PCUSA’s Latest Deflating Statistics

Picture the PCUSA (and its predecessor denominations) as a once-grand hot air balloon reaching unparalleled heights in the 1950s and 60s as it rose with the burners of Christendom and civil religion. But in 1965 things started to go wrong, and the balloon began to lose altitude. It has been in a steady decline since then for the last 52 years, and as it falls closer to earth, its rate of descent has become precipitous. Until this last year’s statistics were released today. Good news! Great news, we’re told! Things have stabilized and the PCUSA’s rate of decline has slowed back to what it was in earlier days. Image result for hot air balloon church

Well, not quite. Until 2001 the annual net loss of membership in the PCUSA remained below 1.5%, not good but not alarming. After that, the percentage loss began to climb and by 2005 crested 2%, and remained between 2-3% every year through 2011. Beginning in 2012, as the denomination approved ordination for practicing homosexuals, membership numbers began to plummet noticeably, averaging over 5% annual decline for the next five years, from 2012-2016, as many individuals and congregations “voted” with their feet to be dismissed from the PCUSA, or just left with no notice.

But in 2017, we are told, the rash of departures ended. After dismissing close to 100 churches annually since 2011, in 2017 the PCUSA dismissed only 45. That’s significant progress at stanching the flow of congregational departures. This success has come at a terrible price, however, for it is at least partly due to an increasingly scorched earth, slash and burn policy adopted by the majority of presbyteries to exact crushing assessments on churches thinking about leaving. In some cases, presbyteries have openly declared that any window for departures has now closed and no further dismissals will be considered. As a result, it’s not surprising that the number of dismissals reported has dropped by over 50%.

This has led in turn to a welcome decrease in net membership loss — down from 89,893 in 2016 to 67,714 in 2017. Before the Louisville sluggers break out the champagne, though, it is worth pointing out that this number represents a 4.6% membership loss for 2017, less than the 5.7% of 2016 and less than the similar percentage losses annually going back to 2012, but still much higher than any year prior to that, where the highest rate of loss had been 3.2%. Not much to celebrate.

And things become even more glum when we consider that one of the big reasons for the unexpectedly large net loss is the fact that all the categories for “membership gains” (professions of faith, certificate of transfer, and “other”) continue their decline, while losses remain daunting. Perhaps most depressing is the fact that after reporting in 2016 a net increase in adult baptisms of about 15% over the number in 2014, that bump was reversed in 2017 with a net decrease of 39% in adult baptism figures. Equally sad is the fact that the number of infant/child baptisms continues its unbroken slide, indicating that the PCUSA is losing touch with families, and thus with a vibrant future.

Some optimists have pointed to the 1001 New Worshiping Communities (NWC) initiative as a strong sign of hope for renewal in the denomination. Launched in 2012, the vision is the creation of 1001 viable new congregations (many in non-traditional forms) over a 10 year period. Image result for new worshiping communities pcusaSo far, six years into the initiative, 448 communities are listed. Kudos must be given to those who envisioned and launched this effort — it is one of the few in PCUSA history to actually attempt to bring new people into the fold. But to be honest, some of these “communities” pre-dated the launch and were incorporated at the start (to boost numbers, I would guess), some have fizzled out (which is a natural part of experimenting with new ventures) and some are a long stretch from anything resembling a Christian community. Nevertheless, assuming all 448 still to be in existence and vibrant, and assuming the average participation rate of 33 per community (according to the NWC website), that would pencil out to about 15,000 “potential Presbyterians” reached through this creative avenue. However, to place hope in this as a means to float a sinking denomination is unwise.

In the same period as NWC was creating a maximum of 448 communities (from 2012-2017), the denomination as a whole lost (through dissolution or dismissal) 1162 congregations. It’s hard to know exactly how many people this represents, but if we use the denomination’s average congregational size for each year multiplied by the actual churches lost in that year, we come up with a figure of 194,262. The 15,000 possibly gained through NWCs at best replenishes less than 8% of those lost through the dissolution or dismissal of churches from the PCUSA during the life of the NWC initiative. Again, while I don’t mean to diminish in any way the welcoming of 15,000 new folks to the PCUSA (whether with full-fledged or tenuous commitments), the NWC movement is not going to provide a significant updraft to reverse the downward plunge of the denomination.

Stated Clerk J. Herbert Nelson, Jr. understands that. In his remarks, he states the obvious: “It is clear that Presbyterians are doing poorly at evangelism.” The reason for this is not hard to discern — most Presbyterians have no clue what evangelism entails, for they do not know what the good news of the gospel is all about. This failure at the pew level is due in large measure to a failure in the pulpits, seminaries and denominational bureaucracy, where the gospel has been reduced to social activism. Christ came not to save sinners, but to marshal a multitude of community organizers, apparently. While the apostle Paul could thunder, “I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…,” Stated Clerk Nelson seems to think that the heart of the gospel is “to share the faith, to demonstrate the power and justice of Jesus Christ and his church to change a world where inequality, injustice, violence and war seem to gain strength daily….” Image result for j herbert nelsonWhile the biblical gospel wield’s God’s power to transform human nature into a glorious reflection of Christ’s consummate nature for fellowship with God eternally, the earthly gospel of the PCUSA is a series of social, political, economic and ecological causes which good people are meant to rally around. These are by and large the passions of the politically liberal parties of the West, shellacked with a thin veneer of Christian utopianism, fueled by the implication that Jesus would really like to see these causes succeed, so we’d better get out and make them happen.

But is that really the heart of the gospel? Is that why Jesus came and died? Could he not just have sent a strategic plan for how to successfully conquer hunger, achieve world peace, end global warming, heal all manner of diseases, banish envy, anger, sloth, lust, and so on? Or did his death have some meaning on a larger, cosmic scale, overcoming spiritual powers that human beings find themselves helplessly enslaved by? Why is it that mainline churches hardly ever talk about “salvation” any longer, or if they do, they define it primarily in this-worldly terms?

Mr. Nelson realizes that people in the streets “find us lacking” a vision that is compelling. What we need, he thinks is a vision of God’s kin-dom (for, you see, we can’t say Kingdom any more — kings and kingdoms are too authoritarian, which is not at all politically correct; instead we are all members of one happy family, linked as kith and kin). What is lacking from this vision is not its compelling content, apparently; it’s how we have packaged it in the past. “We must find new ways to proclaim it and, more importantly, live it out in our congregations,” he wisely opines.

But if the message of the gospel is that we are called to rid the world of inequality, injustice, violence and war, how are we unique from other movements that desire the same things? Why not become a Communist, or a Democratic socialist, or even a Republican, or join the Rotary Club, or Elks, or any other of a number of philanthropic or service groups? If this is all the church has to offer as its message, it is any wonder that folks aren’t breaking down the doors to get in? If the person and work of Jesus Christ are no longer the center of the gospel, if the cross of Calvary is emptied of its significance, then we deserve to go out of existence. In that case, the best thing we could do is give our buildings away to others, resolve to be “good people,” and go quietly into the night.

Hot air balloons stay aloft for two reasons: they have an intact envelope (the balloon itself) with full integrity — i.e., no holes or gashes; and they have a burner able to heat air sufficiently to keep the balloon filled. Balloon PCUSA has been plummeting toward a fatal crash for two reasons: its envelope suffers from many holes, and its burner is defective.  Image result for hot air balloon crashingThe holes represent all the ways that the denomination fails to nurture and disciple its members into a life with Christ that is fulfilling and challenging, and instead pursues agendas that leave its members cold. It doesn’t take them long to find the holes enabling them to exit. The burner represents the proclamation of the true gospel, presenting the message of Christ which draws sinners to the Savior and to new life in him. The defective message coming from PCUSA pulpits and denominational leaders cannot produce the energy needed to fill and lift the balloon, and so as we have seen over the last 52 years, it has been sinking. Over the last 6 years, that drop has been dizzying.

It’s of little use saying the remaining air is now escaping at a slower rate; that’s the way inflated things work when they get to the end of their life — less pressure inside means that the remaining air leaves more slowly. But the balloon still descends, and often picks up speed as it nears the crash site.

Of course, the PCUSA is not an inanimate balloon. By God’s grace, the denomination can still repair the breaches in its envelope, and can refurbish its burner with the authentic gospel message. In such a scenario, the present descent toward destruction could be prevented, equilibrium regained and upward movement enabled after 52 years of decline.

But such a reversal starts with recognizing what’s gone wrong, and repairing and replacing the old with original factory parts. That’s not likely with J. Herbert Nelson, Jr. at the helm. As the balloon continues to plummet, he continues to chant, “The church is not dying, it is reforming.” If he stays in charge until the basket hits ground, it will indeed re-form, but in a way which will satisfy no member of the body of Christ, whether inside the PCUSA or out.

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Islam, Conspiracies and the Blame Game

Seventeen years ago, a Muslim relative and I were seated around the family kitchen table discussing Islam, Christianity and world events. Suddenly, out of the blue she declared, “It’s wrong for America to have declared war on Islam!”

“What are you talking about?,” I responded, truly puzzled. “What makes you say that?”

“It’s obvious,” she answered “Just look in any newspaper and you will see how the USA is against the Islamic world.”

“Why would we target a religion?” I asked.

She said, “Ever since the fall of Communism, America has needed another enemy to replace it, and Islam is the biggest target remaining, so you have set your sights on us.”

My dear relative’s mind was filled with conspiracy theories involving the beleaguered status of Islam in the world today. And anyone who talks with enough practicing Muslims knows that she is not alone. The Islamic mind is filled with questions about what went wrong with Islamic ascendancy in the world, why the kuffar (unbelievers) are “out to get them”, and why the Muslim community is being hindered from its goal of bringing the whole world into submission to Allah. Image result for conspiracy nutsThe favorite answers to these questions involve conspiracies — that is, the fault for the weaknesses and failures of the Muslim world lies principally with the machinations of others, not with the Muslim community itself.

This preoccupation with conspiracies is a direct result of the worldview inspired by the Qur’an, which teaches a supremacist ideology to its adherents. Sura 3:110 assures Muslims that they are “the best of all peoples”, while conversely unbelievers (especially Jews and Christians) are “the vilest of creatures” (98:6). Because Allah declared Muhammad to be the final prophet sent to mankind, his divine favor rests now upon all who embrace the message of Islam. As a result, the Muslim community is meant to rule the world, bringing everyone and everything into submission to the laws of Allah, which are perfect and complete (“Today I have perfected your religion for you…” [5:3]). Muslims today are taught about the glories of the caliphate(s), when Islam was ascendant over most rival powers in the world. It doesn’t take long, as Muslims survey their place in the world today, for the question “What went wrong?” to spring to mind.

Since most Muslims believe as an unassailable conviction that the religion of Islam itself is perfect, the idea of reforming Islam is a non-starter. That leaves them with two explanations.

The first is a limited form of self-assessment, with reasoning that goes like this: “Allah has promised to bless his obedient people with victory and domination over the unbelievers. But we are not victorious, which means that Allah is not happy with us. We have grown soft and disobedient. But if we return to the “straight path” and once again emulate Muhammad carefully in our lives and strive to obey Shari’a sincerely, Allah will grow pleased with us once more and will raise us to our rightful place over all rival powers.” This is the viewpoint of so-called “radical” groups, like the Muslim Brotherhood, Wahhabis, Salafists, Deobandis, Taliban and their militant offshoots — ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, Abu Sayyaf, etc., who are calling the larger Muslim world to “get serious” about embracing the “core” of Islam, committing their lives to the ways of Muhammad.

The vast majority of Muslims, though, don’t look too deeply into their own religious shortcomings. Instead, they pin the woes of the Islamic world on the many and powerful enemies of Islam, distilled into two main opponents: the Jews (i.e., Israel) and their superpower puppet, the USA. “Why don’t we see victory after victory by Muslims over unbelievers? Why do we lag behind the West in terms of economic and military strength, technology and modern conveniences, scientific discoveries and achievements? Why are we the powerless in world affairs while “they” dictate the terms of international relations? Image result for protocols of the elders of zion pdfWhy are we plagued by societal violence, governmental tyranny, political corruption and cultural backwardness? The obvious answer: it is due to the cunning conspiracies of the Jews and their puppets.

The Qur’an teaches that the Jews are “the strongest in enmity” toward Islam (5:82), and that they are irredeemably wicked. Here’s an entirely accurate if abbreviated summary of the Qur’anic assessment of the Jews as a people, as compiled by Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch:

The Qur’an depicts the Jews as inveterately evil and bent on destroying the wellbeing of the Muslims. They are the strongest of all people in enmity toward the Muslims (5:82); as fabricating things and falsely ascribing them to Allah (2:79; 3:75, 3:181); claiming that Allah’s power is limited (5:64); loving to listen to lies (5:41); disobeying Allah and never observing his commands (5:13); disputing and quarreling (2:247); hiding the truth and misleading people (3:78); staging rebellion against the prophets and rejecting their guidance (2:55); being hypocritical (2:14, 2:44); giving preference to their own interests over the teachings of Muhammad (2:87); wishing evil for people and trying to mislead them (2:109); feeling pain when others are happy or fortunate (3:120); being arrogant about their being Allah’s beloved people (5:18); devouring people’s wealth by subterfuge (4:161); slandering the true religion and being cursed by Allah (4:46); killing the prophets (2:61); being merciless and heartless (2:74); never keeping their promises or fulfilling their words (2:100); being unrestrained in committing sins (5:79); being cowardly (59:13-14); being miserly (4:53); being transformed into apes and pigs for breaking the Sabbath (2:63-65; 5:59-60; 7:166); and more.

With enemies like this, so the thinking goes, it’s no wonder Islam is under siege, barely holding its own! Since “the Jews” control the world banking system, and Hollywood, and the American political system, the influential newspapers, and most major corporations, their malevolent reach is all-pervasive. What have these evil enemies and their allies been up to, conspiring against Muslims? Here’s a brief list of some of the favorite conspiracies of Muslims:

  • The Holocaust was engineered by the Jews in order to obtain victimhood status leading to the appropriation of Palestine by European governments in a move to assuage their guilt
  • Jewish bankers secretly meet annually in a Swiss cemetery plotting how to maintain and advance their world domination (based on the discredited, anti-Semitic propaganda piece known as The Protocol of the Elders of Zion).
  • The Israeli spy service Mossad, or the CIA, or both, orchestrated the 9/11 attacks as a pretext to go to war against the Muslim world
  • Israel employed secret technology which created the earthquake that launched the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami which destroyed many coastal regions inhabited by Muslims and killed almost 300,000 people
  • The West’s offer of free vaccinations for polio (or other serums) are really an attempt to poison or chemically sterilize Muslims and so are to be avoided (Jonas Salk, the creator of the polio vaccine was, after all, a Jew
  • The USA and Israel created the AIDS virus and introduced it into sub-Saharan  Africa to kill Muslims
  •  The Israelis have trained sharks to attack Egyptians frequenting the Sharm al-Sheikh resort on the Red SeaImage result for remote controlled sharks
  • Likewise,  they have trained vultures to spy on Hezbollah in Lebanon
  • Muammar Qaddafi was secretly a Jew who turned on his fellow Arab leaders
  • According to former Iranian President Ahmadinejad when Iran was enduring a drought, the cause was European or Israeli technology which stole water from the clouds before they drifted over Iran
  • Pepsi and Coca Cola both secretly contain pork products, a move designed to make Muslims unclean before Allah. Pepsi is really an acronym that means Pay Each Penny Save Israel.
  • ISIS is a creation of Mossad and/or the CIA to wreak havoc in Muslim lands; proof of this is found in the fact that ISIS has never attacked Israel‪Russian state TV promotes the Rothschild conspiracy theory‬
  • Likewise, the ISIS caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is really a Jewish actor by the name of Simon Elliot who was recruited by the Israelis
  • Western cartoons are an attempt to indoctrinate Muslim children with unnatural characteristics: SpongeBob is a sissyfied boy and his best friend Sandy is a butch female squirrel; this is leading to gender confusion throughout the Muslim world
  • A 2001 episode of The Simpsons where Bart and his buddies are pictured in jet fighters bombing Arab terrorists, the flag on the side of a terrorist jeep looks strangely like the flag of one of the Syrian resistance army flags that wouldn’t appear for another 11 years. How did the creators of the show know about that flag? The US government tipped its hand as to its plans to start the Syrian civil war and fund the terrorists! (Watch Egyptian TV clip here).
  • The Western social battle against gender inequality, the thriving international drug  trade, the strings of deadly earthquakes in the Muslim world and the attack on the prophet under the guise of free speech by publishing “Muhammad cartoons” are all part of the Zionist conspiracy to weaken Muslim values and livelihoods
  • Lastly, one of my favorites, the reason the Muslim world cannot catch up to the West in the fields of science and technology is that the Israelis have hit squads all over the globe who are constantly murdering up and coming Muslim scientists, engineers and intellectual leaders out of fear and/or hatred. (Here’s a video clip of an Egyptian cleric espousing this view.)

In fact, in case you didn’t already realize this, the Jews are behind all the vile evils of the world, and it is the Allah-inspired, eschatological dream of Islam to eradicate all Jews from the earth, as recorded in Sahih Muslim 7339:

Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying:

The last hour would not come unless the Muslims will fight against the Jews and the Muslims would kill them until the Jews would hide themselves behind a stone or a tree and a stone or a tree would say: Muslim, or the servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me; come and kill him; but the tree Gharqad would not say, for it is the tree of the Jews.

What’s so mystifying in all this is the question of how the followers of an all-powerful, all-sovereign Allah can traffic in an endless number of conspiracies which attribute the kind of power to the Jews and other kuffar that can thwart the will of their god! Why does Allah not demolish the plots of the vilest of his enemies? After all, the Qur’an says that he is “the best of plotters!” (8:30). Is he not capable of outwitting the crafty kuffar?

Sadly, by its very nature Islam discourages Muslims from employing the feedback loop of critical self-examination, except to consider whether they are being the best Muslims they can be according to the example of Muhammad. ISIS, Boko Haram, the Salafis and Muslim Brotherhood pass this exam with flying colors. They hope their example will spur other Muslims to go “all in” as well, and ignore the question of why these “conspiracies” seem to work so successfully against the goals of the ummah even after the rise of the “radical” movement in the last 90 years.

Regardless, the blame game will continue within the house of Islam, with Muslims as victims tagging the nearest convenient non-Muslims (or the ever available Jews) as the source of their problems — unless and until they secure a united caliphate and force the submission of all challengers. Then, there’ll be no one to blame any longer, and they can bask in the knowledge of their supremacy as the best of all peoples who have finally put the vile offenders under their boot, a tiny foretaste of the punishments to which Allah will subject the reprobate for eternity in the fires of Hell.

Personally, I can’t help but root for the conspirators….



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Dis-Barring Islam?

The reactions were fast and furious, after Roseanne Barr’s Valerie Jarrett tweet hit the Twitter world early Tuesday morning.  Image result for valerie jarrettJarrett, former President Obama’s senior adviser, was born in Iran to African-American parents. Barr’s insulting comment about Jarrett read, “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.”

Within a few hours, ABC announced they were cancelling the very successful “Roseanne” sitcom reboot, declaring that her tweet was “…abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values.” Barr, for her part, had already issued an apology, recognizing that she had crossed the line of decency in a poor attempt at partisan humor. But the damage was done, and thousands erupted with indignation using words such as “offensive, disgraceful, racist, distasteful, inexcusable, and hateful.”

Rightly so. Such pejoratives should never be thought much less directed at another human being. Yet unbridled human nature is capable of much worse. Spend a day on a middle school or high school campus and you’ll hear a lot more hair-raising verbal abuse than Rosanne’s tweet. But we excuse that in adolescents. With 65 years olds, it’s another story. Roseanne is reaping what she has sown, and the public heaping shame and scorn on her.

Frankly, I’ve been a bit surprised by the speed and ferocity of condemnations issued, especially by the self-described “tolerant Left.” In spite of her swift apology, very few have been willing to cut her any slack. I can understand this. But in the name of consistency, we need to apply this same standard elsewhere.

Barr’s “Planet of the Apes” allusion immediately reminded me of another instance where certain human beings are regularly regarded as sub-human by millions of other human beings, yet this reality hardly ever makes the news. On any given Friday in thousands of venues around the world, this hate speech spews from orators and is applauded by listeners. It happens in mosques and prayer halls, in classrooms and at rallies. Muslim leaders routinely speak of “the Jews” variously as the “descendants of apes and pigs,” “brothers of apes and pigs,” or simply as “apes and pigs” by nature. Mohammad Morsi, former president of Egypt and leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, argued that the Arab peoples should never negotiate with Israel, “the descendants of apes and pigs.” Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, has echoed the same language. So have imams and popular religious leaders around the Muslim world. Have any of them apologized for such hate speech? No. Have Western mainstream media or leading politicians called them out for such odious remarks? No.  If you think I’m exaggerating, take a look at the video below, recorded about 12 years ago, of the then Syrian Deputy Minister of Religious Endowment, Dr. Muhammad ‘Abd al-Sattar, who in light of his official position should know a little something about Islam:

If you didn’t already know, Dr. Sattar makes it clear that the reason Muslims commonly denigrate and dehumanize “the Jews” as a people is because the Qur’an teaches them to. In three places, the Muslim “holy book” teaches that because of Jewish disobedience, Allah transformed a group of Jews into apes or pigs:

And question them concerning the township which was bordering the sea, when they transgressed the Sabbath, when their fish came to them on the day of their Sabbath, swimming shorewards, but on the day they kept not Sabbath, they came not unto them. Even so We were trying them for their ungodliness. And when a certain nation of them said, ‘Why do you admonish a people God is about to destroy or to chastise with a terrible chastisement?’ They said, ‘As an excuse to your Lord; and haply they will be godfearing.’ So, when they forgot that they were reminded of; We delivered those who were forbidding wickedness, and We seized the evildoers with evil chastisement for their ungodliness. And when they turned in disdain from that forbidding We said to them, ‘Be you apes, miserably slinking!’ (Sura 7:163-66; Arberry translation).

And [recall] when We took your covenant, [O Children of Israel, to abide by the Torah] and We raised over you the mount, [saying], “Take what We have given you with determination and remember what is in it that perhaps you may become righteous”…. And you had already known about those who transgressed among you concerning the sabbath, and We said to them, “Be apes, despised.” (Sura 2:63, 65; Sahih International translation).

Say: “Shall I inform you of something worse than that, regarding the recompense from Allah: those (Jews) who incurred the Curse of Allah and His Wrath, those of whom (some) He transformed into monkeys and swines, those who worshipped Taghut (false deities); such are worse in rank (on the Day of Resurrection in the Hell­fire), and far more astray from the Right Path (in the life of this world)” (Sura 5:60; Mohsin Khan translation).

If Roseanne Barr is rightly pilloried for the atrocious abuse she directed publicly toward Valerie Jarrett in one tweet, for which she immediately apologized, what should conscientious, ethically-minded Westerners who don’t want to be charged with hypocrisy say concerning a religion which tars and feathers a whole race of people, linking them with animals which are despised by that religion? Apologists will say, “The Qur’an does not say that Allah has transformed all Jews into apes and pigs, but only specific groups in the past who disobeyed him.” Certainly this is true. But the Qur’an makes it clear that the Jews are the enemies of Allah and thus of all Muslims. And a random sampling of Friday sermons or Muslim clerics speaking about the Jews reveals very quickly the common mindset that Jews are subhuman, vile, greedy, treacherous, filthy degenerates who are behind all the world’s major ills. This is racism at its most robust, most satanic.

It’s bad enough when one human being publicly speaks evilly of another. Such behavior needs to be called out and condemned, as is happening in the case of Roseanne Barr. But what happens when the same kind of thing happens on a massive scale, as mandated by a religion’s sacred scriptures and historical practice? Do we have the guts to stand against such an evil mindset, to challenge Islam on its ingrained hatred of the Jews?

If not, let’s get used to wearing the title, “Hypocrites,” for that is what we will be. In spades.

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Ramadan: Breaking Your Fast with Some Punch[es]…

A few days ago, I wrote about the onset of Ramadan and the negative impact it often has on Muslim society [The Dark Spirit of Ramadan]. I cited a passage from Sir Richard F. Burton’s book describing his journey to Medina and Mecca, published in 1855, where he offered observations on life in Cairo during the month of Ramadan. Among other things, he said,

“…the chief effect of the “blessed month” [i.e., Ramadan] is to darken their [i.e., Muslim] tempers into positive gloom.”

One hundred and sixty some years later, things haven’t changed much. Screengrab of the brawl outside the Musjid-Al-Hilal mosque in Berea.

Below is a link to  clips caught on video of a “Ramadan brawl” which erupted outside the Masjid al-Hilal mosque in Overton, a suburb of Durban, South Africa, just after evening prayers had concluded. No information was posted as to the cause of the scuffle.


While it is true that violence is not limited to followers of any one religion, it is certainly rare to find worshipers exchanging blows immediately after leaving a time of community prayer, at least in religions other than Islam. The stresses and strains of Ramadan seem to bring out the worst in human nature.




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Ramadonald Trump

In this Muslim season of Ramadan, one of the social myths promulgated by former President Obama and gladly trumpeted by the mainstream media as fact is that the White House has had a long tradition of celebrating iftar (a meal that breaks the Ramadan fast at the end of each day of that lunar month) with Muslim guests.Image result for iftar How long does that tradition reach back? All the way to the presidency of Thomas Jefferson in 1805! So goes the myth. Even the New York Times has carried water for this fairytale in an attempt to show how tolerant or even approving our founding fathers and most presidents since then have been toward Islam.

In a front-page article from August 14, 2010, entitled Obama Strongly Backs Islam Center Near 9/11 Site, “journalist” Sheryl Gay Stolberg reported on remarks made by the then President as he hosted the Ramadan ceremony at the White House. This is how she characterized the history of iftars at the White House:

In hosting the iftar, Mr. Obama was following a White House tradition that, while sporadic, dates to Thomas Jefferson, who held a sunset dinner for the first Muslim ambassador to the United States. President George W. Bush hosted iftars annually.

Perhaps Stolberg is to be excused for swallowing the President’s message hook, line and sinker that evening as he spoke of Jefferson’s trailblazing dinner as “the first known iftar at the White House,”  in honor of “the first Muslim ambassador to the United States.” Yet, even if Mr. Obama was willing to play fast and loose with the truth, a journalist should have higher standards.

According to historical records, here’s a more accurate report of what happened under Jefferson’s administration. Some fifteen years prior to the onset of his presidency, the Barbary States of North Africa, all Muslim, had begun raiding and seizing American merchant ships in the Mediterranean, demanding of the fledgling U.S. government both ransom for the captured ships and personnel and then an annual tribute from the USA in exchange for freedom from further harrassment by the “Barbary pirates”, as they became known. America had no navy of her own, having formerly been protected by the British Crown until the onset of the Revolutionary War. The aggression of the Muslim pirates against U.S. merchant interests led to the formation of the U.S. Department of the Navy in 1798. In 1786, however, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams had been sent overseas to negotiate with Tripoli for an end to the unprovoked hostilities from the Barbary States. They came away without success, but with a better understanding of the enemy they were facing. Jefferson reported to then Secretary of Foreign Affairs, John Jay:

It was written in their Koran, that all nations which had not acknowledged the Prophet were sinners, whom it was the right and duty of the faithful to plunder and enslave; and that every mussulman [Muslim] who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise.

Since at that time the U.S. Navy was still in its infancy, Congress bowed to the Barbary demands for tribute money in order to ensure the safety of American vessels in the Mediterranean. But Jefferson was not happy with this state of affairs. Upon becoming President in 1801, he decided it was time to end the forced tribute payments. When he rejected the tribute demands of the Pasha of Tripoli, the latter declared war on the USA on May 10, 1801. Four years and one month later, the First Barbary War would end with a treaty signed June 10, 1805. However, naval forays still occurred on both sides, and later that year, the Tunisian Pasha decided to send an envoy to Washington to negotiate favorable terms of restitution for losses and continued tribute. The envoy, Sidi Soliman Mellimelli, together with his entourage, arrived on November 30, 1805.Image result for mellimelli

Jefferson promptly invited Mellimelli to join him for a dinner together with other Washington guests scheduled for 3:30 PM on December 9th, either unaware that this date was right in the middle of the Muslim month of Ramadan that year (Dec. 9th was the equivalent of the 17th of Ramadan) or that the Muslim envoy would be fasting at that time of day. Mellimelli sent back word that he would have to decline since he could not take refreshment until sundown due to his fasting obligations. As a courtesy to Mellimelli, Jefferson promptly changed the timing of the dinner from the usual 3:30 to “precisely at sunset.” (See the link to the Thomas Jefferson Encyclopedia here.)

This is the basis upon which Mr. Obama staked his preposterous claim that “the first known iftar at the White House” was hosted by Thomas Jefferson. There is no evidence in any records of the time that Jefferson was taking any note of the religious holiday in question, nor asking his guests to celebrate it with the Muslim envoy; rather, this was merely an instance of courtesy extended to Mellimelli to enable him to accept the White House invitation.

Journalist Stolberg was apparently aware enough of Obama’s sleight of hand that she could not bring herself to call the dinner an iftar celebration directly — she refers to it as a “sunset dinner” — but nonetheless she creates a strong innuendo for the unsuspecting reader to conclude that it must have been an iftar held to honor the “first Muslim ambassador.” Another correction: in point of fact, Mellimelli was not sent as an ambassador from Tripoli but as a temporary envoy, whose stay in Washington lasted about six months.

Even more deceptive, however, is Stolberg’s glib assertion that the 2010 iftar hosted by Mr. Obama continues a long, if sporadic, White House tradition, which of course if true would support the former president’s claim that Islam has always been part of American history. We have already seen, however, that Thomas Jefferson did not host a Ramadan dinner back in 1805. So who was the first president to kick off the long tradition of honoring Muslims by helping them break their fast with a meal at America’s House? Was it James Madison in 1816? No. How about John Quincy Adams in 1828? Hardly. Perhaps James Buchanan in 1860 just prior to the Civil War? Nope. William McKinley at the turn of the 20th Century? Struck out again. Woodrow Wilson? FDR? Richard Nixon? Jimmy Carter? Ronald Reagan? Bill Clinton? No, no, no, no, no, no.

The long, if sporadic White House tradition turns out to be anything but long and sporadic. The first White House iftar celebration took place during George H. W. Bush’s administration on Nov. 19th, 2001. Desperate to project the image that the USA was not at war with Islam as a whole while yet undertaking a bombing campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Mr. Bush sought to cozy up with Muslim dignitaries and luminaries by showing iftar solidarity with them. He continued this new practice throughout his administration, and Mr. Obama continued it throughout his eight years as well. The “tradition” was thus sixteen years old, when President Trump came into office and decided last year not to continue the practice, at least for 2017. There are some fresh murmurs among the political elite that he may give in to pressure this month and “throw an iftar celebration” at the White House just to prove that he has no animus against Islam after all.

Nevertheless, Mr. Trump has continued a presidential tradition of offering “Ramadan greetings” to the Muslim world. In the midst of many innocuous words no doubt carefully chosen by speechwriters, he noted that for Muslims Ramadan represents the month of the year when, according to tradition, the Qur’an was sent down to Muhammad through the angel Jibril. “Many observe this holy time,” he said, “by fasting, performing acts of charity, reciting prayers, and reading the Quran.”

This is all true. Muslims believe that by this month of discipline and piety they are training themselves to be more obedient slaves of Allah, and they are hoping for his favor. Their religion tells them that every act of piety earns at least double rewards from Allah when done in this “blessed month.” So by fasting every day, reading the Qur’an more faithfully, giving alms more generously, reciting extra prayers in the evening, they are racking up salvation points that will counteract the demerits of their sins. Of course, that’s not surprising — every legalistic approach to God has to come up with a system of do’s and don’ts and a scale to weigh one’s progress or recidivism.

But what Muslims don’t tell the rest of the world is that their Ramadan charity is almost exclusively limited to Muslim recipients. The zakat (mandatory giving) they fork over is in some measure applied compassionately to the poor and the needy (among Muslims, that is); but part of that almsgiving is also sent to support jihadis engaged in extending the conquest of Islam over the world, as well as the building of mosques, printing of Qur’ans and so on. Almsgiving does not always mean almsgiving; sometimes it means supporting the war effort.

Further, most Muslims never share with outsiders that within the camp of the true believers Ramadan is commonly refered to as “the month of jihad.” Why is this? Because during Ramadan, Allah is calling his slaves to excel in good deeds so as to advance his totalitarian agenda. And what is the best of all deeds, in Allah’s eyes? Well, according to Muhammad, it is jihad fi sabil-ullah — armed warfare to advance the cause of Allah. In the most authoritative collection of Hadith, we find this account:

A man came to Allah’s Messenger and said, “Instruct me as to such a deed as equals Jihad (in reward).” He replied, “I do not find such a deed.” Then he [i.e., Muhammad] added, “Can you, while the Muslim fighter is in the battle-field, enter your mosque to perform prayers without cease and fast and never break your fast?” The man said, “But who can do that?” Abu- Huraira added, “The Mujahid (i.e. Muslim fighter) is rewarded even for the footsteps of his horse while it wanders about (for grazing) tied in a long rope.” (Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 4, Book 52, Hadith 44).

If jihad is the best of all deeds (or even if it only ranks in the top 10), then during Ramadan when its already tantalizing rewards are multiplied by 10 or 70 or 700 (depending on which scholar you read) the impulse to engage in jihad grows exponentially. It’s no surprise that more violence and killing occurs during Ramadan than during any other month of the Islamic calendar. Mr. Trump’s Ramadan greetings somehow failed to mention this.

In case you doubt this take on Ramadan, try googling “Ramadan and jihad”, and you’ll swiftly discover what traditional Sunni scholars are thrilled to share: that most of Islam’s great military victories, whether under Muhammad’s leadership or after his demise, have taken place in this “blessed month.” Ramadan is the month in which Allah sends his angels rank after rank to lend support to jihadi armies. It is the time that Muslims are most conscientious in their obedience, and most fervent in their belief concerning Islamic supremacy. Imams stir up the faithful by reminding them that during Ramadan Allah sent the first Muslim armies out for conquest in 623 AD; that he gave Muslims their first huge battle victory at Badr in 624, when they were greatly outnumbered; that in Ramadan 630 Muhammad and his armies marched victoriously into Mecca; and the next year with an army of 30,000 during the ninth month they captured the northern Arabian town of Tabuk. Image result for Muhammad and TabukAfter Muhammad’s death, the Caliph ‘Umar arrived during Ramadan to oversee the surrender of Jerusalem to the forces of Islam. Likewise, during Ramadan 641 the Muslim armies invaded Egypt under ‘Amr ibn al-‘Aas, one of Muhammad’s favorite generals (and one of my putative ancestors).’ It was during the month of Ramadan (644) that Islamic forces conquered the Indus valley; that the conquest of Andalusia began (710); that Muslim forces stopped the advance of the Mongol hordes in the Battle of ‘Ain Jalout (1260); and on and on and on.

Muslims are proud of their martial history, and understand that while jihad is commanded for all times and seasons, it is particularly “blessed” during the month of Ramadan. So while our presidents and cultural leaders stumble all over themselves to acknowledge “the richness Muslims add to the religious tapestry of American life,” to use the unctuous words of Trump’s speechwriting mandarins, the rest of us need to know the bigger picture as to how the month of Ramadan fits into the overall worldview of Islam.

The obedience of Muslims during Ramadan is not limited to the relatively harmless acts of fasting, almsgiving, reading the Qur’an and praying extra prayers. It also includes striving after the greatest deed of all in Islam: to kill or be killed in the cause of Allah. The sharp upswing in violent attacks by devoted Muslims who believe they are doing Allah’s will and that unimaginable sensual rewards await them in Paradise is a sad testament to the conviction that Ramadan is the blessed month of jihad.

Would that our political leaders took more notice of this while sipping tea and nibbling  dates at iftar dinners….

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The Dark Spirit of Ramadan

A few days ago, a billion and a half Muslims around the world entered the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of their lunar calendar year. During this 30 day month, Muslim adults are required to fast from food, drink and all pleasurable activities from sunrise to sunset. To be more precise, fasting is to begin with the earliest of the five mandatory daily prayers, the Fajr prayer, and it ends with the call to the Maghrib prayer after sunset. In a place like Cairo, as summer approaches, that means a Muslim will have to fast close to fifteen and a half hours! Today, May 17th, the fajr prayer call began at 3:21 AM local time, and the Magrhib prayer call will commence at 6:42 PM. As summer approaches, high temperatures in Cairo are approaching 100 F, and will crest that next week. When Ramadan occurs during summer months, maintaining ones’ personal equilibrium is always challenging.

Recently, I have been reading the Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to al-Medina and Mecca, by famed British explorer Sir Richard F. Burton, first published in 1855. Recorded on pp. 74-76 of volume 1 of my copy of the Memorial edition (published 1893), Burton shares his impressions of life in a Muslim city during Ramadan.Richard Francis Burton by Rischgitz, 1864.jpg A self-described atheist, Burton was an equal opportunity lampooner of the fasting rituals of various religions, but here focuses principally upon the effects of Ramadan fasting on the life of the community. It’s a fascinating snapshot of fallen human attempts to be sufficiently religious:

Like the Italian, the Anglo-Catholic, and the Greek fasts, the chief effect of the “blessed month” [i.e., Ramadan] is to darken their [i.e., Muslim] tempers into positive gloom. Their voices, never of the softest, acquire, especially after noon, a terribly harsh and creaking tone. The men curse one another and beat the women. The women slap and abuse the children, and these in their turn cruelly entreat, and use bad language to, the dogs and cats. Image result for 1850s CairoYou can scarcely spend ten minutes in any populous part of the city without hearing some violent dispute. The “Karakun,” or station-houses [police stations], are filled with lords who have administered an undue dose of chastisement to their ladies, and with ladies who have scratched, bitten, and otherwise injured the bodies of their lords. The Mosques are crowded with a sulky, grumbling population, making themselves offensive to one another on earth whilst working their way to heaven; and in the shade, under the outer walls, the little boys who have been expelled [from] the church [i.e., mosque] attempt to forget their miseries in spiritless play. In the bazars (sic) and streets, pale long-drawn faces, looking for the most part intolerably cross, catch your eye, and at this season a stranger will sometimes meet with positive incivility….In fine, the Ramadan, for many classes, is one-twelfth of the year wantonly thrown away.

It’s ironic, isn’t it, how the sin-stained heart, in striving to prove its allegiance to God by prodigious fleshly efforts, only succeeds in sinning more by taking its misery out on “innocent bystanders”? Even dogs and cats cannot escape! “He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still” (1 Jn 2:9)

For all that is said in the Qur’an about Allah being a god of mercy and compassion, Islam in practice is anything but a religion of grace and freedom. Muslims feel compelled to strive to keep the minimum commandments of prayer, fasting and alms-giving at the very least, and if possible to outdo their neighbors, hoping Allah will notice them with blessing and reward. But, of course, they have no assurance of Allah’s favor, and cannot know until Judgment Day whether they have made the celestial cut.

How different is the message of the gospel, and Jesus’ words of welcome and acceptance: “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowImage result for a dog at restly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt. 11:28-30).

Assaad is an Iraqi friend of mine, who has lived in the USA for less than two years. Now in his 40s, Assaad identified himself as a Shi’ite Muslim all his life, until about a month ago when he gave his heart to Jesus Christ. A group of us were sitting around talking with him two days ago, and someone asked him how he felt about the onset of the month of Ramadan and the fasting it required. “Good riddance,” he answered in Arabic. “My only regret is that for 1400 years Muslims have been enslaved by the chains of this ritual.” Another person asked him, “What attracted you to Christianity?” His answer was simple: “Jesus. Jesus loves me.”

In the next thirty days, as Muslims stagger under the weight of the chains of Ramadan, would you join me in praying for them, that the love of Jesus will break through the darkness that keeps them enslaved in fear and bondage, and that many more “Assaads” will be brought by Christ “…out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9)? Only the Lord can set the captive free!

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. A billion and a half Muslims desperately need to meet Jesus, “for if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed!” (John 8:36). There is no greater gift we can offer a Muslim than to introduce him to Jesus, or if we don’t have that chance, then at least to pray for his redemption from captivity! Such prayers, I am convinced, are deeply pleasing to God.

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Coffee Clash — Islamophobia in California?

A troubling cell phone video clip is making the rounds on Twitter and other social media. Recorded at a California coffee shop last Friday afternoon, it was posted Saturday mid-morning, and shows an encounter between an unpleasant American man and a burqa-clad American woman. They are both standing in line waiting to order, and the clip starts after he has apparently made a snide remark about her attire, asking rhetorically if it is Halloween. She asks why he would say that, inquires if he knows she is a Muslim, and things heat up from there. There is no question that the behavior of the man in question is deplorable, and in the end he is denied service by the coffee shop manager on duty for two stated reasons:

  1. disrupting a public place
  2. being very racist.

If you wish to watch the video, here it is [brace yourself for some foul language]:

When I first watched this video, I felt disgust and dismay that a person could display such open disdain for another human being simply on the basis of negative assumptions concerning the religion of Islam. The whole encounter was marked by incivility displayed not only by the man and the Muslim woman toward each other, but also by a seated customer who roars out a profanity-laced tirade against the man in question about halfway through the clip. The interaction portrays a clearcut case of Islamophobia, marked by bigotry and loathing, and should be roundly condemned by all.

However, the manager’s decision was not very balanced. If the “bigot” was rightly tossed for disrupting a public place, then the same judgment should have applied to the male customer whose loud tirade certainly disturbed the peaceful atmosphere of the cafe. Likewise, an impartial judge would have ordered the Muslim woman to leave. Why? If you watch the conversation carefully, you will note how the woman raises her voice, escalating the argument. She becomes the aggressor, and continues to argue after the “bigot” holds up his hand twice and tells her to “back off.” She asks him if he’s a Christian and proceeds to launch a standard Muslim polemic against Jesus in the New Testament, claiming he endorsed the killing of his enemies. When the man tells her one last time he doesn’t want to talk with her because he doesn’t have conversations “with idiots,” she plays the victim card, declaring loudly, “You are committing hate speech; you are committing hate speech against me!”, at which point the aforementioned, unfilmed customer begins yelling, as if on cue, “Get out of here! Get out of here! F***ing racist!” The “bigot” and the loudmouth continue to exchange colorful epithets until the video cuts to the final scene where the “bigot” is standing before the manager as she explains why she will not serve him. In my opinion, if one of them was rightly denied service for “disrupting a public place,” the other two should have been as well. One might object that the Muslim woman was not the instigator but the victim, and yet she was the one who loudly pressed the matter after the “bigot” was seemingly ready to move on.

The second reason given by the manager was that the “bigot” was “being very racist.” This is a common charge against those labeled “anti-Muslim”, and it is one of the most pejorative labels in our culture, inviting universal condemnation of the accused. However, since Islam is not a race but a religion, one practiced by members of perhaps every racial group on the earth, the criticism of Islam and those who practice it faithfully has nothing to do with race. In the case of this video, the man and woman involved in dispute are both Caucasian, so obviously this is not about race. She is Muslim; he is not. That is the source of their dispute. You might argue that his behavior was boorish and hateful, and that hers was aggressive and opportunistic, and that they could be shown the door for those behaviors, but not for the stated reason of racism.

In any case, the incivility revealed in this encounter trumpets a warning about how we as a society have lost the capacity to treat each other with respect and to engage in conversations profitably rather than as a means to demean  the other or disparage his/her beliefs.

Unless it was staged.

I don’t say that lightly. But something troubled me about the overall feel of the video, and I am left with nagging questions.

First, who was filming this, and how did they deploy their smart phone quickly enough to capture the encounter almost from the start?

Second, how did “journalist C. J. Werleman” get ahold of this clip so quickly as to be able to post it on his Twitter account by 10:15 the next morning? If I read the watch correctly of the man in the video (you can see it in the first two seconds of the clip), this took place at 3 pm, California time. Werleman, on a self-confessed crusade to “…expose the Islamophobia industry and end anti-Muslim discrimination…,” boasted that he was “happy to have helped break this story.” I wonder how carefully he vetted the source from whom he received the clip, since it obviously fits so well the narrative he continues to push.

Third, why does the Muslim lady escalate the disagreement, raising her voice and challenging his beliefs, bringing up the Bible even after he seeks to wave her off, only at that point loudly accusing him of “hate speech” against her?

Fourth, why does an off-screen customer suddenly start bellowing a verbal attack against the “bigot” precisely at this point? Do these things typically happen in cafes? Perhaps it’s just my nature, but I would never consider yelling out in a coffee shop. I would either quietly mind my own business, or would get up and engage the parties, attempting to de-escalate the argument and restore some kind of peace.

Fifth, what happened during the period that has been cut from the clip? Maybe nothing, maybe more hurled epithets that the editor decided didn’t need to be heard by the public. But suddenly we are introduced to the conversation between the manager and the “bigot,” who then leaves quickly. Given the huge disruption of this event, one might expect that there would be cheers or clapping from the patrons, but surprisingly it’s back to business as usual.

Lastly, the Muslim woman’s question to the manager at the end seems highly contrived to me, as if she wanted to make sure to have on video record the manager’s assessment. “Why are you not serving him?” she asks, as the phone is pointed at the employee. Who would have the presence of mind to ask this “summary question,” if you’ve just been in an emotional dispute?

As you can tell, I’m skeptical. There have been far too many “fake Islamophobia” claims made by Muslims and later debunked by authorities for me to simply take things on face value. Why would Muslims fake hateful encounters, when there certainly are some real attacks against Muslims in America?Image result for fake islamophobia The answer to this is that by playing up victimhood status, Muslim groups hope to garner sympathy from the wider non-Muslim public and so win a kind of cultural “protected status” where Islam is increasingly sheltered from the appropriate study and critique to which every other worldview is subjected.

And from the popularity of this video clip, it seems to be working. So far, in just two days’ time, the original tweet has been viewed some 1.12 million times.

Once again, for those ready to tar and feather me for expressing my skepticism, let me reiterate my view that if this encounter really happened without being staged, it is indeed reprehensible on many levels, not least of which is the disdain and debasement directed toward an innocent Muslim woman, simply because she is Muslim. Such behavior must not be tolerated among Americans, who claim to believe in the “self-evident truths” that all human beings are created in the image of God and entitled to seek life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Even less is it to be tolerated among those who confess themselves to be Christians, and who claim to follow a Master who commands His followers to love their neighbors as themselves, even to the point of sacrificing themselves for the benefit of those rise up as enemies.

Image result for sandcastles erodingIn a societal context where basic civility is visibly eroding like sandcastles before relentless incoming waves, Christians especially need to stand against hatred and its offspring, whether we find it in our hearts or in the public sphere of which we find ourselves a part.

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