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« Reply #15 on: April 24, 2008, 10:14:54 AM »

Demonstration in Brussels against Persecution of Iraqi Christians
Dan Wooding


April 24, 2008

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM -- According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), nearly 4,000 people demonstrated in Brussels on Saturday (April 19, 2008) against violence perpetrated against Iraqi Christians in the strife-torn country, according to police and organizers.

Protestors, mainly Iraqi Christians, came from Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland to participate in the march through the heart of Brussels' EU quarter, organizers said.

The AFP story stated that the demonstration was aimed at drawing attention to attacks on Christians in Iraq, said Fikri Aygur, vice chairman of the European Syriac Union, organizers of the march.

"We wanted to call on the US, the EU and the UN to find a solution for the Christians," he told AFP.

The march was supposed to start in front of the US embassy in Brussels, but police did not allow it because of the large numbers, Aygur said.

"Iraq's Christians, with the Chaldeans being the largest community, were said to total as many as 800,000 before the US-led invasion in 2003 but the number is now thought to be half that figure," said AFP.

"Widespread persecution including the bombing of churches and the murder of priests has forced hundreds of thousands to flee, mostly to neighboring countries or to Kurdish northern Iraq."

The story went on to say that in February the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Faraj Rahho, was kidnapped. His corpse was found the following month.

Earlier this month, gunmen shot dead Assyrian Orthodox priest Youssef Adel near his house in the centre of the Iraqi capital as he left home.

On Friday (April 18) in Luxembourg, the European Union's Slovenian presidency rejected a German proposal to offer preferential asylum treatment to Iraqi Christians.

"German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble wanted to persuade other EU countries to offer asylum to thousands of Iraq's minority Christians because of violence against them in majority-Muslim Iraq," said the AFP story.

"His plan was initially mooted by Germany's Catholic and Protestant churches who are powerful allies of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's party."

Note: Agence France-Presse (AFP) is the oldest news agency in the world, and one of the three largest with Associated Press and Reuters. It is also the largest French news agency.
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« Reply #16 on: April 24, 2008, 10:16:43 AM »

Religion Today Summaries - Apr. 23, 2008
Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

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

    * Chinese Man Re-Arrested for Publishing Bibles, Literature
    * Zimbabwe Church Leaders Say People are being Tortured
    * Evangelicals Give Mixed Reactions to Pope's Visit
    * Situation Deteriorating for Iraqi Christians

Chinese Man Re-Arrested for Publishing Bibles, Literature

Baptist Press reports that Shi Weihan, a Chinese bookstore owner in Beijing, has been rearrested for publishing Bibles and Christian literature during a time when a shortage of such materials has been reported in China. Shi, a 37-year-old father of two daughters, was taken into custody for a second time March 19 and has been held without family visits, China Aid Association said in a news release April 22. "His wife said she received no word on her husband's condition, and she has been prevented from bringing any food or change of clothing since his rearrest," Daniel Burton, a spokesman for China Aid, told Baptist Press. "She is very concerned about his health due to his diabetes and the deprivation and torture that's often used by Public Security Bureau officials on the arrested." Burton said Shi's second arrest was unexpected. "It comes as a big surprise to us because he was released on insufficient evidence back in January," Burton said.

Zimbabwe Church Leaders Say People are being Tortured

According to the Associated Press, on Tuesday, church leaders in Zimbabwe said people were being tortured, abducted and murdered in a campaign of retribution against opposition supporters following the March 29 election, and urged international intervention. The U.S. State Department has asked the Chinese government not to make further weapons shipments to Zimbabwe until the postelection crisis is resolved.

Evangelicals Give Mixed Reactions to Pope's Visit

The Christian Post reports that evangelical leaders expressed mixed reactions to Pope Benedict XVI's first U.S. visit, which ranged from underscoring similar values to highlighting the divide between Catholics and Protestants. The Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, drew attention to similarities between the pope's view on environmentalism and embryonic stem cell research and the view of some within the evangelical community. On the other hand, prominent theologian Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, reminded people 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.

Situation Deteriorating for Iraqi Christians

OneNewsNow reports that Christian Solidarity International is calling on government leaders to address ever-increasing religious persecution in Iraq. During the recent Caucus on Religious Minorities in the Middle East, members examined ways the war in Iraq has affected religious minorities. CSI's Dr. Keith Roderick says since the war in Iraq began, more than 40 percent of Christians have fled the country as they have been targeted by militants: "Just last week, an Orthodox priest was murdered. At least 40 churches have been bombed, and there have been dozens of clergy and nuns who have been either kidnapped or murdered; they've been targeted. It's not a matter of being a result of random criminality, but in fact they're targeted for their faith." Roderick hopes the caucus will lead to plans to ease Christian persecution in Iraq.

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« Reply #17 on: April 24, 2008, 10:18:37 AM »

Religion Today Summaries - Apr. 24, 2008
Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

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

    * Eritrean Government Sending Ministers to Military Training Camps
    * Muslim Rioters Attack Christians in Kano, Nigeria
    * Survey Shows Support for Israel Strong among Christians
    * SBC Baptisms: Lowest Since '87

Eritrean Government Sending Ministers to Military Training Camps

ASSIST News Service reports that human rights group International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that Eritrean officials are forcefully sending ministers of the Eritrean Orthodox Church to military training camps. ICC reported in a news release that as a result of this policy, Eritrean Orthodox churches throughout the country are losing their leaders. At the end of 2006, the Eritrean government informed churches of its decision to rescind a long-standing exemption of ministers from mandatory military service. The Roman Catholic Church in Eritrea was the only church to oppose this action. ICC reported that top leaders of the Eritrean Orthodox Church, who have been hand-picked by the government, embraced the new policy with open arms. Eritrean officials are now forcibly recruiting church ministers into military service on a wide scale.

Muslim Rioters Attack Christians in Kano, Nigeria

Hundreds of Muslims took to the streets of this northern Nigerian city on Sunday April 20, attacking Christians and their shops and setting vehicles on fire on claims that a Christian had blasphemed Muhammad, Compass Direct News reports. Thousands of Christians were trapped in churches until police dispersed rioters. Fearing that Muslims may attack again, many Christians have relocated to army and police barracks in the city. An as yet unidentified Christian was said to have painted an inscription that disparaged the prophet of Islam.

Survey Shows Support for Israel Strong among Christians

OneNewsNow reports that support for Israel among both liberal and conservative Christians is surprising to Middle East expert Joel Rosenberg. What surprised him most was that "liberal Protestant denominations and Catholics" all had high numbers "within the 75 to 85 percent range all supporting Israel," according to the results of a survey commissioned by Rosenberg. However, on question of the division of Jerusalem, "Evangelicals overwhelmingly believe that Jerusalem should be the united, eternal capital of the Jewish state of Israel, whereas Catholics and liberal Protestant denominations are more willing to see Jerusalem divided." 65 percent are worried Iran would try to obliterate Israel if they develop nuclear weapons.

SBC Baptisms: Lowest Since '87

According to Baptist Press, the number of people baptized in Southern Baptist churches fell for the third straight year in 2007 to the convention's lowest level since 1987. Although the SBC added 473 new churches and gave more than $1.3 billion to support mission activities around the world, Thom S. Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources, said there's no escaping the fact that Southern Baptists are not reaching as many people for Christ as they once did. According to LifeWay's Annual Church Profile (ACP), baptisms in 2007 dropped nearly 5.5 percent to 345,941, compared to 364,826 in 2006. "This report is truly disheartening," Rainer said. "Total membership showed a slight decline. Baptisms have now declined for three consecutive years and for seven of the last eight years, and are at their lowest level since 1987. Indeed, the total baptisms are among the lowest reported since 1970. We are a denomination that, for the most part, has lost its evangelistic passion."

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« Reply #18 on: April 26, 2008, 05:31:51 AM »

Heart-Wrenching War Dance a Must-See Documentary
Annabelle Robertson

DVD Release Date:  April 15, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  November 9, 2007
Rating:  PG (for some thematic material involving description of war atrocities)
Genre:  Documentary
Run Time:  107 min.
Director:  Sean Fine & Andrea Nix Fine

For the past 20 years, the Ugandan tribe of Acholi, whose land straddles the Ugandan/Sudan border, has been victimized and terrorized.  Their oppressors call themselves "the Lord's Resistance Army," and they have slaughtered thousands of Acholi, kidnapped their children, raped their women and forced an estimated 2 million to flee their ancestral homes for government-protected camps, where they are funded through United Nations programs.

As this civil war continues to rage, primarily in the western and northern parts of Uganda, some 60,000 have made their home in the camp of Patongo.  It is here that we meet the children of the Patongo Primary School.  In between shots of majestic scenery, we meet three traumatized children, and we hear their stories.  Meanwhile, they rehearse and prepare for an important national music competition in the capital of Kampala.

Nancy is a young adolescent girl whose father, she tells us, was hacked to death by rebels.  On that terrifying night, her mother was forced to watch then bury the scattered remains of her husband's body.  Later that night, as she and her children lay sleeping, these rebels returned and forced her outside her home.  Nancy and her siblings fled into the bush.  Eventually, when the children realized their mother was not coming back, they made their way to the U.N. camp. 

Dominic was only nine when he was kidnapped, after another midnight raid.  Rebels forced him to watch his older brother being beaten and, on several occasions, he witnessed other people's murders as well.  Although Dominic was released after two weeks, he has yet to tell anyone about the horrors he experienced--and what he was made to do.  He has no idea whether his brother is alive, either.  He is but one of 30,000 children who have been abducted and forced into servitude with the rebel army.

Rose is one of an estimated 200,000 children who has been orphaned by the war.  On the night the rebels arrived at her home, she was sent into the bush with the other children.  When they finally came out of hiding, the soldiers showed the children their parents' bodies, which were covered in flies.  Then, from a large cooking pot, they pulled out their dismembered heads.  Rose said, "When I saw my mother's head, I thought I was losing my mind."  Now, she performs chore after chore for her demanding aunt, who beats her when she makes the smallest mistake.  Rose lives for the nights, she says, when she can rest--and dream of her parents.

"I'm excited to see what peace looks like," says Nancy, as she prepares for the trip to Kampala, after months of preparation.  Two days later, the children arrive at the National Theatre for the music festival, accompanied by armed escort.  Their competition is stiff:  315 schools and 5,000 children, who must all sing and dance in eight different categories over a three-day period.  They're all talented, but they're not particularly kind.  From the minute the Patonga children arrive, they hear whispers and jeers.  They are from the North.  They are poor.  They are rebels.  Finally, with great trembling that they take to the stage.

"In my heart, I am more than a child of war," says one of the young students. "I am talented.  I am a musician.  I am Acholi.  I am the future of our tribe."  What happens proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is true.  But more importantly, it shows how music--and a bit of hope--can be transformed into the balm of Gilead.

An Academy Award nomination.  A Sundance Film Festival award.  Both are testaments to the outstanding direction, cinematography, editing and composition of War Dance.  Yet even they fail to convey its power.

Be prepared to weep.  As Nancy goes with her mother to her father's grave for the first time, four years after his death.  As she collapses in grief and begs God to take life.  And as she finally reaches out to her savior for comfort.  Be prepared to weep.  As little Dominic works up the courage to visit a nearby prison.  As he trembles before a captive warlord and asks about his brother's fate.  And as he hears the answer to his question.  Be prepared to weep.  As these precious little children find something to believe in, something to nurture them, and something they can finally call their own.

"It is difficult for people to believe our story," one says, "but if we don't tell you, you won't know."  Because of their courage--and the work of these dedicated, talented filmmakers--we can know.  And what a privilege it is.

For more information about the children of Patongo and other children of northern Uganda, visit www.shineglobal.org.

DVD EXTRAS:

    * Deleted and extended scenes
    * Theatrical Trailer
    * Trailer Gallery

CAUTIONS:

    * Drugs/Alcohol:  None.
    * Language/Profanity:  None.
    * Sexual Content/Nudity:  None.
    * Violence:  Children recount horrific tales of wartime violence to family members and neighbors; one brief shot of a skull.
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« Reply #19 on: April 26, 2008, 05:34:22 AM »

Religion Today Summaries - Apr. 25, 2008
Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

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

    * Church in Zimbabwe Calls for International Day of Prayer
    * Jordanian Ex-Muslim Tried for Converting to Christianity
    * Slaughter of Three Martyrs in Malatya Mourned in Turkey
    * Anglican Leader Pleads for Prayers Ahead of Major Meeting

Church in Zimbabwe Calls for International Day of Prayer

According to the British website www.ekklesia.co.uk, the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe has asked Christians around the world to focus their prayers this Sunday on the critical situation in the country. ASSIST News Service reports that Rev. Bob Stumbles, Chancellor of the Anglican Diocese of Harare, described Zimbabwe as "a nation in dire distress and teetering on the brink of human disaster." It needs to be rescued from violence, the concealing and juggling of election results, deceit, oppression and corruption, to bring about righteousness, joy, peace, compassion, honesty, justice, democracy and freedom from fear and want, the chancellor said. "Let the cry for help touch your heart and mind. Let it move you to do what you can immediately to ensure this Day of Prayer takes place in your country and neighborhood."

Jordanian Ex-Muslim Tried for Converting to Christianity


On trial for converting from Islam to Christianity, a Jordanian man may lose legal custody of his children and have his marriage annulled if found guilty of "apostasy." Mohammad Abbad, 40, fled Jordan last month after Muslims violently attacked him and his 10-year-old son in their home and his father sued him on charges of apostasy, or leaving Islam, Compass Direct News reports. "I can't win this case as long as I insist that I converted from Islam to Christianity," Abbad wrote. "The court will annul my marriage, I will be deprived of my kids, I will be with no ID or passport, and my properties will be confiscated."

Slaughter of Three Martyrs in Malatya Mourned in Turkey

A year after the martyrdom of three Christians in Malatya, Turkey's tiny Christian community gathered this past week to honor their memories and pray for their sorrowing families, Compass Direct News reports. Turks Necati Aydin and Ugur Yuksel and German Tilmann Geske were tied up, taunted for their faith in Christ, tortured and then slaughtered with knives in Malatya on April 18, 2007. Murdered in the Zirve Publishing office by five young Turkish Muslims who claimed to be defending Turkey and Islam from Christian missionaries, the three men left behind two widows, five fatherless children and a grieving fiancée. Their memorials began mid-morning April 18, in a small village cemetery in eastern Turkey and continued through Sunday April 20 with a nationwide memorial service in Istanbul, which drew more than 900 Christians.

Anglican Leader Pleads for Prayers Ahead of Major Meeting

The Christian Post reports that Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams made a plea to bishops to strengthen relationships at an upcoming decennial conference rather than focus on solving problems that have conflicted the Anglican/Episcopalian body toward the brink of schism. "What I would really most like to see in this years Lambeth Conference is the sense that this is essentially a spiritual encounter," said Dr. Williams Wednesday. "A time when people are encountering God as they encounter one another, a time when people will feel that their life of prayer and witness is being deepened and their resources are being stretched. Not a time when we are being besieged by problems that need to be solved and statements that need to be finalized, but a time when people feel that they are growing in their ministry." The Lambeth Conference is a once-a-decade gathering primarily for bishops from across the 77-million member Anglican body.
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« Reply #20 on: April 28, 2008, 02:07:45 PM »

Report Details Targeting of Christians in North Korea
Sarah Page

April 28, 2008


Refugees describe criminalization of faith; execution possible for owning Bible.

BANGKOK -- Refugee testimonies in a report released this month by a U.S. government body confirm severe persecution of Christians throughout North Korea.

In the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom's (USCIRF) report, refugees said that Christianity remained a key factor in the interrogation of people repatriated from China to North Korea. Border guards reserved the harshest punishment for those who admitted having any contact with Chinese or South Korean Christians.

The report, released April 15, found that consequences are harsh for those found violating state policies on religion.

"For example, recently many North Korean refugees have Bibles with them when they are repatriated," one refugee said. "In North Korea you can get away with murder if you have good connections. However, if you get caught carrying a Bible, there is no way to save your life."

Most of the refugees interviewed said they had little exposure to religious activity before seeking asylum in China, although a few told stories of grandparents hiding a Bible or other religious literature -- adding that punishment for owning a Bible could include execution and the imprisonment of "three generations" of the owner's family.

"Worshiping God or [contact with foreign religious groups or leaders] would make one a political criminal," another refugee confirmed. "The government believes that the Christian church is an anti-national organization."

Yet another stated categorically, "There is no freedom of belief or religion ... [We are taught] that if one is involved in religion, one cannot survive."

Former security agents interviewed for the report said authorities told them that U.S. or South Korean intelligence agencies distributed Bibles as part of a master plan to destabilize North Korea.

Based on interviews with North Korean refugees who have sought asylum in South Korea, the report confirms that some religious practices -- of Christianity, Buddhism and traditional folk religion -- have survived the repression of both Kim Il Sung and his son and successor, Kim Jong Il.

"The report provides evidence that the cult of personality surrounding Kim Jong Il and his family remains strong, and that Kim Jong Il's regime perceives any new religious activity as a security threat to be combated at all costs," according to a USCIRF statement. "As a result, stringent security measures have been enacted to stop the spread of religion, mostly Protestantism, through cross-border contacts with China."

Refugees interviewed for the report also confirmed that the few official churches in Pyongyang were "sham" churches, and that articles in the North Korean constitution guaranteeing religious freedom were included solely for the benefit of an international audience.

Former North Korean security agents interviewed for the report said police had stepped up efforts to halt religious activity at the border. The North Korean government even provided basic theological training for border security guards, enabling them to identify and entrap North Korean converts.

"New believers" who have come to faith through contact with Christians in China are considered a greater threat than "old believers" who came to faith as a result of family tradition.

The Church -- Alive and Well?

The report offers a rare perspective on the health of the North Korean church. Interviewees testified to secret church meetings and missionary activity; officials perceived both as threats to North Korean security.

The North Korean government has claimed there are a total of 512 house churches throughout the country, but one former police agent quoted in the report said while there were certainly "underground believers" in North Korea, it was far too dangerous for "underground churches" -- gatherings of more than a handful of believers -- to operate.

Refugees interviewed who had been to Pyongyang knew about the few official religious venues in the capital but said they were "showplaces" for foreigners, and not "real churches like those in China and South Korea." These same refugees knew of religious rights provisions in North Korean law but believed these were included for "show" and did not reflect reality.

"We ... learned in college about [legal] statutes regarding freedom of religion," one refugee stated, "but the professors told us that it was only to show outsiders and that we should not believe in any religions."

The constitution of North Korea "mentions freedom of belief or freedom of religion a lot," another stated. "It's quite different in reality. If you say the word 'religion' you could face consequences."

Another refugee said the government did not allow independent religious organizations for fear that the regime would be endangered, because "religion erodes society."
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« Reply #21 on: April 28, 2008, 02:09:59 PM »

Report Details Targeting of Christians in North Korea
Sarah Page

April 28, 2008

Cross-border contact with China has definitely contributed to the growth of the North Korean church in recent years. While it is impossible to measure this growth, some refugees interviewed for the report had attended prayer meetings, while former border guards had been instructed to set up false underground churches to attract Christian converts repatriated from China.

Refugees confirmed both religious activity and religious repression, consistently reporting that practitioners can be arrested, sent to political prison camps or executed.

"In 2003, an underground church called 'Yuseon' was uncovered," one said. "In around 1999 or 2000, one lady went to China to earn some money and returned to North Korea carrying two Bibles with her. She was arrested and sent to the National Security Agency. Then, her whole family disappeared."

Caught at the Border

Testimony confirmed that Christianity was a key factor in the interrogation of repatriated refugees. The admission of contact with Christians in China may result in torture, imprisonment in North Korea's labyrinth of labor camps or execution. Those who escape such punishment face ongoing surveillance and discrimination.

Protestant Christians are targeted because of their historical connection with U.S. missionaries and their present connection with a vibrant Protestant population in South Korea.

Explaining the official North Korean viewpoint, a former security guard said that the United States was perceived as "controlling one-half of the Korean peninsula" and attempting to "use religion to get the other half."

Following the years of famine, in 1999 the regime recognized that thousands of citizens had gone to China in search of food. Border security guards may now overlook cases where refugees have accepted merely food or shelter from Korean-Chinese churches. But refugees have also got wiser in recent years; many have learned not to admit to such contact with religion in China.

International Response

The report concludes that North Koreans repatriated to China -- particularly those who have any religious connection -- have a well-founded fear of persecution, qualifying them for protection under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

"Either they are persons who have a well-founded fear of persecution had they remained in North Korea, or they are refugees because of the place to which they fled," the report states. "The Chinese government continues to forcibly repatriate North Koreans who have entered China without proper authorization back to North Korea, where they face brutal interrogations, detentions, forced labor, and disappearance into the infamous kwanliso or political penal labor colonies."

The report reiterates that the freedom to leave one's country of origin is a right protected by both the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. North Korea is a party to the latter, yet it is illegal to leave North Korea without authorization.

The report calls on the international community to press China to cease repatriating North Korean refugees and provide protection for them as required by the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocols, to which China is a party.

"Policy towards North Korean refugees repatriated to China against their will clearly requires more urgent attention," the report concludes.

Entitled "A Prison Without Bars," the USCIRF report by David Hawk updates a previous study, "Thank You Father Kim Il Sung," released in 2005.

In January, Christian support organization Open Doors released its annual World Watch List of the worst religious persecutors, with North Korea topping the list for the sixth consecutive year.

"There is no other country in the world where Christians are being persecuted in such a horrible and relentless way," according to the organization.

SIDEBAR: The 'Cult' of Kim Il Sung

Refugees interviewed in the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom report stressed that Juche, or Kim-Il-Sung-ism, remained the only acceptable ideology in North Korea following Kim Jong Il's succession, although fortune-telling or shamanism had made a comeback in recent years and was tolerated -- even patronized -- by some officials.

Kim Il Sung constructed his "Revolutionary Thought" system in the late 1950s and early 1960s to fill a void created by the repression of other religions. By the mid-1980s, he had extended Juche into an elaborate belief system that deified Kim Il Sung and his family.

Under Kim Jong Il, according to the report, "Absolute reverence for the Kim family continues to be indoctrinated ... through schools, media and the workplace ... disinterest, 'complaints' or 'wrong thoughts' can, in some cases, lead to the imprisonment of up to three generations of one's family."

Propaganda against other religious beliefs is widespread; in fact all citizens are required to attend at least one weekly indoctrination class at their local "Revolutionary Idea Institute" or "Research Room." Portraits of the Kim family must be visible in every home, office, school and public venue, and special committees police this requirement diligently.

All is not well in Kim Il Sung's self-proclaimed paradise, however. Several refugees, including former soldiers and intelligence officers, claimed that support for the ideology is only surface-deep and varies geographically. "There is a remarkable contrast ... between the border and inland areas," one refugee said. "The border area is ruled by capitalism and the inland area is ruled by socialism. Inland people still believe Kim Jong Il is the best."

Interviewees spoke of discontent with the ideology ranging from private to public complaints, lax enforcement and disregard for some requirements.

One stated that, "Living conditions are harsh and studying Juche doesn't give you rice ... Workers like us go to study [propaganda sessions] because we are told to ... In factories, we were told to read several books and quote them during 'Self-Criticism Meetings.' If not insane, who would read these books?"

Another claimed eight out of 10 people in most study sessions had silent complaints, but if anyone complained openly they would "disappear" the following day; he added, "Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il are god ... You have to stand up and say everything's good even though you have nothing to eat."
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« Reply #22 on: April 28, 2008, 02:12:09 PM »

Religion Today Summaries - Apr. 28, 2008
Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

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

    * Evangelicals 'Hijacked' Day of Prayer, Critics Accuse
    * Biblical Scholars Challenge Pelosi's Earth Day 'Scripture' Quote
    * Pastors Accuse Planned Parenthood for 'Genocide' on Blacks
    * Anglican Leader Pleads for Prayers Ahead of Major Meeting

Evangelicals 'Hijacked' Day of Prayer, Critics Accuse

The Christian Post reports that non-Christian critics are accusing evangelicals of taking over the upcoming National Day of Prayer, which they complain excludes other religions. "The National Day of Prayer has been hijacked!" declares Jews on First on its Web site. "What began as President Truman's declaration of a National Prayer Day for all Americans is now excluding and dividing us on religious lines." The 57th annual National Day of Prayer is on May 1 this year. The theme is: "Prayer! America's Strength and Shield," based on Psalm 28:7 Jews on First specifically protests against the application to be a NDoP coordinator: "The volunteers who organize the events... are required to pledge that they will only invite Christian clergy to officiate. The volunteers themselves have to ... make a statement of faith that is very narrowly drawn so that only a conservative evangelical Christian would be comfortable doing it," said Jane Hunter, co-director of Jews on First.

Biblical Scholars Challenge Pelosi's Earth Day 'Scripture' Quote

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is fond of quoting a particular passage of Scripture; however, the quote, which Pelosi used most recently on Earth Day, does not appear in the Bible and is "fictional," according to biblical scholars, CNSNews.com reports. In her April 22 Earth Day news release, Pelosi said, "The Bible tells us in the Old Testament, 'To minister to the needs of God's creation is an act of worship. To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us.'" CNS queried the speaker's office for two days to determine where the alleged Bible quote is found. As of this report, no one had responded. Several biblical scholars doubt the existence of the passage. John J. Collins, the Holmes professor of Old Testament criticism and interpretation at Yale Divinity School, said he is totally unfamiliar with Pelosi's quotation. "(It's) not one that I recognize," Collins told Cybercast News Service. "I assume that she means this is a paraphrase. But it wouldn't be a close paraphrase to anything I know of." Pelosi has mentioned the quote in public several times previously.

Pastors Accuse Planned Parenthood for 'Genocide' on Blacks

According to FOX News, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America has perpetuated a "genocide on the black community," says a group of African-American pastors who claimed Thursday the birth control and abortion provider has had a racist agenda since its beginnings in 1921. During a vigil, the pastors and activists said they were incensed by the results of recent "undercover" inquiries into several Planned Parenthood clinics across the country. "Every day... over 1,500 black babies are murdered inside the black woman's womb," said Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson, of Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny (BOND). "This is a race issue." The pastors urged Congress to initiate an audit of the organization and have written letters demanding that money for Planned Parenthood be eliminated from federal Title X funding, According to a report released by the group of Students for Life America on Tuesday, black women are 4.8 times more likely to have an abortion than white women, while the black population in the U.S. is in decline.

Russia: Visa Changes Leave Religious Communities In Limbo

Recent changes to the visa regime governing foreign religious workers in Russia are hampering the operations of some religious communities, Forum 18 News Service has found. Under an October 2007 government decree, a foreign citizen holding either a business or humanitarian visa - which includes religious work - may now spend only half the period it covers within Russia. "Our priests are really, really suffering from this," one Russian Catholic told Forum 18. Limited to 180 days a year with his parish in Moscow Region, one priest is making the grueling 24-hour commute from his native Poland to lead weekend Masses. Others are spending extended periods outside Russia as their 180 days are already up. With fewer priests to go round, there are no weekday services in some towns, said the Catholic. The visa changes themselves are not to blame, believes Fr. Igor Kovalevsky, secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference in Russia. "The problem is the bureaucracy involved in getting temporary residency or a work permit instead," he told Forum 18 on 21 April. The Catholic Church in Russia is currently trying to obtain temporary residency for the 90 per cent of its clergy - over 200 priests - who are foreign citizens, Fr. Igor told Forum 18.
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« Reply #23 on: April 30, 2008, 12:42:14 PM »

New Barna Research Describes Use of Technology in Churches
Dan Wooding


April 30, 2008

VENTURA, CA -- Protestant churches across the nation are using various forms of emerging technology to influence people's lives and enliven their church experience. But the pace of technology adoption seems to have slowed in the past two years as some churches focus upon making the most of what they already have, and other churches attempt to get by without incorporating such tools into their ministry mix.

This has been revealed in new study from The Barna Group which explored the presence of eight technologies and applications in Protestant churches.

"Those tools included large screens used for showing video imagery; showing movie clips and other video segments during church events; sending email blasts to all or portions of the congregation; operating a church website; offering a blog site or pages for interaction with church leaders; maintaining a page on behalf of the church on one or more social networking sites; providing podcasts for people to listen to; and receiving programming and training via a satellite dish," said a Barna Group news release.

Large Screens and Movie Clips

The release continued, "Two-thirds of Protestant churches (65%) now have a large screen projection system in their church that they use for services and other events. However, that number is barely higher than the 62% identified in Barna's 2005 study. At that time, growth was still evident, given that only 39% of churches had such a system in 2000. Since 2000, there has been a 67% increase in the number of churches using big-screen systems, but only a 5% increase since 2005.

"The presence of a large-screen system is related to the church's size and theology. The smaller a church is, the less likely it is to use such tools. Among churches that average less than 100 adults each week, only half (53%) have such systems. The proportion balloons to 76% among churches that attract an average of 100 to 250 adults, and nearly nine out of ten churches (88%) that draw more than 250 adults each week.

"Similarly, only 43% of churches described by their pastor as possessing "liberal theology" have big screen capabilities, compared to 68% among the churches that say they are theologically conservative."

The Barna research revealed that most of the churches that have a big screen mounted in the church use that monitor to show movie clips or other video segments. Overall, 57% of churches show movie clips or other video segments during their services and events. That represents 88% of the churches that have a big screen in place -- up from 76% of the churches who had big screens in 2000, but a slight decrease from the 99% of churches with large screens who showed such materials in 2005.

"The same pattern emerged regarding the use of movie clips and other video content, in which theologically liberal churches and small congregations were the least likely to use the screens to display such material," said the Barna news release.

Sending E-Mail Blasts


It goes on to say that sending email blasts to large groups of people or to the entire church body is common to a majority of Protestant churches (56%). Surprisingly, however, the prevalence of this practice has not budged since 2005. Small congregations are less likely to send out such blasts (47%) than are churches with 100 or more adults attending during a typical week (66%).

Internet Presence

Barna says that the ways in which churches are reaching out to people over the Internet are expanding. Back in 2000, just one-third of Protestant churches (34%) had a church website. That exploded to 57% in 2005, and has inched upward since then to 62%. About half of the small churches (48% of those drawing less than 100 adults) have a church website, compared to three-quarter of the mid-sized churches (75% of the congregations attracting 100 to 250 adults per week) and nine out of ten larger churches (91% of the churches with more than 250 adults attending).

The research reveals that one out of every four Protestant churches (26%) now has some presence on one or more social networking sites (such as MySpace). Again, church size was a factor in this with larger churches being more than twice as likely to have such a presence (20% vs. 47%). Charismatic churches were notably more likely (38%) than either mainline or evangelical congregations to use such pages in their ministry efforts.

Podcasting has been adopted by one out of every six churches (16%). Again, larger churches stood out in their embrace of this communications tool, with half of the churches attracting more than 250 adults (47%) utilizing podcast technology.

Blogging is also invading the ministry world. One-eighth of Protestant churches (13%) now have blog sites or pages through which people can interact with the thoughts posted by church leaders.

Satellite Dishes

One technology that has not shown any discernible expansion in the past several years is that of satellite broadcasting. In 2000, some 7% of Protestant churches had a satellite dish for receiving programming and training. That number has remained virtually unchanged since then, registering 8% in 2005 and the same 8% in 2007.

Technology Is Here to Stay

The incorporation of digital technologies into church-based ministry is an important frontier for churches to master, according to George Barna, who directed these studies for The Barna Group over the course of the decade.
"The Internet has become one of the pivotal communications and community-building tools of our lifetime. Churches are well-advised to have an intelligent and foresighted Internet strategy in order to facilitate meaningful ministry," Barna commented.

He also noted that small churches are less technology-friendly. "Many small churches seem to believe that new tools for ministry are outside of their budget range or may not be significant for a church of their size. It may be, though, that such thinking contributes to the continued small size of some of those churches."

Barna also addressed the slowing growth of certain tools in the church market. "The fact that market penetration of digital technologies seems to top out around two-thirds of the market could easily change if the digital-resistant churches conceived ways of facilitating their vision through the deployment of such tools. That is what made these tools so appealing to larger churches: being able to apply the tools to furthering their ministry goals."

About the Research

This report is based upon telephone interviews conducted by The Barna Group with a random sample of 605 Senior Pastors of Protestant churches. For comparison, similarly drawn samples of Senior Pastors were interviewed previously, responding to the same survey questions. In the prior studies, 845 Senior Pastors were interviewed in 2005, and 610 Senior Pastors were interviewed in 2000. The maximum margin of sampling error associated with the aggregate sample of 605 pastors spoken to in the most recent survey is ±4.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. Denominational stratification was used to ensure a representative presence of the variety of denominations in the U.S.

The Barna Group, Ltd. (which includes its research division, The Barna Research Group) conducts primary research, produces resources pertaining to spiritual development, and facilitates the healthy spiritual growth of leaders, children, families and Christian ministries. Located in Ventura, California, Barna has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.
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« Reply #24 on: April 30, 2008, 12:45:05 PM »

Religion Today Summaries - Apr. 30, 2008
Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

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

    * World Food Crisis Deepening
    * Former North Korean Agents Tell of Infiltrating Christians
    * Christians in India Concerned about New Anti-Conversion Law
    * Pelosi Says She Heard Disputed Bible Verse from Priest

World Food Crisis Deepening

ASSIST News Service reports that international relief agency World Vision, one of the world's largest humanitarian organizations, is calling on donor governments to increase resources in order to fund the World Food Program's $755 million shortfall. It also urges leaders of the world's leading industrialized nations to make the issue a priority at the upcoming G8 conference. Amid surging food prices, child malnutrition, violent unrest and the prospect of prolonged food shortages, World Vision has announced a potential 1.5 million drop in the number of people receiving its food assistance. The aid organization cites the soaring cost of food and unmet donor-nation aid commitments for a potential 23 percent decrease in the number of people it is able to supply with food aid this year. "Despite our best efforts, more than a million of our beneficiaries are no longer receiving food aid," said Dean Hirsch, president of World Vision International. "At least a third of these are children who urgently need enough healthy food to thrive."

Former North Korean Agents Tell of Infiltrating Christians

Compass Direct News reports that former police and security officers in North Korea told a U.S. government body that their superiors had instructed them to play the role of Christians and infiltrate "underground" prayer meetings in order to incriminate, arrest, imprison and sometimes execute believers in North Korea. Interviewed for a report issued on April 15 by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the six officers were tasked -- before they fled North Korea -- with finding and eliminating small groups of Christians. "There are no preliminary hearings when religious people get caught," one agent said. "[We] regard them as anti-revolutionary elements. When such an offender is caught in North Korea, the NSA officers surround the person and kick and beat the person severely before interrogating." Another agent said, "The most important question asked to the repatriated is whether they have met South Korean missionaries or evangelists or encountered or experienced religion."

Christians in India Concerned about New Anti-Conversion Law

According to Baptist Press, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party in India's Gujarat state has implemented an "anti-conversion" law passed in 2003, increasing fears among Christians that it will open the door to false accusations by Hindu extremists. India's Freedom of Religion Acts, referred to as anti-conversion laws, now have been implemented in five of India's 28 states. The laws seek to curb religious conversions made by "force," "fraud" or "allurement." But Christians and human rights groups say that in reality the laws obstruct conversion generally, as Hindu nationalists invoke them to harass Christian workers with spurious arrests and incarcerations. The rules under the Gujarat law make it obligatory for clergy to obtain prior permission of the district magistrate in order to avoid police action when assisting in an individual's conversion from one religion to another.

Pelosi Says She Heard Disputed Bible Verse from Priest

CNSNews.com reports that the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told Fox News last week that Pelosi heard the disputed Bible "passage" she used in her April 22 Earth Day message from a priest in San Francisco. Brit Hume reported last Thursday on "Special Report with Brit Hume" that Pelosi's office had told Fox News that the Speaker had "heard a priest quote the verse many years ago during a mass in San Francisco." On Thursday, Friday, and again on Monday, however, the Speaker's office did not respond to requests for comment made by Cybercast News Service , which first reported on Wednesday, April 23 that biblical scholars have cast doubt on the authenticity of the passage. In her news release, Pelosi said the quote - 'To minister to the needs of God's creation is an act of worship. To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us' - came from the Old Testament. Biblical scholars told Cybercast News Service that the quote does not appear anywhere in the Old or New Testament. Moreover, they say nothing similar can be found in Scripture.

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« Reply #25 on: May 01, 2008, 10:22:10 AM »

Kazakhstan Considers Restrictive New Religion Law
Jeremy Reynalds


May 1, 2008

LOVES PARK, ILLINOIS -- The lower chamber of Kazakhstan's parliament has passed new legislation that would impose tough new restrictions on foreign missionary activity and evangelical churches.

Kazakhstan is located in Central Asia, northwest of China; a small portion west of the Ural River in eastern-most Europe.

According to a news release from the Slavic Gospel Association (SGA), Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev would have to approve the legislation before it becomes law.

The news release stated that according to Rev. Franz Tissen, president of the Kazakh Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, the bill contains a number of troubling provisions.

It would establish quotas of missionaries allowed in Kazakhstan. It would also forbid unregistered missionary activity by foreign workers who are not representatives of religious organizations.

Tissen said the bill would also prohibit distribution of religious material and informational material with religious content to citizens in public places and in private homes, unless the person receiving the literature initiates the contact and agrees to receive the literature.

Tissen told SGA the bill would also stop the acceptance of financial and other donations by religious organizations from anonymous or foreign citizens and organizations. In addition, he said, it would forbid religious activities, meetings or gatherings with children under the age of 18 without written agreement from both parents or legal guardians.

According to the news release, the proposed bill would also target the activities and registration of religious groups that have only a small number of members. It would sharply restrict the right to publish religious literature, and would also make it more difficult for a small group to obtain their own place for worship, or to preach outside of the group itself.

Tissen said in a news release, "This is an absolute intrusion into the inner lives of believers, and limits us by laws and fines as we work to fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ. I appeal to all believers to join us in fasting and praying for the work of God in Kazakhstan."

SGA president Dr. Robert Provost also said in the news release, "Please make this a matter of urgent, ongoing prayer before the Lord. This is yet another indication that the doors for ministry are, indeed, continuing to close in the former Soviet Union. But our God is sovereign, and He alone can direct the hearts of the rulers of this world."

SGA is an interdenominational mission which has been working in the former Soviet Union since 1934. SGA has served churches in Russia through pastor and layleader training, sponsorship of national church planters and the provision of Christian literature.
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« Reply #26 on: May 01, 2008, 10:24:25 AM »

Religion Today Summaries - May 1, 2008
Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

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

    * Islamic Extremists Kill another Christian in Somalia
    * Protestants in Russia Facing Increased Pressure
    * India: Serious Charges Omitted in Attack on Pastor
    * World's Largest Prayer Meeting Gathers Momentum

Islamic Extremists Kill another Christian in Somalia


ASSIST News Service reports that Islamic extremists in Somalia have shot and killed a Muslim convert to Christianity. According to a news release from the D.C.-based human rights group, International Christian Concern (ICC), the slaying occurred on April 22 in Baidawa. The 29-year-old victim's name was David Abdulwahab Mohamed Ali. ICC filled in some of the horrifying details. On April 22, one of Ali's cousins took two other members of the Islamic extremist group Al-Shabab to Ali and asked him if he was a Muslim or an infidel. He answered, "Neither." They asked, "Then what are you?" He answered, "Waxaan ahay Masiixi," which means, "I am a follower of the Messiah." ICC said that at this point Ali's cousin became both furious and humiliated. In Somalia's strict Muslim society, Ali's conversion to Christianity brought enormous shame on his family. His cousin's first response was to pull out a gun and shoot Ali. The other two extremists did the same, and the three continued shooting Ali until their Muslim "honor" had been avenged.

Protestants in Russia Facing Increased Pressure

Protestants in Russia are facing increased pressure from the Orthodox Church and the state, ASSIST News Service reports. Protestants are frequently labeled and treated as "totalitarian sects." Recent press reports featured incidents in the Russian city of Stary Oskol. Members of the secret service FSB "visited" a small Methodist congregation recently. The church, with approximately 40 members, meets in a private apartment. According to Pastor Vladimir Pachomov an officer predicted that Protestantism in Russia would probably soon come to an end. After the uninvited visit by the FSB the local authorities denied the group state recognition as a religious association. The authorities claimed that the religious activities were only a "facade" for unspecified business transactions. Unofficially, other reasons were mentioned to Pachomov. It was alleged that the Methodist group was under American influence and perceived to be a "foreign element", from which nothing good could be expected. Other reports from Stary Oskol mention that police broke up an Adventist gathering, and Baptists were denied the use of a rented theater.

India: Serious Charges Omitted in Attack on Pastor

Compass Direct News reports that the Hindu nationalist government in Rajasthan state has closed a police investigation into a televised attack on pastor Walter Masih a year ago today after withdrawing the more serious charges against the accused. The state government ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party has refused to sanction prosecution under the more serious charges of the 14 Hindu extremists accused of attacking Pastor Masih with sticks and rods, leaving him bleeding profusely in the state capital, Jaipur. Police had arrested 14 of the 20 alleged attackers in the April 29, 2007 assault and filed a case against them -- but without including any charges related to religion-related offenses, which provide for stricter penal action. Now the government has refused to give sanction for prosecution of more serious charges, weakening the case.

World's Largest Prayer Meeting Gathers Momentum

This Pentecost Sunday, May 11, millions of Christians, from 210 nations around the world will be gathering to worship and pray for God's kingdom to come on earth as part of the fourth Global Day of Prayer. ASSIST News Service reports that, according to www.christiantoday.com, there will be over 38 events across the UK in cathedrals, civic centers, stadiums, high places, parks, churches and houses of prayer. "The Global Day of Prayer started in South Africa in 2005 and is based on Acts 1 and 2 - ten days of constant prayer (May 1-10); 1 day for the whole church to gather (May 11) and 90 days of blessing (May 12--August 10). The aim is to see local churches united in prayer to see communities transformed by the Holy Spirit," said the Christian Today story.
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« Reply #27 on: May 03, 2008, 05:15:55 AM »

Catholic-Muslim Dialogue Improving, Says Muslim Leader
Lois Owen

(CNSNews.com) - During his recent visit to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI attended an Interfaith Gathering at the John Paul II Cultural Institute in Washington, D.C. to speak with members of several faiths, including American Muslim leaders. His goal was to stress the importance of inter-faith communication and, especially, to further the Catholic Church's policy of maintaining good relations with members of Islam.

"The higher goal of inter-religious dialogue requires a clear exposition of our respective religious tenets," the pope told the gathering. "The Holy See, for its part, seeks to carry forward this important work through the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies, and various Pontifical Universities."

The conflict between Catholics and Muslims dates back hundreds of years to the Dark Ages and the Crusades. Interfaith communication was not initiated until 1965 when Pope Paul VI encouraged dialogue between Muslims and Catholics with a statement in his papal document Nostrae Aetate.

"Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding," Paul VI wrote.

Pope John Paul II - born in 1920, served as pope 1978-2005 -- in particular strove to strengthen the Muslim-Catholic dialogue. In 1979, one year after he became pope, he addressed Catholics in Turkey saying, "I wonder if it is not urgent, precisely today when Christians and Muslims have entered a new period of history, to recognize and develop the spiritual bonds that unite us."

Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, national director of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), who led the Muslim delegation attending the event, said the interfaith meeting was "very successful," because it expressed the commitment of both Islamic and Catholic leaders to improve dialogue .

The pope was presented with symbolic gifts from representatives of each of the major religions in attendance at the gathering: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism and Judaism. A representative of American Muslims gave him "a small, finely crafted edition of the Qur'an, in green leather and gold leaf edging."

"These are symbolic gestures where we express our appreciation and our reverence to a leader who represents 1.3 billion Catholics," said Syeed, "but the real progress is made when we are in touch with the Catholic Church here and all over the world ... it has been moving forward for all these years. There have been problems, but since we are determined to carry on, we hope those problems will not distract us."

Pope Benedict closed his address saying, "May the followers of all religions stand together in defending and promoting life and religious freedom everywhere. By giving ourselves generously to this sacred task - through dialogue and countless small acts of love, understanding and compassion - we can be instruments of peace for the whole human family."

The Vatican had agreed in March, after meeting for two days with Muslim scholars from around the world, to establish the "Muslim-Catholic Forum," and to organize the Forum's first seminar in Rome. The theme of the seminar is "Love of God, Love of Neighbor" and will be held Nov. 4-6, 2008, according to a Vatican press release.

The meeting and the subsequent formation of the Muslim-Catholic Forum were arranged in response to an open letter written to Pope Benedict XVI on Oct. 13, 2006 and signed by 138 Muslim scholars from around the world seeking to engage in deeper dialogue with the Catholic Church.

Dr. Syeed said the theme of the upcoming seminar would be a constructive one for both religions. "Love of God, Love of Neighbor' is a main message of Christ, and Christians love it," said Syeed. "Christians believe this is their mission. This is true within Islam as well. ... It's our duty to respect human beings as human beings."

"God has created diversity and we have to respect that diversity," Syeed told Cybercast News Service . "That does not mean that we have to dilute our religions."

Bishop Richard Sklba, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, also had positive expectations for the seminar. He said the theme of the seminar is one that "goes to the core of our Jewish-Catholic-Christian tradition," and that there are "similar dimensions to the ethics that are described and commanded in the Qu'ran, so it's a common element."

While most American-Muslim groups, including the Islamic Center of America, the Fiqh Council of North America, and the Council of American-Islamic Relations welcomed the pope, and were eager to attend the Interfaith Gathering, at least one-the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), chose not to attend.

Edina Lekovic, communications director for MPAC, told Cybercast News Service that the organization chose to decline the invitation "as a matter of principle, not protest."

"Based on a long track record of real substantive interfaith dialogue, we were initially looking forward to this meeting with the pope," said Lekovic, "but when we found out that the meeting itself was going to be more ceremonial than substantive, we had second thoughts."

Lekovic said that many Muslims are concerned about some of the pope's public actions, such as his recent Easter baptism of controversial Italian journalist Magdi Allam who was formerly Muslim, but now denounces Islam as an inherently violent religion.

Still, Lekovic agreed that the "Love of God, Love of Neighbor" seminar is a step in the right direction.

"That's precisely the kind of forum that is needed to regain some kind of trust between the pope and Muslim leaders," she said.
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« Reply #28 on: May 03, 2008, 05:18:27 AM »

Religion Today Summaries - May 2, 2008
Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

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

    * Christians Challenged to Donate One Million Hours of Kindness to U.K.
    * Methodists Reject Changes to Gay Stance
    * Rabbis Want Boycott of Bible Quiz Due to Messianic Jew Participant
    * Wheaton College Fires Professor over Divorce

Christians Challenged to Donate One Million Hours of Kindness to U.K.

ASSIST News Service reports that Christians in Great Britain are being challenged to donate one million hours of kindness in practical ways to their neighbors. Hope08, the nationwide year of grassroots mission, has set the challenge to Christians to give a million hours of kindness to the UK this May bank holiday (Monday, May 26), according to Anne Thomas, writing for www.Christiantoday.com. Thomas says that Christians and churches of all denominations and traditions will come together throughout the day to undertake a practical action that meets a particular need within the local community. Mike Pilavachi, the Soul Survivor chief who founded Hope08 together with The Message Trust's Andy Hawthorne and head of Youth for Christ Roy Crowne, encouraged Christians to demonstrate God's love through their actions. "The million hours of kindness is a million hours of worship -- it's as much an expression of love for God as it is an expression of his love for others," he said.

Methodists Reject Changes to Gay Stance

The Christian Post reports that United Methodists, following a lengthy debate, voted Wednesday to reject changes to their constitution that would have liberalized the church's stance on homosexuality. Delegates to the 2008 General Conference voted against a proposed "majority report" which would have acknowledged that members of the United Methodist Church "deeply disagree with one another" on the issue of homosexuality. Frederick Brewington, a layman in the New York Annual Conference, said such an acknowledgment would have been a "mature way forward" and "an honest, yet humble approach to how we are to view one another." The petition for changes would have also deleted the current statement in UMC's Book of Discipline that describes homosexual practice as "incompatible with Christian teaching" and bans noncelibate gay pastors. The Rev. Eddie Fox argued that any United Methodist statement on human sexuality needs to be "clear, concise and faithful to biblical teaching," and deleting the incompatibility statement would be confusing.

Rabbis Want Boycott of Bible Quiz Due to Messianic Jew Participant

CNSNews.com reports that a group of rabbis is calling for a boycott of Israel's International Bible Quiz because one of the finalists is a Messianic Jew, the Jerusalem Post reported. The annual Bible Quiz, held each year on Independence Day, tests the knowledge of Jewish youth from around the world. Rabbi Shlomo Aviner, one of the rabbis calling for the boycott, accused Messianic Jews of proselytizing in "very sophisticated ways." Aviner was quoted as saying that it is forbidden to give "legitimacy" to Messianic Jews by allowing their participation in the quiz. Bat-El Levi, an 11th grader from the Jerusalem area, is one of four finalists from Israel and is a Messianic Jew. Calev Myers, founder and chief counsel of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, a group that represents Messianic Jews, wondered why the rabbis should have a problem with a young woman who can quote the Bible.

Wheaton College Fires Professor over Divorce

According to an ABC News report, Wheaton College students and professors all sign a "covenant" pledging to lead their lives in accordance with biblical teaching. Now, Kent Gramm, a popular English professor for 20 years, will be leaving the Illinois school because he got a divorce. News of his impending departure has led to a campuswide debate over whether divorce should be grounds for dismissal. "This has just been really tough on my family and I'm no longer going to speak about it," Gramm said. The school has employed divorced professors, but they've had to explain the reason for their divorce to determine if it's allowable under New Testament tenets; Gramm declined to do so. "I think it's wrong to have to discuss your personal life with your employer," he told the Chicago Tribune, "and I also don't want to be in a position of accusing my spouse, so I declined to appeal or discuss the matter in any way with my employer."

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« Reply #29 on: May 05, 2008, 11:01:27 AM »

UK Muslims Launch Body to Promote Secular Democracy
Kevin McCandless

London (CNSNews.com) - It's time for the "silent majority" of British Muslims to be heard over the noise made by religious extremists, speakers launching a new community organization in Britain said on Thursday.

A small group of radicals had hijacked the image of British Muslims, activists said at the launch of British Muslims for Secular Democracy (BMSD).

Nasreen Rehman, a playwright and writer who is one of the group's founders, said that she was tired of non-Muslims wondering why she wasn't veiled, or why she was a working woman who hadn't gone through an arranged marriage and who was, in fact, divorced.

Growing up in Pakistan in the 1950s, she said, she had experienced a degree of freedom that might be unthinkable today, with a father who treated her as an equal.

Rehman said Pakistan had been radicalized, in part, because of the campaign by the U.S.-supported mujahedeen fighters against the Soviet occupation of neighboring Afghanistan in the 1980s.

In Britain, she argued, people have a distorted picture of British Muslims partly because militants and their activities make "good copy" for the media. Muslims account for roughly 1.6 million of the 58 million total population.

Rehman said a turning point had come for her in 2005, when a British teenager sued her local school authority for the right to wear a jilbab, a dress that exposes only the face and hands and which the teen claimed her religion compelled her to wear.

Rehman said the outfit had no basis in Islamic tradition."All Muslims knew there was no such thing as Islamic dress," she said. "I had sleepless night thinking about my daughters," and the effect such radicalization may have of their future.

The BMSD plans in the months ahead to promote the view that most British Muslims embrace democracy, while addressing the influence of religious radicalism.

Inayat Bunglawala, a political commentator who is also assistant secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said Thursday that only a "tiny fringe of activists" in the Muslim community wanted to see secular democracy.

The BMSD launch came just days after another organization was formed with similar goals.

Launched at a London press conference, the Quilliam Foundation said its aim was to combat the influence of extreme Islamist ideology.

Leaders of the new think tank are mostly former members of the British chapter of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an organization that promotes the creation of a caliphate, uniting Muslims around the world under Islamic law. They say their experience in the group equips them to argue effectively against extremist ideology.

Hizb ut-Tahrir declined to comment this week on the new organization's launch.

Hizb ut-Tahrir is currently publicizing a mobilization campaign in Britain called "Stand For Islam," aimed at challenging what spokesman Taji Mustafa called "the vicious media and political onslaught against Islam and Muslims."

Mustafa said in a statement it was time to question the capitalist system and liberal western values associated with it.

"Our campaign will show the sublime values of Islam and the ability of the Islamic system to solve modern problems," he said. "The Muslim world is crying out for Islam."
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