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Religion Today Summaries, May 5, 2003

Religion Today Summaries, May 5, 2003

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

In Today's Edition:

  • United Arab Emirates Court Gives Filipino Pastor Suspended Sentence
  • Eritrea Arrests, Conscripts More Protestant Christians
  • First Pastor From Gay Denomination Prays in Congress
  • Death From Arsenic in Church Coffee Ruled a Homicide

United Arab Emirates Court Gives Filipino Pastor Suspended Sentence
Barbara G. Baker
(Compass) A criminal court in the United Arab Emirates has declared a Filipino pastor, Rev. Fernando Alconga, guilty of “abusing Islam” and conducting Christian missionary activity. Arrested five months ago for giving a Bible and Christian literature to an Arab Muslim at a Dubai shopping center, Alconga was held in jail for five weeks and charged with a felony for “preaching other than the Islamic religion,” as forbidden in the Federal Criminal Code. A total of eight court hearings were conducted in his trial, which opened on January 19. In the April 27 verdict, Chief Judge Mahmood Fahmi Sultan of the Dubai Criminal Court of First Instance suspended Alconga’s punishment because the court was of the opinion that the 54-year-old pastor would not repeat his crime. “In the long run, we are seeing God’s hand in this,” said Alconga, an ordained Conservative Baptist minister who has pastored congregations in the UAE for the past nine years. He had been scheduled to return to the Philippines in January with his family, where he was due to take up pastoral ministry in a Manila church.

Eritrea Arrests, Conscripts More Protestant Christians

(Compass) More arrests along with forced conscriptions targeting Eritrea’s independent Protestant Christians have been reported during the past two weeks, despite a blanket denial by Asmara officials on May 1 that any religious persecution exists in the East Africa nation. In an incident in the capital city over Orthodox Easter weekend, two members of the government-recognized Evangelical Lutheran Church were arrested and held in detention for three days. Taking a more severe tactic last week, military police invaded work places and private homes to arrest 56 members of independent Pentecostal churches in the northern-most province of Sahel. The military swoop, which occurred during normal working hours on April 29, was justified as “conscription for military service.” But according to fellow church members of the forced conscripts, most of the 16 women and 40 men picked up had already completed their mandatory military service. Many of those conscripted were teachers, nurses and professionals. They have not been seen since.

First Pastor From Gay Denomination Prays in Congress
Kevin Eckstrom

(RNS) For the first time, a pastor affiliated with the nation's largest primarily gay denomination has offered the opening prayer in the House of Representatives. The Rev. Steven Torrance, a police chaplain in Key West, Fla., and a pastor in the Metropolitan Community Church, offered the prayer on Thursday (May 1), which was also designated the National Day of Prayer. "Help us to secure justice and equality for every human being; help us bring an end to division, and continue to build our country on peace and love," Torrance prayed in the House chambers.

Death From Arsenic in Church Coffee Ruled a Homicide

(RNS) The fatal arsenic poisoning at a small Lutheran church in New Sweden, Maine, has been ruled a homicide. Walter Reid Morrill, an elderly church usher, died last week and at least 15 people were hospitalized after drinking coffee after Sunday services at Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church. "We were looking for ways it could be an accidental introduction – an old bottle in the cupboard, rodent poisoning near the coffee -- but there's nothing there that makes us think it's accidental," Lt. Dennis Appleton, the lead investigator, told The New York Times. "Along with our interviewing and the levels of arsenic we found, we don't see how we can call this anything but a homicide." Detectives said the arsenic was not found in the water, sugar or coffee can. The 50-member church is now sealed off with yellow crime scene tape and local residents are trying to figure out why someone would put poison in church coffee. The man who made the coffee also became ill.