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Religion Today Summaries - March 21, 2006

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

Religion Today Summaries - March 21, 2006

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

  • Afghan Christian Could Get Death Sentence
  • Christian Aid Condemns Closure of Humanitarian Office in West Darfur
  • More People Claim Christian Faith in Japan
  • Being Faithful to Inner-City Churches: ''How the Other Half Worships''

Afghan Christian Could Get Death Sentence

An AP story reports that an Afghan man is being prosecuted in a Kabul court and could be sentenced to death on a charge of converting from Islam to Christianity. The trial is believed to be the first of its kind in Afghanistan and could determine what shape Islam will take four years after the ouster of the Taliban. 41-year-old Abdul Rahman was arrested last month after his family accused him of becoming a Christian, Judge Ansarullah Mawlavezada told The AP. Rahman was charged with rejecting Islam and his trial started Thursday. Rahman confessed that he converted from Islam to Christianity 16 years ago while working as a medical aid worker for an international Christian group helping Afghan refugees in Pakistan. "We are not against any particular religion in the world. But in Afghanistan, this sort of thing is against the law," Judge Mawlavezada said. "It is an attack on Islam." Mawlavezada said he would rule on the case within two months. In the months before U.S.-led troops ousted the Taliban in 2001, it claimed Western aid groups were trying to convert Afghan Muslims. They arrested eight foreign aid workers for allegedly preaching Christianity, but later released them unharmed.

Christian Aid Condemns Closure of Humanitarian Office in West Darfur

The offices of Christian Aid’s key partner, the Sudan Social Development Organization (SUDO), in west Darfur were closed on March 12. They were shut down by the Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC), the government agency which oversees all humanitarian activity in Darfur. HAC has cited a new bill covering the activities of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as justification for this latest action against SUDO. It has been ordered to hand over all assets of its offices in Zalingei, shut down its health & nutrition center and food distribution unit, and provide the HAC with a full report on its income and expenditures. The bill has been passed by parliament but is not yet signed by the President, raising questions of its legality. It is the first time the new ‘Organization of Humanitarian and Voluntary Work Act’ has been invoked. "We totally condemn this latest attack on the work of humanitarian agencies in Darfur," said Mike Noyes, manager of the Christian Aid East and Horn of Africa Program. "Our work in the region is increasingly difficult because of the deteriorating security situation. The use of this NGO bill is just another tool of the government of Sudan to restrict our purely humanitarian work." Christian Aid fears the new legislation will further undermine the work of human rights and humanitarian organizations.

More People Claim Christian Faith in Japan

The latest Gallup poll revealed a much higher percentage of Christians in Japan compared to previous surveys, including a surprising high number of teens who claimed the Christian faith, the Christian Post reports. In a country where only one percent is Christian among those who claim a faith, findings from one of the most extensive surveys of the country ever taken showed a Christian population of six percent. The popular, traditional religions – Buddhism and Shintoism – suffered declines. Of the 30 percent of adults who claimed to have a religion, 75 percent considered themselves Buddhists, 19 percent Shintoists and 12 percent Christians, according to Gallup. Of the 20 percent of youths who professed to have a religion, 60 percent called themselves Buddhists, 36 percent Christians and Shintoists. "These projections mean that seven percent of the total teenage population say they are Christians," said George Gallup Jr., who called the numbers "stunning."

Being Faithful to Inner-City Churches: ''How the Other Half Worships''

An article in the Baltimore Sun declares how Baltimore's Thank God for Jesus Church is one of several hundred buildings featured in How the Other Half Worships, a book by Camilo Jose Vergara that examines the way the poor do church in 21 American cities. Vergara, a sociologist and photographer, has made a career of chronicling the downwardly mobile aspects of post-industrial America. While traveling around the country documenting urban decline, Vergara said he became intrigued by the places where poor people worship. In many cases, churches are the only signs of activity on blocks otherwise abandoned because of crime and poverty. Inner-city churches often have little physically in common with the houses of worship where most Americans congregate. They typically set up in buildings that were constructed for other purposes, like corner stores, gas stations, fast-food outlets or movie houses. Vergara began by just photographing the exteriors of urban churches that caught his eye, but soon he began going inside the churches, attending services, talking with the worshipers and taking notes. He said he limited his survey to Christian churches because worshipers of other faiths were less welcoming. But even Christian ministers were sometimes suspicious he was a building inspector, or a rival minister looking to steal ideas. But "the basic belief is that you have a soul and a soul is worth saving," Vergara said. "You're not a real minister unless you try to save the soul of the person knocking on the door."