Religion Today Summaries - March 14, 2011

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

Religion Today Summaries - March 14, 2011

Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.

In today's edition:

  • Humanitarian Crisis in Japan Could Reach WWII Scale
  • Christians in Iran Sentenced for 'Crimes against Islamic Order'
  • 30,000 Bibles Detained by Malaysian Officials
  • Light Sentences for Attack on Christians in Indonesia Condemned 


Humanitarian Crisis in Japan Could Reach WWII Scale

An estimated 10,000 are dead following the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and resulting tsunami off the coast of Japan Friday, and the death toll is likely to rise still higher. Reuters reports that the country "faces a growing humanitarian crisis on a scale not seen since World War Two" after twin disasters. More than 20,000 buildings collapsed or were badly damaged, and 1.8 million households were without power on Sunday afternoon. Sixty-nine countries have pledged to help Japan rebuild, and many have sent search and rescue teams. Aid groups such as World Vision also arrived in Japan over the weekend to provide supplies and programs for those now homeless in the disaster. "Children in Japan are keenly feeling the fear and insecurity that often set in following natural disasters like yesterday’s earthquake and tsunami," said World Vision relief manager Kenjiro Ban. World Vision has worked in Japan for more than two decades and responded to the massive Kobe earthquake in 1995 that claimed 5,500 lives.

Christians in Iran Sentenced for 'Crimes against Islamic Order'

On March 8, five Iranian Christians were sentenced to one year’s imprisonment for “Crimes against the Islamic Order." Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that Pastor Behrouz Sadegh-Khandjani, Mehdi Furutan, Mohammad Beliad, Parviz Khalaj and Nazly Beliad, all members of the Church of Iran Pentecostal denomination, were found guilty by the Revolutionary Court in Shiraz. They have 20 days to appeal the sentence. The five men were arrested last June and released this year on Feb. 13 after posting high bail payments. Concern also remains high for another Church of Iran leader, Pastor Yousef Nadakharni, who has been sentenced to death for apostasy. Pastor Nadarkhani is currently held incommunicado in Lakan prison, and his appeal is pending at the Supreme Court.

30,000 Bibles Detained by Malaysian Officials

Christians in Malaysia say they are “greatly disillusioned, fed-up and angered" by what they say is government-sanctioned withholding of Bibles in their native language, Bahasa Malaysia. The Christian Post reports that 30,000 Bibles are being held at port cities, according to the Christian Federation of Malaysia. The group includes the nation’s largest ecumenical, Evangelical, and Roman Catholic Christian bodies, and says almost no Bibles have been allowed in the country since March 2009. The group believes the withheld Bibles are the fallout of national debate two years ago on whether Christian publications were allowed to use the word "Allah" to refer to God. Although the Malaysian courts officially sided with churches, the Ministry of Home Affairs has held 5,000 copies of the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia since March 2009. 

Light Sentences for Attack on Christians in Indonesia Condemned 

Human rights and Christian leaders said a West Java court’s light sentence for Islamic extremists who injured a church pastor and an elder will encourage more violence and religious intolerance. After those involved in the Sept. 12, 2010 attack received sentences of only five to seven months, Compass Direct News reports that the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace released a statement asserting that the judges’ panel was acting under pressure from Muslim extremists. “The public will think that violence, intolerance, and obstruction of worship are part of their religious worship and duties,” the institute stated regarding the Feb. 24 sentences. The Rev. Luspida Simanjuntak, the pastor who was beaten, said the light sentences showed that the state was unable to fully enforce the law. “This country is more afraid of the masses than standing for justice,” she said. “That’s what happened in the state court in Bekasi. With heavy hearts we accept the verdict.”

Churches Press Obama to Reengage on Middle East

Nearly two dozen Christian leaders are calling on the Obama administration to renew diplomatic efforts to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to Religion News Service. "With rapid change underway in the Arab world we believe that the time to act is now -- before events make the task of reaching an agreement more difficult," said 20 leaders of Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox denominations in a March 7 letter to President Obama. The leaders called on Obama "to encourage both sides to take responsibility now for creating the conditions necessary for talks to succeed." Signers of the letter include the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches; the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; the Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA); and the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.