• Five masked men said to be Jewish settlers beat two U.S. Christian peace activists Sept. 22 in the West Bank city of Hebron. Kim Lamberty, 44, and Chris Brown, 39, are members of Christian Peacemakers Team, which tries to reduce conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in Hebron. "We were accompanying [Palestinian] children [to school] because they had to walk through a Jewish settler area," Lamberty said. "[When the chain-wielding men appeared], the children ran away, and they came after [us]." Lamberty's arm and knee were broken; Brown's lung was punctured.
• In a Sept. 22 statement, the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation condemned the “eye for an eye”killing of innocent civilians. "Recent gruesome events in Russia and Iraq compel me to reiterate in the strongest language that these heinous deeds are not acts of liberation or Islam," wrote the foundation's executive director, Mahdi Bray. "They are plain murder! We call upon Muslims worldwide and all people of good conscience en masse to use their hands, voices and hearts to resist the evil of any and all murders."
• Petros VII, 55, patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa, died Sept. 11 with 16 others in a helicopter crash off the Greek coast. Petros VII and his entourage were traveling to a monastic community on Mount Athos, a holy site for Orthodox believers. The patriarch headed the 300,000-member Orthodox Church in Africa and was seen as second among global Orthodox Church leaders, behind the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. World Council of Churches acting secretary Georges Lemopoulous called the late patriarch "a builder of the ecumenical movement in the Middle East, in Africa and the world."
• Church leaders in Kerala, India, condemned a mob's attack in September on four nuns from Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity, three priests and their drivers. Witnesses said attackers shouted pro-Hindu slogans and accused the nuns of trying to convert people with their charity work. "We are only helping the poor and never try to convert anyone," Sister Kusuman said when she was discharged from a hospital with four stitches on her head. "We have already forgiven [the attackers] and will not file any case against them." Christians, who make up 20 percent of Kerala's 20 million people, are continuing to mourn a Roman Catholic priest stabbed to death while saying prayers Aug. 28.
In other news, Christian leaders in Orissa, India, condemned the government’s failure to stop forced reconversions of Christians to Hinduism. A state law bans any conversions without government permission. On Sept. 19, 100 Christians were allegedly forced into a mass reconversion ceremony in Sarat. A similar ceremony in February allegedly coerced 200 tribal Christians to reconvert to the Hindu faith. Also in February in Khilipala, Hindu fundamentalists molested and shaved the heads of seven Christian women for refusing to reconvert to Hinduism and chased away the village's 11 Christian families. A spokesperson from the All India Christian Council said police charged the Christians for violating the anti-conversion law "and beat up the pastor who went to complain."
• The Times of London reported Sept. 2 that an Oct. 18 report from a special commission set up by the archbishop of Canterbury may recommend suspending the U.S. Episcopal Church from membership in the Anglican Communion. The report wasn't published at presstime. The Times story said such a suspension could last until the U.S. church "repented" of its decision to elect and consecrate as bishop V. Gene Robinson, who is in a committed same-sex relationship. Similar sanctions would face the Anglican Church of Canada if it decides to approve rites for same-sex unions. A recommendation to suspend either church's membership would need to be approved by the top bishops of the communion's 38 churches and the Anglican Consultative Council.
• The U.S. State Department's report on international religious freedom designated countries of “particular concern” in religious freedom abuses: Burma, China, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, Eritrea, Vietnam and Saudi Arabia. The report also found a disturbing increase in anti-Semitism in several European countries and ongoing anti-Semitism in some predominantly Muslim countries. In Belarus, a former Soviet republic, anti-Semitic literature was sold and distributed through government agencies and even stores affiliated with the Belarus Orthodox Church.
• Membership in the Lutheran World Federation reached nearly 65 million after three new churches joined. The 2.5 million-member Protestant Church of the Netherlands and the 123,000-member Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren bring together both Reformed and Lutheran traditions. The 26,000-member Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ghana was first established by Lutheran ChurchMissouri Synod missionaries.
• With a reported $4 million debt, the Diocese of Tucson (Ariz.) became the second U.S. Roman Catholic diocese to file for bankruptcy because of legal costs related to sexual abuse lawsuits. The Associated Press reports that the diocese settled 11 such lawsuits for $10 million but faces another 22 cases. Diocesan bishop Gerald Kicanas said filing for bankruptcy "represents the best opportunity for healing and for the just and fair compensation of those who have suffered sexual abuse by workers for the church in our diocese." The Diocese of Portland (Ore.) was the first to file for bankruptcy. In two Southern California dioceses, more than 500 sexual abuse lawsuits have been filed. The Los Angeles Times reports that the dioceses could pay more than $1.5 billion to settle those cases--a matter insurance executives and church lawyers are battling. Insurance companies argue that church insurance policies don't cover such settlements.
• Church leaders in Zambia warned that unprecedented numbers of people are begging from churches and on the streets in the central African country. As industries become privatized and downsize workers, unemployment has surged to an estimated 50 percent and 80 percent of Zambians live below the poverty line. Anglican Bishop Robert Mumbi said it has also reduced giving to churches, a sad irony, "because many of them have turned to the church for assistance as their last hope."
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