Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
In today's edition:
4 More Baptist Churches in Alabama Catch Fire; 3 Destroyed; Arson again Suspected
Four more churches in central Alabama were damaged or destroyed Monday night and Tuesday morning, just days after a suspected arsonist set five churches in another part of the state on fire. The latest fires took place in the western part of central Alabama, near the Mississippi border. All are rural Baptist churches, and all are located within 10-20 miles of one another. None are Southern Baptist. According to Reuters, three churches were destroyed: Galilee Baptist in Panola, Morningstar Missionary Baptist near Boligee and Dancy First Baptist near Aliceville. A fourth, Spring Valley Baptist near Emelle, was damaged. All four are predominately black congregations. "Obviously we're going to investigate these as suspected arsons," Ragan Ingram, a spokesperson for the Alabama Insurance Department, told the AP. The latest fires comes just four days after five Baptist churches in rural Alabama -- include four Southern Baptist ones -- were burned by arson. Three of those churches were destroyed. "It is such a vibrant church and the people were so active," Mary Paluzzi, Aliceville's city manager, told Reuters. "There is no explaining how mean people can be. They hit people who don't have means and who give so much of their little." Johnny Archibald, a member of Morningstar Baptist, told AP: "I don't know what's going on. It's just sickness."
Cartoon Controversy Turns Deadly in Afghanistan; Violence Rebuked
Security forces opened fire on protestors in Afghanistan on Monday, leaving at least four dead as violence escalated worldwide over the caricatures of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. Outside Bagram, Afghan police fired at some 2,000 protestors as they attempted to break into the facility, reported the AP. Two demonstrators were killed, five injured, and eight police officers were hurt in the clash. Afghan police also fired on protestors in the central city of Mihtarlam after a man in the crowd shot at them and others threw stones and knives. Two demonstrators were shot to death and two police were injured. Likewise, in Kabul about 200 protestors threw stones at a Danish government’s diplomatic mission office and beat some officers shouting: "Long live Islam! We are Muslims! We don't let anyone insult our prophet!" "Down with America!" and slogans against the Afghan and U.S. presidents. “There are two sad ironies in the response of Muslims to this indignation,” said the Washington-based human rights group, International Christian Concern (ICC), in a statement released on Monday. “One is the fact that their reaction is an illustration of exactly what the cartoons are depicting. It is as if the protestors are saying ‘How dare you portray us as violent? We will kill you for that.’” ICC expressed concerns that as Muslim outrage grows against the publication of the cartoons, Christians will increasingly be targeted because of their association with the Western world. “The second irony is that while Muslims are crying ‘persecution’ in regards to a depiction of Mohammad in a cartoon, this pales in comparison to the crimes committed against Christians, Jews, and Hindus in Muslim-majority countries because of their faith,” ICC stated.
Christian Apologetics, Free Speech Rights under Pressure from Radical Islam
Riots throughout the Middle East in response to cartoons published in a Danish newspaper increase the climate of intimidation slowly suffocating free speech rights, one terror consultant believes. A dozen cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad first published in a Danish newspaper in September, then reprinted by a Norwegian newspaper last month, launched a violent wave of recent protests against the two countries throughout the Middle East. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a Washington D.C.-based counterterrorism consultant, says the rationale behind the publication of the cartoons is misunderstood. “A lot of people don’t understand the context, including the U.S. State Department and Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary,” he suggests. “There’s a very real pattern of people criticizing Islam being threatened and physically assaulted, so there is a resulting self-censorship.” The newspapers were not attempting to bash Islam, but to affirm free speech rights, he believes. “This was not an Islamophobic outburst,” Gartenstein-Ross says. “The Dutch newspaper wanted to test this article of self-censorship in order to reaffirm the primacy of free speech.” Europeans have been going down the wrong path, according to Gartenstein-Ross, by asking if self-censorship might be an acceptable accommodation to maintain social peace. Religious vilification laws, which make the slander of a religion punishable as a crime, have been passed in several European countries.
Evangelical Leaders Join Global Warming Initiative
Despite opposition from some of their colleagues, 86 evangelical Christian leaders have decided to back a major initiative to fight global warming, the New York Times reports. Their statement, released in Washington on Wednesday, says "millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors." Among the statement’s signers are the presidents of 39 evangelical colleges, leaders of aid groups and churches, and megachurch pastors including Rick Warren. "Many of us have required considerable convincing before becoming persuaded that climate change is a real problem and that it ought to matter to us as Christians," says the statement, which calls for federal legislation that would require reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. Some of the nation's most high-profile evangelical leaders, including Chuck Colson, James Dobson, and Richard Land, signed a letter in January declining to throw their weight behind the issue, declaring, "Global warming is not a consensus issue [among evangelicals]." Wednesday’s statement is only the first stage of an "Evangelical Climate Initiative" including television and radio spots in states with influential legislators, informational campaigns in churches, and educational events at Christian colleges.