Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
In today’s edition:
Human Rights Watchdog Welcomes Bush's Remarks on Religious Freedom in China
Michael Ireland, ASSIST News Service
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), working on behalf of those persecuted for their Christian beliefs, has welcomed President Bush's comments calling on China to exercise more religious freedom. The last six months have seen a notable increase in reports of religious persecution against unregistered Protestant Christians in China. Speaking in Japan on November 16, President Bush said: "As China reforms its economy, its leaders are finding that once the door to freedom is opened even a crack, it cannot be closed… I have pointed out that the people of China want more freedom to express themselves, to worship without state control, to print Bibles without fear of punishment.” His remarks come as evidence emerges that Chinese pastor Cai Zhuohua has been pressured not to appeal his three-year prison sentence for the production of Christian literature and Bibles. Stuart Windsor, National Director of CSW, said: "We are pleased President Bush has drawn attention to the desire of Chinese people to worship without state control, to print Bibles and to have more freedom. We hope the Chinese government will bring rapid and far-reaching reforms in the way it treats Christians. It is high time that China responds to calls to respect standards on religious freedom and human rights."
'Narnia' Film May Signal Greater Acceptance of Faith-themed Movies
Guy Fitz, Catholic News Service
The Dec. 9 release of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, may signal Hollywood is focusing more on audiences for whom religion is important. David DiCerto, a movie reviewer for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said he has noticed a greater number of movies being targeted toward Christian audiences. This can be seen as "an economic byproduct of the success of 'The Passion of the Christ,'" he said. With Mel Gibson's film grossing more than $400 million in worldwide box office proceeds, Christian audiences are establishing themselves as a lucrative market. Evangelical campaigns are starting to grow around religious-themed movies. The Narnia story is considered an allegory in which the lion Aslan – who sacrifices himself and is resurrected - represents Jesus, while the White Witch represents evil. Depending on Narnia’s success, a greater number of movies may be released with similar elements. DiCerto could not attest to the fact that more movies are coming out with Christian themes, but "keep in mind," he said, "(Hollywood producers) are going to be open to any audience that can make them money. If it helps sell tickets, moviemakers are going to emphasize Christian elements in movies."
Native American Caucus Explores Bringing 'Culture' into Church
Linda Green, United Methodist News Service
Should Native Americans deny their cultural practices in order to be Christian and to make their churches effective and vital? For a group of Native American leaders in the United Methodist Church, this question provided a starting point for discussing how native culture can be brought into the church. The resulting dialogue on "contextualization" or "contextual ministry" took up a good portion of the Native American International Caucus directors' Nov. 10-12 meeting. Contextual ministry gives Native American communities the freedom to use cultural items and worship practices in the church, said the Rev. Alvin Deer, caucus director. "How does the gospel itself relate to each native community?" Deer asked. "We believe the intent of Jesus Christ in the first place was to meet people where they are." Conservative Native American Christians are adamant that culture should not be brought into the church, while more liberal-thinking Christians, said Deer, "feel it is imperative that we look at Christianity from a native perspective if we are going to impact those Native Americans who feel marginalized by traditional Christianity."
Georgia Baptists Vote Overwhelmingly to Sever Ties to Mercer University
Gerald Harris, Baptist Press
By an overwhelming majority, the Georgia Baptist Convention voted Nov. 15 to sever its relationship with Mercer University. The vote was called for following the discovery of a student-led gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender organization that had existed since 2002. The group’s “coming out day” on Oct. 11, sponsored by the Mercer Triangle Symposium, galvanized the GBC to cast a vote of no confidence in the ongoing relationship. The motion, brought by pastor Fred Evers, contended that the convention is no longer compatible with the university in either theology or purpose. In an effort to appease the GBC, Mercer President Kirby Godsey released a memorandum stating “(1) The Mercer Triangle Symposium has been disbanded. (2) I have issued a new policy that the President’s Office reserves the right to review and to approve the creation of student organizations.” To which Evers responded, “The symposium should have never been allowed on the Mercer Campus in the first place… We are in a culture war… we need a biblical worldview. What we are attempting to do here has nothing to do with a hatred of homosexuals. God commands us to love all people. The greatest thing we can do… is to proclaim the truth that is only found in Holy Scripture.” Mercer, the second-largest Baptist-affiliated educational institution in the world with 7,300 students, traces its roots with Georgia Baptists to its 1833 founding.