Friday, February 24, 2017

Warning to Churches Who LIVE Broadcast Services

Faith Assembly Hitachi ZHD5000 cameras 10 11 12 8
A Syrian Muslim converted to Christianity and was baptized at First Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His baptism was publicized by the church on the Internet. When the Syrian convert traveled back to his home country of Syria, he was kidnapped and tortured by radicalized Muslims who "learned about the baptism from the Internet." The man said he was "blindfolded, beaten and forced into a 55-gallon drum for long stretches at a time, and continually threatened with beheading." The torture only ended when he was able to free himself from his bonds, obtain a gun from his captors, and kill an uncle who was participating in the torture. The man is now wanted for murder in Syria.

Some articles you read in the newspaper send chills up your spine. Today's Daily Oklahoman article by reporter Kyle Schwab, recounting the Syrian man's conversion and baptism in Oklahoma and his capture and torture in Syria, was one such article. 

After the Syrian finally escaped his captors and made it back to the United States, he filed suit against First Presbyterian Church, Tulsa, Oklahoma. The man argued before the court that he never consented to the church's publicizing his baptism, and made it clear he wished it to be confidential. The pastor, disputing the man's account, said he never requested "that the church depart from its normal practices, which includes making records of baptisms publicly available."

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled yesterday on behalf of First Presbyterian Church, Tulsa. The court ruled "the publication of the baptism was an act rooted in religious belief." Further, the court stated,

I have a friend on the Oklahoma Supreme Court named Yvonne J. Kauger. She wrote a dissenting opinion and stated, "the church's autonomy doctrine is only applicable to internal administrative matters and to church action involving members."  First Presbyterian Church frequently baptizes converts to Christ who do not desire membership in their church, similar to the baptism of this Syrian man. Associate Supreme Court Justice Yvonne Kauger argued in her dissenting opinion that the church should be held liable for the torture of this convert.


Regardless of your feelings about the majority opinion or the dissenting opinion, this extraordinary case should cause all of us who broadcast our services over the Internet to pause.  We live in a different world today than we did even 20 years ago. What we used to say in the comfort and security of our local churches is now being broadcast to the world.

In the 1980's police television show Hill Street Blues, a police supervisor would always end roll call with words that are appropriate for churches who use the Internet in 2017: 

"It's a dangerous world. Be careful out there." 


Bob Cleveland said...

I am unsure about the wisdom of broadcasting service live, anyway. And it's for sure churches wouldn't need that if they'd make real disciples out of their members, who would then carry on all the outreach and personal "broadcasting" the church would ever need.

Wade Burleson said...

Good point, Bob. In our case, many members watch LIVE, and others from around the world watch "archived" services. It's a wonderful ministry, but this article helped me realize some parameters that need established.

RB Kuter said...

Thank you for posting this very wise word of caution, Wade. It was more apparent to us that we must take precautions when living in other lands but you are so correct in pointing out that we must be aware of dangers in this country too.

We now work with believers from other world religion backgrounds residing in the US. Though they are sincere followers of Christ, they sometimes choose to maintain their presence among those of their home culture and religious beliefs living in the US. Although not practicing those former beliefs themselves, these Jesus Followers prefer keeping a low-profile as "Christians" within these communities for purposes of maintaining relationships with friends who are still lost with the hope of leading some others into the Kingdom. Therefore, they would also not want their baptism broadcast publicly.

Better to simply qualify baptism candidates by asking them if they prefer this to be confidential. It is also advisable that, prior to baptizing people in these sensitive situations, an announcement be made to the viewing audience to not put their names or any photos taken on the electronic media.

Christiane said...

If the man had requested privacy, the Church had no right to publicize his baptism ..... as far as the law suit, I can only imagine how betrayed he must have felt knowing that the Church he trusted turned on him for their own agenda, and that all of his suffering was a result of their betrayal of his request of them.

I feel sorry for this man's plight. 'Hubris' is not Christian, nor is 'crowing' about getting someone to leave their faith and come into the faith you espouse ...... all that is rooted in pride and has no place in the Church. I wish the Church had kept faith with this man. They now need to take responsibility for failing him in order to do the right thing and make amends for betraying him.

Tom said...

I recently received an email from a Pastor in a Hindu country stating that the Fanatical Hindus are increasing their activities against the Church in his country with Churches being visited regularly by Police and pastors and church members being thrown into prison. His church is in a major city but in the country away from the major cities, mob rule is more likely to be the order of the day with more violence being dished out against the "Christians," even burning down their places of religious worship and leaving people in a state close to death or worse.

I responded with scripture and the words of Christ which said that because of their faith in Him that they would be persecuted and even killed because of Him. I also reminded him that they should not fear those who can kill us physically but that they should hold in reverent fear the one who can "spiritually kill" them. I reminded him that without persecution of the church in his country, the church would not have grown as rapidly as it has. That their response to the natural disasters has spoken more about their love of their fellow man than the focus of the Hindu leaders in rebuilding their temples as quickly as possible.

The fourth Beast of Daniel 7:1-12 is to speak out great thing against God and the killing of people who do not agree with their religious understanding is only one of the means by which they are speaking out against God. By torturing and Killing Christian and also other religious people from a different religious persuasion is only meeting the dominion of the fourth beast that they have chosen to inhabit. From my perspective, Islam is closely aligned within the dominion of the fourth Beast.

Instead of finding fault with the Church who reveals our association with Christ, we should remember that we will be persecuted because of our faith and that our response, i.e. our witness in that circumstance will be used to bring in God 's everlasting Kingdom, one soul at a time.

I am planning to go to my friend's country before the end of the year and before I go, I must resolve whether or not I am prepared to even die for what I believe while I am in that country. This is also true for my own country as well.

Unless you take up your own cross and follow Him, you cannot be a disciple of Christ's.


Shari England said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shari England said...

I love online for those times we are unable to attend due to health or weather or catch up if out of town. But understand the new concerns as well.

Anonymous said...

This is fascinating to read about. It reminded me of an email I received from my husband a couple years ago, while he was deployed for a year to Iraq. He worked with the Iraqi military hands on. I included the email he sent below.



Wanted to share something with you—in a few hours here, I’m going to be baptized here in Iraq. Something rather profound to share is that one of my friends and co-workers here is an Iraqi that immigrated to America in 2003 when Op Iraqi Freedom started, because things had been VERY bad for him and his family/region up until then under Saddam. He is a Shiite Muslim that has just decided to accept Christ and become a Christian. At the same time, he decided to be baptized. Although I’ve been a Christian all my life, to be honest I’ve been wanting to be baptized for a while now, but just never nailed down the event to make it happen. If anything, I was probably railing against some churches that strictly professed baptism to be mandatory for salvation, where I disagreed, and think that it should be a matter of obedience, not because a church tells you that you have to.

For symbolic reasons, I was hoping that it would be possible while I’m over here to be baptized in the Tigris or Euphrates Rivers, but I’m sure you can understand that’s not quite feasible for various practical reasons. So when I heard that my friend was going to do it, I humbly asked him if he would honor me by letting me also be baptized with him. I do believe it’s an individual profession of faith, not something to because somebody else is, and I also didn’t want to take away from the significance of the event for him. Well, Arab culture is VERY relational-based, and he just about broke down in tears at how much that meant to him that I would ask such a thing. So we’ve decided to do this in the morning, here in the camp chapel in Baghdad. Will be at 1 AM East Coast time. A bit of a surprise to me, too.

Because of Muslim practices, he has had to be very careful about who he tells that this is going to happen, as his life would be in extreme danger for converting from Islam to Christianity if it was broadcast into the Muslim community. Don’t worry at all, though—we’re quite safe, and we’re taking appropriate measures for this event.

Ever thought you’d hear of this sort of thing a few years ago? I never thought I’d be describing these circumstances. Is God amazing, or what?"

Wade Burleson said...


Wow! Quite the story.

Thanks for sharing.

Michael from Ohio said...

As Christians we may suffer persecution and need to "count the cost" in that regards to following Christ but that does not mean to be a follower of Christ I need to seek out persecution! God forbid! That being said, I am one of those persons with a physical condition that does not allow me to be in a "live" worship service. My wife and I participate online with Emmanuel Enid worship service. It has been a tremendous blessing to both of us.

Nancy2 said...

I have to side with the convert in this case. It is not persecution in Jesus' name when the behavior of one causes another to be persecuted - that is not persecution for righteousness.
What if a person under federal witness protection had relocated (maybe with spouse and children....). were to be baptized in that church, and publicly airing the baptism exposed the identity and location of the family to the wrong people ............ If it were someone trying to escape a relentless stalker .......... ???? Would that be viewed the same way?

RB Kuter said...

I find it difficult to blame the church that did the baptism, in this case, depending upon whose testimony you believe. The victim of persecution says after the fact of his being tortured, and into his filing of the suit, that he asked for it to be "confidential" but the church begs to differ and says he knew how they publicized their services and he never requested special treatment.

The consenting opinion of d Yvonne J. Kauger mentioned in the post seems to not be relevant to this issue citing the church's "autonomy", which doesn't seem to me to be the issue. The issue seems to be whether or not the church willingly or intentionally put the guy at risk in defiance of his asking for special treatment.

I guess I am suspicious of the victim returning to the US and immediately filing suit. To what end? For what purpose?

Still, the main gain from this post is to remind us all to be very careful.

Unknown said...

As a Baptist, we tend to call baptism, "A public profession of our faith." By that, I've always understood that meant in front of the congregation (I've turned down requests to baptize in private for that reason). However, just like we need permission from parents to publish their children's picture on our FB page or other official church communication, we might consider doing that also for those being broadcast in our services.

Every NT baptism I read of is in public; the baptism before the congregation fulfills this, and as we see in this case a broadcast accessible across the globe may have ramifications we did not think of.