Religious and World News
A summary of various newswire sources by Angel R. Oyola
Nineteen of 41 nations in Europe are violating the religious rights of minority groups, according to the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (www.ihf-hr.org). Violations may involve granting special protections to traditional or majority religions, particularly in countries where most of the populace is Orthodox or Muslim. Furthermore, some countries create stiff registration requirements to limit religious practice.
On November 13, the Far East Broadcasting Company will launch the first full-time Protestant radio station in the Muslim nation of Indonesia. The station will be programmed locally in the nation’s capital, reaching more than 8.6 million people with 12 hours daily of religious music, news, and local programs.
With support from 1,000 Kenyan churches, Gospel to the Unreached Millions founder K. A. Paul held three nights of evangelistic meetings at Nairobi’s Uhur Park. Paul, born in India, led the final night’s crowd of 500,000 on a prayer march to the site of the U.S. Embassy bombing. An estimated half of the 800,000 individuals in attendance made a "Christian" commitment.
A worldwide coalition of religious leaders is joining a campaign for the cancellation of the international debts of developing nations. "Debt reduction can bring good to the populations of rich as well as poor countries," says Bill Peters, vice president of Jubilee 2000, which is calling on the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other international creditors to set aside the foreign debt of developing countries. The problem is especially acute in Africa, where about 20 countries owe more than $220 billion to foreign creditors. Zambia alone owes $7.1 billion and spends more on debt service than on education and health services for its people, 70 percent of whom live in poverty. Even though the crux of the matter is usually in corrupt governments, Zambian evangelicals recently issued a joint statement calling for debt cancellation, saying the country’s total debt is unpayable and hurts mostly the poor. Jubilee 2000 openly connects its goal of debt remission with scriptural mandates for the celebration of jubilee as a universal time to clear unpayable debts. [This sounds like an effort to follow Biblical law, but there are so many corrupt and unbiblical aspects to international lending (the poor rarely ever get the money) that this gesture would probably encourage future corruption more than it would solve current problems. —NSE]
Henry J. Lyons, beleaguered president of the National Baptist Convention USA, was forgiven by his board during a September annual session in which he confessed he had an "inappropriate" relationship with a female employee. But the unanimous decision by board members to forgive Lyons did not put an end to his problems. He faces trial in federal and Floridian courts on charges he used his position to steal millions of dollars from big corporations. A decline in donations has brought about a financial crisis within the denomination, which claims 8 million members. Critics contend the convention has inflated statistics and really has fewer than 1 million members. In his annual address, Lyons, a doctor in Theology, said he has made "serious miscalculations in judgment" in his personal and professional lives. "From the bottom of my soul, I am truly sorry. I want you to forgive me. I ask for your mercy," he said. The convention proved merciful.
After forgiving Lyons, it passed a resolution forgiving President Clinton for his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. "We stand firmly behind our President," Lyons said. "We’d like to see the majority Republican Congress get off his back. We’d like to see Mr. Starr get off his back."
But the problems of the 56-year-old Lyons may not be over yet. Troubles began in July 1997 when his wife of 26 years, Deborah, set a fire that damaged a waterfront house in Florida, near Saint Petersburg. Lyons owns the home with Bernice V. Edwards, a former convention public-relations director once convicted of embezzling $60,000 from a school for at-risk students. Deborah Lyons told police she started the fire in a fit of anger after learning Lyons and Edwards own the house together. According to many within his denomination, Mr. Lyons, at this point, has a high mountain to climb. "If Dr. Lyons had any love left for himself and the National Baptist Convention, he would step down," Charles Kenyatta of New York City said. "To drag millions of people through all this mud is a shame. In the 118 years of our existence, we’ve never had a president this dumb." [Forgiveness is not the issue for Lyons or Clinton. The Bible teaches that those who are not living by its principles should not be leaders, no matter what other qualifications they may have.]
A group of Christian house church leaders, who function without government registration, has issued a public appeal to China’s leaders, calling for the release of imprisoned Christians. The handwritten appeal was released to two journalists in Zhengzhou, a city in China’s central Henan Province. Accord ing to Religion News Service, the document calls for the unconditional release of house church Christians in labor camps, for dialogue between government and church leaders in hopes of recognition for house churches, and for a clear-cut definition of religious cults. "We have been persecuted so long, we just have to fight the last fight," says Zhang Rongliang, a Christian farmer who is spokesperson for the group. "We have been silent too long." [Some of these "house-churches" in China are Sabbath-keeping. Knowing the total number of believers and how many believe which doctrines is impossible because the groups must hide from the state, so almost nobody attempts to keep any written records which would probably be seized. —NSE]
One year after Russia enacted a controversial law restricting religious freedom, Protestants and Roman Catholics say the measure has had a chilling effect on religious activity nationwide. The law has initiated a season of religious harassment and discrimination, while official favors are visited on Russia’s dominant Orthodox church and other "traditional" religions. Even though the new religion law is considered to be unconstitutional in at least 16 instances, critics say the law violates international human-rights standards and agreements signed by the Russian Federation. Government officials recently accused a pastor of using hypnosis to influence people who attended church, saying the pastor’s faith was "non-traditional" and only a Russian under hypnotic influence would attend a church that is not Orthodox or Muslim. Tithing was also viewed as a problem. The prosecutors concluded a "normal" person would not sacrifice 10 percent of his income to support a church. [Western democracies should not be shocked if anti-religious laws are passed in their countries. The laws may be passed right after some kind of mass-murder associated with a religious cult. The laws may claim to be a protection from dangerous cults, but they could be used to suppress a wide variety of small religious groups. Would the large religions stand up to defend religious freedom, or would they see this as a chance to eliminate their competition? —NSE]
Seeking to place biblical perspectives onto the opinion pages of America’s secular newspapers, the Lansing, Michigan, based Amy foundation is launching one of the first newspaper syndicates available on the Internet. Termed "Real Answers," the columns will seek to provide spiritual insight on current issues and problems. "Our nation is in a deepening spiritual and moral crisis," says Foundation president Jim Russell. "The Amy Internet columns will provide clearly defined spiritual and moral direction." Starting this month, two new columns are being provided weekly at the Amy Foundation Web site (www.amyfound.org). "These value principles have proven to be historically effective in restoring a character of faith, obedience, and love," Russell says.
Hopes are rising for papal visit to the Holy Land.The Wye Plantation peace accord, signed by Israel and Palestine on October 23, has raised hopes for a papal pilgrimage to the Holy Land in the year 2000, the Vatican’s chief foreign-affairs official told reporters today. In an off-the-cuff exchange with reporters, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran said that the new agreement opens the way to new possibilities for peace. While Pope John Paul has frequently voiced his desire to visit the Holy Land, the archbishop continued, "everything depends on the peace process and the application of the Wye Plantation accord." He observed that the agreement itself is a positive sign of the "good will of the leaders of the people in the Holy Land."
Questioned about his widely publicized statement that the Israeli occupation of Jerusalem is "illegal", Archbishop Tauran responded, "That has always been our position." The archbishop made that statement at a symposium on the future of the Holy City, organized by Jerusalem’s Patriarch Michel Sabbah. Since the purpose of that symposium was to clarify the situation in Jerusalem for the benefit of "the bishops of the world’s great nations—especially in the West," the Pope and the Secretary of State agreed that it would be a good time to set forth the official position of the Holy See, he said. "We are repeating what is affirmed in the United Nations resolutions," he added; "We are not alone in taking this position."
—Catholic World News
During a visit to Jerusalem, Tauran gave a speech in which he said that Jews, Moslems and Christians must all have a part in the final status of the governing of Jerusalem: "The meaning and value of Jerusalem are so great, are so unique, that they go beyond the interests of one state or beyond bilateral agreements between one and another states," he said.
"It is essential that the parties to the negotiations take fair and appropriate account of the sacred and universal character of the city. This requires that any possible solution should have the support of the three monotheistic religions, both at the local level and at the international level," said Tauran.
Many fundamentalist Christian groups teach that the Catholic Church is the "great whore" and that the pope will be "the antichrist". Few believe that the current pope, John Paul II, is the "antichrist", but they wonder if his successor will be a much more evil man. As a matter of fact, John Paul II himself wonders if his successor will be an evil man. More than once he has mentioned the old Catholic prophecy that there would be 265 popes, the last of which would be evil.John Paul is number 264. Once a pope dies, he no longer has any say in who will replace him. His successor is picked by cardinals in a very private political process.
The November 11th Wall Street Journal had an article on Cardinal Francis Arinze, a native of Nigeria, naming him as likely successor to Pope John Paul II. It contained a quotation from Thomas Reese, author of "Inside the Vatican" who says of Arinze: "He’s up there in the top five. He’s got a personality that will capture the imagination of the world." [Remember this: "And in his estate shall stand up a vile person, to whom they shall not give the honour of the kingdom: but he shall come in peaceably, and obtain the kingdom by flatteries" (Dan 11:21). —NSE]
During the middle of July, Yassir Arafat visited China for three days and signed some kind of agreement with the Chinese—most likely for military and economic aid. China has often stated its support for the Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization and also maintains ties with Iran, Iraq, and Syria. [For years, most people have recognized China as the only country big enough to field an army of 200,000,000 (Rev 9:16), but have wondered what interest China would have in the Middle East. The above items shows that China already does have an interest in the Middle East! —NSE]
Over a million people have died in North Korea during three years of floods and drought, according to a U.S. congressional delegation that visited the country in August, albeit international aid is beginning to save lives. The group reports between 300,000 and 800,000 of North Korea’s 23 million people have died each year since 1995, claiming more than twice as many lives as the Ethiopian famine of the mid-1980s. "They’re going through an acute food shortage right now," says Mark Kirk, one of four congressional aides who visited the Communist nation. The group witnessed severe malnutrition and the use of "alternative" foods such as grass, roots, and bark, but reported that government and military leaders appeared well fed. Organizations such as CARE, Catholic Relief services, and many others have contributed a significant amount of assistance. Since 1995, World Vision alone has sent nearly $7.5 million in food, medicines, and clothing. Despite recent flooding, the fall harvest should feed the country through April, but Kirk says economic reforms are needed for longer-term sustainability. [One cannot help but remember that about the time the famine began, North Korea was boasting about its military might and potential nuclear weapons. If the Eternal was not ready for such evil to come upon us, He has ways of stopping it. —NSE] &
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