Religion Today Summaries -- June 20, 2003

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk News Staff

Religion Today Summaries -- June 20, 2003

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

  • Arson, Antagonism Plague Fledgling Protestant Church in Georgia
  • Indonesian Minister Imprisoned
  • Bible-Toting Woman Files Lawsuit Against Transit Agency
  • Baptists End Annual Meeting Pondering Mission Challenge

Arson, Antagonism Plague Fledgling Protestant Church in Georgia
Frank Brown, Religion News Service

(MOSCOW) In a double blow to the tiny Protestant minority in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, arsonists on Sunday (June 15) burned down a provincial Baptist church and an angry mob picketed a Pentecostal church in the capital, Tbilisi. "They blocked the streets with their cars and wouldn't let anybody through. They yelled at us, `Take your sect and get out of Georgia!,'" Nikolai Kalutsky, pastor of the 250-member Pentecostal church, said Wednesday (June 18) by telephone from Tbilisi. The crowd, who numbered 60 at their peak, succeeded in preventing believers from attending the 10 a.m. service and a charitable luncheon scheduled for afterwards. Protestant leaders are pointing fingers at local priests from the country's dominant Georgian Orthodox Church. Kalutsky said he overheard a demonstrator conferring by mobile phone with a "Father David." A spokesman for the Georgian Orthodox Church said Wednesday he had not heard of any priests from his church being involved. In what some observers viewed as a positive sign that Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze was fulfilling a promise to uphold religious freedom, a Georgian court ordered the arrest earlier this month of a renegade Orthodox priest accused of leading a mob to burn tons of Baptist religious literature.

Indonesian Church Leader Imprisoned
Charisma News Service

In what Christian groups called a politically motivated trial, a prominent church leader was sentenced to three years in prison this week for possessing illegal weapons. According to Compass Direct, Rinaldy Damanik was found guilty Monday despite clear evidence that witnesses for the prosecution were tortured by police to obtain their testimony. Damanik, a key peacemaker assisting both Christian and Muslim refugees in the troubled Poso area, was traveling in a relief convoy last August when police stopped him for questioning. The following day, they said that they had found illegal weapons in the vehicle. Damanik, who has already spent nine months in prison in Palu, Central Sulawesi, told Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) after the verdict that he planned to appeal, which could take up to six months. Damanik expressed his disappointment, but was not surprised by the verdict. He has received more than 1,000 letters from around the world since his ordeal began. "Thank you for everyone who has prayed for me," Damanik told CSW. "I really felt the power of your prayers in prison and they strengthened my faith and gave me strength. I also want to thank all those who wrote to me. They really brought light into my life." (

Bible-Toting Woman Files Lawsuit Against Transit Agency
Joanne M. Haas, CNS News

A Milwaukee, Wis., woman who was stopped from distributing free bibles while riding a city bus has filed a federal lawsuit, alleging that the transit agency's policy is too broad and violates her First Amendment rights. Gail Anderson, 56, contends she was escorted off a Milwaukee County Transit System bus in the summer of 2002 after the driver asked her to stop distributing without charge the Book of Hope Bible to other riders. Nearly a year after the original incident, Anderson's lawsuit was filed June 9 in the U.S. Eastern District Court of Wisconsin. Mathew D. Staver and Rena Lindevaldsen, attorneys affiliated with Liberty Counsel of Orlando, Fla., are representing Anderson. Requests for comment from the Milwaukee County Transit System were ignored. The lawsuit argues the transit policy prohibiting literature prevents more speech than is necessary, and is not evenly enforced "because to do so would require that no one could distribute a business card, directions, or even pass a newspaper." This uneven enforcement puts it in violation of the First Amendment, the attorneys said. "Passengers don't shed their constitutional rights when they enter public transportation venues," Staver said. "It is unconstitutional to ban all literature distribution to single out the Christian viewpoint."

Baptists End Annual Meeting Pondering Mission Challenge
Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

(PHOENIX) Southern Baptists closed one of their least-contentious conventions in decades Wednesday (June 18) after focusing on issues they've long cared about -- supporting traditional families, opposing homosexuality and sending missionaries. But messengers, as delegates are called, were also told that because of

money woes created by a budget shortfall, their foreign mission agency has recently cut jobs and deferred appointments of some missionaries. "How will we give an account to God for our failure to send those who are being called out of our churches for such a time as this?" asked International Mission Board President Jerry Rankin at the close of the two-day meeting at the Phoenix Civic Plaza. As a result of a request by a messenger to the meeting, the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee said it will consider whether to ask all Southern Baptist churches to take a one-time special offering in July to

help fund those deferred missionaries. Messengers at the meeting also overwhelmingly adopted a resolution opposing the legalization of same-sex marriages and criticizing media, entertainment outlets and public schools that have made efforts to "mainstream homosexual unions in the eyes of our children."