Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world. In today's edition:
- Religious Leaders Urge Action on Liberia
- India Not Designated 'Country of Particular Concern'
- Court Says Presbyterian Churches Can't Be Forced to Give Money
- Bishop Calls for End to Persecution
Religious Leaders Urge Action on Liberia
Robert Nowell & David Anderson, Religion News Service
Archbishop Michael Francis of Monrovia, Liberia, has called for the immediate deployment of an international force in the civil war-wracked African nation. Francis was joined in the call by two of his colleagues from neighboring Sierra Leone, Bishop George Biguzzi of Makeni and Bishop Koroma of Kenema. "Unless urgent action is taken, we fear that the current violence in Liberia will escalate, risking the descent once again of the West African region into war," they said. They urged President Bush to commit U.S. forces "immediately" to a peace enforcement mission while promising long-term support to rebuilding a stable Liberia. The United States has said it will support but not lead a peacekeeping operation. In the United States, the top executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries issued a statement calling on the international community to establish stability in Liberia. Separately, four of Britain's major aid agencies -- CAFOD, Christian Aid, Save the Children, and Action Aid -- called for the immediate deployment of peace enforcement troops in Liberia. They urged the United Nations "as a matter of urgency" to allow international forces to enter the country. They quoted: "Lives are being lost while the governments of the United States and the international community sit back and discuss whether or not to act. A decision must be taken now to avoid further bloodshed."
India Not Designated 'Country of Particular Concern'
Church leaders have expressed regret over the United States government's refusal to designate India a "Country of Particular Concern" (CPC) due to religious violence and discrimination occurring in the world's largest democracy. "We never said there is religious persecution in India, but there have been a number of attacks on Christian institutions," said Donald D'Souza, head of the Catholic Bishops' Conference. Last March, the Bush administration published a list of CPCs, countries where severe violations of religious freedom occur. India was not among them. In May, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom reported that it was "deeply disappointed" by the omission. "Since 1998, there have been hundreds of attacks on Christian leaders, worshippers, and churches throughout India," the report stated. In May, Pope John Paul II strongly criticized anti-conversion laws recently imposed in Gujarat and other states, saying it is "most disconcerting that some who wish to become Christians are required to receive the permission of local authorities." The pope encouraged the Indian bishops to carry on the task of evangelism and not "be discouraged by these injustices."
Court Says Presbyterian Churches Can't Be Forced to Give Money
Kevin Eckstrom, Religion News Service
The highest court in the Presbyterian Church (USA) has ruled that local churches cannot be forced to give money to the denomination, but cautioned that withholding funds in protest is a "serious breach of trust and love." The 2.5 million-member church funds most of its programs with "per capita" funds, or dues, sent by local churches. That money is funneled into 189 regional districts called presbyteries, which then send the money to church headquarters. The July 12 decision by the church's Permanent Judicial Commission overturned a policy adopted by the Scioto Valley Presbytery in central Ohio, which said churches had a responsibility to help fund the larger denomination. The court ruled that payments are voluntary, but said church members are "bound together ... through our union to God Almighty in Jesus through the Holy Spirit," and have "a high moral obligation based on the grace and call of God to participate fully in the covenant community," according to Presbyterian News Service. Several conservative groups, upset with a perceived leftward drift of the denomination, have advocated withholding money in protest.
Bishop Calls for End to Persecution
The Catholic bishop of San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico's southernmost state, has appealed to "traditionalist" Catholics to end the violent and prolonged persecution of evangelical Christians. Felipe Arizmendi called for "no more expulsions or divisions on the basis of religion" and asked that "there be no more destruction nor house-burnings, nor skirmishes, nor the shedding of blood due to religious, political, cultural or economic differences." Over the past 30 years, religious intolerance has triggered the forced expulsion of some 35,000 evangelicals from ancestral lands in Chamula and other districts. Despite the unrelenting pressure, evangelical Christianity has grown steadily throughout Chiapas. Today, 35 percent of the state population adheres to evangelicalism, according to census figures. "The statements from Bishop Arizmendi are very welcome in the context of current conflicts," said Richard Luna, director of Open Doors Latin America. Since the early 1980s, Open Doors has worked in Bible distribution, training and community development with a vision to contribute to reconciliation.