Religion Today Summaries - Mar. 13, 2008

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

Religion Today Summaries - Mar. 13, 2008

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

  • China Harasses Christians ahead of Beijing Olympics
  • India: Gujarat Revokes 'Anti-Conversion' Amendment Bill
  • Belarus Orders U.S. Ambassador Out
  • Iran Schoolbooks Teach Jihad, Martyrdom, Study Shows

China Harasses Christians ahead of Beijing Olympics

With increased frequency, the Chinese government is persecuting house churches and banishing foreign Christians from the country, Baptist Press reports. The incresed harrassment is presumably to squelch voices who might draw attention to the plight of religious minorities in the nation surrounding the Beijing Olympics. "We seem to be seeing a crackdown ahead of the Olympics. Whether that's to send a message to the church to lay low or whether it is to make sure that anybody who might cause international embarrassment is taken care of ahead of time, I don't know," Todd Nettleton, a spokesman for Voice of the Martyrs, told BP. "But we do see an increase in the level of arrests, the level of house church services being raided... We also have seen a number of foreigners who are Christians who... have been denied a new visa and told that they had to leave the country. So it's happening both amongst the house churches of native Chinese people as well as foreign Christians who are living and working in China." Only about 20 percent of China's Christians are part of the official approved church (Three-Self Patriotic Movement or Catholicism) while the other 80 percent go to unregistered or unofficial churches.

India: Gujarat Revokes 'Anti-Conversion' Amendment Bill

The Gujarat state government has revoked the “anti-conversion” amendment bill in an apparent attempt to implement an older version of the legislation passed in 2003 that has remained dormant, Compass Direct News reports. Ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, the state repealed the Gujarat Freedom of Religion (Amendment) Bill of 2006 in the assembly House as the governor had refused to give his assent to it in July of last year. “The repeal of the amendment bill seems to be a step towards bringing in force the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act of 2003, which remains pending ever since it was passed,” Lansinglu Rongmei of the Christian Legal Association told Compass. Gujarat Gov. Nawal Kishore Sharma last year said the measure “violated the right to religious freedom.”

Belarus Orders U.S. Ambassador Out

The U.S. ambassador to Belarus has been expelled, and the Belarusian envoy was recalled Friday in a diplomatic move that is raising tensions between the two countries, ASSIST News Service reports. Mission Network News (MNN) reported that the situation could further isolate Belarus from Europe. Although Ambassador Karen Stewart was asked to leave Belarus, MNN reported that the U.S. State Department wanted to review the situation first and asked her to remain in the former Soviet republic for now. The Foreign Ministry blamed U.S. sanctions imposed on Belarus's national oil products firm Belneftekhim for their response. A spokesman for President Bush called the expulsion “deeply disappointing.” Although evangelical churches in Belarus enjoyed a short time of relative freedom after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the government began significantly tightening restrictions on the churches after President Lukashenko took office. SGA president Dr. Robert Provost said, "In Belarus today, evangelical churches are not allowed to engage in public ministry outside of the church walls."

Iran Schoolbooks Teach Jihad, Martyrdom, Study Shows

According to, when third grade school children in Iran turn to page 113 of their textbook "Let's Read," they find a passage that says, "At that time, the Israeli officer pounded (three-year-old) Muhammad's head with the rifle's stock and his warm blood sprinkled upon his (six-year-old brother) Khaled's hands." The Iranian textbook was published in 2004, before Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president of Iran. In another third-grade text, an illustration of a monster wearing the Star of David is seen going through a tidy Muslim town leaving garbage everywhere. And it gets worse, said Arnon Groiss, director of research at the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace, who recently completed a study of 115 Iranian school textbooks. "Indoctrination is less felt in the lower grades and increases in the higher grades," Groiss said. The effort includes rewritten Iranian history and the inclusion of Jihadist political views in science and geography texts, he said. Seventh grade textbook "Islamic Culture and Religious Instruction," refers to the West and Israel as the "Arrogant Ones."