The Templeton Prize for bigotry

For King Abdullah to receive the Templeton Prize for religious tolerance is an absolute travesty.

By
January 2, 2019 22:01
The Templeton Prize for bigotry

Jordan's King Abdullah II Bin Al Hussein arrives before the start of 29th Arab Summit in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia April 15, 2018.. (photo credit: HAMAD I MOHAMMED / REUTERS)

 
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Jordan’s King Abdullah II was awarded the esteemed Templeton Prize in Washington on November 13. The coveted award was previously presented to such notables as Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, Bishop Desmond Tutu, and Dr. Billy Graham.

Abdullah is being honored as the ruler who has done more to promote Islamic and inner-faith harmony than any other living political leader. Heather Templeton Dill, granddaughter of Sir John Templeton, and president of the Templeton Foundation, said: “King Abdullah offers the world the true definition of a spiritual entrepreneur, a person shaped by temporal and political responsibilities, yet who holds both the belief and free expression of religion as among humankind’s most important callings.”

In November 2017, I flew with a delegation of Evangelical leaders to Amman on a fact-finding mission invited by King Abdullah. Several of us advise the US president, i.e., Representative Michele Bachmann, Tony Perkins and Dr. Jim Garlow. We met with the vast majority of the leaders of the country, including Abdullah, Prince Hassan, the foreign minister and the defense minister. On the final day of our trip, our delegation visited the Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary (JETS). We met with Maj.-Gen. Emad Maayah, president of the Jordan Evangelical Council, Dr. Imad Shehadeh, JETS president, Capt. Emad Kawar, the seminary’s board chair, and three dozen Jordanian Evangelical pastors and ministry leaders for a round table discussion. The topic: The Evangelical Church in Jordan.

Upon arrival, I met an American, Greg Griesemer, senior pastor of the largest Evangelical English-language church in Jordan. Founded in the late 1960s, the church provides for the spiritual needs of US military, Foreign Service families, and workers posted to Jordan. The story he shared with me was absolutely appalling. He told me that he and his staff were being investigated by the Jordanian General Intelligence Directorate (GID), and that they were facing deportation for openly speaking to Muslims about Christianity. He said undercover agents posing as Christian worshipers had been dispatched to his church and Bible studies.

Griesemer expressed to me that a wave of anti-Evangelical hostility had gripped the Hashemite Kingdom. He said converts to Christianity were being labeled apostates and having their rights revoked. He even expressed that churches were being closed and that Evangelicals are being labeled “outlaws” in Jordan and being equated with Islamic State terrorists. He expressed to me that there was an entire religious branch of the GID tasked with investigating and preventing Muslims from hearing about Christianity. The GID works in conjunction with the police and civil government to keep Christians, and anyone who does not wish to feel its wrath, quiet.

My first impression was surely this was not happening in Jordan. As I sat on the panel, I brought these matters up to another Jordanian Evangelical leader who said, “It’s true.” We began to ask other pastors to tell us their stories. Reluctantly, one pastor after another acknowledged it.

Later that day, we had lunch with King Abdullah at the palace. I asked him directly why Evangelical pastors were being interrogated by the GID? He seemed quite surprised, saying he had never heard of such a thing, and that it was completely unacceptable. He said he would assign the director of the royal court’s political affairs, Manar Dabbas, to work with me on the matter.

During the past year, I have had a constant dialogue with Dabbas and with Evangelical leaders in Jordan. Unfortunately, nothing has improved; it has worsened. Pastors have been ordered to turn over to the GID lists of church members and to sign a document agreeing not to speak to Muslims about Christianity.

From my perspective, a clear wave of anti-Evangelical aggression is taking place in Jordan. The GID has not only sent undercover agents into the churches, but also into a Bible study hosted in the home of a US Embassy employee.

Pastor Griesemer’s was not the only case of which I became aware. Another Jordanian pastor, Raed Safadi, had founded two schools for refugee children, providing education. He developed a global funding partnership and brought volunteers to provide medical care in the villages surrounding the schools. His success came with a severe price. The week before my visit, Safadi had been summoned to the office of the governor of Amman. It was demanded that he sign an agreement not to speak to any Muslim about Christianity with the threat of imprisonment. Appealing to the religious rights that he had as a citizen, the pastor refused to sign the document. The governor’s office demanded documentation on all of his ministry and social projects, and began to strategically dismantle them.

In emails to him, I mentioned the Safadi case to Dabbas. As time dragged on, it became apparent to me that nothing was being done. Coordinated efforts with the GID and the governors of Amman, Irbid and Zarka systemically shut down Pastor Safadi and his ministry. The latest move by the GID was made in June 2018 when the leaders of the Jordanian Baptist Convention were informed that each church would need to produce a list of members and each church leader would be required to sign a document agreeing not to speak about Christianity to Muslims. Safadi’s church and school has been closed, and he has been forced to leave the country.

Shutting down Christian churches and harassing pastors are shocking violations of human rights. Despite the fact that King Abdullah told me that matters would be taken care of, as did Director Dabbas, nothing has been resolved. Instead things have only gotten worse.

According to internal documents written by David Hale, US ambassador to Jordan, anti-Evangelical aggression was in full swing back in 2008 when he met with the still current adviser to the king on religious and cultural affairs, Prince Ghazi. Ambassador Hale wrote, “Prince Ghazi went to great lengths to explain the harmonious nature of Orthodox Christians and Muslims in Jordan, which he credits for Jordan’s stability and reputation for tolerance. Jordan, he said, is ‘punching well above its weight class’ amongst the countries paving the way for religious tolerance dialogue. Ghazi then equated evangelicals with the Crusaders, blaming them for rifts between Christians and Muslims, and also between different Christian traditions. Ghazi asserted that the Orthodox Christian community stands with the Muslim majority in Jordan in their desire for the foreign Evangelical groups to go. ‘We want Christians,’ said Ghazi, ‘just not your Christians.’”

The current targeting of Evangelical pastors like Safadi and Griesemer indicates that Ghazi’s 2008 policy to purge Jordan of Evangelicals is alive and well. But even more alarming is the aggressive and public demonizing of Evangelicals published in The Jordan Times on December 18, 2017, calling Evangelical Christians “extremists” and “outlaws.”
King Abdullah II himself popularized the term “khawarij” or “outlaws” of Islam to describe ISIS and the terrorists that they inspire. The Jordan Times picked up the phase and has used it in various headlines over the last few years in articles such as: Life returns to normal in Irbid after raid against ‘Daesh-affiliated outlaws’ (March 3, 2016) and “War against outlaws of Islam a global struggle – King” (January 14, 2016).

From the perspective of Prince Ghazi, Evangelical Christianity is an unwanted foreign intrusion into Jordan. Evangelical Christianity in Jordan is primarily represented by the Jordanian Baptist, Nazarene, Assemblies of God, Evangelical Free and Alliance denominations. Since October 2017, no volunteer residency visas have been approved for anyone working with the Evangelical churches. Visas issued in 2017 are now expiring and American families are being forced to leave Jordan.

According to Evangelical leaders with whom I have been dialoguing, Prince Ghazi’s desire for foreign Evangelical groups to depart Jordan could be realized soon with volunteers sponsored by the Jordan Evangelical churches expelled along with all of the human resources, aid funding and benefits that they provide for the local church and community.
The Amman International Church youth pastor was detained at the Israel-Jordan border and denied reentry in March 2018. A long-time Nazarene pastor was denied residency and blacklisted from reentry after 25 years in Jordan in May 2018. The list continues to grow.

Our delegation that visited Jordan was comprised of Evangelicals, and we proudly delivered the largest Evangelical vote in American history for President Donald Trump. I took King Abdullah II at his word, believing that he did not know, and was willing to address the bigotry and intolerance. But after nearly a year of appeals, there is little question in my mind that he has no intention of addressing this very serious issue.

For King Abdullah to receive the Templeton Prize for religious tolerance in view of this situation in Jordan is an absolute travesty. It is the Templeton Prize for bigotry.

The writer is a No. 1 New York Times bestselling author with 89 published books. He is the founder of the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem of which the late president Shimon Peres, Israel’s ninth head of state, was the chairman. He also serves on the Trump Evangelical Faith Initiative.

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