The archaeological equivalent of sticky notes is causing secular scholars to re-assess the age of the Old Testament. Sixteen to-do lists inked onto pottery shards from 600 B.C. suggest that literacy in the ancient kingdom of Judah was more widespread than previously thought. Such ostraca “impl[y] that an educational infrastructure that could support the composition of literary texts in Judah already existed” before the Israelites were exiled to Babylon in 586 B.C., concluded researchers at Tel Aviv University. Most evangelical scholars already believe that Moses penned the first books of the Bible sometime between the 13th and 15th centuries B.C., based on references to literacy in the Old Testament. “They’re moving in the right direction,” said Walter Kaiser Jr., president emeritus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, of his secular peers. “I just say, ‘Keep going.’ ”
Canada’s attempt to replicate its southern neighbor’s diplomatic advocacy for international religious freedom lasted only three years. The previous Conservative administration opened the Office of Religious Freedom (ORF) in 2013, modeled after the US State Department. But six months after the Liberal party won the latest elections, the four-person, $5 million ORF has been shuttered. Foreign affairs minister Stéphane Dion said his party believes religious freedom can be better promoted from within a broader human rights office. According to the Pew Research Center, 62 percent of Canadians say it is “very important” that people can practice their religion freely, compared with 84 percent of Americans.
Despite being home to major Bible publishers Thomas Nelson and Gideons International, lawmakers weren’t able to make the Volunteer State the first to name the Bible its official book. The bill, which acknowledged the Bible’s “historical and cultural” importance, passed the state House and Senate but was vetoed by Christian governor Bill Haslam. Not only would the bill violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, he argued, it also “trivializes the Bible, which I believe is a sacred text.” Representatives couldn’t garner enough votes to override the veto.
Nigeria: ‘Obnoxious’ bill requires pastor permits
For more than 30 years, one of Nigeria's largest states has essentially ignored a law that required pastors to get permits and restricted citizens from playing religious recordings in public. But now the Kaduna State administration has proposed a bill that would update and enforce it. Those who disobey, or who use a loudspeaker outside of a church or mosque for religious purposes, would be hit with a fine of $1,000 or up to two years in prison. The Christian Association of Nigeria and a leading council of imams—both of which would have input in the licensing—have objected. “The bill is obnoxious and directly offends our faith,” said Femi Ehinmidu, chairman of the state chapter of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria. “Taking away the rights to preach and evangelize is telling Christians not to practice their religion as commanded.”
As refugees flood into Europe, Sweden has tightened its asylum process, and plans to deport 80,000 migrants who didn’t pass muster. But the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) said the country couldn’t deport one man—identified as “F. G.”—back to Iran until it considered his Christian conversion. F. G. had been arrested three times in Iran for creating web pages critical of the government, and didn’t rely on his religion when he first applied for asylum. But when the Swedish Migration Board decided it was safe for him to return to Iran, F. G. appealed to the ECHR. The high court unanimously ordered Sweden to assess “the consequences of his conversion” before deciding to deport him. Iran is ranked No. 9 on Open Doors’ list of the hardest places to be a Christian.
Religious freedom suffered in Turkey during a tough 2015, when the majority-Muslim nation struggled through two parliamentary elections, renewed fighting with Kurdish militants, and ISIS suicide bombings in Ankara. In addition to cracking down on the press, the president has moved the country toward a more Islamic identity. As a result, hate speech and vandalism aimed at churches is increasing, reports Christian Solidarity Worldwide. In one of Turkey’s largest cities, six churches—one of them 1,700 years old—were seized by the government, ostensibly in order to rebuild areas torn by clashes between Turkish and Kurdish fighters. One piece of good news: US missionary and street evangelist David Byle, who faces deportation for being a “danger to public order,” was released from detention and returned home.
Mission trip suit heads to trial
Seven years ago, a Mississippi teen went on a short-term mission trip to Costa Rica with his church. While exploring the beach, a big wave knocked him into the ocean, where he drowned. His mother sued the Methodist church for $1 million for wrongful death, charging that the trip leader should have known the beach was dangerous. A trial court dismissed the case in favor of the church. But the Mississippi Court of Appeals reversed the decision, ruling, “A jury must decide what constitutes proper and adequate supervision.” In 2012, a Kentucky jury found an Assemblies of God church liable for $1 million when a teen was killed after a youth pastor let him drive a vehicle. Likewise, in 2011, a Florida jury awarded a $4.75 million judgment against a Southern Baptist church after another teen boy was injured on a ski trip. But in a retrial, the church was found not guilty.
A survey of 192 countries has confirmed what many have long known to be anecdotally true: Christian women are more religious than Christian men. A lesser-known fact: Those women also bear the brunt of persecution. About 83.4 percent of women worldwide identify with a faith group, compared to 80 percent of men (a difference of 97 million people), according to the Pew Research Center. Of those women, two out of five identify as Christian, larger than any other religious group. It’s also the group that ISIS and other extremists are targeting as doubly vulnerable because of their faith and gender, according to Release International. Christian women in majority-Muslim nations are often told how to dress, sexually harassed, forced into marriage, kidnapped, raped, and trafficked, according to Release.
Police return $53,000 to Burmese Christian band
When police in Oklahoma stopped band member Eh Wah for a broken taillight, they found $53,249 in cash in his car. His rock band, made up of Karen Christians from Burma and Thailand, had collected the money from concert ticket and merchandise sales to send to a Christian college in Burma and an orphanage in Thailand. But the police confiscated it under civil asset forfeiture laws and, five weeks later, charged Eh Wah with drug activity. The charges rested on “inconsistent stories” from the band member, for whom English is a second language, and the positive alert from a drug-sniffing dog, even though no drugs or paraphernalia were found. After a wave of media attention, the district attorney dropped the charges against Eh Wah, a Burmese refugee and naturalized US citizen. A check for the full amount of money seized will be mailed to his lawyers.
Whitman College hasn’t been affiliated with a religious denomination since 1907. But the Washington school named for two murdered Oregon Trail missionaries kept its Fighting Missionaries mascot until this spring. In its place, president Kathleen Murray told the campus community, Whitman seeks an “appropriately inclusive and welcoming” mascot. In the mid-1800s, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman offended the Native Americans they came to convert when they condemned gift-giving and worshiping at home. When Marcus returned from a trip with fresh settlers and the measles, the disease killed many Native Americans. In response, a small band killed the missionaries. The school’s paper, The Pioneer, will also get a name change, though the college will not.
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