1. Unarmed Turkish Christian hijacks jet, seeks pope
Favorite headline of the day? "Pope safe despite hijack." Of course, Pope Benedict XVI was never in danger yesterday as 28-year-old Hakan Ekinci hijacked a Turkish Airlines flight bound from Tirana, Albania, to Istanbul, and directed it to land in Brindisi, Italy. But Ekinci did say he had a message for the pope.

The message he wanted to give Benedict XVI may have been the same message he sent in an August letter, asking the pope to intervene in his efforts to avoid military service. "I am a Christian, and I never want to serve in a Muslim army," Ekinci had written, according to Turkey's Anatolia news service.

Ekinci was a relatively new convert, Brindisi prosecutor Giuseppe Giannuzzi told reporters. "Having taken up the Christian religion, he feared going back to Turkey," he said. Now Ekinci is seeking asylum in Italy, Giannuzzi said.

Ekinci was reportedly unarmed, but he told the pilot that accomplices on another plane would "blow that plane up" if he didn't get his message to the pope. When the plane landed, Turkish passenger Ergun Erkoseoglu told the Associated Press that Ekinci "walked through the middle of the business class and said, 'I apologize to all of you. … Good night."

2. When was God taken out of Amish schools?
There's a mini-furor over Tuesday night's CBS Evening News broadcast remarks by Brian Rohrbough, who lost his son in the 1999 Columbine High School shootings. "Since that day, I've tried to answer the question, Why did this happen?" he said. "This country is in a moral free-fall. For over two generations, the public school system has taught in a moral vacuum, expelling God from the school and from the government, replacing him with evolution, where the strong kill the weak, without moral consequences, and life has no inherent value."

The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz noted the segment today, as well CBS and Katie Couric's efforts to distance themselves from the remarks. CBS's ombudsman defended airing the remarks as "exactly the type of commentary in general that makes me want to see the segment continue and thrive. But there is a very legitimate criticism of this particular episode, an issue of relevance. Because both recent school shootings involved an outside adult and not students, whether or not our educational system is creating a moral vacuum seemed out of place and creates confusion about just what the immediate issue is."

Actually, there's a much bigger issue of relevance than that. Rohrbough's comments specifically referenced the shooting at the Amish school (though he did mention "last week's school murders" as well). It's hard to argue that Charles Roberts's violence was a symptom of secularism when his own suicide note declares anger at God. When he called his wife, she was leading a prayer meeting. Rohrbough is right to point out that the shooting is an example of "moral free-fall," but it's not their problem. It's ours.

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3. The Foley cycle
New religion angle on the Foley story: He says he was abused by a clergyman. David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, says he should say who it was. "If these events happened when he was a teenager, there is a distinct possibility—maybe even a certainty—this person is still alive," Clohessy told The Miami Herald.

"To throw that out there like that, I think it's despicable," former priest Bill Brooks, who was Foley's guidance counselor in 1969 and 1970, told The Palm Beach Post. "If there's somebody out there, name him."

4. Where are Fereshteh Dibaj and Reza Montazami?
Iranian police have arrested Fereshteh Dibaj and Reza Montazami, leaders of an independent church in Mashhad. Now they won't say why, and they won't let relatives visit them. Montazami coverted to Christianity more than 10 years ago. His wife is from a Christian family. In fact, notes Radio Free Europe, "her father, Mehdi Dibaj, was a well-known priest of the Jamiat-e Rabbani Church, the Iranian branch of the Assemblies of God. He spent more than nine years in prison and was sentenced to death in 1993 for his faith. He was freed in January 1994 in the face of an international outcry. But a few months later, he was abducted and later found murdered—one of at least three priest killings that activists blame on Iranian authorities."

Family members say Christians are now facing the worst persecution in the country in more than a decade.

5. Lawsuit U.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is suing the University of Wisconsin-Superior in what's becoming a familiar storyline. The school de-recognized the organization because of the group's leadership requirements.

Meanwhile, itinerant evangelist "Brother Jim" Gilles is suing Murray State University for banning him from its high-traffic Curris Center.

Quote of the day
"To truly know Jesus requires discovering him personally, Pope Benedict XVI said at his weekly general audience. While hearing about Christ through the Bible or through other people can introduce a person to Christian belief, 'it must then be ourselves (who) become personally involved in an intimate and deep relationship with Jesus' in order to know he is truly the savior of the world, the pope said."

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—From a Catholic News Service article

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Christian hijacks Turkish plane | Religious freedom | Shooting at Amish school | Sweden | Pensacola abuse case | Foley page scandal | Politics | Abortion | Marriage and family | Church and state | Education | Higher education | Catholicism | Rick Warren | Hell-ish | Other stories of interest

Christian hijacks Turkish plane:

  • Hijacker of Turkish plane wanted to contact Pope, officials say | Officials said the hijacker was apparently a convert to Christianity who wanted to communicate with Pope Benedict XVI (The New York Times)

  • Turkish hijacker seeks Italian asylum | A Turkish army deserter who hijacked a Turkish airliner to Italy is seeking asylum because he fears persecution in his Muslim homeland after his conversion to Christianity and wanted Pope Benedict XVI's protection, an Italian prosecutor said Wednesday (Associated Press)

  • Hijacker faced arrest in Turkey | A Turkish man who hijacked a flight from Albania and demanded that it be flown to Rome was facing arrest in Turkey for avoiding army service (BBC)

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Religious freedom:

  • Kill Pope, says Lashkar fatwa | The Markaz-ud-Dawa, the political wing of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba, is reported to have issued a fatwa calling upon Muslims to kill Pope Benedict XVI for his September 12 speech, which has been projected as anti-Islam by Al Qaeda and other jihadi terrorist organizations (Rediff, India)

  • Iran: Detained Christian couple's family seeks answers | There is growing concern over the fate of an Iranian Christian couple arrested in eastern Iran last week (Radio Free Europe)

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Shooting at Amish school:

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  • An Amish tragedy | The peacefulness and good faith of the Amish look like passivity, even foolishness, in the presence of the darkest of human motives - and, to voice an unpopular sentiment in this conservative county, the absurdly easy availability of guns (Kerry Sherin Wright, The Philadelphia Inquirer)

  • Can the Amish ride in helicopters? | Medical evacuation among the Pennsylvania Dutch (Slate)

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  • Necrophile felt lust as church burned | The trial began today of a church warden in central Sweden who had sex with a woman's corpse and burned down a church. (The Local, Sweden)

  • Knutby sect member in child assault probe | A member of the Knutby religious sect has been arrested on allegations that he assaulted children (The Local, Sweden)

  • Monday: Experts dismiss Knutby pastor's confession | Police in Uppsala are to question the Knutby pastor Helge Fossmo after he admitted on Thursday that he was involved in the murder of his wife and the attempted murder of a neighbour in 2004. But the confession has been lambasted by a professor of psychology. (The Local, Sweden)

  • Sunday: Knutby pastor admits murder | In an interview with TV4's news programme Nyheterna, Knutby pastor Helge Fossmo has admitted involvement in the murder of his wife in their home in 2004. Fossmo also said that several others were involved in the crime. (The Local, Sweden)

  • Earlier: Say a little prayer for Sweden | Christianity in Sweden has a long history, but you won't find many Swedes in the pews on a Sunday. But that doesn't mean Swedish religious groups don't have the capacity to cause a stir (The Local, Sweden, Aug. 11)

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Pensacola abuse case:

  • Judge must decide case with no easy answers | Here's the black and white: Janelle Bird was a 24-year-old teacher having sex with a 15-year-old student in her apartment. And the gray: She was a virgin from a sheltered, evangelical Christian background who'd never had a boyfriend. He was far more savvy, even helping her budget her finances, and he admitted he pursued her (Pensacola News Journal, Fla.)

  • Psychologist: Bird likely 'traumatized' for rest of her life | Janelle Bird doesn't fit the psychological profile of a teacher who seduces her underage student (Pensacola News Journal, Fla.)

  • Letters to Judge Geeker | Circuit Judge Nick Geeker has received a number of letters from people urging leniency for Janelle Bird. Some excerpts follow (Pensacola News Journal, Fla.)

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Foley page scandal:

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  • Mark Foley claims being molested as teen | He declined to identify the clergyman or the church, but Foley is Roman Catholic (Associated Press)

  • Debate shifts after Foley says he's gay | Some conservatives say House Republican leaders knew previously of Foley's sexual orientation and were too lax in investigating his actions for fear of seeming bigoted. Some gays blame Foley's personal problems on being so long in the closet while representing a party hostile to many gay-rights causes (Associated Press)

  • Foley case shakes GOP | Arlington Group backed away Tuesday from issuing a tough statement urging changes in the leadership. (Los Angeles Times)

  • Can this marriage be saved? | Foley fallout, says Dotty Lynch, strains GOP-conservative alliance (CBS News)

  • Preachers watch for Foley fallout | Preachers interviewed by The News-Journal differed on how the Foley controversy might affect the November elections (Daytona Beach News-Journal)

  • Outrage over Foley case justified | Society does "understand there are limits to 'tolerance' of anything-goes sexuality" (Press release, Focus on the Family Action; apparently the version we quoted in yesterday's Weblog was a draft)

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  • The gospel of green | Evangelical Christians are increasingly part of the movement to protect God's green Earth (Bill McKibben, OnEarth Magazine, via Alternet)

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Marriage and family:

  • How marriage causes violence, by the Church | Church of England leaders were under fire yesterday after claiming marriage can be a trigger for domestic violence (Evening Standard, London)

  • Also: The Church shouldn't beat itself up | There is no getting round the fact that a literal interpretation of the Bible—one that takes no heed of human developments since the days of the Scriptures' authorship—will only distort what we hope might be true Christian values, and in that way drive yet more millions away from the Church (Andrew O'Hagan, The Telegraph, London)

  • More Canadians taking leap of faith | Helen and Doug Watling perfectly fit a new Statistics Canada study that found people of different religious and cultural backgrounds can love and live together with the rise of increasing diversity (Toronto Sun)

  • In defense of big families | Leslie Leyland Fields is a business owner and writer, but what sets her apart from many of her peers is that she is a self-described "six-time breeder" (The Washington Times)

  • Earlier: The Case for Kids | A defense of the large family by a 'six-time breeder.' by Leslie Leyland Fields (Christianity Today, Aug. 4)

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Church and state:

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  • Board hears Potter appeal | A Loganville mother argued that the Harry Potter books promote witchcraft and should be banned from all Gwinnett County public schools. But an attorney for the county's school system said the popular stories encourage children to read and should be available to all students (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

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Higher education:

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Rick Warren:

  • Transforming a megachurch | A generation looking for meaning enlists in Rick Warren's missionary program (The Orange County Register)

  • Q&A: 'It's all about God ' | Not content with what he's done already, Rick Warren now wants churches to tackle the world's most prevalent problems, including pandemic illness, illiteracy and oppression (The Dallas Morning News)

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  • Parks office deep-sixes `666' from its address | The number 666 might strike fear in some people, but to the Wheaton Park District, it was always just an easy-to-remember street address--666 S. Main St.--for the administration building (Chicago Tribune)

  • Hell House at St. Ann's | Dear Jerry Falwell, meet N.Y.'s sinners! (The New York Observer)

  • 'Hell House' takes Manhattan | Latimes.com focus grouper Pastor Keenan sees his evangelical brainchild go off-Broadway (Los Angeles Times)

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Launched in 1999, Christianity Today’s Weblog was not just one of the first religion-oriented weblogs, but one of the first published by a media organization. (Hence its rather bland title.) Mostly compiled by then-online editor Ted Olsen, Weblog rounded up religion news and opinion pieces from publications around the world. As Christianity Today’s website grew, it launched other blogs. Olsen took on management responsibilities, and the Weblog feature as such was mothballed. But CT’s efforts to round up important news and opinion from around the web continues, especially on our Gleanings feature.
Ted Olsen
Ted Olsen is Christianity Today's executive editor. He wrote the magazine's Weblog—a collection of news and opinion articles from mainstream news sources around the world—from 1999 to 2006. In 2004, the magazine launched Weblog in Print, which looks for unexpected connections and trends in articles appearing in the mainstream press. The column was later renamed "Tidings" and ran until 2007.
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