Relevant ProMundis Blogposts
The World Evangelical Alliance congratulates the new International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship
The World Reformed Fellowship (WRF) installed a new International Director during its General Assembly, which occurs every three years. Prof. Dr. P. J. (Flip) Buys, from South Africa, took over from Prof. Dr. Samuel Logan, who had previously been president of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and who served as International Director of the WRF since 2005.
The World Evangelical Alliance (WEA), to which the World Reformed Fellowship belongs as a member, congratulated the new International Director of the WRF on his election. Thomas Schirrmacher, who was a plenary speaker at the WRF General Assembly, brought the wish for God’s blessing from the WEA General Secretary, Bishop Efraim Tendero, who is from the Philippines. With warm words, Schirrmacher thanked Dr. Logan for a decade of top quality cooperation between the WRF and the WEA, as well as between their representative Theological Commissions, especially in the areas of religious freedom/persecution of Christians and understanding Islam. Schirrmacher said, “I know only a very few Americans who have such a heart for all cultures and who really want to hear from all of them. Sam, we are truly going to miss you!“
Dr. P. J. (Flip) Buys was born in 1947 in South Africa. His doctoral dissertation was an exegetical study of the relationship between evangelization and church development. Buys is a pastor of the Reformed Church of South Africa and has initiated numerous projects in the field of HIV/AIDS and the resulting poverty. He teaches as an adjunct professor of missiology for Northwest University in Potchefstroom, South Africa.
Prof. Dr. Samuel T Logan, Jr, was Professor of Church History and President of Westminster Theological Seminary, 1991-2005. He then became the International Director of the WRF. He is a pastor of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
In his plenary speech for the WRF General Assembly, including representatives from Presbyterian and Reformed Baptist churches from 79 countries, Thomas Schirrmacher spoke about religious freedom. He represented Martin Bucer Seminary, of which he is the Rector, and which is a member of the WRF. He was accompanied by the faculty of Martin Bucer Seminary in São Paulo. Schirrmacher is also an individual member of WRF, as is the Vice President of Martin Bucer Seminary, Prof. Dr. Thomas K. Johnson, pastor of the Presbyterian Church in America, who is a frequent contributor to the WRF website.
In addition to Thomas Schirrmacher, the WEA was represented by Christine Schirrmacher, who, along with the Indonesian evangelist Dr. Stephen Tong, sketched the worldwide situation in relation to Islam in plenary speeches.
The World Reformed Fellowship is an international Protestant association which unites theologically conservative Reformed denominations (including Presbyterian, Anglican, and Reformed Baptist churches), along with national churches and individual congregations, colleges and seminaries, mission agencies, and certain key individuals.
The host church of the WRF General Assembly was the Presbyterian Church of Brazil, which has more than 1 million members, 8,315 ordained ministers, and 5,392 congregations. The second largest WRF member denomination is the Presbyterian Church in America, with 1,800 congregations, mostly in the US and Canada, but individual congregations in several other countries.
Important Reformed educational institutions from around the world belong to the WRF, including Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia (USA) and the Centro Presbiteriano Pos-Graduacao Andrew Jumper of Mackenzie University in São Paulo, Brazil. Martin Bucer Seminary cooperates with both institutions.
When they apply for membership in the WRF, new members have to identify themselves as affirming at least one of the following historic confessions: the Belgic Confession, the Canons of Dordt, the Gallican Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the London Confession of 1689, the Savoy Declaration, the Second Helvetic Confession, The Thirty Nine Articles, the Westminster Catechism, or the WRF’s own statement of faith.
Downloads und Links:
- Photo: from left: Paul R. Gilchrist (WRF International Director until June, 2005), P. J. (Flip) Buys, Thomas Schirrmacher, Rick Perrin (Board President, WRF), and Samuel Logan (WRF International Director until March, 2015)
Here the original letter as PDF-Download.
Dear leaders of the European Freedom Network and its Partner Organisations, dear fellows in fighting human trafficking and other evils, dear sisters and brothers,
I greet you all from the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA). I hope you all received our present from WEA, two books from our Global Issues Series, one on “Human Rights,” one on “Human Trafficking.” This is to show that we appreciate that you invest time and energy, prayer, and time to help those to become free who cannot help themselves and, in the main, are forgotten by this world.
I hope you all feel well in your host country Romania. Teaching there several times a year at a state university more than a decade now, I have come to love the country, its people, its churches, and its politicians. You will meet many of those people in power, so bless them, that they might be brave agents of change for the good.
I especially send greetings from our new Secretary General of WEA, Bishop Efraim Tendero from the Philippines, who now represents 600 million Christians in the churches belonging to national and regional Alliances worldwide and who sends his blessings on all your discussions and new plans you might decide on. Bishop Ef just visited the General Secretary of the United Nations, who thanked the Evangelical Alliance for its broad engagement against human trafficking. The world needs us, both our witness to the gospel and our active engagement to change evil into justice and peace.
Dedicated Christians are not born to lie in the sun on the beach and celebrate their freedom in Christ while sleeping or swimming. Instead they are free to serve in the dirtiest places of the world. We hate the persecution of Christians, yet we love the persecutors and try to show them this love directly. We hate prostitution, especially forced prostitution, but we only can help those involved by being where they are and showing them the love of Christ through direct contaact. We hate sexual chaos, but the chance that you meet a dedicated Christian at the death bed of someone dying of AIDS is very high. We fight alcoholism and drug addiction, but not by writing against those involved from a desk far away, but by being with them and inviting them to our homes, churches and clinics.
Christians have to walk in the mud to help those walking in the mud. If you do not want your shoes or feet to get dirty, BRIDGE 2015 is the wrong conference to attend!
Those who are well, or think themselves to be well, do not need a doctor, as Jesus said. Jesus himself as the foremost doctor of the human soul and body, decided to go to the deepest places of earth, yes, even down to hell, to save us. We also are called by him and like him to follow people into their deeptest distress.
I want to thank you all, that you are investing so much time and energy into fighting for the slaves of all kinds today, into building up networks and into trying to convince the big mass of Christians still sleeping.
May the Lord give each of you the wisdom of His Holy Spirit to discuss how you (and we) can cooperate more, so that your programs reach out both to future young leaders in fighting for freedom, and to those who are not free yet. And this is all for the glory of the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.
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Dear Mrs Caspari,
dear leaders, members and friends
of the Romanian Section of the International Society of Human Rights,
In December 1989 a dispute over religious freedom which arose in Timisoara, the city where I teach regularly at the University of the West, became the starting point of the Romanian Revolution. The Communist government wanted to get rid of a pastor, because he often criticized the government, but his church members and then a steadily growing number of all kind of citizens protected the pastor, including some from Romanian, Hungarian and German backgrounds alike. The harsh and brutal reaction of the government became a signal for protests all over Romania, the beginning of the end of a rule against human rights. We very much regret those people that died, yet it was the Romanian people who fought for freedom and human rights against a dictatorship.
The history of the brave Romanians involved with the IGFM/ISHR started well before this, but it was a proud and obvious sign of a new area, that they gathered quickly and founded our Romanian Section in 1990 at a time, when no one knew what would be coming. But they wanted to assure that the new Romania would be built around the idea of human rights.
Thus the fact, that the Romanians elected a President from Sibiu, with his fight against corruption and being from German descent, proves that Romania has learned to go beyond racism, government control, government corruption, and to give human rights a fair chance. The Romanian ISHR played a vital role in this.
On behalf of the International Council of the ISHR, I congratulate you to the 25th birthday of your section and thank you for all your work done in the last 25 years. On behalf of the worldwide ISHR family, I am proud that we have so many experienced human right fighters in our midst. I hope that your history will someday be written so that others may learn from your good example.
Yours, Thomas Schirrmacher
President of the International Council of the ISHR
Translated from the German nationwide daily newspaper Die Welt, January 19, 2015.
Every religion can become the origin of injustice, claims Thomas Schirrmacher. In this interview, the human rights activist speaks about persecuted Christians and fairness for IS terrorists.
By Till-R. Stoldt
Every year Christian persecution becomes a major theme in German public life, especially from Christmas until the commemoration days for martyrs in January. But however significant the seasonal impact of these events might be, all too often they have an undifferentiated effect and produce a caricature of Christian persecution. At least this is the opinion of Thomas Schirrmacher in his evaluation of the latest reports. How the Director of the International Institute for Religious Freedom and President of the International Society for Human Rights came to this conclusion is the topic of this interview.
Die Welt: Professor Schirrmacher, in recent days the so-called Islamic State appears to be even more evil than in the past. It became known that the terrorists in Paris understood themselves as IS followers. However, you are researching the question whether people are unfair to IS and ascribing atrocities to IS without cause. How is this going?
Thomas Schirrmacher: In my opinion, truthful reporting is important in itself. And if European newspapers show a picture of Christians who were apparently crucified by IS, and if, indeed, the Pope declares that this picture led him to tears on behalf of Christians who were crucified by IS, then the picture should really show Christians who were crucified by IS.
Die Welt: And this was not the case?
Schirrmacher: No. The people in this picture were clearly already killed in another manner before they were tied to a cross, not nailed to a cross. The victims were also not Christians, but rebellious IS soldiers who were killed by other IS soldiers because of treason.
Die Welt: Also not very nice.
Schirrmacher: It was hideous. But the violence had nothing to do with Christian persecution, yet it was presented as if it were related to Christian persecution. We can be reasonably sure that this deception originates with the propaganda apparatus of Syria’s dictator, Assad. The picture first appeared on the regime’s websites. The same is true of a photo in which an IS soldier is supposed to have decapitated a baby.
Die Welt: How do you know it was falsified?
Schirrmacher: The picture is already several years old, which has, in the meantime, become indubitable. It comes from the time before the IS invasion. Additionally, it does not show an execution. It shows a man with a sabre and a baby seated a short distance away. The International Society for Human Rights and the International Institute for Religious Freedom have been intensively engaged, working through people who have ties in the region, to find any possible witnesses for decapitations or the execution of children.
Die Welt: Wasn’t there a report from an oriental bishop on this topic?
Schirrmacher: Yes, but he had no documentation. Despite months of searching and good contacts in the area, we could not find any witnesses. Such situations are rather common.
Die Welt: How do you explain this?
Schirrmacher: Christian persecution, at least in parts of the Middle East, has become a theme in the media wars, partly used by the Assad regime. It plays into the hands of the regime, especially if the West is afraid of hostility against Christians coming from IS.
Die Welt: Whoever strikes such differentiating tones runs the risk of being regarded as someone who regards IS as harmless.
Schirrmacher: The indisputably documented cruelty of IS against Christians and other people groups is terrible enough. But it is really grist in the mills of those who regard Christian persecution as truly exaggerated if one tries to document persecution with falsifications.
Die Welt: Is the extent of Christian persecution really exaggerated?
Schirrmacher: One should not really put it like that. On the one hand, there truly is massive discrimination and also persecution of Christians, especially in Muslim majority countries. On the other hand, many attempts to quantify this persecution have been unreliable.
Die Welt: For example?
Schirrmacher: For a long time American researchers have been publishing the “Status of Global Mission,” which has also been used by Roman Catholic mission agencies. According to this source, the number of Christian martyrs in 2010 was around 178,000. But then the number sank, shortly after our criticism of their survey methods, to a rounded 100,000. It has remained at about this level since that time, but this estimate may still be much too high.
Die Welt: How was this number reached?
Schirrmacher: It is an estimated average number over the last decade which is lightly adjusted annually. However, this number includes all of the Christian victims of civils wars and domestic conflicts. For example, the victims of the genocide in Ruanda were included, although both the Hutu and Tutsi are nominally Christians and the genocide was ethnic in character, not confessional. However, even the Papal Permanent Representative to the UN used this number in the UN General Assembly.
Die Welt: Where has the reporting about Christian persecution led us astray?
Schirrmacher: Many reports, with those coming from your publication “Die Welt” as an explicit exception, arouse the impression that discrimination against people of another religion is a Muslim specialty. This is not objective reporting. There are also Jews and Christians, Hindus and Buddhists who increasingly want to limit religious freedom, although with very different levels of brutality.
Die Welt: Violence in the name of the Buddha?
Schirrmacher: Indeed. In Sri Lanka, where Buddhism plays a dominating role as the state religion, every now and then, monks arouse lynch mobs against Christian pastors. And club swinging Buddhist monks beat up Hindu priests and burn down Hindu temples because, they say, the Hindu faith has no place on the holy ground of Sri Lanka.
Die Welt: Don’t we hear similar claims coming from Myanmar?
Schirrmacher: These are not mere claims. There was an outright expulsion of the Muslim minority. Very shockingly, this was led by machete wielding thugs organized by the Buddhist cloisters. The monks roused them to protect the Buddhist culture of Myanmar from the growing Muslim minority. Hundreds of people were killed, and over 100,000 Muslims were driven out.
Die Welt: So, this violence was legitimated in the name of a religious/cultural identity which they believe should be protected in this manner?
Schirrmacher: Yes, religious nationalism is marching on, becoming socially acceptable on a global level. For example, in several states in India, already for several years, it has been illegal for other religions to practice mission work or to invite Hindus to leave the Hindu religion. What is new, however, is that a protagonist of this assault on human rights is so acceptable to the voters that he could be elected Prime Minister of the subcontinent.
Die Welt: And what is the situation in the parts of the world shaped by Judaism and Christianity?
Schirrmacher: The trend is also clear. In Israel, now for the first time, a Prime Minister has proposed a constitution that stipulates that only Jews may be citizens. And now foreign missionaries who promote the Christian faith are being expelled. Here we see the assertive power of a religiously defined society, at the cost of religious freedom.
Die Welt: This assertive power also characterizes the Pegida demonstrators as their driving motivation.1
Schirrmacher: Naturally, but Pegida represents the concerns of religious nationalism in a relatively harmless manner. Within Christian circles, the lands with an orthodox orientation are much more known for religious nationalism.
Die Welt: Are you thinking of Russia, where the old connection between church and state has been recently reaffirmed?
Schirrmacher: Yes. Though only 0.3% of the population attends an Orthodox church on a normal Sunday, and only 3% participate in worship services on Christian holidays, nevertheless both church and state emphasize ever more loudly their readiness to defend Orthodox Christian Russia against supposedly dangerous members of other faiths.
Die Welt: Is the Orthodox Church being helped according to law?
Schirrmacher: Religious publications have to be approved by the state before they are printed. Religious communities which are not Orthodox are frequently denied this approval. Catholic or Muslim religious organizations have a very difficult time obtaining the permit to build a house of worship. Such approvals are becoming, year by year, ever more difficult to obtain. Simultaneously, across the land, thousands of Orthodox churches are being built at the cost of the state.
Die Welt: You are continuously seeking to broaden our perspective on offenses against religious freedom so that all religions come into view as offenders. Why?
Schirrmacher: Because narrowing our attention to one supposedly offending religion will blind us to important factors that are driving restrictions on freedom of religion.
Die Welt: Especially religious nationalism?
Schirrmacher: Yes, where a land is no longer ethnically and culturally homogeneous, politicians, the majority religion, and the media play the confessional card in order to unify the population. This corresponds with the desire of many in the majority population to protect their cultural identity against growing minorities of a different faith. And this quickly leads to limitations on the freedom of religion, to offending against human rights.
1 “Pegida” in German is the acronym for Patriotische Europäer gegen die Islamisierung des Abendlandes, which translates as “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West.” Started in 2014, it has been seen within European politics as extreme right-wing xenophobia. Its reputation collapsed when founder Lutz Bachmann was photographed posing as Adolf Hitler.