Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
In today's edition:
- Atheist Group Offers Porn in Exchange for Sacred Texts
- Hamas Incites Violent Clashes in Jerusalem, West Bank
- China: Guangzhou Police Kidnap Pastor Wang Dao
- D.C. Episcopal Bishop OKs Civil Marriages for Gay Couples
Atheist Group Offers Porn in Exchange for Sacred Texts
The sign on the campus of the University of Tex-San Antonio was bound to get attention: "Trade in holy text 4 porn." Religion News Service reports that the annual event sponsored by the Atheist Agenda student group, "Smut for Smut," sparked enough protest and controversy that police were called in to monitor the scene on March 1. "Smut for Smut" began in 2005 when students were offered free pornographic magazines in exchange for Bibles, Torahs, Korans and other sacred texts, according to The San Antonio Express-News. This year, Christians rallied against Atheist Agenda members, which prompted a group of agnostics to plead for peace, according to reports. The university, however, does not condemn the event or the protestors. "As long as students are not violating laws or violating the Constitution, they have the freedom of speech and assembly," said UTSA spokesman David Gabler. Ten religious texts were collected.
Hamas Incites Violent Clashes in Jerusalem, West Bank
The New York Times reports that Israeli troops were called after hundreds of Palestinian youth threw rocks at policemen and Jews praying at Jerusalem's Western Wall on Friday. The confrontation injured about 18 Israeli police and 13 Palestinians. The clash may have been tied to Israel's decision to list two holy sites in the West Bank as part of a comprehensive plan to preserve Israel's national heritage and religious sites. Hamas's leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, shot back by urging Palestinians to begin a new uprising against Israel. "Jerusalem is ours, the land is ours, and God is with us," Haniyeh reportedly said. "We will not accept these decisions and they will have no ramifications." The incident by the Temple Mount, Jerusalem's most holy site to both Jews and Muslims, constituted the most violent clash in several years at the site. The clashes come shortly before U.S. officials are due to arrive and help re-launch indirect peace talks.
China: Guangzhou Police Kidnap Pastor Wang Dao
Christian Newswire reports that police in Guangzhou culminated two years of harassment by arresting a house church pastor. Public Security Bureau (PSB) officials reportedly raided a restaurant where Liangren Church Head Pastor Wang Dao was eating with about a dozen church members on Thursday. According to ChinaAid, the PSB officials seized Pastor Wang and rushed him outside to a waiting vehicle. Pastor Wang's whereabouts are still unknown, and no one has been able to contact him since his forced departure. Pastor Wang Dao has weathered severe persecution with fellow believers in Guangzhou since the church was founded in 2005. In 2008, the government banned Liangren Church, indicting them for holding "illegal religious organizations." Dao persisted in filing complaints, appealing decisions, and more after the decision, and was repeatedly interrogated by PSB officials during that time.
D.C. Episcopal Bishop OKs Civil Marriages for Gay Couples
Religion News Service reports that, one day after the District of Columbia legalized gay marriage, the city's Episcopal bishop said priests may preside over and bless same-sex civil marriages. They cannot, however, use the denomination's marriage rites. "We are of equal value in the eyes of God," Bishop John Chane said Thursday (March 4), "and any one of use may be called by the Holy Spirit into holy relationships..." The Episcopal Church voted last summer to allow bishops in states or jurisdictions where gay marriage is legal to "provide generous pastoral response" to same-sex couples, despite widespread opposition to homosexuality in the rest of the global Anglican Communion. Episcopalians are not yet permitted to use the marriage rites in its Book of Common Prayer for gay couples; Chane did not specify which rites priests should use, but said numerous other blessings are available. Bishops in Vermont, Massachusetts and Iowa, where gay marriage is also legal, have taken a similar approach.