Religion Today Summaries - March 7, 2006

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

Religion Today Summaries - March 7, 2006

Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.

In today's edition:

  • Turkish Christians Need Buildings to Train for Ministry
  • Conservative Jews to Consider Ending a Ban on Same-Sex Unions and Gay Rabbis
  • Push against Conversions in India Considered Evidence of Gospel's Success
  • Last of 'Mennonite Six' Released from Prison

Turkish Christians Need Buildings to Train for Ministry

Fury over the Mohammad cartoons hit with intensity in Turkey, the largest unreached nation in the world. Muslims make up 99.7% of the population of 70 million people. Although the Turkish government is more secular and directed people not to react with violence, IN Network's Behnan Konutgan says, "People are not secular, and people hate Christians, and because of that, the Christians are scared." The Christians are also scared because recently a Catholic priest was killed in cartoon-related violence. But even in the midst of the violence, Konutgan says the church is called to display Christ and love those who persecute them. Although the Muslims in Turkey are more secular than most Arab Muslims, they are not open or receptive to Christianity. There is a huge rift between Muslims and Christians in Turkey, preceded by centuries of violence, enmity and antagonism. "Turks don't like Christians," says Konutgan, and he says that only God can heal that. But the Body of Christ is growing in Turkey, and IN Network is providing support and training to the church in Turkey, to help believers reach out to their neighbors. "Our aim is really to be a channel to Muslims in Turkey to reach them through some methods, and through evangelizing and through training them," says Konutgan. A critical need for the Turkish church is buildings in order to help train and teach others. There are only 3,000 Evangelical Christians in Turkey, but Konutgan says they're central to spreading the Gospel as they develop relationships and live godly lives in a vastly majority Muslim country.

Conservative Jews to Consider Ending a Ban on Same-Sex Unions and Gay Rabbis

In a closed-door meeting this week in an undisclosed site near Baltimore, a committee of Jewish legal experts will consider whether to lift a ban on gay rabbis and same-sex unions, the New York Times reports. In 1992, this same Committee on Jewish Law and Standards declared that Jewish law clearly prohibited commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples and the admission of openly gay people to rabbinical or cantorial schools. The vote was 19 to 3, with one abstention. Since then, Conservative Jewish leaders say, they have watched as relatives, congregation members and even fellow rabbis publicly revealed their homosexuality. The direction taken by Conservative Jews, who occupy the centrist position in Judaism between the more liberal Reform and the more strict Orthodox, will be closely watched at a time when many Christian denominations are torn over the same issue. Conservative Judaism claims to distinguish itself by adhering to Jewish law and tradition, or halacha, while bending to accommodate modern conditions. "This is a very difficult moment for the movement," said Rabbi Joel H. Meyers.

Push against Conversions in India Considered Evidence of Gospel's Success

A new campaign against the conversion of Hindus to Christianity is “evidence of success” for the spread of the Gospel in India, the Baptist Press reports. Militant Hindu leaders mounted a major gathering in February in the northwestern state of Gujarat, the scene of many violent attacks on Christians and Muslims in recent years. The three-day “Shabari Kumbh Mela” attracted more than 400,000 Hindus to the Dangs district of Gujarat, home to as many as 60,000 tribal Christians. Billed as a worship gathering, the event raised major concerns among Indian Christians, who saw it as an attempt to intimidate -– or force -– tribal believers into “reconverting” to Hinduism. The festival featured calls for an end to evangelistic efforts in Gujarat and accusations that church workers are bribing poor tribal Hindus to convert to Christianity. It ended with only one minor “skirmish” between Hindus and local Christians, news reports said. But Gujarat state officials have declared they will push for new “anti-conversion” laws and press tribal Christians to return to Hinduism. A statement issued by the Church of North India said: “This has created an environment of fear for us." However, a Christian worker with contacts throughout the giant south Asian nation has a more upbeat perspective: “Frankly, I look at it as evidence of success. The fact that so many Hindus are coming to Christ is a major reason [Hindu nationalists] are trying to put these anti-conversion laws in place. That’s a good sign.”

Last of 'Mennonite Six' Released from Prison

Pham Ngoc Thach, a Vietnamese evangelist was released from prison Friday after completing a two-year sentence at Z30A Prison in Xuan Loc, Dong Nai province. Thach was arrested in June 2004, after he and Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang discovered two undercover police agents staking out Quang’s house and reported their presence to city officials. When Thach and a teacher surnamed Hien went to take a picture of the police motorbike for evidence, the policemen attacked them and a scuffle ensued. Christians later learned that, while Thach was in police custody, officers beat him until he passed out. Thach and five other Mennonites who eventually came to be known as the 'Mennonite Six' were charged with “resisting officers of the law while doing their duty.” According to church officials, however, the men had simply insisted that policemen who were investigating them should follow correct legal procedures.