Evangelical and Catholic groups on Friday blasted the Obama administration over its decision not to expand religious exemption from the new health care law that will require them to provide insurance plans covering contraceptives, sterilization and some abortion-causing drugs.
Christian groups joined together in condemning “Obamacare” after the Health and Human Services announced its decision, which officials claimed was reached after reviewing more than 200,000 comments from interested parties and the public.
“Despite the fact that certain drugs and devices approved by the FDA can work after conception to destroy a newly developed baby, the Obama Administration mandate still forces all insurance plans to carry these drugs and devices even if employers are morally opposed,” Tom McClusky of Family Research Council Action said in a statement.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said religious groups would have one additional year to comply with the mandate (until August 2013 rather than August 2012). “I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services.”
But McClusky said the one-year delay “does nothing to change the anti-religious, anti-conscience, and anti-life contraceptive mandate, rather it only postpones its implementation until after the presidential election.”
The new rule also mandates that religious groups with a one-year reprieve in the meantime be “forced to tell their employees where to obtain contraceptives,” FRC Action pointed out. “This completely violates the conscience rights of many Americans. As we approach the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade tomorrow may all voters who respect life take note of the Obama Administration’s ardent policies against life and religious liberty and vote accordingly in November.”
The National Association of Evangelicals also said it was “deeply disappointed” by the White House decision that was announced Friday. Freedom of conscience is a “sacred gift from God, not a grant from the state,” said Galen Carey, vice president for Government Relations at NAE. “No government has the right to compel its citizens to violate their conscience. The HHS rules trample on our most cherished freedoms and set a dangerous precedent.”
The HHS policy includes a thin exemption for religious organizations that focus only on religious services to their own members.
“The exemption leaves the vast majority of religious employers who serve the entire community unprotected,” the NAE stated. “If this narrow definition of ‘religious employer’ is adopted in other areas of law, it may lead to further erosion of the conscience protections Americans have historically held.”
FRC Action also contended that the mandate, issued in August, violates the principles of the Church Amendment which protects conscience rights for those who object to contraceptives and other services on moral or religious grounds,. “Additionally, the U.S. government already funds domestic family planning at a level of $1.9 billion annually.”
Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York also lambasted the Obama administration’s health care law. “Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience,” he said in a statement. “This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights.”
He encouraged his community to tell their elected leaders that “you want religious liberty and rights of conscience restored and that you want the administration’s contraceptive mandate rescinded.”
Religious groups are not likely to comply, the Washington-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty has hinted.
Given the anger among religious groups, they might choose to pay fines rather than act against their conscience, some believe.
Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American cleric who is a top propagandist for Al Qaeda, broke his silence on the uprisings in the Arab world on Wednesday, claiming that Islamist extremists had gleefully watched the success of protest movements against governments they had long despised.
“The mujahedeen around the world are going through a moment of elation,” Mr. Awlaki wrote in a new issue of the English-language Qaeda magazine Inspire, “and I wonder whether the West is aware of the upsurge of mujahedeen activity in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Arabia, Algeria and Morocco?”
Mr. Awlaki’s four-page essay, titled “The Tsunami of Change,” is among a handful of statements by Al Qaeda’s leaders countering the common view among Western analysts that the terrorist network looks irrelevant at a time of change unprecedented in the modern Middle East. In ousting the rulers of Tunisia and Egypt and threatening other Arab leaders, a core of secular-leaning demonstrators have called for democracy and generally avoided violence — all at odds with Al Qaeda’s creed as it tries to instill rigid Islamist rule across the world.
Mr. Awlaki asks, “Doesn’t the West realize how the jihadi work would just take off as soon as the regimes of the Gulf start crumbling?”
An Iranian judge has sentenced a man convicted of robbing a confectionery shop to have one of his hands cut off, Iranian media report.
The judge also sentenced the man to one year in prison.
Police arrested the man in May after finding $900 (£560), three pairs of gloves and a large amount of chocolate in his car, Fars news agency said.
Last week, authorities cut off the hand of a man convicted of two robberies in the north-eastern city of Mashhad.
- Iranian chocolate thief to have his hand chopped off (jihadwatch.org)
‘Every time we allow a mosque to go up, it’s like planting IED’
[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=mosque+construction&iid=1508285″ src=”http://view.picapp.com/pictures.photo/image/1508285/protests-anti/protests-anti.jpg?size=380&imageId=1508285″ width=”380″ height=”557″ /]
The proposed Ground Zero mosque in New York City has been a focal point for those wanting to expand Islam’s influence in America, but it’s not the only front on which the nation is facing the advance of Muslim interests.
There are more than 3,000 mosques in the U.S., and work is being done on several major projects that have neighbors alarmed to the point of resistance.
One of the hot-button mosques is the proposed Temecula Valley Islamic Center. Land for the project was purchased several years ago, but a number of people in the Southern California town have an organized campaign to derail the project.
Opponents have held signs on street corners, and a number of the protesters say their concerns include many facets other than being “anti-Muslim.”
One of the leading spokesmen for the mosque opponents is Mano Bakh, who fled Iran 30 years ago after the Shia-backed Iranian Islamic Revolution
Bakh believes it’s appropriate to oppose the mosque because there are two sides to Islam.
“The main reason is that there are two segments to Islam, the thing that calls itself a religion. One is the religious part of it to pray and the other one is to Shariah law, the way of life,” Bakh explained.
“We have no problem with the praying part of Islam. What we have a problem with is preaching what is in Shariah law,” Bakh continued.
However, the former Iranian citizen and author who has shared his story in his biography, “Escaping Islam,” says the community is willing to extend an olive branch.
“We have given a pledge of friendship to the imam. We say, ‘If you really claim that you’re a moderate and inclined to moderation in Islam,’ sign it,” Bakh said.
However, he continued with some harsh words of clarification.
“Don’t say you’re a moderate Muslim if you’re going to preach the same hatred from the Quran and Islam and Shariah law. He has to sign it and build a pledge of friendship,” Bakh stated.
The olive branch isn’t only for the imam at the Temecula Valley project.
“We would love to have all the imams across the country in the United States sign it, acknowledge it, that you’re a moderate. The reason is simple. In Islam, there is no moderation. You may find a moderate Muslim, but you cannot [find] moderation within the religion that they claim,” Bakh explained.
“We in California, in America, because we want the people to understand more, we have organized a night of education on September 20 at 7 p.m. We have invited several hundred people to come and understand the truth of our position, to understand what we think Islam and the mosque should be and what they want to use the mosque for. That’s two different things,” Bakh continued.
“In my past, I have been a Muslim apostate and wrote about it in my book, ‘Escaping Islam,'” he added.
“In Islam there are five pillars of Islam. If you believe in the five pillars, you’re a Muslim. Those five pillars have nothing to do with the background, has nothing to do with wife-beating, has nothing to do with Shariah,” Bakh stated.
“We are concerned that they are going to preach hate. That’s why they’re not calling it a mosque, they’re calling it an Islamic Education Center. What they’re going to teach is hate, and killing the infidel,” Bakh asserted.
Bakh stated in an interview with Southern California Public Radio that he favors taking away civil liberties from Muslims as long as they promote values contrary to the U. S. Constitution.
The proposed Islamic Education Center will go before a city planning board in November.
A proposed mosque in Murfreesboro, Tenn., has attracted media attention because the project has been greeted with organized protests. Mosque opponents say they don’t want the 15-acre site to be a training center for militants who may go on suicide bomb missions.
One report alleges that anti-mosque feeling may have been the motive for an act of arson earlier this month at the proposed mosque site. Federal authorities are offering a $20,000 reward for information on the alleged arson.
Other mosques around the country have been getting similar attention, although the levels of opposition vary.
A source in St. Joseph, Mo., who does not want to be identified says the proposed mosque project in that community isn’t drawing public protests. The opposition in the Missouri city about an hour north of Kansas City is coming mostly from blog posts and e-mail campaigns.
Another mosque opened in the affluent Philadelphia suburb of Berwyn, Pa. The Washington Post reported that the Pennsylvania mosque has good relations with its neighbors and opened with little, if any, attention from the media.
The stories of cordial relationships would seem to counter the aggressive anti-mosque position of the protesters. However, the stories of peace and harmony between the mosque and the community don’t seem to square with reality.
American Family Association policy analyst Bryan Fischer says 80 percent of the mosques being built are funded by Middle Eastern money. Most are also acting as training academies.
Terror-group leader: Muslims in U.S., around world united in common cause
Two days after President Obama came out in support of a plan to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque near Ground Zero, the controversial project has received yet another high-profile endorsement – this one from the chief of the terror group Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
“We have to build the mosque, as you are allowed to build the church and Israelis are building their holy places,” stated Mahmoud al-Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas who is regarded as the chief of the group in Gaza.
Zahar said that as Muslims, “We have to build everywhere.”
“In every area we have, [as Muslims] we have to pray, and this mosque is the only site of prayer, especially for the people when they are looking [to be] in the group, not an individual,” he said.
Zahar was speaking in a radio interview today with Aaron Klein, WND’s Jerusalem bureau chief and host of investigative show on New York’s WABC Radio.
Zahar told Klein he was speaking on the mosque issue with authority, claiming Hamas “is representing the vast majority of the Arabic and Islamic world, especially the Islamic side.”
Zahar said that Muslims around the world, including those in the U.S., are united in a common cause.
Stated the Hamas chieftain: “First of all, we have to address that we are different as people, as a nation totally different. We already are living under the tradition of Islam. … Islam is controlling every source of our life as regard to marriage, divorce, our commercial relationships. … Even the Islamic people or the Muslims in your country, they are living now in the tradition of Islam. They are fasting, they are praying.”
New York Islamic leader Faisal Abdul Rauf, president of the Cordoba Initiative, has caused a stir with his proposed 13-story, $100 million Islamic cultural center and mosque near the corner of Park Place and West Broadway – about two blocks from the site of the 9-11 terrorist attacks.
Rauf sparked controversy last month when he refused during a live interview on Klein’s WABC show to condemn violent jihad groups as terrorists. Rauf repeatedly refused on the air to affirm the U.S. designation of Hamas as a terrorist organization or call the Muslim Brotherhood extremists.
The Brotherhood openly seeks to spread Islam around the world, while Hamas is committed to Israel’s destruction and is responsible for scores of suicide bombings, shootings and rocket attacks aimed at Jewish civilian population centers.
During the interview, Klein also asked Rauf who he believes was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.
“There’s no doubt,” stated Rauf. “The general perception all over the world was it was created by people who were sympathetic to Osama bin Laden. Whether they were part of the killer group or not, these are details that need to be left to the law-enforcement experts.”
Rauf has been on record several times blaming U.S. policies for the Sept. 11 attacks. He has been quoted refusing to admit Muslims carried out the attacks.
Referring to the Sept. 11 attacks, Rauf told CNN, “U.S. policies were an accessory to the crime that happened. We (the U.S.) have been an accessory to a lot of innocent lives dying in the world. Osama bin Laden was made in the USA.”
BISHOP BEHEADED BY JIHADISTS IN TURKEY BECOMES 8th MARTYR THERE IN FOUR YEARS
Bishop Luigi Padovese, stabbed to death last month, is the latest victim of Turkey’s growing hostility to Christians
John F. Cullinan
For all the attention Turkey has gotten lately, very few Americans are aware that the Roman Catholic bishop serving as apostolic vicar of Anatolia was stabbed to death and decapitated last month by an assailant shouting, “Allahu Akbar! I have killed the great Satan!”
There are fewer than 60 Catholic priests in all of Turkey, and yet Bishop Luigi Padovese was the fifth of them to be shot or stabbed in the last four years, starting with the murder of Fr. Andrea Santoro in 2006, also by an assailant shouting, “Allahu Akbar!” (An Armenian journalist and three Protestants working at a Christian publishing house — one of them German, the other two Turkish converts — were also killed during this period.)
What’s going on? Why has traditionally secularist Turkey, with its minuscule Christian community (less than 0.2 percent of the population), lately become nearly as dangerous for Christians as neighboring Iraq? And why has this disturbing pattern of events so far escaped notice in the West?
In a nutshell, all these violent acts reflect a popular culture increasingly shaped by Turkish media accounts deliberately promoting hatred of Christians and Jews.
As it happens, Bishop Padovese was murdered on the same day (June 3) that the Wall Street Journal published an eye-opening report on how Turkey’s press and film industry have increasingly blurred the distinction between fact and fantasy, especially since the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) took power in 2002.
“To follow Turkish discourse in recent years has been to follow a national decline into madness.” That’s how Robert L. Pollock, editorial-features editor of the Journal, summed up the trajectory of the daily fare that shapes Turks’ attitudes toward the outside world — and toward non-Muslims in their midst. Indeed, much of what passes for fact in Turkish public discourse would be comical if not for the deadly consequences.
Take, for instance, the wildly popular 2006 film Valley of the Wolves, later serialized for television. An earlier Journal piece summing up the plot as “a cross between American Psycho in uniform and theProtocols of the Elders of Zion” hardly does it justice. The plot turns on blood-crazed American soldiers committing war crimes for fun and profit in Iraq. These include the harvesting of body parts from murdered Iraqi civilians on an industrial scale (overseen by a Jewish doctor, of course) for shipment in crates clearly labeled New York and Tel Aviv.
Valley of the Wolves is the most expensive and most commercially successful Turkish feature film ever. Worse yet, it comes with the endorsement of leading AKP figures, such as the speaker of the parliament (“absolutely magnificent”) and the mayor of Istanbul (“a great screenplay”). Mr. Pollock’s judgment? “It is no exaggeration to say that such anti-Semitic fare had not been played to mass audiences in Europesince the Third Reich.”
Unfortunately, this film — with its poisonous blood libel against Christians and Jews — falls well within what is now mainstream Turkish public discourse.
Consider only some of the wilder rumors given credence by the Turkish press — for example, how the United States intends to colonize theMiddle East because of an impending asteroid strike on North America, or how the 2004 Asian tsunami was really caused by secret U.S. nuclear testing. The latter claim was so prevalent in the Turkish media that theU.S. ambassador at the time, Eric Edelman, actually organized a conference call with Turkish journalists to refute the calumny.
This is the overall context in which incendiary published accusations are made that Catholic priests, sometimes identified by name, are engaging in proselytism — that is, seeking to convert Muslims, often with cash payments. I happen to know just how implausible these claims are, based on my own experience as a Catholic seminarian living and working in theMiddle East a decade ago. I found that pastors of the historic Middle Eastern churches almost always go out of their way to discourageprospective converts, rightly fearing agents provocateurs from the security services or Islamist groups. In the rare case where a conversion does occur, the person is generally baptized outside his home country, in a place where apostasy is not criminalized or barred by powerful social norms, such as preservation of family honor.
What local Christian clergy actually do is to tend shrinking flocks without seeking to add to their numbers. (These little congregations increasingly include migrants like the Filipina nurses and domestic workers who are ubiquitous throughout the Middle East.) Some also provide public goods such as education and health care for Muslims and Christians alike on a non-sectarian basis. Others serve the pastoral needs of pilgrims visiting places (like Turkey) where Christianity once flourished. Nearly all see themselves as silent witnesses for Gospel values in places where prudence now bars the Gospel’s open proclamation.
There are vanishingly few Christians and Jews in Turkey. So the numbers of non-Muslims in the country cannot begin to explain the mounting popular hostility — not simply toward Americans, Europeans, and Israelis, but toward Christians and Jews as such. Turkey’s population (roughly 77 million) is more than 99.8 percent Muslim, with its tiny Jewish and Christian populations (perhaps 25,000 and 150,000, respectively) looking like a rounding error. Yet more than two-thirds of all Turks (68 percent) expressed a negative view of Christians in the 2009 Pew Global Attitudes Survey, as opposed to the results in nearby Muslim-majority states with much larger Christian minorities, like Jordan(44 percent negative) and Egypt (49 percent). Hostility toward Jews, moreover, has spiked recently, with those self-identified as “very unfavorable” jumping from 32 percent in 2004 to 73 percent in 2009.
The short answer to the question why Christians keep getting attacked inTurkey is that ideas have consequences, with bad ones often leading to deadly consequences. In the current issue of Commentary, Michael Rubin offers a masterly step-by-step analysis of the way in whichTurkey’s current Islamist rulers have systematically undermined and dismantled Atatürk’s secular legacy and have put in place an embryonic Islamist state. Ideas once expressed on the fringes of Turkish society have now become mainstream and respectable.
It is precisely this darkening climate of public opinion that provides the essential context for the spate of attacks against Catholic priests. Here it’s worth noting that, historically, Catholics were not regarded as enemies of modern Turkey in the way that Greeks and Armenians were. The Holy See was one of the first states to exchange ambassadors with the newly formed Turkish Republic in 1923; and one of its first ambassadors (from 1933 to 1944), still fondly remembered, was Angelo Roncalli, better known today as Blessed John XXIII.
So too is it a fact that Catholic clergy serving in trouble spots like Turkeyhave sometimes (though not always) enjoyed a certain immunity from violence or arbitrary arrest. That’s because the Vatican is widely perceived as a powerful entity that can command diplomatic and media attention (especially as compared to Christian evangelicals, who lack similar institutional support). That several Catholic priests have now been attacked in Turkey is a troubling new development that may reflect political Islam’s implacable hostility toward Pope Benedict XVI. Recall that what angered Islamists most about Benedict’s 2006 Regensburglecture was not an injudicious quotation from a 14th-century Byzantine emperor. It was Benedict’s observation that while reason without faith leads to nihilism (Europe’s problem), faith without reason leads to fanaticism and violence (Islam’s problem).
But it’s also a fact that the killing of Catholic clerics in Muslim-majority states tends nowadays in the West to be passed over in silence or treated as business as usual. Imagine for a moment what would happen if — God forbid! — a very senior, foreign-born Muslim cleric were murdered in the U.S. in circumstances amounting to a hate crime. It is not difficult to imagine the likely aftermath: wall-to-wall media coverage, repeated international condemnations, and multiple presidential apologies.
In the case of Bishop Padovese, one close observer makes explicit the connection between pervasive media vilification and violence against Catholic clergy. Fr. Bernardo Cervellera, whose Asia News broke the story of the true facts surrounding the bishop’s murder, maintains that “there’s a campaign against Christian priests in Turkey. The government says it’s not true, the Turks say they don’t believe it, but it’s quite enough to watch television or read the newspapers to realize that indeed it is true.”
These facts — and their necessary implications — are a long way from the Islam-is-a-religion-of-peace happy talk peddled by both the Bush and Obama administrations. Little wonder that there’s practically no understanding in the U.S. that Turkey’s beleaguered religious minorities — and their co-religionists elsewhere in the region — serve as canaries in the coal mine, bellwethers for major policy shifts that our foreign-policy establishment is slow to grasp. Or indeed that the plight of these minorities mirrors, at least roughly, the state of U.S. interests and ideals in the region.
It wasn’t always the case that Americans paid no attention to the plight of Middle Eastern Christians.
In the wake of World War I, the New York Times could safely assume a lively interest (and some Biblical literacy) among readers when editorializing in 1922 about the mass expulsion of ethnic Greek Christians from the new Turkish state: “Is this to be the end of the Christian minorities in Asia Minor — that land where, 13 centuries and more before the Turk came to rule, Paul had journeyed as a missionary through its length and breadth, and where the first ‘seven churches that are in Asia’ stood, to which the messages written in the Book of Revelation were sent?”
But that was then; and this is now.
Quote from foreign minister stirs up tempest
An Egyptian foreign service official’s comment about President Obama is turning into a sensation among bloggers for its claim that the American leader claims to be Muslim.
Obama’s religiosity has been the subject of discussion since before he was elected and his Chicago-area pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, delivered a “God d— America” sermon that was caught on video.
Obama later claimed to be a Muslim in a television interview where the interviewer corrected his “misstatement” and he has referenced the Muslim heritage in America’s past several times.
Now the heat on the issue is being turned up because of a weeks-old report in Israel Today.
In the report, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit was quoted as saying during an appearance on Nile TV that, “The American president told me in confidence that he is a Muslim.”
The White House remained silent on the comment, declining to respond to a WND request for comment.
But blogger Pamela Geller at Atlas Shrugs wrote, “This is akin to an SS officer getting elected president during WW II. Every country in the free world must be cognizant of such a catastrophic sea change in the leadership of the free world (as witnessed by events over the past year). This changes everything. He took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, and yet he has gone around the world promoting Islam, the Shariah (Islamic law).”
She suggested that the exchange could have happened early in 2010 when Gheit was in Washington, D.C., to address “Mideast peace talks.”
Obama’s comments from before the 2008 election:
The Israel Today report, from late in April, focused on the “crisis” in relations between Jerusalem and Washington under Obama.
It quotes sources who called Obama a “strategic catastrophe” for Israel.
They expressed concern, speaking on condition of anonymity to the newspaper, that Obama’s administration is a serious threat to the future of Israel.
The report then said Israelis feel Obama is “appeasing” Muslims at the expense of Israel.
“‘The American president told me in confidence that he is a Muslim,’ said Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit on Nile TV. That could explain why Obama has instructed that the term ‘Islamic extremism’ no longer be used in official government documents and statements,” according to the report.
There was no independent verification of the statement attributed to Gheit.
But a video has been assembled by a group called Feel the Change Media highlighting Obama’s numerous remarks about Islam:
It has been viewed more than two million times already.
It was last year when Toby Harden, of the Daily Telegraph, cited Obama’s statement that the U.S. is “one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.”
Obama had said, he quoted, “if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we’ be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.”
Obama also previously said in Turkey that Americans “do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation.”
That prompted members of Congress to disagree. At that time a bipartisan group of 25 members of the House of Representatives submitted H.Res. 397, which calls on Congress to affirm “the rich spiritual and religious history of our nation’s founding and subsequent history” and to designate the first week of May as America’s Spiritual Heritage Week for “the appreciation of and education on America’s history of religious faith.”
Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., specifically challenged the president’s claims that America is not a Christian nation in a news conference announcing the bill immediately following a National Day of Prayer observance.
“The overwhelming evidence suggests that this nation was born and birthed with Judeo-Christian principles,” Forbes told reporters, “and I would challenge anybody to tell me that point in time when we ceased to be so, because it doesn’t exist.”
During a June 2007 speech available on Youtube, Obama stated, “Whatever we once were, we’re no longer a Christian nation. At least not just. We are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, and a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu nation, and a nation of nonbelievers.”
In that speech, Obama took aim at the “Christian Right” for “hijacking” religion and using it to divide the nation:
“Somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together and started being used to drive us apart. It got hijacked. Part of it’s because of the so-called leaders of the Christian Right, who’ve been all too eager to exploit what divides us,” he said.
Geller suggested perhaps other evidence should be considered as well, listing how Obama in early 2009 declared the “war on terror” over, suggested discussions with Hamas and recruited more Muslims for the White House staff.
He also created the Outreach to the Worldwide Muslim community in the State department, announces cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, offered funding to a Muslim technology fund, issued a special hajj message, had a “non-religious” Christmas, ordered NASA to work with Muslim nations and offered support for an anti-Israel resolution at the U.N.
“This is one hellacious argument and anyone not lobotomized by liberalism can see Obama’s an agent of Islam inside the wire,” said one participant in Geller’s forum page.
Moved to another nation where they’ll be free to worship
By Bob Unruh
Two Iranian women jailed for nearly a year for converting from Islam to Christianity have been cleared of all charges and reportedly moved to another nation where they will be free to worship.
According to International Christian Concern, Maryam Rostampour, 28, and Marzieh Amirizadah, 31, were released from prison a few weeks ago, but their cases still were pending. However, word arrived over the weekend that "all charges" against the women had been dropped.
The women immediately were able to leave Iran "to an unknown country after being warned by judicial authorities that any future Christian activity in Iran will be harshly punished," according to the ICC report.
"From henceforth, Maryam and Marzieh will be able to worship God freely and at all hours of the day without having to fear death or imprisonment," the organization said. "Their faith and endurance has been an encouragement to countless believers throughout the world."
In a statement made available through ICC, the two women said, "We are most grateful to everyone who prayed for us. [We] have no doubt that God heard the prayers of His people."
The two first were arrested March 5, 2009, by Iranian security forces for being "apostates," converts from Islam. They were put in front of a Revolutionary Court Aug. 9, 2009, and ordered to recant their faith.
In a statement from Elam Ministries, the hearing included the women’s explanations that God had convicted them through the Holy Spirit of their need for Christianity.
"It is impossible for God to speak with humans," Haddad, a deputy prosecutor identified only by his surname, stated.
"Are you questioning whether God is Almighty?" Amirizadeh asked him.
To which Haddad then replied. "You are not worthy for God to speak to you."
"It is God, and not you, who determines if I am worthy," she said.
Haddad had asked if the women were Christian.
"We love Jesus," they replied.
"You were Muslims and now you have become Christians," Haddad stated.
"We were born in Muslim families, but we were not Muslims," the women said.
The deputy prosecutor asked about their regrets, and they said, "We have no regrets."
"You should renounce your faith verbally and in written form," he warned.
The two had spent months in solitary confinement in Evin Prison in Iran. They reported a multitude of health issues and problems that accompanied the severe interrogations to which they were subjected, officials said.
Evin prison is notorious for its hanging executions and brutal torture tactics. It is the same facility where Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi died only three weeks after she was arrested for simply photographing the prison during a student protest in 2003.
Under Shariah, or Islamic law, the penalty for apostasy is death or life imprisonment. According to reports about the punishment system within Iran, for women the execution often is preceded by rape.
Veteran artist returns after seven-year hiatus with a feisty new album, Letting Go, while also revealing that she’s gay
Seven years ago, while at the top of her game, Jennifer Knapp announced what seemed to many a sudden decision: She was stepping away from Christian music, taking an indefinite hiatus. Rumors began to swirl—she was burned out, she needed a rest, she was upset about something, she was gay. Turns out that all the rumors were true, as Knapp reveals in this rambling, exclusive interview withChristianity Today. The one-time Grammy nominee ended her hiatus in late 2009with a few small shows, an updated website, and an announcement that she was writing new songs. Many of those songs will be featured on Letting Go, releasing May 11, her first album since 2001’s The Way I Am.
In one of her first extensive interviews since announcing her comeback, Knapp, 36, talks to CT about why she quit music in the first place, her lifestyle choice, her rekindled passion for songwriting, her faith, her new album, and more.
You announced your “hiatus” in 2003. Was that a sudden decision, or was it boiling for a while?
Jennifer Knapp: It was boiling for me. I think people thought I just fell into a hole and disappeared, but I had been trying to get out of being on the road 250 days a year. Lay It Down was a 2000 release, andThe Way I Am was 2001; those records were literally back to back, and I was touring while recording The Way I Am. I was telling people “Man, I can’t keep up the schedule. This is just a little bit crazy.” I didn’t have any space to just be a normal human being. I finally realized nobody was going to make that decision for me, so I just said, “I’m not kidding. I need a break, and it starts now.”
That decision came mid-2001, but my schedule didn’t allow me to stop until September 2002, when I did my last show; I basically still had about a year and a half worth of contracted concerts and other things before I could stop.
A lot of people hit burnout, but I don’t think many think, I’m going to take seven years off. What were you thinking?
Knapp: At the time, I literally thought I was quitting. I needed such a break, and I needed the silence to be deafening. But in the back of my mind I thought, Maybe in a couple of years I’ll come back and give this another go. It was a huge risk to say I may never do this again. It was a real heart wrenching decision.
Once you fulfilled your last obligation, was there a big sigh of relief? Or what?
Knapp: I was scared to death. You just don’t leave something that everyone else says is extremely successful. Some people close to me said I was doing something wrong—that [quitting] was a denial of the gifts I had. I was like, Whoa, hold on a second. I’m just asking for a little bit of time. That was a lot to deal with. It took two or three years to get over the rollercoaster ride of emotions. One day I’d be completely angry; the next day completely heartbroken and devastated; the next raging jealous because somebody’s out there doing something that I love doing and I can’t do it. And some days I was in complete denial. It was almost like a psychological profile of grief. [It took a while] to let the dust settle and figure out what kind of human being was left.
There were rumors that you left music because you were gay.
Knapp: That was a straw [in my decision], but there were many straws on the camel’s back at the time. I’m certainly in a same-sex relationship now, but when I suspended my work, that wasn’t even really a factor. I had some difficult decisions to make and what that meant for my life and deciding to invest in a same-sex relationship, but it would be completely unfair to say that’s why I left music.
Were you involved in a relationship at that time you left?
Knapp: Around 2002, I was starting to contend with this new-found “issue” in my life. But I’d already decided to leave music before I knew I was going to contend with that. I don’t want anyone to think that I ran out of town with my tail between my legs because I had something to hide.
Or that you were run out of town.
Knapp: Or that I was run out of town. Neither is true.
When you wrote The Way I Am, was that a veiled statement about being gay?
Knapp: That record means a lot more to me now than it did at the time. That whole record for me was an exercise in the carnal body of Christ manifested. One of the biggest decisions I was wrestling with then was, If I don’t do Christian music, am I not a believer anymore?
Why come back now? What has changed?
Knapp: At some point [last year] when I started to write again, I realized that the process was rather organic. I started playing at home, and my friends are going, “Oh wow, that’s pretty good. What are you going to do with that?” I said, “What do you mean, what am I going to do with it? Nothing!” The return has been a lot like the way I started music in the first place. We’re doing a four-day run of concerts right now, I’m in a van, I just spent half my afternoon driving, and if I’m lucky I get dinner before I play tonight. There’s something about that process you’ve got to love. I just think it took me a lot longer to figure out if that passion was a safe one for me.
You spent about five of the last seven years in Australia, right?
Knapp: Yes. But I’ve been back in the States since September. During those seven years, I entertained myself for quite some time by traveling. I traveled all through Europe. I traveled through the U.S. for about a year. I was basically a transient for about four years.
Traveling alone or with your partner?
Knapp: With my partner.
Have you been with the same partner for a long time?
Knapp: About eight years, but I don’t want to get into that. For whatever reason the rumor mill [about me being gay] has persisted for so long, I wanted to acknowledge; I don’t want to come off as somebody who’s shirking the truth in my life. At the same time, I’m intensely private. Even if I were married to a man and had six children, it would be my personal choice to not get that kind of conversation rolling.
I understand. But I’m curious: Were you struggling with same-sex attraction when writing your first three albums? Those songs are so confessional, clearly coming from a place of a person who knows her need for grace and mercy.
Knapp: To be honest, it never occurred to me while writing those songs. I wasn’t seeking out a same-sex relationship during that time.
During my college years, I received some admonishment about some relationships I’d had with women. Some people said, “You might want to renegotiate that,” even though those relationships weren’t sexual. Hindsight being 20/20, I guess it makes sense. But if you remove the social problem that homosexuality brings to the church—and the debate as to whether or not it should be called a “struggle,” because there are proponents on both sides—you remove the notion that I am living my life with a great deal of joy. It never occurred to me that I was in something that should be labeled as a “struggle.” The struggle I’ve had has been with the church, acknowledging me as a human being, trying to live the spiritual life that I’ve been called to, in whatever ramshackled, broken, frustrated way that I’ve always approached my faith. I still consider my hope to be a whole human being, to be a person of love and grace. So it’s difficult for me to say that I’ve struggled within myself, because I haven’t. I’ve struggled with other people. I’ve struggled with what that means in my own faith. I have struggled with how that perception of me will affect the way I feel about myself.
Are you beyond those struggles?
Knapp: I don’t know. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been. But now that I’m back in the U.S., I’m contending with the culture shock of moving back here. There’s some extremely volatile language and debate—on all sides—that just breaks my heart. Frankly, if it were up to me, I wouldn’t be making any kind of public statement at all. But there are people I care about within the church community who would seek to throw me out simply because of who I’ve chosen to spend my life with.
So why come out of the closet, so to speak?
Knapp: I’m in no way capable of leading a charge for some kind of activist movement. I’m just a normal human being who’s dealing with normal everyday life scenarios. As a Christian, I’m doing that as best as I can. The heartbreaking thing to me is that we’re all hopelessly deceived if we don’t think that there are people within our churches, within our communities, who want to hold on to the person they love, whatever sex that may be, and hold on to their faith. It’s a hard notion. It will be a struggle for those who are in a spot that they have to choose between one or the other. The struggle I’ve been through—and I don’t know if I will ever be fully out of it—is feeling like I have to justify my faith or the decisions that I’ve made to choose to love who I choose to love.
Have you ever felt like you had to choose between your faith or your gay feelings?
Knapp: Yes. Absolutely.
Because you felt they were incompatible?
Knapp: Well, everyone around me made it absolutely clear that this is not an option for me, to invest in this other person—and for me to choose to do so would be a denial of my faith.
What about what Scripture says on the topic?
Knapp: The Bible has literally saved my life. I find myself between a rock and a hard place—between the conservative evangelical who uses what most people refer to as the “clobber verses” to refer to this loving relationship as an abomination, while they’re eating shellfish and wearing clothes of five different fabrics, and various other Scriptures we could argue about. I’m not capable of getting into the theological argument as to whether or not we should or shouldn’t allow homosexuals within our church. There’s a spirit that overrides that for me, and what I’ve been gravitating to in Christ and why I became a Christian in the first place.
Some argue that the feelings of homosexuality are not sinful, but only the act. What would you say?
Knapp: I’m not capable of fully debating that well. But I’ve always struggled as a Christian with various forms of external evidence that we are obligated to show that we are Christians. I’ve found no law that commands me in any way other than to love my neighbor as myself, and that love is the greatest commandment. At a certain point I find myself so handcuffed in my own faith by trying to get it right—to try and look like a Christian, to try to do the things that Christians should do, to be all of these things externally—to fake it until I get myself all handcuffed and tied up in knots as to what I was supposed to be doing there in the first place.
If God expects me, in order to be a Christian, to be able to theologically justify every move that I make, I’m sorry. I’m going to be a miserable failure.
You’re living in Nashville. Are you in a church these days?
The Christian music industry can be fickle. Fans, radio, and retail were angry at Amy Grant for her divorce, at Michael English and Sandi Patty for adultery. But eventually, they were “welcomed” back. How do you think your fans and radio and Christian stores will react to the news that you’re gay? Or do you care?
Knapp: I do have a soul! (laughs) I care deeply. It’s a very heart-wrenching decision to come into a room knowing that there are many people who just won’t come with me. The Christian bookstore thing is probably not going to happen; this isn’t a Christian record, and it’s not going to be marketed to Christian radio.
K-LOVE won’t pick this one up?
Knapp: I doubt it, but there’s no reason they can’t play it. To me, my faith is fairly evident in what I’m writing, but it’s not a record for the sanctuary. That in itself is a huge risk for me—to be able to write without feeling like I’ve got to manufacture something that’s not entirely genuine, to take a song and feel like I have to make an obvious biblical reference. That’s not there anymore. I’ve actually buried it; for me, it’s an exercise in liberty. In a spiritual context, will God still be evident in me when I write songs? I sort of nervously wring my hands together and go, Please don’t leave me.
You’re saying Please don’t leave me to God, or fans, or whom?
Knapp: To me, and the divine experience of being a musician—that private world of where I integrate that into my life and where it comes out on a public level, as a song. I have a lot of fans who live in real-life scenarios, not just live within the walls of their church. They aren’t surrounded by Christians all day long; they don’t just listen to Christian music. I have a lot of critically thinking fans who are trying to sort out their lives as Christians as best they know how. I think as a result of that, a lot of them have been marginalized; they’re still seeking to be Christians but not always measuring up to the marketed idea of who they should be.
You’re playing live shows again …
Knapp: Yes. My concerts right now include the ultra-conservative hand raisers that are going to make this bar their worship zone. And there’s a guy over on the left having one too many, and there’s a gay couple over on the right. That’s my dream scenario. I love each and every one of them. At the end of the day, it’s music.
Are you still playing your old songs in concert?
Knapp: A bit, yeah.
Knapp: “Martyrs and Thieves” I’ll probably always play off of Kansas. “Fall Down” off of The Way I Am. The songs still have to speak to me. I had to go back and learn my old songs, but that’s been part of my process too—feeling like because I was gay that I couldn’t sing those songs anymore. I even said, “Don’t give me a [live] set longer than what I can play with this new music, because I just can’t play the old music.” I just flat out said I wouldn’t do it.
But you’re already rethinking that?
Knapp: I’m enjoying what I’m playing now. It’s been organic. Amy Courts, a gal who’s joined me on this tour, said she wanted to sing some of the old songs with me. I was like, Man, I don’t know. I swore I’d never play that song again. But we start playing it, and it just hits me right in my heart. It’s like somebody else wrote it. I realized that it comes from a very honest, genuine place. I’ve started to make those connections between the old songs and what I’m doing now. It was an extraordinarily helpful connect, because for a long time I thought it was old life vs. new life. But it’s not. It was a real comfort to me to realize I’m still the same person, that the baggage or new scenarios we pick up along the way are part of the long-term story.
The new record is called Letting Go. Is that a statement?
Knapp: Oh, I love record titles! (laughs) I suppose. There’s a song called “Letting Go,” and it’s basically just a struggle to hold onto the things that have been valuable to me. That was one of the last song I wrote going into this, when I started to have a panic attack going I can’t do this. People are going to chew me up and spit me out and tell me that I’m worthless. I think the process of writing that song was really helpful to realize that I really enjoy what I’m doing, and I’m not going to let go of my faith and I’m not going to let go of the passion to do music the way I want, in case there are other people telling me I can do neither because of personal decisions I’ve made.
In the lyrics to that song, who is the you when you sing, “Holding onto you is a menace to my soul”?
Knapp: It changes nightly. It seriously does. And it can change three or four times while I’m singing it. Some days it’s my faith. Some days I’m singing to God, like You’re a menace, man. It’s hard to keep my faith. Sometimes it’s music, and sometimes it’s being on the road. It’s a lot of those scenarios. That song is a bit of a chameleon, because it’s all of those fearful moments that want to handicap me from not moving forward, when I’d rather move forward with grace and as much kindness as I can—and make my mistakes and hope that grace will follow me.
So it turns out to be the title of the record. I think a lot of folks around this process have been excited about what it’s taken for me to get to this point—to be able to pull a trigger, to be able to go, Okay, really I want to play. A few years back, people were offering me five and six figures to come out and just do one show. I’m like, No, you cannot pay me enough. So that idea of letting go, and just the celebration that this record has felt like—finding music again, finding the passion to face up to a really challenging career but one that’s extraordinarily rewarding, that when you lay your head on the pillow at the end of the night you go, Man, I’m bone tired, but that was good. For me, that’s what it means.
I’m tired of spending hours and hours thinking about what if scenarios—what if nobody wants it, what if everybody is mad, what if I’m a complete disappointment. Now it’s, Here it is. I’ve got to let it go. That’s one of the frustrating parts of my Christian walk, the scenario that if I don’t get it right, that I’ve somehow failed God and failed my faith.
There are a few songs here that I would call angry songs. Is that fair?
Knapp: Which ones do you call angry songs?
Well, there’s “If It Made a Difference,” where you sing, “Sorry I ever gave a damn / Sorry I even tried to waste all the better parts of me / On not just anyone who came to mind.” And “Inside,” where you sing, “I know they’ll bury me before they hear the whole story … / Who the hell do you think you are?” Sounds angry to me!
Knapp: Okay. I’m okay if you call them angry. I prefer to think of them as, well …
Knapp: I’m just really enjoying the opportunity as a writer to be able to put a kinetic energy into what’s been welling up inside of me. It’s great to be able to not feel like I’ve got to turn that frustration into a happy, cheery …
But you’ve never been like that, Jennifer. I don’t listen to your old albums and think Oh, this is all happy, shiny music. I hate happy, shiny music!
Knapp: I think “angry” is probably … I’m not really an angry person. I’m passionate, and I’ve certainly been known to raise my voice and pound my fists, but in the heart of me it’s not a destructive thing. It’s more the type of energy of what it takes when a person’s being thwarted. I wrote “Inside” in complete and utter fear to voices in my head that told me that I couldn’t be a person of faith.
In the song’s third line, you sing, “God forbid they give me grace.” Do you really believe that no believers will show you grace?
Knapp: It’s a much larger picture than that. I don’t want anyone to think the song is targeted at the church, or at the ways we find judgment cast upon us. It’s a challenge to break free of that and to own who you really are. That’s my heart’s cry for anyone I’ve ever met. It’s not on my agenda to convert the world to a religion, but to convert the world to compassion and grace. I’ve experienced that in my life through Christianity.
“Inside” isn’t about the church. It’s about me, and how I struggle to be myself daily—honest and truthful to who I really am. It would break my heart if people got through this [album], especially the Christian audience, and found themselves with another artist that was just angry at the church. That’s not where I’m at. If there’s any anger or frustration on this record, it’s the desperation to hold onto what is honest and true, and let the rest of it just burn.
I would be really sad if people thought this was a sword trying to cut up something I’ve been deeply moved by. Christian music has been a great surprise for me, but I didn’t aspire to be a Christian music artist. I aspired to be a Christian in my private life, and I think it’s a wonderful side effect that can happen with music—that you can get a lot of people to share in that specific experience. So it would be a tragedy if people couldn’t see the forest for the trees, to see the connectivity between Kansasand Letting Go. It’s there for me, gratefully, with a big, huge, massive sigh of relief. It’s not like I left Christian music because Christian music was bad, or that I’m not participating in church because the church is evil. It’s none of those things. For me, it’s the journey that I’m on, trying to figure things about as best I can.