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The Daniel Protocol

 
‎04 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎01:15:23 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

Many claim “I’m a loyal person!” but who can find someone who truly is?

— Proverbs 20:6, ISV

With all the worldview changes occurring today, what is a Christian to do? Does one hunker down and withdraw from the world or does one stand and fight? The answer may lie in The Daniel Protocol.

Issues for Today

Over the past few years, world events have brought new meaning to the Biblical prophecy of a time where good is called evil and evil is called good. Some of the issues we face today are:

  1. Sanctity of Life: There has been a steady encroachment on the sanctity of life by abortion, euthanasia, cloning and embryonic stem cell research.
  2. Religious Liberty: Every day religious liberties are being attacked. Christians are ostracized, fined, and imprisoned for following Biblical dictates. People are being told to “keep their religion to themselves.” Moral virtue is being decried as intolerance. It is acceptable to condemn Christianity, but nothing bad can be said about Islam. What a few years ago was called “mainstream religion” is now being called “extremist religion.”
  3. Marriage: The recognized concept of marriage that has been in place for millennia has been redefined. All kinds of sexual proclivities are not only considered acceptable, but are now deemed natural. The family, the foundation of any nation, is being eroded in the name of Progressivism.
  4. Terrorism: There is a war being waged where the enemy is not acknowledged. Shootings in the name of Allah are termed “workplace violence.” Jihadists who murder Christians, burn villages, and enslave women and children are called “warring tribes.” The violence being perpetrated on innocents is being termed “war in the name of fundamentalist religion,” placing many Christians in the same category as ISIS and Boko Haram. It is a clash of civilizations that is being put in terms of mere criminal activity.
  5. Judicial Roles: Judges are usurping the role of legislatures and creating law out of thin air.
  6. Faith-based solutions: Churches and faith-based organizations are being told they cannot operate unless they repudiate their religious mandates. Many Christian services are closing rather than bending to pressure from the State, leaving many people without help or hope.
  7. Education: Education is becoming less about learning and more about becoming “good citizens.” Those that choose to educate their own children along religious precepts are being put under great pressure to turn over their children to the State. Sometimes this means imprisonment.
  8. Media: All this under the watchful gaze of a Progressive media that is only reporting the news that fits their worldview.

A Survey of Religious Hostility in America is a collection of more than 1,200 cases, detailing religious bigotry throughout America — most of which have occurred within the past 10 years. It offers stunning insight into the attacks against people of faith across the United States.

Many Christians are having a crisis of conscience. They are looking for ways to deal with the world around them. In June, this author wrote of an option many are taking called The Benedict Option.

According to the author Eric Dean:

The political and social disorder that accompanied the end of the Roman Empire induced many people to turn away from society. The idea of an isolated ascetic life had developed in the East, particularly in Egypt, where St. Anthony inspired many. Some individual hermits began to form monastic communities, but for the most part the emphasis was still upon the private war between the spirit and the world.

People who hold to the Benedict Option are separating themselves from the world to form isolated Christian communities. These people believe they will be able to live their lives without enduring the pressures of the outside world.

There is a basic flaw in this assumption. Those that are choosing the Benedict Option think they will be left alone. They will not. One lesson of history is Evil will not leave Good in peace. Evil will follow them. It is not enough for today’s Progressives to have their views considered “mainstream”; they are bent in making others conform to their way of thinking. They will follow those who try to isolate themselves into their communities and impose their values on them.

The Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto found this out the hard way. They isolated themselves from the Nazis. They woke up one morning with a fence around them and their community became their prison. The next step was a train ride and a one way trip to the ovens.

The Bible had something to say about retreating to enclaves. It talks about people putting their trust in walled cities instead of God. In every case, those cities were destroyed:

City walls and buildings outside Hazor

City walls and buildings outside Hazor, one of Israel’s most heavily fortified cities.

There is an alternative to retreating from the World this author calls The Daniel Protocol.

Daniel: An Example for Today.

Daniel was an exceptional individual. Throughout his life, he was a powerful and influential individual, unusually close to mighty rulers. Daniel remained a humble believer whose honesty and integrity were unalloyed with greed or a lust for personal power. The intensity of Daniel’s relationship with the Lord enabled him to live uncorrupted at the very center of worldly power.

Daniel was a man with essential lessons to teach us.

  • Daniel teaches us to put God first, both privately and publicly. His commitment to the Lord and to nurturing a healthy relationship with Him was indispensable to the role he played in the government of world empires.
  • Daniel reminds us to view every person as an individual rather than being in awe of the position he or she might have. Much of Daniel’s influence resulted from the fact that rulers knew Daniel cared about them rather than what they could do for him.
  • Daniel inspires us to stay faithful to the Lord whatever the difficulty. If our relationship with God is the only basis on which others can attack us, let them do so. But we are to stay faithful to the Lord in deed and in word.
  • Daniel encourages us to be involved in government. True believers can have a role in politics without compromising their convictions. Such a person may impact an entire nation as well as influence many who need to know the Lord.
  • Daniel encourages us to give prayer a central role in our lives. Daniel did not pray only in emergencies. He prayed daily. Daniel not only brought his requests to the Lord; he brought praise. When we see the impact Daniel had on those of his own time, we can hardly discount the role of prayer in his life or in ours.

Daniel was dragged to Babylon and eventually found himself in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. Rather than try to appease the king, he always spoke the truth. He risked his life for decades by speaking truth to Babylon’s kings—but never gave up.

Daniel’s overall message has special relevance to us today as well. It is really a textbook of instruction and an example of how God’s people can live in difficult conditions and come through victoriously. Even as the Jewish people were living in Babylonian captivity, so Christians today are pilgrims and sojourners in a foreign culture. We, like Daniel and his friends, must exercise our implicit faith in God’s purposes and leading for our lives. We too must resolve in advance that we will not be defiled by the world. And whether our God delivers us or not from the fiery furnace, we will stay faithful to Him.

Your majesty, if it be his will, our God whom we serve can deliver us from the blazing fire furnace, and he will deliver us from you. But if not, rest assured, your majesty, that we won’t serve your gods, and we won’t worship the golden statue that you have set up.

— Daniel 3:17–18, ISV

The courage and faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace and the steadfast faithfulness of Daniel in the lions’ den still stand as models for us today. All these men refused to waver in their commitment to God. They remained obedient to God, despite the unpleasant and seemingly overpowering circumstances that engulfed them. These stories encourage us to stand firm for our Lord regardless of the pressure exerted on us by our culture or by unfortunate circumstances. These men did not compromise their faith, even at the risk of losing their lives. They challenge us to do likewise.

Daniel reminds us God is sovereign and his kingdom will finally triumph over all hostile world powers, a triumph that includes our resurrection from the dead.

D.L. Moody often preached on Daniel:

Daniel thought more of his principles than he did of earthly honor or the esteem of men. Right was right with him. He was going to do right today and let the morrows take care of themselves. That firmness of purpose, in the strength of God, was the secret of his success.

Daniel and his friends personify for us Christian courage at its best—not merely a desperate courage for some emergency situation, but a quiet steadfast courage that enables us to live in a Christ-like manner each day. It takes courage to be an unpopular minority when truth and right are involved. It takes courage to defend God’s name when everyone else is using it in blasphemy. It takes courage to be another Daniel in a godless society.

Daniel calls Christians to live out their faith in a hostile world whatever the cost. No longer can Christians sit on the fence. No longer can we try to stay below the fray.

As John Loeffler, a friend of the ministry and host of the program “Steel on Steel” says:

I will not sit down. I will not shut up. I will speak the truth with love.

Be a Daniel.

 

Evolution from a Jewish Perspective

 
‎04 ‎August ‎2015, ‏‎12:17:04 AM | Asher NormanGo to full article
Note: Asher (Roland) Norman is an author, attorney and Orthodox Jew, living in California. He also lectures on the subject of “The Scientific Case Against Random Macro Evolution (and for Intelligent Design).” Norman also lectures on the subject of Jewish holiness, explaining the organizing principle of Jewish holiness in separating between life and death regarding food, (kosher laws) intimacy (family purity laws) and time (Shabbat). The following is a paraphrase from a lecture Norman gave on evolution.

This is Part One of a three-part series on evolution from a Jewish perspective.

Introduction

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution requires beneficial mutations and survival of the fittest/natural selection and adaptation into a new population. The original theory has been synthesized with modern genetics and population biology. (This concept is known as the synthetic theory or Neo-Darwinism)

Darwinism does not conflict with the Torah as long as one posits GOD is the foundation of the Scripture. The conflict arises when one holds the Creation happened by itself. Secular and Reform Jews are using evolution as an alternative to GOD. This is the reason the scientific veracity of evolution becomes important. If evolution is not true, we must remove the theory as an alternative to GOD.

To make matters more clear, it is important to explain the two kinds of evolution being discussed: microevolution and macroevolution.

Microevolution is mutation within the genetic potential of an existing species. This mutation can occur naturally or can also be realized through selective breeding. It is minor change within the constraints and existing boundaries of an existing species and represents nothing new like a new organ. For example skin color is micro evolution, representing a minor variation within a species. Microevolution is an uncontroversial, well-documented, naturally occurring biological phenomenon.

Macroevolution is the somewhat more contentious, theoretical extrapolation of microevolution that requires the introduction of new genetic information. This requires a birth with a beneficial genetic mutation beyond the normal genetic potential of an existing species, something truly new. This is what Darwinism’s evolutionary theory requires, making it possible for the creation of an entirely new species rather than merely a variation of an existing species.

The criteria for a scientific theory

To prove evolutionary theory scientifically, the proposed cause for an evolutionary change must be observed to exist. It must be possible to show quantitatively the proposed cause explains the observed outcome through the use of the accepted theory. Observation of the cause and effect must confirm the theory. If the proposed cause is unobservable, then it is imperative the cause should quantitatively predict the effect through use of the theory.

Does Neo-Darwinism satisfy the criteria? No. Why? Four reasons:

  1. A mutation creating new genetic information has never been observed;
  2. A new species has NEVER been observed descending from another;
  3. A beneficial mutation has NEVER been observed in an existing species;
  4. Therefore, the theory must at least prove beneficial mutations outside species limits could have occurred during the geological time available. Darwinists have not showed this could have occurred because it is statistically impossible in the time available.

This series of articles will reveal Darwinists distort the evidence for macroevolution using the following deceptions:

  • They fudge the difference between microevolution (variation within a species) and macroevolution (variation outside the species limits) pretending they are the same thing.
  • They pretend beneficial mutations (versus genetic defects) have occurred outside species parameters. Such beneficial mutations have never been observed. They pretend many more mutations occur than actually do by including fatal genetic defects. 99 percent of all mutations cause disease, death or nothing at all.
  • They pretend there was sufficient time for beneficial mutations to occur although new fossil discoveries show the absence of time.
  • They pretend the necessary transitional forms have appeared in the fossil record although the record is characterized by their absence.
  • They pretend statistical probability supports evolutionary theory when the theory itself contradicts that probability. They pretend splitting up the overall “evolutionary process” of a complex organ (like the eye) somehow reduces the improbability of those separate steps occurring in the correct sequence.
  • They use endearing phrases like “selection pressure” to back door the idea chance isn’t really blind. But chance is blind. (The vast number of animals don’t need a mutation but are statistically much more likely to have a mutation).
  • Almost all individual mutations are recessive. (Orr 1991) This means a mutation in a gene will not have an effect on the phenotype unless the mutation appears in both copies of the gene. This dramatically reduces the chance macroevolution will ever occur.
  • Almost all mutations are harmful. About 11 percent of mutations are lethal and will lead to the death of an organism that has it in both its copies of the gene. (Dobzhansky 1940)
  • Finally, random mutations do not add genetic information to the DNA. Without new genetic information, it is not possible for mutations to create new organ systems, new body parts or a new organism. In short, random mutations cannot be the source of a new species because this would need new genetic information.

The only evidence for “macroevolution” lies in the unquenchable optimism among Darwinists that, given enough time, anything can happen.

Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing answered Holmes thoughtfully: it may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different. There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.

— Sherlock Holmes (The Boscombe Valley Mystery, the Complete Holmes, Conan Doyle, 1928)

Most secular scientists have defined evolution as a “random forces theory” (creation happened by itself) although Darwin was religious and believed GOD was behind it. GOD is the supernatural alternative to random forces. As Phillip Johnson states in his book, “Reason in the Balance,” “if GOD is real, then a naturalistic science insists on explaining everything is out of touch with reality; if GOD is imaginary, then theologians have no subject matter.” We will see Darwinists have created a secular, materialist religion posing as science. In essence it is religion (faith based) pretending to be science.

Evidence of Design in Living Things

Rabbi Avrohom Katz wrote a book called “Designer World” which describes life processes present profound evidence of design. Darwinists try to reinterpret these processes by arguing they only appear to be designed. An examination of examples will be very helpful in making that determination. It is important to note 99 percent of all mutations cause disease, death or nothing at all. We are expected to believe the phenomenal structures and interdependent, irreducibly complex systems described below happened by the remaining one percent of random mutations by “luck and chance” and are not evidence of intelligent design. Consider the following two examples:

A mended finger

When a finger is cut there is an immediate reaction from the body’s emergency services occurs:

  • Tiny platelets, produced by bone marrow, are the first line of defense. They rush to the breach and within seconds they make a temporary patch. There are between 250,000 to 500,000 of them in each cubic millimeter of blood.
  • The heavier defenses, fibrin, then come into play. Fibrin is a protein, released by the blood plasma. It creates a meshwork of fibers across the wound, plugging the hole, stopping any more blood loss and preventing the entry of bacteria into the body. But why doesn’t this process clog our bodies causing damage or death? Since fibrin is so effective in coagulating the blood, it cannot be kept in the blood in that form.
  • Instead, a chemical enzyme called thrombin acts on a protein called fibrinogen and the resulting chemical reaction converts the fibrinogen into fibrin only when it is needed.
  • Once the blood has clotted, it begins to shrink and hardens into a scab which protects the damaged area while new tissue is forming. The clot shrinks more, pulling the tissues together and new cells at the margins begin to spread over the surface of the scab. This forms a new layer of skin at the rate of 0.5mm per day.
  • New capillary branches grow and cut nerves grow into the tissues. This is effectuated by a chemical message sent by hormones to the healthy cells to reduplicate, producing skin cells as a result of genetic coding.

Which requires more faith that “lucky” random mutations “happened” to produce this ultra-sophisticated irreducibly complex interdependent system (irreducible complexity requires multiple components to be present at once) or that such a system was produced by intelligent design?

Let’s look at a second example:

Bat Radar

Bats are blind. They use radar instead of eyes to work. The sophistication of this system is staggering.

  • Bats send out bursts of short duration at a very high frequency of ultrasonic sound pulses that constitute a hyper-sophisticated radar system. Special muscles in their inner ears reduce sensitivity to make sure the bat doesn’t deafen itself.
  • The efficiency of its radar system is demonstrated by the fact bats can feed upon flying insects at night and can capture them while flying. It detects them and tracks them with their brilliant echo-location.
  • They can differentiate between a caterpillar and the leaf on which it rests in total darkness. A bat can fly through a fence of vertical wires spaced 20 centimeters apart in complete darkness without touching any of the wires. The wingspan of the bat is not much less than 24 centimeters.
  • A bat has a special larynx, special ears, special muscles, all brilliantly coordinated, which rival or exceed the most advanced system of modern radar technology.

Which requires more faith that “lucky” random mutations “happened” to produce this ultra-sophisticated, irreducibly complex, interdependent system or that the creature was produced by intelligent design?

Why Isn’t Macroevolution observed today?

There are millions of species (including insects) on the planet. If macro evolution is a random occurrence to account for the enormous numbers of species it must be occurring constantly. Darwinists claim all genetic information was built up through “lucky” random mutations and then spread into a species by natural selection. If so, the same process must be going on continuously and at least some random macro-mutations should be observable today. Only micro-mutations have been observed. In human history, there has never been a reported birth by an offspring with a mutation that is both beneficial and outside the limits of the existing species. Longer beaks of the finches on the Galapagos Islands, the melanism in peppered moths, antibiotic resistance in bacteria or different skin colors in humans are all micro, not macro evolution. These changes cannot result in a new species.

Does the Fossil Record Support Neo-Darwinism or is it Characterized by the Absence of Transitional Forms?

Lucky, random, beneficial mutations could not have resulted in a new species in a single birth because it is mathematically impossible to be that “lucky.” It would take many thousands of mutations to create a new species. Logically, random mutations had to occur one mutation per birth at a time.

If lucky, random, beneficial mutations led to millions of new species, the proof should be in the fossil record. The record should be filled with a massive amount of these fossils showing macro-transitions which led to new species.

Darwin’s theory was incompatible with the fossil record both when he published his theory and even more so now. This is a massive problem for Darwinists so they pretend it does not exist. Darwin was very aware of this potentially fatal problem with the evidence and acknowledged this problem in “Origin of Species” on page 287:

Geological research, though it has added numerous species to existing and extinct genera, and has made the intervals between some few groups less wide than they otherwise would have been, yet has done scarcely anything in breaking down the distinction between species, by connecting them together by numerous, fine, intermediate varieties; and this not having been effected, is probably the gravest and most obvious of all the many objections which may be urged against my views.

Darwin concluded: “He who rejects this view of the imperfection of the geological record, will rightly reject the whole theory.”

Professor Stephen Gould of Harvard University observed: “the extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology …The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks are not the evidence of fossils … are never seen in the rocks.”

Professor Niles Eldridge, Curator of the Department of Invertebrates of the American Museum of Natural History agreed:

No wonder paleontologists shied away from evolution for so long. It seems never to happen … evolution cannot forever be going on someplace else. Yet that’s how the fossil record has struck many a forlorn paleontologist looking to learn something about evolution.

Reinventing Darwin, 1995 page 95.

Other scientists have weighed on the debate:

The fossil material is now so complete that the lack of transitional series cannot be explained by the scarcity of the material. It is not even possible to make a caricature of evolution out of paleo-biological facts … The deficiencies are real, they will never be filled.

Professor Heribert-Nilsson Lund from the University of Sweden

Despite the tremendous increase in geological activity in every corner of the globe and despite the discovery of many strange and hitherto unknown forms, the infinitude of connecting links has still not been discovered and the fossil record is about as discontinuous as it was when Darwin was writing the Origin.

Microbiologist Michael Denton (“Evolution: A Theory in Crisis” – 1985)

Instead of finding the gradual unfolding of life, what geologists of Darwin’s time and geologists of the present day actually find is a highly uneven or jerky record: that is, species appear in the sequence very suddenly, show little or no change during their existence in the (fossil) record, then abruptly go out of the record.

G. David Raup, Curator of Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History

(In the next article, Asher Norman will continue his study of evolution from a Jewish perspective by examining the fossil record.)

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Tisha b’Av

 
‎27 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎08:52:04 PM | Steve ElwartGo to full article
This weekend, Jews around the world commemorated Tisha b’Av (תִּשְׁעָה בְּאָב) or the ninth day of the month of Av (July–August). It is the saddest day in the Jewish calendar. It is a fast day that marks the anniversary of the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BC and the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 AD. Tisha b’Av eventually became a symbol for all the catastrophes that have befallen the Jewish people throughout its history.

Current events have fallen near this holiday that many Jews believe spell another catastrophe for their People. They would put another name alongside ancient Babylon and Rome: Iran.

One thing on Israel’s horizon is the danger of nuclear weapons being built for the purpose of destroying Israel. Iranian leaders before, during and after consummating the new Iranian nuclear deal have said that destroying Israel is their top priority. For the mullahs it surpasses both their economy and the war in Iraq. The one constant in their rhetoric is the desire to destroy Israel. They have dedicated an annual holiday (Quds Day) just to call for Israel’s destruction. Even while they were under international sanction, Iran made sure they continued their payments to Hezbollah, Israel’s mortal enemy.

Tisha b’Av

According to the Mishnah, Tisha b’Av was the date of several other disasters for the Jewish people.

Five events befell the Jews on the Ninth of Av. “On the Ninth of Av, it was decreed upon our ancestors that they would not be allowed to enter the Land of Israel, the First and Second temples were destroyed, Beitar was captured, The city of Jerusalem was plowed over.” (Taan. 4:6) According to tradition, Tisha b’Av was also the date of the expulsions of the Jews from England (1290) and Spain (1492).

Tisha b’Av in the Talmud

The importance of Tisha b’Av as a fast day was emphasized in the Talmud, which observes: “He who eats or drinks on the Ninth of Av must be considered as guilty as one who has eaten on Yom Kippur” (Taan. 30b). The final meal before the fast often consists of hard-boiled eggs and lentils, which are customarily prepared for mourners, and some people used to even put ashes in their food

Religious Practices

In addition to fasting, Tisha b’Av (known as the Black Fast), like Yom Kippur (which is termed the White Fast), is observed by refraining from wearing leather shoes, anointing with perfume, bathing, and sexual intercourse. If the ninth day falls on the observance of the Sabbeth, Tisha b’Av is moved to the next day, because no mourning is permitted on the Sabbath. From sunset to sunset, the general rule in the Talmud is that a person is obliged to observe all the mourning rites that apply in the case of the death of a next of kin (Taan. 30a). It is the only day when even the study of Torah is forbidden, since this would be a source of joy. All one is permitted to study is the Book of Job and the sections of Jeremiah and the Talmud that relate to destruction, especially of Jerusalem.

In synagogue, the congregation sits on the floor, footstools, or low benches (as would private mourners in their homes), reading by the light of candles or dim lights as a symbol of the darkness that has befallen Israel on that day. The curtain covering the ark is removed; in some Sephardic synagogues in which the ark normally has no curtain, a black curtain is hung and the Torah scrolls themselves are draped in black mantles. Certain congregations even place the Torah scroll on the floor and strew ashes over it, while those in attendance recite the words “the crown has fallen from our head” (Lam. 5:16).

The megillah of Lamentations (Eikhah) is recited in a haunting melody, with the next-to-last verse repeated by everyone so that the book ends on the hopeful note of “Take us back, O Lord, to Yourself, and let us come back; renew our days as of old” (Lam. 5:21). (This same verse is the final line sung as the ark is closed after the scroll has been returned to it following the Torah reading.) The chanting of Lamentations is followed by the recitation of a series of special piyyutim called kinot, medieval dirges that recount the destruction of the Temple and the sins of the Jewish people. The prayer leader recites the service in a monotonal and melancholy tune. Tallit and tefillin are not worn, since the community is considered to be as mourners, who do not wear them between the time of death of a loved one and the funeral; some sprinkle ashes on their heads as a symbol of mourning. Congregants do not exchange greetings upon entering or leaving the synagogue.

Work is not forbidden, though traditionally it is minimized as much as possible in accordance with the observation of Rabbi Akiva that “anyone who does work on the Ninth of Av will never see in his work any sign of blessing” (Taan. 30b).

Figure 1: Excavated stones from the Western Wall

 

Figure 1: Excavated stones from the Western Wall of the Temple Mount (Jerusalem), knocked onto the street below by Roman battering rams in 70 AD

Jewish Tradition

There is a Jewish tradition that the Messiah will be born on Tisha b’Av, reversing the centuries of travail and suffering that have been the lot of the Jewish people. Like the mystical phoenix rising from the ashes, ultimate redemption will result from the depths of destruction and despair. An expression of this surprisingly hopeful mood as the day progresses is the custom of sweeping the house on the afternoon of Tisha b’Av in case the Messiah should come. For a similar reason, women in some communities don fine clothes and put on perfume. At the afternoon service, tallit and tefillin are worn (both are usually worn during the morning service, with the exception that the tallit is worn on Kol Nidre night), a sign that the mourning practices of Tisha b’Av will end at sundown. The ark curtain and Torah mantles are restored, the Torah is read again, and the full Kaddish is recited (including the line requesting that God accept their pleas [titkabeil]). There is an additional paragraph stressing comfort and looking hopefully to the future redemption. After sundown and the breaking of the fast, some go outside for the joyful service of Kiddush Levanah (Sanctification of the Moon).

The Sabbath immediately following Tisha b’Av is called Shabbat Nachamu (Sabbath of Comfort). It takes its name from the opening Hebrew word of the haftarah, “Comfort! Yes, comfort my people,” says your God. (Isaiah 40:1, ISV). This is the first of the seven “haftarot of consolation” (leading up to the observance of Rosh Hashanah), which prophesy the redemption of Israel, its restoration to the land, and the coming of the messianic days of peace and justice.

Israel’s Bigger Crisis

Israel’s newest crisis in not its biggest one. It is the redefining of the relationship between the United States and Israel.

The basic tenets in the U.S.–Israel relationship were two-fold.

  1. There would be no surprises. Neither country would do or say something regarding the Middle East without the other country knowing about it ahead of time.
  2. There would not be daylight between the two countries. Israel and America could disagree—but never publicly.

There was a reason for this close cooperation.

Israel needs America’s support. Israel has been called a “one-bomb country”. A single nuclear bomb would level the place. It needs the protection of the United States to hold its enemies in check.

America also needs Israel’s support as well. Israel has been the only constant ally the United States has had in the region, and it is the region’s only democracy.

Since the beginning of the Obama Administration, the United States seems to be trying to position itself as the Arab world’s best friend. The current administration has allowed daylight to filter in between the two countries by publicly disagreeing with Israel’s policies.

In 2009, during a meeting with Jewish leaders, President Obama said:

Look at the past eight years. During those eight years, there was no space between us and Israel, and what did we get from that? When there is no daylight, Israel just sits on the sidelines, and that erodes our credibility with the Arab states.

Even more daylight has come between the two erstwhile close allies with the Iran deal. The U.S. allowed this situation to happen. It was not just naivete in negotiating skills, although that played a part. If the White House truly wanted to minimize the possibility of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, it would not have given up concessions the way it did. It would not have communicated its message that the military option is impossible. It would not have publicly defended Iran’s cheating on its existing promises.

Israel Alone

Israel is now between a diplomatic rock and a hard place. Israel is in an alliance with a country that does not seem to have Israel in its list of priorities. Also, the next generation of U.S. leaders being groomed do not seem to have Israel as a priority either. They do not seem to recognize the cognitive disconnect involved with accusing Israel of genocide while praising the actions of Iran and Hamas.

As the United States looks more like Europe, Israel looks more alone. Many believe that a prayer on Tisha B’Av is the most logical response to current events.

The only thing missing from this analysis is the fact that Israel will never be alone. Israel was fulfilling prophecy when it was regathered in the land in 1948 as a state for the first time in 2,000 years. Ultimately, Israel will recognize Jesus as their Messiah and true protector:

I will pour out on the house of David and on the residents of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and of supplications, and they will look to me—the one whom they pierced.” Then they will mourn for him, as for an only son. They will grieve bitterly for him, as for a firstborn son.

— Zechariah 12:10, ISV

The Endgame

Conflict in Israel has been a reality whenever Israel has existed as a nation. It has always been persecuted by its neighbors. According to the Bible, it is because God has a special plan for the nation of Israel, and Satan wants to defeat that plan. Satanically influenced hatred of Israel—and especially Israel’s God—is the reason Israel’s neighbors have always wanted to see Israel destroyed. Whether it is Sennacherib, king of Assyria; Haman, official of Persia; Hitler, leader of Nazi Germany; or the leadership of Iran, attempts to completely destroy Israel will always fail.

The persecutors of Israel will come and go, but the persecution will remain until the second coming of Christ.

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The Internet of Lies

 
‎27 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎08:50:17 PM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

Without wood, the fire goes out. Without a gossip, contention stops. Charcoal is to hot coals as wood is to fire; so also a quarrelsome man fuels strife. The words of a gossip are like delicate morsels; they sink down deep within. A clay vessel plated with a thin veneer of silver — that’s what smooth lips with a wicked heart are.

— Proverbs 26:20–23, ISV

A new information technology term coming into vogue is the “Internet of Things.” Another term that could be used to describe current Internet activity is the “Internet of Lies.”

Imagine trying to put out a forest fire with a squirt gun. Gerber Products could identify with the analogy. The baby-food company felt they were doing just that in 1997. Someone somewhere started a false rumor about the company that spread like wildfire.

In a 1997 article written by John Schmeltzer in the Chicago Tribune, there was a rumor Gerber had been involved in a class-action lawsuit and would give a $500 gift certificate to families with children to settle the suit. According to the rumor, all the parents had to do to get the money was to send a claim form along with copies of their children’s birth certificate and Social Security number to a post office box in Minneapolis.

Once the rumor caught fire, it began to spread along channels that gave it an air of legitimacy. Notices were posted in hospitals and sent home with children by schoolteachers. One corporation even put the false notification in the envelope with their employees’ paychecks.

Gerber Products tried to stamp out the bogus story, putting an announcement on several Internet websites, tracking down sources of the rumor, and informing the media. Even so, they received over 18,000 phone calls to their toll-free telephone number in the three-week period before October 1 from people requesting the bogus claim form.

According to Schmeltzer, the cost to Gerber Products of fighting this rumor amounted to millions of dollars.

Rumors are not Harmless

Passing along a rumor may seem harmless, but the victim of the tale pays an undeserved price if we are not careful about the truth. Never underestimate the power of the tongue to do others harm.

Facebook has been a great facilitator for spreading false rumors. Someone will read an article on a blog or a satire site and pass the link on as true. The post gets picked up by their Facebook “friends” and before long the post is perceived as being true and goes viral.

Abraham Lincoln fake quote

Examples of false rumors on the Internet abound:

Anyone Can Fall Victim to Internet Rumors

This author, who should know better, has even fallen victim to spreading a false Internet rumor.

Feinstein fake quote

A recent picture was floating around the Internet attributing a quote to Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) that was not true. Given the senator’s position on certain issues, it seemed to fall within the realm of possibility.

This was a good example of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions.

Consider the Source

One needs to be careful about their sources of information. The story about pastors being arrested for turning down a same-sex “wedding” came from a website designed to look like NBC.com, but was actually NBC.com.co which is a satire site.

And the homosexual couple suing Zondervan to remove verses about homosexuality from the Bible? While the story is true, the case was not the result of President Obama’s policies or the Supreme Court’s ruling. This happened while President Bush was in office and before the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.

What about the woman who wants to marry her cats? There’s no way it’s happening legally, at least not anytime soon. It falls into the same category as the stories of women who “married” a dolphin, a dog, or herself. (The last story was the source of a story arc for several prime-time American TV shows.)

The rash of fake news stories prompted commentator Ed Stetzer to write, “There are real issues about religious liberty right now (and more coming). Posting links to fake ones just makes all of us look (rightly) gullible.” Stetzer is an author, pastor and the Executive Director of LifeWay Research. He has spent so much time debunking these Christian fish stories that he half-jokingly started a series titled “Faux Christian Controversy of the Week”. The debunking business has kept him busy.

Given the seismic changes that have occurred in recent months, it is easy to believe almost anything the enemies of Christ would do. We have been blasted with headlines about sex-changes, the Supreme Court’s (SCOTUS) spinning new law out of thin air, and Planned Parenthood selling aborted baby body parts. Ideas that used to be seen as ridiculous, are now being declared “mainstream.” The SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage has opened the flood gates for people suing in courts for a raft of new “rights.” The court will now have to take up the issue of polygamy, polyamory, incest and even pedophilia in cases that are sure to be filed.

However, as followers of a Savior Who called Himself “the Truth,” we need to stop spreading rumors. The real news is outrageous and heartbreaking enough without needing exaggeration.

We should be careful with reports about people we do not like, for our tendency is to believe the worst about such people and to enjoy reporting anything that puts them in a bad light. Even when there is no malice, there is danger in taking so much delight in “telling the news” that we hurt people, sometimes even strangers. This is one of the reasons this ministry goes to great lengths not to speak ill of other ministries.

Our Responsibility

What responsibility do we as Christians have in promoting the truth of the news permeating social media?

The first thing we need to do is check the facts. Is a fact being promoted on just one site? Is it on several sites but all with exactly the same wording? Have you checked the sites to see if they are reputable, or are they satire sites?

Don’t Post What You Can’t Confirm

Posting an incorrect story not only can lead others astray, but also hurts your credibility. Inaccuracies provide fodder for those who want to cast Christians as uneducated automatons who will blindly follow whatever path they are told to take. It plays into the stereotype of a “typical” Christian.

Transgression is at work where people talk too much, but anyone who holds his tongue is prudent.

— Proverbs 10:19, ISV

What should we do if we inadvertently spread a false story?

Ed Stetzer has this advice:

  • Post a retraction. Just something like this would suffice: “Hey friends, I posted a story about _______ this weekend, and it turns out it wasn’t true! Be on guard and don’t believe everything you read out there! I’ll be more careful next time.”
  • Don’t excuse yourself by saying, “Well, it might be true.” Or, “Well, there is something like that.” “Or, well, it will be true soon.” No, you were wrong. You fell for a hoax. Say so and move on.
  • Be less gullible next time. “But,” you may think, “I’m not wise. I get fooled by this stuff all the time.” That’s OK, Scripture accounts for people like us. James 1:5 says: “Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to everyone generously without a rebuke, and it will be given to him.” (ISV)

If our friends and families cannot trust us with this type of news, many will not listen when we seek to share the good news of the Gospel.

“As Christians,” concludes Stetzer, “we have a higher standard than even the journalist. We aren’t protecting the reputation of an organization or a website; we bear the name of our King.”

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Inside the Iran Nuclear Deal

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎11:27:48 PM | Steve ElwartGo to full article
The Islamic takeover in Iran was one of the most significant non-communist mass uprisings of the last century. It is now threatening vital economic and political interests of the Western world and the region. The Iranian Revolution also marked Islam’s revival as a force to be reckoned with in regional and international politics. They are a country with an agenda for regional, even global Islamic homogony. Since they are also seeking nuclear capability, the rest of the world has been forced to curtail their ambitions.

After months of negotiations, the West, led by the United States, got what they were looking for, a deal with Iran on its nuclear development program. The results of the negotiation leaves one to think that Iran got a very good deal and the West got … a deal.

For those who believe the U.S. got a bad deal, they are right, but that never was the point. Limiting Iran’s nuclear program was never the primary aim of the United States in these negotiations. The P5+1 was brow-beaten by the U.S. into the agreement for different aims:

  1. Preventing an Israeli attack on Iran
  2. Transforming the United States into a more forgiving, less imposing power
  3. Establishing diplomacy as a great American good;
  4. Turning Iran into a great regional power to maintain a balance of power in the region; and
  5. Enhancing the world’s perception of the United States as a nation of vision and peace.

Concerns with the Agreement

Since the deal is an agreement and not a treaty, the United States Senate will not have to ratify it for the arrangement to go into effect. That is a good thing for the Obama administration. The agreement stood a good chance of not even getting twenty votes in the Senate since critics on both ends of the political spectrum have reservations about the terms of the arrangement. Some of those concerns are:

  • The deal leaves Iran’s nuclear infrastructure intact. Its original negotiating position for the P5+1 countries (except for Russia) was that Iran would have its nuclear facilities open for inspection anytime, anywhere. The deal as finalized allows for inspections at some times and only in some places. (Secretary of State John Kerry stated after negotiations were completed that “anytime, anywhere” inspections were never on the table.) In return the West agreed to give up its sanctions and Iran agreed to partially give up its uranium enrichment program. However, research on its uranium enrichment and ballistic missile program will continue at its pre-agreement pace.
  • The easing of sanctions on Iran could further destabilize the Middle East. Anywhere from $300 to $400 million will now flow into the Iranian economy. The money turned over to Iran will probably not go toward improving the lot of the Iranian people. Rather, it will flow into the coffers of the Iranian leadership. That means more money for groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Houthi insurgency in Yemen. The extra money being spread around those countries will decrease the West’s influence in the region and increase Iran’s likelihood of becoming the regional hegemon.
  • Arab countries in the region, plus Turkey, believe they need nuclear programs of their own. In May, the “Sunday Times” of London reported the Saudis had “taken the ‘strategic decision’ to acquire off-the-shelf atomic weapons from Pakistan,” citing unnamed senior American officials. While a Saudi defense official Tuesday dismissed this as “speculation,” he did not deny the report. With the United States disengaging from the region, countries such as Saudi Arabia feel they are being left unprotected and will have to fend for themselves. A nuclear-capable Iran will make a dangerous part of the world even more dangerous.
  • The deal is temporary. It will only last 10 years. The deal will the expire. In the intervening decade between the signing of the agreement and its expiration, Iran will continue its work on a research and development program to develop a nuclear weapon. When one looks at the details of the agreement, one can see there isn’t even a slowdown in R&D for their nuclear program.

There is a reason why Iran demanded a 10 year agreement. This period is the limit to which Islam allows its followers to enter into a contract.

Taqiyya

Prominent Muslims have one face they show to the West and another to the folks back home; they are practicing one of the prime principles of their religion: Taqiyya. According to Cyrus H. Gordon “this is a distinctively Iranian institution, which survives into modern times.”

Taqiyya (or kitman) is “concealing or disguising one’s beliefs, convictions, ideas, feelings, opinions, and/or strategies at a time of imminent danger, whether now or later in time, to save oneself from physical and/or mental injury.”

A one-word translation for this would be “dissimulation”. It could also be termed a religious lie. Taqiyya is one of the main tools of “stealth jihad”. The principle of Taqiyya extends into agreements and treaties as well.

In the concept of Taqiyya, an individual may lie or deny his or her own religion while posing as a member of some other faith if confronted with acute personal danger. Professor Gordon illustrated this from modern Iranian life by showing how Shiites of Iran are permitted to pose with impunity as Sunnites when going on the pilgrimage to Mecca, which is in the hands of the Arab Sunnites who have had a decades old rivalry with Shiites.

According to all four recognized schools of Sunni jurisprudence, called the Madhhab, war against the infidel goes on in perpetuity, until “all chaos ceases, and all religion belongs to Allah” (Quran 8:39). The Encyclopedia of Islam states:

“The duty of the jihad exists as long as the universal domination of Islam has not been attained. Peace with non-Muslim nations is, therefore, a provisional state of affairs only; the chance of circumstances alone can justify it temporarily. Furthermore there can be no question of genuine peace treaties with these nations; only truces, whose duration ought not, in principle, to exceed ten years, are authorized. But even such truces are precarious, inasmuch as they can, before they expire, be repudiated unilaterally should it appear more profitable for Islam to resume the conflict.”

Dire Consequences

Even with the generous terms of the agreement toward Iran that country would have no compunction in violating the terms of the pact. Combined with the principle of Taqiyya, what is left is an agreement that is not worth the time nor effort put into it. The agreement will destabilize the region further, put Israel into even greater danger, and embolden Iran to be even more blatant in its support of terrorism.

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Christianophobia

 
‎20 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎11:26:13 PM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

How blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake because the kingdom from heaven belongs to them! How blessed are you whenever people insult you, persecute you, and say all sorts of evil things against you falsely because of me! Rejoice and be extremely glad, because your reward in heaven is great! That’s how they persecuted the prophets who came before you.

— Matthew 5:10–12, ISV

Types of Persecution

Persecution comes in many forms. There is the persecution that affects the body: the beatings, the shootings, the drownings, the crucifixions we have all read about brings into focus the price some pay to follow Christ.

There is also another kind of persecution, a soft persecution many more Christians endure. People who are Christians are being marginalized. With ever increasing frequency those who express a deeply held Christian view, are looked at as an impediment to progress.

Michael Lind, a progressive writer for “Politico” magazine suggests the American South, the “buckle of the Bible Belt”, is an “outlier” to modern norms. He believes:

The United States would be much less exceptional in general, and in particular more like other English-speaking democracies such as Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand were it not for the effects on U.S. politics and culture of the American South.

Lind feels one of the attitudes holding America back is its “religiosity”.

The American government is also showing increasing signs of hostility toward Christians. In February 2013, the Obama administration announced the rights of religious conscience for individuals will not be protected under the Affordable Care Act. The United States Supreme Court has rejected the definition of marriage which has existed for millennia and now recognizes an un-Biblical view of marriage as being between two people instead of between a man and a woman. This ruling will open a floodgate of new definitions of what is a marriage.

Not only are Christians forced to accept this new paradigm in worldview, they are also being pressured to forgo their religious convictions. They are being coerced into doing things against their deeply held beliefs.

George Yancey and book

George Yancey is a tenured professor at the University of North Texas (UNT) in the Sociology Department. He has a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Texas at Austin, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Economics. Dr. Yancey has spoken on racial issues over 25 times in different churches, conferences and retreats and has been a consultant on racial diversity in churches.

Yancey also has a blog site titled, “Black, White and Gray” part of the Pantheos blog series. He has also written a number of books, among them: “Compromising Scholarship,” “Dehumanizing Christians,” “Beyond Racial Gridlock” and “So Many Christians, So Few Lions.”

His newest book is “Hostile Environment: Understanding and Responding to Anti-Christian Bias.” In the introduction of the book Dr. Yancey writes:

I remember vividly a disturbing conversation that I once had with a good Christian friend who taught in a high school. He told me that he mentioned one day in class that some Christians around the world were being killed for their faith. To his amazement, some students approved of these murders. In their minds, it was time for Christians to face the same death that Christians had inflicted on others. I was struck by the ahistorical nature of this line of thought. Although Christians in the United States do not face jail or death for their faith, there is a long history of Christians around the world being punished for their faith. I also wondered how so much hatred had developed against Christians. This conversation took place almost two decades ago, and I see little evidence that this type of hatred has abated.

As part of his research on the topic of Christianophobia, he and his associate, Dr. David Williamson (UNT), conducted a survey that elicited a variety of hostile statements aimed at conservative Christians. One statement in particular from a 36–45-year old male was striking: “The only good Christian is a dead Christian.” Dr. Yancey thinks the respondent saw themselves in a cultural war, one that has a take-no-prisoner mentality.

The thrust of Dr. Yancey’s book is what should the response to such attitudes be? How does one respond to such an attitude? Does one turn the other cheek? Should one back away from such confrontations, or does one stand and confront it. The book is Yancey’s attempt to share his insights on how best to respond to those who dislike or fear Christians.

Christianophobia is a vexing problem. When a person calls themselves Christian, the word conjures up a series of preconceptions about that person. Words like Bible-thumper, Holy Roller, intolerant, backward and uneducated come to mind. People use derogatory terms about Christians without fear of reprisal. If terms with the same degree of prejudice are uttered about other groups, societal wrath would pour down upon them. If fact, few readers of this article have even heard of the term Christianophobia, while the terms Islamophobia and homophobe have made their way into popular lexicon.

Just as racism is a real phenomenon in the world, bigotry toward Christians is very real as well. Dr. Yancey believes:

There is no one thing we can do, or cause we can fight for, to address Christianophobia. We must initiate a sophisticated discussion of possible remedies and struggle with a nuanced approach in order to reach compromise.

Toward the close of his book, George Yancey writes that we can fight religious intolerance as we fight racial prejudice:

We should follow in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr., who, even as he sought to fight for the civil rights of blacks, did not forget the humanness of the whites who opposed him. He fought to provide civil rights to African Americans but also to allow whites to redeem themselves from the ugly racism they had supported.

I call on my fellow Christian brothers and sisters to use their social power to aid other Christians but, as much as it is possible, to do so in a way that maintains relationships with potential social or political enemies instead of pushing them away.

The root of Christianophobia can be found in Man’s sin nature. Man is in constant rebellion against God in ways large and small and seeks to deny God’s power over mankind.

In the words of George Tillotson:

The true ground of most men’s prejudice against the Christian doctrine is because they have no mind to obey it.

A Koinonia Institute (KI) Intelligence interview with Dr. Yancey was broadcast July 6, 2015, and can be heard at the KI website.

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A Life or Death Choice

 
‎14 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎12:45:04 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article
Some of the news coming out of the Middle East carries the same thread; Christians have to renounce their faith or die.

One article in this newsletter titled “Peace vs. Terrorism” demonstrates this choice clearly. One of the twenty-one Egyptian men beheaded on a Libyan beach last February, Mathew Ayairga, was asked the question, “Do you reject Christ?” In that brief moment, Ayairga had to make a choice, the result of which could have meant the difference between life and death. In this case, Ayairga chose death. Ayairga, who was not even a Christian up until then, saw the peace and tranquility of the others in his group and sought that same peace. His reply to his captors was, “Their God is my God!” As was the thief on the cross, so too that man was saved in the last hour by the example of others.

Not everyone has made the same decision.

In this month’s issue of Christianity Today there is an article titled When Christians Say the Shahada.

The question the magazine article asks is, What is a person’s status as a Christian, if they do recant? Can they be recognized as Christian again once they renounce their faith? Many Christians are trying to answer that same question.

One case the article mentions involved Christians in Kenya where al Shabaaba gunmen attacked a mall in Nairobi and said all the Muslims could leave. One man, an Indian, tried to leave and was asked, “What is the name of Muhammad’s mother?” When he couldn’t answer, they shot him.

As a result, some Kenyan Christians have been exchanging information on how to “pass” as Muslims. Some have gone so far as to recite the Shahada in Arabic.

Reciting the Shahada, or testimony, is all one needs to enter Islam. It is the most important of all the Five Pillars of Islam.

The Shahada

 

Figure 1: The Shahada

In English, the Shahada is:

“There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”

All it takes for a person to convert to Islam is for them to recite the Shahada. Most Islamic sources say this statement needs to be freely given with conviction, but many groups, such as ISIS and the Muslim Brotherhood, do not bother with such niceties. They think a person just has to say the words and they become a Muslim, even with a gun (or knife) to their head. Once they say those words, they are also subject to death as an apostate if they recant their profession of the Muslim faith.

Besides the view of many Muslims that just saying the Shahada makes one a Muslim, there is a deeper issue. Is saying, “There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah”, make one a Christian apostate, even if it is said under duress?

What Makes an Apostate?

Leaders in Kenya and elsewhere are divided on the issue. One group believes saying the Shahada does separate oneself from Christianity. As David Oginde, head of Christ is the Answer Ministries, one of Kenya’s largest Christian organizations said, “A true Christian must be ready to live and to die for the faith.”

However, Samuel Githinji, a theology lecturer at St. Paul’s University, a conservative Anglican institution in Nairobi, says this is not the case. Githinji makes his case saying:

Christians are obligated to save their lives and others’ lives as much as possible. Denying the faith is more subtle than the mere voicing of certain words.

Some are quick to point out that renouncing your faith is not an unforgivable sin. They note that even Peter denied Christ not once, but three times.

It is easy to consider the matter in hypotheticals, but when it happens to you, one may reconsider.

This author knew Harold Rigney, a Roman Catholic priest and the rector of Fu Jen Catholic University in Peiping (later Peking, then Beijing) when Mao Zedong’s Communist guerrillas took over mainland China.

Rigney spent over four years imprisoned in Beijing and was subject to constant torture. He was forced to squat for hours at a time, starved, beaten, exposed to frigid temperatures with only a thin cotton blanket, and made to wear cast iron shackles for weeks at a time. (He suffered constant pain from the restraints after his release, requiring a cane to walk. Eventually he was confined to a wheelchair due to the pain.) He was also forced to endure mock executions, all in an effort to get him to renounce his faith.

Under duress, Fr. Rigney made numerous confessions and renunciations only to recant them later. Rigney once confided:

It is strange how one can be tortured for a long time and lose the sense of the duration of time.

He also confessed to being a Nazi spy during World War II (his religious order was founded by a German national named Arnold Janssen). Rigney also confessed at various times to being both an FBI and a CIA agent.

However, it was his multiple renunciations of Christ that was his worst torture. It would haunt him the rest of his life.

What does the Bible have to say about this?

In the book of Hebrews, there are repeated warnings against spiritual unbelief. The readers of this epistle were on the verge of renouncing the Christian faith and returning to their Jewish ways. Paul urged his readers not to retreat from persecution (10:32–39), but to hasten to the front lines. He tells them not to “draw back” (10:39), but to “… go to him outside the camp and endure the insults he endured.” (13:13).

In Laos, if someone became an evangelical Christian, they would be “asked” to fill out and sign a form, which says, in part:

I, [name], who live in [location], believe in a foreign religion, which the imperialists have used for their own benefit to divide the united front and to build power for themselves against the local authorities. Now I and my family clearly see the intentions of the enemy and regret the deeds which we have committed. We have clearly seen the goodness of the Party and the Government. Therefore, I and my family voluntarily and unequivocally resign from believing in this foreign religion.

If one would sign the form, there is an implied promise not to participate in Christianity under punishment of law. If the form was not signed, one could expect humiliation, harassment, and persecution, including probable imprisonment and torture.

Hundreds of rural Christians had been forced to sign the form in public, then compelled to participate in animistic sacrifices.

This pattern of persecution is occurring all over the world.

Worldwide Persecution

According to Open Doors, 2014 saw a huge increase in violence against Christians. Researchers for the group found that 4,344 Christians were killed for faith-related reasons between Dec. 1, 2013 and Nov. 30, 2014 — more than twice the number killed during the same period the previous year. Those numbers are a low estimate, as the group only counts incidents in which the victim can be identified by name and an exact cause has been attributed.

In its annual “World Watch” report, which ranks the 50 countries where persecution of Christians is most severe, the group said the past year “will go down in history for having the highest level of global persecution of Christians in the modern era” and suggested that “the worst is yet to come.”

Given the current trend, Christians of today are suffering under more persecution than at any time in modern history. Whether one believes they need to stand up for their faith in the face of persecution or “live to fight another day”, may be a point of contention, but the Bible is clear as to what a Christian should do.

In the book of Timothy the following passage is found:

Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in union with the Messiah Jesus will be persecuted.

2 Timothy 3:12, ISV

The author of Hebrews also admonishes:

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. … Bless those who persecute you. Keep on blessing them, and never curse them.

Romans 12:4, 14, ISV

Jesus spoke several times of persecution. The book of Matthew records Jesus saying the following:

How blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, because the kingdom from heaven belongs to them! “How blessed are you whenever people insult you, persecute you, and say all sorts of evil things against you falsely because of me!

Matthew 5:10–11, ISV

One thing that is clear is that the notion that one can compromise their Christian values in little things, but can stand for them when it becomes a life or death choice is operating under a delusion. If one compromises their beliefs under “soft persecution” (government fines, isolation, ridicule), they will compromise them when that soft persecution turns hard.

Where will you draw the line and defend your faith in Jesus Christ?

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The Moral Case for Capitalism

 
‎14 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎12:42:11 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

Stop storing up treasures for yourselves on earth, where moths and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But keep on storing up treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moths and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal, because where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is evil, your whole body will be full of darkness. Therefore, if the light within you has turned into darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters, because either he will hate one and love the other, or be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and riches!

— Matthew 6:19–24 ISV

In his recent trip to South America, Pope Francis urged the downtrodden of the world to change the world economic order, denouncing a “new colonialism” by agencies that impose austerity programs, and calling for the poor to have the “sacred rights” of labor, lodging and land.

He went on to say that unbridled capitalism was destroying the planet: “Today, the scientific community realizes what the poor have long told us: harm, perhaps irreversible harm, is being done to the ecosystem.”

He quoted what Basil of Caesarea said of the relentless pursuit of money, calling it “the dung of the devil.” Francis said poor countries should not be reduced to being providers of raw material and cheap labor for developed countries.

During the speech in the city of Santa Cruz, Bolivia he said:

Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and, as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home, sister and mother earth.

(Translated from the original Spanish)

He called for the poor to be given the “sacred rights” of work, housing and land. “Let us not be afraid to say it: we want change, real change, structural change,” he said.

The 78-year-old Pope criticized an economic system that “has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature” and singled out for criticism “corporations, loan agencies, certain ’free trade’ treaties, and the imposition of measures of ’austerity’ which always tighten the belt of workers and the poor.”

Many commentators think the Roman Pontiff was specifically referring to the global economic crisis, which has gripped much of Europe and South America. Others took Francis’ comments as a general attack against capitalism.

Apparently the Bolivian President thought Francis was referring to capitalism when he heard the speech as well.

A Confusing Gift and a Confusing Doctrine

In a meeting with Francis, President Evo Morales presented the Pope a crucifix styled in the form of a hammer and sickle.

Figure 1: A “Communist Crucifix”

Figure 1: A “Communist Crucifix”

The reaction of Pope is palpable. It looks as if Francis is not happy with the crucifix being superimposed on a communist symbol. Because of the background noise in the room, it is not clear what he said, but initial reports showed he muttered “eso no está bien” (That is not right).

The Guardian reports: “The gift from the leftwing leader [Evo Morales] caused an immediate stir among conservative Catholics who said the Pontiff was being manipulated for ideological reasons.”

Later the Vatican issued a different interpretation of what the Pope said. Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said Morales told Francis the “Communist Crucifix” was modeled on a design created by the Rev. Luis Espinal, a politically active priest murdered by right-wing paramilitaries in Bolivia in 1980. The Pope stopped and prayed at the site of the shooting on the Wednesday of his visit.

Lombardi is quoted by the Guardian as saying the Pope “is more likely to have uttered ‘eso no sabía bien’ (‘I didn’t know that’) in bemusement at the origins of the present.”

Confusion and concern seemed to be the order of the day.

Catholic executives struggled with the Pope’s comments in the light of their responsibilities to their stockholders. Catholics make up about 17% of the world’s population and a greater proportion in Latin America and swaths of Europe, so the church’s teachings on business can affect commerce world-wide.

“It is a critical moment now for the unity within the church about how to evaluate capitalism,” says Luigino Bruni, a professor of economics at Lumsa University in Rome. Professor Bruni helped organize a church conference last week intended to promote the church’s social doctrine.

A Moral Case for Capitalism

There is, however, a good case to be made for capitalism as the best way for the poor to improve their material lot in life.

The basic argument for a market economy in moral terms is that with all its weaknesses it is a system which pays respect to human dignity because it allows human freedom. Capitalism permits individuals the freedom to buy and sell, save and invest, choose their preferred form of employment, and develop the skills which they feel appropriate. It allows minorities these same rights too.

Socialism does not.

Socialism pays scant respect to human dignity because it denies human freedom. It forever restricts economic freedoms. Both systems have been put to the test and one can examine the record. When comparing the two systems it is vital to compare fact with fact, and ideal with ideal. It is wrong to judge the facts of capitalism with the ideals of socialism, much as it is wrong to judge the facts of socialism with the ideals of capitalism. When we look at the facts, what we see in one country after another is that when politicians believe (with Rousseau) people are born free but are everywhere in chains because of circumstances—and correct this by creating a socialist utopia—the vesting of property rights in the state leads to a loss of personal freedoms, the direction of investment, the direction of labor and a totalitarian state.

Figure 2: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Figure 2: Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a 20th-century German scholar who urged Christians to follow Christ whatever the cost. Returning to his native Germany from Union Seminary in New York, Bonhoeffer (1906–1945) dared to oppose Adolf Hitler. He was arrested, imprisoned, and executed for his association with a plot to murder Hitler. What follows is a section of a commentary on Matthew 6:19–24; it comes from his most famous work, “The Cost of Discipleship”.

Jesus does not forbid the possession of property in itself. He was man; he ate and drank like his disciples, and thereby sanctified the good things of life. These necessities, which are consumed in use and which meet the legitimate requirements of the body, are to be used by the disciples with thankfulness. Earthly goods are given to be used, not to be collected. In the wilderness God gave Israel the manna every day, and they had no need to worry about food and drink. Indeed, if they kept any of the manna over until the next day, it went bad. In the same way, the disciple must receive his portion from God every day. If he stores it up as a permanent possession, he spoils not only the gift, but himself as well, for he sets his heart on accumulated wealth, and makes it a barrier between himself and God. Where our treasure is, there is our trust, our security, our consolation and our God. Hoarding is idolatry.

But where are we to draw the line between legitimate use and unlawful accumulation? Let us reverse the word of Jesus and our question is answered: “Where thy heart is, there shall thy treasure be also.” Our treasure may of course be small and inconspicuous, but its size is immaterial; it all depends on the heart, on ourselves. And if we ask how we are to know where our hearts are, the answer is just as simple—everything which hinders us from loving God above all things and acts as a barrier between ourselves and our obedience to Jesus is our treasure, and the place where our heart is.

If our hearts are entirely given to God, it is clear that we cannot serve two masters; it is simply impossible—at any rate all the time we are following Christ. It would of course be tempting to show how far we had advanced in the Christian life by endeavoring to serve two masters and giving each his due, both God and Mammon. Why should we not be happy children of the world just because we are the children of God? After all, do we not rejoice in his good gifts, and do we not receive our treasures as a blessing from him? No, God and the world, God and its goods are incompatible, because the world and its goods make a bid for our hearts, and only when they have won them do they become what they really are. That is how they thrive, and that is why they are incompatible with allegiance to God.

Our hearts have room only for one all-embracing devotion, and we can only cleave to one Lord. Every competitor to that devotion must be hated.

As Jesus says, there is no alternative either we love God or we hate him.

There are those capitalists who hoard their money. They use the gifts God has given them for their own pleasure while ignoring the needs of others. There are also those who have been blessed with business success. These people understand their wealth is a gift from God and they are to be good stewards of that gift.

Through the Eye of a Needle

Those with wealth can many times carry a special burden because they have been given this blessing. As Jesus said:

Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into the kingdom of God.

— Matthew 19:24, ISV

A question for all of us is “Can we fit through that eye?”

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Savior of Worlds

 
‎06 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎08:15:41 PM | Steve ElwartGo to full article

Learn to practice what is good; seek justice, alleviate oppression, defend orphans in court, and plead the widow’s case.

Isaiah 1:17 ISV

On Thursday, July 2, the world lost a great man. He was a common man, not well known. Just as Mordecai received no rewards until late in his life, so too this man was given acclimation only in the sunset of his.

The man was Nicholas Winton, also known as “The British Schindler”. His work was part of what became known as the “Kindertransport”, a cavalcade that saved almost 700 Jewish children from certain death in Nazi death camps. He kept his role a secret for nearly fifty years.

The story of the Kindertransport reads like a Grimm’s Fairy Tale:

Once upon a time there was a country ruled by a wicked tyrant. He was filled with hatred for anything and anyone he considered to be non-Aryan.

Most of all he hated the Jews. Their right to exist was in peril. He passed laws against them that took away every right all of us today take for granted.

Even their choice of names was denied them: Jews were forced to change their names to Sara or Israel, another way the Nazis singled them out for humiliation and punishment.

Jewish means of livelihood were taken away. Their children became outcasts; they were expelled from school and forbidden to take part in normal activities, such as walking in the park, playing games, and seeing a movie. Adults were imprisoned arbitrarily — their every moment was lived overshadowed by danger.

Deborah Hodge – Rescuing the Children

One Child’s Story

One of those outcasts was Irene Kirstein (Watts). She told her story that began early in the morning of December 10, 1938. Little Irene boarded a train in Berlin, Germany bound for England and a holiday. The thought of the trip thrilled Kirstein, but she didn’t understand why so many other youngsters were on-board. She also didn’t understand why there were tears in the grown-ups’ eyes.

Reality did not sink in until she got off at her last stop in London. There she looked for her mother on the platform, but Irene never found her. Only then did she realize her mother had lied to get her on the train alone.

Her mother stayed behind and Irene never saw her again.

Figure 2: Members of the Kindertransport

 

Figure 2: Members of the Kindertransport

This scene was repeated for others who were part of a mass exodus between March and August 1939 from Germany to the safety of England, fleeing certain death. Over 10,000 Jewish children left their homes and families in Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and the Free City of Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland). They journeyed across Europe to Britain on trains, boats, and planes without their parents. They traveled to a new country and a new life. Although they didn’t know it, many of them would be orphaned by Auschwitz. Irene Kirstein’s mother would be gassed at that concentration camp.

“Nicky’s Children” were part of the migration known as “The Winton Train”.

I’m in Prague… Don’t bother bringing your skis.

In December 1938 a friend, Martin Blake, asked Winton to forego his planned ski vacation and visit him in Czechoslovakia. There Blake had traveled in his capacity as an associate of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia. Convinced that a European war was imminent, Winton went to Prague and viewed the situation for himself. There he was shocked to see refugee camps filled with Jews and political opponents from the Sudetenland. A British relief organization was set up to save the adults, but the children had no one.

Evil Triumphs When Good Men Do Nothing

When Winton became aware of the children’s dilemma, he could not turn away and do nothing. He set up a makeshift office and in three weeks he interviewed thousands of parents willing to part with their loved ones to give them a chance at life. Armed with their details and photographs, he returned to London to convince the British Government of the need to do something.

He spent the next nine months raising funds, organizing transport, and finding foster families. Alarmed at the slow processes, he began creating fake papers:

“We didn’t bring anyone in illegally. We just speeded up the process.”

The result was a caravan of eight trains carrying 669 Jewish children to London. Their journey took them through Germany to Holland, then by ship to England, and then once again by train to London, where they joined their new families. The last train out, however, brought Nicholas his greatest heartbreak. The train carried the most children, over 251. Those children were not as fortunate as the others.

On Sept. 1, 1939, the day Germany and the Soviet Union occupied Czechoslovakia, all borders were closed. After waiting two hours, the Gestapo ordered the train to leave the station. All the passengers on board disappeared. Without question, they were murdered along with 1.1 million other Czech Jews at Auschwitz. The thought of losing those children tormented Nicholas Winton for his entire life.

After the war, wishing to be involved with the rehabilitation of Europe’s refugees, he worked for several international organizations. He retired early, settled in Maidenhead, England and dedicated the rest of his life to others.

As for Nicky’s Children, some of them grew up to be notable individuals. Their names are familiar to a few people, but most are not. An Emmy Award-winning documentary describing the Kindertransport and what became of the children was produced in 2002 by the Prague-based filmmaker Joe Schlesinger titled Nicholas Winton: The Power of Good. The film was narrated by one of Nicky’s Children.

For almost fifty years, Winton did not speak of his actions. The man thought of work he did merely as a job. His wife Grete knew little of his sojourn until 1988. When cleaning out the attic of their home, she found his scrapbook, a list of names, old photographs, and journals documenting his rescue operation. She passed the documents on to Elisabeth Maxwell, a Holocaust researcher and wife of newspaper manager Robert Maxwell. The latter got wind of it and an article about Winton appeared in the “Sunday People” newspaper.

The story then took on a life of its own.

Secret Work, Public Rewards

For his efforts, Winton was honored in 1983 with the Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2003, and recognized for his work by the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 538). In 1999, he was also awarded the Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk Order by Czech President Václav Havel in a ceremony at Hradčany Castle. Five years later, Winton returned to Prague to be admitted to the Czech Order of The White Lion. The Czech government also nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize several times.

But the greatest honor given to this quiet man came in February 1988. It came in the form of a talk show.

A Long Awaited Reunion

The producers of a television show, “That’s Life!” contacted Winton and informed him that they were going to do a story about him. The producers asked him to come to the studio to critique the accuracy of that story. Unbeknownst to Winton, the producers had found over 80 survivors of the Winton Train, all of them now in their sixties. Those children, their children, and their grandchildren all came to do homage to the man. Together, hundreds of people were at the studio, representing the estimated five-thousand people who are alive in the world because of Nicholas Winton.

Figure 3: Nicky’s Children

 

Figure 3: Nicky’s Children

Save one Man, Save the Entire World

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth from 1991 to 2013, called Sir Nicholas a “giant of moral courage” and “one of the heroes of our time.”

He went on to say:

“Our sages said that saving a life is like saving a universe [Sanhedrin 37a]. Sir Nicholas saved hundreds of universes. He was a giant of moral courage and determination, and he will be mourned by Jewish people around the world.”

Sir Nicholas died in his sleep on June 30 at Wexham Hospital in Slough, with his daughter Barbara and two grandchildren at his side. He was 106.

Well done, good and trustworthy servant… Come and share your master’s joy!

Matthew 25:21, ISV

“He Who Saves a Man, Saves the World Entire”

 

“He Who Saves a Man, Saves the World Entire”

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The Benedict Option

 
‎06 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎08:13:41 PM | Steve ElwartGo to full article
“Have we been transported back to ancient Rome?” That is the question Christians of all stripes are asking. The world today is descending into an “anything goes” culture. Throughout the world we are seeing signs of decay. Within Western Culture we are seeing signs of bureaucratic decay, massive public debt and political systems incapable of responding to challenges. Many countries are pouring money into a military seemingly incapable of fulfilling its basic role of defense. We have a culture where the most dangerous place for a child is inside their mother’s womb.

Europe is seeing all these issues. Its tentative Union is falling apart. Its common defense (i.e. NATO) seems impotent against recent Russian aggression in the region. The European Union is also failing economically with Greece’s unwillingness to stop its profligate spending. Recent elections in Spain also point to a populace tired of “austerity” and is considering only honoring its “legitimate debts”, loans made in good faith by others that politicians in Spain consider “unfair”.

Southeast Asia is facing growing Chinese expansionism and is helpless against the coming onslaught. Radical Islam is advancing across the Middle East, making to secret of killing Christians and selling their women and children into sexual slavery.

The United States and Canada are also seeing all these problems. They are seeing all the problems mentioned above plus a plethora of laws being disseminated that are restricting people’s freedoms.

World news outlets have focused on the United States and the sea change that nation is experiencing. The two U.S. Supreme Court cases, one on Obamacare and one on Same-Sex marriages, have given many people pause. While some are celebrating the decisions, other are decrying them. It is not only the descent into hedonism and socialism that they disparage, but also the blatant rewriting of law, contrary to the country’s founding documents.

The world is experiencing structural collapse and rising decadence, declining religious observance, the redefinition and the resulting break-up of the family, and a general loss of cultural cohesion.

No wonder Rod Dreher, writing in Time Magazine, said we Christians must consider ourselves exiles in our own land:

Christians must understand that things are going to get much more difficult for us. We are going to have to learn how to live with at least a mild form of persecution. And we are going to have to change the way we practice our faith and teach it to our children, to build resilient communities.

Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George put the danger of creeping secularism of society succinctly:

I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.

A State of Decay

Damon Linker is a senior correspondent at TheWeek.com and the author of The Theocons and The Religious Test.

Linker points out the religious conservatives in America are divided and demoralized as they see their former “moral majority” becoming a “moral minority”. He analyzes the political impact as right wing cultural warrior’s surrender and head to the hills to hunker down.

The mood among social conservatives has been darkening for years, as a liberal Democrat has taken and held the White House, as the Republican Party has placed greater emphasis on economic concerns than culture-war issues, and (most of all) as same-sex marriage has come to be accepted by more than half of the country and Democrats have begun to embrace it without apology.

But nothing compares to the gloom that’s set in during the weeks since the passage of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act sparked a rapid and widespread condemnation of religious traditionalists, not only by gay activists and liberal Democrats, but also by a number of Republicans with national stature and high-profile members of the business community. Suddenly social conservatives began to think the unthinkable: Is it possible that we’re now in the minority, with our freedoms subject to the whims of a hostile majority that will use the power of the modern liberal state (especially anti-discrimination laws) to enforce public conformity to secular, anti-Christian norms?

Has the moral decline gone too far to reverse?

Many Christians believe it is not too late and take comfort in the words in 2nd Chronicles:

… when my people humble themselves—the ones who are called by my name—and pray, seek me, and turn away from their evil practices, I myself will listen from heaven, I will pardon their sins, and I will restore their land.

— 2 Chronicles 7:14, ISV

They believe if a there is revival in their country, like the one Israel experienced under King Hezekiah (2 Kings 18), their country will be saved. Others think we are too late, we will experience God’s abandonment wrath as foretold in Hosea:

My people are destroyed because they lack knowledge of me. Because you rejected that knowledge, I will reject you as a priest for me. Since you forget the Law of your God, I will also forget your children.

— Hosea 4:6, ISV

For both groups there is an idea being thrown around which used to be thought of as a fringe notion, but is now being considered in a more serious light.

That concept is the “Benedict Option”.

The Benedict Option

Around the year 500, twenty-five years after barbarians deposed the last Roman emperor, Romulus Augustus, a young man from central Italy known to history as Benedict was sent to Rome by his wealthy parents to finish his education.

Disgusted by the dissolute and licentious life in the city, Benedict fled to the forest to pray as a hermit. From that experience, he decided he had to separate himself from the World. This was not an uncommon act. According to the author Eric Dean:

The political and social disorder that accompanied the end of the Roman Empire induced many people to turn away from society. The idea of an isolated ascetic life had developed in the East, particularly in Egypt, where St. Anthony inspired many. Some individual hermits began to form monastic communities, but for the most part the emphasis was still upon the private war between the spirit and the world.

Benedict formed a monastic society, dedicated to prayer and fasting away from the distractions and evil influences of society. This society is known today as the Benedictines. Some people think Benedict’s experience applies to today. The Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre believes Benedict showed it is possible to build “new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained” in a Dark Age—including, perhaps, an age like our own.

For MacIntyre, Western Civilization is entering a period like the Fall of Rome. The decline is not being felt acutely as the Romans did because it is being masked by the illusion liberty and prosperity. Once liberty and prosperity are irrevocably eroded will the true nature of the fall will be felt.

In his 1981 book After Virtue, MacIntyre argued the Enlightenment’s failure to replace a dying Christianity caused Western Civilization to lose its moral coherence. Like the early medievals, we have also been cut off from our roots, and a shadow of cultural amnesia is falling across the country.

A disease in what can be called The Great Forgetting is taking a particular toll on American Christianity, losing its members in dramatic numbers. Those who stay within churches often succumb to a theological relativism where moral precepts will change over time and worship is characterized with a feel-good message during a service rather than the Word of God. They are forgetting the moral principles that lie at the heart of our faith.

Sociologists call this “moralistic therapeutic deism,” which is destroying historic Christian moral and theological orthodoxy.

A recent Pew survey found Jews in America are being drawn into the secular progressive narrative even faster than Christians. Orthodox Jews are resisting the trend and many are doing this by living in separate communities that adhere to practices and traditions distinct from the World.

Hence the Benedict Option.

Fight or Flight

Christians are considering whether they should stay engaged with the world or withdraw from the mainstream. These people believe they need to be modern day Benedicts. They are certain the Culture War is lost. They consider their only salvation is to unplug themselves from the culture to protect their faith and their family from the corrosive effects of modernity and taking a more orthodox approach to life. They think the only way out is to build their own communities in an atmosphere of internal exile.

This is a false premise and has been tried before. For centuries Jews lived in isolated communities (ghettos) and separated themselves from society at large. That plan did not work out well for them. Consider the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto. They tried to withdraw into themselves and felt they were beyond the reach of the outside world. It was only too late they found out they were wrong. The Nazis first enforced the self-isolation, then they built barricades to keep them in, then they stormed the enclave and took them to the ovens.

If Christians do this they may face the same fate.

The first mistake we made was entering the Culture War too late. We believed if we practiced a modified Benedict Option by hiding in our churches, we would be safe. We did not confront evil, we accommodated it. We practiced “tolerance”. Once a non-Scriptural idea took hold and was at our doorstep, then we wanted to take action.

By then it was too late. The new narrative was “woven into the fabric” of society.

Just as the Jews of Warsaw operated under the delusion of separation equaling safety, so to Christians who think they can wall themselves in with their beliefs and be safe are delusional.

The Battle Lines are Being Drawn

The key is to engage. Not only engage with those who share our beliefs, but also engage with those who disagree. For as the Holy Spirit through Paul writes, we need to be strong in the Lord and rely on his strength. As one person put it, “The battle lines are being drawn.” God is placing us in a position to take a stand. People are taking a stand. In the latest assault on Christ’s teaching, same-sex marriage, Christians are walking away from their jobs and their livelihood. In one case, the entire County Clerk’s office of Decatur County, Tennessee has resigned, rather than issue homosexual marriage.

Each one of us may have to make the same decision the Decatur County Clerk’s Office did. Do we aid in the moral decline through our actions (or our silence) or do we take a stand like Martin Luther did when he faced the Diet of Worms to defend his writings:

Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason-for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves-I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.

We need to put on the Whole Armor of God because our opponents are not of this world. We need to protect ourselves with truth, righteousness, faith, the assurance of our salvation, and the Word of God. Most of all, we need to pray. Prayer of all sorts. Prayers for wisdom, guidance and prayers for your fellow saints — saints that are suffering both the hard persecution of the body and the soft persecution of the soul.

Then, as written, will we be ready to go, as one chained to the Lord and boldly preach the Gospel in both our words and our actions?

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Security in Churches

 
‎06 ‎July ‎2015, ‏‎08:12:15 PM | Steve ElwartGo to full article
The shootings in a Christian Church in Charleston brought into sharp focus the need to be more aware of security during church activities. This incident was not a rare occurrence.

On June 11, 2014, Phoenix police responded to a burglary call at the Mater Misericordiae (Mother of Mercy) Mission around 9 PM. Inside the church, they found two injured priests in the rectory, according to police. The Rev. Kenneth Walker later died at the hospital.

This was not an isolated incident.

On Sunday, May 21, 2006, a gunman walked into a church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, near the end of Sunday morning services. After entering the building the shooter killed five people before abducting his estranged wife and three children. While the gunman freed the children, the woman was held hostage and later found dead at another location. The church’s pastor was also shot during the incident.

A common factor in all of these and other incidents is the threat of violence to houses of worship.

Violent incidents of the above nature happen several times each year at churches across the country. Because places of worship are open to the public and often inviting, churches have become more vulnerable to these senseless acts of violence.

While much is written about violence in Mideast Churches, violence in U.S. Churches is also increasing. The church, a place where tradition used to hold as a place of sanctuary, is feeling the viciousness of the outside world spilling inside its doors. They are no longer safe havens and church leaders of all denominations are being challenged with providing an inviting and loving environment without being mistaken for an easy target. Some churches now have armed security guards walking the perimeter of the church during services while others have church leaders carrying concealed weapons.

Today we also see churches and other Faith Based Organizations (FBO) also being subjected to arson. The most ominous potential threat is that of terrorists using primitive weapon systems. These may take the form of explosives and other individual explosive devices (IED) purchased on the open market.

Churches can no longer afford to ignore security. These facilities are considered “soft targets”, places that are an easy mark by terrorists, disaffected spouses, and common criminals. Today’s challenge is to harden the building while maintaining the peaceful and welcoming atmosphere one expects at a house of worship. Those concerned with security issues need to consider both external and internal threats. These threats can come from street criminals, white collar criminals, hate groups, terrorists, ideology groups, and others.

Most congregations are under prepared or not prepared at all for these risks.

A 2009 report published by the Christian Security Network outlines 1,237 crimes against Christian churches. The offenses include 12 homicides, 38 other violent incidents including, 3 sexual assaults, 3 kidnappings, 98 arsons, and over 700 burglaries resulting in more than $24 million in property loss.

”It is disheartening to see all these incidents and loss of life in churches in 2009 and even sadder because we know 2010 isn’t going to be any different unless the status-quo changes,” stated Jeff Hawkins, executive director of the Christian Security Network. “People want to be protected, especially at church, and as we have seen from incidents in 2009, criminals don’t care that they are targeting a church – they are seen as soft targets.”

Most church leaders are unaware of vulnerabilities and basic crime prevention methods. As a result, churches, temples, and synagogues are more vulnerable to attack than other facilities.

Many churches are reluctant to talk about whether they know they have been targeted and what security preparations are in place. Security measures are often limited to internal losses and property crime. Much like shopping malls and other retail establishments, worship facilities do not offer the protection given by places with rigorous security screening procedures, such as airports or government offices.

What Should be the Response to a Security Threat?

How does an FBO respond to violent or destructive threats? How do security measures mesh with faith based organizations?

Most world religions are taught to welcome their brothers & sisters, to turn the other cheek, and to forgive and forget. Can this ideology can still exist while leaders “protect the flock”. While no FBO can be expected to become an armed fortress, a house of worship should have evacuation plans, emergency contacts, and a security awareness policy. Worship facilities are places of refuge and peace where all should be welcome, but basic behavioral detection techniques may uncover a violent episode before it happens. There are many examples where violence took parishioners by surprise.

In October 2006, a man spilled fuel on pews and parishioners during a church service and started a fire intending to kill everyone in the building. Two women were seriously injured when their clothing caught fire. Fortunately for church members, the staff subdued the suspect until law enforcement officials arrived at the scene. The police report later stated that the suspect admitted that he took gas cans and a knife to the People’s Church in Salem, Oregon intending to kill all the people in the church. Trial testimony showed the man thought he was acting on God’s orders. Mental health experts testified he had paranoid schizophrenia.

Using explosive devices is not just a foreign phenomenon any more. The modern practice goes back to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) bombing incidents in Great Britain.

In Louisiana, four men allegedly used explosive materials, stolen from a fireworks stand to make three bombs. One bomb was detonated on a roadway in Vernon Parish and one was set off outside the Champions Center at Grace Church. One was placed, but not detonated, in Three Pines Apostolic Church.

In December 1986 in Long Beach, California, the Morningland Church was the victim of a strategic bomb attack. The lone suspect was disturbed by the church’s teachings and the “harassment” of a sister. The suspect placed the concealed bomb in the church building and part of a 10-stick dynamite bomb exploded. Thomas T. McCoy, 26 was arrested on suspicion of ignition of a destructive device, possession of a destructive device, and carrying a concealed weapon.

While houses of worship may have medical guidelines and evacuation procedures, few would know what to do if a person with a gun walked into the church, temple or synagogue. Unfortunately, the religious community is subject to many of the same hazards that any other organization faces.

Some of the nation’s estimated 1,200 mega-churches (places where more than 2,000 worshippers gather each week) have been beefing up security in recent years. Even without a security department, faith leaders can train volunteers to keep watch for suspicious behavior. For example, they should be on the lookout for visitors dressed in a long coat during the summer or not making eye contact with fellow congregants.

Security professionals must understand that the faith based community differs from the business or government setting. Because of the challenges identified above, emphasis should be placed on:

  • Setting up crash barriers to the entrance of the building and directing traffic flow though landscape designs, natural surveillance, and using structures to divert or influence flow;
  • Physical security monitoring (alarms, cameras, access control);
  • Security/terrorism awareness training for faith leaders;
  • Establishing a security committee that produces preparedness plans; and
  • Fostering positive relationships with local law enforcement

Embracing a fortress mentality with armed guards and requiring all congregants to pass through metal detectors is against the basic premise of a church, and a case of overkill. However, sticking one’s head in the sand and going about business as usual without addressing security concerns would do a disservice to those people who come to services there.

How Should One Prepare for a Security Threat?

So how should a church and its staff prepare and respond to a future security threat?

The first step in addressing security is to form security committee dedicated to studying the topic and recommending options for the facility. Many church members have either law enforcement or other security training. They should do a risk, threat and vulnerability assessment for the property.

Once the assessment is completed, the next step is to draft a security plan for the leadership’s consideration. Local law enforcement agencies should be consulted as they will give feedback and intelligence to faith organizations that may be classified “for law enforcement use only”. Houses of worship should carry out a layered security approach using a defense in depth strategy.

For example, parking lots offer the opportunity to suggest that the facility is a “hard target”. The lot should be well lit, appropriately marked, and offer protection to foot traffic. Next, multiple layers of greeters or volunteers should be clearly visible. These people should be able to communicate with each other. The goal is to find threats early and respond quickly.

Other considerations in the plan may include:

  • The roles and responsibilities of the various layers of staff
  • Dealing with disruptive or impaired individuals
  • Contending with violent people with or without a weapon
  • Pastoral protection
  • Lock down and/or evacuation procedures
  • Equipment needs
  • Communication to each other and the congregation

Faith leaders should not accept the risk but rather consider the consequences of having no plan at all. They need to prepare an overall security strategy to protect attendees. A wide variety of resources are available to both security professionals and religious leaders.

The U.S. Department of Justice offers many resources to houses of worship. The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also provides a no-cost training presentation targeted at churches, temples, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship. This training, titled Soft Target Awareness Course (STAC), strives to bring awareness to faith leaders by education (highlighting the risk) and targeted awareness of anti-terrorism directives. Also, this presentation advises about the effectiveness of signs, lighting, guards, perimeter security, and surveillance detection.

Today domestic terrorism is often overlooked due to Middle Eastern events being touted by the media. However, when domestic terrorists or lone-wolfs are looking for an easy target with unsuspecting prey, they need not look further than their local neighborhood house of worship.

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The Power of Forgiveness

 
‎30 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎03:01:27 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article
A subscriber to Facebook posed a question. The writer is a member of the Koinonia Institute page who asked:

“Can anyone tell me why there are no riots in South Carolina over the recent murders?”

The incident the member referred to was the slaughter of nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

On Wednesday June 17, a man described as “clean-shaven young white male, about 5 feet 9 inches tall, of slender build and with sandy blond hair” entered the church. At 9 PM the gunman, later identified as Dylann Roof, open fired on the class. His shots killed nine people, including the church’s pastor Clementa C. Pinckney. (The a 41-year-old minister, also served his community as a member of the South Carolina State Legislature.)

With the smell of gun powder still in the air, people took to their blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter Feeds, and websites to promote their cause. The causes ranged from gun control, to removing the Confederate Flag, to touting this as another example of racism. Louis Farrakhan weighed in on the subject by saying:

“We need to put the American flag down. Because we’ve caught as much hell under that as the Confederate flag” in remarks before the Metropolitan AME Church in Washington, DC on Wednesday first reported by DC’s WMAL.

A Crime Based on Hate

With emotions running so high over the incident, why didn’t Charleston explode in violence as did Ferguson, Missouri or Baltimore, Maryland? While this was not an officer involved shooting, it soon became obvious that this was a crime based on hate.

Roof, the man accused of the killings, was charged with nine counts of homicide and possession of a firearm during commission of a violent crime.

Dalton Tyler, Roof’s roommate, told ABC News he’d known the alleged killer for at least seven months. Tyler said that Roof did not commit this crime on impulse.

“[He had been] planning something like that for six months. He was big into segregation and other stuff. He said he wanted to start a civil war. He said he was going to do something like that and then kill himself.”

The Justice Department is expected to file federal hate crime charges against Roof. Analysts at the Federal Bureau of Investigation have concluded “with a high degree of certainty” that Roof posted a racist manifesto on a website registered under his name.

The Difference in Charleston

The biggest difference between Charleston and the other cities lie in how the congregation responded to persecution — they responded with love and forgiveness.

In an interview with the BBC, the children of one of the victims said, “We already forgive [Dylann Roof] and there’s nothing but love from our side of the family.”

They were not alone. Stephen Singleton, Emanuel’s former pastor, told NPR:

We’re people of faith, and people of faith know that we heal. God helps us to heal. This doesn’t drive us away from God. This drives us to God, and that’s why I’m here now.

There are a lot of broken hearts, a lot of sorrow and a lot of healing to be done. And that’s what we’re going to work on, and that’s what we’re going to focus on because if we get bitter and angry, we just make a bad situation worse.

A relative of another victim, Myra Thompson said, “I forgive him and my family forgives him. But we would like him to take this opportunity to repent and give your [sic] life to the one who matters most: Christ.”

Senator Tim Scott, appearing on “Face the Nation” stated that while Roof may have intended to ignite a war between the races, he brought the people of Charleston closer together.

The Power of Forgiveness

The shootings in Charleston are reminiscent of a horrific event from years ago: the murder of five Amish girls in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. As in Charleston, the Nickel Mines community responded with forgiveness. Members of the Amish community in the area responded by offering immediate forgiveness to the killer and by embracing his family. They even attended the shooter’s funeral.

The mother of the murderer, Terri Roberts, responded by caring for one of her son’s victims. Once a week, she spends time with 13-year-old Rosanna, who sits in a wheelchair and eats through a tube. Roberts bathes her, sings to her, and reads her stories.

The victim never utters a “thank you” because she cannot speak.

Roberts’ weekly visits force her to face the results of the carnage her son instigated. It also gives her a sense of peace. She has forgiven her son and is spending part of her life trying to atone for his actions.

“I realized if I didn’t forgive him, I would have the same hole in my heart that he had. And a root of bitterness never brings peace to anyone. We are called to forgive.”

In this way the community healed.

The actions in Charleston should remind us how we too should foster a culture of forgiveness. We should ask the questions:

  • Are we fostering grace and forgiveness in our community?
  • Are we teaching our children to forgive?
  • Are we reaching out in aid and restoration to both victims and offenders?
  • Are we prepared to respond in love and forgiveness to offense and tragedy in the way Jesus taught us?

Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant that follows after His “seventy times seven” lesson, drives home the point that we are forgiven an enormous debt. If we can be forgiven a debt of sin against God, how much more should we be eager to forgive those who sin against us? Paul parallels this example in Ephesians 4:32 where he admonishes us to forgive one another “just as God has forgiven you in the Messiah.” Forgiveness is not to be given out in a limited fashion, but is to be abundant and available to everyone, as is grace of God.

The people of Emanuel Church understand that.

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Last Gasp for the Last Court?

 
‎30 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎03:00:02 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article
The Supreme Court of the United States was “ordained and established” by the Judiciary Act of Congress in 1789. The Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., designed by Cass Gilbert, was completed in 1935. Engraved in stone above the head of the Chief Justice are the Ten Commandments with the American eagle protecting them. Moses is included among the great lawgivers in Herman A. MacNeil’s marble sculpture relief on the East Portico (see above).

Before each session of the Court, the Justices stand before their desks and the crier opens with the invocation:

God save the United States and this Honorable Court.

A series of decisions handed down by the Court during this session makes one wonder if God will save the United States and that “Honorable Court”. The United States is living under conditions which Thomas Jefferson both expected and feared:

“It has long been my opinion, and I have never shrunk from its expression,… that the germ of dissolution of our Federal Government is in the constitution of the Federal Judiciary—an irresponsible body (for impeachment is scarcely a scare-crow), working like gravity by night and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its noiseless step like a thief over the field of jurisdiction until all shall be usurped from the States and the government be consolidated into one. To this I am opposed.” — Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Charles Hammond, 1821

Throughout its history, the Supreme Court, the “Court of Last Resort”, has made a series of bad rulings. One of the most infamous rulings handed down was the Dred Scott Decision. The case (known as Dred Scott v. Sandford), involved a slave (Scott) who was taken by his master, U.S. Army Surgeon Dr. John Emerson, from their home in Missouri, a slave-holding state, to Illinois which prohibited slavery. Scott was returned to Missouri. The physician later died and his wife Eliza “inherited” Scott.

After failing to buy freedom for his family and himself, Scott sued Emerson for his freedom in 1847, pleading that because he lived in a free state, he was free and could not be enslaved again. After a series of appeals, he took his case against his new owner John Sanford (Eliza Emerson’s brother) to the Supreme Court in 1857.

The Court’s subsequent decision delivered a double-blow to Scott and the entire Abolitionist Movement. In writing the Majority Opinion, Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney opined that Dred Scott had no standing to in the court.

Furthermore, Taney wrote that:

  • Free Negroes are not citizens.
  • The Constitution treats them as property.
  • Every citizen has a right to take with him, into any territory of the United States, any property the Constitution recognizes.
  • The Constitution recognizes slaves as property and pledges the government to protect it, and Congress cannot interfere with such property.

Only the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which abolished slavery, erased this blot on the nation’s history.

Major Supreme Court Cases in 2015

The rulings handed down from this session of the court are of such impact they may also take a constitutional amendment to rectify the damage that has been done.

A summary of the well-known and not-so-well known rulings from the Court follow:

White House rainbow-colored

Same-Sex Marriage

The court decided in Obergefell v. Hodges and three related cases that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.

In this case, the states of Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Fourteen same-sex couples and two men whose same-sex partners are deceased, sued in the Federal District Courts in their home states, claiming the respondent state officials violated the Fourteenth Amendment). The plaintiffs claimed that by denying them the right to marry or to have marriages performed in another state given full recognition. Each District Court ruled in the petitioners’ favor, but the Sixth Circuit combined and reversed the cases.

The main questions before the Court were:

  1. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?
  2. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was licensed and performed out-of-state?

In a 5–4 decision the Supreme Court upheld all the lower court rulings and found in favor of the plaintiffs.

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Kennedy wrote the Fourteenth Amendment requires a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was licensed and performed out-of-state.

This ruling caused a firestorm of emotions on both sides of the issue. The first salvo came from Associate Justice Antonin Scalia. (The Justices in the minority were so adamant in their dissent that they all wrote opinions.)

Scalia’s dissent read, in part:

When the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified in 1868, every state limited marriage to one man and one woman, and no one doubted the constitutionality of doing so. … We have no basis for striking down a practice that is not expressly prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment’s text. … [It] is an opinion lacking even a thin veneer of law.

In his most stinging rebuke in the opinion, Scalia wrote:

This is a naked judicial claim to legislative—indeed, super-legislative—power; a claim fundamentally at odds with our system of government. Except as limited by a constitutional prohibition agreed to by the People, the States are free to adopt whatever laws they like, even those that offend the esteemed Justices’ “reasoned judgment.” A system of government that makes the People subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy.

There are many things wrong with this ruling, among them:

  • The court created a new right they “found” in the Constitution. One day this “right” will come in conflict with other, more established rights, such are the Right to Religious Freedom (Can a pastor refrain from performing same-sex marriages?) and Freedom of Speech (Can someone speak against homosexual marriages without being sanctioned for “Hate Speech”?)
  • The court, once again, usurped legislative prerogatives belonging to the Congress, another move toward making representative government irrelevant.
  • How will this affect people wanting other types of “marriages”? Will this open the door to polygamous marriages or marriages between close family relatives? What will be its effect on laws prohibiting marriage to underage people?

The ruling opens a Pandora’s Box of problems the Court and Congress will have to address.

After the ruling there have been joyous celebrations among those who wanted homosexual marriages recognized. Even other countries celebrated the ruling. There were rallies outside the Supreme Court Building, parades in cites around the world and celebrations into the night. There is even a Facebook page that will apply a “rainbow filter” to your profile picture with the colors of the homosexual movement. Displays celebrating the ruling were erected in many cities across the country.

The most abhorrent display came from the White House where President Obama ordered that the “People’s House” be bathed in the rainbow colors.

The spectacle is reminiscent of Isaiah 5:18:

How terrible it will be for those who parade iniquity with cords of falsehood, who draw sin along as with a cart rope (ISV)

Such a display makes one wonder if it is not too late. Perhaps the United States is entering a period of God’s abandonment of the country.

Romans 1:18–32 provides a good description of what happens when God gives people over to their own desires and basic instincts:

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him. Instead, their thoughts turned to worthless things, and their senseless hearts were darkened. … For this reason, God delivered them to sexual impurity as they followed the lusts of their hearts and dishonored their bodies with one another. They exchanged God’s truth for a lie and worshipped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. … Furthermore, because they did not think it worthwhile to keep knowing God fully, God delivered them to degraded minds to perform acts that should not be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity. … Although they know God’s just requirement—that those who practice such things deserve to die—they not only do these things but even applaud others who practice them.” (ISV)

Health Care Subsidies

In the case of insurance subsidies for “Obamacare”, the issue concerned Section 36B of the Internal Revenue Code, which was enacted as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), which authorizes federal tax credit subsidies for health insurance coverage purchased through an “Exchange established by the State under section 1311” of the ACA.

The question presented was whether the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) may issue regulations to extend tax-credit subsidies to coverage purchased through exchanges established by the federal government under section 1321 of the ACA.

The court decided in King v. Burwell that tax subsidies are lawfully being provided in the three dozen states which chose not to run the marketplaces for insurance coverage.

The six justices in the majority concluded the disputed phrase in the Affordable Care Act — “an exchange established by the state” — is ambiguous when read in context, and so can be interpreted in different ways. It does not have to be interpreted literally as meaning no subsidies are available to people in states that have not set up their own exchanges.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion stating:

In a democracy, the power to make the law rests with those chosen by the people. Our role is more confined— “to say what the law is.” (Marbury v. Madison, 1803) That is easier in some cases than in others. But in every case we must respect the role of the Legislature, and take care not to undo what it has done. A fair reading of legislation demands a fair understanding of the legislative plan. Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them. If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter. Section 36B can fairly be read consistent with what we see as Congress’s plan, and that is the reading we adopt.

The Court ruled the Congress intended for everyone to be covered by the ACA. By taking away the subsidies it would destroy the act, which was against the intent of the law. Therefore, the law did not mean what was in the clear reading of the text. The majority interpreted the ambiguous phrase in a way that allows the law to work rather than cause an upheaval in the law.

Again, writing the dissenting opinion was Justice Scalia. Scalia and two dissenting justices maintained the disputed phrase in the Affordable Care Act should be interpreted literally. The dissent also accuses the majority of having a political motive, harkening back to the 2012 ruling upholding the insurance mandate provision of the health care law:

Words no longer have meaning if an exchange that is not established by a state is “established by the State.” It is hard to come up with a clearer way to limit tax credits to state exchanges than to use the words “established by the State.” And it is hard to come up with a reason to include the words “by the State” other than the purpose of limiting credits to state Exchanges. … Under all the usual rules of interpretation, in short, the Government should lose this case. But normal rules of interpretation seem always to yield to the overriding principle of the present Court: The Affordable Care Act must be saved.

He also wrote:

Having transformed two major parts of the law [the act’s mandate that everyone maintain health insurance or pay a penalty was constitutional as a “tax,” and states were free to reject the act’s Medicaid expansion without losing all of their existing Medicare funding, as the act said they must.], the Court today has turned its attention to a third. The Act that Congress passed makes tax credits available only on an “Exchange established by the State.” This Court, however, concludes that this limitation would prevent the rest of the Act from working as well as hoped. So it rewrites the law to make tax credits available everywhere. We should start calling this law SCOTUScare.

Justice Scalia and the two other dissenting justices argued the Supreme Court should have left it to Congress to decide what to do about the problem.

President Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope, “I have to side with Justice Breyer’s view of the Constitution — that it is not a static but rather a living document, and must be read in the context of an ever-changing world.”

It is a tempting mindset to embrace and the Supreme Court now seems to have the concept fully in its grip. There is so much about today’s world the Framers could never have expected. They had no inkling the Constitution would be changed to allow for direct election of senators, the unfunded mandates eroding state sovereignty, the size and scope of the federal government, and growth interstate commerce made possible by rapid advances in transportation and telecommunications technology, and subsequent expansion of federal government using that pretext.

Applying the Constitution “in the context of an ever-changing world,” has led this country where it is today. The executive branch has asserted sweeping powers — the prerogative to wage war without Congressional approval, to spy on and imprison Americans without a warrant, to engage in extrajudicial assassinations carried out by remote-controlled drones. James Madison, the author of The Federalist Papers could not have expected any of it. Nor could he have imagined the unprecedented degree to which the federal government would fall into the arms of powerful corporate interests as exemplified by the Wall Street bailouts and the ongoing lobbying culture pervading Washington. The health-care industry is a very potent moneyed interest and the rise of modern medicine gives those who control it more power over our lives than ever before.

Given recent abrogations of civil liberties, the erosion of restraints on federal power, is it prudent or consistent with American ideals of liberty to allow the federal government to exert even more influence over private decisions about health care made by less powerful, decentralized entities?

The United States is a nation founded on the rule of law through representative government. It has morphed into a combination of oligarchy and fascism. The economy and private property are coming more and more under the control of the State, with special interests (business, labor, and special interest lobbyists) playing a commanding part in it.

We are living in a time described in Ecclesiastes:

“I also examined on earth: where the halls of justice were supposed to be, there was lawlessness; and where the righteous were supposed to be, there was lawlessness.” (Ecclesiastes 3:16, ISV)

Many Greek and Hebrew words are used in the Bible to describe sin, but the one that best summarizes the essence of all sin is anomia, “lawlessness”. As 1 John 3:4 says, “Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness.” (ESV) Jesus uses this term when he pronounces eternal condemnation upon the “workers of lawlessness” (Matt 7:23 ESV).

This concept not only applies to Man’s relationship to God, but also his relationship to each other through a system of laws.

Separation of Powers in Foreign Affairs

In another telling decision, the Court decided in Zivotofsky v. Kerry that Congress is not entitled to order the State Department to “record the place of birth as Israel” in the passports of American children born in Jerusalem if their parents requested.

The question before the court:

Whether a federal statute that directs the Secretary of State, on request, to record the birthplace of an American citizen born in Jerusalem as born in “Israel” on a Consular Report of Birth Abroad and on a United States passport is unconstitutional on the ground that the statute “impermissibly infringes on the President’s exercise of the recognition power reposing exclusively in him.

In this case, the parents of 13-year old Menachem B. Zivotofsky applied for a passport for him and listed his birthplace as “Jerusalem, Israel”. The application was denied since the State Department does not recognize Jerusalem as part of Israel.

On June 8, in a 6–3 vote, the Court ruled the President has the exclusive power to grant formal recognition to a foreign sovereign. This means as long as President does not recognize Jerusalem as part of Israel, the U.S. Government cannot recognize that designation.

This continues a trend throughout U.S. administrations going back to Harry Truman, where it is the official policy of the United States not to acknowledge Israel’s right to claim Jerusalem as its capital.

The United States does not seem to acknowledge God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants:

“I’ll make a great nation of your descendants, I’ll bless you, and I’ll make your reputation great, so that you will be a blessing. I’ll bless those who bless you, but I’ll curse the one who curses you, and through you all the people of the earth will be blessed.” (Genesis 12:2–3, ISV)

The Confederate Flag and Free Speech

The court decided in Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans Texas had not discriminated against the view of the group that claimed “the Confederate flag is a symbol of sacrifice, independence and Southern heritage” when refusing to allow its license plate bearing the Confederate flag.

In this case:

  • Nine states let drivers choose specialty license plates featuring the Confederate flag and honoring the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which says it seeks to celebrate Southern heritage. But Texas refused to allow the group’s plates, saying the flag was offensive.
  • In 2011, not long before the motor vehicles department rejected the plates, Gov. Rick Perry indicated he supported such a move. “We don’t need to be scraping old wounds,” he said. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a brief against the state while an N.A.A.C.P. spokesperson has expressed support for the state.

The questions before the court were:

  1. Do the messages and symbols on state-issued specialty license plates qualify as government speech immune from any requirement of viewpoint neutrality?
  2. Has Texas engaged in “viewpoint discrimination” by rejecting the license-plate design proposed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, when Texas has not issued any license plate that portrays the confederacy or the confederate battle flag in a negative or critical light?

In a 5–4 decision, the Court decided that Texas’s specialty license plate designs constitute government speech, and therefore Texas may refuse to issue plates featuring Sons of Confederate Veterans’ (SCV’s) proposed design.

This ruling will resonate through the states as a move to ban the Confederate Flag continues to gain momentum.

There were other rulings from the court, too numerous to cover here. More references are shown below.

These rulings, along with events over the past few weeks stress the peril the United States suffers if it continues to ignore God and His law – a law greater than one any legislature can devise. The judge who will rule on the transgressions of these laws is also greater than any nine people who may sit in judgment of them.

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The Kurds Fight for a Home

 
‎23 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎12:11:46 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article
One little-known fighting force in the war against ISIS has been at war for hundreds of years — The Kurds.

In a recent action, Kurdish militias and rebel fighters on Tuesday took full control of the strategic Syrian town of Tal Abyad on Turkey’s border, striking a blow against the Islamic State and expanding their realm of control.

Kurdish Commanders said that their forces have taken full control of the town after ISIS militia evacuated the area. The Kurds celebrated their victory by tearing down the jihadist’s black flag and replacing it with their own. The Kurds also expressed the hope that they would be able to now use that town and border crossing to supply their communities.

That won’t happen if Turkey has anything to say about it.

Turkey has grave concerns about a Kurdish-dominated militia taking the town. The Kurdish group belongs to the Democratic Union Party (PYD) which is an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a 30-year insurgency against Turkey.

Who are the Kurds? That is a name many have heard, but may not understand.

Their Name

The Kurds claim as their ancestral home, Kurdistan, originally a term for “steppe country” and later for the land of the Kurds. It was the term given by the Seljuk government of Iran (1092–1194) to a region that must have stretched from between Lakes Van (in present-day western Turkey) and Urmia (in eastern Iran) south to the Zagros Mountains (extending along the Iran-Iraq border). The basic word came to be used, as in Arabic, as a collective and denoted “tiller of the field” or “shepherd.”

Kurdish Areas in the Middle East and the Soviet Union

Kurdish Areas in the Middle East and the Soviet Union

Today some scholars identify the Kurds as the Karduchoi of Xenophon’s Anabasis, a group living east of the Upper Tigris, those whom the Greek geographer Strabo called the Gordyaioi. They have come to be known as the descendants of the Medes who had moved westward beginning in the fifth century. One of the tribes of Medes was known as the Magi.

Their Identity

The cultural identity of the Kurds continued to evolve until 637 AD or 651 AD, when they were fighting marauding Arab tribes. From this point on, the identity of the Kurds is clearly established by the fact that their language, folklore (legends, style of clothing), social structure, and moral code are all of Northwest Iranian origin.

Their History

The Kurds were conquered by the Arabs in the 7th century AD. The region was held by the Seljuk Turks in the 11th century, by the Mongols from the 13th to the 15th centuries, and then by the Safavid and Ottoman Empires. Having been decimated by the Turks in the years between 1915 and 1918 and then having struggled to free themselves from Ottoman rule, the Kurds were encouraged by the Turkish defeat in World War I and by subsequent pleas for self-determination for non-Turkish nationalities in the empire. The Treaty of Sèvres (1920), which ended the Ottoman Empire, provided for the creation of an independent Kurdish state. After Turkey’s military revival under Kemal Atatürk, however, the Treaty of Lausanne (1923), which superseded Sèvres, failed to mention the creation of a Kurdish state.

These basic ethnic realities have repeatedly given rise to historical movements, including the founding of independent principalities and of dynasties outside Kurdistan (both up to the 16th century). In modern times the Kurds have sought by revolt to move on from being a displaced people with no country to call their own to an independent nation.

The Kurds have never been able to achieve the intended result of maintaining their own state.

In the 1980s the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein conducted genocide on the Kurdish People. Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were executed during a systematic attempt to exterminate the Kurdish population in Iraq in the Anfal operations in the late 1980s. According to Kurdish representatives in the United Kingdom:

Hundreds of thousands of men, women and children were executed during a systematic attempt to exterminate the Kurdish population in Iraq in the Anfal operations in the late 1980s. They were tied together and shot so they fell into mass graves. Their towns and villages were attacked by chemical weapons, and many women and children were sent to camps where they lived in appalling conditions. Men and boys of ‘battle age’ were targeted and executed en masse. The campaign takes its name from Suratal-Anfal in the Qur’an. Al Anfal literally means the spoils (of war) and was used to describe the military campaign of extermination and looting commanded by Ali Hassan al-Majid (Chemical Ali). The Ba’athists misused what the Qur’an says. Anfal in the Qur’an does not refer to genocide, but the word was used as a code name by the former Iraqi Ba’athist regime for the systematic attacks against the Kurdish population. The campaign also targeted the villages of minority communities including Christians.

With the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991, another Kurdish uprising against Iraq was crushed and nearly 500,000 Kurds fled to the Iraq-Turkey border with one million more fleeing to Iran. Thousands subsequently returned to their homes under U.N. protection. In 1992 the Kurds established an “autonomous region” in northern Iraq and held a general election. Their community was badly divided, however, into two opposing groups that engaged in sporadic warfare with each other. In 1999 the two groups of Iraqi Kurds ceased hostilities. In 2005, elections were again held to unify the two major Kurdish parties — the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK): both parties having fought a civil war in the mid–1990s over territorial disputes and control of the Kurdistan Region.

Their Religion

Reconstructing their original religion has stymied scholars over the years. From their origins, the Kurds have incorporated many different elements of religions, cultures, and worldviews. The need to overcome this Balkanization of culture diversity, however, led a few to become Islamic Shiites. However, more than two-thirds of the Kurds became Sunnis. Christians who live in the Kurdish territory belong to a variety of sects (Syrian Orthodox Church, the Assyrian or Nestorian Church, or the Armenian Apostolic Church), but they are not seen as Kurdish, even though in some cases they have adopted the language and customs of the Kurds. Many Christians in the area have found, though, that they can find safe refuge by living among the Kurds.

Present-Day Problems

Since World War I the Kurds have suffered discrimination at the hands of newly created states. The disintegration of the Ottoman Empire in the early part of the twentieth century had laid the seeds for Kurdish statehood.

At the end of World War I, the Kurds were encouraged by Woodrow Wilson’s “Fourteen Points” of 1918, and were optimistic about the prospects for the establishment of an independent state. The twelfth of Wilson’s points declares, “The nationalities now under Turkish rule should … be assured … an absolutely unmolested opportunity of autonomous development.” The principle of self-determination states, “any people, simply because it considers itself to be a separate national group, is uniquely and exclusively qualified to determine its own political status, including, should it so desire, the right to its own state”

Saddam Hussein’s atrocities against the Kurds amounted to the de facto state of Kurdistan in northern Iraq. Despite considerable progress, polarized debates over the reconstruction of Iraq post 2003 have generated concerns over the probable emergence of an independent Kurdistan. They have been denied the rights promised them by the Iranian revolution of 1979, and have been exposed to open genocide by Iraq during its war with Iran (1980–88).

Nevertheless, the Kurdish leaders have insisted upon autonomy within a federal Iraq and have rejected partition as a solution to Iraq’s ethno-sectarian conflict. They believe autonomy serves their nationalist aspirations further by preserving regional self-governance.

Attempts at a Kurdish federation, even in light of the great freedom movements of 1989, have made no headway against prevailing political orders, despite the large number of Kurds (estimates range from a conservative 11 million, through 14 million posited by sociologists, to a figure of 18–20 million used by nationalists), the wide extent of their language (three main groups, with two dialects), and the scope of the territory in which they live, in all, 410,000 sq. km. / 158,000 sq. mi., an area between the size of France and Germany. Several political parties in countries of the region, Kurdish academies and academics, and various friendly exile groups and organizations have been at work on behalf of the Kurds, but thus far in uncoordinated fashion.

Their Future

Any long-term plans for a national Kurdistan must consider a strategic national vision, as well as a regional one. An independent state is not viable at present and will not happen as long as it does not conform to outside international interests. More importantly, the regions the Kurds now inhabit (i.e. Turkey, Iran, and Iraq) would not agree to a re-drawing of boundaries that could lead to destabilizing their own nations. There is also international concern that the creation of an independent Kurdistan would give impetus to other separatist groups around the world.

It can be seen, though, that the future establishment of real autonomy depends on a strong Western interest in the Kurdish region. Without outside support, the Kurds will remain vulnerable to the caprices of their less-than-friendly neighbors, as well, to jihadist forces in Iraq and Syria.

In the meantime, the Kurdish leadership will bide their time, comfortable with relative autonomy, until the moment is right to declare independence.

Perhaps, through their fighting against jihadist troops, the Kurds may believe that they can gain the international respect and greater recognition they so strongly desire. (Currently, the Kurds have some recognition, at least enough to enjoy diplomatic relations with other nations and to further ventures in international trade and investment.

They hope that, eventually, they will gain true independence. With independence, there may also come a refuge for Christians — at least, for a while.

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China’s Hack Attack

 
‎23 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎12:10:33 AM | Steve ElwartGo to full article
Photo: The Chinese are recruiting hundreds of thousands of people to wage cyber-warfare with other countries.

This author was in a briefing in Washington where the topic was cybersecurity. As the most recent attacks were reviewed and analyzed, one analyst said, “Just think, in Beijing, they are saying about us what we are saying about them.” It is said that “Great powers spy on each other.” This is true.

China’s attacks on other country’s infrastructures are not a new phenomenon. All major industrial countries hack each other. Other non-industrialized countries get hacked, but the damage from it is not as great. Spying to get information on another country is certainly not new. In 1929 U.S. Secretary of State Henry L. Stimson shut down the State Department’s cryptanalytic office saying, “Gentlemen don’t read each other’s mail.” (He later reversed this attitude.)

Information has been gained pointing to another serious breach by China against Pentagon contractors. (China denies any involvement in hacking U.S. databases.)

This is not the first time China has been accused of stealing U.S. secrets. Some internal Pentagon documents allege that the design of China’s J–31 fighter jet, which has similarities to the F–35 stealth jet, was purloined from military contractor’s computers. Chinese officials denied the allegations.

Cyberattacks are different than physical ones. A cyberattack can be launched and many times there is a “plausible deniability” as to who was the culprit. There is a saying that a massive cyberattack, unlike a devastating nuclear attack, will not leave a return address.

As with most truisms, there is an exception to every rule.

In one of the biggest hacking events in cyberwarfare, personnel records of over 4 million federal employees were stolen after the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) computer network was breached. Among other things, applicants must list their Social Security Numbers; information on close family; where they have lived; contacts with foreign citizens and travel abroad; the names and personal details of relatives; illegal drug use and mental health counseling except in limited circumstances.

Almost as soon as the breach was discovered, China was blamed for the intrusion. It’s the latest salvo in the tit-for-tat cyber-war between the United and China. This recent hack, however, is a clear sign that their cyberwarfare capabilities are becoming more sophisticated and effective.

This is also part of the China “Salami Slicing” Plan (to make incursions, or “slice off territory” against one country; large enough to be significant, but small enough not to warrant a conventional response from another power.

Chinese hackers stole personal data on 4 million government employees from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. They sneaked past a sophisticated counter-hacking system called Einstein 3 (E3), a mostly secret, very expensive piece of programming designed to stop cyberattacks in their tracks.

When the government began rolling out Einstein 3 in 2012, it was cutting-edge. It’s designed to stop attacks before they reach government computers. The five major Internet service providers — Verizon Communications Inc., AT&T Inc., Sprint Corp., Level 3 Communications Inc. and CenturyLink Inc. — use it to sniff the huge volume of data moving to and from sensitive networks, and then use digital signatures to spot and delete hackers’ tools.

It cost $234 million in fiscal 2012, $406 million in 2014 and $378 million in 2015 to roll out Einstein 3, according to DHS budget documents. Costs for 2013 weren’t broken out.

Deployment of the Einstein 3 System is currently behind schedule, a result of bureaucratic snarls, privacy, control of the software, and budget constraints. Only half of the OPM Offices’ computer systems scheduled for the program were protected when the hack occurred last December.

Not that the software would have done much good. By the government’s own admission the anti-virus software is already obsolete.

Einstein 3 was state of the art two years ago,” according to James Lewis, senior fellow in cybersecurity at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “It’s good, but it’s not enough, and we know that because the commercial security industry is already moving away from that kind of defense.”

The data breach, which exposed the personal information of almost every Federal Government employee by hackers, has focused attention on the substandard protection of computer networks from sophisticated adversaries such as China and Russia.

Most protection systems are modeled after M&M candies: hard and crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside. These types of protection models, like almost any computer protection system, even those backed by the National Security Agency’s own corps of hackers, can never completely prevent break-ins. Years of experience has shown that the biggest problems in computer breaches often stem from the fact that once something gets through the outer defenses, it’s often a cakewalk to move around the internal network unimpeded.

Government computer systems, like most of the other computer systems in use today, need to move to a model that assumes hackers will always get in. They need to utilize what is termed a “multi-layered” defense. In addition to the current software in use, computer systems need to be able to detect intruders once they are inside the network and kick it out before any data is lost.

Snail’s Pace

Given the slow pace of government acquisition, the inter-agency rivalries and budget fights, though, the initiative may take several years or more to implement, leaving the possibility that the new technology will be old by the time it’s installed.

Congress has yet to act on the OPM’s February 2 request for a $32 million budget increase for fiscal 2016, according to Senator Angus King, a Maine independent, in an interview.

“Most of the funds,” the OPM said, “will be directed towards investments in IT network infrastructure and security.”

The latest intrusion points to the need for Congress to pass a cybersecurity bill, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. He would not say if any of the measures now being considered by the Congress would have prevented the OPM breach.

Accelerating Installation

“It’s too early to determine at this point what precisely would have prevented this particular cyber-intrusion,” Earnest said at a press briefing. “What is beyond argument is that these three pieces of legislation that the president sent to Congress five months ago would significantly improve the cybersecurity of the United States, not just the federal government’s cybersecurity, but even our ability to protect private computer networks.”

Republican Argument

Obviously, House and Senate Republicans, the President’s opposition, are furious about the breach and are taking full advantage of the Administration’s embarrassment. House Republican, Kevin McCarthy of California, the second-ranking representative in that chamber had this to say in a statement:

This Administration is notorious for not working with Congress, but they could at least read the news. Congress has, in fact, passed cyber legislation, and the House has been leading on this issue for years.

Serious Warnings

Senator King called the OPM hack, and an earlier one on Sony Corporation. that was attributed to North Korea, “serious warnings, but not catastrophic, which attacks on the financial system, gas pipelines or the electric grid would be.”

He and others have called for more drastic measures, including developing offensive cyberweapons to retaliate against nations that attack the critical infrastructure of the U.S. or its allies, somewhat analogous to the nuclear threat of “mutual assured destruction” during the Cold War.

In the interview, King also suggested “air-gapping” financial, transportation, energy and other critical computer networks — cutting their links to the Internet as has been done with some defense computer systems. (It should be noted here that the concept of “air-gapping” is a false premise for all but the most sensitive systems. A system that is truly cut off from the outside world also is cut off from the very users it was designed to help.)

Looking Inside

Much of the commercial security industry is already moving to the defense-in-depth technology designed to detect hackers as they move or alter data inside networks. This technology tracks flows of data inside networks, not just to and from the Internet.

Internal Battles

At the same time, the system was plagued by fights over who would run it — the Defense Department or DHS. This is true in many areas of the government’s cybersecurity program. Every government department and congressional district is looking to carve out a piece of the pie for themselves and the result is a confusing array of programs, models, and regulations that often work at cross purposes. Also, quarrels with privacy advocates over whether it was too intrusive; and negotiations over the implementation with Internet providers also plague cyber countermeasures…

All these problems slowed the installation of the system. As of June 6, 2015, the system is protecting just 13 federal agencies and departments: less than half of all Federal civilian personnel, according to DHS.

One of the differences between Einstein 3 and the predecessor it is replacing, Einstein 2, is that E3 uses highly classified data. Hackers working for the National Security Agency infiltrate the computers of rival nations and study their spies’ tools. That classified information is then fed into the Einstein system, supposedly allowing the technology to intercept those attacks.

It’s difficult to tell whether Einstein 3 failed to do the job or whether the hackers found holes in the system.

Spotting Hackers

Officials say it did not detect the initial intrusion in December, but once it was discovered in April, digital signatures from the attack were fed into the system and helped spot the hackers in the networks of the Interior Department.

The hackers also might have entered OPM’s computers by first infiltrating federal contractors, but that data should have been scanned by E3 and stopped.

The slow deployment of Einstein 3 and the shift in the security landscape underscore why the Pentagon and others have been trying to forge new alliances with entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and elsewhere.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter spoke to technology leaders in Palo Alto, California, in April, tossing around ideas for recruiting engineers for temporary missions in government and meeting with Facebook Inc.’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, among others.

“Last year, venture capitalists put $1 billion into cyber security and the government is trying to figure out how to tap into the technologies coming out of that,” said the CSIS’s Lewis. “Despite all of its advantages, the government is now trying to catch up to where the private sector is.”

In cyberwarfare, the defenders can never catch up to the attackers. That is the very definition of asymmetric warfare.

Further Reading

 

Salami Slicing

 
‎15 ‎June ‎2015, ‏‎04:54:08 PM | Steve ElwartGo to full article
A little-known term is gaining prominence in diplomatic parlance — Salami Slicing. This term is being used concerning China and its foreign policy.

Salami Slicing is what China is being accused of as it slowly diminishes the territory and power of other nations as it tries to increase its influence in the South China Sea. It is a slow, patient response toward a goal of gaining dominance in Asia. It is making moves against other countries, not in big enough chunks to cause a forceful reaction from other countries, but, slowly but surely, it is positioning China to be the undisputed hegemon in the region.

While the United States has focused on China’s military capability, specifically its anti-access / area-denial (A2/AD) strategy and is formulating a response, China has taken territory in the region one piece at a time. It’s version of “salami-slicing” is the slow accumulation of small actions, none of which is a cause for war, known as a casus belli, but which add up over time to a major strategic change.

United States Military Strategy

Since Washington has considered China’s territorial tactics of little consequence, it has been concentrating on an Air Sea Battle (ASB) concept to contain the nation. ASB is a strategy that needs to be formulated, but it is only good for a response to substantial, overt aggression. What China has been doing is deviously clever. It has taken small, aggressive moves against its neighbors that do not seem to warrant a massive response (i.e. ASB), but over time, result is a substantial shift in the balance of power in the Eastern Hemisphere.

The Nine-Dash Line

The first salvo in the strategy can be seen in Appendix 4 of the Pentagon’s 2012 annual report on China’s military power. It shows China’s South China Sea claim, the so-called “nine-dash line,” along with the smaller claims made by other countries surrounding the sea. The South China Sea encompasses several hundred small islands, reefs, and atolls, almost all uninhabited and uninhabitable, within a 1.4 million square mile area. The PRC inherited from the former Kuomintang government of China the nine-dash line, which draws a line around all of these islands, asserts sovereignty over all of them, and makes ambiguous claims about rights to waters within the line. Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), negotiated in the 1970s and 1980s, countries can claim exclusive rights to the fish and mineral resources within Exclusive Economic Zones, which can extend 200 nautical miles from a continental shore line or around islands that can support habitation.

Nine Dash Line

 

Figure 1: Nine Dash Line

In February of this year, Daniel R. Russel, the Assistant Secretary of the Pentagon’s Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, in testimony before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs said:

“Under international law, maritime claims in the South China Sea must be derived from land features. Any use of the ‘nine-dash line’ by China to claim maritime rights not based on claimed land features would be inconsistent with international law.”

While in diplomatic-speak, these are strong words, they may have come too late. China has already made the claim and has placed air and naval forces in that area to back it up.

China vs. the Philippines

In 2012, there was a naval standoff between China and the Philippines which occurred when Chinese fishing vessels were caught inside the Philippines EEZ (exclusive economic zone) near Scarborough Shoal. The standoff broke up after several weeks without a resolution of the underlying legal issues. Also, Chinese warships threatened to ram a Philippine survey ship near Reed Bank, which is internationally recognized as part of the Philippine EEZ.

… and Vietnam

Across the sea, and on the eve of the ill-fated Phnom Penh summit, the China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC), a state-owned oil developer, put out a list of offshore blocks for bidding by foreign oil exploration companies. In this case, the blocks were within Vietnam’s EEZ — in fact, parts of some of these blocks had already been leased by Vietnam for exploration and development. Few analysts expect a foreign developer such as Exxon Mobil to legitimize China’s annexation of Vietnam’s economic rights. But CNOOC’s leasing gambit is another assertion of China’s South China Sea claims, in opposition to UNCLOS EEZ boundaries most observers thought were settled.

In the latter part of 2012, the Chinese government established “Sansha City” on Woody Island in the Paracel chain, which China seized from South Vietnam in 1974. Sansha will be the administrative center for China’s claims in the South China Sea, to include the Spratly Islands near Reed Bank and Palawan, and Scarborough Shoal. China also announced plans to send a military garrison to the area.

… and Japan

Since then, China has poured billions of dollars into reclamation work and military structures on three reefs in the contested Spratly Islands, implying that it is there to stay.

Now that it has firmly established a foothold in the farther regions of the South China Sea, China has warned the United States not to attempt to stop the construction, or “there will be war”. China needs oil badly. Without it, a slowdown of its economic growth may trigger a mammoth recession. It knows there is oil in the Spratlys, otherwise it would not risk billions of dollars for the island chain. To extract oil, China needs military security. Without militarization in a volatile place claimed by other nations, extraction can be disrupted.

The U.S. Response

The United States has responded with, given what has been witnessed with other “red line” ultimatums, what is viewed as bluster. This is a dangerous situation. World Wars I and II both started with diplomatic and military moves made by one side that the other did not take seriously, given the previous positions taken by its adversary. If domestic pressures in the United States forces the Obama Administration’s hand and a military response is dealt by the USA, China may have to escalate its moves in the area and an armed conflict may result.

A US Poseidon P8 surveillance plane (a “submarine hunter”) recently ignored eight warnings from China in order to report about dredging that has reclaimed three square miles from the sea at the Fiery Cross Reef, as well as military barracks and piers rising 1000 feet from the seabed, and search radars. A commercial plane was also warned by Chinese authorities to move away.

China has attempted to gradually and systematically establish legitimacy for its claims in the region. It is asserting its economic claims by leasing oil and fishing blocks inside other countries’ EEZs, and is sending its navy to thwart development approved by other countries in the area. At the end of this road lie two prizes: potentially enough oil under the South China Sea to supply China for 60 years, and the possible neutering of the U.S. military alliance system in the region.

China can now use its power advantage to dominate disputes with its smaller neighbors.

Meanwhile, The Pentagon intends to send military reinforcements to the region and is establishing new tactical doctrines for their employment against China’s growing military power. But policymakers in Washington will be caught in a bind attempting to apply this military power against an accomplished salami-slicer. If sliced thinly enough, no one action will be dramatic enough to justify starting a war. How will policymakers in Washington justify drawing a red line in front of a CNOOC oil rig anchoring inside Vietnam’s EEZ, or a Chinese frigate chasing off a Philippines survey ship over Reed Bank, or a Chinese infantry platoon appearing on a pile of rocks near the Spratly Islands?

When contemplating a grievously costly war with a major power, such minor events will appear ridiculous as casus belli. Yet when accumulated over time and space, they could add up to a fundamental change in the region.

The Stakes

Although seemingly a distant player in the drama, the stakes for the United States are high. Both the global and U.S. economies depend on freedom of navigation through the sea; $5.3 trillion of global trade passes through the South China Sea each year, $1.2 trillion of which passes through U.S. ports.

The United States also has a strong interest in preventing any power from unilaterally rewriting well-established international maritime law to its liking. Finally, the credibility of the U.S. alliance system and its reliability as a security partner will be at stake.

A Geopolitical Quandary

A salami-slicer puts the burden of disruptive action on his adversary. That adversary will be in the uncomfortable position of drawing seemingly unjustifiable red lines and engaging in indefensible brinkmanship. For China, that would mean simply ignoring America’s Pacific fleet and carrying on with its slicing, under the reasonable assumption that it will be unthinkable for the United States to threaten major-power war over a trivial incident in a distant sea.

Déjà Vu All Over Again

Up to now, the United States has stayed neutral because it doesn’t want to pre-commit itself to a sequence of events over which it may have no control. It had previously extricated itself from Iraq and now finds itself in the uncomfortable position of sending troops back into the country to push back ISIS. Some in the administration has likened it to May 1961 when President Kennedy sent advisers into Vietnam and fear similar consequences from that decision.

Policymakers and strategists in Washington will have to ponder what, if anything, they can do as a next step against such a sharp salami-slicer as China.

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