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« on: April 14, 2008, 08:26:44 PM »

San Antonio Film Festival Richly Rewards Movies with Biblical Worldviews
Robert Wayne


April 14, 2008

Even the nickname -- Tinseltown -- evokes the image of cheap glitter, which is why Doug Phillips wants to supplant the sequined secularism of Hollywood with movies that promote a thoroughly Christian worldview.

And he's willing to put money where his mouth is. Phillips is founder of the San Antonio Independent Christian Film Festival, which in January will award $101,000 -- the single largest film festival prize in the world -- to the best Christian film of 2008, one that promotes a clearly Biblical message with artistic excellence.

Phillips secured festival sponsorships with the NRB Nework as well as Samaritan Ministries to help fund the prize money (about $200,000 in all), not simply because he wants to put Christian filmmaking on the map but also to hopefully wipe Hollywood's influence off the globe.

"Hollywood is great at production values... where it's bad is that it's terrible with its worldview and ideas," Phillips said from his office in San Antonio, Texas, the festival's host city since 2004. "It's like a poisoned lollipop that you give to a child. It looks and tastes great but inside is poison. So our vision over the long haul is to build a replacement industry."

Christians who think Hollywood is softening toward their views should not be swayed by corporate attempts to "Christianize" movies, Phillips warned, citing the 2005 release of The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe and upcoming Prince Caspian -- both based on books in the Chronicles of Narnia series written by C.S. Lewis.

"Prince Caspian and The Dawn Treader (the third book/movie in the series) are becoming increasingly darker, more 21st Century teen rebellion and the occult," Phillips said, explaining that the mission and maxim of the SAICFF is that "every frame be captive to being obedient to Christ."

Phillips, who produces his own films/documentaries through his Vision Forum Ministries, stressed that he is not anti-media. In fact, he thinks media matters immensely.

"Media is important for the culture, which is why we want to see Christians break up the monopoly of Hollywood," he said. "That doesn't mean we necessarily want Bible verses slapped into scenes. We want more to take out the nudity and grossly-offensive language."

The SAICFF doesn't handcuff its festival entrants to a specific movie genre; just so every movie promotes a Christian worldview.

"Our films... are not about a particular topic or just about evangelism or outreach," Phillips said. "But a Biblical worldview must be implicit."

For example, the festival would frown upon any film promoting Marxist or evolutionary values, he said.

Casting of the movie also is important. Phillips pointed to the 2005 film End of the Spear as an example of poor casting, because the actor playing the lead role was a homosexual activist.

"Our official position is the filmmaker has a duty to determine to the best of his ability that there be no impediments to the gospel witness," he said. "I haven't said that every member of the crew or actor has to be Christian -- that might be the position I take for my own films -- but I have said that as to the key characters... make sure they're a Godly witness. We live in a society that makes idols out of actors."

Breaking the rules -- or the 10 commandments of film submission, as listed on the SAICFF website -- could mean missing out on big money. The $101,000 tops the next most lucrative film festival, in Tokyo, by more than $20,000. Two of the best-known festivals, Cannes and Sundance, are more about gaining prestige than money, Phillips said.

Much of the SAICFF strategy is to develop Christian filmmakers who will impact the culture in a bigger way than does Hollywood.

"We recognized this wasn't being done, so we had to do it," Phillips said, explaining that he anticipates interest in truly authentic Christian worldview moviemaking to increase in the next decade, not only because of the festival but because young, filmmakers will rise from the ranks -- often out of the homeschool movement.

"I would say that in the next 10 to 15 years you're going to see a lot of home educators who are doing small-budget films moving up to larger-budget films. They're going to be great filmmakers in the future," he said.

And he plans on the SAICFF to help lead the charge.

"Purse strings of liberal filmmakers have financed anti-Christian values and moral decadence through film for decades," he said. "They have had their day, and now is the time for a Christian reformation in filmmaking.

"This world-class grand prize sends a message that Christians are serious about investing in those independent Christian filmmakers who are willing to work outside of Hollywood, and to produce competitive films of technical excellence, with a presuppositionally biblical message."

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« Reply #1 on: April 14, 2008, 08:28:48 PM »

Religion Today Summaries - Apr. 14, 2008
Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
 
In today's edition:

    * Ghana's President Orders Schools To Reintroduce Religious And Moral Education
    * Algerian Christian Sentenced for 'Proselytism'
    * Obama: 'Creation Doesn't Hold Up to Scientific Inquiry'
    * Commission Urges President to Boycott Olympic Opening unless China Changes

Ghana's President Orders Schools To Reintroduce Religious And Moral Education

ASSIST News Service reports that President John Agyekum Kufuor of Ghana has instructed authorities of basic schools in the country to revisit the teaching of Religious and Moral Education (RME), which hitherto had been removed from the syllabus. President Kufuor made the call when he addressed school children at the country's 51st Independence Day celebration. The call was in response to persistent calls made particularly by Christians and Muslims for reintroduction of the subject in the schools' curricular. The president expressed displeasure about the negative moral impact of globalization on the youth through the mass media. He therefore urged the school children to balance their academic learning with that of their moral duty. "The television, the Internet and other modern gadgetry undermine cultures and moral values. The result is that humanity is already confronted with the challenge of a serious split between knowledge and morality. Unless mankind finds a way to overcome this challenge, there is a real danger of it becoming less than human," President Kufour told the students.

Algerian Christian Sentenced for 'Proselytism'


An Algerian Christian was handed a two-year suspended sentence for "proselytism" last week amid an ongoing government crackdown on 26 of Algeria's 50 Protestant congregations, a church leader said. A court in Tiaret delivered the written verdict after convicting the Christian on April 2, said Mustapha Krim, president of the Protestant Church of Algeria. Prosecution of "proselytism" violates Article 18 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which affirms the inherent right to publicly manifest one's faith, Compass Direct News reports. The Christian, who requested anonymity, plans to appeal the two-year suspended sentence and a 100,000 dinar fine.

Obama: 'Creation Doesn't Hold Up to Scientific Inquiry'

The York Daily Record recently interviewed democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Among the questions they asked was, "York County was recently in the news for a lawsuit involving the teaching of intelligent design. What's your attitude regarding the teaching of evolution in public schools?" Obama's response: "I'm a Christian, and I believe in parents being able to provide children with religious instruction without interference from the state. But I also believe our schools are there to teach worldly knowledge and science. I believe in evolution, and I believe there's a difference between science and faith. That doesn't make faith any less important than science. It just means they're two different things. And I think it's a mistake to try to cloud the teaching of science with theories that frankly don't hold up to scientific inquiry."

Commission Urges President to Boycott Olympic Opening unless China Changes

Baptist Press reports that China's crackdown on Tibetans' religious freedom has caused the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to urge President Bush not to attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games this summer without marked improvement by the communist government. The 2008 Olympics, slated Aug. 8-24, already had stirred up controversy because of the selection of Beijing as the host. The government's continued abuse of Tibetans, among the worst examples of religious repression in China, has added to USCIRF's concerns, according to a commission statement released April 4. China's policies toward Tibet have fueled protests and resentment. The Chinese recently met what began as a peaceful protest by Buddhist monks in Tibet with sometimes lethal force. As many as 140 people died during the protests and crackdown, The Washington Post reported.

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« Reply #2 on: April 15, 2008, 08:03:43 AM »

Christians Build Reverse Confessional on Campus
Jeremy Reynalds

GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA -- A loosely constructed booth, made of PVC pipe and covered by maroon cloth, sat on the University of Florida at Gainesville's Plaza of the Americas recently.

According to a story by Katie Sanders and published in the University of Florida's Independent Alligator newspaper, a small one-word sign labeled "confessions," resulted in puzzled looks and passers-by slowing down. But there was no priest inside the box.

Instead, a group of Christian students were there to invite listeners. They wanted to apologize for what they called their own shortcomings in not living how Jesus intended. They're sorry for the bad image Christians might have on campus.

Russell McMullen, a UF sophomore involved with Campus Crusade for Christ, organized the reverse confessional.

"We used this to try and let people take a fair look at Christm and not just prejudge and write it off as a hateful and intolerant religion," McMullen told the Alligator.

He said some students who saw the booth were confused at first and thought they were being invited to confess their own sins. McMullen told the Alligator that he and his colleagues would be the ones giving the face-to-face confessions.

Judging, hurting and not showing love to people were named as the Christian group's transgressions, offered on behalf of the whole church.

According to the Alligator, McMullen didn't get more than 20 students inside the booth Wednesday, which stood under the trees on the Plaza, but he expected more throughout the week. The booth closed Friday.

Graham Wigle, a UF freshman, manned the booth while McMullen went to class. Wigle told the Alligator that students walking across campus often get inaccurate representations of Christianity from local sign-carrying preachers.

The confessional is also meant to encourage Christians to be more humble, he said.

"We're imperfect. We stink," Wigle told the Alligator. "We want to point people to the real Jesus."
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« Reply #3 on: April 15, 2008, 08:05:26 AM »

Religion Today Summaries - Apr. 15, 2008
Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
 
In today's edition:

    * Hindu Radicals Storm Christian School in India
    * Earth Day, Christian Style?
    * IMB Appoints 92 New Missionaries
    * Christian Mission Center and Church Desecrated in India

Hindu Radicals Storm Christian School in India

ASSIST News Service reports that a group of Hindu radicals stormed St. Joseph's Convent Christian School in India. The incident occurred on April 7 at Raigad in Mahashtra State. According to a story on www.persecution.in, the radicals were demanding that photographs of Hindu deities be put up inside the school. The web site reported that when a school parent tried to argue with the approximately 50 radicals in support of the school administrator, a nun, he was assaulted in full view of everyone there. The school, which was established in 2002, serves children between kindergarten and the fourth grade. It caters to poor children from surrounding villages.

Earth Day, Christian Style?

A release from the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) states that with the celebration of Earth Day on April 22, the IRD is releasing the first in the Mt. Nebo Papers series, "What is the Most Important Environmental Task Facing American Christians Today?" by IRD Adjunct Fellow Dr. E. Calvin Beisner. Christians are called to wise stewardship of the Earth God created. However, a debate rages within the Christian community on what stewardship entails. Dr. Beisner's paper looks at not only what the Bible addresses as a good stewardship, but also what the church teaches historically, and finally makes recommendations. The IRD is offering the paper as a free downloadable resource on www.theird.org. Beisner commented: "Christians really need to face the challenge of triage--comparing the benefits and costs of various environmental policies and selecting those that will be the best stewardship. That's what this paper does."

IMB Appoints 92 New Missionaries

The International Mission Board on April 9 in Sunnyvale, Texas appointed 92 new missionaries to service, Baptist Press reports. "Why does God want the nations to know Him?" asked IMB President Jerry Rankin of more than 2,500 people gathered at Sunnyvale First Baptist Church. "It's because of the tragedy of lostness. Here in America we just can't imagine what it means to live in a place that's never heard the name of Jesus. To live a lifetime in futile search for your eternal destiny, never knowing that there's a Savior who died for you. We're so grateful... that you 92 new missionaries are taking a stand." The new missionaries represented a diverse cross-section, coming from churches across the country and many different walks of life. But Rankin noted a common thread -- a sense of urgency.

Christian Mission Center and Church Desecrated in India

ASSIST News Service reports that a group of Hindu radicals attacked a Christian Mission Center in India recently. According to a story reported by www.persecution.in, the attack occurred on April 5 in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh State. The website also stated that in addition to desecrating the building, the fundamentalists also destroyed a number of religious materials. The Hindu fundamentalists reportedly began verbally abusing the female principal when she asked them to park in the appropriate area. The radicals also threatened a church official who attempted to assist the principal. The story reported that the attackers made allegations of forced conversions at the school, but no arrests have been made.

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« Reply #4 on: April 16, 2008, 08:00:12 AM »

Senate Probe Targets 'Prosperity' Christians, Church Says
Penny Starr

(CNSNews.com) - Kenneth Copeland Ministries, one of six so-called mega-churches at the center of a U.S. Senate Finance Committee investigation, has informed the committee that it will not cooperate with the probe, citing its concerns about the government targeting certain Christian churches, as well as concerns about privacy and potential First Amendment violations.

"The church is deeply concerned that the information Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is seeking could be used to subject the church and its members to public stigma, scorn, and obloquy," Lawrence Swicegood, communications director for Kenneth Copeland Ministries (KCM), said in a letter responding to the committee's request for a range of financial data and other information, including the names and addresses of board members and the names and addresses of people responsible for the church's audio and video production.

"The church also has grave concerns with the conclusion that this inquiry 'does not infringe upon First Amendment rights,'" said Swicegood.

"The six ministries under investigation all share a common theology based on the sincerely held religious belief that prosperity in all areas of one's life is an outward sign of the fulfillment of God's promises contained in the Bible," he added.

The church also issued a press release on April 9 stating that it had requested a financial inspection by the Internal Revenue Service, saying the agency was better suited to review KCM's financial integrity while keeping the information private.

"We told the IRS in a letter that we welcome them to come and make inquiry of us and we will provide answers to the IRS regarding questions that Senator Grassley has," said John Copeland, CEO of Eagle Mountain International Church and KCM. "The Church desires to protect its and all other churches' First Amendment rights."

The committee, chaired by Max Baucus (D-Mont.) with Grassley as ranking member, sent the first letter to six churches (or ministries) in early November of last year and issued a second letter on March 11 to four ministries it said had failed to comply with the original request or, as in the case of KCM, had not answered sufficiently.

On March 31, the committee reported that Benny Hinn Ministries, the Randy and Paula White Ministries, Joyce Myer Ministries and Eddie Long Ministries had either complied or intended to comply. In addition to KCM, the committee said Creflo Dollar Ministries had not complied with the committee's request.

Grassley's office told Cybercast News Service that the investigation was sparked by "individuals who have identified concerns and made them public and/or brought them to the attention of the Finance Committee."

Press releases issued by the committee on March 12 and March 31, claim the investigation is less about uncovering violations by these ministries than it is to "gauge the effectiveness of certain tax-exempt policies."

"This ought to clear up any misunderstanding about our interest and the committee's role," Grassley said. "We have an obligation to oversee how the tax laws are working for both tax-exempt organizations and taxpayers. Just like with reviews of other tax-exempt organizations, I look forward to the cooperation of these ministries in the weeks and months ahead."

At least one Christian organization disagrees with KCM's refusal to cooperate with the Senate investigation.

"We don't think it's the best approach to wrap yourself in the First Amendment," Kenneth A. Behr, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) told Cybercast News Service. "We believe that financial transparency is one of the cornerstones of financial integrity."

None of the six churches or ministries under investigation are members of the ECFA.

Swicegood said that churches are not like any other tax-exempt organizations, as implied by the committee.

"Churches are unique in that any inquiry into the financial affairs of a church raises the potential for excessive government entanglement with religious liberties," he said.

Swicegood also cited a noted religious scholar who said he was leery of a Senate investigation that focuses on "Word of Faith" churches, whose members believe individual prosperity is tangible evidence of God's blessings.

"It appears the inquiry is aimed at publicly questioning the religious beliefs of the targeted churches, their ministers, and their members while ignoring televangelists of other denominations," Vinson Synan, historian and dean emeritus of the School of Divinity at Regent University, said.

"This violates the fundamental tenet of the First Amendment that the government should not single out any religion because of its beliefs," Synan said.

"It also raises the question of religious bias against the Pentecostals and Charismatics who now number almost 70,000,000 Americans, according to a Pew Survey," Synan added.
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« Reply #5 on: April 16, 2008, 08:02:15 AM »

Religion Today Summaries - Apr. 16, 2008
Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
 
In today's edition:

    * Asking about Religious Freedom Violations in Uzbekistan is Considered Stupid
    * New Study Offers Healing from Abortion
    * 'Nazi' Pope Runs 'Child-Abusing Cult,' Says HBO's Maher
    * Romania: Missions Remain Strong while Bucharest Summit Fragile

Asking about Religious Freedom Violations in Uzbekistan is Considered Stupid

ASSIST News Service reports that several Protestants have been detained in separate raids on churches in Samarkand, Uzbekistan since the beginning of April. According to an article by Forum 18 News Service, church member Bobur Aslamov remains in detention at an unknown location, following a raid on a meeting of a charismatic Protestant church in a private home in the central city of Samarkand on April 3. And in a raid on a Full Gospel service in the capital Tashkent on the evening of April 9, church leader Serik Kadyrov and four others were held in custody overnight before being freed. Begzot Kadyrov, the leading specialist of the government's Religious Affairs Committee in Tashkent, refused to discuss the detention of the Protestants in early April or any of the other recent harassment of religious communities. "Don't disturb us with stupid questions about religious liberties," he told Forum 18 on 10 April. "How many times do I have to explain to you stupid people: write an official letter to the Foreign Ministry."

New Study Offers Healing from Abortion

Some women "tuck an abortion away for many, many years," said Pat Layton, author of Surrendering the Secret: Healing the Heartbreak of Abortion, according to Baptist Press. "[T]he secret of abortion is that every woman still thinks she is the only one." But at least half of American women experience an unintended pregnancy by age 45 and, at current rates, about one-third undergo an abortion, according to statistics released by the Guttmacher Institute. Layton wrote her Surrendering the Secret study a number of years ago in response to dealing with her own abortion. The Bible study now has been released by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. "I wrote it after becoming a Christian and realizing the church had very little knowledge on how to deal with abortion and its effect on women," Layton said on an Inside LifeWay podcast. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 43 percent of those having abortions identify themselves as Protestant. The eight-week study includes a 20-30 minute video introduction that supports each week's lesson in helping women through the post-abortion healing process.

'Nazi' Pope Runs 'Child-Abusing Cult,' Says HBO's Maher

According to CNSNews.com, comments by HBO's Bill Maher insulting the Pope and calling Catholicism a "cult" that promotes "organized pedophilia" have stirred resentment among many American Catholics upset he would say this the week before Pope Benedict XVI visits the United States. The comments were made on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher" on Friday, Apr. 11. Maher went into a long monologue on his program comparing the Catholic church to a polygamous cult -- the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints -- which was raided on Apr. 3 and whose founder, Warren Jeffs, was convicted last year for being an accessory to the rape of a teenage girl. Maher compared the Texas scandal and its latest alleged abuse with the sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Catholic Church in the United States in 2002. "I'd like to tip off law enforcement to an even larger child-abusing religious cult," Maher told his audience. "Its leader also has a compound, and this guy not only operates outside the bounds of the law, but he used to be a Nazi and he wears funny hats. That's right, the Pope is coming to America this week and, ladies, he's single." Catholic League President Bill Donohue responded that Maher "lied when he said the Pope 'used to be a Nazi.' Like all young men in Germany at the time, he was conscripted into a German Youth organization (from which he fled as soon as he could). Every responsible Jewish leader has acknowledged this reality and has never sought to brand the Pope a Nazi. That job falls to Maher."

Romania: Missions Remain Strong while Bucharest Summit Fragile

In spite of the disappointments and fractious international relationships surfacing at the recent NATO summit in Bucharest, there is good news coming out of Romania, ASSIST News Service reports. Karleen R. Dewey, a missionary to Romanian orphans since 1991, says that while hope for the future union of eastern European countries has floundered politically, ministry to Romania's orphans continues. "Some must wonder whether international government organizations are relevant in the 21st century. Or, are Christian missions progressing in former communist countries where governments cannot?" she writes. "Good news is coming out of Romania. Children once abandoned are placed in foster homes. Romanian adoptions are encouraged. Fewer babies are being abandoned in hospitals," she said. Dewey says that 20-30 volunteers have come to the small community of Marghita from Sweden, Scotland, England, Canada, Germany and the US to care for abandoned children from infants to young adults. In 2000, the Loving Arms team from Mercy Ministries began annual mission trips to Marghita, Romania, to offer summer camps, held in the Black Forest of Transylvania, to teen orphans. After retiring, Karleen and her husband Fred moved to Marghita, Romania in 2005 where they have a "hands on" ministry to teen orphans.
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« Reply #6 on: April 20, 2008, 01:00:01 AM »

Pope Hails America's Founding Principles
Terence P. Jeffrey

(CNSNews.com) - In a speech delivered on the South Lawn of the White House on Wednesday morning, Pope Benedict XVI spoke positively of America's Founding Fathers and lauded the principles they embraced in creating the United States.

The pope's address referenced the Declaration of Independence and drew a parallel between the views of his predecessor, the late John Paul II, and those that former President George Washington expressed in his Farewell Address.

"From the dawn of the Republic, America's quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the creator," said the pope.

"The framers of this nation's founding documents drew upon this conviction when they proclaimed the self-evident truth that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights grounded in the laws of nature and of nature's God," he added.

The Holy Father also said that he perceived the "soul" of America to have been forged by a history he viewed as a struggle to bring the nation's founding principles fully into force.

"The course of American history demonstrates the difficulties, the struggles, and the great intellectual and moral resolve which were demanded to shape a society which faithfully embodied these noble principles," he said.

"In that process, which forged the soul of the nation, religious beliefs were a constant inspiration and driving force, as for example in the struggle against slavery and in the civil rights movement," the pope said.

In our time, too, particularly in moments of crisis, Americans continue to find their strength in a commitment to this patrimony of shared ideas and aspirations," he added.

Pope Benedict then noted that both John Paul II and George Washington believed that free societies were dependent on the religious convictions and moral rectitude of the people.

"Few have understood this as clearly as the late Pope John Paul II," he said. "In reflecting on the spiritual victory of freedom over totalitarianism in his native Poland and in Eastern Europe, he reminded us that history shows time and again that 'in a world without truth, freedom loses its foundation,' and a democracy without values can lose its very soul.

"Those prophetic words in some sense echo the conviction of President Washington, expressed in his Farewell Address, that religion and morality represent 'indispensable supports' of political prosperity," the pope added.
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« Reply #7 on: April 20, 2008, 01:02:18 AM »

U.S. Watchdog on Religious Freedom Urges China Not to Repatriate North Koreans
Jeremy Reynalds


April 18, 2008

WASHINGTON -- A U.S. watchdog on religious freedom urged China on Tuesday to stop repatriating refugees to North Korea, where it said returning asylum seekers are often tortured in an effort to suppress Christianity.

Writing for Reuters News Service, David Morgan reported the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said in a 49-page report that North Korea employs stringent security measures to stop the spread of religion, especially Protestant Christianity.

Some of the worst treatment is handed out to refugees sent back to North Korea from China, Reuters reported the commission said.

"The forcible repatriation of refugees from China remains an issue of special concern," said its report on North Korea, titled "A Prison Without Bars."

Reuters said the report continued, "If it is discovered that (refugees) have either converted to Christianity while in China or had contact with South Koreans -- both of which are considered to be political offenses -- they reportedly suffer harsh interrogation, torture and ill-treatment."

Refugees can also be sent to forced labor camps and prisons, often without trial, the report said.

Reuters reported the commission called on the international community to pressure Beijing to stop repatriating refugees, and provide increased protections as required by international protocols.

"Such action should begin immediately as China prepares to host the 2008 Summer Olympics," the report said.

Hundreds of thousands of people are believed to have fled North Korea in the 1990's, during a famine that killed at least 1 million people in a country of 23 million, Reuters reported aid agencies say.

Reuters reported that the U.S. government estimates there are 30,000 to 40,000 North Korean refugees still living in China, according to the commission. But the panel said humanitarian aid agencies believe the number remains near the 100,000 range.

Reuters said that China typically views asylum seekers as economic refugees and returns them to North Korea, which has long had a poor human rights record.

U.S. findings, based on interviews with 32 refugees and six former North Korean security agents, said many returning refugees are tortured to determine why they left the country.

Reuters said that according to the commission, Pyongyang views new religious activity as a security threat in a country dominated by the personality cult that surrounds North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and his family.

North Korean security agents especially target those thought to have visited Chinese churches for food aid or other forms of assistance.

Reuters reported that former North Korean security agents told the commission that authorities set up bogus prayer meetings to entrap new converts in North Korea, and train staff in Christian practices, for the purposes of infiltrating churches in China.

"There continues to be a pressing need on the international level for further, more effective action that addresses the ongoing repression of religious freedom and other human rights in North Korea and the problems of North Korean refugees in China," said Commission Chairman Michael Cromartie.

At the report's launching, the AFP News Service reported Republican Senator Sam Brownback charged that Beijing's continued repatriation of North Korean refugees, despite reports about their victimization on their return, "highlighted China's role as the great enabler of human rights abuses."

The AFP reported Brownback added, "There is a dismal record of China in Tibet; there is a dismal record of China in Darfur; there is a dismal record of China in the treatment of North Korean refugees."

Brownback called on China to stop the "abuses," the AFP reported.

Brownback accused China, the AFP reported, of defying its own agreement with the United Nations by refusing to give the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees access to the North Korean refugees, who had to "face death and imprisonment" on their repatriation.

The commission responsible for the report was created by Congress in 1998. It is funded in entirety by the U.S. government. Its commissioners are appointed by Congress and the White House.
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« Reply #8 on: April 20, 2008, 01:04:16 AM »

Religion Today Summaries - Apr. 17, 2008
Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
 
In today's edition:

    * Overwhelming Response to Evangelistic Campaign in Poland
    * Algeria's Religious Rights Abuses Criticized at UN
    * Evangelicals Give Mixed Reactions to Pope's Visit
    * China Slammed For Return Of North Korean Refugees

Overwhelming Response to Evangelistic Campaign in Poland

ASSIST News Service reports that the response to the evangelistic campaign ProChrist in Poland has overwhelmed the organizers. Approximately 20,000 visitors began a new life in Christ. Roughly 80,000 took part in the event April 6 -- 13. Programs were transmitted via TV satellite from Katowice in Southern Poland to 103 venues in the whole country. More than 26,700 persons flocked to the sports arena "Spondek" in Katowice to witness the Polish programs. Only the sermons by German evangelist Ulrich Parzany were translated. Roughly 10,600 decisions for Christ were registered in Katowice alone. During the closing night Parzany asked only those to come forward who wished to make a decision to follow Christ for the first time in their life. As a result, 1,500 went to the cross near the platform. Parzany said he had never witnessed such a strong response.

Algeria's Religious Rights Abuses Criticized at UN

Following an increase in church closures and convictions of Christians in Algeria this year, a United Nations body this week questioned Algerian delegates on an "alarming deterioration" of religious freedom there, Compass Direct News reports. Participants at Monday April 14th's Human Rights Council review in Geneva cast the issue of religious rights abuses in Algeria into the spotlight. Algeria's 2006 decree threatens up to five years imprisonment and a 1 million dinar fine for anyone attempting to convert a Muslim to another religion. In response to the criticisms, Algerian delegate Lazhar Soualem said the 2006 decree had been enacted to stop "people who are not skilled, and who are not qualified and who are not authorized to exercise religious rights."

Evangelicals Give Mixed Reactions to Pope's Visit

The Christian Post reports that evangelical leaders are expressing mixed reactions to Pope Benedict XVI's first U.S. visit. Tony Perkins, head of Family Research Council, lauded Pope Benedict XVI and said there was "no better time" for the U.S. to receive the Pope and hear from the "moral ambassador." Perkins said that despite theological differences between Catholics and Protestants, "devout" members of both bodies share more in common than they do with "liberals in their own camp." However, others such as Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, reminded the public that the Pope is a staunch defender of the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, and that it is not likely that evangelical Christians and the Catholic Church will bridge differences.

China Slammed For Return Of North Korean Refugees

According to a Religion News Service release, a United States commission said Tuesday that North Korean refugees suspected of meeting with religious groups are often marked for harsh interrogation, torture and long detentions without trial after they are forced by China to return to the North Korea. A report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom called for nations to press China to stop sending North Korean refugees back to their homeland. Open Doors USA, along with other members of the North Korea Freedom Coalition, are partnering during North Korea Freedom Week (NKFW) April 26-May 3. During that week the United States and other countries around the world will focus on the massive human rights abuses by the North Korean communist government headed by President Kim Jong Il. The North Korea Freedom Coalition is also urging China to stop the repatriation of North Korean refugees.
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« Reply #9 on: April 20, 2008, 01:06:09 AM »

Religion Today Summaries - Apr. 18, 2008
Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
 
In today's edition:

    * International Human Rights Leaders Gather to Discuss Religious Persecution in Middle East
    * Court Tells Coach He Can't Kneel or Bow Head When Team Prays
    * One Year after Murders in Turkey, One Man Blamed
    * Ohio Teacher, Told to Remove Bible From Students View, Refuses

International Human Rights Leaders Gather to Discuss Religious Persecution in Middle East

U.S. government officials and international human rights leaders will convene in Washington on Friday for the Congressional Caucus on Religious Minorities in the Middle East. Caucus members will discuss the effects the War in Iraq has had on religious minorities and work directly with federal policymakers to address the challenges of religious persecution in the Middle East. "With religious persecution in Iraq continuing to intensify every day, the time is now for government leaders in the United States to take action," said Dr. Keith Roderick, D.C.-based representative of Christian Solidarity International, an advocacy organization for victims of religious persecution. "Policymakers need to help create conditions that allow displaced Christians and other non-Muslim minorities to return to their homes and live and practice their faith in peace."

Court Tells Coach He Can't Kneel or Bow Head When Team Prays


The Newark Star-Ledger reports that a federal appeals court has ruled the East Brunswick school board was within its rights to tell football coach Marcus Borden he cannot kneel and bow his head as members of his team have a student-led pre-game prayer. The ruling from the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia reversed a lower-court ruling made almost two years ago. The judges agreed the policy barring school staff from joining in student-led was constitutional, but differed on what exactly a coach should do when his team prays. Borden has coached the team since 1983. He used to be deeply involved in team prayers, and for a while even led them. But in 2005 school officials received complaints that he was leading prayers and asked him to stop. Ronald Riccio, Borden's attorney, commented, "The supreme court should hear this case because so far, there have been four judges who rendered an opinion that's different from the other's decision... This is primed for the supreme court."

One Year after Murders in Turkey, One Man Blamed

On the eve of the one-year mark of the slaughter of three Christians in Turkey, the impartiality of the judges in the case is in doubt, and the young men on trial have now shifted the blame to one man. Accused killers Cuma Ozdemir, Abuzer Yildirim and Salih Gurler had been caught at the scene of the crime on April 18, 2007, butcher knives in their hands and the blood of the victims on their clothing. But like Hamit Ceker, the first suspect to testify in January, the three suspects declared at the fifth hearing on Monday April 14 that they had not participated in the actual killings of Turkish Christians Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and German Christian Tilmann Geske. Instead, in Malatya Third Criminal Court they claimed it was Emre Gunaydin, the fifth culprit and alleged ringleader of the attack, who personally tortured and then slit the throats of the three Christians, Compass Direct News reports.

Ohio Teacher, Told to Remove Bible From Students View, Refuses

According to FOX News, "An Ohio middle school teacher says he won't obey an order to remove a Bible from view of students. John Freshwater said Wednesday he agreed to remove a collage from his classroom that included the Ten Commandments, but that asking him to remove the Bible on his desk goes too far. Officials with the Mount Vernon School District say they don't oppose religion but are required by the U.S. Constitution not to promote or favor any set of religious beliefs. Freshwater says being forced to keep the Bible out of sight would infringe on his rights."
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« Reply #10 on: April 21, 2008, 08:37:42 PM »

Pope's Visit Highlights Evangelical-Catholic Differences, Similarities
Mickey Noah


April 21, 2008

ALPHARETTA, Ga. -- As Pope Benedict XVI visits the United States, the Southern Baptist Convention's 16 million members and North America's 75 million Catholics agree on some doctrinal matters but not all.

Catholics and Southern Baptists believe in the Trinity, the deity of Jesus Christ, the virgin birth and that Jesus was sinless, died on the cross for man's sins, rose again and ascended to heaven.

"When you're talking to Catholics, you don't have to convince them to believe in God, Jesus Christ or the Bible," said Tal Davis, interfaith coordinator in the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board's evangelization group. "Most Catholics do. But there are still significant differences."

Davis added that Catholics have moderated their views of Southern Baptists and other evangelicals over the last 30-40 years, and for the better.

"We're never going to completely change each other's minds, but we do agree on a host of public policy issues," said Davis, citing "life issues" such as abortion, stem-cell research and euthanasia. Both groups are close on other moral issues such as the promotion of family life values and the war against drugs.

Davis said Catholics generally tend to be more liberal on other national issues, such as war and the death penalty, issues on which the Vatican has taken particularly strong stances.

At one time, the Roman Catholic Church considered Protestants and evangelicals to be apostates -- defectors from the faith. In the last few decades, there has been ecumenical dialogue among the Vatican and a number of other denominations that did not include the SBC. However, last year, the Vatican released a statement re-asserting that non-Catholic churches were defective or not true churches but merely ecclesial communities and therefore did not have the "means of salvation."

The definition of "church" is one major contrast between the two.

Southern Baptists understand the church both as a local body of baptized believers and as the universal body of Christ which includes the redeemed of all the ages.

According to Davis, Catholics believe the true church is the Roman Catholic Church, God's "church on earth" -- a highly structured and regimented institution across the globe, including some 1 billion members, 16 percent of the world's population.

"Second to Christianity itself, the Roman Catholic Church is, in fact, the oldest-organized, longest-lasting institution on earth, dating back to the sixth century. The Catholic Church is headed by a Pope who Catholics deem as having infallible authority, the successor to Peter," Davis said.

Southern Baptists reject the notion of an earthly hierarchy and instead believe in the New Testament model of spiritual authority being vested in the local church. They also believe in the New Testament teaching about the individual's accountability for salvation.

Another NAMB expert on Catholicism is Bill Gordon, resourcing consultant for the board's personal and mass evangelism team.

Gordon said that compared to some groups, Catholics are easier to discuss the Gospel with because they and evangelicals share common doctrine and beliefs.

"With faiths such as the New Age movement, there is nothing in common with evangelicals. New Agers believe they are God. Evangelicals have little in common with Mormons who don't believe in the Trinity or with Muslims who don't believe Jesus died on the cross."

Gordon and Davis both agree two sticking points between evangelicals and Catholics are their respective views on salvation and sin.

"Catholics and Southern Baptists agree Jesus died on the cross and rose again to atone for our sins. But Catholics see salvation as a lengthy process requiring the seven sacraments," Davis said. These sacraments include baptism at birth, confirmation, the Eucharist, holy orders, anointing of the sick, matrimony and penance.

"To get access to the grace of God, Catholics have to go through the Catholic Church and the sacraments. We Southern Baptists think that's unnecessary and, in fact, is a hindrance to God. We go straight to Jesus Christ for salvation by faith alone. No works are involved. You can't save yourself and you can't add anything to God's plan of salvation," Davis said.

Gordon said another major difference between the Catholic Church and evangelicals is each group's definition of sin.

Catholics differentiate between two types of sin -- mortal sins and venial sins, Gordon said. Mortal sins are more serious than venial sins.

"They recognize they are sinners but think their sins are only venial or minor, and that they can take care of venial sins themselves through good works and purgatory, a temporary place after death.

"Most Catholics don't see the need for salvation because they don't consider their sins as mortal, the major sins that can send a soul to hell if not confessed to a priest." Gordon added that according to statistics, only about 26 percent of Catholics go to confession once a year or more.

Gordon said evangelicals, on the other hand, believe any sin is enough to send a person to hell. They also believe sin should be confessed immediately and directly to God.

"And this major difference in the definition of sin is a barrier. We think we've communicated with them but then get frustrated because they still don't see the need for salvation because they think their sins are only minor," Gordon said.

Southern Baptists are not disrespecting Catholics when they share the Gospel -- as they believe it -- with their Catholic friends, Davis said.

"We're not disrespecting them and while we obviously disagree with them, we're just being true to our own beliefs and faith," Davis said.

Davis offers these tips for evangelicals sharing their faith with Catholics:

    * be clear on your own Christian faith and what you believe.
    * become more informed on what Catholics believe.
    * develop a friendly relationship and get to know the person.
    * let them see Christ in you.
    * don't get sidetracked by the thorny issues and don't even make Catholicism the issue. Don't debate. Start with God, Jesus and the things Baptists and Catholics hold in common.
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« Reply #11 on: April 21, 2008, 08:39:56 PM »

Religion Today Summaries - Apr. 21, 2008
Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
 
In today's edition:

    * Penitent Pope Meets Victims of Sexual Abuse by Priests
    * Christian Bookstore Owner Re-Arrested in China
    * France Unable to Save Crumbling Churches
    * Christian Leaders Call 'Expelled' a Must-See Movie

Penitent Pope Meets Victims of Sexual Abuse by Priests

ASSIST News Service reports that Pope Benedict XVI met victims of sexual abuse by American clergy on April 17 in the most dramatic signal yet of his efforts to atone for the scandal that has inflicted heavy damage on the Catholic Church in the United States. According to a London Times story, the meeting took place in the chapel of the Vatican mission in Washington and came as he continued to place the issue of priestly abuse of minors over the past 30 years and the Church's slow response to it at the forefront of his first visit to the US. Baker stated that a Vatican spokesman said that the pontiff spent time with a group of victims. "They prayed with the Holy Father, who afterward listened to their personal accounts and offered them words of encouragement and hope," he said. "His Holiness assured them of his prayers for their intentions, for their families and for all victims of sexual abuse." Baker's story went on to say, "Chief Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said there was a lot of emotion in the room and some victims cried. Each one then spoke personally with the Pope.

Christian Bookstore Owner Re-Arrested in China

According to Compass Direct News, a bookstore owner in Beijing has been re-arrested for publishing Bibles and Christian literature after he had been released in January due to "insufficient evidence." Shi Weihan, a 37-year-old father of two, was re-arrested on March 19 and has been held without any family visits allowed, according to his wife Zhang Jing. Shi was first arrested on November 28, 2007, and held until January 4. His wife said she had received no word on her husband's condition, and she has been prohibited from bringing him any food or change of clothing since his re-arrest. Zhang said she is "very concerned" about her husband's health, as he has diabetes. Another bookstore owner, Zhou Heng, was arrested and detained in Xinjiang province on August 3, 2007 for receiving a shipment of Bibles. Zhou revealed last week that he had been cleared of charges and released from prison on February 19.

France Unable to Save Crumbling Churches

An Associated Press story states that the dilemma of what to do with tens of thousands of churches that have fallen out of favor -- and into disrepair -- is facing towns and villages across France and other European countries. Some have converted old churches into housing, while other churches deemed too expensive to maintain were torn down. In France, fewer than 5 percent of the nation's 62 million people attend Mass every week, down from 27 percent a half-century ago. One village, at a cost of $2.13 million -- less than half the cost of a restoration -- is building a new church built around the bell tower of the existing structure. Even in communities where there is still a church-going presence, the old cathedrals are too large and lack intimacy. "It's five times too big for the congregation that usually comes. People prefer a more modern church, that's more cheerful and warm, instead of a huge one where they get lost in all the space," said one mayor. Famous cathedrals that are viewed as jewels of religious architecture are not in danger, as they have funding from the national government.

Christian Leaders Call 'Expelled' a Must-See Movie

According to Baptist Press, the Ben Stein documentary "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" explores the ongoing academic, legal and cultural battle between supporters of Darwinian evolution and Intelligent Design. During the 90-minute, PG-rated film, Stein talks to people on both sides of the debate, and in a climactic scene, interviews noted atheist and evolutionist Richard Dawkins. The movie's premise is simple: Supporters of Intelligent Design are being "expelled" -- fired, shunned or ridiculed (or all three) -- from institutions for their beliefs. Pro-family leaders, including Focus on the Family's James Dobson and the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission's Richard Land, have given the film thumbs up. "Expelled is a wonderful movie," Land said on the April 17 broadcast of "For Faith and Family" in which he interviewed Stein. "I think it should be required viewing for anyone who wants to understand what is going on and what is at stake in the debate over worldviews in this society."
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« Reply #12 on: April 22, 2008, 01:20:11 PM »

Shari'a-Compliant Financing Described As New Islamist Threat
Pete Winn

Washington (CNSNews.com) - Radical Islamists not only want to destroy America with bombs and weapons of mass destruction, they also are infiltrating U.S. financial markets and influencing the flow of credit and capital, according to the Center for Security Policy (CSP), a conservative think-tank.

CSP President Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan administration assistant secretary of defense, has launched a national campaign to counter what he calls "an insidious threat" -- shari'a-compliant finance.

He says U.S. financial institutions and businesses engaged in shari'a-compliant financing are exposing themselves to civil and criminal liability. That type of investment poses a serious risk not only for U.S. financial institutions but also for ordinary investors and the national security of the United States, he said.

The finance method involves investments or transactions that have been structured to conform with the 7th century code of Islamic law, which is known as shari'a. Prohibitions include financial transactions involving interest, excessive uncertainty, or assets such as alcohol, tobacco, pork or gambling.

Gaffney said shari'a-compliant financing "legitimizes and institutionalizes" repressive Islamic law that conflicts with Western values.

"Shari'a-compliant finance, also known as 'Islamic finance' or 'Islamic banking,' is a vehicle for effecting in America and in other Western capital markets, what its proponents have called 'financial jihad' -- a kind of soft jihad, but one arguably going after the lifeblood of our capitalist system and economy," Gaffney told a briefing of Capitol Hill staffers Friday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Gaffney said the shari'a code is is best known for beheadings, floggings, and amputations for petty crimes.

"Shari'a is a totalitarian program for bringing about a global caliphate (Islamic kingdom), for ruling the world, for governing religious conduct, personal practices and family relations," he said.

Shari'a-compliant financing is becoming more popular as a way to tap into petrodollars. Even Dow Jones has created its own Islamic Index for shari'a-correct investments, Gaffney said.

How does it work?

Gaffney said that shari'a-compliant instruments are now being offered for everything from zero-coupon bonds to hedge funds to mutual funds to life insurance.

To offer these products or investments as shari'a-compliant, financial companies must submit to "shari'a advisers"-- almost all of whom are Islamist ideologues. Many of the advisers are dedicated to the destruction of the United States, Gaffney said.
These advisors "bless" the products or investments, certifying that they have been modified in such a way as to involve no interest payments, no speculation and no investments in proscribed items such as pork or alcohol or tobacco.

"It puts (Islamist ideologues) in a position whereby they can steer very substantial capital and credit flows to activities they favor - and away from activities they don't favor," Gaffney said.

The boards frequently are made up of shari'a "advisers" who are either Islamists or have ties to Islamist organizations such as Hamas or Hizballah, Gaffney said.

"As a result, you may wind up hiring people like a fellow named Sheikh Usmani, who has published works explicitly calling for violent jihad against America," he said.

Usmani reportedly has links to Harvard University, and Gaffney is calling on Harvard's board of trustees to disclose its ties to shari'a-compliant funds this weekend (April 17-19), during the university's eighth annual forum on Islamic finance.

Harvard itself, Gaffney said, is "bending over backwards" to accommodate shari'a law to attract Islamic investment.

"(There are) separate hours for Muslim women to exercise at Harvard University so that they can dress immodestly without being immodest, (and) there are calls to prayer, for that matter, being issued on the Quad at Harvard," he added.

Gaffney noted that those who speak against shari'a in the Muslim world face possible death sentences. He cited psychiatrist Dr. Wafa Sultan, a Muslim woman forced into hiding in America for being "a courageous opponent of shari'a law and Islamist extremism."

Sultan garnered death threats from Sheikh Yusef al-Qaradawi, the head of the European Council on Fatwa and Research, and one of the driving forces behind shari'a-compliant finance.

America, Gaffney warned, must either proactively address the issue of shari'a law now, or face it later when it has ensnared the financial markets.

"Later we will find ourselves dead or enslaved," he concluded. "And we enable them, and we empower them and we underwrite them at our extreme peril."
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« Reply #13 on: April 22, 2008, 01:22:19 PM »

Religion Today Summaries - Apr. 22, 2008
Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
 
In today's edition:

    * Four Christian Teachers Murdered in Somalia
    * Israeli Court Sides with Messianic Jews
    * Vietnam Church Laments State Discrimination, Interference
    * U.S. Pastor Given More Than 3 Years in Prison for Bringing Rifle Shells Into Russia

Four Christian Teachers Murdered in Somalia

ASSIST News Service reports that four Christian teachers, two of them converts from Islam, were murdered by Islamic militants Sunday April 13 in Beledweyne in south-central Somalia. According to the UK-based Barnabas Fund, Mr. Daud Assan Ali, 64, Ms. Rehana Ahmed, 32, both of Somali origin, and two Kenyans were shot and killed when militants stormed the school where the Christians were sleeping. "Both Mr. Ali and Ms. Ahmed lived in the UK and were converts from Islam to Christianity," said a spokesperson for Barnabas Fund. "Mr. Ali returned to his home town in 2004 to realize his life-long dream of establishing a school. The Hiran community education project Private English School was only completed one month ago. In his blog for supporters of the school, Mr. Ali expressed concern about night-time raids by militant fighters in his last posting on March 30." A spokesman for the Islamist group responsible for the attack on the town claimed that the killings were not premeditated, but that the four teachers had been caught in cross fire. However, several residents of Beledweyne are convinced that Mr. Ali and his colleagues were singled out because they were Christians and the Islamists feared that they were teaching their pupils about Christianity.

Israeli Court Sides with Messianic Jews


According to Baptist Press, the Supreme Court of Israel has ruled that Messianic Jews have the same rights regarding automatic citizenship as Jews who do not believe in Jesus as the Messiah. The case was brought by 12 applicants who had been denied citizenship primarily because they were Jewish believers in Jesus. Most of them had received letters saying they would not receive citizenship because they "commit missionary activity," according to an e-mail circulated by Calev Myers, founder and chief counsel of The Jerusalem Institute of Justice. A clerk at the Ministry of Interior reportedly had told one of the applicants that because she was committing missionary activity, she was acting against the interests of the state of Israel and the Jewish people. Israel's Supreme Court ended the two-and-a-half-year legal battle April 16 by ruling that Messianics should receive equal treatment under the Israeli law of return, which says that anyone who is born Jewish can immigrate from anywhere in the world to Israel and be granted citizenship automatically. "This is yet another battle won in our war to establish equality in Israel for the Messianic Jewish community just like every other legitimate stream of faith within the Jewish world," Myers wrote.

Vietnam Church Laments State Discrimination, Interference

An unprecedented prayer appeal by the Evangelical Church of (South) Vietnam indicates that the government has stonewalled quiet, persistent attempts to obtain redress on confiscated church properties, interference in church affairs and discrimination against Christians, Compass Direct News reports. Addressed to "The Church of God Everywhere," the March 28 letter from the Executive Committee of the ECVN followed several ultimatums in which the church threatened "collective action" and still did not obtain serious dialogue with authorities. It is uncommon for the ECVN, which received full legal recognition in April 2001 and is Vietnam's largest Protestant Church, to go public on such matters. The church leaders' letter said some of 265 properties confiscated had been turned to other uses, some simply left to fall into disrepair and others demolished.

U.S. Pastor Given More Than 3 Years in Prison for Bringing Rifle Shells Into Russia

FOX News reports that a Moscow court on Monday sentenced a U.S. pastor to prison time for smuggling hunting ammunition into Russia. According to the FOXNews.com story, Phillip Miles was arrested February 3, several days after 20 rifle shells were discovered in his luggage at a Moscow airport. He has been in custody since then, and has now been sentenced to serve 3 years and 2 months. Miles, who is from South Carolina, said he didn't know it was illegal to bring ammunition into Russia, and said he brought the .300 caliber cartridges for a friend, something the judge accepted. "I'm very disappointed. It's a strange sentence for one box of hunting bullets," said Miles, who wore his clerical collar during his sentencing hearing. The judge ruled that the court could not condone ignorance of Russian customs regulations and noted Miles had visited the country more than 10 times. Miles will remain in a Moscow jail until his appeal.
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« Reply #14 on: April 24, 2008, 10:13:16 AM »

US Christians Urged to Cancel Church Services and Help the Poor
Dan Wooding

UNITED STATES -- Christians in the US should close their churches and channel their energies into helping the poor.

According to a story posted on www.ekklesia.co.uk, this is the message from the campaign "Faith in Action", a resource developed by Christian humanitarian organization, World Vision, church communication resources provider, Outreach, Inc., and Christian communications company, Zondervan.

"The call comes along with the news that two-thirds of American surveyed in a new poll say their churches are doing enough to help the poor despite the latest United States Census Bureau statistics showing consistent year-to-year increases in the numbers of Americans living in poverty," said the Ekklesia story.

"This, combined with poverty indicators such as rising food stamp usage, points to increased demand for a complacent church to do more to help the poor, say Christian campaigners."

Conducted by Faith in Action and Harris Interactive, the national survey polled more than 2,800 adults. Sixty-seven percent of respondents "agreed" or "strongly agreed" with the statement, "My church already does enough to help the poor in my community." "Faith in Action is designed to be a step toward alleviating the complacency that is afflicting churches across the country, and an effective call to action to follow Christ's example of compassion."

Current data provided by the US Census Bureau reveals the national poverty level has increased from 11.7 percent in 2001 to 13.3 percent in 2005, or 38 million Americans.

Additionally, demand for food stamps between 2007-08, a key economic indicator provided by the United States Department of Agriculture, is up significantly in 43 states, increasing the need for significant help among more than 28 million Americans.

"These results, when combined with current census and economic data, expose a discrepancy between Christians who believe they are doing enough and the reality that Christians are just scratching the surface in our communities," said Steve Haas, vice president for church relations at World Vision.

But the study also reports that 60 percent of respondents "would support their church if it occasionally cancelled traditional services in order to donate that time to help the poor in their community."

Christians are now being invited to close their churches and mobilize in projects within their communities.

Faith in Action has produced a campaign kit which includes a step-by-step approach to transforming a congregation and reaching the community. The campaign will culminate in Faith in Action Sunday, which takes place this Sunday (April 27).

The program helps Christians invite members outside of their church to join in serving.

The survey also revealed that two-thirds of respondents said they "wished their church partnered with a non-Christian organization to help the poor in my community."

The Ekklesia story concluded, "More than 20,000 Christians at more than 200 churches have participated in a Faith in Action Sunday throughout the United States. On April 27 an additional 300 churches nationwide will close their doors and complete their Faith in Action programs with community-wide projects to help the poor and disadvantaged."
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