Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
In today's edition:
- Death Toll Nears 300 in Southeast Storms
- Panel Blacklists Egypt for Religious Oppression
- Gunmen Attack Pastor and Family in Pakistan
- Plans for Interfaith Seminary Shelved
Death Toll Nears 300 in Southeast Storms
One of the most devastating tornado outbreaks in the nation's history left at least 280 people dead in six states April 27. Baptist Press reports that Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers -- already on the ground in some locations -- scrambled to assess damaged church buildings and assist in disaster relief in the midst of power and telephone outages, and rubble. In Alabama alone, more than 190 people died in 16 counties, and the governor estimated as many as half a million to a million people were left without electricity. Tennessee was the next hardest hit with a reported 34 deaths, followed by 32 in Mississippi, 14 in Georgia, five in Virginia and one in Arkansas. Entire neighborhoods were leveled in the affected regions. The Weather Channel called the outbreak the deadliest since 1974. Rick Lance, executive director of the Alabama State Board of Missions and treasurer of the Alabama Baptist Convention, noted the scale of the devastation by saying simply, "This is our Katrina."
Panel Blacklists Egypt for Religious Oppression
The Washington Times reports that a congressional commission on religious freedom placed Egypt on its blacklist for the first time ever Thursday. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom designated Egypt a "country of particular concern" (CPC) for the "systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of religious freedom" against Christians and minority Muslim sects. The panel also noted that President Obama has not heeded any of the panel's recommendations in adding countries to the State Department's list. “There is a problem with the failure to cite countries, and then a failure to take action when countries are cited,” commission Chairman Leonard Leo told The Washington Times. The panel reported on 28 countries, but Egypt was the only country moved from the watch list to the CPC designation. Egypt receives about $1.5 billion a year in U.S. aid.
Gunmen Attack Pastor and Family in Pakistan
Two militants attacked a Pakistani pastor and his family on Wednesday, leaving one son critically injured. The Rev. Ashraf Paul and his family were traveling in their vehicle outside Hamza Town in Lahore when two motorbike riders intercepted them and then opened fire on their car. ASSIST News Service reports that Sarfraz Paul (24), the pastor’s son, sustained critical bullet injuries and was immediately taken to the nearest general hospital. He had to be transferred a hospital inside the Lahore City, where doctors removed bullets from his jaw, waist and groin. Prior to this incident, the Rev. Paul had received a letter on March 30, 2011, telling him to stop his evangelical activities. It was claimed to be from Tehreek-e-Gazi Bin Shaheed (TGBS), an Islamic organization in Pakistan, and signed by its leader. They also demanded a "poll-tax" of almost $120,000, which the pastor did not pay.
Plans for Interfaith Seminary Shelved
Religion News Service reports that the plans for a multifaith seminary, spearheaded by Andover Newton Theological School outside Boston and Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, have crumbled after a year of talks. The presidents of Andover Newton, the nation's oldest seminary, and Meadville Lombard, a Unitarian Universalist school, blamed the breakdown on finances and accreditation issues rather than religious identity. "We found ourselves in a stronger financial position in a stand-alone model than we would have been in the cooperative venture, and that meant that we had to look really hard at our own fiduciary responsibility to our own seminary," said the Rev. Lee Barker, president of the Chicago school. Interfaith relations are "not impossible to create," Barker said, but with congregations tending to give less financial support to seminaries, it wasn't the right time for such a partnership.