A personal representative of Iran’s supreme leader has called for three prominent U.S. Protestant ministers to be killed for insulting the Muslim prophet Mohammed, according to a report Oct. 12 from IranMania.com, an Internet portal focusing on Iran. According to the report, an Iranian newspaper quoted Ayatollah Mohsen Mujtahed Shabestari as saying during a prayer sermon Oct. 11 in the northwestern city of Tabriz that “in our opinion, to kill these three is necessary.”
Shabestari, who is supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s personal representative to Iran’s Azerbaijan Province, only referred to the three as “the Israeli mercenaries” who needed to be “separated from other Christians.” However, other officials here have already singled out Jerry Falwell, Pat Roberston, and Franklin Graham, the son of well-known televangelist Billy Graham.
Falwell was singled out for reportedly calling the prophet Mohammed a terrorist. Franklin Graham was included for reportedly saying last November that Islam was “a very evil and wicked religion.” Pat Robertson said in February that Islam was a religion of violence seeking to “dominate and then, if need be, destroy.”
IranMania.com via Ms4Freedom@aol.com
By Jim Brown and Jody Brown
United Methodists and the Muslim community will be entering a four-year national dialogue next year. But one conservative Methodist leader says the effort will compromise the gospel of Christ. Anne Marshall, a spokesperson for the Commission, says that two major Muslim groups have praised the United Methodists for initiating attempts at “interfaith understanding.” However, not everyone thinks the ecumenical give-and-take between the two religious groups is a good idea. Mark Tooley, executive director of United Methodist Action, say this is a continuation of the overall trend in mainline churches to give priority to dialogue with leaders of false religions, thereby de-emphasizing evangelism and the message of Christ. “I’m afraid that rather than being gospel-centered, it [will end] up giving the appearance of ... saying that all religions are, in essence, equally true.” Members of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns say through the dialogue they hope to explore what they call “a deeper understanding of Islam.”
Agape Press via
Religion Today Summaries
Twelve Christian students were killed and another 50 injured in a riot at the Federal College of Education in Nigeria, reported the Barnabas Fund. The rioting broke out after a Christian candidate won the annual students’ union elections. Disgruntled Muslim students whipped up resentment among local Muslims who stormed the campus.
Christian students were attacked and forced to flee. Official sources reported that 12 Christians were killed with many more injured, requiring treatment at the local hospital. Some Christian women students were also raped. Such religiously motivated clashes provide a worrying reminder of the possibility of widespread religious violence during national elections scheduled for next year.
Religion Today via HCJB World Radio
A hard-line Islamic political party made significant gains during Pakistan’s recent parliamentary elections held on October 10. Christians fear a rise in Islamic extremism and more attacks on the already battered Christian community from pro-Taliban militants. The Muttahida Majlas-i-Amal (MMA), an alliance of six clerical parties, won 20% of the parliamentary seats and was elected the majority party in two regions—the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) bordering Afghanistan and the Balochistan province bordering Iran. Known as open supporters of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime, the MMA has publicly called for the imposition of Islamic shariah law in Pakistan.
International Christian Concern
A letter smuggled out of Cairo’s Mazraa Tora Prison in September confirmed that an Egyptian convert to Christianity who disappeared several months ago has been imprisoned on criminal charges. The letter indicated that Hisham Samir Abdel Latif Ibrahim, 26, had been arrested last spring by Egyptian security police. He is accused of falsifying his identification papers and “reviling Islam.”
In his letter, Ibrahim said he was questioned for 52 days after his arrest. Born in Alexandria into a Muslim family, he is believed to have obtained Christian identification papers on the basis of a newly-issued birth certificate with a non-Muslim name. Egyptian Muslims are forbidden by law to change their religious identity, although open incentives are offered to encourage Christian citizens to convert to Islam. Ibrahim came to Christ in 1996 through listening to a Christian radio program. Before his disappearance on May 7, Ibrahim had been living with a Christian couple and was active in an evangelical Coptic church in Cairo. Since March the couple and their three daughters have faced repeated harassment by security police as well as local Muslim extremists.
Compass via HCJB World Radio
According to sources at Agape Press, it appears a rift has developed between the Democratic Party and the Catholic Church. The Democratic National Committee has created another link on its Website to a pro-abortion group, Catholics for a Free Choice (CFC). According to William Donohue of the Catholic League, one of the founders of Catholics for a Free Choice once crowned herself “pope” on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
The liberal CFC group has also lobbied to get the Vatican expelled from the United Nations. Now the Catholic League is turning the tables. It has petitioned the DNC to remove the group from its Website—but Donohue said the Democrat committee has, so far, declined. Donohue also said the CFC is very much mistaken if they think they can continue to sell Catholics for Free Choice as being just a pro-abortion group. “No,” Donohue says, “It’s an anti-Catholic group.” According to Family News in Focus, all of the “Catholic” links on the Democratic National Committee site are to pro-abortion groups.
Religion Today Summaries
The World Hindu Council has labeled Indian historian Dwijendra Narayan Jha blasphemous because he claims in a recently-published book that early Hindus ate beef. The book, based on Jha’s research of ancient Hinduism, has been published in the United Kingdom and the U.S. but not in India, where it has generated a firestorm of protest. Jha, a professor of history at the University of Delhi and a leading Indian historian, produces evidence from a variety of religious and secular texts to show that beef was once very much a feature of the approved Brahmanical and Buddhist diet.
Editor’s note: Jha’s book, The Myth of the Holy Cow, was published in April 2002 by Verso Books, at a price of $22.00. It can be ordered from www.versobooks.com. Meanwhile, Jha’s life has been threatened and the government has demanded that his book be ritually burned.
The southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu has passed legislation outlawing what it calls “forced religious conversions.” Christians convicted of leading Dalits—people outside of the caste system—to Christ could face up to four years in prison, reports Gospel for Asia (GFA) President K. P. Yohannan. “This is nothing but another attempt of the Hindu sect…to stop conversions and the Christian work in India,” he says. “Now there is a feeling that other states may also seek to adopt this.” While Yohannan is surprised at the new legislation, he’s not losing hope. “I believe the persecution and even martyrdom may increase rapidly. But I am convinced that more people will come to know the Lord in the midst of bloodshed and persecution and all the opposition that we will face.”
The demise of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan has brightened the prospects for religious freedom in Afghanistan, says John Hanford, the U.S. ambassador-at-large for religious freedom. Citing a U.S. State Department report released Sept. 30, he said that Afghanistan has shown “significant improvement” in its acceptance of minority religions—in large part because the war on terrorism rid the country of the Taliban. In the 2001 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, Afghanistan was one of the seven worst nations cited as barriers to the free practice of religion. Less than a year after a new governing body was established, led by Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan has shown improvement in the 2002 report. “We feel there’s been marked improvement,” Hanford said. “Some of the harsh ways in which the Taliban forced conformity to their rather radical approach to Islam have been addressed across the board.”
A Pentecostal bishop in Oklahoma has no plans to stop preaching a message that says non-Christians are saved too. Bishop Carlton Pearson is pastor of Higher Dimensions Family Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He says he is being shunned by evangelicals who object to his teaching that a person does not have to believe in Jesus Christ in order to go to heaven. “Many of my evangelical friends are adamantly opposed to my saying that Jesus is the Savior of the whole world,” Pearson says. “He’s only a Savior for the world if they happen to find Him, they think. I’m saying it’s a done deal.” An Associated Press report says the pastor, who is writing a book entitled God Is Not a Christian, has seen many members leave his church because of his universalist message.
Agape Press via
Religion Today Summaries
Detlef Bloecher, director of German Missionary Fellowship in Sinsheim, says Europeans have cut themselves off from their Christian roots and are indulging in materialism and individualism. “God’s commandments are trampled down, and ancient paganism is rearing its ugly head,” said Bloecher. “Bible-believing Christians are few and far between,” he says, accounting for just 3.2 percent of Germany’s population. In other countries the percentage is even lower: 0.3 in Belgium, 0.5 in Austria, 0.6 in France and 0.8 in Spain. Only strict Islamic countries and some Asian nations have a lower percentage of Christians. “Europeans seem almost immune to the gospel,” says Bloecher. “Germany needs African evangelists, Korean Bible teachers, Brazilian student missionaries and American church planters to come here.”
IDEA via HCJB World Radio
According to a recent study by the Glenmary Research Center, “Socially conservative churches that demand high commitment from their members grew faster than other religious denominations in the last decade. Denominations described in the media as “mainline Protestant” or “liberal”—such as the United Presbyterians, United Methodists and Episcopalians—were continuing their decades-long erosion in membership. There is “nothing astounding” about the losses in such denominations that have been in decline for nearly 40 years, said Mark Tooley, who directs the Institute for Religion and Democracy’s United Methodist studies initiatives. “Churches that are faithful to their historic teachings, that offer transcendent truth to their congregants, that demand something morally of their people, and that believe in the need for personal conversion have a strong incentive to grow,” Tooley said. “Churches that allow themselves to be defined by the secular culture’s definition of ‘inclusivity’ and ‘tolerance’ really have little to offer that will change hearts or inspire great loyalty, much less create membership growth.”
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