Religion Today Summaries - Sept. 3, 2010

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

Religion Today Summaries - Sept. 3, 2010

Daily briefs of the top Christian news and persecution stories impacting believers around the world.

In today's edition:

  • God Didn't Create Universe, Stephen Hawking Argues
  • Methodist Survey Aims to Stop Membership Decline
  • Turkmenistan: Pastor Faces Five Years Imprisonment
  • Army Chaplain First to Die in Combat Since Vietnam

God Didn't Create Universe, Stephen Hawking Argues

In his latest book, renowned physicist Stephen Hawking says the existence of gravity negates the need for a divine creator of the universe. In "The Grand Design," he writes that "the universe can and will create itself from nothing," according to an excerpt published Thursday in The Times of London. "It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper [fuse] and set the universe going," he writes, according to CNN. Hawkings's book attempts to answer "the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything," he writes, quoting Douglas Adams' cult science fiction romp, "The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy." Hawkings says the belief in a creator made sense when Sir Isaac Newton lived, but maintains that the discovery of other solar systems undermine the idea that our world must be unique.

Methodist Survey Aims to Stop Membership Decline

The United Methodist Church is continuing its efforts to figure out what makes some churches grow when the denomination has been losing members for decades. The Associated Press reports that denomination commissioned a study of nearly all its 33,000 U.S. churches to find "actionable" measures it could incorporate. The study found that small groups and programs, active lay leadership, inspirational pastors with lengthy tenures, and a mixture of traditional and contemporary worship services were the four key factors of vitality. The Rev. Kent Millard, senior pastor at the successful St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, agreed. His church has both traditional and contemporary services. "Worship is like going to a mall," Millard said. "There are all kinds of stores. Some people like specialty shops. Some like department stores. When you have variety, people can go where they like."

Turkmenistan: Pastor Faces Five Years Imprisonment

Worthy News reports that a Pentecostal pastor remained in police custody on Tuesday in Turkmenistan. Ilmurad Nurliev, pastor of Peace to the World Pentecostal Church, faces five years imprisonment and confiscation of properties for "large-scale swindling", charges his wife and church members strongly deny. Police arrested Nurliev for allegedly swindling money from two women who attended church meetings. "I was out at work when the police arrested my husband," said Maya Nurlieva, "and the first I knew was when he was allowed to call me from the investigator's office." She said police refused to allow her to meet her husband and have also refused to give her any document certifying his arrest or detailing the reasons for it. She says police and the investigators refused to discuss her husband's case with her. Turkmenistan, which has a heavily Muslim population, is under international pressure to improve religious rights and to protect its tiny Christian minority.

Army Chaplain First to Die in Combat Since Vietnam

Religion News Service reports that a Baptist minister from Oregon who was killed in Afghanistan on Monday is the first Army chaplain to die in combat since Vietnam. Capt. Dale Allen Goetz, 43, died in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan's Arghandab River Valley. He had been in Afghanistan less than a month. Four other Fort Carson, Colo., soldiers were also killed in the attack. Goetz is the 124th service member with strong ties to Oregon to die in Afghanistan or Iraq. But as a chaplain, he was a noncombatant and unarmed. The more than 400 Army chaplains in Iraq or Afghanistan are military officers. Their job is to reach soldiers on the battlefield, to provide religious support and to perform services or rites, said Lt. Col. Carleton Birch, a spokesman for the Army Chief of Chaplains. Goetz attended Maranatha Baptist Bible College in Watertown, Wis. He completed his Master of Divinity degree at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the American Baptist Churches USA.