Religion Today Summaries - Jan. 24, 2011

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

Religion Today Summaries - Jan. 24, 2011

Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.

In today's edition:

  • Study: Churches Increasingly Fans of Facebook, Social Media
  • Burmese Army Oppresses Chin Christians, Study Says
  • Egypt Islamic Authority Freezes Dialogue with Vatican
  • Eritrea Arrests 100 Christians in Major Crackdown

Study: Churches Increasingly Fans of Facebook, Social Media

A new study from LifeWay Research finds that churches are turning increasingly to social networking tools as ministry aids. The study found that Facebook is by far the most popular tool. The survey of 1,003 Protestant congregations was conducted in September and sponsored by LifeWay's Digital Church partner, Fellowship Technologies. It found that 47 percent of churches actively use Facebook. A full 40 percent of churches do not use any social networking tools. "Congregations are rapidly adopting social networking, not only to speed their own communication, but also to interact with people outside their church," LifeWay Research Director Scott McConnell said. Large churches (500 people or more) were almost three times as likely to use Facebook as small churches (under 50 people). "Social networking tools have become an integral part of most people's daily lives and relationships," said Curtis Simmons, vice president for marketing and community at Fellowship Technologies.

Burmese Army Oppresses Chin Christians, Study Says

Burmese soldiers are systematically using forced labor, torture and rape to persecute majority-Christian residents of Chin state in western Burma, according to a new report. Entitled, "Life Under the Junta: Evidence of Crimes Against Humanity in Burma's Chin State," the report by Physicians for Human Rights documented "extraordinary levels of state violence" against the Chin ethnic population. Compass Direct News reports that the Chin are estimated to be 90 percent Christian, and the study indicates that it is therefore difficult to separate religious attacks from ethnic and other human rights abuses. In many cases, respondents said soldiers had threatened their lives and homes, sometimes destroyed churches, and even murdered and raped children. When asked why the Burmese army acted as it did, 15 percent of respondents answered, "Because we are Christians." Another 23 percent replied, "To persecute us," and a further 23 percent said, "Because we are Chin."

Egypt Islamic Authority Freezes Dialogue with Vatican

Egypt's highest Islamic authority has broken off its dialogue with the Vatican following the Pope's call to better protect Christian minorities. Christian Today reports that Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, the president of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, met with members of the Islamic Research Academy before making the announcement Thursday morning. The group accused Pope Benedict of "repeatedly addressing Islam negatively, more than once," reported Islamic news website Ahram Online. Ambassador Hossam Zaki, the official spokesman of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, said the call demonstrated "unacceptable interference in Egypt's affairs." In comments on Jan. 10, Pope Benedict XVI said, "I renew my heartfelt appeal that fellow [Egyptian] Christian citizens be able to live in security, continuing to contribute to the society in which they are fully members." Twenty-three Christians were killed and dozens injured on New Year's Day when a church in Alexandria was bombed.

Eritrea Arrests 100 Christians in Major Crackdown

Eritrean officials have detained more than 100 Christians since Dec. 30, according to The Christian Post. Churches in and around the capital of Asmara and the town of Nakfa have been targeted. On New Year's Eve, the entire 41-member congregation of Philadelphia Church in Asmara was taken into custody and reportedly beaten. In Nakfa, 35 worshippers were arrested during a prayer meeting. Release Eritrea, a human rights organization, says the attacks confirm suspicions of a government crackdown on churches. Other documents obtained by WikiLeaks report atrocious conditions for those in custody, saying that officials regularly employ torture. "Many prisoners could not talk due to the lack of water, their tongues stuck to the roofs of their mouth from thirst," a former prisoner told U.S. embassy officials.