Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
In today’s edition:
Methodist Bishops: Homosexuality No Obstacle to Church Membership
Fred Jackson and Jody Brown, Agape Press
The leadership of the United Methodist Church has declared that the sin of homosexuality is not to be a barrier to membership in its churches. The denomination's bishops issued the statement late last week, just two days after the UMC's highest court supported a pastor's refusal to allow an unrepentant homosexual man to join. The Council of Bishops stated, “while pastors have the responsibility to discern readiness for membership, homosexuality is not a barrier. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian or gay members and friends.” An account of the bishops' decision by the United Methodist News Service makes no mention of whether there was a discussion in their meeting about what the Bible says about homosexuality. Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of Texas stated, “I don’t think it's going too far to say the council is of one mind that gay and lesbian people can be members of the United Methodist Church.” The United Methodist Book of Discipline affirms homosexuals as people "of sacred worth" -- but also holds the practice of homosexuality as incompatible with Christian teaching.
Tennessee in Legal Battle over 'Choose Life' License Plates
Charlie Kincaid, Agape Press
Tennessee's new pro-life license plate -- which is not even in circulation yet -- has caused such an outcry that abortion advocacy groups have carried the state to court. The license plate, which displays the phrase "Choose Life," is causing a problem because the state did not offer a "Pro-Choice" alternative. The legal battle has now made its way to Cincinnati, in the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Abortion rights activists, with the ACLU in tow, say they are being discriminated against with the new license plates. The panel of judges representing the Circuit Court of Appeals has taken the case under advisement and has not determined when it will rule. In the case of the Choose Life plate, half of the funds raised, after expenses, go to the pro-life group New Life Resources, an outreach of Tennessee Right to Life. The Choose Life plates were created in 2003 by a legislative bill, but a subsequent amendment to allow the Pro-Choice alternative was voted down. Tennessee Right to Life is urging those who want the Choose Life license plate to contact their legislators and the court system, expressing their support for the Choose Life plates -- and their opposition to efforts seeking to prevent the proposed pro-life plates from ever being seen on the road.
CSW Protests Over Religious Persecution as Chinese President Visits UK
Christian Solidarity Worldwide
On the eve of Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to the UK, CSW is releasing a new report highlighting concern over religious persecution and the numerous arrests of unregistered religious believers this year. Amongst those profiled is Pastor Cai Zhuohua, whose long awaited verdict is due on November 8. Cai is a prominent Beijing house church leader who was abducted from a bus stop and dragged into a van by State Security officers on September 11, 2004. According to a former fellow inmate, Pastor Cai was repeatedly tortured with electric shocks and forced to give false confessions to serious charges. On July 7, 2005, Pastor Cai, his wife, and various family members were tried for charges relating to 'illegal business practices' at the People's Court of Haidian District, Beijing. The charges followed the discovery of 200,000 copies of the Bible in a storage room managed by Cai. This year has seen a notable increase in reports of religious persecution against unregistered Protestant Christians in China. Punishments include imprisonment, torture, humiliating treatment, fines, welfare deductions, withholding of medical treatment, church and business closures and confiscation of valuables and religious materials. Arrests are often accompanied by beating, at times resulting in serious injury.
Site Could Be the Oldest Place of Christian Worship Found in Israel
Archaeologists have discovered remains of a pre-Byzantine-era Christian building on the grounds of a prison in Megiddo, Israel. Yardena Alexandre, a spokeswoman for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), called the discovery "one of the most important finds for the history of early Christianity." The find would join the early 3rd-century Christian gathering place at Dura Europus in Syria as one of the oldest of its kind. The structure contained broken pottery, a distinctive mosaic style, and inscriptions citing Jesus, but is not being referred to as a 'church' since that term was not in use in the mid-3rd or early 4th century. At that time, Christianity was an outlawed - but still practiced - religion in the Holy Land, and worship often occurred in private homes or in secret. The IAA had been excavating the prison compound for more than a year to ensure that nothing of historic value was lost during renovation. On October 30, an Israeli prisoner working on behalf of the IAA discovered the floor of the structure buried beneath rock, soil and asphalt.