Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
In today's edition:
New Book Details Religious Faith of All 43 U.S. Presidents
A new book, "God and the Oval Office" by John C. McCollister, recounts the religious faith of all 43 American presidents, from George Washington to George W. Bush. The book does not argue that every president -- including the Founding Fathers -- was an evangelical Christian, but it makes clear that the overwhelming majority of presidents expressed a faith in God. "The book does not make judgmental statements," McCollister told Baptist Press. "It simply says, these are the facts. You draw your own conclusion." For example: -- Thomas Jefferson rejected the major tenets of Christianity -- including Christ's deity. But Jefferson also saw the need for religion in society. John Quincy Adams read at least three chapters of the Bible each day. James Buchanan wanted to join a church upon leaving office but had trouble doing so because of his support of slavery on a limited basis. "Nobody will ever be elected to the presidency of the United States who does not show a strong faith in Almighty God," McCollister told BP. "There's not going to be any president elected who is an agnostic or refuses to acknowledge that he depends on God." Americans, McCollister said, want "to make certain that our leader reflects the theme of the Founding Fathers." McCollister believes that three of America's first four presidents, George Washington, Jefferson and James Madison, were deists “by their own admission. But all of these Founding Fathers had two themes -- number one, they believed in the almighty power of God, and number two -- America would survive as a nation only if it recognized and depended upon the power of Almighty God." Studying the beliefs of America's first few presidents, McCollister said, can help in the contemporary debate over the separation of church and state.
Christian Lessons from Black History
An Asbury Park Press story recounts how at the Church of Grace and Peace, old-time gospel music blended with the soaring sounds of the church organ as old slave narratives and sermons were re-enacted. The program was a mix of emotional performances, all unified by a single theme — "We've Come this Far by Faith." Associate Pastor Anthony Aquilino, who organized the program, said his church has held other Black History Month events in the past, focusing on the civil rights movement and achievements of black Americans. This year, the church focused on the impact the Christian faith had from early slave times through the civil rights movement, he said. "Many historians, black and white, credit the Christian faith of the slaves as being the single most important factor in unifying and sustaining them as a people," said Aquilino, the church's drama director. Among the presentations was a re-enactment of an 18th-century slave narrative. More than 100 people attended the program, which is evolving into a church tradition. "It's becoming an annual thing," Aquilino said. Among Sunday night's performances was a rendition of the spiritual "Go Down Moses," the sermon "Let My People Go," and a re-enactment of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. Attendee Rolanda Tucker said its important for the church to showcase how black history and the Christian faith are entwined, calling it "a learning experience for the church and the community.”
Asia's Largest Christian Convention Kicks Off in India
The 111th Maramon Convention, believed to be one of Asia's largest Christian conventions, began Sunday on the riverbank at Maramon, India. The week-long event was organized by the Evangelistic Association. "This convention is not just a meet of Marthomaites alone, instead it is being attended by all sections of Christians and people of all religions come to hear the speeches," said Dr. Joseph Mar Irenaeus Suffragan Metropolitan, president of the Evangelistic Association of the Mar Thoma Church. The convention was inaugurated at 2:30 p.m. by Dr. Philipose Mar Chrisostom Mar Thoma Metropolitan, the Supreme head of Malankara Marthoma Syrian church. He said ‘only through love for all creations that man can forge a deep link with God, the creator.’ He also exhorted the gathering to lead man towards the love of God so as to transform the world totally. 'It is through words that we familiarize ourselves with Jesus Christ,' he added. Delivering the keynote address, Bishop David J L Hawkins called for a sea-change in man's mindset to take on the challenges of modern world. Those who were poor in spirit would inherit heaven. The first step was negation of egotism, he added. Around 100,000 people are expected to attend the Maramon Convention throughout this week.
God Can Work in the Unrest in Gaza, Group Says
With the upheaval in Gaza and the Middle East since the Palestinian elections, Christians have faced increased threats and persecution. In the recent demands against the Palestine Bible Society, Voice of the Martyrs' Todd Nettleton, says "I think this is probably Islamic militants just trying one more step to eliminate the Gospel from their country, from their land. Hopefully that will not take place. We know that the Word of God is a very powerful tool to reach people and to change people's lives. And so we pray that the Palestine Bible Society is able to keep a work going in Gaza and is able to keep distributing God's Word there." Nettleton says this is a time when believers really have an opportunity to display Christ to their persecutors. "I think this is a time when they can really show sensitivity and show God's love to those people and perhaps reach them with the Gospel. So, you know, God has a way of out of threats and out of persecution, He brings about good things. And I think that we can pray that that will happen in this case as well for the people involved in the Palestine Bible Society, but even further, for the people of Palestine." The militants detonated a bomb when they delivered their threatening message to the Palestine Bible Society, and Nettleton says, "I think that's definitely a message that this is not just a letter: 'we're here to make sure there's some action on this.' And so, you know, that sort of up's the fear factor a little bit, it up's the sense of intimidation, the sense of threat, and I think particularly for the people who live in that building, the people who are there who are not involved in the Bible Society, it sends the message, 'you'd better get rid of these people or else your lives and your homes are in danger.'"