Postcards from Jordan

Postcards from Jordan

November 09, 2017

It's good to be back on American soil! Despite all the problems and challenges our country faces, America is still a blessed nation. It's an exceptional nation. For the disciples of those who have spent the last decade denouncing America and apologizing for what it stands for, here's a suggestion. See for yourself how the majority of the rest of the non-radicalized world doesn't hate America, they appreciate America; this is what I see almost every time I travel beyond America's borders.

Yesterday, our private, unofficial delegation of evangelical leaders wrapped up our week and a half trip to the Middle East where we met with church and government leaders in Egypt and Jordan. Our final meeting was a working lunch with Jordanian King Abdullah II at the Royal Palace in Amman. The discussion over a traditional Jordanian meal covered a variety of topics including terrorism, human rights, and a particular focus on the continuing refugee crisis in the Middle East. During our three days in Jordan, we met with top cabinet ministers who provided very informative and comprehensive briefings on the state of affairs in Jordan and the broader Middle East. The heavy emphasis in various briefings was on the refugees that have fled war-torn countries, primarily Syria, and the state of religious freedom for all people in Jordan.

Appropriately, on Sunday, the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church, we were able to visit Al Zaatari, a United Nations refugee camp located about nine miles from the Syrian border. Al Zaatari presently serves as home to about 80,000 refugees, both Christian and Sunni Muslims who fled the terror of ISIS. We spoke to some families who have been there since the camp opened six years ago and listened to them explain their desire to return to their home country if and when it became safe again.

According to Jordanian officials, who have done a remarkable job of securing their border to keep ISIS and other terrorists out, this vast refugee camp only reflects about 10 percent of the refugees who have come into Jordan. Ninety percent are now living in Amman and other Jordanian towns and villages, integrating with the local population. In total, there are approximately 1.4 million refugees who have fled into Jordan. Based upon previous refugee patterns, Jordanian officials are anticipating that 40 percent will permanently settle in Jordan. Here's the challenge for the Jordanians -- that 1.4 million represents a population increase of nearly 25 percent in less than six years.

Jordan's capitol, Amman, which is home to nearly half the country's population, is a thriving, modern, and clean city. Like Egypt, which has a historic Christian population, there is a peaceful coexistence between the various religions in most parts of Jordan, especially in Amman. By Middle Eastern standards, Jordan is one of the safest and most accepting of Christians next to Israel. Jordan is the Muslim nation in the Middle East that has been the closest ally to the U.S. and, despite the shooting of two Jordanians by a security guard at Israel's Amman embassy, maintains very close ties to Israel.

King Abdullah and his father, King Hussain, realized that in the absence of natural resources like oil, water, etc., their people were their best resource, so a major emphasis has been made on education. As a result, Jordan has a literacy rate of 98 percent. This focus on education factors into the Jordanian response to the current refugee crisis, which is the largest migration of people, 65 million, since World War II. To help bring greater future stability, the Jordanians are educating and providing some vocation training to the refugees who are coming from regions with high illiteracy rates. At present, they have taken over 200,000 additional students into their educational system.

This commitment, which is being financially supported by the U.S. government, still comes with a high price. Before the Arab Spring in 2011, the Jordanian economy was experiencing an annual growth of six percent. With their major markets cut off for the sale of their goods, the influx of refugees, loss of energy supplies from the embattled countries and a 67 percent rise in food cost, unemployment has soared to over 15 percent.

In addition to our meeting with governmental leaders in Jordan, we met with leaders of the five evangelical denominations in Jordan. Meeting with these Arab Christian leaders, many of whom deeply love their neighbor Israel, was one of the highlights of the trip for me. They shared remarkable stories of what God is doing in the Middle East and how the people are open to the gospel in ways unseen in the past. But they also shared the ongoing challenges of living in a country where they represent only two percent of the population. They are very grateful for the protection and freedom of worship that is extended to Christians in Jordan by King Abdullah. However, unlike the mainline and orthodox denominations, they do not have a voice in or access to the government. They, like us, want to see all people enjoy the freedom of religion, including those born Muslim. These are issues we hope to work on in the weeks and months ahead.

But most importantly, they wanted us to convey, just like our brothers and sisters in Egypt, that there is a window of opportunity to bring help and hope to the hurting people of the Middle East, which could reshape this region of the world and bring greater stability. While nothing we do will result in the perfect peace that is yet to come, our prayers and our efforts should be focused on what this opportunity does present -- the possibility of a more peaceful world.

Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.

Close Encounters of the Ron Kind

November 09, 2017

Democrats say the darndest things. Of course, most of the press are too busy taking Donald Trump out of context to notice -- leaving plenty of liberals free to say whatever outrageous things they want. Congressman Ron Kind (D-Wisc.) is the latest beneficiary of the liberal media's double standard, barely receiving any coverage for his shocking statement on the House floor this week.

In what will surely be a contender for Most Preposterous Statement of 2017, Kind let loose on the GOP's push to repeal the government's muzzle on churches and other nonprofits, known as the Johnson Amendment, arguing that doing so would somehow lead to mass killings. While America still walks around in shock from the long shadow cast by the church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Rep. Kind had the audacity to suggest that letting pastors talk openly about the political issues of the day would lead to blood in the streets. "Repealing the Johnson Amendment will politicize the pulpit, it will create civil war in the pews. You politicize the pulpit, it's going to make the Sunni-Shia conflict in the Middle East look like a picnic."

Stunned, conservative columnists for Townhall and PJ Media re-watched the footage to make sure they'd heard him right. They had. The Wisconsin Democrat actually claimed that the protection of free speech would lead to something worse than 1,400 years of sectarian slaughter. In the millions of words uttered on the House floor this year, few have been as ludicrous as those. For starters, protecting and promoting free speech has led to more peace, not less. Secondly, if Rep. Kind thinks an amendment that most Americans have never heard of would trigger the centuries of carnage we've seen in the Middle East, he's off his rocker. Americans of different faiths aren't engaged in sectarian violence -- and I highly doubt that a reiteration of the First Amendment would incite it.

But Rep. Kind isn't the only one fearmongering over what should be a non-issue. Rep. John Lewis, a Georgian Democrat who introduced an amendment to keep the Johnson Amendment, echoed the lunacy, telling House members that rolling back a misused piece of the tax code would "pit worshipper against worshipper." "It will literally," he warned, "wreak havoc on the last pillars of civility in our country." Then, in perhaps the greatest irony, this Georgian African-American said, "During the civil rights movement, we fought to tear down pillars of hate and discrimination."

He's right. But where does he think we'd be now, as a nation, if pastors like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. hadn't made their voices heard on the racial segregation of the day from that same pulpit? Under the 63-year-old piece of the tax code, the IRS could have punished him for making the argument that turned the tide of the civil rights movement simply because he was a pastor! Even JFK's successor himself couldn't dream of the trouble his amendment has caused. The future president Lyndon Johnson (who was a senator at the time) wanted to use the language as a way to stop his political opponents. But what it's become instead is one of the single greatest weapons against free speech in America's churches.

Donald Trump intends to change that -- with the help of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), Jody Hice (R-Ga.), and Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.). From day one, he's made it clear, "Under my administration, free speech does not end at the steps of a cathedral or synagogue or any other house of worship." In fact, Trump's commitment to the issue was one of the first real areas of common ground he staked out with evangelicals. At this year's Values Voter Summit, he let them know he hadn't forgotten it.

"Among many historic steps. The executive order followed through on one of my most important campaign promises to so many of you: to prevent the horrendous Johnson Amendment from interfering with your First Amendment rights. We will not allow government workers to censor sermons or target our pastors or our ministers or rabbis. These are the people we want to hear from, and they're not going to be silenced any longer."

So what's driving the Left's fierce opposition to the push? Simple -- fear. Although they'd never say so publicly, liberals know what a difference informed and engaged Christians can make in the political process. See November 2016. As agents of cultural change, evangelicals clearly influence our nation's future when they are united. Meanwhile, the Left doesn't have the same motivation to overturn the Johnson muzzle as conservatives, since the Obama IRS has never bothered to crack down on its own. The Jeremiah Wrights of the world have been left alone to preach whatever they want while evangelical pastors are disproportionately targeted by liberal bureaucrats.

It's time to level the playing field. "We don't need to protect government from our faith leaders," House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said. "We need to protect faith leaders from government."

Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.

A Small Town with a Big Witness

November 09, 2017

Four days ago, most people outside of Texas had never heard of Sutherland Springs or knew the 26 names who were senselessly killed there. Now, a half week after the small-town nightmare, their stories have tugged at the hearts of millions of people around the world. The couple mourning three generations of losses. The pregnant mom, who was expecting her first child with the husband she met at the church. The little children, one the pastor's own daughter.

Another community, ripped apart by violence. But putting on a brave face, the survivors are living out the faith that cost most of the congregation their lives. To a hurting nation, frayed by so many divides, Sutherland Springs is the picture of grace, compassion, and love so many Americans need. A small town with a big witness, they came together yesterday to try to cope with what happened. Vice President Mike Pence was there, with his wife, Karen, trying desperately to comfort people after the unfathomable.

"Words fail when saints and heroes fall," Pence said solemnly. "We mourn with those who mourn and we grieve with those who grieve, but we do not grieve like those who have no hope. Our faith gives us hope. Heroes give us hope... If the attacker's desire was to silence their testimony of faith, he failed. The witness of faith in that small church and that small town now echoes across the world."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions came, along with Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who took the moment to thank God for the heroes who saved lives in the town's darkest moment. "We will not be overcome with evil. Together we will overcome evil with good," he said. With tears streaming down their faces, people who had driven dozens of miles to pay their respects, listened as a man with a guitar played the worship song, "Good Good Father."

While liberals debate possible solutions to the string of shootings, Governor Abbott knows exactly where to look. In a nod to the deep faith of -- not just Sutherland Springs, but all of Texas -- he called the state to unite in a day of prayer this coming Sunday, November 12. "Texans remain strong and resilient, with the support and care of our helping communities. Throughout our history, we have been strengthened, assured and lifted up through prayer. It is right that the people of Texas should join with their fellow citizens and with others from across the country and around the world to seek God's comfort, grace and healing in this time of crisis."

Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.

Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.

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