College Students Are Interested in Spirituality

As many as 80% of college students are interested in spirituality and 74% claim to have discussions about the meaning of life with friends, according to the latest study by UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute. The study was based on a survey of 112,232 freshmen at 236 colleges and universities conducted last fall.

"College students appear to put a premium on their spiritual development," said Alexander Astin, co-principal investigator for the project. "They are clearly very interested in these larger questions in life, and many of them hope that the college experience will support them in their spiritual quest."

Researchers also found that today's college students are tolerant of the non-religious as well, with 83% agreeing that "non-religious people can be just as moral as religious believers" and 64% saying "most people can grow spiritually without being religious."

Baptist Press

Methodist Appeals Committee Reinstates Lesbian Pastor

The United Methodist Church has once again put its stamp of approval on practicing homosexuals in the pulpit. An appeals committee within the UMC decided recently to reinstate a lesbian minister from Philadelphia who earlier had been removed from her position after revealing her relationship with another woman.

In December, a clergy court ruled that Beth Stroud, 35, broke church law when she announced to her congregation that she was a practicing lesbian.  On Friday (April 29), a nine-member appeals committee reversed that decision on an 8-1 vote.

Agape Press via Religion Today Summaries

Saudis Launch Sweeping Crackdown on Christians

Reports of 46 confirmed arrests of Christians—with some sources citing in excess of 100 Christians arrested as of June 2, have been received by International Christian Concern (ICC), a Washington, D.C., based human rights organization. Saudi authorities engaged in a major crackdown involving a joint effort of standard police forces and Muttawa religious police. This is the largest crackdown in a decade by the religiously oppressive country.

 The crackdown came in the wake of allegations against the United States for desecrating the Qur'an at the Guantanamo Bay detention center. During the latest wave of arrests, Saudi authorities ransacked houses and destroyed any Bibles found in the victims' possession.

The crackdown began on May 28, when Chittirical John Thomas, an Indian national, was pulled from work in Riyadh by Saudi Muttawa authorities, dragged to his home, and beaten in front of his maid and 5-year-old son. The Muttawa gathered his Bible and all religious paraphernalia, and took 37 year-old Thomas to the Shemaissy Detention Center. Thomas's wife, who is 5 months pregnant, had not heard from her husband since, as of this report. In addition to John Thomas, 7 other Indian nationals were arrested in similar fashion and detained for their faith as Christians while they were asleep on the night of May 28.

Valiakalail Samuel Daniel, Koil Pillai Vijaykumar, Mutham Plackal Mathai Thomas, Pathivadathil James George, George Matthew, Biju Thomas, and Georgekutty Thomas are the confirmed names of the others in the first group arrested. These arrests followed the detention of Samkutty Varghese outside of his Bible study on March 22. Varghese possessed the names and numbers of other Christians attending the same fellowship group. ICC has received credible reports that Varghese was sentenced to 10 months in prison along with numerous lashes.

 This pogrom-like sweeping of the Christian minority in Saudi Arabia is a great disappointment to the United States' State Department, and shows deficient resolve in enforcing sanctions on "Countries of Particular Concern." ICC stated that the inaction of the world's leader in promoting freedom is reprehensible, and risks breaching the line of irrelevance on matters of religious freedom and human rights.

International Christian Concern

Level of Anger Being Spewed at People of Faith Has Risen to New Heights

A Christian leader in Washington, D.C., says the level of anger being spewed at people of faith has risen to new heights. Pat Mahoney of the Christian Defense Coalition believes differing views on social issues are driving an angry wedge between the debaters, especially those on the liberal side, and mean-spirited name calling has become a mainstay of Democrat lawmakers in particular. Recently, Christian organizations and leaders have been called the anti-Christ, Nazis, and hate mongers by those who disagree with their values, and a conference was convened in New York City in an effort to fight what participants called the growth of a theocracy. Mahoney and other Christian leaders feel things will only get worse.

Agape Press via
Religion Today Summaries

16 Pastors Are Among Nearly 900 Christians Jailed in Eritrea

Sixteen full-time pastors are among nearly 900 Christians who are jailed in prisons and military camps, according to a documented list recently compiled by evangelical sources in the tiny African nation. Despite a heavy-handed clampdown by the country's security police, the sources have managed to compile the list of 883 Christians now being held without trial or charges because of their faith, Compass Direct reported. Only a handful of prisoners have been released—after recently being coerced to sign pledges to stop attending religious services of the unregistered, "illegal" denominations. Of the pastors and hundreds of church members arrested since January, most were apprehended either at prayer meetings in homes of fellow believers or while attending wedding ceremonies. Several others were arrested individually from their homes or offices, Compass reported.

Charisma News Service
via Religion Today Summaries

Event Offers Teens Taste of Persecution

Christian youth groups nationwide will have a chance this summer to experience a small sample of what believers in persecuted nations endure on a daily basis. Open Doors USA is giving young people the opportunity to participate in "Night of Persecution," a program that is designed to help them understand what life is like for persecuted Christians by showing them in a vivid way. According to Jeff Shreve, who coordinates Open Doors' youth ministry, "Underground," the experience is intense. "Their eyes are opened to the reality of Christian persecution," Shreve notes. In the course of their ordeal as "persecuted Christians," he says, "a lot of young people are forced, through the interrogation and the intimidation that they face to really give an account for why they believe what they believe—not so much to the interrogator but for themselves." Open Doors is sponsoring the "Night of Persecution" in the hope that, for many young Christians, it will help them begin to develop a deeper, more real faith as they learn about their brothers and sisters in the persecuted church. Twenty-five dates are being booked for the summer months.

Agape Press via
Religion Today Summaries

Egyptian Convert Held In Mental Hospital

An Egyptian convert to Christianity is being held in a Cairo mental hospital, where supervising doctors have told him he will stay until he recants his faith and returns to Islam. Gaser Mohammed Mahmoud, 30, was committed to the El-Khanka Hospital in early January by his adoptive parents, with the assistance of local state security police, after they learned he had become a Christian two years earlier. Under the supervision of Dr. Mohsen, director of the hospital's medical committee, Mahmoud was subjected to psychiatric examination and placed in Section Three, a closed ward for mental patients. He has remained there ever since, under the care of a woman physician identified only as Dr. Nevine. Sources describe Dr. Nevine as a "fanatic Muslim" who had treated Mahmoud "badly" for deserting Islam. Since his forced confinement, Mahmoud has reportedly endured beatings, whippings, and potentially fatal injections. Egypt's Muslim citizens do not have the legal right to change their religion, although non-Muslims are allowed freely to convert to Islam and change their official religious identity.

Compass Direct via
Religion Today Summaries

Billion-Soul Initiative

A "global church planting congress" is planned for September, 2005, in which over 350 Christian leaders will gather to plan this "largest evangelistic initiative in human history," as the organizers describe it. The meeting is planned to flesh out the Billion Soul Initiative envisioned by Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, before his death in 2003. Close colleagues and participants in consultations with Bright report that he explained his personal missionary vision for the future shortly before his death. He called on Christians to cooperate to call 1 billion people to follow Christ in the next 10 years by planting 5 million house churches. Global Pastors Network is continuing Bright's vision. 

Friday Fax

Germans Pressure Home-Schoolers

Pressure is mounting on Christians who home-school their children in Germany where it is illegal for parents to do so even for reasons of faith or conscience. A mother living near Guetersloh was recently imprisoned for six days because she and her husband refused to send their children to a state-registered school. They also refused to pay the fine, the equivalent of US$115. The conservative evangelicals object to sex education in public schools and regard the religious instruction as "too liberal." The parents belong to a Baptist church comprised mostly of ethnic German immigrants from Russia.

Local authorities in the federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia recently announced that they will pursue a hard line against home-schoolers. Since October, seven parents in Paderborn county have refused to send 15 children to public school for religious and ethical reasons. They were fined US$190 each. Authorities also threatened to take them to court, and they could lose custody of their children. A court in Bayreuth, Bavaria, ordered a couple to send their 8-year-old daughter to a state-registered school and fined the parents US$8,500. They may appeal the court order. Despite the legal requirements, about 500 children in Germany are home-schooled.

Assist News Service/IDEA
 via MissionNet

Worldwide Scripture Distribution Declines

Scripture distribution worldwide continues to drop, reported the United Bible Societies (UBS) in Reading, England. A total of 390.5 million Bibles, New Testaments, Scripture portions, and selections were distributed in 2004, down 10% from 2003, and a drop of 32% from 2002. Last year the most significant decline was recorded in the distribution of New Testaments, falling 13% to 12.6 million copies compared to 14.4 million in 2003. However, distribution of complete Bibles increased 16.6% to almost 25 million copies. Bible portions were also in higher demand. The UBS fellowship comprises 141 Bible societies or offices working in more than 200 countries and territories.

IDEA via MissionNet

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