Jordan Admits Deporting Missionaries

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The nation of Jordan has admitted deporting Christian missionaries for what it calls illegal "preaching activities."

The country's foreign minister says the missionaries were in Jordan to do charity work.

Under Jordanian law, only government-approved religions are allowed to be practiced in the Muslim nation. Many Christians now believe the kingdom's long-standing view of religious tolerance may be declining.

The country expelled many long-time residents in the past year. According to the Compass Direct News Service, authorities deported or refused residence permits to at least 27 Christian families and individuals.

"They said that I am a threat to Jordanian security and I am making the society unstable," said Hannu Lahtinen, a Finnish pastor deported last month. "They have a thousand ways to say you are preaching the gospel."

Though not illegal, Christian "public proselytism" of Muslims is against government policy, according to the U.S. State Department's annual report on religious freedom in Jordan.

But a Jordanian spokesperson says that the government only deported foreigners who had broken the law or had been dishonest in their application for residency.

"There have been incidents where individuals have violated the legal terms of their residence in the country or have deeply offended religious and public sensibilities, or both," the official said.

Christians, including Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox, make up 3 percent of Jordan's population but hold almost 10 percent of the seats in parliament.

Evangelicals, who number approximately 5,000, have fewer rights than the historical churches, but are tax exempt and can sponsor residence permits for foreign clergy.

Local church leaders say that they feel threatened by the escalating crackdown on foreigners.

"We are a legal entity, and many of these foreigners have been granted visas as clergy working in legal Jordanian churches," Nazarene pastor Afeef Halasa said. "Suddenly kicking them out without giving a reason communicates that our churches are not legitimate."

Sources: Compass Direct News Service, The Associated Press

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