The Afghanistan "trial" of eight foreign Christians accused of promoting Christianity is in recess today because Friday is a Muslim day of prayer. It remains unclear what's happening in the trial itself. The New York Times reports that a press conference by foreign minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil began and ended yesterday with commentary on the differences between Christian and Muslim beliefs about Jesus. "We will end this conference by saying, praise be to Jesus Christ, who will eventually come as a Muslim and will follow the teachings of Islam," Muttawakil said. But if reporters got a lesson in religious doctrine, they got less information about the trial. Are the foreigners on trial— two Americans, two Australians and four Germans—facing the death penalty, or 3 to 10 days in prison followed by expulsion? Muttawakil was unclear. The lighter sentence, he said, applies to all who are accused of Christian evangelism. "In this case, there is a difference. This is not just an accusation. There is proof." Other issues remain as murky, reports Reuters. "The Taliban, having originally promised the trial would be open to relatives, diplomats and journalists, have so far denied access to the proceedings. It is thought the defendants have yet to appear. It is also unclear whether the 16 Afghans [also arrested], who are expected to be tried separately, would be called to give evidence."
One item was made abundantly clear at the press conference: it will be much harder for aid organizations to work in the country. "We have been relaxed, but now the NGO's [nongovernmental organizations] will be made to obey the laws," Muttawakil said. These include Taliban approval for every staff worker and channeling all money through the Afghanistan National Bank. But non-Muslim NGOs might not even be allowed into the country from now on if Naim Safi of the Taliban Information Ministry is correct. "If there exists just one Islamic nongovernment organization, then there is no need for other NGOs to come here," he told reporters.
Meanwhile, The Washington Post's David Cho interviews friends and relatives of Heather Mercer, one of the American detainees. "The woman is a rock," a classmate says. Adds another, "She had very strong beliefs, but it was never something she would push on people."
The Cincinnati Post editorialized on the trial Wednesday: "If the charges are true—and who knows how loosely the Taliban construe proselytizing—the workers showed courage in pushing their faith since they knew what the laws were going in. But spokesmen have denied the workers tried to teach religion. If they did, they also endangered their 16 Afghan employees."
Gospel Hall of Fame gets all shook up
Christian critics who derided Elvis Presley as the epitome of the lascivious nature of rock music are rolling over in their graves (or family rooms). The King of Rock and Roll, already inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame threepeated this week as the Gospel Music Association announced he'd be joining Andrae Crouch, Mahalia Jackson, the Fairfield Four, and singing legend Billy Graham in the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. (Okay, so Graham isn't a singing legend, but he is in the Gospel Hall of Fame.) The Gospel Music Association notes that all three of Elvis's Grammy wins were for gospel recordings, not rock.
Presley is the biggest name among the new inductees, but the others aren't too shabby either. They are producer and songwriter Kurt Kaiser ("Pass It On"), Keith Green ("O Lord You're Beautiful"), Christian rock pioneer Larry Norman ("I Wish We'd All Been Ready"), Doris Akers ("Sweet, Sweet Spirit"), Albertina Walker ("Joy Will Come"), Wendy Bagwell & the Sunliters ("Here Come the Rattlesnakes") and The Rambos ("We Shall Behold Him").
In related news, Newsweek International reports that gospel music is huge among the Japanese. Now where was original reporting like this when the U.S. version of the magazine did its Christian music cover story?
Gay D.C. councilman threatened Salvation Army
Remember back when the media was all in an uproar about a reported deal that the Salvation Army had struck with the White House? (If not, a reminder: it pledged to support the faith-based initiative so long as there were guarantees it wouldn't be told who it had to hire.) Well, apparently the media didn't report everything. At a "Redefining the Gay Agenda" panel for the Liberty Education Forum, District of Colombia councilman David Catania explained how he bullied the local office:
I had an opportunity to talk to a senior person in the Salvation Army's head of command center and I wasn't—for those of you who know me in the district, I was on a kind of hypoglycemic high which is I was very moody at this point. And, so, I said—and I really have the worst foulest mouth. And I said to the [Colonel], I said, "You know I read in the paper that my local folks aren't doing this, but I hear you're attempting to do this. Well, well,"—I said, "Let me just break it down for you." I said, "This faggot controls federal grants in the district as well as local and you'll never see another cent as long as you live. I'll subpoena every one of you mother-[expletive]s and I'll bring you down and I'll turn my chamber into a national circus. Do we understand each other?" "Yes, Councilman." "I want a letter within the hour denouncing that you have any intentions of discriminating against gays and lesbians." "Yes, Councilman." And that's the importance of being at the table. [Laughter and applause] Rarely will that hit the papers. Sometimes it does.
Liberty Education Forum president responded, "It will now." It hasn't yet, but it has been picked up by the Culture and Family Institute, which was founded by Concerned Women for America. Asked to reply, Salvation Army Major George Hood told the CFI, "We just have to turn the other cheek and be who we are."
- Danforth named as envoy to Sudan | Ex-Senator will seek peace pact in civil war (The Washington Post)
- Sudan plan launched as Danforth challenge | Bush names ex-senator to head peace initiative. Both, however, have no illusions about a quick end to the African nation's long civil war. (Los Angeles Times)
- Earlier: White House to launch Sudan peace initiative | Ex-Sen. John Danforth is expected to be named point man. U.S. is also planning an aid program of at least $25 million. (Los Angeles Times)
- Sudan bishops accuse oil companies of fueling war | Companies "complicit" by accepting money, protection (Reuters)
Christianity in England:
- Report says archbishop of Canterbury needs help | Review team urges Carey to delegate much of his present work (Associated Press)
- Also: Archbishop should 'concentrate on international role' (The Daily Telegraph)
- Also: 'Papal' role for leader of Anglican Church (The Times)
- Not quite vanquished | Although the social neglect of Christianity may not be exactly welcome, it does present Christians in Britain with an opportunity to get themselves started again without the props of society. (Editorial, The Daily Telegraph)
- Also: Christianity faces day of judgment | Church fears modern beliefs are undermining traditional values (The Guardian)
- Also: Our candid cardinal | Empty pews in an age of DIY spirituality (The Guardian)
- Also: Christianity has nothing to worry about, says Carey (The Daily Telegraph)
- Also: Exciting time for faith says Carey (The Times)
- Also: Christianity has nothing to worry about, says Carey (The Daily Telegraph)
- Bishop urges Church to keep its paintings | Commissioners have suggested sale as way of paying bills (The Daily Telegraph)
Church and state:
- Church of God leader sounds reconciliatory note in spanking dispute | Church members protest removal of children by child-welfare workers (Canadian Press)
- Church-state conflicts on the rise south of Boston | Banners, use of schools at issue (The Boston Globe)
- Saddleback lifts ban on school clubs | The loss of all groups to avoid recognizing a religious one was too great, trustees decide. (Los Angeles Times)
- Public campus for the home-schooled blurs lines | Pupils have some joint classes, but most of the teaching is done at home, with materials paid for by the state. (Los Angeles Times)
- In Schall's sanctum | Students at Georgetown University try to squeeze in as many courses with the noted Christian political philosopher as their four short years will permit (The Washington Times)
- Churches to study reparations issue | United Methodist Church, Disciples of Christ, other denominations supportive (The Washington Times)
- Christianity drowns in a sea of hysteria | As the asylum-seeker drama unfolded, Australia's mainstream churches demonstrated a rare and encouraging degree of unity (Muriel Porter, The Age, Melbourne, Australia)
- Firing up a fizzle? | The folks in Washington deserve a little more time on faith-based initiative (Joel Belz, World)
- Religious leaders, Anaheim police discuss jail policy | Meeting described as a good 'first step' toward resolving the dispute over the INS' access to inmates. (Los Angeles Times)
- Feds admit stem cell ignorance | Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson says only 24 or 25 of the 64 approved lines are fully developed (Associated Press)
- Bishops' start anti-abortion ads | Critics say Second Look Project is intended to influence Supreme Court appointments (Associated Press)
- Planned Parenthood sues S.C. over new 'Choose Life' license plates | Similar plates have been challenged in the courts in Florida and Louisiana (Associated Press)
- Lutherans, Methodists talk unity this weekend | Hurdles to overcome include differences in electing bishops, appointing pastors and what to drink at communion (The Denver Post)
- Monk has finger transplant | Forefinger will move from left hand to right so he can make the sign of the cross (Ananova)
- Episcopal bishop to resign from divided church in 2004 | Denver's Jerry Winterrowd says growing split in city isn't reason (The Denver Post)
Money and business:
- In coffin-making, an abbey finds fiscal rebirth | Growing older and becoming fewer, Trappist monks constantly seek a balance that will generate income but not at the expense of the first order of business (The New York Times)
- Pennies from Heaven | Churches with credit unions on rise (ABCNews.com)
Missions and ministry:
- On a mission for heaven, 24/7 | With church-going in decline Christian groups are targeting Ibiza in search of younger recruits (The Independent)
- Again, Bonnke returns to Nigeria | Evangelist will hold Ibadan crusade in November (The Nigerian Guardian)
- Earlier: 'Come and Receive Your Miracle' | German evangelist Reinhard Bonnke's mass healings and evangelistic crusades are setting records, but career missionaries say the quality of disciples, not the quantity of the crowd, is the key to reaching Nigerians. (Christianity Today, Feb. 2, 2001)
- Christian coffeehouses still offer friendship, Jesus | Popular in the 1960s and '70s, ministry-shops make comeback (Associated Press)
- Using faith as a weapon in the war on drugs | Area ministers seek $6 million to start treatment centers (The Washington Post)
- Hindus seek to dilute Christian influence abroad | Freelance holy men sent to oppose Christian 'trickery' (The National Post, Canada)
- FBI accused of anti-Muslim bias | Terrorism task force raids Texas offices of a Middle East Internet service provider (BBC)
- Also: FBI denies Internet raid was anti-Arab (BBC)
- Witch hunts haunt us even now | Before long, we may see class-action lawsuits filed against Adam and Eve for the disobedience that led to expulsion from the Garden of Eden (Ian Hunter, The Globe and Mail, Toronto)
- Strange Gods | Neo-paganism on campus. (Peter Wood, National Review Online)
Other stories of interest:
- Philippine officers may face trial | Senator says evidence suggests collusion between military and Abu Sayyaf kidnappers (BBC)
- A Mormon moment | America's biggest homegrown religion is looking more Christian. But it's still a different world (Newsweek)
- Leap of faith | A prominent Christian and a devoted Jew share each other's traditions to build a strong family (The Boston Globe)
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