Pastor, convicted for ‘vilifying’ Islam under Australian law, honored by evangelical journal for faithfulness to Scripture

NEW YORK (BP)--Christian leaders from six continents gathered in New York City Jan. 26 to recognize an Australian pastor who became one of the first people indicted under the country’s new “religious vilification” law, which makes public criticism of any religion -– including Islam -– a hate crime.

Daniel Scot, an Assemblies of God minister from Brisbane, received the Kairos Journal Award for his refusal to “compromise truth for fear of jail.” The award is given annually to individuals who demonstrate faithfulness to Scripture and pastoral courage. It also honors those who respond to what the journal calls a “kairos moment” -– a moment that calls for timely Christian action.

Founded by retired American Standard CEO Emmanuel Kampouris, an Egyptian-born Christian, and supported by his Emmanuel Foundation, Kairos Journal serves as a free online resource for pastors called to serve as the moral consciences and prophetic voices of their communities. The journal also champions religious liberty, a right of many Western societies currently under assault by radical Islamists.

Kampouris, at the award dinner at New York’s Metropolitan Club, commented that “many of my business colleagues find it odd” that he is a proponent of faith, “as they consider the church irrelevant and ineffective in today’s complex world as a beacon of change.

“But I happen to hold the opposite view,” Kampouris said. “I think the pastor is the primary gatekeeper of any nation’s soul and, therefore, essential for societal change.” Kampouris said that nothing “good or bad happens without leadership,” a primary reason he founded the journal.

Scot, he said, exemplifies what the journal is about.

In 2002, Scot found himself a defendant in the courts of Victoria in Australia. Three Muslim converts accused the pastor of vilifying Islam after he had given a series of lectures about the differences between Islam and Christianity. Scot’s indictment touched off a four-year legal battle. He was convicted and ordered to apologize to Muslims in a series of advertisements in Melbourne -– at a potential cost of nearly $50,000.

But Scot would not purchase the advertisements and launched an appeal in 2004. Mark Durie, vicar of St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Caulfield, in Melbourne, recounted at the dinner that Scot would not dishonor Christ or the Gospel by disavowing what he had said. Durie said Scot has a passion for sharing the Gospel with Muslims, adding that people one day will grasp the significance of the stand he took.

“It’s not a secret, I think, that Muslims do not like people criticizing their faith, but they particularly do not like people criticizing Muhammad,” Durie said, citing the cases of Salman Rushdie, author of “The Satanic Verses” who was the worldwide target of a Muslim death threat, and Theo van Gogh, a Dutch artist beheaded by a Muslim militant for insulting Islam.

Scot, Durie said, gave a “very carefully argued presentation from the Koran” at his own church and then gave further lectures on how to love Muslims and be friends with them. But the government was listening when three Islamic converts of the Islamic Council of Victoria complained. Scot was then indicted under the state’s new Racial and Religious Tolerance Act. The judge in the case found, though falsely, that Scot had called Muslims “demons.”

“In fact, what Daniel Scot had said was that in the Koran there is a story about some jinns or genies -– demons, if you will -– who heard the Koran being recited and they became Muslims,” Durie said. “So there were some Muslim demons referred to in the Koran.

“It’s amazing in fact that the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal was not only standing up for the rights of Muslim persons -– Muslim human beings -– but also for the rights of Muslim spirits who suddenly became legal persons in the state of Victoria,” Durie said.

Challenging the teachings of Islam is nothing new for Scot, even if the costs are high. A gifted mathematician, he competed for a teaching position with Muslim scholars at the University of Punjab in Pakistan. The positions were normally reserved for Muslims, but Scot studied Islam, passed an examination about the religion and was named to the faculty.

But in 1986, Pakistan’s government amended its legal code, making insults against Muhammad a capital crime. Anyone who publicly declared Jesus as the Savior would likely face a quick death. Five senior professors cornered Scot on Christmas Eve, encouraging him to convert to Islam or face losing his teaching post -- or worse.

“They said to me, ‘This is a golden opportunity for you to convert to Islam,’” Scot told the award dinner audience. “But I said in my heart, ‘This is a golden opportunity to share the Gospel with five senior professors.’”

Scot turned the discussion to the issue of salvation, questioning the Muslim professors how they could know if they achieved it. They had no answer, but after the discussion they filed a complaint with the government. The next day, a colleague at the university told Scot, “Your life is in danger. I cannot protect you.”

Scot, who was born into a Christian family in 1951, went into hiding, moving from location to location where he was sheltered by friends. He assumed that he was headed for death, but his wife intervened.

“You have this madness to be a martyr for Jesus,” his wife told him. “What will happen to your wife and five children?” In 1987, Scot and his family fled to Brisbane, Australia. He began lecturing on mathematics and soon earned a teaching position at the University of Queensland.

In December 2006, the Supreme Court of Victoria overturned the decision of the lower court that had convicted Scot and sent the case back to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. The court also ruled that the judge who issued the guilty verdict against Scot could not sit in judgment in any new proceedings.

Justice Geoffrey Nettle said the lower court had erred, misinterpreting honest and comparative discussions of religion for hate speech. It is “essential to keep the distinction between the hatred of beliefs and the hatred of their adherents steadily in view,” Nettle noted.

Scot’s case tallied a cost of more than $500,000 in legal fees. The high court ruled that the Islamic Council of Victoria must pay half of the cost of the original appeal from 2004. Scot’s legal troubles, however, may be far from over as he continues to face opposition from Muslims in Australia.

The Kairos Journal is available online to pastors in 101 countries and in multiple languages. Kampouris said he hopes the journal will soon be available in Arabic.

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For more information, www.kairosjournal.org.

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