Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
In today's edition:
'Peace Is Possible,' Say Sudanese Bishops
As Sudan nears the vote on referenda that might split the country, Catholic Church leaders stress that the vote and its results can be conducted peacefully. "We are acutely aware of the uncertainty, fear and even despair that burden the people of Sudan," the bishops said in a statement at the end of their plenary assembly last week, according to Christian Today. "However these tensions need not and should not lead to war. Regardless of the choices made and the lines drawn, peace is possible." The leaders emphasized that the Jan. 9 referenda, in which Southern Sudanese will vote on whether they wish to remain united with the North or secede, must "be held on time in a free, fair and transparent manner." Both sides are building up troops in the event the expected secession takes place. Some Southern Sudanese living in the North have reportedly experienced "threats and intimidation."
Death Sentence Highlights Flaws in Pakistan's Justice System
Christian Solidarity Worldwide is urging the Pakistan's government to address the "deeply-rooted problems" in its justice system after a Christian woman was sentenced to death for alleged blasphemy. Asia Bibi (also called Asia Noreen) was sentenced to death for blasphemy against the Prophet Mohammed, a form of blasphemy that carries a mandatory death penalty in Pakistan. She has been in prison since the case was registered in June 2009. Her family maintains that the charge is false and intend to lodge an appeal. Spurious blasphemy accusations are increasingly common and relatively simple to register in Pakistan, and lower court judges are notoriously susceptible to intimidation and manipulation. No one has been executed under the laws, but multiple Christians have been imprisoned on death row for years.
Clinton Applauded for Report on Religious Liberty
The State Department issued its annual report on global religious liberty Nov. 17, specifying the many abuses -- along with some improvements -- among 198 countries. Baptist Press reports that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ended her silence on the issue and spoke out for a broad view of religious liberty. The annual report, however, did not designate any "countries of particular concern" (CPCs), a category reserved for the most severe violators of religious freedom. No country has been named since President Obama's inauguration. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a nine-member panel that reports to the Congress and administration on religious rights overseas, welcomed Clinton's "strong language stressing all facets of religious freedom," said Leonard Leo, the panel's chairman.
Half of Americans Say Obama Holds Different Religious Values
President Obama faces significant challenges on how Americans perceive his religious faith, as 51 percent say his beliefs differ from their own. According to Religion News Service, the 2010 post-election American Values Survey detected a link between views of the president's beliefs and his favorability ratings. More than nine in 10 Americans who see his religious beliefs as similar to their own view Obama favorably; eight in 10 those who see differences view the president unfavorably. "Given that Americans generally want political leaders who share their values, this could be a serious problem for the president moving toward 2012," said Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute, which conducted the poll with the Brookings Institution. The findings follow earlier surveys that found as many as one in five Americans mistakenly believes Obama is a Muslim.