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c. 2008 Religion News Service

Commissioners urge Bush to tackle religious freedom in China

WASHINGTON (RNS) Officials of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom urged President Bush to raise concerns about religious liberty when he visits China for the Olympics in August.

Commissioners were among those who attended a White House event on Monday (July 14) marking the 10th anniversary of the International Religious Freedom Act, which established an ambassador-at-large to promote religious liberty around the world.

“The international community awarded China the 2008 Summer Games with the trust that Beijing would improve its protections of fundamental human rights, including the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion or belief,” said Felice D. Gaer, commission chair. “The Commission concludes that China has not lived up to its promises and continues to engage in serious violations of religious freedom.”

The commission has recommended specific initiatives for Bush during his time in China, including giving a speech focused on religious freedom as a universal human right that would be broadcast live to the people of China, and calling on the government to take steps that signal a commitment to guaranteeing Tibetans religious freedom.

In his speech on Monday, Bush drew attention to people seeking religious freedom in China and spoke of his meetings with underground church members.

“And my message to President Hu Jintao, when I last met him, was this: So long as there are those who want to fight for their liberty, the United States stands with them,” Bush said.

_ Adelle M. Banks

Stephanopoulos to retire from Greek Orthodox Church

(RNS) Nikki Stephanopoulos, a longtime spokeswoman for the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and mother of Washington political insider George Stephanopoulos, will retire Aug. 1.

Stephanopoulos began in 1983 as an editor for the archdiocese’s Orthodox Observer and soon rose to become the director of news and public relations for the 1.5 million-member church.

The Minnesota native also coordinated media for the U.S. visits of ecumenical patriarchs Dimitrios in 1991 and Bartholomew in 1997. Stephanopoulos is a member of the governing board of the National Council of Churches.

Her husband, the Rev. Robert Stephanopoulos, recently retired after 25 years as dean of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocesan Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New York City.

Archbishop Demetrios of America said Nikki Stephanopoulos “has offered in an insightful and amiable way her service in the various tasks of the church which needed her contribution.”

The archbishop added that “Nikki has our wholehearted thanks and our warm prayers for abundant blessing from God.”

_ Daniel Burke

Lutherans to apologize for Anabaptist persecution

(RNS) The Lutheran World Federation is preparing a statement asking forgiveness from Anabaptists _ Mennonites, Amish and similar believers _ for 16th century persecution, which including torture and killings.

The decision to prepare the statement was made by the LWF council, the world body’s main governing agency, which met in Arusha, Tanzania, June 24-30.

Anabaptists, which means “re-baptizers,” were the radical wing of the Protestant Reformation and were persecuted by both Lutherans and Catholics. They stressed “believers,” or adult, baptism, even for those baptized as infants, as well as the strict separation of church and state. Many also adopted pacifism as a core belief.

Much of the Lutheran persecution of Anabaptists was based on writings by key figures in the Lutheran movement such as Martin Luther and Philipp Melanchthon, as well as condemnations in Lutheran confessional writings such as the Formula of Concord and the Augsburg Confession, which are still considered authoritative for Lutherans today.

Last year, in a statement from the Lutheran-Mennonite International Study Commission, participants noted that the 16th-century condemnations do not figure prominently in the reading of the Reformation among Lutherans today.

“The history of persecution has, however, been deeply imbedded in the memory of Anabaptist descendants and requires careful joint processing in order that obstacles may be removed for the sake of better understanding and closer relations between Mennonite and Lutheran churches today,” the communique said.

The statement seeking forgiveness is expected to be ready for the LWF’s 11th Assembly, in July 2010. The LWF represents 68 million Lutherans in 141 member churches in 17 countries, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

In 2006, the ELCA formally apologized for Lutheran persecution and repudiated the use of government authority “to punish individuals or groups with whom it disagrees theologically.” Lutheran churches in France and Germany have adopted similar statements.

_ David E. Anderson

Audio Bible wins Christian Book of the Year award

(RNS) For the first time in its 30-year history, the Christian Book of the Year award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association is going to a Bible and an audio product.

The Word of Promise New Testament Audio Bible, produced by Nashville, Tenn.-based Thomas Nelson Inc., took home the coveted award. It is the first year ECPA included media presentations of the Bible in the program.

The New Testament dramatization features the voices of actors Jim Caviezel, Stacy Keach, Louis Gossett Jr. and Marisa Tomei, among others.

The Christian Book of the Year winner was selected from 32 finalists using “overall excellence” and “consumer impact” as criteria.

The Word of Promise has maintained a firm spot on the ECPA’s best-sellers list since its release last October, and is the No. 1 best-selling Bible retailing for more than $30, according to a press release.

“The Scriptures have always had a unique oral tradition and our members have continued to creatively produce amazing presentations of this written Word,” said ECPA President Mark Kuyper. “Allowing audio presentations of the Bible into the Christian Book Award Program this year was a timely decision.”

All ECPA awards were announced Sunday (July 13) at the annual International Christian Retail Show in Orlando, Fla. Winners in the other six categories included:

_ Bibles: “Discover God Study Bible” (Tyndale House)

_ Bible Reference & Study: “An Old Testament Theology,” by Bruce K. Waltke (Zondervan)

_ Children & Youth: “Teen Virtue: Confidential,” by Vicki Courtney (B&H)

_ Christian Life: “When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box,” by John Ortberg (Zondervan)

_ Fiction: “In Search of Eden,” by Linda Nichols (Bethany House/Baker Publishing)

_ Inspiration & Gift: “Step Into the Bible,” by Ruth Graham (Zondervan)

_ Ashly McGlone

Quote of the Day: Jim Harrison, director of the Kentucky Reptile Zoo

(RNS) “You can purchase anything off the Internet except common sense.”

_ Kentucky Zoo Reptile Director Jim Harrison, commenting on the arrest of pastor Gregory James Coots, who practices snake handling in his Kentucky church. State officials found 60 snakes, many of them deadly, in Coots’ Appalachian home. Harrison was quoted by The Associated Press.

KRE/PH END RNS

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