Syrian Christians flee civil war, say they face a bleak future if Assad regime falls
(23 December, 2012, Associated Press) With Christmas just days away, 40-year-old Mira begged her parents to flee their hometown of Aleppo, which has become a main battleground in Syria's civil war. Her parents have refused to join her in Lebanon, but they are taking one simple precaution inside their besieged city. For the first time, Mira says, her parents will not put up a Christmas tree this year for fear that their religion might make them a target. "They want to stay to guard the property so nobody takes it," said Mira, who spoke to The Associated Press in Lebanon on condition that only her first name be published, out of concern for her family. "They cannot celebrate Christmas properly. It's not safe. They are in a Christian area, but they don't feel secure to put a tree, even inside their apartment," Mira said. Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Syria's population of more than 22 million, say they are particularly vulnerable to the violence that has been sweeping the country since March 2011. They are fearful that Syria will become another Iraq, with Christians caught in the crossfire between rival Islamic groups. Hundreds of thousands of Christians fled Iraq after their community and others were targeted by militants in the chaotic years after dictator Saddam Hussein was ousted in 2003. During the Syria conflict, Christians have largely stuck by President Bashar Assad, in large part because they fear the rising power of Muslim hard-liners and groups with al-Qaida-style ideologies within the uprising against his rule. Many Christians worry they will be marginalized or even targeted if the country's Sunni Muslim majority, which forms the majority of the opposition, takes over. The rebel leadership has sought to portray itself as inclusive, promising no reprisals if Assad falls. But some actions by fighters on the ground have been less reassuring. This week, the commander of one rebel brigade threatened to storm two predominantly Christian towns in central Syria — Mahrada and Sqailbiyeh — saying regime forces were using the towns to attack nearby areas. The commander, Rashid Abul-Fidaa, of the Ansar Brigade in Hama province demanded the towns' residents "evict Assad's gangs" or be attacked. Christians and other minorities have generally supported Assad's regime in the past because it promoted a secular ideology that was seen as giving minorities a degree of protection. The regime and ruling elite are dominated by the Alawite sect, itself a minority offshoot of Shiite Islam to which Assad belongs, but it has brought Christians and other minorities — as well as Sunni Muslims — into senior positions. Christians have flourished under the Assad regime, which came to power four decades ago under Assad's father, Hafez. The regime divided economic privileges among minorities and certain Sunni families in exchange for giving up political power. The threat of Islamic extremism resonates deeply in Syria, a country with many ethnic and religious minorities, and the regime has used their worries to try to keep their support. Assad has warned repeatedly that the country's turmoil will throw Syria into chaos, religious extremism and sectarian divisions. Still, Christian activists have also figured prominently among the opposition to Assad, advocating an end to autocratic rule in the country. Christians were among the numerous political opponents that the regime jailed alongside Muslims over the years. Aya, a Christian artist who has been campaigning against the regime for years, predicted prison won't be enough in the eyes of the rebels to balance the perception of Christian support for Assad. She fears score-settling if the regime falls. "Many Christians think that this regime is good for us," said Aya, a 51-year-old from Aleppo who fled to Beirut in October. "They think that if they keep quiet, Assad will stay, and protect us. But this is an illusion." When the government deployed fighter jets to Aleppo to drive back rebel advances in the northern city, they did not spare Christians in the city, Aya said. "We all got hit, but it's too late now for Christians to change their minds about this regime," Aya said. "I am afraid that now we will pay the price for being silent about this terrible regime all these years." Even for those who support the rebels, the nature of the opposition has caused ripples of apprehension. As the fight to overthrow Assad drags on, the rebels' ranks are becoming dominated by Islamists, raising concerns that the country's potential new rulers will marginalize them or establish an Islamic state. Al-Qaida-inspired groups have become the most organized fighting units, increasingly leading battles for parts of Aleppo or assaults on military installations outside the city. "Most (Christians) want to return (to Syria), but they want to wait until the fighting is over and see who will be ruling Syria after the war," Mira said. Aleppo's schools are closed. Food and electricity are scarce. Most stores have been shut for months. Even though some areas of the city — including the predominantly Christian district along Faisal Street — are still controlled by government forces, the streets are unsafe, she said. Aya lamented that it's nearly impossible to imagine the country going back to what it was. In the weeks before she fled for good, she said, the violence overwhelmed her. "There was so much shooting, such terrible bombings, and I could not take it," she said. "In two weeks I slept for 10 hours, I did not eat and I cried all the time, because my city was turning into ruins, and I saw it with my own eyes."
Beyond the war on Christmas by Paul Wilson
Is there a War on Christmas? Not if its observance is measured by shopping and decorations, which grow gaudier and more expensive with each passing year. But there is a war on Christ in full swing. And since Christmas is about His birthday, naturally the secularizing community has turned its full force on the holiday. Case in point: NBC's Chief Medical Editor Nancy Snyderman. During a Tuesday "Today" discussion of the tasks that make the Christmas season so busy, Snyderman let viewers in on what really irks her about the holiday. "I don't like the religion part. I think religion is what mucks the whole thing up … I think that's what makes the holidays so stressful." So yes, there is indeed a real "war on Christmas," or, more accurately, it's the winter campaign in the year-round war on Christianity. This year's Christmas installment of religion-purging featured the Arkansas Society of Freethinkers complaining about a school production of "A Charlie Brown Christmas." The play is about a Peanuts character disillusioned by the commercialization of the Christmas season, who explained to his classmates the reason for the celebration of Christmas – the birth of Christ. The play's "religious content" irked the society, as did the fact that the school organized a voluntary field trip to the play at a church. The pastor of the church planning to host the play eventually decided to cancel the production, citing a desire for peace. Western Piedmont Community College tried to tell its students not to use the word Christmas – to promote a Christmas tree sale. (Public outcry forced the college to reverse its decision.) The Department of Education cancelled an annual Christmas concert for a charity helping people in Africa – because the Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of Church and State threatened to sue because the concert was held at a church. The war on public expression of Christianity during Christmas is merely the spearhead of a larger war on publicly expressed faith in America. Secularists in the media such as Anthony Faiola of the Washington Post blast those who defend public expression of Christianity as a "small fringe" on the "far right."
A North Carolina elementary school prevented a first grade girl from reading a poem she wrote about her grandparents during a school assembly. The reason? The poem included the line: "He prayed to God for peace. He prayed to God for strength." The sacrosanct principle of "separation of church and state" clearly dictates that public school students must be protected from listening to first grade Bible-thumpers discuss their ancestors' deluded customs. The North Carolina school wasn't the only school to join Orwell's angels. Louisiana State University posted pictures of football fans on its website -- and photo-shopped the fans' painted crosses out of the photos. When an outcry was raised, LSU spokesman Herb Vincent explained the school's reasoning: "We don't want to imply we are making any religious or political statements, so we air-brushed it out. Only one of the students, who didn't appreciate it, actually contacted us about it. So next time, we'll just choose a different photo." Painted crosses barely visible in the original picture apparently constitute a "religious statement." While LSU was forced to apologize for its censorship, more powerful entities are embracing the same tactics. Government has taken an active role in purging publicly expressed Christianity. The White House asked Georgetown University to cover up a monogram of the name of Jesus during a May 2012 visit. (President Obama heads a party which nearly purged God from its platform.) More far-reaching is the Obama administration's insistence that religious-affiliated institutions pay for contraception and sterilization, effectively forcing these institutions to violate their beliefs or be punished. Secularist groups seek to purge any trappings of Christianity from public practice. The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is pushing Obama not to use the Bible during his second inauguration. The American Humanist Association is pressuring new members of Congress not to join the Congressional Prayer Caucus. At times, the secular campaign against public religion takes ridiculous turns. The FFRF sought to remove a statue of Jesus on public property in Montana. But the suit faced dismissal because, as the Christian Post reported, the FFRF"had not found an individual or group that maintained they were harmed by the statue's presence." (The FFRF eventually found an atheist who lived 15 minutes away from the statue to object to its presence, allowing the lawsuit to proceed.) Perhaps these groups should read the section of the First Amendment concerning religion more closely. The First Amendment reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The position of secularists appears to be that any religious symbol displayed or language spoken somehow constitutes an "establishment of religion." The mere public mention of religion is apparently capable of scorching the sensitive ears of those who deny his existence. But such a position certainly inhibits the free exercise of faith – assuming, of course, that faith is something more than an archaic ritual to be practiced every weekend and shelved on all other occasions. (Not that the words of the Constitution matter to the secular left.) But if any public mention of God is forbidden, documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address should be purged from the public record as well. There is a "war on Christmas:" a war on any symbol that might make Christmas more than a confectionary slop of feel-goodness to be cast aside on December 26. And this war lasts the other 11 months of the year.
Paul Wilson is the Joe and Betty Anderlik Fellow in Culture and Media for the Media Research Center.Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2012/12/24/beyond-war-on-christmas/#ixzz2GARqvWix
Chaplain fired due to his Christian faith (December 24, 2012)
A luxury automobile company in England has banished a long-time chaplain from visiting employees over fears the Christian minister's presence might upset non-Christians. Bentley Motors defended the move saying they had a wide range of faiths at the company and wanted to take a multi-faith outlook. "It would be very difficult to have somebody from each faith," the company said in a statement to The Daily Mail. For the past 10 years Rev. Francis Cooke visited the shop floor at Bentley offering spiritual support for the men and woman making luxury cars. He was paid by the company – and fired only days before Christmas. "It is just beyond belief," he told The Daily Mail. "The reason I have been given is that there are too many people of different faiths to warrant a Christian chaplain." To his knowledge Cooke said there have not been any complaints about his ministry and he's also been able to counsel non-Christian workers. Workers are distraught by the move and have launched a campaign to reinstate the chaplain. "Everyone is really angry about it," one worker told The Daily Express. "To do this just before Christmas is shocking." One reader made the observation that "multi-faith outlook" in the United Kingdom usually means "no Christians." "Political correctness is the most offensive and socially destructive concept ever devised," wrote one reader.
NOTE: What the Liberals/Democrats/Atheists/Progressives (all synonyms) are trying to do, is to make any expression of the Christian faith offensive. Sharing your Christian faith in public will soon be seen as vulgar and offensive as belching, passing gas, flashing, or streaking, if these people have their way and they are having their way.
Obama Care verses Religious Liberty and the Constitution
By Laura Ingraham
Late yesterday, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor denied an appeal to temporarily delay the Obamacare contraception mandate. It requires workers health benefit plans to cover the morning after pill and other emergency contraception. In September, Hobby Lobby, it's a chain of more than 500 arts and crafts stores and its sister company of Christian themed book stores sued the government claiming that the HHS mandate violated the religious rights of the company's owners, the Green family. The Greens are Evangelical Christians. The Oklahoma base company requested emergency relief from the emergency contraception mandate after a lower court denied their request for a religious exemption. The new rule goes in to effect on New Year's day. Although Sotomayor didn't rule on the merits of the case her refusal to grant a temporary stay of the HHS contraception in abortifacient rule is onerous. So starting next week the company will either have to pay a daily fine of $1.3 million dollars or stop offering their employees' healthcare, or abide by the rule and violate their religious conscience. Now, it's worth noting that when she sat on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Sotomayor ruled in favor of the religious rights of a Muslim inmate who was denied a Ramadan meal in prison. Now, she was asked about that case and the religious liberty issue at her confirmation hearing.
SONIA SOTOMAYOR, SUPREME COURT JUSTICE: It is a very important and central part of our democratic society that we do give freedom of religion, practice of religion, that the Constitution restricts the state from establishing a religion and that we have freedom of expression in speech as well. Those freedoms are central to our Constitution. INGRAHAM: I agree and don't religious people who own companies also have religious rights? It turns out as many feared the President's religious exemption to the contraception mandate is so narrow as to be meaningless. Unless you employ and serve only those of your same religious faith you don't receive an exemption. So under that standard, Jesus himself would not qualify. The Little Sisters of the Poor, a saintly order of nuns who give beautiful care and housing to our nation's indigent seniors have already warned that due to this Obamacare mandate they may have to shutter their homes all across the United States, which would be a tragedy. This is unconscionable and unconstitutional. The President can and must step in to stop this madness. And that's "The Memo."
The Battle for Religious Freedom Rages On!!! Hobby Lobby Takes a Stand
The owners of Hobby Lobby face $1.3 million in daily fines after they decided to obey God rather than the federal government – refusing to comply with Obamacare's contraception mandate. The act of defiance came one day after Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor denied Hobby Lobby's emergency request to block enforcement of the mandate, but said the company may continue its appeal in lower courts. Hobby Lobby is a national arts and crafts chain. They own more than 500 stores in 41 states. The company is owned by the Green family, devout, evangelical Christians. They believe "it is by God's grace and provision that Hobby Lobby has endured" and they seek to honor God by operating their company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles." The family believes the Obamacare mandate to provide the morning-after and week-after pills is a violation of their religious convictions. "To remain true to their faith, it is not their intention as a company, to pay for abortion-inducing drugs," Becket Fund attorney Kyle Duncan wrote in a statement. Duncan said the company would continue to provide health insurance for its employees while they fight the government in court. But on Jan. 1, Hobby Lobby will face a $1.3 million daily fine if they don't comply with Obamacare. "The Green family respects the religious convictions of all Americans, including those who do not agree with them," the Becket Fund said in a statement. "All they are asking is for the government to give them the same respect by not forcing them to violate their religious beliefs." There are now 42 separate lawsuits changing the mandate, the Becket Fund said.
Iranian Pastor Re-Arrested (CBNNews)
Iranian authorities have arrested Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani again, this time on Christmas Day.The pastor was acquitted of an apostasy charge in September but was told he would have to finish his three-year sentence for a different crime: evangelizing Muslims. He served all but 45 days of that sentence and was set free after posting bail. But now Iranian authorities claim he needs to return to prison and finish his sentence. "We are disappointed to hear Pastor Nadarkhani has been returned to prison in such an irregular manner," Mervyn Thomas, chief executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said. "The timing is insensitive and especially sad for his wife and sons, who must have been looking forward to celebrating Christmas with him for the first time in three years," Thomas added.Christian activists worry that Nadarkhani still may not be safe, even if he is released after the 45 days are finished."We hope that Pastor Nadarkhani will be released without delay once this alleged sentence has been fully served," Thomas said. "We are also asking for prayers for the pastor's safety, and for his family at this difficult time."
Megachurch pastor Dr. Robert Jeffress defends his belief to super-liberal Alan Colmes that wimpy pastors are why Christians are losing the culture war.
New Years Resolutions?
As I mentioned in the last newsletter, this year I am planning on beginning my doctoral studies and on beginning on getting my teacher's certification.
However, there are some other things that I think that I should do.
I have written over twenty books. I think I should begin my own publishing company. I think I should call it "Bethsaida Christian Resources." Bethsaida means "Fisherman's House" in Aramaic-and Jesus called us to be "fishers of men." Of course I am choosing Bethsaida because I did my archeological excavation there.
I also need to start my own non-profit. I think I should call the ministry "Aramaic School of the Bible and of the Aramaic Christian Heritage." (Once an Arab Christian minister asked me why American ministers named their ministries after themselves, such as "Joel Osteen Ministries" ect. Well, one reason is that no one can take over your church of ministry if its named after you!)I know that is long but so what. Of course, I can't do anything without funding and I am almost broke. So, here is the next idea.
My brother told me about to websites where you can open accounts to fundraise for a project. Well, as I mentioned before I don't have writers/artist block-I don't have the time or resources to realize my vision (or visions).
So, here are the twelve projects that I may list on these sites. (It isn't ready yet.)
The Seven Signs-A comic book retelling of the LIfe of Christ focusing on the "7 Signs" from the Gospel of John. The Seven Signs" is a re-telling of the Gospel of John focusing on the seven signs or miracles performed by Christ that are described in the Gospel.
The Seven Signs are:
1. Christ changes water into wine
2. Christ heals the nobleman's son
3. Christ heal the invalid
4. Christ feeds the 5,000
5. Christ walks on the water
6. Christ heals the man born blind
7. Christ raises Lazarus up from the grave
With the funding I will be able to complete this project that I have already began. I am confident that if I recieve funding that I will be able to complete it in a timely manner and it will be available for purchase on amazon. I have done an illustrated book on the life of Christ entitled "Christ the Man"-and I did most of it while I was deployed to Iraq! Fundraising goal: $2,500.00.
Other projects-and fundraising goals:
Christ the Man 22 page comic book $3,000
Maccabees: The Battle for Religious Freedom $3,000
The Baal Cycle: Re-telling of Canaanite Mythology in order to explain Biblical Backgrounds $2,500
The Shepherd King: A Story of Moses $6,000 (Why $6,000? Because I need to go back to Egypt. For two reasons, so I can see what is going on there with the Copts for myself and secondly, for research purposes. Half of the money for research and half to finish the art and write the story.)
Saint Thomas in India (Based on Assyrian Christian and Indian Christian tradition) $4,000
The Ring of King Solomon (Based on Ethiopian Christian Tradition) $4,000
Akenaten (about the Monotheistic Pharaoh) $3,000
Amduat (about the Ancient Egyptian view of the afterlife) $2,500
The Assyrian Christian Heritage a 22 page comic book on the history of the Assyrian from the time of Christ until today $3,000.
Brick Hanukkah using Legos to tell the story of Hanukkah $3,000.
Mary Magdalene: The Comic Book-a short comic book re-telling of the story of Mary Magdalene $2,500.
The reality is that I probably won't raise the money. What I will do is list the projects on the sites and see what happens. (The sites are www.kickstarter.com and www.indiegogo.com. I don't have the projects listed yet. What I am going to do is list the projects in the order of my priority (which is how they are listed here) and which ones I think that am able to finish quicker. Seven Signs and The Epic of Baal will probably be the first ones done.
Another issue is advertising-which I will discuss in the next newsletter.