Saddened by Jordan’s latest Christian controversy

I have been extremely disturbed by the latest controversy rocking Jordan over the expulsion of what have been dubbed "Foreign Christians" and the reactions of some Jordanian churches (in Arabic). For those that have not been following the controversy, here is a brief synopsis.

  1. Compass Direct runs an article detailing the Jordanian government’s expulsion of "Foreign Christians" from Jordan.
  2. Shortly thereafter a group of Jordanian churches, which did not include all Christian denominations in Jordan, agree with the government decision and publish a statement in Al Rai newspaper (in Arabic).
  3. Jordan confirms the expulsion and makes reference to the supportive statement of the Jordanian churches.

The issue is probably too controversial for me to comment on fully and might offend some, so I will try to tread carefully. This is my humble opinion. I’m not trying to take sides. I’m merely observing and commenting,  nothing more, nothing less; so bear with me. My two main points:

Religion should be a free choice. If individuals want to tell others about their religion, they should have the right to do so. This is what happens in democratic societies. In the US, for example, preaching about Islam is not a crime. Christians convert to Islam on a regular basis, no sweat. This is not the case in Jordan, since it is not yet a democracy. I believe it is a basic human right for any individual to have the right to choose whatever spiritual path they want. Hence, I disagree with the Jordanian government’s decision to expel anyone based on religious activities. But then again, this is the case in Jordan and it may never change. People may just be satisfied with the status quo. Personally, I think the status quo contradicts any moves Jordan makes towards true democracy, but that’s just me.

I think the statement by the Jordanian churches (Arabic) inflamed the controversy and it was unnecessary. It created tension between different Christian denominations in Jordan. It was unmerited and, I hate to say it, but it bordered on "bad taste."  From what I read and heard, many of those deported were actually Arab ministers belonging to various evangelical churches in Jordan. The churches’ statement basically created a divide between the Eastern Christian denominations and evangelicals whom the statement labeled "illegitimate."

A number of those that were deported worked for the Jordan Evangelical Theological seminary. In response, the president of Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary, Dr. Imad Shehadeh said:

The variety in denominations should not express discord and enmity, but rather, like the tree with many branches, it should express beauty as well as unity in diversity. Evangelicals are not perfect. Many individual evangelicals, like anyone else, have undoubtedly made mistakes. But let us all learn, love and cooperate together for the glory of God and the upholding of our beloved country of Jordan.

I remain disturbed by what occurred. I wish it had not happened. Frankly, it puts Jordan in a bad light internationally and has created unneeded tension amongst Christians in Jordan. Finally, if anyone wishes to comment, please keep the discussion decent. Thank you.

Here are some reactions from the Jordanian blogosphere:

18 Comments

  1. Hani Obaid February 22, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    Well if the implicaitons are accurate, I may be next since my views often encourage atheism.

    Reply
  2. Arabi February 23, 2008 at 12:09 am

    I think you made good points that apply to a democracy.

    Jordan is not, has never been, and don’t see it becoming a democracy anytime soon.

    What you talked about is only one issue. There are plenty others out there and some that are even worse.

    Take torture for example, the treatment of foreign labor. Additionally, as long as Jordan has the tribal mentality, nothing will change. Any shit in Jordan thinks they are somebody if they belong to a big clan.

    If you find my message offensive, I’m sorry for that, but its time to face reality about Jordan and try to make it a friendly country which now it is not.

    One last comment, you must recognize that the statement by the churches in Jordan which included all “approved” denominations was probably a forced statement.

    Arabi

    Reply
  3. kinzi February 23, 2008 at 2:08 am

    Natasha, thanks for adding your voice here.

    Reply
  4. Dave February 23, 2008 at 3:15 am

    Natasha, I think you did a great job “treading lightly” and expressing valid concerns about religious freedoms, Christian-Muslim tensions and the looming issues. Thanks.

    Reply
  5. Omar February 23, 2008 at 4:17 am

    i fully agree and share your concerns regarding religious freedom though you have missed a very important point here;
    those Evangelicals went to Jordan under the (charity organizations) umbrella and the soon they settled in Jordan they started to ask for the licenced church rights.
    or at least that’s the claim of Jordan official Churchs! and knowing the applicable Jordanian laws theres no grounds to refute the claim.

    Reply
  6. Hani Obaid February 23, 2008 at 8:32 am

    If the implications are true I may be next since my views promote atheism.

    Reply
  7. Jorge February 24, 2008 at 9:44 am

    I agree with your comments on free choice of religion however I think you are overlooking an important point:

    If a Christian decides to become a Muslim, other than a few tisk-tisk’s by clergy and perhaps tears by family, nothing of great (physical) consequence happens to the person who makes that choice. Of course in centuries past the Church was known to call such people Heretics and delighted at burning them alive, but this is the 21st century and the world is much more mature … except …

    If a Muslim decides to leave Islam (an “apostate”) that is considered an offense against God punishable (depending on the specific country) by various severe penalties ranging from loss of employment, loss of civil rights, loss of property, automatic divorce, and the death penalty for adults or imprisonment for minors (until they become adults at which time they are subject to the death penalty if they still refuse Islam).

    Jordan’s civil government has no say in such penalties because the Jordanian Constitution leaves ALL matters of Islamic “personal status” (including religious affiliation) EXCLUSIVELY to the religious Shari’a Courts. Currently these Courts are not too severe in penalties (mostly loss of civil rights and rights of commerce) but it is not unheard of for private citizens in some countries to kill family members for apostasy – I do not know if such killings occur in Jordan or not. There is however no guarantee that future Shari’a Courts will not become more conservative just as we cannot predict the makeup of future US Supreme Courts.

    Separate from the legal penalties there is of course an complete loss of family and friends, as befriending, socializing or hiring an apostate can result in being declared one yourself.

    So while ousting Evangelicals seems to be a restriction of free choice, would you allow prosteletyzing/converting of your citizens if you knew they would suffer such penalties and pains if they were converted?

    I am not agreeing with Jordan’s laws, but in the present context ousting Evangelicals seems the lesser of two evils.

    Reply
  8. bill February 24, 2008 at 6:27 pm

    “If individuals want to tell others about their religion, they should have the right to do so.”

    NOPE!!, sorry , you do not automatically have the right to ram your belief system into my ears just because we share the same space.

    There are number of issues.

    Freedom to practice a religion of choice, and Freedom of speech, do not equate to stirring up trouble in a calculated attempt to cause confrontation, nor do they equate to me having to listen to you.

    If I ask about your belief system then by all means feel free to share it with me, but do not assume you have some god given right to enforce it on me, just because you think you are ‘right’ and you feel the need to save me.

    When you are in a foreign country , the fact that you are there , is a contract between you and the country, stating that you will abide by their laws, irrelevant of the fact that you may not like the way they run things.

    If you don’t like it, STAY OUT, if you want to change it , then do so from a country that allows you to do so.
    Finally get used to the world being unfair and not conforming to your “fluffy” view point, but above all if you are a guest,
    Then show respect for a countries laws and view points,no matter how unfair it may appear.

    Reply
  9. kinzi February 25, 2008 at 4:03 am

    Jorge, so should all Jordanian Evangelicals be forced out of their homeland? Should all foreign evangelicals employed by the US Embassy and other diplomatic streams be banned from Jordan? Just having them present is a threat? Even Saudi doesn’t do this.

    This whole proselytizing thing is so far-fetched. From what I have heard, very few who make this choice even met a foreigner here who influenced them, which is what makes this whole situation so ironic. Even the guy who was convicted of apostasy, he made that choice on his own. No one seems to be talking about how many conversions happen in the Catholic church, and the guy gets a visa to Italy.

    I have been approached by several Muslims who said they wanted to convert. I ask them why, they say they want US citizenship, as if it is bestowed upon anyone who produces a baptismal certificate. I tell them forget it. I have another friend who was in prison for reasons of honor. A Catholic, she heard if she converted she would get paid, get a husband, get out of prison. when she went to the sheik to convert, he said: “These are not reasons to become a Muslim. I refuse your request”. There are people of integrity in every faith here, but the wild hairs are the ones who get the press and ruin it for others.

    Bill, and what about those of us evangelicals who are working in Jordan at our jobs? Doing our job according to contract? Obeying the laws of the land? Is it right to whitewash all of us, as this church letter says, with such claims?

    As an evangelical, I ENJOY being in a country where faith is still something valued and talked about. When a Muslim tries to convert me (believe me, Bill, you having seen ‘enforcement’ until you’ve seen this) I see it as an honor that they cared enough to share with me.

    Reply
  10. jareer February 25, 2008 at 5:06 am

    I agree it is so sad that the “council” took such a shamefull stand against Evangelicals. I still believe, while not aquitting them of the blame, the pressure they were put under by government and officials in high places. It is more sad to see “brothers” stabbing their own and betraying them just for the sake of some seats and titles; brothers: seats and positions go away; even people in high places vanish, but this scar you caused will stay as long as memories can hold ! To alienate people from Evangelicals and label them as such before Jordanians and the world is not a small thing at all although I believe this will turn into a blessing and to the Glory of God; just wait and see. The only thing that matters is what the Christ once said,” He who denies me before men, I will deny him before my Father in Heavens.”
    Thanks Natasha for addressing this issue.

    Reply
  11. jareer February 25, 2008 at 7:32 am

    According to the statement made by the infemous council, no poor or jobless people should have the chance to learn and get educated in their religion ! Church leaders want their congregations to be as sheep led by their rotten mentality. What on earth is this kind of logic or thinking ! The middle ages have passed, and the papacy era of appointing kings and executing heritics do no longer exist except in their sick minds. Isnt it better to cure your own churches from priests who molest children and cause your churches shame and millions of dollars in law suits !

    Reply
  12. Hisham February 25, 2008 at 12:18 pm

    For info. This is a statement motivated by the Christian leaders that issued it and not by the Muslim community. Those traditional churches are the ones opposed to evangelicals for selfish reasons by the way.

    If you dig more into it you can find out who really went after that statement.

    Its not the government. The evangelicals have been in Jordan for ages, it never happened before.

    Reply
  13. Afaq February 26, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    This is not such a simple issue.
    for years certain missionaries have ravaged regions like africa, stole its resources under the pretext of religion and colonization and now they are acting as though they are giving back something that belongs to them. thats not the case. If i burnt r house down and then came and helped u rebuild it, that doesnt make me a good-doer, it makes me evil. and thats what such missionaries are trying o do in countried like Iraq and others in the middle east. some voted for a war that they knew meant killing people, and then went in there under the esxcuse of humanitarian work.
    the statement of some of the churches reflects some of the frustration on their part, not necessarily as someone said that they were pressured into it. WHY in the world would you want to convert someone who is already a christian, because you believe they should belong to their denomination. That shows a certain attitude of supremacy on the part of missionaries. they dont just try to convert muslims, but also get the catholic and orthodox christians to switch to their protestant and evangelical subscriptions.
    Another thing, Muslims dont vote for wars against america then travel there to “help” them rebuild their country by introducing Islam (as we see has been done for Iraq). most people that convert in the US do so not beause someone willingly and consciously prostelyzed them, but out of their own will. (in fact many have converted wuthout ever meeting a muslim in their life). no need to resort to such deceitful tactics. OFCOURSE if u rape my country, steal its resources and then come in with gifts and help, i have no choice but to accept it if i want my family yo survive. Thats the only issue i have with missionaries; i come across people who try to convert people and i dont have a problem with that. i have a problem with the deceitful tactics in which some do that. its false just as their message is false.

    Reply
  14. Digger February 29, 2008 at 4:23 am

    “I still believe, while not aquitting them of the blame, the pressure they were put under by government and officials in high places”

    Yes, for sure, but if you dig around a little more you will find out that Bishop Nour used to be an evangelical pastor. Seems he decided to “convert” after getting fired in connection to his “fund-raising operations” in the west… Maybe the evangelical churches have more integrity than they are credited with? Maybe other people have an axe to grind?

    -digger

    Reply
  15. Arabi February 29, 2008 at 4:29 am

    For your info. Bishop Nour is not a real Bishop. He is a self proclaimed bishop. In addition, he is not part of the group that issued the statement.

    Reply
  16. Digger February 29, 2008 at 4:39 am

    Well thats strange because he is the guy Compass was talking to and he seems to use “we” a lot…
    -digger

    http://www.compassdirect.org/en/display.php?page=breaking&lang=en&length=long&idelement=5259
    Nour said that an official from Jordan’s Foreign Ministry had approached the council, Jordan’s highest Christian body, requesting that it respond to accusations of increased pressure on foreign Christians printed in the January 29 Compass article.

    “They gave us a paper about why [the foreigners] have been deported,” Nour told Compass by telephone from Amman. “None of them were working legally under a church name, and if they were working under a [registered] church in the country, they were not doing what they were supposed to do.”

    Reply
  17. Digger February 29, 2008 at 4:44 am

    Oh… here it is right in front of my nose:

    ‘“The government said they have their own reasons to kick them out, but personally I don’t know why,” said council secretary John Nour’

    -Digger

    Reply
  18. jareer February 29, 2008 at 8:06 am

    It is too late for church leaders to give a justification or to apologise. They will regret and remorse their shamefull betrayal; this Judas -Iscariot-like betrayal will go down in history . As for Nour, what a shamefull statement that they were pressured; I will resign rather than stabbing my brothers in the back,and by the way, Nour has also two nice Evangelical brothers . How weird !

    Reply

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