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Venezuela: More Religious Repression After Chavez’ Re-election?

Added by Holger Bergner on October 17, 2012. · No Comments · Share this Post

Filed under Americas, Opinion

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Images: Hugo Chavez by Bernardo Londoy, Church and Flag by Gabriel S. Delgado. Flickr.com

Will Hugo Chavez’ re-election and yet another six-year term bring on more religious repression to Christians in Venezuela? Christians brace for a future of increased religious persecution. According to USCIRF’s Watch List the previous years have witnessed continued violations of freedom of religion against a number of faith-based communities.

By Mission Network News, October 10, 2012:

In a re-election to another six-year term, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez defeated Henrique Capriles by a 10% point margin in the presidential election.

Venezuela has been on USCIRF’s Watch List since 2009. According to the USCIRF, “The Watch List provides advance warning of negative trends that could develop into severe violations of religious freedom, thereby providing policymakers with the opportunity to engage early and increasing the likelihood of preventing or diminishing the violations.”

In that report, investigators found continued violations of freedom of religion. These included: government failure to hold accountable those behind attacks on religious leaders and houses of worship, virulent rhetoric from President Hugo Chavez, government officials, state media, and pro-Chavez media directed episodically against the certain faith-based communities.

Since President Chavez first came to office in 1998, there has been a steady increase of government rhetoric, and in some cases government actions, against the faith-based groups thought to have ties with the West.

That is likely to continue if Chavez continues to trend the way he’s been going. “If things do get more difficult, pray that the church would be strengthened, that believers would be prepared for churches to close down.”

One of the more obvious manifestations of Chavez ideology was seen in November 2005. President Chavez gave all New Tribes missionaries ninety days to leave tribal areas of the country. The order effectively revoked a forty-year-old permit given to the mission.

In the meantime, there have been scattered reports of church bombings and other assaults, and slow justice. That’s another hallmark of a country that’s steadily moving toward unfriendly territory for Christians. First, says Musselman, “That may not be bad for the church because it’ll cleanse it. There has been quite a compromise amongst many of the leaders.”

As that begins to unfold, Musselman says, “The main prayer request is that the church would be strong, that they would continue to preach the Gospel, certainly in humility and love, but not compromise as has been the case in the last number of years.”

Read the full MNV article here

Info from Christian Aid Mission:

Venezuela borders Colombia and is home to 65 People Groups. It is a socialist dictatorship and has a destabalizing influence on the region. Evangelical groups continue to grow in power as the Catholic Church declines. Even though the majority of its citizens profess to be Christians, many have an unhealthy fascination with New Age spirituality. 84.5% of the population are Christians, Evangelicals 10.8%, Non-Religious 12.2%, Ethnic 0.9% and Muslims 0.4%.

Following is an article from The Voice of the Martyrs from July 20, 2012 that sheds more light on a “subtle” persecution of Christians. There seems to be a trend of government rhetoric, and in some cases actions against religious groups thought to have connections to Western countries:

VOM spokesman Greg Musselman recently spoke with Mission Network News (MNN) regarding the Venezuelan government’s subtle oppression of the nation’s Christians.

Over the last year, the government has shifted away from overt forms of Christian persecution to pressuring pastors and Christian leaders, said Musselman.

“We don’t see the more demonstrative persecution–church buildings set on fire, or people thrown into prison,” said Musselman.

The “minor” forms of persecution taking place right now are crafted in such a way to keep the country off the radar of religious freedom watchdogs.

People are losing jobs. Church buildings are being closed down and are unable to meet. It looks like there’s freedom for Christians, but that’s not the case.

“You can have Christian radio stations in Venezuela IF you agree to some very strict regulations. One of those regulations is that you cannot speak out in any way against the government,” said Musselman.

Churches that are not in alliance with the government aren’t granted licenses or permits to build or renovate. Pressures like these make it easier for Christians to compromise.

Colonel Castro says, “Preaching the Gospel will always bring consequences, but we have to continue to preach Christ as Jesus as our King, no matter what that brings.”

Read the full VOM article here

Images: Hugo Chavez by Bernardo Londoy, Church and Flag by Gabriel S. Delgado. Flickr.com

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