Religion Today Daily Headlines - April 24, 2013

Religion Today Daily Headlines - April 24, 2013

Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.

In today's edition:

  • American Pastor Faces Worsening Conditions in Iranian Prison
  • France Legalizes Gay Marriage After Months of Debate
  • Christian Widow in Somalia Killed Four Months After Husband Slain
  • Evangelicals Give More to Charity, Study Finds


American Pastor Faces Worsening Conditions in Iranian Prison

Almost 570,000 people have signed a petition callign for international pressure on Iran to release American pastor Saeed Abedini amid continuing reports that he is being beaten and mistreated in prison, reports. Iranian authorities are reportedly demanding that he recant his faith in Jesus Christ or spend even longer behind bars than the term he already faces in Iran's brutal Evin prison. Arrested last September while visiting family members in Iran, Abedini -- a convert from Islam to Christianity who moved to the U.S. in 2005 -- was sentenced in January to eight years in prison for "threatening the national security of Iran." The American Center for Law and Justice, which is leading a campaign for his release and representing his wife and children, reports troubling news from relatives' visits for the prison -- reports of continuing beatings, internal bleeding and fainting, denial of medical treatment and death threats from cellmates. A letter from Abedini obtained by the ACLJ earlier this month recounted that prison authorities had told him: "Deny your faith in Jesus Christ and return to Islam or else you will not be released from prison. We will make sure you are kept here even after your eight-year sentence is finished." The ACLJ continues to encourage support for a petition, citing Iran's violation of international treaty obligations and its own constitution, and urging the international community to take "all available diplomatic action to press Iran to respect human rights and release Pastor Saeed."

France Legalizes Gay Marriage After Months of Debate

France legalized gay marriage on Tuesday after months of debate that divided the country and sparked massive protests, WORLD Magazine reports. Police braced themselves by the thousands ahead of the vote, preparing for dueling protests around the National Assembly building and along the Seine River. They used tear gas and pepper spray against hundreds of thousands of supporters of traditional marriage the last time they gathered to publicly protest the law, claiming demonstrators got violent. The measure passed easily, 331-225, in the Socialist-majority National Assembly. At least one spectator, a supporter of traditional marriage, was thrown out of the gallery. According to Christiane Taubira, France's justice minister, the first same-sex weddings could be held as early as June. France is the 14th country to redefine marriage, with Tuesday's vote coming a week after New Zealand's.

Christian Widow in Somalia Killed Four Months After Husband Slain

Islamist militants in Somalia have killed the widow of a Christian who was slain for his faith in December, leaving the couple’s five children orphaned, Morning Star News reports. Islamic extremist al Shabaab rebels shot 42-year-old Fartun Omar to death on April 13 in Buulodbarde, 12 miles from the central Somalian city of Beledweyne, sources said. The extremists had been searching for her for several months, as they knew that she was a secret Christian like her late husband, Mursal Isse Siad. Siad had been receiving death threats for leaving Islam, and was shot outside his home by two unidentified masked men on Dec. 8, 2012. After his death, Omar initially fled the area with her five children. "A week before she was killed, rumors were flying that the al Shabaab were looking for her," one of Omar’s neighbors said. Due to the threat of persecution, Omar on April 10 decided to leave Beledweyne by bus with another neighbor to seek refuge with relatives, the first neighbor said. On reaching Buulobarde, which is controlled by al Shabaab, militants at a roadblock ordered passengers to disembark and questioned them one by one. "Unfortunately, she was not cleared by the al Shabaab," said the neighbor who accompanied her. "I only heard one of them saying, 'This is the woman whose husband was killed last year. Do not let her in.'" The other passengers were allowed to board again, and the bus left, with Omar’s neighbor suddenly responsible for caring for her children, the oldest of whom is a 15-year-old girl. "On April 13, I received news from Beledweyne that a woman in Buulobarde had been killed by the al Shabaab," the neighbor said. "Soon I found out that it was Fartun Omar." Sources said Omar was found dead on the outskirts of Buulobarde with bullet wounds to her right side. "The children are in safe hands, and I am trying to look for some of the relatives of Omar," the neighbor said. "The only problem that I am experiencing at the moment is that the small children are crying for their mother."

Evangelicals Give More to Charity, Study Finds

Evangelical Christians tend to give more to charity than their peers, according to a new study by the Barna Group, Baptist Press reports. The study finds that 79 percent of evangelical Christians gave money to a church or charity last year, while 65 percent donated items and 60 percent volunteered their time. Only 1 percent of evangelicals say they donated nothing at all, which beats the national rate (13 percent) and the rate among those who claim no faith at all (25 percent). "A person's religious identification has a lot to do with whether or not they donate to causes they believe in," the study said. The study concluded that Americans support churches and nonprofits about equally. Of those who gave in the last 12 months, 43 percent say most of their contributions went to a church, while 45 percent indicated a nonprofit. Evangelicals are least likely to give to a nonprofit (28 percent), while about two-thirds of evangelicals (66 percent) who made charitable contributions gave to a church. Conversely, 82 percent of atheist and agnostic donors gave to a nonprofit, while only 4 percent gave to a church.

Publication date: April 24, 2013