News

Supreme Court to Hear Partial-Birth Case

The U.S. Supreme Court announced Feb. 21 it will decide if a federal ban on partial-birth abortion is constitutional, providing pro-lifers with hope the justices will uphold the first restriction on a specific procedure since abortion was legalized 33 years ago. The justices will not hear oral arguments in the case, Gonzales v. Carhart, until their next term, which will begin in October.

The high court will review a decision from the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals striking down the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act. The Eighth Circuit was one of three appellate courts in recent months to affirm lower court rulings invalidating the 2003 law.

Recent changes on the Supreme Court have bolstered the hopes of the federal law's supporters that the justices may permit the ban after striking down a state prohibition on the procedure in 2000. In that 5-4 ruling, Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor voted with the majority. She has retired, however, and been replaced by Samuel Alito, who was confirmed by the Senate in January. In addition to Alito, John Roberts also has joined the court since that opinion, replacing the late William Rehnquist as chief justice in September.

Baptist Press

Iran Outlaws Muslims Who Come to Christ

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime is dealing a severe blow to Christian revival in the country by outlawing Muslims who convert to Christianity. Ethnic Christians are still allowed to express their faith within their own church walls, but those who come from a Muslim background face tremendous risk because the government wants them to return to Islam.

Iran's new policy has brought fear to the church because they are forbidden to support these [believers], and as a result are removing their support from their brothers and sisters of Muslim origin. "That is regrettable," said Open Doors staff worker Stefan Van Velde. "They [former Muslims] now form little cell groups that only meet in secret. This makes it more difficult for the government to track them down. At the same time, it's very hard for organizations like Open Doors to reach them, too. This is a problem because most [of the former Muslims] are new converts to Christianity. They have very little knowledge of the Bible. There is a big risk that false doctrines will arise," he said. "They aren't intimidated by the government and continue to spread the gospel."

Assist News Service via MissionNet

Bombs Used in Iraq To Expel Christians

A "hidden reality of persecution," including daily threats, kidnappings, discrimination and most recently car bombings, is being used to drive Christians out of Iraq, reported AsiaNews. Three people were killed and another nine injured in a series of car bombings against Christian places of worship in Kirkuk and Baghdad Sunday, Jan. 29. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks. AsiaNews said the bombings were designed to "feed internal divisions and the ongoing political instability, but also to drive the Christian community out of Iraq." One theory is that the attacks were related to the recent cartoons that a Danish newspaper published, mocking the Islamic prophet Mohammed. But Rabban Al Qas, a Chaldean bishop, hypothesizes that behind this most recent violence there are "forces intent on destabilizing and dividing the country." He added that Christians in Iraq face constant discrimination.

Assist News Service via MissionNet

Alliance Church Pastor, Wife Killed in Ambush

An Alliance Church pastor and his wife died instantly when they were ambushed in Patonoling, Tupi, in early February, reported the Philippine press. Timothy Ariao, 46, and Delia Juebas, 39, were traveling to a church gathering when they were ambushed by gunmen with automatic weapons. Although no one has claimed responsibility, Christian workers have been kidnapped or killed by Communist insurgents in the past.

Voice of the Martyrs via MissionNet

Eminent Domain Lurks Over Church

It could be a matter of time until a 2005 Supreme Court ruling forces people out of their pews to make way for a Wal-Mart Supercenter or another such retail giant, at least if a particular situation in Oklahoma is any indication.

Centennial Baptist Church in Sand Springs, Okla., is at the center of a land dispute because it is located in an industrial hub west of Tulsa where the city plans to move ahead with a redevelopment plan to clear the church and other occupants from the area to make room for retail stores, according to The New York Times Jan. 23.

If the city and the church cannot agree on a selling price for the property, the city, under the Supreme Court ruling, could use eminent domain to acquire the property and then sell it to developers.

"It's not just grandma's house we have to worry about," Heather Wilhelm, communications director for Americans for Limited Government, wrote in an article posted on National Review Online Jan. 17. "Now it's God's house, too."

Baptist Press

Barna Report Explores Teens and the Supernatural

Ministry to Mosaics: Teens and the Supernatural, the latest report from The Barna Group, was released recently. Based upon three nationwide studies conducted among more than 4,000 teens ages 13-18, the report examines teens' media exposure to the supernatural world as well their perception, experience, and beliefs on the immaterial realm. The 47-page report revealed that most teens believe in the supernatural realm, with a projected seven million teens having encountered an angel, demon, or some other supernatural being. Thirty percent of all teens claim they have had supernatural encounters, while more than 10% say they have communicated with the dead and nearly 10% claim they have psychic powers. According to The Barna Group, the research revealed that many churches fail to address the subject of the supernatural. One of the most striking findings, according to the group, is that only one-quarter of churched teenagers (28%) recall receiving any teaching at their church in the last year that helped to shape their views on the supernatural world.

Religion Today Summaries

Efforts to Suppress Church in Middle East Often Backfire

Throughout the Middle East, Christians are quietly and faithfully living for Christ despite opposition and persecution. In countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, there is a growing phenomenon of interest in the gospel, and Lee DeYoung with Words of Hope says the interest is in response to efforts to promote hostility toward Christians. "Efforts to suppress and to vilify Christians, for some people, actually produce a reaction that increases their curiosity and their interest. And thankfully, we've heard accounts of people who quietly share—Christians sharing with Muslim neighbors who ask them about their faith and why they believe what they believe. Many Muslims really are seeking after God. They have a hunger to know Him...and many are finding Jesus." DeYoung is encouraged by local response to the Christian broadcasts in Arabic and Farsi from Words of Hope. "These are times of great pressure. There is great risk, but also there is a growing hunger. And we praise God for that and pray that we and those in those countries will be faithful in pursuing that."

Religion Today/Mission Network News

Christian Union at British University Banned, Accounts Frozen

Birmingham University's Christian Union is banned from using Student Union Guild rooms and facilities and had its bank accounts frozen by guild authorities after refusing to make "politically correct changes" to its charitable constitution on religious grounds, including who can become a member. "As a Christian union we restrict membership to only those people who profess faith in Jesus Christ," explained staff worker Andy Weatherley. "It is a fundamental right of any organization to be able to include in its membership only those who abide by the ethos and focus of the organization." Pod Bhogal, communications director of Universities Christian College Fellowship, added, "In all our years of working with hundreds of higher education establishments, this action by Birmingham's guild is unique. We support the Birmingham Christian Union 100 percent and will back them in standing up for their rights." The union has instructed solicitors to issue court proceedings against the guild if its funds aren't returned.

Assist News Service via MissionNet

Poverty in Jamaica Opens Numerous Ministry Opportunities

Outside of Jamaican resorts, the Caribbean country is strewn with poverty. Few job opportunities, insufficient access to adequate food supplies and clean water, unsafe housing, lack of sanitation and limited healthcare make day-to-day life a challenge.

St. Thomas is one of the poorest of the 14 parishes in the country with unemployment at nearly 50 percent and illiteracy high. But Sydney Henry of Food for the Poor considers this the perfect place to build a ministry. "We are working there with the churches first of all to try to begin the process of change with housing," he explained. "So we're building houses across the parish. Hopefully, this year, we will build in excess of 500 houses."

Some 15,000 families are waiting for a new home through Food for the Poor. Providing for people's physical needs also leads to witnessing opportunities. "One has to communicate the gospel with patience," Henry says. "One has to communicate this work of compassion clearly through almost assimilating yourself into the circumstances of the people to whom we seek to minister. With patience and spending time building relationships with these families, it gives us a chance to make the gospel come alive."

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