World News, Week 29, 2014

Written by WMCN Editor on . Posted in World

WORLD News Service – August 1 2014

                                                                                                                                   

The Good News Gets the Cold Shoulder in Portland
Mississippi Pro-lifers Sue Police for Harassment
Conservatives Cheer Obama Nominee for Religious Liberty Post
Latest Pro-life Efforts Target Abortion Tourism

CCCU’s New President Praised for her Humility and Deep Faith
Atheist Group Court Victory Could Prove Good for Churches

How Strong Families Help the Economy
Meriam Ibrahim Arrives in the U.S.:
Long-awaited homecoming still leaves questions about U.S. efforts to help persecuted Christian woman

China’s Crackdown on the Cross Spreads

NATIONAL BRIEFS

 INTERNATIONAL BRIEFS

                                                                                                                                    

The Good News Gets the Cold Shoulder in Portland

By Rachel Lynn Aldrich

(WNS)--Liberal groups in Portland, Ore., are taking an evangelical children’s camp to task for talking to the city’s youngest residents about Jesus. The camps, which operate like a traveling Vacation Bible School, have endured protests, negative advertisements in local newspapers, and accusations of being a fundamentalist sect.

Child Evangelism Fellowship’s Camp Good News focuses for a week or two in different cities each year. During the school year, the group rents public school buildings to host weekly after-school activities. It recently won a Supreme Court case that allowed it equal access to public schools. 

The group chose Portland for this year’s summer camps because of the city’s reputation for being un-churched. To put on the five-day camps, Child Evangelism Fellowship (CEF) partnered with about 30 churches of various denominations throughout the Portland metropolitan area. Each church helps organize camps in three different locations.

CEF’s arrival in Portland sparked unexpected anger and protests. Protect Portland Children formed to protest the camps. It heavily promotes a book called The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children. It claims CES is a fundamentalist sect, teaches shame to children, and harms them psychologically with a doctrine of sin.

“We believe that these doctrines are harmful to 5-year-old children,” Protect Portland Children founder Robert Aughenbaugh told The Oregonian

Aughenbaugh’s group even bought a full-page ad in an alternative weekly newspaper to warn parents about the camps. It features a picture of a child wearing a sign that says “sinner.”

Mike Albin is the pastor of New Hope Church, a conservative evangelical church of about 150 members in Oregon City, a suburb 45 minutes south of Portland. New Hope is one of three Oregon City churches that have partnered with CEF this week for camps, providing about 24 volunteers to work with the four or five trained volunteers from CEF. Together they are hosting nine five-day camps in the Oregon City area. The church volunteers help with things like registration and games while the CEF volunteers do most of the teaching. They hold the camps at area public parks and mobile home communities.

All of the churches CEF partners with are traditional, evangelical denominations, Albin said. His church has a good relationship with the Oregon City Chamber of Commerce, and is well-respected in the community. CEF teaches basic evangelical theology and is “not a cult whatsoever,” Albin said.

CEF volunteers hand out the “wordless book” which basically teaches the Romans Road and is similar to teaching tools used at most vacation Bible schools, he said. The handouts they provide have stories about Jesus being our best friend, and Bible-themed games and crossword puzzles. 

“You can go into any evangelical church that preaches the gospel and you can year what CEF is talking about,” said Albin, who attended his first camp in 1978. He described the accusations against the organization as “angry” and “uninformed.” 

Albin rejected accusations that CEF’s methods were subversive or deceptive. Parents have to sign permission forms before their children can come to the camps and are encouraged to visit. 

The anger is not directed just at the summer camps, but the long-term goal for churches to establish relationships with the families so they can lauanch once-a-week programs in the schools come fall. The churches pay to rent space and for extra janitorial service. They have the same kind of access to the schools as any other group. Albin emphasized that CEF doesn’t cross any church-state barriers. 

“We can’t even pass out literature while we’re there,” he said. “The rhetoric that’s coming across in this cultural war we’re in is really to discredit and spread information that’s not true about the organization.”

He added that despite claims the teaching of sin and salvation coming from CEF harms children psychologically, school districts in other states have specifically asked CEF to continue holding clubs, because they bolster school morale. 

“It’s been a positive impact, not a negative one in any way,” he said.  

Mississippi Pro-lifers Sue Police for Harassment

By Courtney Crandell

(WNS)--Life Legal Defense Association (LLDF) filed suit July 23 against the Jackson, Miss., Police Department, for allegedly violating the First Amendment rights pro-life activists outside the state’s only abortion facility.

LLDF, a non-profit law firm representing Pro-Life Mississippi, says the police frequently threatened activists with arrest without legal basis. The police have interpreted a statute to mean that anyone sitting or standing on the sidewalk creates an obstruction, even though the activists leave about 4 feet of space on the sidewalks said Allison Aranda, senior staff counsel at LLDF.

“The Jackson Police Department has routinely harassed pro-life citizens, who have been peacefully exercising their legal right to oppose abortion in the public square and offer information about life-affirming alternatives to women seeking abortion,” LLDF president Dana Cody said.

Filed in federal court, the suit cites nine instances of harassment between February 2013 and June 2014, though rights violations allegedly began before 1996. Causes for arrest included blocking sidewalks and holding signs while sitting on public benches. Most of the recent cases were dropped or charges weren’t recorded.

The city can’t provide comment on the pending suit, a city spokesperson told The Clarion-Ledger.

In July, Jackson police failed to stop a man from stealing sidewalk signs set up outside Jackson Women’s Health Organization by Created Equal, an Ohio pro-life activist organization. The owner of the facility’s building, Mike Peters, took the signs to his basement as officers watched and the protestors videoed their requests for police intervention. The police threatened to arrest him, but ultimately did nothing. “I'm dealing with something right now,” one officer said. Though Mark Harrington of Created Equal has filed charges against Peters in a separate suit, the inaction is typical of Jackson’s police, Aranda said. They frequently either charge both parties or drop all charges. The police have also failed to arrest pro-abortion activists, Aranda said.

“For police to be selective and prejudicial as to how they enforce the law outside of Mississippi’s only abortion vendor does a disservice to the people of Jackson,” Cody said. “When those charged with upholding the law violate the basic rights of citizens, it cannot be tolerated.”

In 2008, a court issued a consent order requiring training in First Amendment rights. After the order expired a year later, the police returned to harassing and threatening the activists, Aranda said. Controversy has surrounded Jackson Women’s Health Organization in recent years. Just this week, it won a legal appeal challenging a state law that would have forced it to close because its providers do not have privileges at a local hospital. The facility’s owner has come under fire for a poor safety record that led Alabama officials to close an abortion center she owned in Birmingham.

Conservatives Cheer Obama Nominee for Religious Liberty Post

By Andrew Branch

(WNS)--President Barack Obama got rare commendations from conservatives on July 21 when he announced his nominee for a long-vacant State Department post charged with advocating for religious minorities around the world.

If confirmed, Rabbi David Saperstein will be the first non-Christian appointed as ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. He has worked for 30 years with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, which he currently leads. He teaches law at Georgetown University and serves as one of Obama’s faith-based advisors.

The State Department position has been vacant since Obama’s previous nominee, Suzan Johnson Cook, resigned in October. Conservatives have clamored for a new ambassador as conflicts in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia took brutal, religiously based turns for the worse.

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention, led the lobbying efforts and praised the nomination Monday. “Rabbi Saperstein is a respected thinker and leader who brings gravity to this important task,” Moore said in a statement. “He has my prayers and my pledge of full cooperation.”

Long-time religious liberty champion Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., also praised the nomination and urged a swift confirmation, even as he continues to speak out against the genocide of Christians in Iraq.

Such praise for Saperstein confused some conservatives because on most domestic social issues, he stands with Obama. He asked the president not to include religious exemptions in this month’s executive order on LGBT employment among federal contractors. He also opposed the Hobby Lobby case, supporting the Obama administration’s demand that businesses cover abortifacient drugs under their insurance policies. And he’s staunchly pro-abortion.

“We’re not in any agreement with the administration … or Rabbi Saperstein there,” said Barrett Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy and research. “However, David has for decades proven a very strong advocate for religious freedom understood in the international context, a lot of which we’re looking at today.”

Wolf helped create Saperstein’s position in 1998. His International Religious Freedom Act established the International Religious Freedom Office (IRFO) and its ambassador-at-large. The act also created the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a watchdog often critical of Obama’s handling of international human rights. Saperstein endorsed Wolf’s legislation and served as the commission’s first chair.

“I had the business community against me, I had [Secretary of State] Madeleine Albright against me, I had President Clinton against me. But I had Chuck Colson with me, and I had Rabbi Saperstein with me,” Wolf told me Tuesday, referring to Saperstein as “there from the beginning.”

And because Saperstein is from the president’s own circles, Duke told me, he likely could influence policy in a way Cook could not. “I’ve worked with David since I got to Washington in 2003,” Duke said. “We disagree on a lot of issues. … But I’ve always found him agreeable on matters of religious persecution like we’re dealing with in the international context.”

Wolf told me Saperstein was instrumental in the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, working again with conservatives like Colson. On issues like this, he told me, you make coalitions around what you agree on. “Frankly, the nation has to come together,” Wolf said. “And this administration has been a fundamental failure.”

 

Latest Pro-life Efforts Target Abortion Tourism

By Courtney Crandell

(WNS)--Pro-life abortion restrictions taking hold across the country are having unintended consequences in a few states with less regulation: women traveling across state lines to kill their babies.

Half of the abortions performed in Kansas, more than a third of those in North Dakota, and almost a quarter in Tennessee are considered “out of state,” according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Overall abortion rates in all three states decreased between 2008 and 2011—35 percent in Kansas, 14 percent in North Dakota, and 15 percent in Tennessee. But pro-life activists hope to see those numbers drop even further with new laws designed to cut down on abortion tourism.

In 2000, the Tennessee Supreme Court struck down three of the state’s abortion restrictions—a 48 hour wait period, an informed consent law, and a law requiring hospitalization for late-term abortions. The court cited privacy right infringement in its ruling. 

As a result, Tennessee has become a destination state for abortions, according to a coalition of pro-life organizations campaigning for an amendment that would allow the state to pass more abortion laws that directly target out-of-state abortions. Surrounding states, including Mississippi and Alabama, have more stringent abortion guidelines, including wait periods. In a recent story, The Tennessean profiled a 27-year old woman who drove from her home in Alabama to Nashville, Tenn., to get an abortion. Her local abortion facility had closed due to surgical care standards passed by the Alabama legislature earlier this year.

But the goal of the new amendment isn’t to ban abortion, David Fowler, president of Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT), told WORLD in December: “The goal is to put the constitution back where it was before the Supreme Court effectively amended it.”

While laws play a significant role, some women may travel out-of-state for convenience. North Dakota’s only abortion facility borders Minnesota, which can draw women across the state line even though Minnesota has more facilities, said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life Committee. Similarly, South Dakota also has only one abortion facility, located about 250 miles from North Dakota’s.  

Meanwhile, Kansas has been playing legislative catch-up with bordering Missouri. “Historically, Missouri’s laws were better for a long time,” said Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansans for Life (KFL). The Kansas pro-life movement has embraced an incremental approach to passing legislation, partly due to liberal judges on the state’s Supreme Court, Culp said. Kansas facilities have drawn some Missouri women because a facility in Columbia, Mo., closed earlier this year after the state passed laws increasing facility regulations, leaving only one abortion provider in the state.

But facility closings in other states don’t mean that women who want abortions automatically choose to travel out-of-state, said Cheryl Sullenger, senior policy advisor for Operation Rescue. Many women choose abortion as a knee-jerk reaction to a crisis situation. “Abortion clinics prey on their vulnerability,” she said. Texas abortions have decreased by about 9,600 since the state enacted more stringent facility regulations, and Sullenger expects the number of Texas facilities to drop from 41 to 6 by September. But she said that doesn’t mean bordering state Oklahoma will necessarily see a spike in out-state-abortions. If abortion centers don’t exist, women won’t get abortions, she said.

If a region doesn’t have an abortion facility, women have more time to consider other crisis pregnancy options, sometimes through crisis pregnancy centers, Sullenger said. Brian Harris, president of Tennessee Right to Life, agrees. Strict laws don’t necessarily drive women to other states for abortions. “A certain number of [Mississippi] women who mistakenly think abortion is the only option will come to Memphis,” Harris said. But even though Tennessee currently doesn’t require pre-abortion counseling or a wait period, as Mississippi does, laws meant to educate women about abortion give them an opportunity to think. 

“When given the fullest information, many more women will make the choice for life,” Harris said.

CCCU’s New President Praised for her Humility and Deep Faith

By Sophia Lee

(WNS)--The Council for Christian College and Universities (CCCU) announced Shirley V. Hoogstra of Calvin College as its seventh president on Wednesday, closing a painful chapter that included some public and controversial stumbles with its previous president. Hoogstra, CCCU’s first female president, will take over her new position on Sept. 29.

Hoogstra has been the vice president for student life at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich., since 1999 and before that served four years on Calvin’s Board of Trustees. She worked as a lawyer for 13 years in New Haven, Conn., until she found “a calling” to transition from legal duties to higher education, she told The Christian Post.

“I’m excited for this opportunity because I am passionate about Christian education generally and Christian higher education specifically,” Hoogstra said in a statement. “The world is increasingly complex, and the liberal arts education that CCCU institutions offer prepares students to understand why faith deeply matters to people. And the Christian faith gives hope and meaning when hope and meaning in life can seem illusive."

Hoogstra’s experience in both law and higher education gave her a leg up among the list of candidates, especially during today’s tense atmosphere in which Christian higher education constantly has to fight anti-Christian political and social currents. While at Calvin, Hoogstra helped CCCU plan and facilitate several Leadership Development Institutes, and served as an officer on two CCCU commissions.

Charles W. Pollard, chair of the CCCU Board of Directors and president of John Brown University, said Hoogstra now “knows firsthand the heartbeat of the organization and its membership.” He called her “a person of deep faith, humble courage, intuitive judgment, legal insight, and convicted civility.” Her experience “will enable her to represent the CCCU winsomely and effectively in Washington and elsewhere,” he predicted.

Advocacy in Washington isn’t the only challenge the 119-member, 55-affiliate association must tackle today. The controversy with Hoogstra’s predecessor, Edward O. Blews Jr., has also eroded the organization’s credibility. When CCCU fired Blews after just 10 months in office, he lashed back with a $2.2 million lawsuit. The case was settled out of court in April, according to court documents, but neither side publicized the details of the agreement.

Hoogstra will need to provide a new vision for CCCU’s financial model. The group’s biggest money-maker, the Best Semester Program—a study-abroad program that at its peak drew about 750 students per semester—now faces significant competition from its own member institutions. Enrollment in Best Semester programs has dropped dramatically, leaving three-fourths of CCCU’s total budget hanging on a thread.

Though supporters have praised Hoogstra’s legal expertise and experience with higher education, Calvin also recently suffered some financial missteps, for which Hoogstra apologized to her faculty. She pledged to learn from the fiscal mistakes and to “work harder and hopefully wiser than ever.”

Rick Ostrander, provost of Cornerstone University, a school near Calvin, said he was “pleasantly surprised” to hear about Hoogstra’s appointment and called her “an excellent choice.” Other than her legal experience, Ostrander praised her for being humble and compassionate and having “a heart for people.”

Atheist Group Court Victory Could Prove Good for Churches

By Sarah Padbury

(WNS)--An atheist group reached a settlement earlier this month with the Internal Revenue Service over stronger enforcement of policies against “church politicking,” and at least one religious freedom group is thrilled, claiming the IRS investigation could be “a good thing” in the long run.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) has been campaigning to overturn the portion of the tax code that prohibits nonprofit organizations from “intervening in political campaigns as a condition of their tax-exempt status.” To achieve that, it has organized the annual Pulpit Freedom Sunday since 2008, for which it encourages pastors to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech—including political speech—from the pulpit and send copies of their sermons to the IRS. Once the IRS attempts to take away a church’s tax-exempt status, ADF will represent the church free of charge and seek to declare the law unconstitutional, said Eric Stanley, senior counsel with ADF.

The IRS has yet to bite at ADF’s challenge, but the tide turned after the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) filed suit in November 2012, criticizing the IRS for not enforcing electioneering restrictions against churches and religious organizations. As a result of the agency’s non-enforcement, “churches and religious organizations have been blatantly and deliberately flaunting the electioneering restrictions,” the suit claims, alleging election-year violations by The Billy Graham Evangelical Association and several churches.

But the IRS hasn’t always had the power to censor what is said from the pulpit, Stanley said in a recent radio interview. The law was introduced by then-Senate Minority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson as an amendment to a tax overhaul bill in 1954. His aim? To silence two powerful, secular nonprofits that were opposing his reelection in Texas. “Johnson Amendment was slipped into the tax code with no debate, no analysis, no committee hearings, no anything,” Stanley said. “And since that time, the IRS has been monitoring and censoring what a pastor says from the pulpit.”

The IRS currently has a moratorium on investigating any nonprofits for alleged political activities, including churches, due to an ongoing congressional probe into the agency’s targeting of conservative groups’ tax-exempt applications with unwarranted examinations. But as soon as the suspension is lifted, the IRS has now “adopted procedures for reviewing, evaluating, and determining whether to initiate church investigations,” FFRF said in its press release.

On Jul 22, ADF used the Freedom of Information Act to petition the IRS for documentation regarding the agency’s new procedures for investigating churches. Stanley said the agency’s decision not to make the procedures public fuels more suspicion of the already mistrusted organization.

This year on Oct. 5, more than 2,000 pastors are expected to participate in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, during which they will “plainly speak scriptural truth about the qualifications of candidates for public office, regardless of candidates’ political affiliation,” according to the project’s website. Stanley believes FFRF’s latest win could lead to a legal resolution that benefits ministries.

“Churches are tax-exempt as a matter of constitutional right because there is no surer way to destroy the free exercise of religion than to begin taxing it,” Stanley said. “That exemption cannot be conditioned on the surrender of constitutional rights.”

How Strong Families Help the Economy

By Rikki Elizabeth Stinnette

(WNS)--The government will never provide for you as well as a stable two-parent family will. That’s the summary of the Heritage Foundation’s first annual report on America’s societal and economic trends, released July 23. The 2014 Index of Culture and Opportunity states that while abortion and violent crime are on the decline, the marriage rate is also dropping, giving rise to single-parent homes and accompanying economic troubles.

“We need to be talking about what it is that’s going to get at the roots of … poverty in America,” said Jennifer Marshall, the co-editor of the report.

Marshall, who is also vice president of the Heritage Foundation Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity, wanted to create a manageable report compiling the latest statistics on the economy and the state of families in America. Unlike other reports studying the two factors separately, this one suggests connections between broken families and a broken economy.

The report provides some good news. Abortion has fallen to its lowest level since the Supreme Court passed Roe v. Wade. Women had 16.9 abortions per 1,000 in 2011, compared to a peak of 29.3 in 1981. While the statistics aren’t conclusive because several states don’t report abortion figures, the trend shows more women choosing life. 

“That’s the result of some focused attention in policy circles and in communities,” Marshall said.

A plummeting violent crime rate and a rise in school choice offer more good news, but the report notes a disturbing lack of interest in marriage and work. The marriage rate has dropped by 23 percent since 2001, and the percentage of people working or looking for work has dropped by 2 percent since 2003.

While the 2008 recession caused some of that decrease, Marshall believes single parenthood contributes to it: “Unwed childbearing is enormously important.”

Children of unwed mothers are four times more likely to live under the poverty line than children of married couples, and they are more likely to go into crime or become single parents themselves.

Meanwhile, the poor are relying more on government housing and food stamps. While the government has spent billions more dollars on welfare, the number of people who live below the poverty line and are not self-sufficient has remained a steady 15 percent since the 1980s. All of these factors lead to a multi-generational dependence on a welfare state, said Heritage fellow W. Bradford Wilcox. “If you are worried about growing inequality in America, you should care about marriage,” he said.

While the index doesn’t include much new information—statistics come from governmental and civil institutions—it does compile the information and add analysis from Heritage fellows. Heritage plans to update this report every year so it can track changes.

Marshall said she hopes the report will equip lawmakers to form policies and encourage citizens to support families: “It is critically important that we continue to uphold the ideal of marriage.”

Meriam Ibrahim Arrives in the U.S.

Long-awaited homecoming still leaves questions about U.S. efforts to help persecuted Christian woman

By Jamie Dean

(WNS)--Meriam Ibrahim and her family arrived in the United States Thursday afternoon, ending the Christian woman’s 10-month battle to escape execution for her faith and join family members in America.

Ibrahim's arrival in the United States—along with her husband and two children—comes nearly 10 months after Sudanese officials arrested her and charged her with apostasy for not adopting her absent father’s Muslim faith, even though she was raised by her Christian mother. The Islamist court sentenced Ibrahim to death by hanging after she refused to recant her Christian faith. Her sentence came just weeks before she delivered a baby daughter in prison. 

An international outcry brought intense attention to Ibrahim’s plight, and the court eventually overturned her sentence. Sudanese police re-arrested her when she attempted to leave Sudan in June. Ibrahim and her family lived in the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum until Sudanese officials allowed her to leave the country on July 26—shortly after diplomats from Italy negotiated her release. 

U.S. lawmakers who had called for a stronger push to help Ibrahim said Italy’s success in securing her freedom underscored tepid efforts by the Obama administration to advocate for the wife and children of an American citizen.
 

Wani—who was born in Sudan and became a U.S. citizen after immigrating to America—said U.S. Embassy officials in Khartoum were unhelpful when he initially approached them about his wife’s plight. At one point, the U.S. State Department questioned Wani’s paternity of the couple’s children, and suggested he take a blood test.

“I thought this would be the one place which would help me, but they told me they didn’t have time to do anything,” Wani told The Daily Mail in late May. “I was upset because now that I am an American citizen I thought they would help me.”

Italy’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, Lapo Pistelli, said he offered to help negotiate Ibrahim’s release during a visit to Khartoum in early July. The offer may have given Sudanese officials a way to respond to international pressure without handing U.S. officials a diplomatic victory: Sudan has a strong relationship with Italy but remains on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism because of its ties to terror groups across the region.

During Pistelli’s visit, Sudan’s state-sponsored news agency reported on productive talks between the countries, “especially in the economic field,” and pointed out that Italy holds the current chairmanship of the European Union and “could play a great role for enhancing the role of Sudan in the regional and international levels …”

In an interview with Think Progress after Ibrahim’s release, Pistelli indicated Sudanese officials needed to resolve her case because of the bad international publicity. When asked what Sudan wanted in return for Ibrahim’s release, Pistelli said: “If you are able to build up a win-win strategy, you don’t need another supplementary benefit.”

Even if Ibrahim’s release provided a temporary publicity “win” for Sudan, the country still faces well-deserved scrutiny for its severe human rights abuses and ties to terrorism. (The country’s president remains under indictment by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, and Sudanese military planes continue to bomb Christians in the Nuba Mountains.)

And if Ibrahim’s release is a partial win for U.S. officials who were under pressure to secure her freedom, the U.S. State Department still faces questions about why it didn’t push harder to help the condemned wife of an American citizen from the beginning of her plight. 

For now, the true win comes for Ibrahim, her family, and the many who advocated and prayed for her release for months. 

After arriving in Philadelphia, the family traveled to Manchester, N.H., to settle with Wani’s brother, Gabriel. Wani and a handful of family members came to the U.S. years ago after fleeing violence in Sudan. Many other Sudanese refugees also flowed into the area, and the Sudanese community in Manchester now numbers more than 500.

Members of the local Sudanese Evangelical Church plan to throw a party to welcome the family and to celebrate God’s answer to their many prayers for Ibrahim’s release. 

“People are really happy to receive them when they come home,” pastor Monyroor Teng told AP. “It’s a miracle to me. I didn’t think that something like this would happen because in Sudan, when something happens like that, it’s unreal. … Maybe, who knows, I’m praying for [others] who are in jail and those who have died.”

China’s Crackdown on the Cross Spreads

By June Cheng

(WNS)--Three months after Chinese officials ripped down the gigantic Sanjiang Church in Wenzhou, the number of churches facing persecution—whether that means demolition, cross removal, or threatening notices—in Zhejiang province has reached into the hundreds, according to Texas-based Christian human rights group ChinaAid.

Every few days, news of cross removals and confrontations between church members and police streams out of the region. ChinaAid has compiled many of the reports into this list. The government claims the demolitions are part of a three-year campaign to deal with “illegal structures” in Zhejiang, but authorities have only focused their attention on churches. Many fear this is a beginning of a nationwide campaign to slow the rapid growth of Christianity in the country.

The past few weeks saw a number of clashes. On July 21, 14 members of Salvation Church in Pingyang County were injured as more than 100 government officials broke through a human wall the congregants had formed around their church.

“More than a hundred security guards with batons in their hands rushed to [church members] standing at the door and beat up whoever was in their way,” church member Xu Dingdu told ChinaAid. “I was dragged to the middle of the road by security guards and savagely beaten up by a batch of people, about a dozen. A second batch of people came up shortly after and gave me another beating.”

Photos online show bloodied church members, including an 78-year-old man, outside the church before they were rushed to the hospital. But congregants continued to sing hymns and chant “Defend the cross and resist forcible demolition.” Even non-believers joined in to protest the action, according to ChinaAid.

A church member wears a T-shirt with the Chinese words "Defend the cross" as he stakes out overnight to protect the cross from being demolished at a Christian church in Ao'jiang, Pingyang county.

In Taizhou, another city in Zhejiang, authorities had difficulty trying to demolish the two crosses perched on Chengguan Church, a house church. The first two attempts were thwarted by the typhoon Matmo at the beginning of last week. Then on Friday, the government’s machinery started malfunctioning, keeping officials from removing the larger of the two crosses. The government sent as many as 4,000 officials to face the Christians who had come to sing hymns and pray at the church, according to The New York Times. About 40 people were detained.

Other churches don’t put up as much resistance. At Longgang Township Gratitude Church in Wenzhou, about 200 Christians in the area held an overnight prayer vigil but didn’t put up a fight when officials came to cut off the 10-foot cross, according to the Times. “We didn’t want to get in a fight with them, but obviously what they did was illegal,” Qu Linuo, pastor of a nearby church, told the Times. When the police handed the cross to the congregants, “many of them were weeping inconsolably,” Qu said.

While authorities have mainly targeted government-sanctioned churches, many of the house churches have put aside differences to help protect the symbol of their faith. One house church pastor from northern China said everyone fell silent as their train entered Wenzhou and they saw church after church with crosses torn off. “When we saw the crosses demolished, we were heartbroken,” he said.

And things seem only to be getting worse: Churches in other provinces also are starting to receive demolition notices, and house churches that previously had some amount of autonomy are seeing increased persecution. As news of the cross removals spreads through major media outlets, ChinaAid’s Bob Fu said the crackdown is no longer just on the churches but also the Christians who are leaking the information out to foreign media.

A church member of Zengshan Village Christian Church stands near rocks piled up in front of the gate to prevent government workers from moving in equipment to demolish the cross.

In June, leaders from 135 government-sanctioned churches in Pingyang County released an open letter, claiming the crosses are not illegal structures, that taking down the crosses violates China’s constitutional clause on the freedom of religion, and that the demolitions place pressure on their local officials.

“We believe that the Chinese society needs the spirit of the cross—that is, the love, forgiveness, humility, and life-saving,” the letter read. “The cross, as the only symbol of Christianity, is irreplaceable in the hearts of believers.”

NATIONAL BRIEFS

Christian Newspaper Editor Files Discrimination Complaint Over Firing

(WNS)--An Iowa newspaper editor is claiming his former employer fired him because of his biblical beliefs about sexuality. Bob Eschliman, the former editor-in-chief of the Newton Daily News, filed an official discrimination charge on Jul. 24 with the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). “No American—especially people in the journalism field—should be fired simply for expressing their religious beliefs,” said Jeremiah Dys, senior counsel for the Liberty Institute, a nonprofit legal group representing Eschliman. Eschliman, a Christian, took to his personal blog in April to lambast the Queen James Bible, a revision put forward by gay activists. They say Greek and Hebrew passages on homosexuality either refer to pagan rituals or promiscuity. “We edited those eight verses in a way that makes homophobic interpretations impossible,” the editors say.

Trumpeting a Dinosaur Horn

(WNS)--A few miles outside Glendive, Montana, on May 12, 2012, three researchers were hunting fossils scattered in the Hell Creek Formation, a geological trove for dinosaur bones. After paying the landowner $3,000 for one fossil, the scientists hauled it to their lab to see if it contained any unfossilized soft tissue the ravages of time might have left untouched. They found soft tissue and structures that appeared to be original dinosaur cells. In February 2013, two members of the team, including Mark Armitage, a part-time employee at California State University, Northridge, (CSUN) published their discovery in the journal Acta Histochemica. A few days afterward, CSUN dismissed Armitage from his job in the microscope lab, claiming it had inadequate funding to continue his position. Last week, the Pacific Justice Institute filed a religious discrimination lawsuit against the school on Armitage’s behalf. The organization claims the school fired Armitage because of his view – which this discovery seems to support -- that dinosaurs lived much more recently than the millions of years ago that some scientists claim. The lawsuit accuses the university of violating the Fair Employment and Housing Act, as well as Armitage’s First Amendment right to free speech and his academic freedom.

INTERNATIONAL BRIEFS

Meriam Ibrahim Released From Sudan

(WNS)--Meriam Ibrahim and her family have arrived safely in Rome, ending a year-long effort in Sudan to put her to death for her Christian faith. “This is a day of celebration,” said Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who welcomed the family at the airport last Thursday. Ibrahim’s release came only hours after the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing to highlight the stalled efforts to get her out of Sudan, but the wheels were already in motion before the proceeding began. Sudanese authorities gave Ibrahim back her passport on Wed., July 23, and told her she could leave, shortly before Lapo Pistelli, Italy’s deputy minister for foreign affairs, arrived in Sudan to accompany her back to Italy. Italy’s effort illustrated the kind of advocacy lawmakers said was lacking from the Obama administration.

                 

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The West Michigan Christian News desires to glorify God while providing global, national, and local news to the West Michigan community. The West Michigan Christian News is a non-denominational, Christ-centered, advertiser-supported monthly newspaper published in Grand Rapids, Michigan by Manna Media Inc. It is unabashedly biased in its Christian presentation of news and views. It is also dedicated to the promotion of Christian unity by focusing on the 95 percent of the Christian faith on which all Christians agree while refusing to get drawn into controversies about the 5 percent on which we might differ.

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