One thing we point out is that modern research on the brain tells us that human beings were created or evolved….& More. Mr Ed Brown
Hatef Mokhtar, Editor-in-Chief in an exclusive interview with Ed Brown from Astefanus Alliance Norway.
Q1: At the Digni 30 year anniversary conference, you used the term “Christian Rights”. Can you explain more about this?
I believe what I mentioned was Right Wing Extremism. The Norwegian government, Ministry of foreign affairs, during the end of 2011, decided that they wanted to focus on religious minorities. They started a program focusing on them. They were going to do a number of things. One of them was to provide funding throughout Norad, funding for projects from around the world to focus on religious minorities. They were going to establish a post within the ministry of foreign affairs that would be working on these issues. The post was supposed to be at the Ambassador level. The first person named for it was Harald Neple. He served around one year, and now another person is taking over. His name is Petter Wille. Also, Minister of Foreign Affairs wanted to have a high level conference. Originally, the conference was to focus on the religious minorities in various parts of the world, especially focusing on the Middle East.
TOT: Why only Middle East?
Mrs. Winther: That was the starting point for the minorities’ project under way.
Mr. Brown: So in an interview with Skavlan, the Former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jonas Gahr Støre, was asked “what are some of your priorities now?” I was very interested and surprised when he said, “Well, one of our topmost priorities is working on a project to strengthen the situation of minorities, primarily Christians in the Middle East.
TOT: Actually, I asked different question viz why only Middle East?
Mr. Brown: The reason is that they have received information that indicated that there have been a high number of persecutions in the Middle East; especially in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and others.
TOT: Where in Middle East?
Mr. Brown: The Ministry of Foreign said after hearing the reports on the greater Middle East area. They wanted to find out more details about the area.
TOT: Does your organization works for the Norwegian government?
Mr. Brown: No, I have taken a step back. You first asked me about the Christian, I said it has to do with the seminar about right wing extremism, and then I went into what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had started doing. We do not work for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but this conference is about Right Wing Extremism.
A2: It comes from individual, Churches, groups. We have currently around 10% state funding though I am not sure about it. We do not want to dependent on state money, so we have a camp of the people we want… I think it is 15-20%. This is all under revision, of course; and we recognize that a lot of organizations are primarily funded by the Norwegian government. That is fine, but we do not want to be bound by governments and their politics. If they suddenly change their minds and don’t want to focus on what we are focused on, we don’t want to be in a vulnerable situation where we then lose our support.
Q3: Can you give me a categorical list of what this organization has done during the last few years?
A3: As I mentioned earlier, we are a missionary and human rights organization. Our focus is on Christians which are been persecuted.
TOT: Where are they persecuted? Can you give me an example?
Mr. Brown: Well, we have been in Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan, Burma, North-Korea, Vietnam, Turkistan and Belarus. At various places around the world, we notice various restrictions against Christians. However, not only Christians are persecuted in these countries. Pew Research Forum for studying Religion has produced reports in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 on religious prosecution in the world. We are working in those places in which not only Christians but others too are being persecuted or strongly discriminated against for their faith. We do not have any projects in Norway or England or other places where the scale of religious persecution is lower than in the Middle-East.
Q4: There have been 20 thousand victims of genocide in Burma, and you work for human rights. What has your organization done to help them?
A4: I visited Burma couple of weeks ago. I did not visit that specific area. It is quite correct to say that there has been a serious pogrom. We see rising nationalism, Buddhist nationalism in Burma right now where there is a struggle over the identity for the Burmese people. This identity question, ‘Who are we?’ is very strong and critical in Burma, which is developing now into a free country. Accordingly, there is a strong push to create a single identity with one language, one culture and one religion. Buddhism is the dominant religion and is being used by the nationalists. The other religions, which are looked at as external religions, are being persecuted. Both Muslims and Christians are being persecuted. The Rahindu or Rindu people are severely persecuted. The Chin people have been shot down as have been the Muslims. One of the things that we try to do is to report in our magazine, and on our website. Then I have meetings with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to make them aware of these issues. We are not in a position to tell them about every single issue. We have chosen to adopt a more holistic approach in Burma. We ask, “How can we strengthen their local capacity to build their own country?” So over the last seven years, we have worked with an organization called ‘The Human Rights Education Institute of Burma. We tried to bring Bermese people together when the country was closed. We brought them out of the country and gave them one month of training on human rights and sent them back to the country to try to strengthen their civil society. What we have seen is that with regimes like the one in Burma, there is no civil society. Without civil society, you can’t have proper development. What we tried to do, along with The Human Right Education Institute, to create a culture of respect for human rights, where everyone respects a human being. They should have all basic human rights, not because they’re Muslims or Christians. Helping to create an understanding and respect for that is what we have tried to do. Now these things take a long time. We are still working with the The Human Rights Education Institute to teach people about human rights and at the same time trying to document human rights abuses.
TOT: Do you have some projects in Afghanistan?
Mr. Brown: No.
TOT: Are you interested to work in Afghanistan also?
Mr. Brown: Every year we evaluate where we have the capacity to work, and there are a number of factors that play a role in this decision. Afghanistan is definitely a country that we feel we could work in. There are number of countries that we feel we could work, but we have to consider elements like capacity, contacts and funding.
Q5: What do you think about gay rights?
I was asked this question when I was teaching in a school in Nigeria. And in response to his answer, I actually asked him; ‘are homosexuals human beings? Don’t they deserve to be treated as human beings?’ ‘Yes.’ Then that is my answer. I believe in human rights for all people, regardless of their religions, language, gender or sexual orientation. They deserve to be treated with respect as human beings.
TOT: Don’t you think this goes against your Christian beliefs?
Mr. Brown: If you look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there is a list of around 30 articles. Around 25 of them are about specific rights or combinations of rights. Sometimes, human rights activist do not like to talk about conflicts; but there is definitely tension between them. If a religious denomination, for instance, Christian or whatever has theology that says homosexuality is immoral behavior, then you have a conflict. Does the religious organization have the right to exclude homosexuals, either as members or as leaders? If they do that, they are discriminating against them. If the state says you have no right to discriminate, then you must allow them to become members, which goes against the religious freedom of this group. So basically, I would approach this the same way I approach any other rights. If there is a conflict between freedom of speech or the safety of an individual, you have to weigh the interests that are at stake, and there are some gray areas. Sometimes the right course is very clear, and sometimes not.
Q7 (Emil Thompson): At the Digni conference, one of the topics discussed was what the biggest challenge between the north and the south? What is your view on it? Do you agree with them?
A7: If I remember the question correctly, it had to do with development aid. The attitude that we have in the north is opposed to the attitude we often see in the south. We in the north are very business orientated when it comes to our relationship. “Let’s get to the bottom line, and sign the contract and shake hands and go our way.” That is not the way it is in the most parts of the world. You have to build a relationship, and I agree with what they said. Human beings were created for fellowship, to be with one another. Even if we want to have business-like, legally based relationships, drinking tea is an important event that takes time. And being a smaller organization means we can take that time. When I travel, I take the time to first listen to what my local partner is saying. They know the situation, they speak the language, they know where the presser is on the shoe. As they say in Norwegian, “We have to listen first and find out.” I do not agree though with the belief that “the host always knows more than the guests.” I would not totally agree with that. “Host usually knows more than guests.” One of the advantages I have due to travel is seeing similar situations around the world. If I have done my homework and I have listened properly, I can come with suggestions based on experiences that are similar and that might be useful. I would never tell my partner, “You have to do it this way.” I have found in the past that when I come with suggestions, they say “That is interesting, that fits with what we have done, maybe that would be interesting to try.” So it is a synergy. It’s not only us listening, and us doing what they ask for. It is us listening first, adding our contribution and together we find a solution that can work.
Q8: Do you and your organization planning to have a dialogue with extremist groups in Nigeria or in Afghanistan?
A8: Our organization has a number of different ways of approaching the challenges out there. Our first response is to listen and strengthen local capacities. If I respond aggressively and not diplomatically, then the answer would be “probably not.” We would probably not be ready to speak with the extremists out there. We would not know how to speak with them. But can we strengthen our local partners to be able to speak to them? Yes, if that is what they choose. Here is one of the things I talk about in many of my seminars wherein I meet Christians. They feel that in the face of persecution they only have one response: suffer and be silent. That, they say, is what the bible teaches. Turn the other cheek. The only thing you can do if you’re suffering is to pray to God so that he will help, and if he doesn’t then he will take me home and I will be with him. My respond is ‘if that is what God has called you to do, great’. But maybe there are other models. For instance — and this is the tool I want to give them: if you look in the New Testament, in the book of acts, you see Peter arrested in Jerusalem. He is thrown into prison. In the middle of the night an Angel comes, dreaming and rescues him. He thinks he is dreaming. He goes to the place where the rescuers are meeting. Now if his only response, his only legitimate Christian response is to suffer, then he should go back to prison, or at least go in the court yard in Jerusalem and preach so he can be arrested again. But he feels called upon to exercise the second option, which is to run away. As a Christian, sometimes in the face of persecution, to save your own life, you have to get yourself out of the situation. Peter was able to come back to Jerusalem on another day when then the pressure was off. As a third option, Paul in the city of Philippy, is also arrested. Again, is it a religious issue or an economical issue? He heals a woman that is demon possessed. Wow, that should be a good thing. But her owners are not happy because now they do not have any income. So is it a religious issue. They got him arrested, put in prison and beaten. In the middle of the night, an earthquake comes. The leaders of the town send out the message to leave town immediately. If his only response is to suffer or to run away he should just leave. But no, he says he is a Roman citizen. “I have rights,” he says, “you tell that guy to come to me and escort me.” In another words, he was standing up for his rights, demanding respect. The third option is to stand up for our rights. So what I share with people is that if you want to enter into dialogue with people or if you want to advocate and break down the barriers, if you only want to yell about the abuses, if you want to suffer in silence; that is between you and God. I want to provide these people with the tools so that they can pursue any of these options. If you feel called to dialogue with them or iff you feel called to advocate, you can do that. We are probably not the ones to do it, but we can help the local people to do it.
TOT: Who are these local people?
Mr. Brown: Sometimes it will be a church organization and sometimes individuals.
Q9: Do you have some message for our global readership of The Oslo Times?
A9: We want to say human rights are of course important. We work specially with religious freedom. Some people work with children’s rights. Other works for rights of women and other for gay rights, and others for other specific groups. We think that religious freedom, in the US is called the first freedom because it is the First Amendment to The Constitution. Religious freedom is one of the first things that people demanded because it resides so deeply in the human soul. The right to believe what you want, to change that belief when you want to, to practice that belief when you want to are vitally important. Of course there are legitimate grounds to limit this. Not all practices can be allowed.
One thing we point out is that modern research on the brain tells us that human beings were created or evolved in such a way that we have a predisposition to look for supernatural clarifications. This doesn’t prove religion is true. Some might say it proves that it is not true. The point is simply that it is an important interracial fact in every human in the world. Thus we have to take it seriously. Let’s build a culture of respect for religious freedom.
Hatef Mokhtar, Editor-in-Chief, The International Desk, Paola A. in an exclusive interview with Ed Brown and Lisa Winther from Astefanus Alliance Norway.