Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
In today's edition:
- Iran Admits Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani Convicted of Religious Charges
- Study: Faith, Family Most Important to Reduce Race-Based Achievement Gap
- Pakistani Woman Charged With Blasphemy for Refusing Islam
- Another Church Forced to Quit Persian-Language Services in Tehran
Iran Admits Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani Convicted of Religious Charges
For the first time since his arrest in 2009, Iranian authorities have admitted publicly that their case against Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani involves his Christian faith, the International Business Times reports. During a United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva on Monday, Iran said Nadarkhani -- who has been sentenced to death -- was found guilty of building a church in his home without government permission, preaching to minors without parental consent and offending Islam. Iran had previously claimed -- as international pressure grew for Nadarkhani's release -- that he was charged with "security-related crimes," including rape and spying, but leaked court documents signed by the Iranian Supreme Court indicate Nadarkhani was sentenced to death for apostasy and that he had refused to convert to Islam when repeatedly given the option by the court. Although apostasy isn't a crime under Iran's legal code, "insults" to "Islamic sanctities" are a crime under its religious codes. The latest update from Iranian sources confirmed Nadarkhani was still alive as of March 3, but Iran has a history of holding secret executions.
Study: Faith, Family Most Important to Reduce Race-Based Achievement Gap
According to a new study, the race-based achievement gap -- the statistic that whites, on average, do better in school than blacks and Latinos -- is greatly reduced among blacks and Latinos who have high levels of religious participation, personal religiosity and parental involvement, the Christian Post reports. William Jeynes, professor of education at California State University and author of the study, said the most important factor that correlated with blacks and Latinos closing the achievement gap with whites was religion -- being actively involved in a religious institution and placing a high personal importance on faith. A stable family -- either a two-parent home or a high rate of parental involvement in the student's education -- was the second most important factor in narrowing the gap. Interestingly, Jeynes found that programs designed to reduce the achievement gap only had a small, insubstantial impact. "In a public school setting, we should not proselytize, but if a child already has [a high level of religiosity], why not give a gesture of encouragement," Jeynes said. "Faith is excluded from any such conversation and I really believe that's hurting kids."
Pakistani Woman Charged With Blasphemy for Refusing Islam
A young Pakistani mother has been falsely accused of "blaspheming" the Islamic prophet Muhammad because she rebuffed attempts by relatives who had converted to Islam to force her to renounce her Christian faith, Compass Direct News reports. Police charged 26-year-old Shamim Bibi, mother of a five-month-old girl, under Section 295-C of Pakistan's "blasphemy" statutes after neighbors accused her of uttering remarks against Muhammad and arrested her on Feb. 28. Under the internationally condemned blasphemy laws, speaking ill of Muhammad is punishable by life imprisonment or death. Bibi's brother-in-law, Shahbaz Masih, said one of the two men named as witnesses had denied hearing anything that supported the charge, and police superintendent Irfan Ullah acknowledged that one of the two witnesses had admitted to not being present at the time of the alleged remark, but Ullah vehemently denied that police had caved in to pressure from local Muslims and registered the case in undue haste.
Another Church Forced to Quit Persian-Language Services in Tehran
Last month, two of the last remaining official churches in Tehran, Iran were forced to stop holding Persian-language services on Fridays, and now another church has been ordered to stop its Friday services as well, ASSIST News Service reports. Officers of Iran's Islamic Court informed officials of the Armenian Anglican Church that if they ignored the order and continued to hold services on Friday -- a sacred day for Muslims -- their church would be bombed "as happens in Iraq every day." The Persian-language services attracted many Christian converts who could not attend on Sunday, a regular working day for Iranians. Sources say Islamic authorities believe the restrictions will hold back the "rapid spread of Christianity" among young Iranians.
Publication date: March 14, 2012