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« Reply #45 on: May 16, 2008, 02:42:02 PM »

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

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

    * China Aid's Fu Criticizes Franklin Graham's Remarks on Evangelism During the Olympics
    * California High Court Legalizes 'Gay Marriage'
    * Vatican: It's OK to Believe in Aliens
    * Bread for the World Urges Christians to Respond to Hunger Crisis

China Aid's Fu Criticizes Franklin Graham's Remarks on Evangelism During the Olympics

On his recent visit to China, Franklin Graham stated that Christians should not evangelize during the Olympic Games as it is against the law in that country. ASSIST News Service reports that Graham made his controversial remarks as he recently talked to reporters in China while visiting communist officials. The Chinese government has stated that evangelism will not be tolerated during the Olympics. The underground church thinks differently, according to one ministry leader. "It is a matter of who heads the church and it is certainly not the government," says Bob Fu, China Aid Association president in an interview with OneNewsNow. He believes the underground church welcomes evangelistic efforts. In response to Mr. Graham's "offensive and inappropriate comments" concerning his opposition to evangelism during the Beijing Olympic Games, Fu stated: "The Chinese Christians are law-abiding, patriotic citizens, but when an unjust law demands them to go against their faith and Jesus' teaching of the Great Commission, they can not and will not succeed to a 'faith moratorium' in order to please an atheistic government during the Olympic Games, even if that means enduring imprisonment and torture. Mr. Graham's comment is a deep offense to hundreds of House Church prisoners and their family members."

California High Court Legalizes 'Gay Marriage'

Baptist Press reports that the California Supreme Court Thursday issued a landmark decision, ordering the state to legalize "gay marriage," making it the second state in the nation to recognize "marriages" between homosexual couples. The decision sets up a dramatic political and cultural battle in November, when a constitutional marriage amendment that would protect the natural definition of marriage -- and reverse the court's ruling -- is expected to be on the ballot. The 4-3 ruling comes more than three years after Massachusetts' highest court also struck down that state's marriage laws. But the California ruling -- coming in the nation's most populous states -- easily is the biggest win yet for homosexual activists.

Vatican: It's OK to Believe in Aliens

According to an Associated Press report, "believing that the universe may contain alien life does not contradict a faith in God, the Vatican's chief astronomer said in an interview published Tuesday. The Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, was quoted as saying the vastness of the universe means it is possible there could be other forms of life outside Earth, even intelligent ones. 'How can we rule out that life may have developed elsewhere?' Funes said. 'Just as we consider earthly creatures as "a brother," and "sister," why should we not talk about an "extraterrestrial brother"? It would still be part of creation.' In the interview by the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, Funes said that such a notion 'doesn't contradict our faith' because aliens would still be God's creatures."

Bread for the World Urges Christians to Respond to Hunger Crisis

ASSIST News Service reports that Bread for the World has called on people of faith everywhere to respond to the growing hunger crisis all over the world. The organization is asking that people add their voices to the Recipe for Hope campaign which runs May 11 through June 15. "Of course the crisis cannot be solved within six weeks, but we want people of faith to know that they can make a difference by taking a series of simple but critical actions to end hunger now," said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. "Together we can turn the recipe for despair into a recipe for hope for thousands of mothers and fathers struggling to feed their families." The campaign is being conducted against the backdrop of a global hunger crisis that is fueled by rising food prices. Global food costs have nearly doubled in the last three years, with largest spikes for basic grains like rice, wheat, and corn. Bread for the World said the World Bank estimates that as many as 100 million people will this year join the ranks of 854 million poor and hungry people who currently do not have enough to eat each day.

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« Reply #46 on: May 19, 2008, 11:02:46 PM »

Algeria Detains Christians Leaving Prayer Meeting
Peter Lamprecht

May 19, 2008

Protestants charged with distributing literature to "shake the faith of Muslims."

ISTANBUL -- Algerian authorities have charged six Christians with distributing illegal religious material after detaining them as they left a prayer meeting in a western city last week.

The Protestants were charged with "distributing documents to shake the faith of Muslims," according to a written court summons issued Saturday (May 10) prior to the men's release in Tiaret city. Their first hearing is scheduled for May 27.

During the detainees' overnight stay at a local police station, officers repeatedly threatened them for converting from Islam to Christianity, one of the Christians said.

"They said we were accomplices and the spies of the Jews, thus we deserve to have our throats cut without pity," said Djillali Saibi.

Though the court summons did not specify which law the men had violated, the charge quotes a February 2006 law, Ordinance 06-03, internationally criticized for restricting religious freedom. Algerian police and provincial governments have cited Ordinance 06-03 to justify a number of arrests and church closures in recent months.

At least 10 Protestants living in or visiting Tiaret have been detained or convicted since February. Approximately half the country's Protestant congregations have been ordered to close.

Citing security concerns, police ordered the predominantly Arab Muslim city's small group of Muslim converts to Christianity to discontinue meeting in members' homes last December.

Officials said that a bomb had been planted in one of the Christians' houses, though local church members claimed that the bomb threat was just an excuse by police to push them out. Ordinance 06-03 requires church services to be held in government-sanctioned buildings.

Tiaret Christians said they have continued meeting in small numbers for prayer. It was following one such gathering that police detained worshippers last Friday afternoon (May 9).

Saibi said the men had been poorly treated and were refused the chance to telephone their family members, a right guaranteed under Algerian law. In addition to threats from local police, he said that the public prosecutor insulted them the following day when they met with him to be charged.

"He asked us why we left [Islam], whether it was for money, and what price they paid for us," Saibi said.

New Law Questioned

Algeria has recently come under increasing international pressure to repeal the February 2006 law used to justify church closures and the arrest of Christians.

French Interior Minister Michel Alliot-Marie raised the situation of the country's Christians with officials during a visit to Algeria this month, daily el-Khabar reported.

"She inquired about the veracity of media reports saying Christians in Algeria are subject to persecution," Religious Affairs Minister Bu'Abdallah Ghoulamullah told the paper.

Ghoulamullah denied the reports, claiming that Christians and Muslims were treated equally under the law, according to the May 7 article.

"I've explained to the French minister that [just as] we do not allow to open a prayer rooms for Muslims in firms or houses, we, naturally, do the same with Christians."

Ghoulamullah did not publicly address the specific article in Ordinance 06-03 under which the six Christians in Tiaret were apparently charged last week.

Article 11 calls for up to five years imprisonment and a 1 million dinar (US$16,126) fine for anyone who attempts to convert a Muslim to another religion, or who "makes, stores or distributes" materials for this purpose.

Last week a Protestant woman charged with "practicing non-Muslim religious rites without license," had her May 7 hearing in Tiaret postponed until next Tuesday (May 20).

She was initially detained for 24 hours in March after police found six personal books on Christianity in her bag during a routine check on a public bus.
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« Reply #47 on: May 19, 2008, 11:04:47 PM »

Religion Today Summaries - May 19, 2008
Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

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

    * Environmental Campaign Launches with Goal to be Biblical, Factual
    * Vietnam Officials Confiscate Home of Evangelist
    * Nationwide Prayer Campaign for Foster Care Starts Today
    * Churched High Schoolers Finding it Harder to Maintain Faith in College

Environmental Campaign Launches with Goal to be Biblical, Factual

Through a new "We Get It!" campaign, the Southern Baptist Convention's ethics entity is partnering with other organizations to demonstrate that evangelical Christians support what they describe as a more biblical, fact-based approach to global warming, Baptist Press reports. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) was among the supporting organizations introduced at a May 15 news conference in Washington to unveil the campaign -- an effort to gain the endorsement of a million evangelicals to a brief document that espouses biblical responsibility for the environment and the poor. The effort, spearheaded by the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, serves as a further response to the efforts of the Evangelical Climate Initiative. ECI contends that human beings are the primary cause of global warming, which it says will have the greatest impact on those in poverty. The declaration may be found online at www.wegetit.org.

Vietnam Officials Confiscate Home of Evangelist

Local officials in Lao Cai province have confiscated the land and home of a former opium addict because of his phenomenal success as an evangelist, local Christian sources said. Sua Yinh Siong of Lau Chai village had long been a desperate opium addict, leading to destitution for him and his family. In 2004, after becoming a Christian, Siong broke from his addiction and his animistic past, taking down paraphernalia for ancestor worship and other spirit-related articles and burning them. His joy over his liberation soon spread to others, and eventually more than 200 families also decided to follow Christ, Compass Direct News reports. Earlier this month, Siong told other Christian leaders that government harassment had reached a crisis point -- in April local and provincial officials had confiscated his land, citing "illegal religious activities." In the first few days of this month, Siong said, officials evicted him from his home and threatened to destroy it.

Nationwide Prayer Campaign for Foster Care Starts Today


The National Foster Care Prayer Vigil kicks off today, Monday, May 19, and continues through Sunday, May 25. There are vigils scheduled in at least 90 cities throughout the U.S. During the weeklong event, Christians will gather in cities across the nation to pray for the children and adults involved in the U.S. foster care system. Children come into the foster care system for various reasons, including neglect, abuse, abandonment and substance abuse by their primary caretakers. The ministries and churches involved recognize that not only do the children themselves need prayer, but so do the adults in their lives - their birth families, their foster families, their social workers and other child welfare professionals involved in the system. "Knowing that churches are praying for our workers, children and families gives me HOPE!" says Sharen Ford, Manager of the Permanency Unit for the Colorado Department of Human Services. "Every day workers make life and death decisions that impact the lives of children and their families. Our workers want to make the right decision at the right 'moment.'"

Churched High Schoolers Finding it Harder to Maintain Faith in College

ASSIST News Service reports that the faith disconnect that occurs when Christian high school students make the transition to college or career (Lifeway Research's survey from August 2007 shows the dropout rate at 70 percent) is not necessarily something that students plan. The problem is usually that students do not have a mature faith that they will continue to nurture when they are away from the influence of their parents. "There is a lot of relational decision making among that age group," says Jim Lundgren, InterVarsity's senior vice president and director of Collegiate Ministries. So that means the activities of peers, friends, and dorm-mates are usually the kinds of activities incoming freshmen end up getting involved with. "Researchers have found that there's not a whole lot of difference between lifestyles of Christians and non-Christians in that age group or in their actual operating beliefs," he added. The faith dropout rate is a challenge to InterVarsity and other campus ministries. But it's also a challenge to the church and its youth ministries, and every parent with teenagers. Responding directly to the challenge is a new coalition called the Youth Transition Network (YTN), which includes InterVarsity, plus many other Christian organizations and denominations. The goal of YTN is to help students make the transition to adulthood with the students' faith in God intact.

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« Reply #48 on: May 20, 2008, 03:49:20 PM »

Burma's Neighbors Meet, Look for Ways to Overcome Aid Hurdles
Patrick Goodenough

(CNSNews.com) - More than two weeks after a massive cyclone hit Burma, foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are finally meeting on Monday to discuss how they can help the country respond to the disaster.

The meeting in Singapore comes amid ongoing international frustration about the restrictions placed by Burma's military junta on outside aid efforts since the storm hit on May 3. The official death toll is nearly 78,000, with an estimated 56,000 people missing.

Western governments have accused the regime of exacerbating the crisis by limiting aid and blocking the entry of foreign disaster response experts. Humanitarian agencies warn that many more people - including tens of thousands of children - may yet die without food, medicine and shelter.

ASEAN, which groups the region's 10 countries, has taken flak from the West for years for its reluctance to tackle the junta over human rights violations and failure to restore civilian rule.

That reluctance is based on ASEAN's fundamental principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states. Burma joined the 40-year-old bloc in 1997.

Burmese foreign minister Nyan Win is attending the ASEAN meeting, and some of the regional governments have voiced hope that the junta may be more amenable to a substantial Asian-led relief effort than one carried out by Western nations that are among the general's harshest critics.

France's ambassador to the U.N., Jean-Maurice Ripert, warned Friday that the junta's stance on outside aid "could lead to a true crime against humanity."

American and French navy ships are in the area, ready to provide food, water, supplies and medical assistance to the worst-hit Irrawaddy River delta, but Burma has not given permission for them to do so.

After some delays, the government did approve U.S. aid flights into the country, and by the weekend, more than 20 C-130 flights had landed in Rangoon with emergency supplies.

However, a U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Disaster Assistance Response Team continues to coordinating the effort from Thailand, having been denied approval to enter Burma, according to the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok.

Ahead of the meeting in Singapore, the Asian Human Rights Commission urged the ASEAN ministers to press the junta to open the doors to outside experts and relief workers and aid supplies, to ensure the provision of aid without discrimination or political considerations, and to allow independent monitoring of the aid effort.

Meanwhile, after having phone calls and written appeals to Burma's military rulers ignored for two weeks, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will on Wednesday be allowed to visit the country.

In another small shift, reclusive junta leader Than Shwe at the weekend made his first public appearance since the cyclone struck. State media showed him touring some of the affected areas near Rangoon, Burma's biggest city and former capital.

The cyclone is the worst natural disaster to hit the region since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that killed more than 220,000 people in a number of countries, with Indonesia hardest hit. On that occasion, the U.S. military played a key role in the relief efforts.

Burma's partners in ASEAN are Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei.
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« Reply #49 on: May 20, 2008, 03:51:33 PM »

Religion Today Summaries - May 20, 2008
Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

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

    * Iraq to Execute al Qaeda Leader in Murder of Bishop
    * Prestonwood Minister Arrested in Sex Sting
    * Willow Creek Undergoes 'Huge Shift' away from Seeker Sensitivity
    * Worker Wins Case against Charity Accused of Only Hiring Christians

Iraq to Execute al Qaeda Leader in Murder of Bishop

ASSIST News Service reports that a leader of al Qaeda in Iraq has been sentenced to death for the killing of Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, whose murder in March drew worldwide condemnation. According to a Reuters story, the Iraqi Central Criminal Court imposed the death sentence on Ahmed Ali Ahmed. He is known as Abu Omar, Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement. Reuters reported that Rahho, the archbishop of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, was abducted on Feb. 29 after gunmen attacked his car and killed his driver and two guards. His body was found in a shallow grave two weeks later. At the time, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki blamed al Qaeda and vowed to bring the bishop's killers to justice. Reuters said his Shi'ite Muslim-led government has been accused by members of Iraq's shrinking Christian minority of not doing enough to protect them from violent persecution.

Prestonwood Minister Arrested in Sex Sting

Baptist Press reports that a minister from Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church has been arrested in a sting operation for soliciting sex with a minor. Joe Barron, 52, a minister to married adults, was arrested May 15 in Bryan, Texas. Barron had made a three-hour drive to Bryan to have sex with a girl he thought was 13 but, instead, was a police officer he had been chatting with online in a sting operation. Prestonwood's pastor, Jack Graham, said in comments to the congregation May 18, "Our church has experienced a heartbreaking and tragic week. We are appalled by the disgraceful actions and subsequent arrest of one of our ministers. I am so sorry for the injury this grievous situation has caused. We have requested and received the resignation of Joe Barron effective immediately. He is no longer a member of the Prestonwood staff." Graham said. "We work very hard to earn your trust and maintain the testimony of our congregation in the community. You can be sure we always make every effort to provide a staff of godly integrity and devotion. I am confident that our ministers are of the highest character and are faithfully fulfilling their calling with accountability." Barron had been on Prestonwood's staff for 18 months.

Willow Creek Undergoes 'Huge Shift' away from Seeker Sensitivity

According to a Christianity Today story, Willow Creek Community Church, after modeling a seeker-sensitive approach to church growth for three decades, now plans to gear its services toward mature believers seeking to grow in their faith. Since 1975, Willow Creek has avoided conventional church approaches, attempting to reach the unchurched through polished music, multimedia, and sermons referencing popular culture. Last summer, executive pastor Greg Hawkins co-authored a book titled, Reveal: Where Are You?, which detailed much of Willow Creek's four-year research effort into whether the church's model had been effective or not. Hawkins declined CT's interview request, and senior pastor Bill Hybels was unavailable for comment. Greg Pritchard, author of Willow Creek Seeker Services, told CT the church "sporadically has recognized it was not teaching a robust enough biblical theology and needed to turn the ship around. It is a huge shift."

Worker Wins Case against Charity Accused of Only Hiring Christians

ASSIST News Service reports that a manager who resigned from a British charity in protest about its new alleged "Christian-only" recruitment policy has won a discrimination case he filed against the group. According to a BBC News report, Mark Sheridan, 56, a self-described "former Christian" from Conwy, North Wales left Prospects, after eight years of employment, in Jan. 2006. The charity works with adults with learning disabilities. The BBC reported Sheridan said, "I am really very pleased with this result. When I worked for Prospects, I felt that what they were doing was wrong. Winning this case now justifies my claim." The BBC said that Prospects declined to comment. The BBC reported Sheridan told the employment tribunal that workers were expected to promote a Christian philosophy. Sheridan resigned twice in four months, the BBC report said, withdrawing his resignation the first time before finally resigning in Jan. 2006. But the tribunal in Conwy heard he did not mention his reasons for leaving in his resignation letter.

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« Reply #50 on: May 22, 2008, 02:09:04 AM »

Christians Grapple With Opportunities Offered by Olympics
Patrick Goodenough


(CNSNews.com) - Many Christians view the Beijing Olympics as an unprecedented opportunity for outreach in a country whose communist authorities still tightly restrict religious freedom. But a prominent American evangelist's warning about illegal activity has exposed differences over how the sensitive issue should be tackled.

Visiting China earlier this month, the Rev. Franklin Graham preached to some 12,000 people at what was reportedly the biggest gathering ever held at China's largest church.

According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association -- an organization founded by the Rev. Billy Graham and now run by son Franklin -- around 1,250 people attending the service at the Chong-Yi Church in Hangzhou responded to an invitation to become followers of Jesus Christ.

Senior pastor Joseph Gu was quoted as saying those who responded had been given Bibles and would be offered an eight-week course in the basics of the Christian faith.

During his visit, Graham also spoke at the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, where he described the students as "full of life and eager to spread the Gospel."

Graham said afterwards that China was "much more open to the Gospel" than he had anticipated. Having been able to preach openly gave him "great hope for religious expression in China."

Yet despite the reported achievements, Graham's visit attracted controversy after he was quoted as telling reporters in Beijing that he would not support "illegal" missionary activity during the Olympics. The comment has drawn sharp responses from some Christian campaigners for religious freedom.

The sparring over Olympic evangelism is part of a debate that has simmered for years about how Christians should approach China: Millions of Chinese are members of state-sanctioned "patriotic" Protestant and Catholic organizations, but many more practice their faith outside the authorized structures. Some 50 million Bibles have been printed with government approval, but some campaigners argue that far more are needed, along with study guides and other literature.

Both the Chong-Yi Church and the Nanjing seminary visited by Graham belong to the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM), a body established by the government in 1950 to manage Protestant Christianity. (The three "selfs" are the goals of "self-governance, self-support and self-propagation," intended to highlight a shunning of foreign influences.)

The TPSM claims a membership of around 18 million (a parallel "patriotic" Catholic association - loyal to Beijing, not to Rome - claims another five million.) But some Christian organizations working in China estimate that possibly as many as 100 million believers worship in illegal "house churches," whose pastors and members are frequently subjected to harassment and arrest.

'Flood China with Bibles'

Bob Fu of the Texas-based China Aid Association, which campaigns on behalf of house-church believers, called Graham's comments on the Olympics inappropriate and offensive to hundreds of imprisoned house-church members and their families.

Fu, who as a house-church pastor himself faced detention and harassment before he and his wife moved as refugees to the U.S. in 1996, said in a statement Chinese Christians would not abide by a "faith moratorium" to please the government during the Olympics.

Chinese law was "unjust" in that it demanded that Christians to go against Jesus' "great commission" instruction to his disciples to spread the good news.

A number of Christian organizations hope to use the Olympics as an active opportunity for evangelism.

Open Doors U.S.A. is offering anyone planning to visit China over that period evangelical material specially designed for use during the event.

"We feel like evangelism during the Olympic Games will be a tremendous opportunity," Open Doors President Carl Moeller told Mission Network News. "The Gospel has always been preached in places where governments did not want it preached."

In its reaction to Graham's remarks, a Wisconsin-based Christian ministry focusing on track and field athletes, 4 Winds, said it believed that Christians should witness during the Olympics.

"Christians should use caution and do as God leads," said the group's president, Steve McConkey, a former U.S.A. National Track and Field Club Coach.
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« Reply #51 on: May 22, 2008, 02:11:15 AM »

Christians Grapple With Opportunities Offered by Olympics
Patrick Goodenough

Athletes selected for the games should concentrate on their performances, he said, but afterwards, "win or lose, athletes are encouraged to share their faith through the media as they normally do every year."

The organization says it has also been collecting testimonies of faith from athletes who are Olympic hopefuls, for the underground church in China to use.

Christian Freedom International president Jim Jacobson said his organization has smuggled many Bibles into China over the years, and that he was himself blacklisted after being caught in Beijing with a load of Bibles.

"Our coworkers on the front lines tell us now is the time to flood China with Bibles," he said. "This would send a powerful message to China's leaders that the Word of God cannot be suppressed despite their best efforts."

John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, a conservative civil liberties organization, had strong words for Graham, saying his comments "compromise the Christian faith."

"The activities of Christ were considered illegal, but that didn't stop Him," he said. "Jesus could have avoided the cross, but God's Word was too important to compromise. The activities of Paul were considered illegal, but he refused to be put off. He suffered beatings and spent much time in jail because he saw the Gospel of Christ as too important to be silenced. And the Apostle Peter was very clear that we should obey God, rather than men."

Whitehead said that any law restricting the Gospel is void and of no effect. He expressed concern that statements like Graham's may "actually give the Chinese government the impetus to continue its persecution of Chinese Christians."

"Until evangelical Christians decide that the faith should be proclaimed loudly and boldly with compassion, no matter where they may be, the moral morass of the world will only get worse," he said.

Invited to elaborate on Graham's comments in Beijing, his media office provided a statement in which the evangelist said that he supported "Christian groups that want to do ministry in China during the Olympics."

"However, I believe we must be sensitive to and respectful of the local church and the impact we as outsiders could have on them. We are guests in China and anything we do or say has a lasting effect on Chinese Christians that will be there long after the Olympics when we are gone," Graham said.

"If we intentionally or inadvertently engage in any illegal activity we could jeopardize the well being of these Christians and the church in China."

'Country of concern'

Differences among Western Christians over China are not new. In 2005, U.S. evangelist Luis Palau during a visit caused a stir by giving an optimistic assessment of the religious freedom situation and suggesting that underground Christians should register with the state-sanctioned church bodies. He later relented.

Christian organizations also disagree over the need to take Bibles into China from outside.

The Chinese government claims that under new regulations introduced in 2005 religious freedom is upheld and religious activities take place "free from interference."

Yet Open Doors this year put China at No. 10 on its annual watch list of countries most hostile to Christians, up from No. 12 in 2007.

China also is one of eight nations blacklisted by the U.S. State Department as "countries of particular concern" for serious religious freedom violations. (The others are Burma, North Korea, Iran, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan and Eritrea.)

In its most recent annual report on international religious freedom, the State Department said China's "respect for freedom of religion remained poor, especially for religious groups and spiritual movements that are not registered with the government." Those facing crackdowns, it says, include unauthorized Protestants and Catholics, Tibetan Buddhists, Uighur Muslims and adherents of the Falun Gong meditation movement, which Beijing regards as a cult.

An international group of religious freedom organizations meeting in Zurich earlier this year issued a statement that acknowledged "t he advances in religious freedom in China during the past four decades."

At the same time, the Religious Liberty Partnership called on Christians worldwide "to respond to the call of Chinese church leaders for prayer for full freedom to manifest their faith in China, the release of unjustly imprisoned Chinese Christians, and an end to discrimination and persecution of religious believers.""
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« Reply #52 on: May 22, 2008, 02:13:41 AM »

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

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

    * Mourning Period Declared for Cyclone Victims; Hopes Rise for Open Door
    * 'Disaster Fatigue' Leads to Drop in Giving
    * Assault on Religious Freedom Seen in Michigan Contraception Mandate
    * Rescue of Girls in Nigeria Ignites Islamic Rampage

Mourning Period Declared for Cyclone Victims; Hopes Rise for Open Door

Mission Network News reports that Myanmar has declared a three-day mourning period starting Monday for its cyclone victims. Fearing starvation and disease, the government has now tentatively agreed to accept aid from other Southeast Asian nations. Some reports indicate Myanmar is even seeking medics. Global Aid Network (GAiN-USA)'s Charles Debter says, "We are working with Burmese locals who are medical professionals, who are able to go in. And yet we are working with officials in the country with the Ministry of Health to gain permission--and that's a prayer request, that that might come about." To meet the immediate physical emergency, Debter says GAiN-USA sent six truckloads of food and water filters into the country for distribution. "By training the local believers to reach out with care, we are able to demonstrate the love of God through providing tangible help and spiritual hope among those that survived."

'Disaster Fatigue' Leads to Drop in Giving


The Christian Post reports that a condition charities know as "donor fatigue" - but which might be more accurately described as disaster fatigue -- is one reason Americans have contributed relatively little so far to victims of the Myanmar cyclone and China's earthquake. Even sympathetic souls often turn away as death tolls continue to rise and situations grow dire. When tragedy seems never-ending, givers may become overwhelmed. "Hearing about too many disasters makes some people not give at all, when they would have if it had been just one disaster," says Michal Ann Strahilevitz, who teaches marketing at Golden Gate University. Compared with the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, China and Myanmar have generated just a trickle of aid. However, other factors, including a lack of sympathy for the repressive governments involved, doubts about whether aid will get through, and an inclination to save money because of shaky economic times, may also drive down American contributions.

Assault on Religious Freedom Seen in Michigan Contraception Mandate

Proposed legislation in Michigan that would require employers who provide prescription drug coverage to pay for contraception is "a direct assault upon the religious freedom rights" of Catholic and other religious employers, said Paul A. Long, vice president for public policy of the Michigan Catholic Conference, Catholic News Service reports. Long testified May 14 before the state Senate Health Policy Committee about Senate Bills 41 and 42. "This legislation would impose a mandate upon Catholic religious institutions to provide contraceptive insurance coverage, coercing essential ministries of the Catholic Church under the color of law to act contrary to one of the church's most profound religious teachings on matters of morality and social justice," Long said. "If this legislation were to pass, it is difficult to imagine any limit upon the state's ability to require religious institutions to violate the principal tenets of their religious beliefs," he added.

Rescue of Girls in Nigeria Ignites Islamic Rampage

Compass Direct News reports that Islamists under the auspices of a paramilitary force last week destroyed six churches to protest a police rescue of two teenage Christian girls kidnapped by Muslims in Bauchi state. Police recovered the two Christian girls, Mary Chikwodi Okoye, 15, and Uche Edward, 14, on May 12 after Muslims in Ningi kidnapped them three weeks ago in an attempt to expand Islam by marrying them to Muslim men. Police took the two girls, who had been under foster care, to safety in southeastern Nigeria where their biological parents live. Following the rescue of the girls, Muslims under the Hisbah Command, a paramilitary arm of Kano state's Sharia Commission, went on a rampage on Tuesday, May 13, attacking Christians and setting fire to the churches. Joseph Abdu, pastor of the Deeper Life church, told Compass that damages to his church property amounted to about 13 million naira (US$112,857) -- and that his congregation had shrunk to 40 people from the 130 who attended before the attack.

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« Reply #53 on: May 22, 2008, 10:38:38 AM »

Iraq: Church Opposes Executing Alleged Killer of Bishop
Compass Direct News

May 22, 2008

Government says al-Qaeda in Iraq leader behind Mosul clergyman's death.

ISTANBUL -- Iraqi church leaders have spoken out against the death sentence given to the alleged murderer of a Chaldean bishop kidnapped in northern Iraq in March.

The Iraqi Central Criminal Court sentenced al-Qaeda in Iraq member Ahmed Ali Ahmed for killing Mosul's Chaldean archbishop, a government spokesperson said on Sunday (May 18 ).

Archbishop Paulus Faraj Rahho's corpse was found in a shallow grave in Mosul on March 13 after gunmen snatched him from his car two weeks prior near the city's Holy Spirit parish.

Speaking from Baghdad, Auxiliary Bishop Shlemon Warduni said that Ahmed should be punished for his crime but that executing him would be pointless.

"If somebody is killed I think there is no use in it for the Iraqi people," the Chaldean church leader said. "Our principles are love and pardon and reconciliation."

Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk Louis Sako openly condemned the sentence.

"We are not satisfied with this decision, because the church is against the death penalty," he told Agence France-Presse yesterday.

Government spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh said Sunday that Ahmed, also known as Abu Omar, was wanted for a number "terror crimes against the people of Iraq," Reuters reported. Al-Dabbagh did not reveal the date of the execution.

Details surrounding Archbishop Rahho's death remain uncertain, church leaders said. "All that we know is from television," Warduni told Compass today. "We heard that they have captured somebody who has killed [Rahho]. But first of all, Rahho was not killed."

Morgue officials reported that Rahho's body showed no signs of being shot, according to both Iraqi Christian leaders and The Associated Press. The autopsy showed that the Christian leader had died between five and seven days prior to the discovery of his body on March 13.

Rahho, 65, had been taking a number of medications for a heart condition but did not have them with him when he was kidnapped. In the wake of the archbishop's death, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki had publicly vowed to find Rahho's kidnappers.

Christian leaders told Compass that the abduction appeared to be a deliberate attempt to drive Christians out of Mosul rather than a bid for financial gain. During negotiations for the archbishop's release, the kidnappers made extravagant demands for arms support from the Vatican while increasing the ransom to $3 million.

More than a dozen Christian clergymen in Iraq have been killed or kidnapped and held for ransom since July 2006. Dozens of churches have been bombed.

In an attempt to provide protection for Christian places of worship, government officials have begun recruiting Christians in the city of Mosul to serve as guards, Iraqi Christian website Ankawa.com reported on April 30.

Speaking from Baghdad today, Warduni called on Christians around the world to unite in prayer for all Iraqis, as well as for Rahho's alleged killer.

"We should be praying for Ahmed Ali, our gospel says that, the Lord says that," he said.
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« Reply #54 on: May 22, 2008, 10:41:11 AM »

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

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

    * Appeals Court Offers Hope to Calif. Homeschoolers
    * Divided Anglicans Try Conversation Over Legislation
    * Iran: Police Arrest 12 Converts in Crackdown
    * Food Price Crisis Threatens Relief for the Poor


Appeals Court Offers Hope to Calif. Homeschoolers

Christian Newswire reports that the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), the nation's top conservative public interest law firm, is leading a diverse team of organizations to urge the California Court of Appeals to protect the rights of homeschooling families. The appeals court has agreed to rehear a February case in which the Court found that compulsory attendance laws allows only "private tutors" to educate, barring many parents because they do not hold valid state teaching certificates for every grade.The ACLJ, along with its affiliates, have filed an amicus briefing arguing that the parental right to homeschool flows from the Free Speech and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment, thereby allowing homeschooling under both private school and private tutor exemptions.

Divided Anglicans Try Conversation Over Legislation Christian Post

This summer, the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference of Anglican church leaders is ditching legislation for more "conversation" between members, according to the Christian Post. "The focus at this Lambeth that removes the emphasis on parliamentary procedure and legislation really brings us back to the heart of what it means to be a Christian community," said Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, head of The Episcopal Church in the United States, Tuesday. Amid church divisions, Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Willaims, the Anglican spiritual leaders, plans to focus the conference on Bible study, conversations and equipping bishops to be "better" bishops. Some suspect this plan will mean skirting controversial issues, such as homosexual ordination, that have threatened to cause a schism for years. But the Rev. Dr. Ian Douglas, a member of the conference design group, said the bishops will engage in "purposeful conversations" concerning biblical authority and human sexuality among other topics. No voting or final decisions, however, will be made at the conference.

Iran: Police Arrest 12 Converts in Crackdown

Compass Direct News reports that police in the southern Iran city of Shiraz cracked down against known Muslim converts to Christianity, arresting members of three Christian families and confiscating their books and computers. Two couples were arrested on May 11. All four were subjected to hours of interrogation, questioning them solely "just about their faith and house church activities," an Iranian source told Compass.The detained Christians were identified as Homayon Shokohie Gholamzadeh, 48, and his wife Fariba Nazemiyan Pur, 40; and Amir Hussein Bab Anari, 25, and his wife Fatemeh Shenasa, 25. Although three have been released, Gholamzadeh remains jailed. That same day police authorities also invaded the home of Hamid Allaedin Hussein, 58, arresting him and his three adult children. Over the past two years, Iran's harsh Shiite Muslim regime has stepped up its efforts against mushrooming house church movements, routinely subjecting converts from Islam to both physical and psychological mistreatment.

Food Price Crisis Threatens Relief for the Poor

The current global food crisis, dubbed by some as the "silent tsunami," has some relief angecies worrying that they will have to turn away those desperate for help, the Christian Post reports. In late April, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) warned that "the steep and persistent rise in international food prices is hitting particularly hard on the poorest in Latin America and the Caribbean." In Haiti, "Hunger continues to grow and the people are becoming increasingly desperate," said Angel Aloma, executive director of Food for the Poor, one of the largest relief organizations in Haiti. "Last year we sent an average of 880,000 pounds of rice to Haiti every month... This year, we're sending 1,763,000 pounds and it is a real challenge to keep up with the increased demand," he said. The food crisis as even led to violence and protests that left at least six people dead. WorldVision and the Salvation Army have reported similar problems of lower donations and increased need.

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« Reply #55 on: May 23, 2008, 10:07:48 PM »

China: Olympic Glare Exposes Religious Freedom Issues
Compass Direct News


May 23, 2008

International spotlight is proving uncomfortably hot.

DUBLIN  -- When the International Olympic Committee in July 2001 awarded China the right to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, Chinese citizens were ecstatic. But what potentially could have been China's proudest moment has turned into something of a public relations minefield as world media probe China's human rights gains and abuses.

Among key issues raised is religious freedom, with China watchers reporting ongoing restrictions on freedom of worship, particularly for unregistered church groups, arrests, detention in labor camps and confiscation of Christian literature.

Hosting the Olympic Games provides China with a unique opportunity to showcase its stunning economic development. But with an estimated half a million foreign visitors expected and over 20,000 journalists, the government fears it will also be a prime opportunity for dissidents and human rights activists to present their cause to the world media.

As Liu Junning of the China Cultural Research Institute pointed out recently, "Chinese leaders want the country ... put in the limelight. But the light is very hot."

Chinese citizens can now choose their own careers, travel abroad, own a car and establish a business. But Christians cannot legally hold a prayer meeting in a private home, share a church service with foreign Christians or interact with foreign Christian organizations. China still bans religious education for children under the age of 18 and limits the publication of Bibles and other religious materials.

Many Chinese Christians see little good coming from the Olympics in the way of religious liberty. Some point to a government crackdown on unregistered house churches over the past year, as evidenced in a 2007 report issued in February by the China Aid Association (CAA), and an unprecedented expulsion of foreign missionaries in 2007 as part of a "clean-up" in preparation for the Games.

Others fear religious persecution will increase after the Games as the world's media moves on from China.

The government has stepped up an official campaign against human rights activists and lawyers in recent months -- and increased its suppression of religious believers, particularly members of unregistered Protestant and Catholic groups.

Protestant Crackdown

State security officials summoned house church leader Lou Yuanqi of Huocheng County in Xinjiang for questioning last Friday (May 16) and detained him for "inciting separatism," according to CAA. That was only the latest in a series of raids and detentions.

On January 23, police raided and severely beat members of a house church in Yunnan province, CAA reported. The raid occurred after two church members, Chen Xiqiong and Liang Guihua, visited the Xishan District's Public Security Bureau office to request an account of items, including Bibles, which had been taken from the church and burned by police in December.

Also in December, authorities in Shandong arrested 270 house church leaders who had gathered for training in Linyi city. According to CAA, officials released 249 of the leaders but sentenced 21 senior leaders to between one and three years of detention in labor camp.

Another three house church leaders were detained in Shandong on May 8. Police arrested 46 Christians at a house church meeting in Kashgar, Xinjiang province on April 13. They released 44 Christians after ordering them to confess their illegal Sunday worship activities and study a government handbook on religious policy. Two other Christians, Ding Zhichun and Ma Wenxiu, were sentenced to 15 days of administrative detention.

CAA also said officials had launched an "Anti-illegal Christian Activities Campaign" in Xinjiang. Authorities have arrested at least three Uyghur house church Christians in recent months. Police arrested Alimjan Yimit (or Ahlimujiang Yimiti in Chinese) on January 12 and accused him of endangering national security.

Officials had previously closed Alimjan's business in September and accused him of using it as a cover for "preaching Christianity among people of Uyghur ethnicity." His trial has now been rescheduled for Monday (May 26), according to Compass sources.

Osman Imin (Wusiman Yaming in Chinese) was arrested on November 19, 2007, accused of "leaking state secrets" and sentenced to two years of labor camp. Compass has confirmed that a female believer arrested earlier this year also remains in detention in Xinjiang. (See Compass Direct News, "China: Trial Delayed for Uyghur Christian," May 13.)

The worse may be yet to come; CAA sources are predicting a severe crackdown on all unregistered house churches beginning on June 1.
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« Reply #56 on: May 23, 2008, 10:09:48 PM »

China: Olympic Glare Exposes Religious Freedom Issues
Compass Direct News

Catholic Restrictions

Authorities are also restricting Catholic activity, closely guarding bishops in the official Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA) and keeping underground bishops in forced isolation. Several Catholic priests remain in detention in labor camps.

In February, Yie Xiaowen, director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, said he hoped that Pope Benedict XVI would visit China during the Games. In March, however, he lashed out against an alleged "power grab" from the Vatican council and accused it of being "double-faced" in seeking diplomatic relations with Beijing.

China has consistently denied the absolute authority of the Pope over Roman Catholicism, appointing its own bishops and encouraging Chinese Catholics to maintain greater loyalty to the Chinese government.

The country officially recognizes five religions -- Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Islam and Taoism. An official patriotic association for each religion controls adherents' activities and governs the appointment of clergy.

Officially there are 16 million Protestant believers and 5 million Catholics, but these figures exclude members of unregistered churches. Compass sources estimate there are 60 million additional Christians: 10 million in major house church networks, 35 million in independent rural house churches and 15 million in independent house churches.

Oddly, last year Yie of Religious Affairs said in two internal meetings in Beijing University and the Chinese Academy of Social Science that the total number of Christians in China had reached 130 million, according to CAA.

Appealing for Greater Liberty

In late March, the Religious Liberty Partnership (RLP), a coalition of several groups working for global religious liberty, issued a statement encouraging Christians around the world to pray for the Chinese church in the lead-up to the Olympics.

The statement acknowledged advances in religious freedom in China over the past 40 years but called on the Chinese government to honor its recent declaration that believers have an important role to play in the development of society. Jia Qinglin, chairman of the national committee of the National People's Congress, had said in early March that the state "should fully follow the policy on freedom of religious belief, implement the regulations on religious affairs, and conduct thorough research on important and difficult issues related to religion."

He also said the Chinese government should guide religious leaders and believers to make full use of their positive role in promoting social harmony.

"We hope and pray this [government declaration] will translate into the removal of remaining obstacles to the full expression of faith and an end to serious violations of religious freedom," the RLP said in its statement.

Meeting Religious Needs of Foreign Visitors

Religious freedom may be tightening for Chinese Christians, but authorities hope to accommodate the spiritual needs of visitors to the Olympic Games.

For starters, Beijing officials have asked local believers to provide religious services for foreigners attending the Games, according to a Reuters report on March 5.

In response, Chen Guangyuan, president of the Islamic Association of China, said his association was training volunteers to hold English and Arabic prayer services for visiting Muslims.

Fu Xianwei, president of the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee of Protestant Churches, and Liu Bainian, vice-chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, both told media that they were providing language training for official religious services during the Games.

The Beijing Olympic Committee responded positively to Liu's suggestion that Bibles be placed in Beijing hotel rooms for the religious needs of foreign visitors, according to a report in the China Daily on March 10.

Amid reports of Chinese authorities confiscating Christian literature ahead of the Games, Luis Palau, a prominent Christian evangelist, has encouraged Christian visitors to bring Bibles to the Olympics.

"Any person can go in there and take Bibles, as long as they're not selling them," Palau told The Christian Post.

His suggestion, however, directly contradicted a November 2007 edict, when the Chinese government included the Bible on a list of items banned from the Olympic Village and warned visitors not to bring more than a single Bible with them on their visit to China.
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« Reply #57 on: May 23, 2008, 10:13:07 PM »

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

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

    * Kenya Mob Burns 15 Women to Death over Witchcraft
    * Pakistani Christian Flees Home after Blasphemy Accusation
    * China Says Quake Death Toll More than 51,000
    * Christian 'Bullied' for Refusing to Marry Gays


Kenya Mob Burns 15 Women to Death over Witchcraft

A mob of about 100 people in western Kenya burned alive15 women accused of witchcraft on Wednesday, the AFP reports. The mob also torched about 50 houses in the local village of Nyakeo. "I can't believe my wife of many years would be killed so brutally by people who cannot prove their case even before God," said Enoch Obiero, a pastor. Kenyan officials have vowed to "hunt the suspects down," but this is just one of many incidents of vigilante and mob violence in Kenya's "sorcery belt." Dozens of suspected people were killed in western Kenya in the 1990s, amid allegations of sorcery. Several cases were also reported in recent months in neighboring Tanzania, forcing President Jakaya Kikwete to order special protection for albino, who were being murdered and mutilated for good luck by with-doctors.

Pakistani Christian Flees Home after Blasphemy Accusation

ASSIST News Service reports that a Pakistani Christian armament factory worker has fled his home after his Muslim co-workers accused him of blasphemy. "His Muslim co-workers accused him of committing blasphemy when he asked them to stop criticizing his religion," said Nazim, a Christian resident of the area. As the word of his alleged blasphemy spread out, hundreds of Muslim factory workers gathered in the factory but Danish escaped as the managing director of the factory calmed down the charged workers, he said. Some reports suggest that blasphemy accusation was slapped on Danish after his Muslim co-workers failed to convert him to Islam. Christian parliamentarian and Chairman of All Pakistan Minorities Alliance (APMA) has expressed his grave concern over registration of fake blasphemy cases.

China Says Quake Death Toll More than 51,000

The Associated Press reports that the toll of dead and missing from last week's catastrophic earthquake in China rose to more than 80,000 yesterday, with the number of confirmed dead jumping to 51,151. At least 300,000 were injured, and more than 5 million were left homeless. "We hope and welcome international assistance in this regard. We hope the international community can give priority in providing tents," cabinet spokesman Guo Weimin said in a news conference. In addition to the dead and missing, China also estimates that more than 4,000 children were orphaned by the quake. The government has received hundreds calls from people wanting to adopt them.

Christian 'Bullied' for Refusing to Marry Gays

The Daily Express reports that a London registrar was threatened with dismissal for gross misconduct after she asked to be excused from conducting civil partnerships for gay men and women. "I felt harassed and victimized," Lillian Ladele, 47, told an employment tribunal on Wednesday. "I was being picked on on a daily basis. There was no respect whatsoever for my religious beliefs." Ladele said she is being forced to choose between her Christian beliefs and her 31,000-a-year job at Islington Council in north London which she has held for nearly 16 years. "I cannot reconcile my faith with taking an active part in enabling same-sex unions to be formed," she said. Ladele, who is claiming discrimination or victimization on grounds of religion or belief, said 10 other registrars could conduct the ceremonies.
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« Reply #58 on: May 26, 2008, 11:56:59 AM »

China: Olympic Glare Exposes Religious Freedom Issues
Compass Direct News


May 23, 2008

International spotlight is proving uncomfortably hot.

DUBLIN  -- When the International Olympic Committee in July 2001 awarded China the right to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, Chinese citizens were ecstatic. But what potentially could have been China's proudest moment has turned into something of a public relations minefield as world media probe China's human rights gains and abuses.

Among key issues raised is religious freedom, with China watchers reporting ongoing restrictions on freedom of worship, particularly for unregistered church groups, arrests, detention in labor camps and confiscation of Christian literature.

Hosting the Olympic Games provides China with a unique opportunity to showcase its stunning economic development. But with an estimated half a million foreign visitors expected and over 20,000 journalists, the government fears it will also be a prime opportunity for dissidents and human rights activists to present their cause to the world media.

As Liu Junning of the China Cultural Research Institute pointed out recently, "Chinese leaders want the country ... put in the limelight. But the light is very hot."

Chinese citizens can now choose their own careers, travel abroad, own a car and establish a business. But Christians cannot legally hold a prayer meeting in a private home, share a church service with foreign Christians or interact with foreign Christian organizations. China still bans religious education for children under the age of 18 and limits the publication of Bibles and other religious materials.

Many Chinese Christians see little good coming from the Olympics in the way of religious liberty. Some point to a government crackdown on unregistered house churches over the past year, as evidenced in a 2007 report issued in February by the China Aid Association (CAA), and an unprecedented expulsion of foreign missionaries in 2007 as part of a "clean-up" in preparation for the Games.

Others fear religious persecution will increase after the Games as the world's media moves on from China.

The government has stepped up an official campaign against human rights activists and lawyers in recent months -- and increased its suppression of religious believers, particularly members of unregistered Protestant and Catholic groups.

Protestant Crackdown


State security officials summoned house church leader Lou Yuanqi of Huocheng County in Xinjiang for questioning last Friday (May 16) and detained him for "inciting separatism," according to CAA. That was only the latest in a series of raids and detentions.

On January 23, police raided and severely beat members of a house church in Yunnan province, CAA reported. The raid occurred after two church members, Chen Xiqiong and Liang Guihua, visited the Xishan District's Public Security Bureau office to request an account of items, including Bibles, which had been taken from the church and burned by police in December.

Also in December, authorities in Shandong arrested 270 house church leaders who had gathered for training in Linyi city. According to CAA, officials released 249 of the leaders but sentenced 21 senior leaders to between one and three years of detention in labor camp.

Another three house church leaders were detained in Shandong on May 8. Police arrested 46 Christians at a house church meeting in Kashgar, Xinjiang province on April 13. They released 44 Christians after ordering them to confess their illegal Sunday worship activities and study a government handbook on religious policy. Two other Christians, Ding Zhichun and Ma Wenxiu, were sentenced to 15 days of administrative detention.

CAA also said officials had launched an "Anti-illegal Christian Activities Campaign" in Xinjiang. Authorities have arrested at least three Uyghur house church Christians in recent months. Police arrested Alimjan Yimit (or Ahlimujiang Yimiti in Chinese) on January 12 and accused him of endangering national security.

Officials had previously closed Alimjan's business in September and accused him of using it as a cover for "preaching Christianity among people of Uyghur ethnicity." His trial has now been rescheduled for Monday (May 26), according to Compass sources.

Osman Imin (Wusiman Yaming in Chinese) was arrested on November 19, 2007, accused of "leaking state secrets" and sentenced to two years of labor camp. Compass has confirmed that a female believer arrested earlier this year also remains in detention in Xinjiang. (See Compass Direct News, "China: Trial Delayed for Uyghur Christian," May 13.)

The worse may be yet to come; CAA sources are predicting a severe crackdown on all unregistered house churches beginning on June 1.
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« Reply #59 on: May 26, 2008, 11:59:04 AM »

China: Olympic Glare Exposes Religious Freedom Issues
Compass Direct News

Catholic Restrictions

Authorities are also restricting Catholic activity, closely guarding bishops in the official Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA) and keeping underground bishops in forced isolation. Several Catholic priests remain in detention in labor camps.

In February, Yie Xiaowen, director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs, said he hoped that Pope Benedict XVI would visit China during the Games. In March, however, he lashed out against an alleged "power grab" from the Vatican council and accused it of being "double-faced" in seeking diplomatic relations with Beijing.

China has consistently denied the absolute authority of the Pope over Roman Catholicism, appointing its own bishops and encouraging Chinese Catholics to maintain greater loyalty to the Chinese government.

The country officially recognizes five religions -- Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Islam and Taoism. An official patriotic association for each religion controls adherents' activities and governs the appointment of clergy.

Officially there are 16 million Protestant believers and 5 million Catholics, but these figures exclude members of unregistered churches. Compass sources estimate there are 60 million additional Christians: 10 million in major house church networks, 35 million in independent rural house churches and 15 million in independent house churches.

Oddly, last year Yie of Religious Affairs said in two internal meetings in Beijing University and the Chinese Academy of Social Science that the total number of Christians in China had reached 130 million, according to CAA.

Appealing for Greater Liberty

In late March, the Religious Liberty Partnership (RLP), a coalition of several groups working for global religious liberty, issued a statement encouraging Christians around the world to pray for the Chinese church in the lead-up to the Olympics.

The statement acknowledged advances in religious freedom in China over the past 40 years but called on the Chinese government to honor its recent declaration that believers have an important role to play in the development of society. Jia Qinglin, chairman of the national committee of the National People's Congress, had said in early March that the state "should fully follow the policy on freedom of religious belief, implement the regulations on religious affairs, and conduct thorough research on important and difficult issues related to religion."

He also said the Chinese government should guide religious leaders and believers to make full use of their positive role in promoting social harmony.

"We hope and pray this [government declaration] will translate into the removal of remaining obstacles to the full expression of faith and an end to serious violations of religious freedom," the RLP said in its statement.

Meeting Religious Needs of Foreign Visitors

Religious freedom may be tightening for Chinese Christians, but authorities hope to accommodate the spiritual needs of visitors to the Olympic Games.

For starters, Beijing officials have asked local believers to provide religious services for foreigners attending the Games, according to a Reuters report on March 5.

In response, Chen Guangyuan, president of the Islamic Association of China, said his association was training volunteers to hold English and Arabic prayer services for visiting Muslims.

Fu Xianwei, president of the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee of Protestant Churches, and Liu Bainian, vice-chairman of the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, both told media that they were providing language training for official religious services during the Games.

The Beijing Olympic Committee responded positively to Liu's suggestion that Bibles be placed in Beijing hotel rooms for the religious needs of foreign visitors, according to a report in the China Daily on March 10.

Amid reports of Chinese authorities confiscating Christian literature ahead of the Games, Luis Palau, a prominent Christian evangelist, has encouraged Christian visitors to bring Bibles to the Olympics.

"Any person can go in there and take Bibles, as long as they're not selling them," Palau told The Christian Post.

His suggestion, however, directly contradicted a November 2007 edict, when the Chinese government included the Bible on a list of items banned from the Olympic Village and warned visitors not to bring more than a single Bible with them on their visit to China.
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