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Religion Today Summaries, July 3, 2003

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk News Staff

Religion Today Summaries, July 3, 2003

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

  • Vietnamese Sentence Minority Christians to Jail Terms
  • Leader Urges Prayer for Impending High Court Vacancies
  • Moore Loses Appeal for Ten Commandments in Judicial Building
  • Buddhist Stronghold Infiltrated by Gospel in Myanmar

Vietnamese Sentence Minority Christians to Jail Terms
Religion News Service

Vietnam has sentenced nine members of a banned branch of Christianity to 18 to 30 months in prison for their alleged actions against the state. The nine members of the Montegnard ethnic minority founded a branch of "Dega Protestantism," a type of evangelical Christianity followed by many Montegnards in Vietnam's central highlands, in April 2001. The Vietnamese government approves a form of Protestantism among the six religions it recognizes, but regards all other faiths as illegal. The nine recruited 70 followers in Gia Lai's Krong Pa District and were indicted for sabotaging national unity in May 2001, when two of the accused "incited local believers to flee Vietnam and speak ill of the regime," according to a report the Official Vietnam News Agency issued Tuesday. The communist Vietnamese government regards "Dega Protestantism" as a rallying creed for Montegnards seeking an independent homeland and has set out to eliminate its practice, Human Rights Watch reported earlier this year. More than 200 Montegnards have been detained over the last two years for participating in protests in 2001. Evangelical Christians have been heavily targeted in the government's crackdown on indigenous highlanders.

Leader Urges Prayer for Impending High Court Vacancies
Eric Tainsay, Charisma News Service

A nationally recognized prayer leader has called Christians for emergency prayer regarding impending vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court, which recently struck down a ban on gay sex. If we don't have a judicial breakthrough, we won't see this nation restored. I have felt that for some time, and that became clearer last week," said Dutch Sheets, who pastors 700-member Spring Harvest Fellowship in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Last Thursday, the high court ruled that a Texas law violated constitutional privacy rights, a controversial decision condemned by Christians. "I really didn't know this ruling was coming forth," explained Sheets, "Hopefully, it will be a confirmation to people of the urgency and the accuracy of the call for prayer." He added that "this [filling vacancies on the Supreme Court] is winner takes it all. If we don't get this one, we're going to go into a downward spiral that could last for decades." A Supreme Court vacancy looks less likely this year because justices recently agreed to hear the campaign-finance reform case. Insiders are saying Bush wants to appoint a Hispanic to replace those who retire. The president's apparent choice, Alberto Gonzales, is pro-choice. "We must pray for the president to appoint only the persons that God wants him to," Sheets said. "Pray against ungodly and unwise counsel. Beyond that we should pray for God's timing for the stepping down of current justices."

Moore Loses Appeal for Ten Commandments in Judicial Building
Adelle Banks, Religion News Service

Groups advocating church-state separation are hailing an appellate decision that Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore must remove a Ten Commandments monument from the lobby of the state judicial building.  Affirming a lower court decision, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta found Tuesday (July 1) that the monument violates the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. Groups such as the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism were pleased with the decision. "Displaying the Ten Commandments on public property is not only a clear and direct violation of the separation of church and state, but also a disservice to religion," said the center's associate director. "It is precisely because of the special value we place on these teachings that we should teach them in our synagogues and churches, and in our homes, not in our court buildings, public schools or other government institutions." A spokesman for the chief justice said Moore would appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. Christian Coalition of Alabama President said he was "shocked" by the appellate decision and hopes the Supreme Court will hear the case soon. Other groups appreciated the ruling. "This is a clear message from the courts: Thou shalt not merge church and state," said the legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Buddhist Stronghold Infiltrated by Gospel in Myanmar
Christian Aid Report

A native missionary from Myanmar was surprised to discover small groups of Christians in an area of the country that is particularly hostile to Christianity. These people, including some former Buddhist monks, were saved through the radio ministry in Burma. The area in which they live is so closed to the gospel that, the mission leader says, "it can never be evangelized by a missionary...openly." The leader gives a regular message over the radio that reaches thousands in predominantly Buddhist Burma. When the missionary found the tiny bands of new believers, they were thrilled to finally meet someone who could disciple and teach them. They had been meeting secretly with no guidance from a mature Christian. They begged the missionary to come as often as he could to their town. The ministry has plans to nurture the growth of these isolated people by sending workers to provide teaching, medical care, and food. The mission hopes to distribute more radios at strategic places to tune in to his gospel program. The ministry will begin taking promising believers from the area to another safer location for leadership training and then sending them back to their own people. "In this way," says the mission leader, "the local authorities will never know what is going on."