Thursday, February 21, 2008

Jordanian campaign against evangelism

On 21 February, Jordanian parliament slammed media reports that the country has increased pressure on expatriate Christians. ‘We categorically condemn and reject the false report which is aimed at damaging Muslim-Christian relations in Jordan’, the 110-member lower house of parliament said.

This statement of parliament came a day after Jordan’s foreign minister explained that he had eight expatriate Christians expelled for proselytizing activities under the cover of humanitarian aid operations. He explained that 'some foreigners arrive in the kingdom under the pretext of charitable activities, but break the law and carry out missionary activities'.

In the previous week, the Council of Churches in Jordan, which represents most Churches in the country, warned of the presence of about '40 sects'. It is likely that the Council of Churches distanced itself publicly from these groups fearing that the present government campaign against Christians may also hurt them. They condemned the actions of these movements, saying that they 'create discord within Christianity itself and with the Muslims'.

For the Council of Churches to distance itself from the actions of other Christians is divisive and unwise; it strengthens the government's campaign against churches and missionaries in Jordan. For independent mission agencies to ignore the views of the major local churches is also divisive and unwise. It obviously puts the local churches in a difficult position in relationship to the authorities.

On 6 February, the Free Evangelical Church in Aqaba was closed by the Jordanian authorities. The same church had had a series of problems at the hands of the authorities during the past year. On 29 April 2007, its Pastor Mazhar Izzat Bishay, an Egyptian national and long-time resident of Aqaba, was deported to Egypt after being questioned. No reason for his deportation was given. A few months earlier, Wajeeh Besharah, Ibrahim Atta, Raja Welson, and Imad Waheeb, four Egyptians living in Aqaba, were also deported, after being questioned about their affiliation with the church.

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