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Religion Today Summaries, March 20, 2003

Religion Today Summaries, March 20, 2003

Religion Today Summaries: Daily summaries of the top national and international religious news stories impacting Christians
In Today's Edition:

  • Iraqi Christians Face Unknowns of War: Muslims Accelerate Religious Rhetoric, Intolerance
  • Relief Work Along Iraqi Border Begins; Baptists Call for Volunteers, Donations
  • Russian Lawmakers Support `Values' of Nation's `Traditional' Religions
  • Update: Judge Rules in Favor of Students' Religious Candy Canes
  • National Association of Evangelicals Appoints New President

Iraqi Christians Face Unknowns of War: Muslims Accelerate Religious Rhetoric, Intolerance
Barbara G. Baker

(Compass) As a U.S.-led war to topple Iraqi President Saddam Hussein begins, Iraq’s small Christian minority fears more than American bombs. They expect to be targeted by a growing tide of Islamic militancy now being encouraged in the secularized Arab state. Numbering less than 400,000, Iraq’s Christian community has in recent months become the object of overt discrimination by Muslim elements. The attacks have ranged from verbal abuse and graffiti campaigns to stone-throwing and even brutal assassinations. Over the past few weeks, anti-Christian rhetoric has dominated Friday-prayer sermons in Baghdad’s mosques. Although Saddam Hussein initially kept religion out of Iraq’s political life, he began to encourage devotion to Islam after the 1991 Gulf War. Four years ago he launched a “faith campaign” to promote a revival of Islam, building scores of new mosques and religious schools across the country.

Relief Work Along Iraqi Border Begins; Baptists Call for Volunteers, Donations
Mark Kelly

(Baptist Press) Baptist workers in Jordan have begun ministering to refugees who are fleeing hostilities in Iraq. Working in cooperation with the Baptist Society of Jordan, Southern Baptist workers on March 19 distributed 30,000 diapers, formula for 1,000 babies and blankets in camps set up along the Iraq/Jordan border, an International Mission Board leader in the region reported. The workers also plan to address hunger, nutritional and medical needs as the situation continues to unfold, the worker said. Responding to the needs of Iraq's people reflects God's love for them, an IMB spokesman said. "God loves the people of Iraq -- like he loves all peoples -- with all his heart, and we share that love," Wendy Norvelle said. "Our hearts are with the people of Iraq, the Arab majority as well as minorities like the Kurds. "We call on all [Christians] to join in fervent prayer for the peoples of Iraq, that this time of turmoil and uncertainty might cause them to seek God. We ask them to give generously to relief efforts that will help Iraqis rebuild their lives and country. We also call on them to give themselves for work in the region -- as living examples of God's love for the Iraqi people -- when those opportunities arise."  You can help to support this effort by visiting: http://www.resources.imb.org/index.cfm/fa/prod/ProdID/961.htm

Russian Lawmakers Support `Values' of Nation's `Traditional' Religions
Frank Brown

(RNS) A broad coalition of lawmakers in Russia's State Duma on Tuesday (March 18) formed a voting bloc in support of the "morals and values" of Russia's so-called traditional religions: Russian Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism. At a founding meeting in the lower house of parliament that included top Orthodox clerics, rabbis, muftis and lamas, speaker after speaker urged giving the traditional faiths everything from tax breaks to free land. Lama Sanjai Balzhirov, a leading cleric from the mostly Buddhist Siberian region of Buryatia, said the new parliamentary organization would "make it easier for us to express our opinion." While the founders of the bloc insisted that there is no conflict between supporting some faiths and not others, some of the participants made clear they had other ideas. Aside from Russian Orthodox clergy, no other Christian leaders took part in the meetings. "We need a religion code, just as we already have a land code, a civil code," said Viktor Zorkaltsev, a Communist deputy on the Duma's committee on public associations and religious organizations. "Russia is a secular state, yes. But you cannot divide religion and the state."

Update: Judge Rules in Favor of Students' Religious Candy Canes
Kevin Eckstrom

(RNS) A federal judge ruled Monday (March 17) that students at a Massachusetts high school had the right to distribute religiously themed candy last Christmas and should not have been suspended. U.S. District Court Judge Frank Freedman said the students' free speech rights were violated when they were prohibited from handing out candy canes with Christian messages. Freedman also said the school was wrong to suspend the students after they ignored the principal's order to stop. Students "enjoy the right to free personal intercommunication with other students so long as their communication with other students does not substantially or materially disrupt the operation of the classroom," Freedman said in his ruling. Freedman rejected the school's argument that the principal had the right to restrict the messages because the student Bible club was a school-sanctioned activity. "If the court were to accept the school's proposition that the LIFE Club is a school-sponsored, curriculum-related group, then the school would be in flagrant violation of 40 years' worth of precedent barring school-sponsored prayer and devotional activities."  "Students should be aware of their rights and not be intimidated by unconstitutional school policies that violate their rights," said Erik Stanley, who represented the students.

National Association of Evangelicals Appoints New President
Adelle M. Banks

(RNS) Ted Haggard, senior pastor of a mega church in Colorado Springs, Colo., has been appointed as president of the National Association of Evangelicals. Haggard, 46, is the leader of New Life Church, the largest church in Colorado. The association’s executive committee appointed him shortly after the organization's annual meeting March 6-7 in Eden Prairie, Minn. Haggard succeeds another mega church pastor, Leith Anderson, pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, who served as interim president. In addition to his pastoral role, Haggard is the president of the World Prayer Center, which focuses on worldwide evangelistic prayer, and the World Prayer Team, a prayer network that functions via the Internet. "His commitment to bringing evangelicals together for mission, prayer and as a united voice is a deeply held value that is acknowledged and known throughout the evangelical world," said Bill Hamel, chairman of the board of the evangelical organization, in a statement announcing the appointment. In one of his first acts as the organization's new leader, Haggard called on American evangelical Christians to pray about the conflict with Iraq. "I ask Americans to pray for God to protect innocent lives, give wisdom to our leaders and advance the cause of freedom."