Religion Today Summaries - July 15, 2008

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

Religion Today Summaries - July 15, 2008

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

  • Florida 'Healing Revivals' Draw Critics
  • Japan: Buddhism May Be Dying Out
  • Indonesia: Religious Tensions Rise in West Papua
  • Chinese Crackdown Extends into Thailand, Tibet

Florida 'Healing Revivals' Draw Critics

The "healing revivals" of the last three months in Lakeland, Fl., are drawing even charismatic criticism, the Christian Post reports. Todd Bentley says he has cured cancer, healed the deaf and even raised the dead via God's power, and Internet streaming sources have quickly increased his popularity online. More than 400,000 have visited his raucous revival tent, where the 32-year-old tattooed Canadian lays forceful hands on those who come forward for healing. Though he gives credit to God, Christian critics say he rarely preaches the Gospel or even opens a Bible and focuses on the miracles more than conversion. Bentley defended himself, saying, "Miracles and healings are evidence," Bentley said. "They are signs of the Kingdom, and if we don't have signs then all we have is a bunch of theology." But Assemblies of God Superintendent George O. Wood said, "Miraculous manifestations are never the test of a true revival — fidelity to God's Word is the test... Jesus Himself said there would be many who would do miracles in His name and even cast out demons, but he does not know them.

Japan: Buddhism May Be Dying Out

The subtle decline of Buddhism in Japan is now snowballing into a fast descent, the New York Times reports. The Japanese have adopted Buddhism almost solely for funeral liturgy and services, highlighting its inability to meet the spiritual needs of the living. “That’s the image of funeral Buddhism: that it doesn’t meet people’s spiritual needs,” said Ryoko Mori, the chief priest at the 700-year-old Zuikoji Temple here in northern Japan. “In Islam or Christianity, they hold sermons on spiritual matters. But in Japan nowadays, very few Buddhist priests do that.” The problem stems partly from a lack of successors to family-run temples nationwide, while Buddhism's strongholds in rural Japan are quickly being depopulated. These are compounded with increasing materialism of a wealthy nation. "... I think this place is beyond hope,” Giju Sakamoto, 74, said at his temple, which sits atop a promontory overlooking a seaside village.

Indonesia: Religious Tensions Rise in West Papua

Compass Direct News reports that uthorities in West Papua, Indonesia, must move fast to prevent tension between Christian and Muslim communities escalating into a Malukan-style conflict, according to a recent report by the International Crisis Group (ICG). The neighboring Maluku islands erupted into bitter sectarian warfare between 1999 and 2002, leaving thousands dead, injured or homeless. Several developments from the beginning of the decade have heightened tension in recent months, according to ICG. New, less tolerant strands of Islam and Christianity have gained influence since 2002, creating fissures within and between religious communities, the report claims. Also, faith issues have acquired a political dimension, since many Papuan Christians believe a Special Autonomy Law passed in 2001 was too limited, while Muslim migrants firmly support centralized rule from Jakarta and accuse Christians of separatism. Most importantly, an influx of Muslim migrants, initially sponsored by the government, has changed demographics in the region. Papuan Christians now fear they will become a minority.

Chinese Crackdown Extends into Thailand, Tibet

The pre-Olympic crackdown on Christians and political dissidents reaches beyond China's borders in Thailand and Tibet, according to Mission News Network. In Thailand, authorities have restricted one ministry's efforts to distribute Bibles to Chinese tourists in public places. Southern Cross Project aims to distribute one million Easy-to-Read Version Chinese Bibles per year to business people and Chinese Communist Party officials who are allowed to travel outside China, where Bibles are more difficult to obtain. In Tibet, peace is an illusion, as people have not forgotten the Chinese crackdown at a March riot, for which 42 have been convicted and more than a hundred await trial. Under this suppression, many are looking for hope. Words of Hope's Lee DeYoung says, "The broadcast that Words of Hope is involved in every night continues to broadcast hope and the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Tibetan people... we do know, from a number of testimonies, that people do listen quietly in private."