Swiss referendum impacts Turkish Christians

By December 25, 2009

International (MNN) — On
November 29, Swiss voters chose to ban the construction of further Muslim
minarets in their country. The country
already has 150 mosques, including four with minarets. The vote has been denounced around the
world. Paul Estabrooks, minister-at-large
for Open Doors USA, does not believe it can be justified. 

"They don't use the minarets
there as they do traditionally around the world with loudspeakers to call
Muslim people to prayer, so there' s not a noise factor," he explained. "I don't think there's a lot of basis for it,
when the minarets are not being used as a method of propagating Islamic faith;
they're simply part of the architectural structure of their worship centers."

Estabrooks said Christians in the
West need to think through more carefully their response to different

"People of
other faiths or other religions are not our enemies," he said. "Our enemy is Satan; he's the only one who is ultimately behind the
challenges, and the one whom we fight and the one whose tactics we must be aware of… I
think that's one of the things that we haven't taken time to study, because we
haven't been faced with that so much in past years because of general
peacefulness within our own society."

An appeal against the ban has
already been submitted to the European Court of Human Rights. In the meantime, the backlash against it is
impacting the lives of Christians all over the world. On December 4, a group of three Muslims
threatened the priest of the historic Meryem Ana Syriac Orthodox congregation
in Diyarbakir, Turkey. 

"They basically confronted the priest, Reverend Akbulut, and they
told him that unless the bell tower in his church was destroyed, they would
kill him," Estabrooks said. "And they
were doing this as a reaction to the Switzerland referendum and the banning of
new minarets in their country."

The Syriac Orthodox believers
trace their history back to the apostle Paul's ministry in Turkey and speak a
language closely related to the Aramaic spoken by Jesus. Over the years, the church has survived a
great deal of persecution, and it still stands strong today. 

"The church there is used as a
scapegoat for inflamed local Muslims who want to lash out at European decisions
and situations. So [the priest] is very,
very used to that," Estabrooks said. "They're
very used to the challenges they face, although they constantly ask for prayer
when something like this is threatened against them."

Although Turkey's reaction
against the minaret ban has been strong, this is the first report in the world
of violence threatened over the matter. As
news coverage of the challenges to the ban continues, the pressure on
Christians will also continue. Estabrooks
said the situation demonstrates why Christians in countries that are perceived
as "Christian" need to be mindful of how their choices will impact Christians
who are the minority in their communities. 

"When we make decisions in the
Western world, especially related to the Muslim community, it has repercussions
on our brothers and sisters around the world," he said. 

Christians who face persecution especially
need prayer during the Christmas holiday, when they often come under attack.

"This has happened before in Diyarbakir… Christmas
day has tended to be a day of outbreak of violence against our brothers and
sisters, especially when they're meeting to celebrate the coming of Jesus," Estabrooks
said. "I think possibly it's because of the claims that we have that Jesus is
the Son of God, and He is the only way to the Father. That challenge irritates a lot of those in
opposition, and they tend to choose Christmas Day as a day to bring challenges
to them. So we need to pray for their
safety and wisdom on Christmas Day as they meet to celebrate the coming of
Jesus to the world."

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