Posts Tagged 'Europe'

Preparing For The New Year

This has been a very tough year for the IHRG and me.  We have fought hard in the battles we had, but it has been a struggle to keep everything going forward.  The economic crisis has meant that we have to do more on less.  It meant that we had to move some activities to next year that we wanted to do this year.

I am not discouraged however.  Already we have ended the year strong.  We have a couple of cases that are being developed, one in Norway and one in Germany.  We are working on a case in Greece that is still not ready for public discussion.  We are working to protect the rights of missionaries at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia and at the World Cup Soccer Tournament in South Africa. 

I also have the opportunity to go to Lebanon and Syria to meet with key Christian leaders there.  Please start praying now for the team as we prepare for this trip.  There are many issues facing believers in the Middle East and we want to be able to protect them as much as possible.

We are also preparing to meet with two groups of church planters in Europe in January.  We want to meet these men and women, let them know that the IHRG is there to help them if they have issues regarding their religious freedom and the right to set up and operate in Eastern and Western Europe.  This is what we do.

This is just what is before me sitting here at Christmas.  It does not include what will happen as we move into the new year and other issues unfold.  We must continue to be there.

In addition to everything listed above, we are planning to host a conference in Germany for lawyers and other Christian leaders to develop a strategic plan for moving forward protecting religious freedom in Europe. 

We are also continuing to move forward with planning for developing a jail chaplains program for the Czech Republic.

All in all you can see that the IHRG has a very ambitious agenda for the coming year.  We hope that you will be a part of our support team.  You can pray and you can help support our work through tax deductible donations made at www.ihrg.org/Donate.html.  You can also join our mailing list by requesting to be added.  Send me an email at jt1217@aol.com.

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The need to prevent the legal discrimination evangelists

 

            Sure, many of us find them irritating and wish that someone would tell them to shut up.  Even the most Christian among us finds himself wishing that the Gospel message were kept within the walls of the Church—or at least some of the proponents of the message.  After all, the Gospel message should not be offensive.  Is it not true that Jesus is all about love and love is always a good feeling?

             These arguments, and a variety of others, are the types of arguments we hear all the time for why the street preachers of our world should not be there.  Even if we can find validity in these arguments, this is not reason enough to tolerate the killing of free speech.

             The more the culture war rages the more we should be willing to protect the right of the speaker—even when we personally disagree with the subject of the speech.  One of the guarantees in the free speech market is that a free society means that we will often hear things in public with which we disagree.

             The measure of a truly free society is how much they respect dissent.  Dissent is the heart of western culture.  While we might argue that we should accept the discrimination because it is good for the church and the church only thrives in troubled times, but we have to realize that this cannot be God’s way.

             Why would God create a system that only works everyone turns against it.  The problem is not that God’s system does not work.  The problem is that human nature is such that man has a hard time giving in to God’s will.

             Sure, historically the church thrives under persecution.  It is one thing to understand the truth of the historic evidence; it is a completely different thing to understand that we do not have to accept the historic model as the only way the Church can thrive.  We have to learn to thrive in peace and prosperity.

             The voice of the evangelist on the street is important to more than the church.  It is important to the growing number of people in our culture who have no interaction with Christian—any where.  It is also important because those voices crying in the wilderness are not always gentle.  Thus, they remind us that there is more to life than the safety of our Christian hiding places.  We have to interact with the world if we are going to be salt and light to them.

             We have to work to keep society free, including keeping society free to preach the Gospel message in its simple most direct form.  This is a form that is often not compatible to the politically correct world we are living.

             At the same time, we have to realize that this means there will be plenty of speech we disagree with from the Gospel preachers and the secular preachers.

             A second measure of the rightness of society is how we treat the weak amongst us.  This means tolerating the things the majority do not want to tolerate.  It is undoubtedly a better world when we have the influence of the Gospel being experienced on the streets and sidewalks of any community and any country.

             Ask those who live in a closed society if they want the right to speak in public and they will assure you that freedom is a good thing.  Freedom in the face of persecution leads to events like the fall of the Iron Current and the martyrs who have given, and continue to give, life the Church.

             We cannot, however, look to that lack of freedom and declare it to be the better way.  If we truly believe that we will all move to lands with no freedom to live in the better way.

             One final reason to prevent the discrimination is that the freedom we enjoy in the west is not a bloodless freedom.  Throughout Europe and in America men and women have fought and sacrificed their lives and their limbs that we might have the right to say anything we believe in public.  For us to walk away from that right is to profane the sacrifice of God’s greatest creation—mankind.

             And that means that we do a disservice to every man and woman who has sacrificed for freedom.  That is perhaps the greatest profanity a human can utter on this earth.  I for one want to find the better way.  The way where freedom does not mean the Church ceases to be relevant.

How To Expand The Evangelical Presence In Europe

There are three simultaneous events that will expand the evangelical presence in Europe.  These are not mysterious events.  They are not secret; in fact, many people and organizations do these things in a variety of countries.  There are a number of reasons why it is important for us to expand evangelical presence in Europe that are not relevant here.  They will appear in other articles more targeted to that question.

Also, by evangelical presence I am not talking about conservative republican political evangelical presence.  I am talking about pure New Testament based evangelical churches whose presence reaches into the community through a variety of outreaches and influences.

There is currently a small presence that needs to be encouraged and strengthened where it is.  The expansion of the presence must be from within.  We do not need to export American evangelical Christianity with its political overtones to Europe.  We need to support the European Church.  That is one of the amazing things about God.  He creates a church within a location that is relevant to that location. 

We have to learn to empower others and trust them to do what is right.  This is what real parenting is all about.  It is about training a child in the way he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.  It is not about control and manipulation.  True freedom involves trust and confidence.

The first event is to begin coming alongside the evangelicals, both churches and individuals, who are already working in Europe.  This means we should financially support them, pray for them, and work alongside them physically. These actions increase the strength of the presence that already exists in Europe. 

In order to do this we will need to leave behind some of our own theories of what a real church looks like.  This does not mean we must compromise the core tenants of our faith.  These core tenants are not culturally transformative; they are eternal and transcend culture.

At the same time, there are a variety of doctrines we think are eternal and they are not.  Things we grew up with that do not matter.  We have to evaluate these cross-cultural movements by sticking to the eternal questions, questions about salvation and the transformation of man rather than how our parents or grandparents did church.

The second event is to begin planting evangelical churches in Europe.  Like coming alongside local European evangelical churches, we have to be careful about how we plant churches.  We do not need to create a further outreach of American denominations in Europe.

We must create a European evangelical church that answers the moral questions of the day with answers from the true church that properly reflects the Gospel through the eyes of Europeans.  It must be a culturally relevant, doctrinally true church.

These must be churches that reach out into their communities and minister to the poor, the drug addicts, the alcoholics, and homeless, and any other outcasts within this culture.  They must be prepared to minister the Gospel to the growing Muslim community as well.  Many in this community are sensitive to spiritual matters and therefore open to the truth of the Christian message.

The best way to do this is to work with teams of church planters whose goal is to plant a first church that will inevitably be American at its core.  This church should then seek to plant a second church using leaders from the country where the church is being planted.  Thus, the support for the church might well be American, but the core of the leadership and the membership of the church is European.

The evangelical imprint remains on the church.  At the same time, the church is European and thus relevant to the local community without the ties back to the negative impressions many Europeans have regarding American Christianity.

The third event is to come alongside these evangelical outposts and protect their religious freedom.  This is where the International Human Rights Group comes into play.  This is what we do.

This means that we must fight to protect the right to share the Gospel message in public places throughout Europe.  We must fight to protect the right of parents to control the education of their children, either through a true voice in the public schools or through home schooling.  We must fight for the right of churches to exist, even in a system that requires a discriminatory registration process like most of the former Soviet Block countries.

Whatever the religious freedom cause, we have to be there support our brothers and sisters.  We must encourage them.  We must embolden them.  Trusting them to remain true to the core of the Gospel and transform their own countries.

Together these three events will see a transformation and expansion of the European evangelical presence.

Jets For Jesus

 

I remember an article in Charisma Magazine over a decade ago in which Jamie Buckingham, God rest his soul, asked the question, “Would Jesus drive a Mercedes?”  Looking at the present crop of Christian leaders gracing our televisions on a weekly basis I think Jamie asked the wrong question.  Maybe his vision was too limited.  Maybe he had too much trust in the goodness in man.  Maybe he just did not live long enough to see where it was really going.

 

The question we should be asking is “Which private jet would Jesus fly?”  I think we should get a new round of bracelets made with the initials WPJWJF.  Suddenly we are covered up with Christian leaders who are spending literally fortunes flying their private jets around the world to share the Gospel with the poor and homeless.

 

I knew of a ministry that bought a jet.  They needed it to get everywhere the work was taking them, including Europe.  A trip to Europe in this jet cost $60,000 when jet fuel was less than $2.00 a gallon.  That was just to get the jet to Europe and back.  It did not include the cost of flying around while you were in Europe.  It did not include the cost of golf outings in Scotland or other important ministry workings.

 

Why can’t we fly commercial like everyone but the rich and famous?  Why can’t we spend our donor’s money better?  Why do we suddenly feel that we are entitled to a better life?  Why is our time so valuable that we cannot waste it being treated like regular human beings?

 

This is part of the celebrity culture that has invaded the Church.  Instead of rightly discerning what Jesus would do we simply gave in to the lifestyle because it made us feel good.

 

If you want to fly in a private jet, then get your money the old fashioned way—earn it.  That is at least a better way than bilking donors out of their hard earned money.

 

Maybe Flip Wilson was right all along—the devil made me do it.

2008, A Quick Look Back

This has been a very busy year for me.  I have managed to work on a variety of cases, with very little expenses. 

 

Your prayers and your support made this possible.  So, let me begin by saying thank you!  Your partnership has made all the difference in the lives of a number of people in America and Europe.

 

That’s right!  We have worked on a variety of cases in America.  At the same time, we have done what no one else has been doing in Europe; we stood up for religious freedom across the Continent!

 

It is important to give praise for the success we have had.  That is part of how we prepare for moving forward.  2009 looks to be every bit as busy as 2008.  We will look to 2009 soon, for now I want to take a few minutes and review our work this year.

 

One easy, cost free way you can also help us is by using GoodSearch for your Internet searches. Go to www.goodsearch.com and enter International Human Rights Group as your charity to begin supporting the ministry through GoodSearch.

 

Battles won in America

 

In the States we worked on a number of different cases and issues.  I want to talk about a couple of them that you probably heard nothing about because we handled them quietly to protect the reputation of our clients.

 

In Atlanta we worked for over two years to resolve free speech issues in the areas surrounding the Georgia Dome, Centennial Park, and the Philips Arena.  There are a number of groups that provide security and they played off of each other to hinder free speech on public sidewalks.

 

Earlier this year I met with attorneys for one of those groups and finalized the negotiations whereby everyone has now agreed that evangelists have the right to share their faith on the sidewalks surrounding all of these public arenas.

 

It was a hard fought victory and required a lot of time and energy, but we persevered and won the rights that are guaranteed under the Constitution of the United States.

 

Thank you for standing with these evangelists through the IHRG!

 

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The Gentleman Evangelist, Bill Adams, sharing his faith at an Atlanta Falcons football game!

 

We also worked with a large church in a southern city.  For the sake of the church and the community I am not at liberty to share the name of the church or the city and state.  This church has an outreach that is changing the way Christians look at the arts.

 

The church was looking to erect a large cross on property they own in a rural area.  The property is used for sports outreach and special church programs.  County officials refused the church the building permit required to erect the cross because they said it violated their local sign ordinances.

 

I was invited down to meet with county officials.  We spent over an hour discussing the fact that the Constitution and other laws protect the right of the church to erect religious worship symbols on their property for the purpose of religious expression.

 

Then, our local attorney took the county attorney by the property and let him see for himself the rural nature of the property.

 

After several weeks, the county relented and the cross has been erected.

 

Our International Work

 

I made six trips to Europe this year working on cases involving religious freedom.  While this may sound like nothing but fun it means that I was away from my family for over 70 days this year.  It means that I missed some of those moments that make up our private lives. 

 

Don’t get me wrong, this is what I am called to do and I do it gladly.  It does not, however, come without costs.

 

First case of 2008 filed in Strasbourg, France

 

My first trip to Europe in 2008 found me filing a case before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France.  This court is the equivalent of the Supreme Court of the United States for issues involving human rights and religious freedom.

 

This case involves Petar Keseljevic who is an evangelist from Oslo, Norway who was arrested for sharing his faith on public sidewalks in Oslo.  You might remember that in August of last year we were in Oslo at Petar’s trail.

 

In near record time, Petar’s case went through the entire system in Norway.  A ruling from the ECHR will set a precedent for the entirety of Europe.  Please pray that the court will accept this case and give us a chance to present Petar’s case for freedom of expression.

 

From Strasbourg, we traveled to a meeting with the Robinson family in Nürnberg, Germany where Clint Robinson is the English language pastor of a Baptist Church.  We spent a considerable amount of time last year working on the Robinson family’s case.  We were able to resolve their case so they remained in Germany ministering through the end of 2008.  Now, the Robinson family is back in the States on furlough preparing to return to Europe and plant a new church.

 

Your prayers and partnership helped in both of these cases.  Please continue to pray for Petar and the Robinson family.  Pray that they will be able to continue their ministries in Norway and Germany/Austria.

 

We also met with Mosaic and Samhol ministries in Iceland.  We have partnered with these ministries to support their outreach in Iceland.  These two dynamic ministries are making a huge difference in Reykjavik.  Mosaic is a local evangelical church that began this Easter.  Already they have one hundred members, many of them street people who have come to the Lord through the ministry of the church and Samhol.

 

One hundred members doesn’t sound like a big church by American standards.  You have to realize that the largest evangelical, non-state church in Iceland has only four hundred members to see what a huge start this is.  This country is like the rest of Europe, hardened to the Gospel in many ways.  Yet, in Reykjavik Christian men have dedicated their lives and ministries to seeing revival in the Icelandic people.

 

Samhol is a ministry to the street people and addicts of Iceland.  They work to not only bring these hurting souls to the Christian faith; they are also working at the street level to free them from the chains of addiction.  Their program is simple.  They help them physically defeat the addiction and then they counsel them through the emotion and mental difficulties of returning to normal, productive lives.

 

Mosaic and Samhol are changing Iceland, one soul at a time.  We are proud to be partnered with such dynamic ministries.

 

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An inside look at the work of Samhol in Iceland

 

Please continue to pray for these two dynamic ministries to have greater influence in Iceland and beyond!

 

This is a different fight for the IHRG.  Religious freedom is currently strong in Iceland.  Here we will support the local work of these two ministries and others.  We will support their leadership with legal counsel as they grow and have a greater reach into the cities and villages of Iceland. 

 

Second and Third Case of 2008 Filed Before ECHR in Strasbourg

 

We filed our second and third applications of 2008 before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France on behalf of the Plett and the Pauls families.  (To understand why I consider religious freedom in Europe so important please see a recent article of mine that was published in The Voice Magazine.  You can see the article by clicking here.

 

The Plett and the Pauls familes are home schooling their children for religious reasons.  Their right to control the education of their children is protected by the German Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.  Unfortunately, the German school authorities have refused to grant these rights to the parents and have persecuted the parents for home schooling their children.  And the German courts agreed with the school officials.

 

This persecution included removing the custody of the children on questions of where the children live from the parents and giving it to the Youth Welfare Office.  They levied fines against the parents of thousands of Euros, they showed up at the family home unannounced to take the children from the parents. 

 

One family eventually fled to Canada to try and stay together while they continue home schooling.  The other family fled in part to Austria to continue home schooling.  The European Court of Human Rights is these families’ last hope for justice and we are there to help fight for justice.

 

Please pray for these families and their cases!  Pray that the court will grant justice in instances where they have refused to enforce the law on behalf of parents and their children who are seeking to raise their children according to the dictates of their faith.

 

Criminal Trial in Oslo, Norway

 

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Norwegian attorney, Joel, and Petar Keseljevic after criminal trial in Oslo in July

 

In July I was in Oslo, Norway.  For the second time in a year police officers in Oslo arrested an evangelist for sharing his Christian faith in public.  This time, Petar Keseljevic was joined by Larry Keffer, an American evangelist.  These two men were in public areas of Oslo on May 17, 2008 sharing their faith when they were arrested.  The criminal hearing was in July and I was there representing Larry Keffer.

 

I read Larry’s fact statement into the record.  Then I cross examined a police officer.  Then I presented a closing argument based on the international law that protected the rights of Petar and Larry.

 

The prosecuting attorney told me after the trial that she believed this was the first time in Norway’s history that an American had participated in a criminal trial.  That seems a bit much to me, however, it was certainly an honor to be able to represent such an important case before the court in Oslo.

 

Both Petar and Larry were found guilty.  We appealed Larry’s case to the Norwegian Court of Appeals.  They denied the appeal and Larry’s appeal is currently pending before the Norwegian Supreme Court.

 

Please continue to pray for Larry.  We are prepared to file the final appeal in Strasbourg, if the Norwegian Supreme Court does not rule in Larry’s favor.  This is a critical case on free speech issues that could affect all of Europe and ultimately America.

 

We were also able to work with German lawyers to protect the rights of parents to choose the education of their children.  We spent time in the Czech Republic where we made key contacts that will be very important in the coming year.

 

There is more we have done, but time and space concerns need to keep this shorter. 

 

Please continue to pray for our work!  Please continue to pray for those we represent and their families!  They are the true heroes of our faith!

 

Thanks for standing with us!

Help Me Stand With Larry Keffer

When American missionary Larry Keffer began street evangelism in Oslo, Norway he knew the cost would be great!  He knew that he could be arrested!  He knew that he could find himself in court and possibly even in jail! 

 

He went anyway!  And he shared his faith in public places.  He did this because he knows how important it is to continue to try and reach the world with the Christian faith.  Larry also knows the importance of bringing the Gospel message to Europe—the spiritually dark continent. 

 

In the midst of calmly sharing his message Larry was arrested.  I represented Larry at trial.  He was convicted because the Norwegian police law actually carries more weight than the right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.  In America Larry might have been arrested, but as soon as we went to court he would have been found not guilty.

 

Now Larry has lost his case at the Norwegian Court of Appeals and we are preparing to take his appeal to the Supreme Court of Norway.  From there, if we lose we will go to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France in our quest for justice for Larry.

 

Stand with me as I stand with Larry in the courts of Europe.  Together we can make a difference!  Together we can keep the door open for the proclamation of the Gospel in Europe!

 

You can stand with Larry, the IHRG, and me by going to our website.  Your tax deductible gift will help keep the door open for Christians in Europe who are fighting to bring freedom.

Why Europe Matters To America

We live in an increasingly smaller world. Information travels at the speed of the Internet. One of the questions I am asked as I speak to people in churches around the country is why does Europe matter to us at all?  People are genuinely concerned that any attention we give to Europe keeps us from solving the problems of America.  I believe that many people in the church are guilty of seeing the pie as already made with no possibilities of a new pie or increasing the size of the pie.  We have to understand that in the spiritual world we have barely scratched the surface of our potential.  This means that we must be concerned with more than one country at a time.

 

Europe and America are tied together in a number of ways.  I want to look at our ties.

 

Patriotism is a great emotion.  It is important for us to feel good about our country.  It is important for us to bloom in the land where God has planted us.  At the same time, it is important for us to align ourselves with proper Christian principles for living.

 

There is no doubt that America plays a great role in world events.  It is even more true that America plays a great role in spiritual events.  This is why we must be vigilant in our pursuit of spiritual matters in America and around the world.

 

There are a variety of important reasons why what happens in the rest of the world, most particularly in Europe, matters to the church in America. Perhaps the primary reason that must be central to our thinking is that as Christians we have a charge to reach the world.

 

Jesus commanded us to reach the world by beginning at home.  He was not telling us to only work at home when he said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.”  (Matthew 28:19.)  Jesus made sure we understood the details of His commandment in Acts 1:19.  “You shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

 

While it is great to love our country and commit ourselves to the spiritual awakening of our country, we must look further than our own doorsteps.  We must work in the remotest part of the earth as well.

 

The late Keith Green summed it up well, “Jesus commands us to go; it should be the exception if we stay.”

 

As a group of lawyers and legally-minded lay people, we stand on the front lines against the tide of secularism that is growing stronger around the world. We fight to maintain the open doors for the proclamation of the Gospel. This fight often involves battling with government officials to keep public places open for the expression of religious belief. We can no longer afford to look at our world as only America. We live in a larger place and this larger place must include the entire world and the legal work that must be done there to protect religious liberty.

 

A simple example of why it matters is found in an exchange I had with a lawyer and local Parliamentarian in Holland in 2001.  We had just fought off the push of the same-sex marriage agenda in Hawaii and Alaska.  In both of those states the voters voted against legalizing same-sex marriage by near equal percentages in the general election—this is the most liberal and most conservative state.  As a result the battle was withdrawn from America and taken to Europe.

 

In May of 2001 I was working in Holland.  One day we were talking about the fact that Holland was going to legalizing same-sex marriage.  When we walked away from the conversation my wife turned to me and said, “Thank God we will not have to fight that fight in America.  There is no way same-sex marriage will ever be legal in America—our Christian foundation is too strong.”  We were not naïve; in fact, we had been very involved in the fight in America.

 

The most amazing fact of all is that less than two years later the fight for same-sex marriage returned to America and the results have been harmful to our culture.

 

America is a world leader in a number of fields. We must lead in the field of religious freedom. To do that, we must help train and develop a network of Christian attorneys, around the world, who are capable of standing up for repressed minorities in their own countries. If we do not do this, one day we will find that our own freedoms are shrinking further in the tide of lost religious freedom elsewhere.

 

            This principle has become truer since the Supreme Court of the United States has recently turned to the European Court of Human Rights to find the legal answers to questions of moral importance to us all.  If Christians do not fight for the same religious freedoms in Europe we will find the courts here using legal precedents that are not influenced by Christian morals to reshape our Christian foundations.

 

We live in a circular world, spiritually and legally.  What happens in America will eventually happen in other key areas of the world.  Just as true is that what happens in key areas around the globe will eventually happen in America.  We cannot simply turn our back on what happens in the courtrooms and parliamentary halls of other countries and hope that we will not be affected by the outcome of their debates over the moral and legal issues of our day.  We must be proactive around the globe, just as we are proactive in America.

 

In both the United States and in the rest of the world, the clear end goal of many political forces is a purely secular society that is based on the acceptance of all lifestyle choices, except Christianity, and the concept that science should be the determiner of the national moral structure rather than religion. These views include the belief that the government is in a better position to determine what our children learn than are parents.  Therefore we cannot wait until the change comes and hope to battle the forces of change.  We must begin to stem the tide now.

 

            Europe cannot be ignored.  We have a great relationship with the countries of the European Union and many within the Council of Europe.  To begin with, we come from similar political philosophies.  American concepts of freedom and individual responsibility were born from the Age of Enlightenment which was sweeping through Europe at the time of our founding.  Additionally, we have treaties with the countries of Europe for security purposes—NATO is the key to these treaties which bind us to the common defense of the western world.

 

            More importantly, Europe is one of our greatest trade partners.  The past few weeks have shown us that we live in an economic system that is truly global.  While we remain one of the most vibrant economies in the world, our economy is still tied to the rest of the world.  Life as we know it is determined by Europe and, to a lesser extent, the rest of the world.

 

            We owe a great debt to Europe.  Europe is the birthplace of the Evangelical Church.  It was in the 1500s that the Protestant Reformation began in Germany.  From the Reformation most of our religious traditions were birthed.

 

            Now Europe stands in need of America for spiritual awakening.  We need to see new churches planted in Europe.  We need churches that bring real change to the lives of their people; change to the countries where they minister. 

 

            Additionally, we need to bring legal change to Europe; legal change that respects the religious freedom that is guaranteed by the laws of every country in Europe.

 

            We cannot afford to be passive in our approach; that is why we are standing for religious freedom in the courts of Europe.  


Books Worth Reading

C.S. LEWIS--Mere Christianity; CLAIRE BERLINSKI--Menace in Europe: Why the Continent's Crisis is America's Crisis, Too; BRUCE BAWER--While Europe Slept: How Radical islam is Destroying the West from Within; DAVID LEVERING LEWIS--God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215; THOMAS SCHIRRMACHER--The Persecution of Christians Concerns Us All; PHILIP JENKINS--God's Continent: Christianity, Islam, and Europe's Religious Crisis
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