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Religion Today Summaries, December 12, 2002

Religion Today Summaries, December 12, 2002

In Today's Edition:

  • Mormons Appeal Free Speech Vs. Land Use Rights Case to Supreme Court
  • Russia Pressures Foreign Missionary Workers, Increases Restrictions
  • Jailed Chinese Church Leader at One Month in Hunger Strike
  • John Dawson Elected as Next President of YWAM

Mormons Appeal Free Speech Vs. Land Use Rights Case to Supreme Court

(Associated Baptist Press) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints will appeal to the Supreme Court in a case that pits religious land-use rights against free-speech concerns.  The group has announced its decision to appeal a ruling by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that it could not restrict allegedly “anti-Mormon” speech from taking place on a piece of property it owns at its headquarters building in downtown Salt Lake City.  The property -- now a pedestrian plaza filled with Mormon iconography -- used to be a city street, but was sold to the church with the city retaining an easement that maintained the public’s right to have access to the plaza.  However, the city reached an agreement with the church that allowed the church to regulate speech on the plaza.  Church authorities have arrested a handful of people -- including a Southern Baptist evangelist -- for activities on the plaza that it deemed unacceptable.  The plaintiffs, including a Utah Unitarian church and several Utah taxpayers, said that’s an unconstitutional government entanglement with a religious group.  The church has argued that its rights to use the land as it sees fit include preventing “anti-Mormon” activities and “disruptive” protests on the plaza.  www.abpnews.com

Russia Pressures Foreign Missionary Workers, Increases Restrictions
Stefan J. Bos

(ASSIST News Service) International missionaries in Russia are facing a tough Christmas as the authorities seem to no longer welcome them following the recent adoption of a law on the legal status of foreigners, reports suggested.  "The law regulates relations that previously were not subject to regulation," Vladimir Ryakhovsky, co-director of the Moscow-based Slavic Center for Law and Justice, told Keston News Service.  "But in the law religious activity is put on the same level as working activity, and that is incorrect," he said about the new legislation.  "A special procedure must be established, defining the manner in which a religious organization should invite foreign citizens," Ryakhovsky added.  Several foreign Catholic and Protestant Christians, including priests, pastors and other missionary workers, have already been expelled or refused entry this year, even before the law became official.  This new development comes amid continued tension in the region resulting from increasing persecution of Christians in the former Soviet Union.  www.assistnews.net

Jailed Chinese Church Leader at One Month in Hunger Strike

(Baptists Press) Gong Shengliang, the founder of the South China Church, was originally sentenced to death by a court in the Hubei province for various crimes, including "using an evil cult to undermine the enforcement of the law" according to The Washington Post Dec. 6.  As a visit of China's president to President Bush's Texas ranch in October approached, Hubei's highest court threw out the death sentence Sept. 22 along with the cult charges.  But in a retrial, Gong was given a life sentence on Oct. 10.  The church leader began his hunger strike Nov. 14 after prison officials confiscated documents that Gong had been using in his prison cell to work on appealing his criminal conviction. They also confiscated a 30,000-word document Gong had been writing to outline the harassment and persecution of the South China Church.  "It is a clear violation of Pastor Gong's rights to not allow him all the documents he needs to formulate an appeal," said Todd Nettleton, spokesman for The Voice of the Martyrs.  "We urge the Chinese government to return these documents to Pastor Gong, before his fragile state grows even worse."  www.bpnews.net

John Dawson Elected as Next President of YWAM

(Charisma News) Internationally known author and speaker John Dawson is to be the next president of Youth With a Mission (YWAM), one of the largest missionary organizations in the world.   Dawson, 51, has served with YWAM for more than 30 years. He founded the YWAM ministry in Los Angeles and later was appointed the mission's international director for urban missions.  He serves on the board of Aglow International and is chairman of March for Jesus North America.  A frequent speaker to citywide pastors' meetings, Dawson authored the best-selling "Taking Our Cities for God," published by Charisma House, and "Healing America's Wounds." ‘Surprised’ by his election at the last meeting of YWAM's Global Leadership Team (GLT), Dawson said he believed God wanted his three-year tenure to emphasize "healing grace, prophetic hope and the ministry of encouragement" in the mission.  Founded in 1960 by Loren Cunningham, who remains a part of the GLT, YWAM currently has some 12,000 full-time workers serving in more than 130 countries.  The son of speaker and author Joy Dawson, the next YWAM president is married with four children, two of whom are serving in the mission.  www.charismanews.com