Religion Today Summaries - Dec. 8, 2008

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

Religion Today Summaries - Dec. 8, 2008

Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
In today's edition:

  • Russian Orthodox Church's Leader Dies
  • Episcopal Church Leader Accepts Church Split
  • Cholera Outbreaks Growing in Zimbabwe
  • Christians Oppressed on Comoros, Pemba Islands

Russian Orthodox Church's Leader Dies

The Associate Press reports that the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II, died Friday at his home outside Moscow. He was 79. Alexy, who led the church since 1990, saw people flock back to the church  and rediscover its traditions after the fall of communism. The Russian Orthodox Church is now the largest Orthodox church in the world. Alexy was fiercely territorial of his faith, perhaps contributing to accusations of nationalism, and he accused other Christian religions of poaching his people, even refusing a papal visit to Russia. Nonetheless, Pope Benedict praised Alexy for his commitment to "the defense of human and Gospel values" and the "rebirth of the Church" in Russia.

Episcopal Church Leader Accepts Church Split

Los Angeles Times reports that the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in America dropped her previous attitude of reconciliation Thursday, publicly commenting that those who join the new conservative Anglican Church in North America "are no longer Episcopalians." Because of that, the Mos. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori reiterated the Episcopal Church's stance that seceding dioceses' property must remain in the national church's hands. Jefferts Schori also said she did not believe the formation of a rival body would affect membership in the Episcopal Church, which is 2.4 million members strong. She emphasized that all Episcopalians were welcome "if they want to be part of a diverse church... But the expectation has to be that we are not a single-issue church. We're not a church that says you have to believe this one thing in this one way and there is no room for difference of opinion."

Cholera Outbreaks Growing in Zimbabwe

Christian Post reports Zimbabwe's cholera epidemic is threatening to spill over into other southern African countries, as Zimbabwe's dead economy and lack of available health care continues to take its toll. The U.N. estimates that at least 600 have died of cholera since August, and more than 2,000 others have been infected. Sick refugees have begun to spill into bordering countries such as South Africa in search of medical care and help. Those in Zimbabwe itself have an increasingly difficult time just finding clean water, allowing infection to spread further. Desmond Tutu, the retired Anglican archbishop of Cape Town and Nobel Peace laureate, this week stated that Zimbabwe's dictator, Robert Mugabe, should step down from office. Mugabe “is destroying a wonderful country,” Tutu said. “A country that used to be a bread basket... has now become a basket case itself needing help.”

Christians Oppressed on Comoros, Pemba Islands

Compass Direct News reports that Christians on the predominantly Muslim islands of Pemba and the Comoros archipelago are beaten, detained and banished for their faith, according to church leaders who travel regularly to the Indian Ocean isles off the east coast of Africa. These violations of religious freedom, the church leaders said, threaten the survival of Christianity on Pemba and the Comoros, with fewer than 300 Christians in a combined population of 1.1 million people. Leaving Islam for Christianity accounts for most of the harm done to Christians, and this year saw an increase in such abuse as already-strained relations between the two communities deteriorated after the conversion in August of Sheikh Hijah Mohammed, leader of a key mosque in Chake-Chake, capital of Pemba. A Christian from the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar who recently visited the Comoros said those suspected to have converted from Islam to Christianity face travel restrictions and confiscation of travel documents.