The Washington Times - February 28, 2008, 11:05PM

  • Jordan: Authorities expel foreign Christians
    \ and this:

  • Jordan: Officials deport more Christians, deplore Compass Report
    \ The articles have created a huge stir overseas. An official response from the Jordanian embassy is at the bottom of this post.\ \ \ Some of this information dovetails with my own research in what’s been happening east of the Jordan River to evangelicals. I’ve visited the country twice: in 2001 (on a press trip paid for by the Jordanian government) and in 2004 while on my way back from Iraq. It’s a beautiful country (my favorite spots: the Dead Sea resorts, Petra and Ajloun) and its tourism bureau is doing a very credible job in trying to market its biblical sites to American Christians. We were introduced to official religious figures who assured us all was well between Christians and Muslims in Jordan. FLAG.jpg\ \ \ But in more secretive conversations, I learned that things were not going well for evangelical Jordanian Christians, who are not one of the four types of Christian recognized by the government. I’m not referring to foreign missionaries; these are the natives I am referring to. When I asked then-tourism minister Akel Biltaji about religious persecution there, I got a angry lecture from him and a dressing-down by the head of my tour group for causing problems. Troublesome lot, us reporters.\ \ \

    The Jordanian flag.\ \ \ Just after I returned, I wrote a piece on how American mega-church pastors are bringing truckloads of Christian tourists into Jordan, which has sought to position itself, along with Israel, as a top Middle East destination. I began following some of the many interfaith efforts made by King Abdullah in Amman and here in Washington where he met privately with a group of American evangelical leaders after the 2006 National Prayer Breakfast. No Muslim head of state has ever done that.\ \ \ Thus, one would think the Jordanian government would treat their homegrown evangelicals with a bit more deference. I’ve written about some of the discrimination and harassment endured by these folks but a month ago, I was asked by one of the evangelical Christians (I am being vague here as to whom) to back off, as everything I wrote was causing more problems.\ \ \ So I was surprised to get a phone call a few days ago from another of my Jordanian contacts asking for help, as things have gotten even worse. “The problem is the bishops,” he said, referring to officials from Armenian, Orthodox and Catholic churches whom, he said, were jealous of how the evangelicals were winning members from other Christian traditions. So they were leaning on their own government to put the pressure on JETS by cutting off its supply of students.\ \ \ The politics here gets complicated as you not only have Christian warring against Christian but 8 percent of the Jordanian parliament is made up members of these traditional churches, according to the embassy’s Web site. They are a voting bloc King Abdullah may not want to ignore.\ \ \ But he may want to put a lid on those from the traditional churches who have been working overtime in heaping abuse on evangelicals. See this link (in Arabic) to an Al Jazeera program featuring two church officials. \ \ \ An English translation (thanks to a friend of this newspaper) is also at the bottom of this post). It’s pretty sobering, especially if you are a Jordanian evangelical or an American expatriate living in Jordan. \ \ \ So, welcome to Washington, your majesty. Please answer this question: Does Jordan adhere to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration on Human Rights that allows people to change their religion? If not, why not?\ \ \ If so, I understand JETS, despite all its problems, is trying to finish construction on its new campus this summer. See their Web site for details. Wouldn’t it be a sign of your even-handedness towards all religions to put in an appearance at their dedication ceremony?\ \ \ Here’s the embassy’s statement:\ Embassy of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan\ Washington, DC\ Government of Jordan’s Position on Council of Churches Statement Regarding Evangelicals in Jordan
    \ Jordan strongly believes in religious tolerance and actively upholds the freedom of religion and worship. Jordan also plays an important role in protecting Christian patrimony in the Holy Land in Jordan and the occupied territories in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.\ The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is determined to protect and preserve the historic ties between the Christians and Muslims based on our strong belief in the necessity for coexistence and mutual respect. Today, almost 3-4% of Jordan’s population, which is Christian, holds 8% of the seats in Parliament in addition to prominent positions in the government, military and business sector.\ The Constitution and the laws in force in Jordan stress the right of the Christian churches to establish their own courts, with their own jurisdiction — on par with the Muslims’ Sharia Courts, in matters of Personal Status. Christians have the right to build their own churches and schools, and to establish charity organizations and hospitals; and they have the right to exercise their religious rites with complete freedom as long as this does not interfere with or harm other denominations.\ Jordan welcomes and encourages the humanitarian work by all denominations. Such important work contributes to the atmosphere of coexistence and respect between Christians and Muslims in Jordan and among Christian denominations. The Baptist School in Amman, founded in 1974 with two thousand students currently enrolled, is one important example of such efforts.\ The rights and recognition of formal churches can be divided into different degrees of recognition for Christian groups and churches in Jordan. These categories determine the activities and privileges that the group or Church may benefit from. Christian groups not recognized as churches can nevertheless own land and establish cultural societies and charity organizations, but cannot acquire a license to proselytize, which is only granted to the four traditional churches that are recognized to do missionary work and that represent 95% of the more than 2000-year-old Christian community of Jordan.\ The government regularly meets and consults with members of the recognized Christian authorities to listen to their concerns and to find out how best to address these issues. In this respect, the Council of Church Leaders in Jordan had been complaining for many years about the role of missionary groups in Jordan and the proliferation of missionary work in the Kingdom by various foreign groups and organizations.\ The Government is under the obligation to consider the concerns of its Christian community as expressed by the Council of the Church Leaders in Jordan, which represents 95% of the community. In this regard, the government expects all Christian groups in Jordan to abide by its laws regarding proselytization and public order and in accordance to the rules and regulations that govern their stature and the work of members of their organizations.\ The government is also keen to foster and encourage important inter-Christian dialogue, synergy and harmony to protect the interests of the community as a whole and to guarantee the well being of its citizens, in addition to strengthening and preserving a vibrant Christian community in the Holy Land.\ \ \ Here’s a partial transcript from a Feb. 17 segment on Al Jazeera:\ Christian Proselytism Groups in Jordan and North Africa\ Program presenter: Khadija Benganna\ Program guests: ‘Awda Qawwas, member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches\ ‘Abd al-Salam al-Ballaji, scholar on the activities of Christian proselytism groups\ - Causes of the spread of these groups in Jordan, and the reality of the danger they represent\ - Dimensions of the phenomenon in North Africa, and ways of confronting it\
    \ \ Khadija Benganna: Dear viewers, welcome to you. In today’s program we will focus on a warning from the Council of Churches of Jordan, regarding the existence of evangelistic groups working in the Kingdom under the cover of humanitarian organizations and the danger which they represent for Muslim-Christian relations. In this program we will be asking two questions. How real is the danger which these groups pose for Christianity in Jordan and for Muslim-Christian relations? And how should the evangelistic spread be confronted in other Arab countries, particularly those located in North Africa? The Council of the Heads of Churches in Jordan has issued a warning about the existence of approximately 40 evangelistic groups working in the Kingdom under the cover of humanitarian organizations. Critics of these groups are convinced that they serve American and Israeli purposes, and that they are seeking to divide the churches of the East.\ [Pre-recorded reportage]\ \ \ Hassan al-Shubaki (a reporter): …These evangelistic groups encounter nothing but rejection from Jordanian Christian clergy. The Jordanian authorities cancelled the residency permits of tens of families of foreign activists in evangelistic organizations last year because of their media campaigns in the foreign press. In response to this, the bishops who represent all of the Christian churches expressed the view that the role of these evangelistic groups harms relations between Christians and Muslims and harms both communities.\ \ \ Constantine Qarmash (pastor from the Greek Orthodox Church): Their goal is political. It is to serve Israeli interests in this region. And whereas if we are divided amongst ourselves, we will lose all truth/right [ambiguous, difficult-to-translate phrase here], we are distracted among Orthodox, Born-Again/Renewed, Baptist, Jehovah’s Witness.\ \ \ Hassan al-Shubaki: The government, for its part, published a declaration from the Council of Churches which contained criticism of the activities of evangelists on Jordanian territory. These groups have a political face which seeks to distort relations between Muslims and Christians…\ \ \ Fahd Khaytan (writer/journalist): I think that these evangelistic groups are — I mean — the intellectual spearhead for certain suspect American Zionist groups which for a long time have sought by all means possible to intervene in the internal affairs of Arab peoples, both Arab Christians and Arab Muslims, and which seek to sow discord and division through ecclesiastical ideas which are rejected by the overwhelming majority of Christians in the Arab world.\ \ \ Hassan al-Shubaki: Critics of evangelism state that money is fundamental to the activity of the evangelisticals, which began in Palestine and Lebanon and Egypt, then in Jordan, and which has gained only several hundred adherents, amidst fears on the part of government officials and church leaders that these groups would use the freedom of religions in order to cover their political aims. The crisis over evangelistic groups in Jordan is a mixture of religion and politics which the Christian clergy view as representing a threat to Christians and Muslims alike. Hassan al-Shubaki, al-Jazeera, Amman.\ [End of pre-recorded reportage]\ \ \ Causes of the spread of these groups, and the reality of the danger they represent:\ Khadija Benganna: Joining us on this program, from Amman, is Dr. ‘Awda Qawwas, Member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches… Dr. ‘Awda Qawwas, who are these “evangelisticals”? You, as Jordanian Christians, why do you reject them, and what do you object to about their evangelism?\ \ \ ‘Awda Qawwas: Good evening, Ms. Khadija. This is a very important questions, and it is particularly important that it be posed at this very point in time, at this stage in Arab political affairs in general. The issue of the Born-Agains/Reneweds or the “evangelisticals” is not an issue in Jordan only: it is an issue from which the whole Arab world is suffering — Egypt, Syria and Lebanon. In Jordan, of course, in the past there was more liberality for their work, and for more than seven years there have been objections from politicians and Christians to their attempt to infiltrate Jordanian society and harm Christian-Christian relations firstly and Muslim-Christian relations secondly. And I think: who are they? This is a big question with many question marks about it. But as for their agenda, it is totally clear in my opinion. Their agenda is to exploit the people of the Arab nation, Arab Christians of all sects, to accomplish their hidden goals, which in the final analysis serve Zionist interests and American interests. Of course no doubt there exists in the Arab world an expression to which I object, namely “Christian Zionism.” I acknowledge the existence of such a thing as a Zionized Christian, and thus I think that these evangelisticals and those who cannot rightly deserve to be called by the label “churches” because they are not churches [the run-on grammar of this sentence reflects the Arabic original], for more than ten years I have been calling them “shops” [or “storefronts”?] because in reality they are shops — totally apart from the political problem which they create, they also create a social problem. I’ll give you a small example. Suppose that one of these groups performs a wedding and that children are born from this marriage. It is not possible to register them according to the civil status laws in Jordan because they are groups that are not registered as churches and thus do not have the right to have their own ecclesiastical courts. In the past some local churches gave them, but when they discovered their hidden goals, they abandoned them, and thus the problem increased. The government has begun to try to make up for past mistakes by giving them permits through the Ministry of Culture…\ \ \ Khadija Benganna (interrupting): But they were given these permits for humanitarian work, not evangelistic work. But you did not answer my first question yet. Who are they? Where do they come from, and from what countries? What sect do they belong to? Who is funding them? Who is directing their movements? What sectors of society are they targeting in their work and in their activity? \ \ \ ‘Awda Qawwas: Most of them are of American nationality. They come as individuals, and they exploit the citizens of this nation, recruiting them for their interests. They are financed by their churches in America. And even in America these churches — or the larger part of them — do not have official recognition. The permits have not been given to them as humanitarian organizations (lest we harm the work of humanitarian organizations), but were given as cultural institutions or theological seminary. And even the Theological Seminary, when their permit was granted, we opposed that because they have no religious authority [i.e. like the Pope or Greek Orthodox Patriarch]; they have no authority Christian doctrine [sic]. Thus we come, and we say that their funding is clear — it comes from foreign sources. And by means of this suspicious funding they are able to lead astray our youth and our daughters because of the existence of neglect by the local ecclesiastical structures. They are able to disseminate and to give and to attract these youth to form small groups which pray in houses and which have no relation to the real Christian doctrine of all of the ancient Arab and Jordanian Christian sects registered in accordance with the Law on Sects in the Ministry of the Interior of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Thus I have answered your question.\ \ \ Khadija Benganna: Dr. ‘Awda, what are their methods of operation; I mean, how are they able to convert people from one religion to another?\ \ \ ‘Awda Qawwas: —\ \ \ Khadija Benganna: What is the state’s position?\ \ ‘Awda Qawwas: What is the state’s position? This is a very big question, and I will answer you on it. Their numbers are no more than 3,500 members throughout all of the regions of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, I think about 15,000 in the whole Arab world. What is the state’s position? In the past the state went very easy on them, so as not to cause a political or religious uproar, or so as not to give the appearance of a lack of religious liberties. The state gave them permits either through the mediation of people of influence in certain governmental circles. We opposed these permits because they have a harmful effect on the ancient, local Eastern Churches to which we are proud to belong.\ \ \ Julia Duin, assistant national editor/religion, The Washington Times