This is the final International News for 2015. We wish all our readers a blessed Christmas full of joy, but also with a sense of great peace that comes from being in God’s perfect will, and may your new year be full of exciting adventures with Him. International News will resume on Monday 11th January 2016.
UK CINEMA CHAINS REFUSE TO SHOW ADVERTISEMENT FEATURING THE LORD’S PRAYER
The Church of England has blasted the decision of England’s top cinema chains to reject an advertisement featuring The Lord’s Prayer. New website JustPray.uk, which is run by the Church, had wanted to show a 60 second advert of The Lord’s Prayer before films across England. Odeon, Cineworld and Vue, which control 80% of cinema screens around the country, have refused to show the advert because they believe it “carries the risk of upsetting, or offending, audiences”. The Church had produced an advert promoting the new website to be shown in cinemas from December 18 2015 as part of the ad reel before Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
It’s branded the decision “plain silly” and says it has a “chilling effect” on free speech and is considering taking legal action under the Equality Act which bans commercial organisations from refusing services on religious grounds. The Bishop of Chelmsford said the Church had been told the advert would be fine and was even offered a discount on the fee. “The cinemas really at the last minute for some reason best known to themselves got cold feet,” said Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell. Christians from many walks of life, including a weight lifter, a police officer, a commuter, refugees in a support centre, school children, a mourner at a graveside, a festival goer and the Archbishop of Canterbury, are all shown in the advert.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said: “I find it extraordinary that cinemas rule that it is inappropriate for an advert on prayer to be shown in the week before Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. “Billions of people across the world pray this prayer on a daily basis. I think they would be astonished and deeply saddened by this decision. “This advert is about as “offensive” as a carol service or church service on Christmas Day. As a church we are a Jesus movement and this is the prayer which Jesus taught his disciples. “I think people need to watch the film and come to their own conclusions as to whether it is offensive or upsetting. Let the public judge for themselves rather than be censored or dictated to.”
Jonathan Oloyede, the convenor of the National Day of Prayer, said it was an “incredible” decision. He said: “I have no idea why anybody would say it is offensive, that has to be challenged. I think the Church of England should look at the options of even legally challenging the advertising standards.” Rev Arun Arora, Director of Communications for the Church of England, said: “The prospect of a multi-generational cultural event offered by the release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” on 18 December – a week before Christmas Day – was too good an opportunity to miss and we are bewildered by the decision of the cinemas.
“The Lord’s Prayer is prayed by billions of people across the globe every day and in this country has been part of everyday life for centuries. Prayer permeates every aspect of our culture from pop songs and requiems to daily assemblies and national commemorations. For millions of people in the United Kingdom, prayer is a constant part of their lives whether as part of thanksgiving and praise, or as a companion through their darkest hours. In one way the decision of the cinemas is just plain silly but the fact that they have insisted upon it makes it rather chilling in terms of limiting free speech. There is still time for the cinemas to change their mind and we would certainly welcome that. In the meantime people should visit the site, see the film themselves and make up their own minds as to whether they are upset or offended by it.”
Digital Cinema Media (DCM), the agency which handles British film advertising for all of the chains involved, was not contactable for a response. But its website does state adverts “must not in the reasonable opinion of DCM constitute Political or Religious Advertising”. Terry Sanderson, the president of the National Secular Society, said: “The Church of England is arrogant to imagine it has an automatic right to foist its opinions upon a captive audience who have paid good money for a completely different experience. “The Church does not hesitate to ban things that it deems inappropriate from its own church halls – things like yoga. The cinema chains are simply exercising the same right.”
Believers in East Asia are planning something big. More than 900 pastors and church leaders from their country recently gathered to discuss the largest missionary-sending initiative in the nation’s history. Over the next 15 years, this restricted-access country (which for the security of the Christians in it cannot be named) hopes to send 20,000 missionaries to some of the least-reached people groups in the world. “They surveyed how many missionaries had come to their country over the last 200 years, and found that about 20,000 missionaries had brought the hope of Christ to their country,” says Joe Handley, president of Asian Access. “As they reflected and prayed, they realised they owed it to God to bless the nations that have yet to see this hope.”
The idea behind the initiative isn’t new. In its early days, it was known as the Back to Jerusalem movement, a Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim outreach initiative. However, the movement sat dormant for many years and never fully got off the ground. It wasn’t until 2011 when the nation’s idea of paying back this “spiritual debt” began to gain momentum, beginning through a gathering of Christians in Korea, which Asian Access attended. The vision kept growing. Last year, 30 of the top Christian leaders from the country gathered to pray for their 2030 vision: to send 20,000 missionaries from their country to nations with little Gospel influence. They met again last month, this time with 900 pastors and church leaders, to discuss ways they can collaborate to accomplish their goal.
“For years, the church in this country has been sending missionaries, but it’s not been effective,” Handley says. “Many of them have come home discouraged, not supported. Now, they’re poised and looking for groups like Asian Access and many others that are coming alongside to help build capacity for a local indigenous sending movement. “This is really stunning, because it’s not foreign agencies that are running this thing. It’s not actually groups like Asian Access, although we’re involved. It’s really local, indigenous expressions of mission societies and churches that are going to be at the forefront of this sending engine.”
Although support from groups like Asian Access is vital, the indigenous missionaries are in a unique position to make a difference. Their personal life experiences and nationality allow them to impact people in a way that many Western missionaries could not. “They are a church that has faced persecution,” Handley says. “They have been living through it for decades. I personally know pastors that have spent many years in jail, many years under torture or oppression, many years under all sorts of different kinds of pressure, and so they’ve already been tested and tried. They have something that generally the Western church has not faced at all, in terms of the pressures that have been put on them.
“The second advantage is that in many of these least-reached countries of the world, there is a repulsion against the West and no desire to have Western presence in these countries.” People might not be able to personally impact persecuted believers, but they can always help those who can. Handley asks that people pray for believers in this country as they foster their missionary-sending vision, as well as for groups like Asian Access supporting them. “I would say the key prayer point right now is praying for the capacity building of these nations, whether it’s in collaboration, leadership development, or setting up sending structures, having the prayer support of the wider church is imperative.” Handley says.
HUNGER AND FOOD INSECURITY ADDS $160 BILLION TO UNITED STATES BUDGET
Hunger and food insecurity are so widespread in the United States they add $160 billion to national health care spending, according to a Christian advocacy group. Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, said that hunger was a key factor in the U.S. having the worst infant mortality rate among developed countries. He said at the presentation of the group’s annual Hunger Report, “The things that we do that allow the infant mortality rate to be so high, is in effect killing a hundred thousand babies across this country a year.” The report, titled “The Nourishing Effect: Ending Hunger, Improving Health, Reducing Inequality,” notes that the US also ranks near the bottom for other indicators such as obesity, lack of access to food and maternal mortality.
The report says that up to 50 million people, or 1 in 6 Americans, live in a state of sustained hunger or food insecurity, defined as not having adequate access to food to keep them healthy. It says the figure has remained “stubbornly high” at the same level since 2008, despite the recovering economy. John T. Cook, associate professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine, said the figure of $160 billion in health care costs is “probably an underestimate.” But doctors are increasingly recognizing the connection between health and hunger, experts said. Acacia Salatti from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said hospitals are partnering with church groups to help patients translate their doctor’s instructions and connect them to healthy meals.
“At the end of the day, health care and hunger are very much linked,” she said. “You can’t be healthy, you can’t be able to stave off chronic diseases if you’re not eating healthy food.” Dr. Sarah Jane Schwarzenberg of the American Academy of Pediatrics said there should be as much attention given to the economic and human costs of food insecurity as to a comparable breakout in infectious disease. “I think the fact that we can’t see it makes it very hard for people to deal with it,” she said.
ITALIAN POLICE CLAIM MUSLIM REFUGEES THREW CHRISTIANS OVERBOARD
On a crowded rubber boat filled with refugees traveling from Libya to Italy, Muslims threw 12 fellow passengers overboard — killing them — because the 12 were Christians, Italian police said. Italian authorities arrested 15 people on the boat and charged them with murdering the Christians at sea, police in Palermo told CNN. The original group of 105 people left from Libya. Sometime during the trip north across the Mediterranean Sea, the alleged assailants — Muslims from the Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal — threw the 12 overboard, police said. Other people on the voyage told police that they themselves were spared “because they strongly opposed the drowning attempt and formed a human chain,” Palermo police reported.
The boat was stopped by an Italian navy ship, which removed the passengers and placed them on a Panamanian ship. That ship reached Palermo after which the arrests were made. The 12 who died were from Nigeria and Ghana, police said. Thousands of refugees make the treacherous journey each year from North Africa to Europe’s Mediterranean coast, often aboard vessels poorly suited for such a trip. Many are trying to escape war and impoverished circumstances in Africa and the Middle East. More than 10,000 people arrived on Italian shores from Libya in just one week, the Italian coast guard reported to CNN.
Many die each year while attempting the voyage, often after their boats capsize. Last year at least 3,200 died attempting to make the trip. Since 2000, according to the International Organization for Migration, almost 22,000 migrants have perished trying to cross the Mediterranean. On November 19th, another boat sank trying to make the journey. Only four people survived of the original 45 aboard, bringing the estimated death toll this year to nearly a thousand.
World famous evangelist Franklin Graham has said he agrees with Donald Trump that all Muslims should be banned from entering America. “Muslim immigration into the United States should be stopped until we can properly vet them or until the war with Islam is over,” he said. Mr Trump, who is standing to be the Republican candidate for the US Presidential Elections, provoked widespread anger and ridicule after demanding a block on Muslims entering the US and claiming parts of London were “so radicalised” that police were “afraid for their own lives”. He made the call for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the US in the wake of the recent terror attack in San Bernardino where a radicalised Muslim couple shot 14 dead at a health centre.
On his Facebook page Franklin Graham said he had agreed with the proposal “for some time”. He quoted a poll which said 29% of Muslim under 45 believed violence against America is justified in order to make Sharia the law of the land. Mr Graham said that was “frightening”. He added: “Our politicians are not listening to the truth-my prayer is that God will open their eyes. This affects our security and the future of our nation.” Meanwhile more than 390,000 people have backed a call for Donald Trump to be banned from the UK after his comments. Thousands rushed to sign a petition on the Parliament website as British politicians lined up to condemn the remarks.
EVANGELICAL ALLIANCE WARNS OF STATE REGULATION OF THE CHURCH
The Evangelical Alliance (EA) has expressed concern over potential “state regulation” of the UK church through the government’s counter-extremism proposals. Under current recommendations Ofsted inspectors would regularly visit children’s places of education outside of schools to ensure they aren’t being radicalised, if the children attend those places for more than six hours a week. The EA says that church activities including youth clubs, Bible studies, Sundayschools and festivals could be included in the out-of-school activities monitored by Ofsted, and this could result in the state interfering in what the Church does.
Simon McCrossan, Head of Public Policy at the EA, said: “The proposals are so wide that they would capture the registration, inspection and regulation of large swathes of church life. “Whether it is intentional or not, this could lead to the indirect state regulation of private religious practice, and that’s not a feature we’re used to in a free, liberal democracy. Ofsted do of course reserve the right to identify unsuitable teachers and undesirable teaching. That raises the question ‘how does one decide what that is?’ And there’s a real concern that historical, biblical doctrine might be interpreted as incongruous with British values. The government must safeguard our fundamental freedoms within their strategy to deal with extremism.”
GERMAN CHANCELLOR SAYS MULTICULTURALISM IS AN UTTER FAILURE
German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Germany may be nearing its limit of refugees after taking in about 1 million people fleeing the war in Syria. Merkel, praised for her open-door policy towards refugees, says it may be time to slow down. “The challenge is immense,” she said. “We want to and will reduce the number of refugees noticeably.” She also said not everyone coming into Europe is a refugee, and Germany is expected to increase deportations of those who don’t meet the test. Merkel also said her government expects refugees to assimilate into German culture, respect the country’s laws, and contribute to their communities. She said multiculturalism—the idea where people of different cultures live “happily side by side”—has failed utterly.