Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world. In today's edition:
- Five-Year Sentence Possible for Indonesian Pastor
- Bible-Ban Lawsuit Challenges Bus Policy
- Scottish Episcopal Church Approves Women Bishops
- Renegade Orthodox Priest Ordered Jailed in Republic of Georgia
Five-Year Sentence Possible for Indonesian Pastor
Sarah Page, Compass Direct
An Indonesian court is preparing to pass sentence on Rev. Rinaldy Damanik next Monday, June 16, on charges of illegal weapons possession. Prosecutors have demanded a five-year prison term for the prominent Christian pastor. His defense team claims the charges are an elaborate set-up by local police to incriminate Damanik in retaliation for his peace-keeping efforts in Poso, Central Sulawesi. Damanik was a key figure in the reconciliation between Christian and Muslim groups in Poso, where conflict has raged for four years. His church established a crisis center, offering relief for refugees. He was a key signatory in the Malino Peace Accord, which raised the ire of police and military. While traveling in a relief convoy in August, 2002, Damanik was stopped by officers and taken some distance away from his vehicle for questioning. On the following day, police claimed they had found illegal weapons and ammunition in the vehicle. Although the case was dismissed by the high court for lack of evidence, judges began the trial in February 2003, despite claims that the prosecution intimidated many witnesses into confession. Damanik said he would go to prison to demonstrate the injustice of the court system. Damanik also hoped his case would throw light on the Poso situation and help establish the long-awaited peace.
Bible-Ban Lawsuit Challenges Bus Policy
Charisma News Service
A Christian woman who was booted from a public bus because she handed out Bibles has filed a federal suit against Milwaukee, Wis., transportation officials. Gail Anderson sued the Milwaukee County Department of Public Works and Transportation Division Monday, claiming her right to free speech was violated. The suit originated when Anderson recently offered free copies of The Book of Hope Bible to those sitting around her. But after the bus driver saw her, he instructed her to stop, stating that distributing any literature on the bus violated a transportation policy. The driver then escorted Anderson off the bus and she was forced to walk home. The policy states that no person riding on the bus system may distribute any form of literature. The lawsuit claims that the policy is overbroad and not uniformly enforced. "[This] reminds me of the discrimination that Rosa Parks faced when she was told to sit in the back of the bus solely because of the color of her skin," said Anderson's representative from the Liberty Council. "Passengers don't shed their constitutional rights when they enter public transportation venues," he added. "People exchange addresses, business cards, newspapers or books all the time on public buses. It is unconstitutional to ban all literature distribution or to single out the Christian viewpoint."
Scottish Episcopal Church Approves Women Bishops
Robert Nowell, Religion News Service
The Scottish Episcopal Church on Thursday (June 12) became the first of Britain's three Anglican churches to allow the ordination of women as bishops. Its general synod, meeting in Edinburgh, voted by substantially more than the two-thirds majorities needed to give final approval to the canon endorsing this move. All seven bishops voted in favor, with the clergy voting 63 to 10 and the laity 54 to 14. These figures suggest a slight increase in opposition to women bishops among the clergy and laity since the canon was given provisional approval a year ago. Later this year a vacancy will occur on the Episcopal bench. Following acceptance of the canon, the synod unanimously pledged that opponents of women bishops would "continue for all time to have a valued and respected place within the Scottish Episcopal Church." The Scottish Episcopal Church was the last Anglican Church in Britain and Ireland to approve the ordination of women priests. The Church of Ireland was the first, but has not yet appointted a woman bishop. In the Church of England a working party is considering the theological implications of ordaining women bishops and is expected to deliver its report in 2005. Only after this would there be any question of introducing legislation to allow women bishops.
Renegade Orthodox Priest Ordered Jailed in Republic of Georgia
Frank Brown, Religion News Service
A court in the former Soviet republic of Georgia has ordered the arrest of a renegade Orthodox priest whose hundreds of followers have terrorized Baptists, Pentecostals and Jehovah's Witnesses for nearly four years. Some minority religious leaders welcomed the news Thursday, saying it sends an important message throughout the mostly Orthodox Christian country. "It is a step forward. Now, everyone knows that the law exists and that there is such a thing as freedom of religion," said a lawyer. The influential priest, Father Basili Mkalavishvili, is on the lam, refusing to obey either an initial June 4 court order or a higher court's June 10 decision upholding the ruling. His lawyer said Thursday that Mkalavishvili has no intention of surrendering. He added that Mkalavishvili is innocent of the charges that he led a mob into a warehouse and burned tons of Baptist religious literature. Earlier this year, Songulashvili garnered support from U.S. lawmakers, former President Jimmy Carter and the World Council of Churches to pressure the Georgian government to rein in the priest. Mkalavishvili, who has an estimated 10,000 followers, objects to foreign influence and non-Orthodox faiths on the territory of Georgia, a Christian nation for over 1,500 years.