Grace Church in Amman, Jordan
Grace Church in Amman, Jordan

World Watch Monitor

The Jordanian government without explanation jailed and deported an American pastor who has lived there for 16 years.

Jody Miller, pastor of Grace Church in Amman, was deported back to the United States on Nov. 6. His wife remains in Jordan. He is appealing the decision to the Jordanian Royal Court.

Miller was called in to the GID, Jordan’s General Intelligence Department, for an interview with security officials on Nov. 4. According to his account, no interview took place. He sat for several hours, then officials came and handcuffed and blindfolded him, taking him to a jail cell.

Two days later he was deported from Jordan at his own expense.

Security officials are about to deport his assistant pastor, an Egyptian Christian named Maged. On Sunday, Nov. 9, Maged’s passport was taken by GID officials, who ordered him to report to the Intelligence Department on Nov. 13.

After Maged reported to the Capitol Police Station in central Amman, church members confirmed to Miller that he was being held there as of Friday, Nov. 14. Intelligence officials would not allow him a visit or a message but stated he would be deported Saturday night or Sunday.

Officials said they will send him overland to Aqaba, a coastal city situated at the northeastern tip of the Red Sea. Maged then will be sent by ship back to Egypt.

“Their campaign is clearly seeking to close the church,” Miller told World Watch Monitor.

Grace Church has provided humanitarian aid for the flood of Iraqi and Syrian refugees fleeing the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. Approximately 620,000 Syrian refugees and 30,000 Iraqis currently reside in Jordan.

King Abdullah II of Jordan, who has made the continued presence of non-Muslim religions in the Middle East a talking point in recent years, has also welcomed Iraq’s Christians. Thousands fled Mosul in July when the Sunni militant group gave them the choice of conversion, paying a tax, or death.

Miller said his church spent more than $100,000 in aid last year for refugees. They gave them food, blankets, and mattresses. It currently assists 150 families a month.

Grace has provided refugee relief since 1995, but its efforts have increased since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, causing thousands to flee to Jordan.

But the pastor believes that his work among Christians and Muslims alike raised the ire of some government officials. They noticed that up to 75 Muslims attended Grace Church’s Sunday services, over one-quarter of those in attendance. Church leaders say they do not target Muslims but serve all in need, regardless of religion.

No Jordanian law prohibits evangelicals from practicing their faith, but traditional interpretations of Islam prohibit apostasy, or leaving the faith.

“I wasn’t the most popular person for many years, but with the current [ISIS] crisis maybe they felt more bold in making this move,” Miller said.

GID officials appear to have set up the pastor for deportation. In September two intelligence officers came to Grace Church and told him they would offer their protection from fundamentalist Muslims. On the way out, one asked if he could take an Arabic Bible.

On Oct. 23 Miller got a call from the U.S. Embassy, informing him that the Jordanian Intelligence Department filed a complaint against him for distributing Bibles and threatening the Islamic country’s “national unity.” He was then called in for his meeting, handcuffed, and led to a jail cell.

“At the jail they immediately asked, ‘Where is your passport? Do you have money for plane tickets?'”

Miller believes that they will continue to arrest and deport members of Grace Church until it shuts down.

A retired Jordanian official with ties to the Royal Court told World Watch Monitor that the reason for Miller’s deportation was likely that he ignored the sensitivities of Muslims by preaching to them.

“Miller did not play by the rules there. It is a delicate situation. We need to play by the rules even if we cater [to] refugees from Iraq and Syria,” said the former Minister of the Royal Court.

A Jordanian church leader who spoke with World Watch Monitor said the government deported Miller in a clumsy attempt to protect him. Jordan’s security apparatus has cracked down on its homegrown militants and radical Islamists Located in downtown Amman, Grace Church is known to any would-be terrorists.

“Their desire is to protect him, but they could have done it in a much better fashion,” he said. “They could say, ‘Your life is in danger, please leave,’ not just arrest him and treat him like a criminal. This is not the Jordan we know.”

The Jordanian church leader also suggested that the decision to deport Miller came from high up within the Jordanian military structure. A lone lieutenant with a strong Muslim background could not have made the call to deport a foreigner on his own, he said.

Jordan’s eviction of Miller resembles a similar incident in 2007, when the government deported 27 foreign evangelical missionaries, seminary students, pastors, and teachers. The forcibly evicted Christians said intelligence officers questioned them about evangelizing Muslims.

In 2003 Amal Bijani, the Arab pastor of Grace Church who preceded Miller, was also arrested. He was deported before the beginning of America’s invasion of Iraq. Sources told World Watch Monitor that Jordan’s intelligence service likely did this when they thought the international media and human rights watchdogs were too distracted to notice.

Although long hailed as a model for tolerance in the Middle East, Jordan’s government has faced pressure from three sources for the last year: the strain of hosting a million Iraqi and Syrian refugees, turmoil in surrounding nations caused by ISIS, and radical Islam within the nation. Approximately 2,000 Jordanians have fought in Syria for Islamic militant groups, according to the London-based International Center for the Study of Radicalization.

In June, King Abdullah amended a tough anti-terror law to criminalize open activity or recruitment for ISIS. Under the amendment, dissidents and Islamists alike have been arrested without charges.