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NEWS OF RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE & CONFLICT

1999-DECEMBER

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We also have a list of religious tolerance news items for this month.

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bulletDEC-1: Ukraine: Scientists vs. Ukrainian Orthodox Church: According to Radio Free Europe:
"Founded as a Greek trading outpost in the fourth century BC, Chersoness, on the outskirts of Sevastopol, is one of the world's great cultural cross-roads. Here the ancient Greeks met the nomadic Scythians. The Romans came next, followed by the Byzantines, and it was here that Christianity entered Kyivan Rus."

Archaeologists want to preserve and study the site in order to learn more about ancient cultures. One expert figures that they have 5 centuries of investigative work to do. But the Ukrainian Orthodox Church wants to convert much of the site into a working monastery. "Father Alexander Yakoshechkin, secretary for the Crimean Eparchy of the Ukrainian Orthodox church, argues the Christian significance of the site far outweighs its more ancient history: 'Its a historical place where ancient people lived but first of all its a Christian sacred place and everyone knows why this place became known, and why it has such a place in history and culture. If we take a history book, first of all we will speak of Chersoness and read that it is first and foremost the cradle of priesthood, the cradle of Christianity for Ukraine, Russia and Belarus.' " 5

bulletDEC-2: Various locations; Jewish vs. Messianic Judaism conflict. According to a posting of the Baptist Press listed by Maranatha Christian Journal: 7
On DEC-2, "seven young men identifying themselves as members of 'New Jewish Order,' a Jewish extremist group, forcibly entered the Paris office of 'Jews for Jesus,' beat a staff member, painted anti-Christian slognas on the walls and trashed the office's equipment. The Paris incident is the latest of an escalating series of attacks on Messianic organizations and churches around the world by Jewish extremist groups, including the violent disruption of services last September at a Messianic church in New York City." [Messianic Judaism is a religious movement that is theologically identical to Evangelical Christianity, which incorporates many Jewish terminology and symbols into their religion, and which attempts to recruit Jews.]
bulletDEC-2: Ambon, Indonesia. Christian-Muslim conflict: According to Newsroom:
More than 30 people have been killed in further rioting in the troubled Indonesian province of Ambon. According to witnesses, many died at the hands of Indonesian troops who are taking part in the rioting. <snip>

About 20 of the dead were Christians and 10 were Muslims, according to a report from the British human rights group Jubilee Campaign. An Indonesian military spokesman insisted that armed forces intervened only to pacify the area, identifying the dead as 20 Muslims and 12 Christians. Witness accounts, however, including a local reporter quoted in the Italian newspaper Avvenire, say many of the dead were deliberately gunned down by army soldiers as fresh violence erupted between Christian and Muslim communities. More than 70 people are now being treated for their injuries in hospitals. <snip>

Some observers claim the riots have been started deliberately by militants intent on Islamizing the province. They include factions in the armed forces. In a statement, Jubilee Campaign says that "the process of Islamization is already well under way, with Christians forced by Muslim rioters to flee the Banda islands in southern Moluccas."

bulletDEC-2: USA: Intra-Christian conflict. According to ReligionToday:
The Council of religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago have asked the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to cancel its plan to bring 100,000 volunteer evangelists to that city in 2000-JUN. The Council includes Roman Catholic, Protestant and Jewish leaders. In a letter to the SBC, the Council expressed concern that the SBC campaign "could contribute to a climate conducive to hate crimes." The letter referred to 1999 shooting of six Jews and the vandalism of a mosque as two examples religiously motivated violence in America. 
bulletRoman Catholic Cardinal Francis George differentiated between Catholic evangelization and other conversion methods. He wrote: "Proselytizers speak before listening." Evangelizers listen before speaking, since the Gospel calls us to respect each man and woman and to listen first to their spiritual journey before engaging them in conversation about who Christ is."
bulletBishop C. Joseph Sprague of the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church commented: "I'm always fearful when we in the Christian community move beyond the rightful claim that Jesus is decisive for us [to the] presupposition that non-Christians are outside God's plan of salvation. That smacks of a kind of non-Jesus-like arrogance."
bulletRichard Land, president of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission responded: "I grieve, as I am sure John Wesley does from beyond the grave, that a Methodist minister would make such statements in response to fellow believers' attempts to heed the Great Commission commandment of Jesus our Savior, who it should be remembered did say, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.' "
bulletPaige Patterson, president of the SBC said "We have no intention to be problematic to anybody. All we want is the opportunity to tell people about Jesus. We believe in the land of the free that ought to be a given" In a letter to the Council, he wrote: "It is tempting to suspect that it is not so much violence that you fear as it is the positive response of precious souls to the invitation of Christ to salvation and forgiveness. You appear to desire religious liberty for Bible-believing evangelicals as long as they agree not to exercise that freedom. [It is a small step from] alleging that the bearing of witness for Jesus results in 'hate crimes' to the allegation that such witness is a 'hate crime.' "
bulletDEC-2 German government vs. Scientology: According to the Associated Press for DEC-1:
"A German official was given a 30-day suspended jail sentence Tuesday by a Swiss court for attempting to spy on the Church of Scientology for German intelligence...The Basel criminal court found the 41-year-old agent guilty of carrying out 'illegal business for a foreign state.' '' Although some governments have recognized Scientology as a religion and granted it tax-free status, the German government has actively discriminated against the religion. Its adherents are prevented from obtaining jobs as civil servants there.
bulletDEC-3 Iranian religious court vs. a Muslim cleric: According to Gordon Barthos, foreign affairs correspondent for the Toronto Star newspaper:
Abdollah Nouri was sentenced by a Special Clerical Court to five years in prison plus a $5,000 fine. He was found guilty of "insulting Islam" by publishing "anti-religious materials and sacrilegious articles...disseminating false ideas aimed at disturbing public opinion." Barthos writes: "Nouri's real 'crime' was to appeal for a liberal political Islam that relies on persuasion not coercion. He is a clerical muckraker...Nouri's deeply held beliefs are the living proof that political Islam is fully compatible with free speech, open debate, tolerance of dissent, social tolerance and the rule of law." In Iran today, some reformers, like Ayatollah Hussein-Ali Montazeri, are under house arrest. Others, like the former Tehran mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi, are in jail. Scores have been murdered. 
bulletDEC-3 Indonesia army & Muslims vs. Christians: According to the Maranatha Christian Journal for DEC-5:
"The Rev. John Barr, secretary of Indonesia and East Timor for the Uniting Church of Australia, reports that although Indonesia is no longer prominent in the headlines of the American media, Christians in Indonesia and East Timor still face violence and widespread desolation." He mentioned:
bulletBrutal fighting between Muslims and Christians in the island of Ambon. There is speculation of major violence over the Christmas period.
bullet30 people killed and 2,000 Christians driven out of Halmahera Island. Their churches and homes were destroyed.
bulletMaltreatment and fear in Indnesian concentration camps.

Rev. Barr warned: "Be aware that the vast majority of people in Indonesia do not support the terror and violence that has been going on. We should be careful with any criticism not to label or blame ordinary Indonesians. Many Indonesians have actually fought with courage and integrity to bring about change in their country. They have also stood in solidarity with the people of East Timor."

bulletDEC-9: Chinese government vs. Christians: According to Newsroom:
"In a continuing crackdown on "evil cults" Chinese authorities have detained at least 103 members of Christian sects in the last three weeks, according to a Hong Kong human rights group.

The Information Center of Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China says that the Chinese government has designated as "evil cults" 10 major village-based movements that have a total of about 3 million followers. At the end of 1998 President Jiang Zemin declared war on cults that, according to the government, threaten national security. 'We must suppress cults and the use of religion to engage in illegal activities to maintain social stability in farming villages,' Jiang said.

bulletDEC-9: Hindus vs. Christians & Muslims: According to Newsroom:
"Plans to issue a stamp commemorating 2,000 years of Christianity are on track for a Christmas Day release in India, despite the anger of Hindu nationalists still simmering over the call last month by Pope John Paul II for further evangelization of Asia.

Ram Vilas Paswan, a 53-year-old Dalit (an 'untouchable' in India's Hindu caste system) and head of the federal Communications Ministry, says he hopes that issuing the Jesus stamp will send a positive signal to India's 23 million Christians, who have been the targets of attacks by Hindu militants in the last two years. The stamp depicting 'Christu jayanti' -- which translates literally as "Jesus rule" -- was suggested by leaders of the Roman Catholic Church in India.

Violence against Christians, and Muslims to a lesser extent, have escalated in the last two years, especially in the states of Gujarat and Orissa. Numerous churches, mosques, and schools have been damaged. Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons were killed in January, and a Catholic priest and Muslim trader were killed in September.

Hindu groups object to the Jesus stamp. 'This is a bad move by the government because it is aimed at the spread of Christianity,' said one Hindu leader who asked not to be identified. However, B.P. Singhal, convener of the Sanskriti Raksha Manch, a Hindu group that opposed the pope's visit, responded, 'Christ was a saint, so it is okay, but what his followers are doing is despicable,' an apparent reference to the conversion of Hindus to Christianity. Hindu nationalist groups frequently accuse missionaries of forcible conversion."

bullet1999-DEC-9: International: Religious leaders want Pagans excluded: On the occasion of the Parliament of the World's Religions (PWR), Njongonkulu Ndungane, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, suggested that restrictions should be placed on participation in the PWR. He commented that "it should not be opened to everybody who says 'I am religious'. For instance I was talking to the Chief Rabbi the other day. He was telling me that he asked somebody what's your religion and this person said Paganism. In the wider religious family they ought to be some kind of limits that are set."

When asked about Witches, he replied that he did not know how Witchcraft was practiced in the United States. He declined to give his opinion whether they should be admitted to the PWR. 

Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris angered Sangomas (ancient, traditional African native healers) by saying that they should also be excluded from future meetings. "The fear is that one gets a bunch of weirdoes using the Parliament of Religions to get publicity.  I would much prefer it to be more mainstream [religions]."

The national chairman of the Council of African Traditional Religion, Nokuzola Mndende, said: "If South Africans are true to their liberation, they must learn to be tolerant. It is the focus of religion to unite people - not to define others from one's own perspective." The president of the Western [South African] Cape Traditional Healers and Herbalists Association, Philip
Kubukeli, criticized [Rabbi] Harris:  "He has still got apartheid. All the religions were invited to take part in the parliament - they wanted an indication of the religions
which we have in the new South Africa.
"

bullet1999-DEC-15: USA: House guts pro-Muslim goodwill resolution. According to Raeed N. Tayeh, columnist of Pioneer Planet:
Under the leadership of Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), the House Judiciary Committee "gutted and shelved" a joint House & Senate resolution which promoted religious tolerance towards Muslims. In its original form, S.RES.133 discussed the contributions that followers of Islam have made to America, the high level of discrimination and harassment to which they have been subjected, the negative bias against Muslims which has led to hate-inspired violence. "...several Jewish and Christian groups have been protesting the passage of this resolution...Violence against Muslims in the United States has been on a steady rise. Arsonists have burned mosques in Minnesota, California and Illinois. Conservative Christian fundamentalists have labeled Islam as a false and evil religion, and many hate groups have called for a war against Muslims." 6
bullet1999-DEC-16: USA: Catholic/Protestant conflict in the Federal government. According to ENI:
"A battle has erupted on Capitol Hill over the selection of a new chaplain for the United States House of Representatives. Some observers claim that a Roman Catholic priest was deliberately passed over for the post because an historic anti-Catholic sentiment has permeated American government since its founding, while others suggest that a Protestant was selected to please the conservative evangelical political force known as the Religious Right.
bullet1999-DEC-17: Russia: Minority religions. According to ReligionToday:
"Russia's Dec. 19 elections will have an impact on religious groups. The Duma, the lower house of parliament, has put off until after the election consideration of a law that would extend by one year the registration deadline for religious groups working in the country. The 1997 Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations requires all religious groups working in the country to re-register by Dec. 31, 1999. At least 9,000 religious organizations have not re-registered and could be forced to stop their activities...The federal Ministry of Justice is not planning to take action, but regional authorities may take matters into their own hands...
bullet1999-DEC-17: Russia: Anti-Semitism. According to ReligionToday:
"
Anti-Semitism continues to spread in Russia. Attacks against synagogues, cemetery desecrations, and incidences of anti-Semitic political speeches increased from February to June this year, a report from the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, a joint U.S.-Russia watchdog group, said. The organization monitors Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union, collecting evidence of religious persecution, The Associated Press said...Despite the advance of democracy in the region, people still retain ethnic and religious biases, Elie Wiesel, a human rights advocate and Holocaust survivor, said. Police are reluctant to investigate such crimes and virtually no prosecutions have been attempted, the report said.
bullet1999-DEC-17: USA Religious Freedom Act enforcement According to Newsroom:
"With little fanfare, the United States government has responded to requirements of the new International Religious Freedom Act by renewing existing sanctions on five countries that it designated as particularly severe violators of religious freedom."

"In October, the State Department named China, Myanmar, Iran, Iraq, and Sudan as 'countries of particular concern' with respect to religious freedom, a designation that requires action by the administration. [Myanmar is commonly known as Burma]. Under the act passed by Congress last year, the president has 90 days in which to select a response from 15 options that range from private diplomatic protest to economic sanctions."

"The ruling Taliban in Afghanistan, and Serbia, one of two remaining republics that comprise Yugoslavia, also were cited by the State Department as severe violators of religious freedom; but because they are not countries, no action is required under the Religious Freedom Act, the State Department official explained."

bullet1999-DEC-29: Ambon, Indonesia According to ReligionToday:
"Indonesian church leaders are asking that United Nations forces be sent immediately to restore order in the ravaged eastern Indonesian island of Ambon. More than 60 people have been killed as fighting between Muslims and Christians has raged since Dec. 26, the British Broadcasting Corporation said. 'Security forces have been unable to restore order,' Josef Marcus Pattiasina, secretary general of the Communion of Churches in Indonesia, told Reuters.

A church and a mosque were destroyed in Ambon, the provincial capital of the Moluccas islands, which has been battered by almost a year of religious violence, news reports said. Fierce clashes broke out after reports that a Muslim boy had been run over by a car driven by a Christian. The violence escalated when troops and police fired into the crowds, the BBC said. Both Christians and Muslims say the troops are assisting the other side.

More than 800 people have died in the violence this year in the Moluccas, formerly known as the Spice Islands, Reuters said. Newly elected President Abdurrahman Wahid visited Ambon recently to plead for peace and tolerance
."

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References:

  1. DayWatch is a daily service of Maranatha Christian Journal. It provides "a daily summary of news headlines with a Christian perspective..." The newsletter is free on request. Their web site is at: http://www.mcjonline.com 
  2. Newsroom is a service of Worldwide Newsroom Inc. Their articles are written by "a network of journalists, scholars and other professional contacts in country." You can subscribe to their free service from their website at http://www.newsroom.org/ 
  3. ReligionToday provides free newslatters to which you can subscribe at: http://www.ReligionToday.com. These summaries are part of GOSHEN.net, which also includes LiveIt.net, Devotionals.net, ChristianShareware.net, ChristianClassifieds.net, ChristianMessageBoards.net, BibleStudyTools.net, MediaManagement.net, WorldNewsToday.net, WebCastGuide.net, and ChristianCollegeGuide.net
  4. Reuters is "the world's leading financial information and news group. Their web page is at: http://www.reuters.com/ 
  5. Lily Hyde, "Ukraine: Church, Archeologists seek control of ancient site," Radio Free Europe at: http://www.rferl.org:80/nca/features/1999/12/F.RU.
  6. R.N. Tayeh, "U.S. Muslims deserve measure of goodwill," Pioneer Planet, 1999-DEC-15. Online at: http://www.pioneerplanet.com:80/seven-days/1/opinion/
  7. "Messianic Jews say criticism won't stop their witness," at: http://www.mcjonline.com/news/news3726.htm 

Copyright © 1999
Originally written: 1999-NOV-3
Latest update: 1999-DEC-29
Author: B.A. Robinson

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