Burkina Faso: Terrorists kill Pentecostal, Catholic worshipers

Twenty Christians in Burkina Faso died in four terrorist attacks in four weeks last spring. Gunmen raided an Assemblies of God church and two Catholic churches during Sunday services, executing the leader each time, before vandalizing their buildings. Another ambush came during a weekly Catholic procession, killing four. The raids follow three years of mounting jihadist violence in the West African nation—which is approximately 60 percent Muslim and 25 percent Christian—but are considered the first to directly target houses of worship. The Assemblies of God in Burkina Faso stated the shift represents “a new turning point in terrorism” and have called for peace and unity.

China: US report bashes China’s religious freedom violations

China’s persecution of Christians and other faiths belongs in a category unto itself, according to the annual report of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF). The commission has condemned China’s violations for 20 years straight but never as strongly as in the 2019 report, which notes the communist country’s moves to shutter underground churches, jail pastors, and arrest human rights activists. USCIRF urged the US to hold China accountable. The report also named Burma, the Central African Republic, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam as the top religious freedom violators.

Pakistan: Asia Bibi leaves, another Christian fights blasphemy sentence

After nearly a decade living in a country where courts wanted her condemned to death and rogue clerics wanted her killed as retribution, Pakistani Christian Asia Bibi has been exonerated of blasphemy charges and finally fled to safety in Canada in May. Meanwhile, another Christian woman continues to fight her 2014 death sentence for blasphemy—from Bibi’s former prison cell. Shagufta Kausar, 45, and her husband, Shafqat Masih, 48, were accused of sending blasphemous texts to a local Muslim leader. Bibi’s lawyer, Saif-ul Malook, took up their case but plans to pursue a different strategy than with Bibi, who became a well-known case among Christian advocates in the West.

Samoa: Cryptocurrency scam targets South Pacific churches

The creators of a cryptocurrency called OneCoin have been accused of exploiting pastors in Samoan churches to lure congregants into a get-rich-quick scheme without the payout they expected. The Central Bank of Samoa concluded that the accounts for the Samoa Worship Centre Christian Church and an Auckland, New Zealand, branch of the Samoan Independent Seventh Day Adventist Church (SISDAC) were used as part of a money-laundering scheme involving more than $2 million. The churches state they did not knowingly participate in the scam. Hundreds of their members invested and lost money. The creators of OneCoin have been convicted of dozens of counts of fraud, and Samoa banned the cryptocurrency last year.

Bethany allows LGBT foster parents in Michigan

America’s largest Christian adoption agency, Bethany Christian Services, shifted its policy to begin placing foster children with same-sex couples for the first time after a legal battle in its home state of Michigan. After a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union, the state declared that foster agencies can no longer decline to work with LGBT families. Bethany, which works with 8 percent of foster kids in Michigan, responded that it was “disappointed” with the decision but would comply with the new requirements. The change will not affect policies for infant adoption, international adoption, or foster placements in the 34 other states where Bethany operates.

Russia: Evangelicals punished most by anti-evangelism law

Evangelicals made up more than half of cases of last year’s alleged violations of Russia’s controversial laws barring evangelism and missionary activity, according to Forum 18, a religious freedom monitor. Of 159 individuals and organizations prosecuted for demonstrating their faith in public in 2018, 50 were Pentecostals and 39 were Baptists. Jehovah’s Witnesses, who were once the top target, were banned from the country the year prior. The 2016 Yarovaya laws fine Russians for proselytizing unless they have a government permit through a registered religious organization. This year, authorities interrupted a Baptist worship service and charged a pastor with illegal missionary activity, and two Baptists were punished for discussing their faith at a bus stop.

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