March 4, 2008
Jordan kicks out evangelicals. Will Bush complain?
King Abdullah II meets today with Bush in Washington to discuss peace. But back in Jordan, evangelicals are at risk of explusion.
In Washington today (March 4, 2008), the King of Jordan Abdullah II was scheduled to meet with President Bush at the White House. Jordan has been a strong ally of the US for years and has been generally given OK marks for religious freedom. (In other words, Jordan isn't a Saudia Arabia or Iran in repressing religious minorities.)
But in recent weeks, there are credible reports that the government has kicked out evangelicals or refused to renew their visas. On Monday, the Washington Times reported:
Evangelical Christians are under fire in Jordan, and more than two dozen missionaries and seminary students have been deported or refused visas in the past year. Some of the 27 families or individuals are American citizens, a source of some embarrassment to Jordan's King Abdullah II, who will be in Washington tomorrow to visit the White House and conduct interfaith discussions with Muslim and Jewish leaders.
No surprise, leaders of the historic Christian churches in Jordan have found the presence of evangelicals a problem. Some evangelicals are willing to answer the faith questions of seekers from an Islamic background and other evangelicals who, for example, might be doing development work are also happy to talk about their Christian faith.
The government alleges covert missionary activity. Compass Direct reports on this aspect, noting in a late February dispatch:
Jordan last week [week of Feb. 17] admitted to expelling foreigners for "illegal" missionary activities. Acting Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh told the Jordanian parliament on Wednesday (February 20) that authorities had expelled missionaries operating "under the cover of doing charitable work," suggesting that evangelistic activity is illegal in Jordan. If such evangelistic work were illegal, Jordan could be opening itself to accusations of violating of Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the country published in its official Gazette in July 2006, giving it the force of law.
On January 29 Compass reported that Jordan had deported and denied residence permits to at least 27 foreign Christian individuals and families in 2007. On February 20 the acting foreign minister, Judeh, read a statement by the Council of the Church Leaders of Jordan condemning the Compass report. The Jordanian parliament on Thursday (February 21) then passed a resolution condemning the Compass article. While it was unclear what the government considered false in the report, the fact of deportations of Christians was further verified as authorities on February 10 expelled an Egyptian pastor with the Assemblies of God church in Madaba and, the previous week, an Egyptian pastor from a Baptist church in Zarqa.
The big question for President Bush and Jordan's King Abdullah is this: How can they expect evangelicals, American or otherwise, to support a Middle East peace strategy that puts a very low priority on securing religious freedom for all peoples of the Middle East?
If religious freedom is in jeopardy in a Western-friendly nation like Jordan, then Islamic leaders in Gaza, Syria, Iran, or Afghanistan have little or no motivation provide religious freedom to their populations.