Religion Today Summaries, January 7, 2004

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk News Staff

Religion Today Summaries, January 7, 2004

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

  • Rebels Threaten Archbishop Following Clergy Slaying
  • 'Led by God,' Episcopal Priest Resigns Over Homosexual Bishop
  • Muslim Extremists Mount Attacks in Northern Nigeria
  • Mall Changes Tune, Permits Christian Carolers to Intone Christmas

Rebels Threaten Archbishop Following Clergy Slaying
Richard Nyberg, Compass Direct

Anti-government rebels in Burundi have ordered Roman Catholic Archbishop Simon Ntamwana to leave the country within 30 days or risk the consequences. The death threat came days after Ntamwana accused the Forces for National Liberation (FNL) of assassinating Vatican ambassador Michael Courtney in a December 29 ambush some 30 miles south of the capital. Courtney was on his way back from a funeral in his clearly marked diplomatic vehicle. The FNL has denied responsibility in the murder. Spokesman Pasteur Habimana was quoted as saying his movement had nothing against the Catholic Church. "We are only against Ntamwana as an individual, for having accused us without any proof." Gabriel Baregensabe, general secretary of Burundi's Catholic Bishops' Conference, responded by saying, "We think it is a serious threat, but the archbishop cannot leave the country." Ntamwana's predecessor, Archbishop Joachim Ruhuna of Gitega, was killed in 1996 under circumstances similar to the ambush that claimed the life of the 58-year-old Courtney. The papal nuncio, a well-known peacemaker in the civil conflict between ethnic Hutus and Tutsis in Burundi, was buried in his native Ireland on January 3.

'Led by God,' Episcopal Priest Resigns Over Homosexual Bishop
Jim Brown, Agape Press

A female Episcopal priest from northern Mississippi has become the first rector in the state to step down over the ECUSA's ordination of an openly homosexual bishop. On Christmas Day, Sandra DePriest delivered her final sermons at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Columbus and St. John's Episcopal in Aberdeen.  The former lawyer says her decision to resign revolved solely around her denomination's approval of openly homosexual Bishop Vicki Gene Robinson, who now oversees the Diocese of New Hampshire. "I stepped down because I felt led by God to step down," DePriest explains.  While the Mississippi minister is not alone in her decision, there have not been many others in the Episcopal Church USA who have taken the step she has taken.  DePriest says she understands why more of her conservative colleagues in the ECUSA have not resigned as well. "The reason they have not been [resigning] is that they're financially tied to the church," she says, citing such things as pensions and church property.  "I've called it 'ecclesiastical blackmail.'" Several members of her former congregations have decided to leave with her, but DePriest says she has no intentions of forming a new church. 

Muslim Extremists Mount Attacks in Northern Nigeria
Obed Minchakpu, Compass Direct

Police and military units in the northeastern state of Yobe, Nigeria, ended a violent attempt last week by Muslim militants to carve out an Islamic Republic there. Extremists allegedly affiliated with the Taliban movement in Afghanistan raided eight Nigerian towns, attacking police stations, burning buildings and stealing weapons. Two policemen were reportedly killed in clashes, and hundreds of people fled their homes. The militant group established a base near the Niger border a year ago. Pledging their loyalty to the leader of Afghanistan's Taliban, Mullah Umar, they distributed leaflets stating their intention to establish an Islamic state in Nigeria. However, the extremists gained minimal support among the local population. Yobe Governor Alhaji Bukar Abba Ibrahim, a Muslim, described the militants as "anarchists and trouble makers." When questioned about deaths among the civilian Christian population, Police Inspector Fatai Fagbemi declined to comment. "We cannot discuss this in the media. Religion is a volatile issue that calls for caution," he said.

Mall Changes Tune, Permits Christian Carolers to Intone Christmas
Allie Martin and Jody Brown, Agape Press

The children's and youth choirs of one California church were able to sing Christmas carols at a local mall after they had been told they could not perform the songs because they were too religious and constituted "proselytizing." In the weeks leading up to Christmas, various groups were able to perform at the Promenade Mall in Temecula.  But when the children's and youth choirs of Mountain View Community Church asked mall officials for permission to present a program that included secular and Christian Christmas carols and scripture reading, they were prevented from performing. Church leaders contacted the Pacific Justice Institute, which sent a letter to mall management.  According to PJI president Brad Dacus, the mall quickly reversed its decision. "Those kids got to sing the songs of Christmas and read the Christmas story [from the Book of Matthew]," Dacus explains.  "It was a wonderful delight for those children to know that they, in fact, don't have to be treated like second-class citizens because they proclaim the true meaning of Christmas." Mountain View Community's pastor, John Wells, says churches have the responsibility to take a stand when they feel they are being treated unjustly and "not just sit idly by when others discriminate against us."  Dacus adds that there is nothing illegal with recognizing the true meaning of Christmas.

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