Religion Today Summaries, June 18, 2003

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk News Staff

Religion Today Summaries, June 18, 2003

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

  • Presbyterian Pastor Ousted for Marrying Gay Couples
  • Ugandan Rebels Said to Target Catholic Missions, Workers
  • House Church Leader Dying in Prison in China
  • Missions Build Kingdom Families, Young Missionary Tells Pastors

Presbyterian Pastor Ousted for Marrying Gay Couples
Kevin Eckstrom, Religion News Service

A Presbyterian pastor who defiantly married gay couples in violation of church policy was removed from his Cincinnati church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) on Monday. Members of the regional Cincinnati Presbytery ousted the Rev. Stephen Van Kuiken, pastor of Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church, after a 119-45 vote. Van Kuiken refused to abide by a church policy that allows the blessing of same-sex unions as long as they are not equated with marriages. A Mount Auburn policy adopted in 2001 said "our policy of inclusion implies and requires equality in terms of consideration and entitlement in society, and that marriage between two persons, man and woman, man and a man, or woman and woman, is the same..." in the eyes of the church. "I am grieving right now," Van Kuiken said after the vote. "And part of this grieving is over the forced separation from my congregation. I love them, and my heart will always be with them." Last April, Van Kuiken was found guilty and rebuked by a church court for marrying gay couples, but was acquitted on a technicality on charges that he ordained sexually active gay clergy. Van Kuiken's appeal in that case is now moot.

Ugandan Rebels Said to Target Catholic Missions, Workers
Alexandra Alter, Religion News Service

The rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda, known for kidnapping and inducting children into its army, has identified Catholic priests, nuns and missions as targets in its attacks on the civilian population of the north. The LRA, which is fighting to replace Uganda's current government with a theocracy based on the biblical Ten Commandments, announced its plans to attack Catholic missions after church leaders sought to mediate a ceasefire between the rebels and the government, the BBC reported Tuesday. "Catholic missions must be destroyed, priests and missionaries killed in cold blood and nuns beaten black and blue," said LRA leader Joseph Kony.  Previously, the LRA said it was willing to work with religious leaders seeking a peaceful resolution to the central African nation's 17-year civil war. Catholic priests of the Acholi Religious Leaders' Peace Initiative said they were confused by Kony's orders but believed them to be authentic. "We have no reason to doubt the message was authentic," missionary leader Father Carlos Rodriguez said. "In the last five weeks LRA has burned, bombed and desecrated churches on nine occasions." Besides supplying most of the health and education services in the north, churches have provided refuge to thousands of people seeking protection from the ongoing violence.

House Church Leader Dying in Prison in China
Xu Mei, Compass Direct

Amnesty International issued an emergency appeal on June 11 for Pastor Gong Shengliang, leader of the banned South China Church, who is reportedly dying in prison. A source inside the prison told the Gong family that the pastor had been "beaten and seriously injured by the police" and had been unable to leave his bed for two weeks. Arrested in August 2001, Gong and 16 other church members were originally charged with leading an illegal "cult" and were sentenced to death. An outcry from the international community against the death sentences led to a re-trial in October 2002. But while all church-related charges against Gong were dropped at that re-trial, police brought charges of rape against him, using statements from several female members of his church who had been arrested and tortured during a police crackdown in 2001. Subsequently, he was given a life sentence for multiple rape charges. The young women who gave these statements later testified that they were beaten and humiliated to obtain their "confessions." Sixty-three members of the South China Church remain in prison, while approximately 500 others are "on the run," according to members.

Missions Build Kingdom Families, Young Missionary Tells Pastors
Mark Kelly, Baptist Press News

Southern Baptists have an opportunity to change history if they are willing to meet the challenge of being "Kingdom families" for Iraq, a missionary just arrived from that country told Southern Baptist pastors during their June 15-16 conference in Phoenix. "The greatest need in Iraq right now is for five families who will go and plant their hearts and their lives among the Kurds of the north, the Turkmen of Mosul and Kirkuk, the Sunnis around Tikrit, the ancient church that lives in that area, and the Shiite villages round Karbala and Najev," said the missionary, whose name was not revealed for security reasons. "We need people who will go and plant their lives and be the kind of families that reach other families and cause the kind of church planting movements that will truly change history." The next three or four months represent a crucial moment to change the future of Iraq. "Right now we have a 90-day, maybe a 120-day opportunity to get into Iraq. Everything is open to us.... if we are willing to sacrifice in these economic times, we may very well see God do something we've always dreamed about," said SBC President. (