By John Malhotra
North east India has a high concentration of Christians, but there are fears that this fact is being exploited by criminals disguising themselves as missionaries and evangelists in order to traffic children.
Last month, over 70 such malnourished children from Manipur, Nagaland, and other north eastern states were rescued from a home at Kuzhithurai in Kanyakumari district.
Families, particularly in Manipur, are reportedly sending their children off into the hands of traffickers who promise to give them an education or employment, as highlighted recently by the Times of India.
It is believed that the children, aged from around six to 15, are being taken to unregistered children’s homes where they are kept in poor conditions and made to do menial work such as cooking and laundry.
There have been reports of children dying in suspicious circumstances and of others being molested and abused.
“These institutions exploit religion to make money. With many of them not registered with the government, the homes escape scrutiny,”said Vidya Reddy of the Centre for Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse in Tulir, according to the Times of India.
In light of the reports, the Church has become concerned for the welfare of children.
“This trend is shocking and deplorable,” said Dr. Hrangthan Chhungi, theologian and Secretary of Commission on Adivasis/Tribals in the National Council of Churches in India.
“It is indeed very ruinous and gross that religion is used for the trafficking business,” she said. “Taking the name of Christianity, they lure gullible Christians, specially the parents of poor families or guardians of homeless children and make it a thriving business.”
In explaining why Manipur is an easy target, Chhungi noted how the Kuki people in that state are one of the most victimized tribes in inter-tribe conflicts. These conflicts and killings have rendered children without parents in recent years.
“This sorry situation is taken advantage and made a business by vested interests,” she stated.
Knowing this, the National Council of Churches in India plans to hold a symposium to raise awareness of child trafficking among churches and NGOs.
The ecumenical organization of Protestant and Orthodox churches in India presently represents 13 million Christian people through out the country and includes groups such as National Council of YMCAs, YWCA of India, Churches Auxiliary for Social Action (CASA), and Bible Society of India (BSI).
In total, NCCI is made up of twenty-nine member churches , fourteen regional councils, fourteen all-India organizations and seven related agencies.
By Jennifer Riley
CBS reportedly told a gay dating site that its proposed Super Bowl ad would be reviewed for possible airing and would be considered if a spot becomes available.
ManCrunch.com submitted a 30-second commercial to CBS on Jan. 18 and, as of Jan. 22, CBS reportedly said “the spot hadn’t been officially approved yet” by the network standards and that all spots for the big game on Feb. 7 had been sold out, according to Fox News. But CBS agreed to consider running the ad if an advertiser dropped out.
The ad involves two men watching the Super Bowl when their hands touch as they reach into a chip bowl. The two men then begin to kiss each other as another man sitting nearby watches in shock.
In response to the purported ad, a spokesperson for the conservative pro-family group American Family Association said it would be “totally irresponsible” of the network to air the ad during the most watched TV program of the year.
“CBS should not put parents in the position of answering embarrassing and awkward questions from their children while they’re just trying to enjoy a football game,” said Tim Wildmon, president of AFA, in a statement Thursday. “CBS should quit dithering around and reject this ad out of hand.”
In addition to pressure from pro-family groups, CBS is also coming under fire from pro-choice groups for approving an ad featuring college football star Tim Tebow and his mom, Pam.
Though the exact content of the ad has not been revealed, many are speculating that it will recount Pam Tebow’s refusal to have an abortion while she was pregnant with Tim despite having suffered from a life-threatening infection at the time.
Focus on the Family, which produced the ad, said earlier this month that Pam Tebow would share a personal story centered on the theme of “Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life.”
“The Tebows said they agreed to appear in the commercial because the issue of life is one they feel very strongly about,” Focus on the Family reported.
“Tim and Pam share our respect for life and our passion for helping families thrive,” added Focus on the Family president and CEO Jim Daly.
Focus on the Family’s Super Bowl ad, which still needs to receive final confirmation, will be Christian group’s first Super Bowl commercial.
Super Bowl broadcasts are typically viewed by over 90 million people each year.
This year’s Super Bowl, which pits the Indianapolis Colts against the New Orleans Saints, will kick off at 6 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 7.
The Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback says he stands up for what he believes. Even so, the Tim Tebow Super Bowl ad against abortion threatens to politicize ‘Super Sunday’ and turn some fans and NFL coaches against him.
By Patrik Jonsson
In a historic career at the University of Florida, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Tim Tebow has kept his faith and his convictions confined mostly to a few square inches beneath his eyes: Every Saturday, he would write a Biblical citation on his eye black.
Now, at the very moment when his hope of becoming a pro football quarterback hangs in the balance, Tim Tebow is taking on perhaps the single most divisive topic in America – abortion – in an advertisement set to air during the single most-watched television program of the year: the Super Bowl.
For a handsome and humble young man, who has become revered throughout much of the South for his devoutness as well as his on-field skill, it is an astonishingly bold decision. In the 30-second ad against abortion, he will speak from his own experience of how his mother did not abort him despite medical advice to do so.
Abortion-rights groups are already calling for the ad’s removal, saying that the group behind the ad is “anti-woman” and “anti-equality.” Online chatter is expressing an unease about Tebow’s willingness to infuse Super Bowl Sunday – an apolitical American rite – with politics. And, perhaps most concerning for Tebow himself, pro football teams already skeptical of his ability to transition to the National Football League might see this as further reason to avoid him on draft day.
“I do stand up for what I believe,” Tebow told Sports Illustrated last summer. “And at least you can respect that.”
Raised on a farm outside Jacksonville, Fla., by the son of an evangelist preacher and a mom who home-schooled him, Tebow is an amalgam of charismatic leader, world-class athlete, and devout Christian Southern boy. His faith resonates among fans in the Deep South.
But by targeting the Super Bowl, his “Celebrate Family, Celebrate Life” ad ranges far beyond the familiar confines of the conservative South. Fans and coaches in the NFL might resent him for pushing a cultural message on a day usually reserved for quarterback matchups and halftime extravaganzas.
“We’re going down a road here that is filled with potholes, moral and otherwise,” writes Orlando Sentinel sports columnist George Diaz, suggesting that the ad could lead to more advocacy ads, which Super Bowl broadcaster CBS has said it will consider.
The ad, funded by the Focus on the Family organization, is expected to tell the story of Tebow and his mother, Pam. Ill while pregnant with Tim, Pam refused suggestions to abort her son. Those who have seen the ad describe it as “uplifting.”
“I asked God for a preacher, and he gave me a quarterback,” Tebow’s dad, Bob, has famously said about the trying pregnancy.
The appropriate venue?
But various groups, including the National Organization for Women, have called for CBS to withdraw the ad. They say that both the ad’s advocacy content, as well as the group behind it are unacceptable. So far, CBS has said it intends to run the ad.
“This un-American hate doesn’t have a place in this all-American pastime,” Kierra Johnson, executive director of Choice USA, told Fox News.
Tebow has for years had to walk the line between the conviction of his faith and open proselytizing. But the ad comes at a crossroads for Tebow. Professional scouts have said Tebow’s throwing motion and skill-set are poorly suited for the NFL, and his preparations for the upcoming Senior Bowl, which offers coaches a first up-close look at college prospects, haven’t gone well so far this week.
“The anti-abortion ad that he’s in that will possibly run during the Super Bowl will likely create an uproar for him as well that some teams might not want to get involved in,” writes Mark Miller on Yahoo! Sports.
Yet it is the timing of his ad – and not necessarily the content – that could knock Tebow down a few notches among NFL fans. Indeed, a May 2009 Gallup poll found that, for the first time since the poll began in 1995, more Americans are anti-abortion than pro-abortion rights. But timing is everything.
“There are going to be about 100 million of us who won’t be happy for 30 seconds of the Super Bowl,” writes CBS Sports’ Gregg Doyel. “I’m not complaining about the ad because it’s anti-abortion and I’m not. I’m complaining about the ad because it’s pro-politics. And I’m not. Not on Super Sunday.”
Outspoken Christian Quarterback Kurt Warner announced his retirement from the National Football League on Friday, thanking God for the opportunities he received both on and off the field.
“As always, as it started in 1999 when I was up on the podium holding up a trophy, the first thing I want to do is give thanks to God,” Warner said during a press conference in Tempe, Ariz., referring to his widely-heard shot out to the Almighty following his Super Bowl win with the St. Louis Rams.
“My Lord Jesus brought me here. I know he brought me here for a purpose. And it’s been an amazing ride,” he added.
Though Hall of Fame-bound Warner stands out as one of the top quarterbacks in NFL history – with an impressive list of achievements that includes three MVP awards, a Super Bowl win, and the second-highest completion percentage in NFL history – Warner is most noted for his King David-esque rise to stardom, which was twice witnessed.
Not only did Warner go from stocking shelves at a grocery store in 1994 to a winning a Super Bowl in 2000, he also returned to the spotlight after his time appeared to be up, leading the Arizona Cardinals to the franchises’ first-ever Super Bowl in 2009.
“I don’t think I could have dreamt out that it would have played out as it had. But I’ve been humbled everyday that I’ve woke up for the last 12 years and amazed that God would choose to use me to do what He’s given me the opportunity to do over 12 years,” Warner said Friday.
But the one-time Super Bowl MVP made it clear that the opportunities he was given were not only on the football field. For him, it’s not just about the successes and the Super Bowls and the wins and the losses.
“[I]t’s also been the opportunities that He (God)’s given to me off the football field,” Warner stated.
Since his rise to stardom, Warner has been a featured speaker across the country for numerous churches, non-profit organizations, men’s conferences, and corporate events.
Warner’s work both on and off the field, meanwhile, resulted in him being awarded the NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2008 and the Muhammad Ali Sports Leadership Award in 2009. Warner was also selected by USA Weekend as the winner of its annual Most Caring Athlete Award for 2009 and, just last month, topped a Sports Illustrated poll of NFL players to name the best role model on and off the field in the NFL.
First Things First Foundation, a non-profit public charity that he and his wife established in 2001, has been involved with numerous projects for causes such as children’s hospitals, people with developmental disabilities and assisting single parents.
“So I hope that when people think back over my career – maybe it’s just over the next couple of weeks as they reflect on it or maybe it’s years to come – that that’s what they remember more than anything else,” Warner said Friday.
“Not the way I threw the football, not particular games that I won. But that they remember that here’s a guy that believed, that worked hard, and – although things didn’t always go in his favor – he continued to press through. And with his faith in himself and with his faith in God, he was able to accomplish great things,” he concluded.
As for his future plans, Warner said earlier at the press conference that he’s just as excited about the next 12 years as he has the past “12 unbelievable years – 12 of the best years of my life.”
“I’m excited about what lies in front of me. I’m excited about spending more time with my family and seeing what God’s going to do next,” he reported.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Warner will keep his charitable foundation going, perhaps do some speaking, writing, ministry work, and maybe some football analyst work on TV or radio.
First Things First Foundation, which draws its name from Warner’s famed post-Super Bowl response in 2000, is dedicated to impacting lives by promoting Christian values, sharing experiences and providing opportunities “to encourage everyone that all things are possible when people seek to put first things first.”
The charity’s guiding principle is Matthew 6:33, which states “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
By Lillian Kwon
Globally recognized pastor Joel Osteen has been drawing some flak from the press and the public in the past few months over his comments on homosexuality.
His remarks last year on “The View” and “Larry King Live” that “homosexuality is not God’s best” drew fire from the gay rights community and from Christians for avoiding to identify the behavior as a sin.
More recently, his participation in the inauguration of Houston’s first openly gay mayor has also drawn some – but less fiery – attention.
Pastor of America’s largest church, Osteen was invited to offer the opening prayer at the inauguration of Houston’s elected city officials on Monday. While praying for the 14-member City Council, he also specifically thanked God for the new mayor, Annise Parker, a partnered lesbian.
“She’s our mayor. Joel doesn’t view Annise through a gay lens,” Don Iloff, Jr., spokesman for Lakewood Church in Houston, told The Christian Post. “He sees her as a person.”
And the Bible instructs believers to pray for and respect those who govern us, he added.
“If you ask Joel he’ll tell you ‘when I can pray at an event over government leaders and in Jesus’ name it’s hard to resist,’” Iloff said. Osteen prayed for the previous mayor, Bill White, at his inauguration.
The spokesman also pointed out that Parker has never pushed or highlighted any kind of gay agenda during her time in government and during her campaign.
“She’s an all business kind of gal,” he said.
During the swearing-in ceremony Monday, the former city controller addressed the economy, public safety and education. She also briefly addressed the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community saying, “I feel your excitement and your joy, your apprehension and your longing for acceptance. I will gladly carry you forward. But today is simply one step toward a tomorrow of greater justice,” according to the Houston Chronicle.
If Parker begins pushing a homosexual agenda, Iloff said Lakewood Church and Pastor Osteen are likely to distance themselves from her.
“Annise says she’s a believer. Let her stand before God; that’s kind of where Joel is,” Iloff noted. “He’s not going to tell homosexuals they can’t come to our church. If the Holy Spirit convicts them, then they’ll change.”
Osteen does not affirm homosexual behavior. Though the pastor himself has never specifically called it a “sin,” his spokesman Iloff says they believe homosexuality is a sin. But sin is sin and homosexuality is no worse a sin than others, such as adultery, Iloff pointed out.
Lakewood Church maintains good relations with city officials, some of whom attend the megachurch. Two of the City Council members are regular Lakewood attendees. Politicians, however, are not allowed to speak from the pulpit.
A Ugandan legislator who proposed the highly contested Anti-Homosexuality Bill insists the measure is being misconstrued.
“There has been a distortion in the media that we are providing death for gays. That is not true,” ruling party MP David Bahati said on BBC. “When a homosexual defiles a kid of less than 18 years old, we are providing a penalty for this.”
The bill, which is currently being debated by a parliamentary committee, has drawn global attention from gay rights advocates and religious leaders alike, many of whom are condemning the legislation for promoting hatred and handing down severe penalties against homosexuals and their family, friends, and even pastors. Punishments range from a fine and a three-year imprisonment to life imprisonment and the death penalty.
Homosexuality is already illegal in Uganda and can be punished with life imprisonment. But the anti-homosexuality legislation was designed to “fill the gaps” in the provisions of existing laws and “strengthen the nation’s capacity to deal with emerging internal and external threats to the traditional heterosexual family.”
Bahati told BBC that homosexuality is neither a human right nor is it in-born.
“It is a behavior learned and it can be unlearned,” he said on BBC.
Some religious leaders in Uganda are backing the legislation, but many more within and outside the country are gravely concerned.
“Regardless of the diverse theological views of our religious traditions regarding the morality of homosexuality, in our churches, communities and families, we seek to embrace our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as God’s children worthy of respect and love,” said a group of U.S. Catholic, evangelical and mainline Protestant leaders, in a statement Monday.
Most recently, on Thursday, evangelical Pastor Rick Warren released a video to Ugandan pastors detailing his opposition to the bill and correcting media reports that state otherwise.
As a pastor, he said it is not his role to interfere with the politics of other nations, he said it is his role to speak out on moral issues.
Warren called the Anti-Homosexuality bill “unjust, extreme and un-Christian” toward homosexuals.
Passing the bill would have “a chilling effect” on the HIV/AIDS ministry of churches in Uganda, the southern California pastor added. With the proposed legislation threatening to penalize those who provide counseling to someone struggling with their sexuality and work with people infected with HIV/AIDS and who do not report the homosexual within 24 hours of knowledge, fewer people who are HIV positive will seek care from the churches out of fear of being reported.
“You and I know that the churches of Uganda are the truly caring communities where people receive hope and help, not condemnation,” the megachurch pastor said in his video message.
While affirming that marriage is intended to be between one man and one woman and that all sex outside of marriage is not what God intends, Warren also stressed, “Jesus also taught us that the greatest commandment is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Since God created all, and Jesus suffered and died for all, then we are to treat all with respect.
“The Great Commandment has been the centerpiece of my life and ministry for over 35 years.”
According to Bloomberg, a refined version of the bill is expected to be presented to Parliament in two weeks. Dr. James Nsaba Buturo, minister of Uganda for Ethics and Integrity, told Bloomberg that the draft bill will drop the death penalty and life imprisonment for gays.
Before the changes, which have not yet been made, the measure stated that persons who commit the offense of “aggravated homosexuality” – where the offense is committed against those below the age of 18 and where the offender is living with HIV – shall be liable on conviction to suffer death and to imprisonment for life. Another provision nullifies international treaties, protocols, and declarations that are “contradictory to the spirit and provisions enshrined in this act.”
By Michelle A. Vu
After nine months in prison, the two young female converts who have gained international attention were freed Wednesday afternoon in Iran, sources inside the country reported.
Maryam Rostampour, 27, and Marzieh Amirizadeh, 30, were released at 3:30 p.m. local time without bail, according to Elam Ministries. They are currently at home with their family, but could face more court hearings in the future.
“Words are not enough to express our gratitude to the Lord and to His people who have prayed and worked for our release,” they said, according to Elam.
“Praise the Lord for the great news out of Iran today of the release of Maryam and Marzieh. Literally millions of Christians around the world have been praying for their release.”
But Moeller warned that the two converts’ future remains “uncertain” so Christians must continue to pray for them and other persecuted believers in Iran.
The two young females were arrested March 5 on charges of anti-state activity and “taking part in illegal gatherings” due to their involvement in house church activities. They were detained in Evin prison, the notorious facility known for its human rights violation and capital punishment, while their trial took place in Tehran.
Reports indicate that they were pressured by the judge to denounce their Christian faith and return toIslam. However, the women refused to deny Jesus Christ as their savior and as a result were sent back to prison for several more months.
At the Aug. 9 court hearing, they had told the judge, “We love Jesus,” “Yes, we are Christians,” and “We will not deny our faith.” At an Oct. 7 hearing, they then learned about the addition of a third charge against them – apostasy. However, the new judge was sympathetic to their case and acquitted them of anti-state activities, which rarely happens.
Their case was then transferred from the revolutionary court to the civil court.
During their detainment, the women suffered psychological abuse, including sleep deprivation and intense interrogation for hours at a time. They also had health problems but were denied medical attention. Amirizadeh suffered from a previous spinal condition, but received no medical attention. She also had an infected tooth but was only given painkillers.
“Maryam and Marzieh have greatly inspired us all,” said Sam Yeghnazar, director of Elam Ministries. “Their love for the Lord Jesus and their faithfulness to God has been an amazing testimony.”
Open Doors noted that Iranian authorities are prone to release detained Christians and then summon them to court hearings or force them to sign restricting documents. The ministry cautioned that though the women were freed from jail it does not mean they are “living in complete freedom.”
Christians are asked to pray for the women’s health to be fully restored and for their continual freedom.
By Ethan Cole
According to reports, authorities had threatened the Rev. Sourik, the bishop and overseer of the Assemblies of God Churches in Iran, to completely shut down the Central Assemblies of God Church in Tehran unless it stopped holding Friday services by the deadline, Oct. 31.
Sourik, who had resisted the demands of authorities, finally relented and announced at the end of a Friday afternoon worship on Oct. 30 that there would no longer be Friday gatherings but only Sunday services.
“The announcement of the termination of the Friday services was received with shock and utter surprise and resulted in many openly weeping in the church service,” reported the Farsi Christian News Network.
According to reports, Sourik had complied with the demand in order to protect the security and well-being of the members and visitors attending the church services. Sourik, who has heart problems, had been under pressure from officials of the Ministry of Information to close down the church on Fridays, which is the official weekly holiday in Iran.
More recently, the pastor also received threats from the Pasdaran Militia (The Revolutionary Guards), which gave the ultimatum that if Friday services did not end by Oct. 31 then the militia would forcibly close the church down for good.
Some hearing the news of the Friday service ban say they fear that the crackdown is the beginning of a new campaign against public Christian worship gatherings. Most of the Christians in Iran worship in underground churches, but the Assemblies of God Church of Tehran is one of the few that holds public services.
“I believe the main reason they closed those services is to send a strong signal to all Christians inside and outside Iran that they will not tolerate Christianity in Iran,” commented one informant to International Christian Concern. “Its purpose is mostly to intimidate.”
Thus far, government officials have failed to provide an explanation for the closing of Friday services at the Central Assemblies of God Church.
Regardless, persecution watchdog groups say they oppose Iran’s resolution to bar Christians from freely having fellowship on Fridays, or any other day of the week.
“We urge Iran to respect the rights of its Christians to practice their faith freely without government interference, or authoritarian rule,” said Aidan Clay, ICC regional manager for the Middle East.
The Assemblies of God Church of Tehran is an independent church that was founded by several pastors and Christian lay leaders years before the Islamic revolution. The church continued its ministry after the revolution and several pastors were martyred by extremists, including some reportedly with ties to the regime.
By Nathan Black
The majority of voters in Maine rejected a law on Tuesday that allowed gay and lesbian couples to wed.
After months of campaigning and millions of dollars in ads, traditional marriage supporters claimed victory at the ballot box with 53 percent of the vote.
“This has never been about gay rights,” said Marc Mutty, chairman of Stand for Marriage Maine, according to the Los Angeles Times. “It’s about marriage, and this is reaffirmation by the people of Maine that marriage between men and women is special and unique.”
The state law legalizing same-sex marriage was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. John Baldacci in May. Before the law could go into effect in September, opponents submitted enough signatures for a “people’s veto,” subjecting the measure to repeal.
While gay rights advocates were hoping to make history by affirming same-sex marriage by popular vote, their votes came up short on Tuesday.
“Yesterday, hundreds of thousands of Maine voters stood for equality, but in the end, it wasn’t enough,” said Jesse Connolly, campaign manager for No on 1/Protect Maine Equality.
He assured supporters that their efforts would not stop and that they were in this for the long haul “because in the end, this has always been about love and family and that will always be something worth fighting for.”
Whenever given the opportunity, U.S. voters have upheld the traditional definition of marriage. Constitutional amendments affirming marriage as between one man and one woman have been passed in 29 states in the past 10 years and statutes to the same effect have been adopted in another 15 states, according to the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
Recent polls have also shown that the majority of American voters continue to oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage. According to the Gallup Poll, 57 percent of Americans say marriages between same-sex couples should not be recognized by the law as valid while 40 percent say such marriages should be legal.