Religion Today Summaries -- December 18, 2003

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk News Staff

Religion Today Summaries -- December 18, 2003

Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.  In today's edition:

  • Group Launches Campaign Advocating for Persecuted North Korean Church
  • Fundamentalists Pressure Dalit Christians to Re-Convert
  • Moscow Defends 'Stealing' of Church
  • Baptists Set Target High for Missionary Support Offering

Group Launches Campaign Advocating for Persecuted North Korean Church
Jim Brown, Agape Press

A new Christmas campaign in the U.S. attempts to raise awareness of Christian persecution and human rights violations in North Korea. The Institute on Religion and Democracy has launched its Liberty Initiative for North Korea (LINK). Project director Faith McDonnell says up until now, little has been known about the horrendous persecution Christians face in the Communist country. LINK was started to address that situation, McDonnell says, "to inform people about what has been happening in North Korea, to get them to pray for North Korea, to advocate for changes in U.S. policies on North Korea." As part of the initiative, the IRD is distributing Christmas buttons that say "Merry Christmas" in Korean. McDonnell says the buttons are meant to serve as a reminder of those believers who cannot openly celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. McDonnell is encouraging Christians in the U.S. to order the buttons for themselves, their churches, or other groups to wear throughout the Christmas season. Beginning early in 2004, LINK is planning to enter the next phase of the effort by equipping church members for grassroots advocacy on North Korea.  LINK will provide information about public policy initiatives to support freedom for all Koreans, to promote human rights and democracy in North Korea, and especially to support persecuted Christians and other North Korean refugees.

Fundamentalists Pressure Dalit Christians to Re-Convert
Compass Direct

India 's Dalits, who have been virtually enslaved as "untouchables" for more than 2,000 years, have begun to come to Christ in large numbers. Upper caste Hindus have historically shown little interest in Dalit affairs; however, they are raising a hue and cry about Christian evangelists' alleged use of allurement to entice Dalits to convert. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has portrayed itself as "the protector of Hindu religion," a strategy that has created a huge voter bank in a country that is 82 percent Hindu. During November assembly elections, fundamentalist groups affiliated with the BJP spread rumors that "agents of missionaries" were alluring Hindus to Christianity through offers of money. Provocative political speeches forced Christians to flee one rural village due to threats to their lives. Religious tensions continue to loom large in several parts of the country as the BJP prolongs its hate propaganda in order to win more seats in parliament.

Moscow Defends 'Stealing' of Church
Stefan Bos, ASSIST News Service

Moscow officials have defended the seizure of a church building from a Korean Methodist church in the Russian capital and the controversial "sale" of the property to "new owners," a human rights monitoring service said Tuesday, Dec. 16. Moscow city's justice department failed to explain why it allowed the founding document of the Kwan Lim United Methodist Church to be altered without its congregation's knowledge or consent. The head of the local city registration department for religious organizations, Aleksandr Buksman, was quoted as saying that the take over of the church building met the demands of Russia's religion law. Buksman said the amendments to the founding document, which made the change of ownership possible had been discussed at a church meeting that involved the unspecified "religious organization" in April last year. The Methodists claim no such valid church meeting took place. Buildings of other organizations, including human rights groups, also lost properties earlier this year. Eyewitnesses said 20 guards hired by the new "owners" of the church seized the building Dec. 9, with the pastor and church officials remaining inside. "We are staying here round the clock to try to prevent the illegal seizure," quoted a church administrator from inside the church.

Baptists Set Target High for Missionary Support Offering
Allie Martin, Agape Press

Churches in the nation's largest evangelical denomination are being encouraged to increase their giving to an annual offering for missionaries. Southern Baptist churches are being asked to increase their contribution to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering by 33%.  That offering, along with the denomination's cooperative program, is used to send missionaries overseas and support more than 5,000 missionaries already in the field. For each of the past several years, more than 1,000 new missionaries have been appointed.  However, giving has not kept pace with that growth, says Dr. Jerry Rankin, president of the SBC's International Mission Board.  Last year, the SBC had to defer more than 100 missionaries because the funds were not available. Rankin says the opportunities for people to be reached for Christ are greater now than ever before.  The SBC official is convinced that Christians in the United States have been blessed so they can bless others.  "The primary blessing is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ [so] that those in despair can find hope [and] those in the bondage of sin can hear of a Savior who loves them and died for them." The goal for this year's Lottie Moon offering is $133 million -- 15% more than last year's total; the "challenge" goal is $150 million.