A Syrian man converted to Christianity and was baptized in the First Presbyterian Church in Tulsa. He said the church promised to keep his baptism quiet, since he said that shari‘ah law demands that converts from Islam be executed. But when he went back to Syria to marry his fiance, he was held and tortured by Muslim extremists, including some family members, who were angry at his conversion.
He sued the church for a breach of confidentiality, but lost in court.
An ex-Muslim who was nearly beheaded after his conversion to Christianity has been denied legal recourse against the church that publicized his baptism despite a secrecy agreement he said they made because he feared for his safety.
District Court Judge Daman C. Cantrell granted a motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Tulsa man from Syria against First Presbyterian Church in downtown Tulsa and its co-pastor, the Rev. James Miller.
The suit alleged that the church published news of the man’s baptism on the internet after promising not to release his name and that, as a result, he was abducted, tortured, severely injured and nearly beheaded in his native Syria.
Calling it a “singular case in Oklahoma jurisprudence,” Cantrell ruled that the court did not have jurisdiction in the case because it was an ecclesiastical matter that dealt with “the deeply held sacrament of Christian baptism.”
He described his conversion and what happened to him:
He described himself as a “very strict Muslim” who sent his children to Muslim schools.
In early 2012, he was asked to bring an Arabic-language translation of the Bible from the United States to Syria, and he began to read the book during the flight.
“I started reading and thinking about it,” he said.
And he began to question his Muslim upbringing.
Among the people he talked to in the fall of 2012 was the Rev. Mateen Elass, then pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Edmond, who also was a convert from Islam, and the Rev. James Miller at First Presbyterian Church in Tulsa….
…Doe said he talked to Miller about being baptized into the Christian faith and was clear about telling him his baptism could not be made public without jeopardizing his life.
“We agreed in his office that my baptism would be secret, would not be published,” he said.
After he returned to Syria and was married, the trouble began.
Shortly after his wedding, he was confronted in Syria by family members who told him they had read about his baptism on the internet, in the First Presbyterian Church bulletin.
Doe said it is common in Arabic culture for people to investigate the families of people who are getting married. An internet search of his name pulled up the church bulletin as the top item.
In late January, he said, he was threatened and then abducted by his uncle, a cousin and two other men. He was taken to a cellar outside of the city, where he was beaten and tortured for three days, and threatened with beheading if he did not recant his new faith and return to Islam.
An Oklahoma pastor who had known the man for several years told the Tulsa Worldthat the convert’s claims were “absolutely credible,” and Oklahoma Congressman Jim Bridenstine’s aide confirmed the congressman helped expedite a visa for the man’s wife.
That wasn’t the end of his trouble. Suffering from psychological and physical aftereffects, the man gets frequent death threats and cannot ever return to Syria, he said. Their house and two cars there are a loss, and he won’t be able to visit his son who still lives there, he said.
The church asked for the case to be dismissed because the baptism was a constitutionally-protected religious practice, among other reasons.