Filtering by Category: Justice

  •   Human Trafficking, Justice   •  

Raising awareness for child sex trafficking in Orange County

Raising awareness for child sex trafficking in Orange County Raising awareness for child sex trafficking in Orange County LONGWOOD -- The people who are involved in raising awareness about child sex trafficking in Central Florida count the Aaron George case as a victory.

George learned Wednesday that he will spend the rest of his life in prison after he was convicted on human trafficking charges.

A 16-year-old told the court that George threatened her to have sex with him and his "clients."

Tomas Lares is the founder of Florida Abolitionists, a group that is trying to prevent further exploitation and to raise awareness about this form of modern-day slavery.

"We had another case a few weeks ago in the U.S. Court where a gang member received almost 20 years in prison for trafficking a 14-year-old girl between the Florida Mall and the Mall at Millenia," Lares said, referring to the Xavier Villanueva case. "She was literally locked in a room, and the gang members would guard her 24 (hours a day), seven (days a week)."

These are just some of the harsh and heartbreaking truths Lares and other anti-child sex trafficking advocates shared with the congregation at Longwood-based Northland, A Church Distributed.

Anthony Davis. Sr. also shared his perspective. He is a former law enforcement officer and member of the Greater Orlando Human Trafficking Task Force.

"One thing we have to understand about this in law enforcement with this is we're fighting money," Davis said. "We're fighting greed and those that are looking at the fact that they don't think they can be prosecuted."

It's a problem that hides in the shadows, but child advocates said recruitment happens in the light of the day — at schools and online.

One 14-year-old survivor met her exploiter in downtown Orlando.

"That's when she met her pimp," Lares said. "She thought it was her boyfriend. A lot of these pimps will lure by becoming a friend and, eventually, a boyfriend. And really, their end goal is to exploit them and put them into a sex trafficking ring."

Several child advocates said human traffickers use social media, smartphones and even games with chat functions to recruit more victims.

There will be an informational meeting about child sex trafficking from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 24, at Lake Eola. For more information go to

You can report suspected child sex trafficking to 888-373-7888.


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  •   Interfaith Dialogue, Justice   •  

Evangelicals At The Crossroads

The Jewish Week

Evangelicals At The Crossroads A younger generation is pushing a more nuanced analysis of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; should Jews be worried? 2/19/14, THE JEWISH WEEK, by Jonathan Mark, Associate Editor

Last December, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sent Christmas greetings recalling the ancient birth of a holy child, a Palestinian child: Jesus, the “Palestinian messenger” of hope. Some in the West surely thought Abbas’ words as meaningless as a popular Arab song referring to Tel Aviv as a Palestinian city, or claims that a Jewish Temple was never on the Temple Mount. But in the little town of Bethlehem, the Bethlehem Bible College, an Evangelical institution, is preparing for “Christ at the Checkpoint,” a four-day conference that begins on March 10.

The conference will address, says its website, “the injustices in the Palestinian territories.” The previous conference, in 2012, issued a “manifesto” that turned Evangelical support for Israel on its head: “Any exclusive claim to land of the Bible in the name of God is not in line with the teaching of Scripture,” it read. The statement continued, “[The] suffering of the Palestinian people can no longer be ignored,” and “Christians must understand the global context for the rise of extremist Islam.”

For those asking, “What would Jesus do?” the answer, according to the conference website, is that Jesus would be alongside the “oppressed” Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints, and that’s where Evangelical support should be, as well.

This is not just the talk in Bethlehem. A December 2011 article in Relevant, a Florida-based magazine aimed at young American Evangelicals, gave a similar twist to the Gospel: There’d be no Three Wise Men if you “place an eight-meter-high wall between the Magi and Baby Jesus. … He’d be without citizenship. …

Considered to be a security threat from birth, he’d receive his green Palestinian ID at the age of 16. ... He would be prohibited from crossing the wall into Jerusalem only 15 minutes away.”

And yet the lineup for the “Checkpoint” in March is attracting some of the most influential Evangelicals in the West: William Wilson, president of Oral Roberts University; Geoff Tunnicliffe, secretary-general of the World Evangelical Alliance; and Joseph Cumming of Yale University’s Center for Faith and Culture. What happened to all that unquestioning Evangelical Zionism we thought we knew so much about? With the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement gathering steam, it’s a question that takes on added urgency as Israel becomes increasingly isolated on the world stage.

Evangelical Zionism, the political and spiritual heart of U.S. support for Israel, may have peaked, with an internal schism threatening to erode Israel’s most important foreign alliance, observers are beginning to say. Though Christian Zionists are still the dominant majority among America’s 50 million Evangelicals, a new wave of Evangelicals, the “millennials,” more interested in “social justice” than geopolitics. And they are advocating an “even-handed” approach to the Israel-Palestinian problem, with some more sympathetic to the Palestinians.

David Brog, executive director of Christians United For Israel (CUFI), an Evangelical Zionist group known for being enthusiastically supportive of Israel, told The Jewish Week that he sensed the left’s growing strength. “The last three or four years I’ve started to get that sinking feeling, they were making inroads …. influencing Evangelicals well beyond the extreme left. ... They are finding an interested audience" among the young. The “anti-Israel" message, said Brog, “is resonating. This generation is in play.” (CUFI, chaired by Pastor John Hagee, has ruffled some feathers in parts of the Jewish community for at times staking out positions to the right of Israeli and U.S. policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.)

Jews, said Robert W. Nicholson, an Evangelical writer, should know that what drives traditional Christian Zionism is not messianism or conversion but Scripture, “belief in the truth of God’s eternal covenant” with Israel; that God will “bless those who bless” Israel and “curse those who curse.”

However, younger Evangelicals are reportedly less “text-oriented” than their elders, so Israel — whose Evangelical support is driven by biblical text, with past and future promises — is at a disadvantage when juxtaposed with the Palestinian claims for social justice in the here and now.

In Mosaic, the Tikvah Fund’s online journal of Jewish ideas, Nicholson warns that some at the “Checkpoint” conference may express a concern for “peace, justice, and reconciliation.” But what this actually translates to, he says, “is unceasing criticism of perceived Israeli injustice, racism and occupation, peppered with special disdain for Evangelical Zionists who allegedly exacerbate the conflict” by supporting Israel.

The 2010 inaugural “Checkpoint” conference (held every two years) featured Palestinian Rev. Naim Ateek, who once sent out the Easter message, “Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him. ... The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily. Palestine has become the place of the skull.”

Rev. Joel Hunter is among the more centrist leaders in the “Checkpoint” camp. Pastor of an Evangelical megachurch called Northland, with 20,000 congregants at several locations in and around Orlando, Fla., he serves on the board of the World Evangelical Alliance (representing 600 million) and the National Association of Evangelicals (representing 30 million). Indicative of those Evangelicals who don’t want to be considered interchangeable with Republicans, he is the author of “A New Kind of Conservative,” advocating a nonpartisan approach.

A speaker at the 2012 “Checkpoint,” Rev. Hunter told The Jewish Week, “I’m well aware and regret the insecurities that this conference has brought about, some of it justifiable because of some of the participants, and we all get that. But the point of the conference is to identify and hear from Arab Christians. While I was there [at the last conference] I spoke to many people and did not hear one word about Israel as an enemy.” (Ateek didn’t speak at the 2012 conference.)

Everyone agrees, said Rev. Hunter, about the need for “the security and ongoing prosperity of Israel, which is our very good friend and important to our scriptures. But there has been a long theological strand that has been predominant in the loudest voice of the Evangelical movement, identifying the modern-day State of Israel with the [prophecies of the] Hebrew Scriptures. … Anything that would present a more balanced, more compassionate view for all those living in the land, and telling all of their stories was seen as a threat, as a heresy. As we learn more and more about the complications of the peace process, and of the legitimate and significant sufferings of those who have been limited for the sake of security, we want to include them. It doesn’t at all diminish our loyalty to Israel, but it does help us see the other side of the story.”

However, after the 2012 conference defended by Rev. Hunter, the Evangelical magazine Charisma magazine had its doubts, and headlined: “Did Christ at the Checkpoint Conference Undermine Israel?”

The home page for next month’s “Checkpoint” features a graphic depicting Israel’s security wall as a high, dark and foreboding prison wall. Dwarfed by the wall, a Palestinian is planting an olive tree, symbol of peace.

Lee Smith, a senior editor at The Weekly Standard, feared the negativity. He warned in Tablet, “If the ‘Christ at the Checkpoint’ camp wins out, the pro-Israel Jewish community that once looked warily upon evangelical support may come to regard that movement with nostalgia.”

And “bitter regret,” adds Nicholson; regret for the way Jews have been dismissive of Evangelical Zionists. “Christian Zionism cannot be taken for granted.”

Other than Orthodox Jews, American Evangelicals are still the leading supporters of Israel. A 2013 Pew survey found that 82 percent of Evangelicals believe that Israel was given to the Jewish people by God, but 18 percent are no longer certain; 42 percent of Evangelicals now believe that Israel and a Palestinian state can coexist peacefully; a minority opinion but a substantial one.

Among the advocacy groups linked to the new Evangelicals is the Telos Group, founded in 2009 by Todd Deatherage and Gregory Khalil. Deatherage, an Evangelical Republican, worked as chief of staff for Sen. Tim Hutchinson (R-Ark.) and later for the George W. Bush state department; Khalil, a Christian Palestinian, is, according to the Telos website, a “longtime Democrat and a former adviser to Palestinian leaders on peace negotiations.”

Telos, on its website, states that peace would be more likely if Evangelicals were to “pursue the common good for everyone in the Holy Land,” Palestinians as well as Israelis.

Telos’ Deatherage told The Jewish Week, “People try to put us — and the whole situation — in a box, that you can’t be pro-Israel if you’re pro-Palestinian. I do think there can be another way that could encourage a positive difference, as long as it doesn’t devolve into a zero-sum approach. I see that as a dead end — for both peoples.”

Trips to Israel, sponsored by Evangelicals on both sides of the divide, underline the different narratives that have taken hold. The Evangelical Zionists, for example, promote the idea that the Israeli Christian population is the only one in the Middle East that is growing, whereas the Christian population in the Islamic-dominated Gaza and West Bank is shrinking.

On the other end, one of the “new Evangelicals,” who asked not to be named, told The Jewish Week, “I have met with a lot of Palestinian Christians through the years and I have never met a Palestinian Christian who said, ‘My family left here because of Muslim pressure or persecution. Never once. I’ve heard many of them say, ‘We left because it’s too hard to live here. I can’t get from here to there without going through checkpoints. I don’t have educational or economic opportunities. We only have water once a week in our home. That is the reason that Palestinian Christians have stated to me why they’ve left. Christians are not fleeing Bethlehem because of Muslim persecution.”

Yes, polls show that the Evangelicals, as a whole, are still very pro-Israel, but CUFI’s Brog warns, “I’m worried that what we’re seeing could translate, in a generation, to a real shift in the community.”


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  •   Justice, Peace   •  

Christians in Palestine Hope for Reconciliation Despite Occupation

Screen Shot 2012-03-12 at 5.12.14 PM Christ at the Checkpoint, a conference sponsored by Palestinian evangelicals took place this week at Bethlehem Bible College.

According to the conference's press release:

For the first time, a broad spectrum of evangelical believers met literally at the “checkpoint,” and engaged biblically on issues that have historically divided them. Subjects included, Christian Zionism, Islamism, justice, nonviolence, and reconciliation. These themes were intended to create an ongoing forum for Christian peacemaking within the context of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. These issues were discussed in the form of inspirational messages, Bible study, interactive workshops, panels and site visits.

Defying the temptation to despair, Palestinian Christians demonstrated renewed hope to continue to stand against the injustice of occupation nonviolently and forms of Christian Zionism that marginalize them. They also acknowledged the right of the State of Israel to exist within secure borders.

Speakers included John Ortberg, Bishara Awad, Chris Wright, Doug Birdsall, David Kim, Tony Campolo, Lynne Hybels, Munther Isaac, Shane Claiborne, Joel Hunter, Ron Sider, Salim Munayer and Colin Chapman. Participants from 20 nations and a sizeable delegation of university students including Wheaton College and Eastern University, were moved by the testimony of Palestinian men and women who shared the pain and suffering they experience on a daily basis caused primarily by the continuing occupation.

A unique aspect of the conference was the presence and presentations by members of the Messianic community including Richard Harvey, Evan Thomas and Wayne Hilsden, who provided an integral contribution to the dialogue.

Conference organizers challenged the evangelical community to cease looking at the Middle East through the lens of “end times” prophecy and instead rallied them to join in following Jesus in the prophetic pursuance of justice, peace and reconciliation.

The conference organizers included: John Angle, Alex Awad, Bishara Awad, Sami Awad, Steve Haas, Munther Isaac, Yohanna Katanacho, Manfred Kohl, Salim Munayer, Jack Sara, Stephen Sizer. They also published the following manifesto:

  1. The Kingdom of God has come. Evangelicals must reclaim the prophetic role in bringing peace, justice and reconciliation in Palestine and Israel.
  2. Reconciliation recognizes God’s image in one another.
  3. Racial ethnicity alone does not guarantee the benefits of the Abrahamic Covenant.
  4. The Church in the land of the Holy One, has born witness to Christ since the days of Pentecost. It must be empowered to continue to be light and salt in the region, if there is to be hope in the midst of conflict.
  5. Any exclusive claim to land of the Bible in the name of God is not in line with the teaching of Scripture.
  6. All forms of violence must be refuted unequivocally.
  7. Palestinian Christians must not lose the capacity to self-criticism if they wish to remain prophetic.
  8. There are real injustices taking place in the Palestinian territories and the suffering of the Palestinian people can no longer be ignored. Any solution must respect the equity and rights of Israel and Palestinian communities.
  9. For Palestinian Christians, the occupation is the core issue of the conflict.
  10. Any challenge of the injustices taking place in the Holy Land must be done in Christian love. Criticism of Israel and the occupation cannot be confused with anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of the State of Israel.
  11. Respectful dialogue between Palestinian and Messianic believers must continue. Though we may disagree on secondary matters of theology, the Gospel of Jesus and his ethical teaching take precedence.
  12. Christians must understand the global context for the rise of extremist Islam. We challenge stereotyping of all faith forms that betray God’s commandment to love our neighbors and enemies.


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  •   Justice, Poverty   •  

USA Today: Activists who redefine "evangelical" call for Haiti debt relief

Screen shot 2010-02-01 at 11.23.25 AM The crisis of biblical proportions in Haiti has brought out the full spectrum of the faithful to offer emergency aid. Now, a start-up group of progressive Protestants is launching itself with a campaign to erase Haiti's debts so the crippled nation can focus on rebuilding.

The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good -- led by marquee activists, academics, seminar profs and pastors such as Rev. Richard Cizik -- was originally going to launch later this month but stepped up to the publicity megaphone to call attention to Haiti's need beyond emergency relief. Their release says, "We believe that Jesus calls us to work together to set free those who are held captive by debt."

You remember Cizik from headlines in 2008, when the long-time head of governmental affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals resigned under fire for hinting support for gay unions in a radio interview.

Evidently, Jesus doesn't call people who disagree about the Bible to work together on issues. Cizik's outspoken concern for global climate change issues had already made him a target with big name conservatives such as Focus on the Family founder James Dobson. But, in recent years, the e-word (evangelical) banner, once owned by Christians with conservative views on politics, economics and biblical morality, has become a flag flown by any Protestant with a social justice focus and a contemporary focus on the Gospel.

Partnership executive director Rev. Steven Martin, formerly with Partnership co-founder David Gushee's group, Evangelicals for Human Rights, says they didn't want to wait to campaign for debt forgiveness. Although two thirds of Haiti's debt, held by other governments and major institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, has been forgiven already, the remaining billions could cost Haiti as much as $50 million a year to service. That's money Haiti needs for rebuilding, says Martin.

Their release quotes Gushee calling the Partnership, "a new way to bear witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ. We have yearned to offer a better model for how Christians address public issues; to be known for always standing up for those whom God loves but the world or the church often mistreat or neglect."

Don't look for Dobson or any other megawatt megachurch conservatives (with the exception of Rev. Joel Hunter, of Northland Church in Orlando, who also serves on President Obama's Council for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships) on the list of signators.

The Partnership's website's includes its stands -- often written with highly nuanced phrasing -- on hot issues such reproductive rights, gay marriage and environmentalism. For example:

We stand against the collapse of marriage and for stronger family life. We are involved in efforts to strengthen the fading institution of marriage and thereby protecting and enhancing the well-being of children. We do not believe that denigrating the dignity and denying the human rights of gays and lesbians is a legitimate part of a "pro-family" Christian agenda, and will work to reform Christian attitudes and treatment of lesbian and gay people.

This time, no one's going to shove Cizik out the door for saying so.

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