individual who was killed, a German national, died while resisting the kidnapping attempt. Malian security forces reportedly arrested two of the assailants. The investigation continued at year’s end.

    Mali’s law enforcement efforts have increased over the past year, including the arrest of Bechir Sinoun for the attempted bombing of the French Embassy in Bamako, the detention of two individuals affiliated with AQIM in Bamako, and the arrest of two individuals implicated in the Hombori kidnapping.

    Mauritania continued to address terrorism threats proactively, according to the US State report. AQIM remained a threat, which was most visibly demonstrated by the group's attempt to mount a coordinated attack in the capital in February. Other incidents included the December 20 abduction by AQIM of a gendarme from his post in Adel Bagrou, following a series of successful Mauritanian military operations against AQIM.

    On July 5, the Mauritanian military successfully repelled an AQIM attack led by a 17-vehicle convoy against a garrison in Bassiknou, near the southeastern border with Mali, and killed six terrorists. AQIM stated the strike on the outpost was planned as retaliation for a joint Mauritanian-Malian raid on June 26 in Mali, known as Operation Benkan, which killed 15 AQIM members and left two Mauritanian soldiers dead.

    “While these events occurred in the border zone with Mali, Nouakchott was the target of a foiled truck-bombing plot on February 1-2. The Mauritanian military successfully interdicted three vehicles attempting to attack the French Embassy and assassinate President Aziz. Mauritanian forces captured one vehicle containing 1.2 tons of explosives, munitions, and logistics equipment roughly 200 kilometers south of Nouakchott, along with two of the three individuals involved. The Mauritanian military then neutralized a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) 12 kilometers southeast of Nouakchott, killing both terrorists involved. This was the third attempted suicide attack in Mauritania after AQIM attacked the military barracks in Nema by VBIED in August 2010, and a lone suicide bomber targeted the French Embassy in Nouakchott in August 2009,” the report stated.

    Mauritania continued its efforts to convict major terrorist suspects in judicial proceedings. The Mauritanian judiciary convicted 33 terrorists in 2011, bringing the number of convictions to a total of 140 since 2009.

    Other flashpoints in 2011 included South Sudan, which suffered about twenty-five Lord’s Resistance Army incidents.

    The Country Reports on Terrorism 2011 document included a statistical annex prepared by the National Counterterrorism Center, part of the US intelligence community, that showed that the overall number of terrorist attacks worldwide fell to 10 283 last year from 11 641 in 2010.

    The number of worldwide fatalities fell to 12 533 last year from 13 193 the year before, according to the statistics, which NCTC issued in a report published on June 1. That was the lowest level since 2005, when there were more than 11 000 attacks and more than 14 000 fatalities. The general decline in terrorism-related fatalities - which peaked at more than 22 000 in 2007 - reflects, in part, less violence in Iraq.

     

    Read more »
  • North Korea: God’s Light Shines In The Darkest Night

    Christian media often describe North Korea as "the worst place on earth to be a Christian." According to the leader of one ministry working with North Korean underground Christians, however, that's not how the Christians of North Korea themselves feel.

    Eric Foley, CEO of Seoul USA, says that North Korean underground Christians are among the least likely group to defect since they feel their existence in North Korea has divine purpose.

    "Our reckoning that North Korea is the worst place to be a Christian says more about our own understanding of Christianity than it does about North Korea," says Foley.

    Foley offers his own list of "10 Reasons North Korea is not the Worst Place to be a Christian" in a recent press release.

    #1

    Romans 8:28 still applies inside of North Korea.

    #2

    If you are a Christian in a country where no Christians are suffering for Jesus you probably ought to be more concerned than if you are a Christian in a country where nearly every Christian is suffering for Jesus.

    #3

    Jesus said, "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you... For your reward is great in heaven" (Matthew 5:11–12).

    #4

    We Western Christians sometimes confuse God with Mammon. North Korean Christians daily see the difference clearly.

    #5

    For Western Christians, our biggest theological preoccupation seems to be not trying to earn our way to heaven. North Koreans are long past thinking they can do anything to impress God.

    #6

    North Koreans daily pray and see God move miraculously. We are either theologically or practically convinced that God quit answering prayers for his miraculous intervention somewhere around Acts 28:30.

    #7

    We Western Christians also have a hard time believing in Satan. North Korean Christians have no such hangup.

    #8

    They understand through their hunger that man does not live by bread alone. Meanwhile, most of our prayers as Western Christians are variations on John 6:34, "Sir, always give us this bread."

    #9

    Most North Korean Christians find Luke 16:19-31 very comforting and are longing for that day. Not us.

    #10

    Christians are ambassadors. If one truly understands one's identity as an ambassador, one glories in that identity rather than grumbling about the country where one got posted.

    Read more »
  • Some More Remarks on Submission (Compliments of Phil Payne)

    The last half of Philip B. Payne’s book Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul’s Letters begins an exegesis of Paul’s later writings in Ephesians, Colossians, and 1 Timothy and deals with some of the most contentious passages dividing the Church over the role of women.

    Chapter 15 “Ephesians 5:21-33 and Colossians 3:18-19: Husband-Wife Relationships” focuses upon the text of Ephesians, though Payne shows that the parallel expressions in both of these passages indicate they are addressing the same issues. Thus, whatever bears upon the one passage must bear upon the other. Payne chooses to deal primarily with the longer passage of Ephesians.

    After noting differences between family life in Paul’s day with that of contemporary culture, Payne opines “While Paul’s wording was framed in order to speak to people in his own social structure, one must not assume that he intended to make those social structures normative for all societies. If Paul were writing today, he would probably give different commands to uphold the same principles.” As I understand and have experienced, what traditional, complementarian-minded Christianity has done is make normative what was not intended, thus missing the principles that Paul was actually getting at in the text. This is a very insightful hermeneutical principle: commands issued may be culturally relative, but the principles behind them could be timeless. Moreover, while complementarians (a term that, with some slight nuances, merely denotes a hierarchical structure of male authority over the female in the home, in the Church, and in some cases in the world) charge that cultural background is overused by biblical egalitarians to support their case, Payne implicitly suggests complementarians underuse it, which results in an inconsistent hermeneutic. Of course, inconsistency begets inconsistency and the outworking of this in life becomes clear. Payne states:

    "Advocates of a hierarchical structure in marriage of wives to their husbands in effect endorse the patriarchal structure of marriage that was pervasive in Paul’s day. If they were consistent, they probably would also advocate the corresponding dictates of the patriarchal structure (as many used to do) that children, even much older children, ought to be subordinate to their parents, and that slaves ought to be subordinate to their masters…The risk in interpreting “the husband is the head of the wife” as establishing an authority structure in the context of these “house codes” is that one thereby embraces “a very odd understanding of what marriage is: a relationship in which a wife is basically a person controlled by her husband in every respect in the same way as children and slaves.” (quoting Howard Marshall, “Mutual Love and Submission in Marriage: Colossians 3:18-19 and Ephesians 5:21-33,” in Discovering Biblical Equality, all of which is an essential read for those wishing to engage the many issues surrounding biblical egalitarianism.)"

    Payne lays out Paul’s vision of marriage showing that it was in sharp contrast to the culture of the day and warns readers to “consider the evidence [laid down by Payne, pp. 113-139] for reading this passage without reading back into Paul’s words the association of ‘head’ as ‘leader’ that fits English, but is dubious for Greek.” Unless and until this can be done, then there is little hope that a different model can emerge other than the traditional hierarchical one so prevalent in today’s Christian churches and households.

    Paul spends a great deal of effort emphasizing unity and love as major underlying themes for the ethical precepts he issues for house codes; principles that are in direct opposition to first-century practices. “True love for one’s wife,” says Payne, “is not compatible with a husband completely controlling her life, just as true love is not compatible with a master completely controlling his slave’s life or for a parent completely controlling his mature child’s life.”

    In fact, if Paul were supporting hierarchical structures so prevalent in the first-century, then he likely would not have written Eph 5:21 “submitting to one another” using the reciprocal pronoun. Even if it is conceptually incoherent for reciprocity in relationships to be aligned with hierarchical structures, it is practically inconceivable in the first-century. Payne goes to great lengths to show the “combination of ‘to place oneself under’ with the reciprocal pronoun defies social stratification, but [the reciprocal pronoun] fits perfectly with Paul’s view of mutuality in the body of Christ in Ephesians.” And, contra Wayne Grudem who argues for a one-directional model of submission, Payne insists that reciprocity applies equally to all parties involved, not merely to some while others are excluded. “If Paul had intended ‘bear one another’s burdens’ (Gal 6:2) to be always one way, the same people always bearing the burdens of others but their burdens never being borne by others, he would not have used the reciprocal pronoun.” Thus, mutuality inheres in Paul’s use of the reciprocal pronoun; to deny it violates the essence of reciprocity and defies Paul’s grammar.

    When “submit” is taken to mean “under the authority of another” and “head” is understood as “leader” instead of “source,” it is easy to continue advocating hierarchy in relationships as the”natural reading” (pace Grudem) of Ephesians 5. What we must not assume, Payne suggests, is that the notion of authority is what Paul intended when using ὑποτάσσω (hypotassō) in Ephesians 5:21ff. Instead, what we should discern from the context is that submission means “voluntary yielding for the sake of love.” [It's noteworthy that 1 Corinthians 16:15 shows τάσσω (tassō), the root of ὑποτάσσω (hypotassō) indicates "devotion," not "under the authority of."]

    Payne’s proposal, that we take “submit” to mean “voluntary yielding for the sake of love,” fits all relationships addressed in Ephesians 5:21-6:4: everyone to each other (5:21); wives to husbands (5:22), the Church to Christ (5:24), husbands to wives (5:25-33), children to parents (6:1-4), and slaves to masters (6:5-9). Incidentally, the logic of this suggests: 1) If Paul’s injunction for every believer to submit to one another involves husbands (and clearly it would), then 2) husbands loving their wives is tantamount to submitting to them, given Payne’s definition of submission as “voluntarily yielding for the sake of love.” The basis for and grounding of Paul’s appeal beginning in 5:21 and extending through 6:9, therefore, is not authority but love. Thus, all acts of Christian love expressed toward Christians must be mutual with no hint of “under the authority of another.” Otherwise, Christian teaching hardly offers anything unique for house codes, since it does not extend past the cultural mores of the day.

    There is far more in this chapter that I would like to address, but space and time do not allow. I encourage you to read it for yourself. For a full summary review of Payne’s book, see my 10-part series.

    Read more »
  • Jesus on Gender-Inclusive Interpretation

    Consider Jesus’s well-known teaching on divorce from Mark 10:

     

    "Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.

    Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

    “What did Moses command you?” he replied.

    They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

    “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

    When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10: 1-12, NIV)"

    I’ve heard my fair share of sermons and lectures on divorce, which is itself a difficult question to wrestle with, regardless of your perspective. But, even when Jesus’s teaching on this is brought into the discussion, as it often is, one thing I rarely hear mentioned is the way he broadens Moses’s teaching in a specifically gender-inclusive way. The Pharisees, quoting Moses directly, ask Jesus about a man divorcing his wife, based on their literal, gender-specific reading of Deuteronomy 24:

    " If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, and if after she leaves his house she becomes the wife of another man, and her second husband dislikes her and writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house, or if he dies, then her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be detestable in the eyes of the LORD. Do not bring sin upon the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance. (Deut. 24:1-4, NIV, emphases added)"

    Note all the gender specific nouns and pronouns in this passage. Surely the Pharisees were right to raise their question in the way they did: asking about whether a husband was permitted to divorce his wife. Yet, when Jesus later explains his interpretation of this passage to his disciples, he naturally—and one might even say nonchalantly—gives it a reciprocal or gender-inclusive interpretation: the principle applies not only to a man divorcing his wife but also to a woman divorcing her husband.

    But where is the precedent for such an interpretation in Deuteronomy itself? Hasn’t Jesus imposed something on the text that isn’t there? Isn’t Jesus on a slippery slope to liberalism with his gender-inclusive reading of Deuteronomy?

    I don’t think so.

    I think he’s just giving a pretty natural and faithful reading of the text in his context. Yes, Deuteronomy was gender-specific, but that doesn’t mean that he has to be in his application of it.

    I wonder if there might be a lesson here for how we read and interpret, say, Titus 1:

    "The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (Titus 1:5-9, NIV)"

    Here’s another passage chock full of masculine nouns and pronouns. Yet, speaking hypothetically and anachronistically, I wonder if Jesus might add something like this in his interpretation of this passage:

    "And, of course, if the elder is a women, she likewise must be blameless, faithful to her husband, a woman whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, she must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, she must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. She must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that she can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. "

    I imagine some today would find this gender-inclusive interpretation of the biblical text quite troubling and offensive—just as I imagine some Pharisees felt about Jesus’s gender-inclusive interpretation to the biblical text in his day. But for those of us seeking to be disciples of Jesus in every facet of our lives, it would seem that the common question, What would Jesus do?, might entail the less common consideration, How would Jesus interpret?

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  • A Prayer of Lament for #YesAllWomen

    O Lord, how long must we wait for you? Will you forget us forever?

    We are your children, daughters of Eve. Co-heirs with Christ.  And yet, we are tormented. Day and night, sons of Adam exert their power over us.

    The Curse on Eden rings raw and loud in our ears as we witness the unspeakable against our sisters.

    And he shall rule over you. And he shall rule over you.

    We followers of The Way know this curse is empty now, and yet…

    The wails of women echo throughout millennia from the injustice heaped on their backs, their bosoms rocking with sorrow for stones thrown, futures decided, innocence shattered, lives stolen.

    Have you forgotten us God? How long must we wait for you? Would it take wearing sackcloth and kneeling in ashes for you to hear my prayer?

    Hundreds of school girls are snatched from their Nigerian village by brutal men, threatening forced marriages and violence. We grieve the national and international inaction. We balk at the horror of stealing daughters from the safe space of school.

    Come, Lord Jesus.

    Tens of millions of women are sold into sexual slavery, meeting an insatiable demand from our police chiefs, brothers, football fans, hunters, bachelor parties, average-men-down-the-street.

    I thought the curse was lifted, God. Why can I still hear it?

    Your daughter Meriam Ibrahim, cries out in the pains of childbirth behind prison bars in Sudan for standing firm in her faith in Jesus, for marrying a follower of Christ. Her enemies surround her, eager to flog her. To kill her. Thirsty for her martyrdom.

    Come, Lord Jesus.

    A Pakistani family murders their daughter with stones outside a courthouse, punishing her for an unapproved marriage. Her blood wails from the ground, pleading for freedom.

    There are no words. Holy Spirit, groan with us. Holy Spirit intercede.

    A man in California goes on a murderous rampage, blaming his anger on women who neglected his advances. Violently responding to female indifference, he takes six lives and then his own.

    Will you forget us forever, Oh Lord?

    Millions of women around the world take to Twitter to share stories of abuse, rape, mistreatment by men.  #YesAllWomen affects us all.

     Oh, God. It’s just too much.

    You proclaimed a kingdom where the lowly are blessed, the weak are protected, where the lion lays down with the lamb, but it’s not here yet. Where is it? When will it come?

    Come, Lord Jesus. Let your Kingdom Come. On Earth as it is in Heaven.

    How long must we wait?

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