Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world. In today's edition:
- Eritrea Jails 18 More Evangelical Christians
- First Amendment Defenders Win Suit For High School Bible Club
- NCC Urges Renewed Talks After Trip to North Korea
- Journalist Says China's Regional Politics Influence Christian Persecution
Eritrea Jails 18 More Evangelical Christians
Barbara Baker, Compass Direct
Eritrean police arrested and jailed another Protestant evangelical pastor on November 23 in the town of Mendefera, taking him and seven of his church members off to prison. "The police are treating them like criminals," local sources reported. "They are in prison only because of their faith." A second new arrest of 10 young women from various Pentecostal churches has also been confirmed this week. The women are all incarcerated at Sawa, a military training camp. Earlier this month, two women were released from the Assab military prison. They had been jailed for the past 21 months. Fourteen other women soldiers, along with 63 men, are still being held at Assab, where authorities have used torture, isolation and cruel threats to try to force them to retract their evangelical beliefs. According to lists compiled by local Protestants, currently at least 334 evangelical believers are imprisoned for their religious beliefs in nine known locations across Eritrea.
First Amendment Defenders Win Suit For High School Bible Club
Jim Brown, Agape Press
There has been an important religious freedom victory at a public high school in Washington State. A student-led Bible club at Shorecrest High School was initially denied recognition as an official "associated student body." School officials cited concerns about violating the "separation of church and state." But after the Rutherford Institute applied legal pressure, the school backed down. Attorney Casey Mattox does not believe anyone the school officials intended to discriminate against Christians specifically, but rather they were acting out of ignorance of the Constitution. He says it was "basically just an issue of misunderstanding what the First Amendment provides and what it means." So the legal team set about correcting that misunderstanding. "We spoke with the principal and then worked with the school board attorney," Mattox says, "and they quickly recognized that they could not deny official recognition to the Christian Bible study group." After the Institute made it clear to officials at Shorecrest High that they were violating the students' First Amendment rights, the Bible Club was granted the same access that other non-curricular clubs enjoy on campus. The club will now have equal access to school funding and be allowed to advertise their events over the loudspeaker and on school bulletin boards.
NCC Urges Renewed Talks After Trip to North Korea
Kevin Eckstrom, Religion News Service
A delegation led by the National Council of Churches returned from the Korean peninsula urging the Bush administration to re-engage North Korea in peace talks. The seven-member delegation delivered 420 metric tons of refined wheat flour to the isolated communist nation and met with Christians on both sides of the Demilitarized Zone along the heavily fortified border. The delegation, led by NCC General Secretary Bob Edgar and the Rev. John McCullough, executive director of the Church World Service humanitarian agency, will brief officials at the State Department on Wednesday. "It is our conviction that diplomacy and negotiations remain the best approach for finding durable solutions," the delegation said, urging a new phase in the on-again, off-again talks with Pyongyang over its alleged nuclear program. The delegation met with the Korean Christian Federation in North Korea and the National Council of Churches in Korea in Seoul, South Korea. Leaders urged prayer for the "isolated Christian family in North Korea." The Christian leaders also urged support for the United Nations' $200 million appeal for humanitarian assistance in 2004 for North Korea, including increased aid from the United States. The flour was paid for by the Church World Service's member churches and will help make 132,000 loaves of bread that should last through 2004.
Journalist Says China's Regional Politics Influence Christian Persecution
Chad Groening, Agape Press
A man who spent many years covering the events of Communist China says while there is definitely Christian persecution going on in that country, it is not happening unilaterally. In fact, he says in some areas, believers are largely left alone. As a former bureau chief for Time magazine in Beijing, Aikman had an opportunity to observe the lives of China's Christians first hand. The writer says government persecution of adherents to the Christian faith depended on where the believer lived. He says even though Chinese officials have instructions at the national level to "suppress any social or religious activity that is not controlled by the government," not all regional authorities carry out those instructions in the same way. "At the provincial level," he says, "depending entirely on who is running the province, that order is either implemented in a very nasty way ... or it is substantially disregarded." The author says this results in sporadic, intense persecution happening in certain parts of some provinces, while in other provinces Christians are generally left alone. "It's a confusing and a contradictory situation," he says. Aikman believes Christianity in the Communist nation is growing at such a tremendous rate that eventually it will bring about a political change there. He expects the Church in China to play a major role in global events in the future.