China’s Christians felt a noticeable rise in persecution in 2012 as the Communist government began the first of a three-phase plan to eradicate unregistered house churches, a new report says that appeared in Christianity Today. Incidents of persecution of Christians rose by about 42 percent last year compared with 2011, according to the report by human rights group China Aid. Many of these incidents involved groups of Christians. The recent appointment of Xi Jinping as the new leader of China’s Communist Party has made no difference in treatment of Christians, said a member of the Shouwang Church in Beijing, a congregation authorities have harassed for more than two years. “I recently went to see the founding pastor, Jin Tianming, and his wife [under house arrest since April 2011] in their rented apartment in west Beijing,” the source told Morning Star News. “I was not allowed to enter their home, and the pastor was not allowed to go outside. We chatted for a while at their home’s doorway, as two plainclothes police officers watched.” Pastor Tianming was granted the right to do his workout outside his apartment every afternoon from November 2011 to early January this year. But since he attended a Shouwang weekly evening prayer meeting in the rented facility of Xinshu (New Tree) Church, a sister congregation of Shouwang, after jogging on the afternoon on Jan. 9, Tianming has not been allowed to leave his home. The continued rise of persecution is not the only dynamic raising serious concerns; authorities have targeted unregistered house churches in a planned manner, according to the China Aid report. In 2012, a new three-phase approach was adopted to wipe out unregistered house churches, which the government saw as a hostile group of dissenters, and force them to join the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement church system. In the first phase, from January 2012 to June, the State Administration for Religious Affairs secretly investigated house churches across the country and created files on them, the report says. This was followed by a wave of crackdowns on house churches, which has continued into 2013, as part of the second phase. The second phase will also entail strongly encouraging unregistered churches to become part of the TSPM—at which point they would become known as “house gatherings,” with the government banning the term “house churches.”

Other news:

  • Does NBC hate Christians? asks Todd Starnes, host of Fox News & Commentary in Human Events, pointing out a number of instances where NBC has crossed the line. Included are a Saturday Night Live broadcast where Jesus Christ was blasphemed in a violent and bloody Quentin Tarantino parody just three days after Ash Wednesday, and a scathing smear by NBC Sports blogger Rick Chandler against a prominent Christian church in Dallas. First Baptist Church in Dallas had invited Tim Tebow to speak at an upcoming service. Chandler urged the outspoken Christian football player to reconsider. “Tim Tebow to speak at virulently anti-gay, anti-Semitic Dallas mega-church,” read the headline on Chandler’s hit piece. Sing Oldham, a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention, told Starnes he’s not surprised by NBC’s blistering assault on American Christians. “It’s open season on those who profess personal faith in Jesus Christ and pattern their lives by biblical morality,” he said. “Evangelical Christians are treated with contempt and targeted for ridicule.” NBC also removed the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance during a produced video that aired during the U.S. Open, and NBC medical editor Nancy Snyderman infamously denounced the religious part of Christmas during an episode of Today. “I don’t like the religion part,” said Snyderman. “I think religion is what mucks the whole thing up.” The “religion” she was referring to is celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. The network has also produced religion-bashing shows like The New Normal and The Book of Daniel. That particular show is so offensive it led American Family Radio chairman Donald Wildmon to declare, “We are tired of NBC’s anti-Christian bigotry.” “I find it interesting that the networks always mock and ridicule Christianity—but they give other religions a pass,” noted Starnes. Why aren’t the writers at SNL churning out weekly skits about Islam—or the Prophet Mohammed? Where’s the mock movie trailer for Jihad Undetonated? Where’s the television show called Good Muslim B****es? Or the magazine essay about “The Myths of Mohammed?” Oldham said it should come as no surprise that networks like NBC target Christians for ridicule. “Jesus said, ‘the world will hate you because of my name,’” he said, referring to the New Testament passage. “As best as I can tell,” noted Starnes’s evaluation,  “the folks over at NBC are either ideological bullies or religious bigots. Either one is enough for me to change the channel.”
  • Four foreign missionaries were arrested in Benghazi, Libya, last week on charges of printing and distributing materials that promote Christianity, reports Christianity Today. One is an American citizen. The Associated Press, which broke the news, reports that Benghazi police claim to have “found 45,000 books in [the missionaries’] possession and that another 25,000 have already been distributed.” “They were arrested on Tuesday at a publishing house where they were printing thousands of books that called for conversion to Christianity,” Hussein Bin Hmeid, spokesman for Libya’s Preventative Security, told Reuters. “Proselytizing is forbidden in Libya. We are a 100 percent Muslim country and this kind of action affects our national security.” The arrests were announced as Libyans celebrated the second anniversary of their revolution against former ruler Muammar Gaddafi. However, a holdover law from Gaddafi’s reign makes proselytizing for any religion other than Islam potentially punishable by death. The missionaries are from South Africa, Egypt, South Korea, and Sweden. (The Swedish missionary has dual American citizenship and was traveling on a U.S. passport.) Most Christians in Libya are foreigners, some of whom have been pressured to leave by extremists.
  • “Unions, or rather the professional class of union leaders, were vehement supporters of Obamacare’s federal takeover of health care,” says a report at washingtontimes.com. “Now that they’ve had a chance to actually read the 2,801-page bill and ‘find out what is in it,’ they are upset and want out. Major unions like the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters are now demanding that they be allowed to stay on their current health care plans and receive government subsidies to cover the increased costs some of Obamacare’s provisions will impose on lower-income workers. They want to eat their government cake and have it too. What else is new? Who would foot the bill? You guessed it: We, the taxpayers. The rank hypocrisy of Obamacare-backing unions began almost immediately after the passage of the bill three years ago, with hundreds of thousands of union workers being exempted from the law through waivers from the Obama administration. In total, more than 1,200 entities were granted waivers from President Obama‘s signature legislation, the vast majority of them labor unions. In fact, unions representing 543,812 workers received waivers, while only 69,813 employees at private firms, many of them small businesses, managed to secure a waiver. The same unions that fought tooth and nail to impose this program on all Americans used million-dollar lobbyists to make sure they didn’t have to play by the same rules as the rest of us. Nice. Readers will recall Mr. Obama’s constant mantra: ‘If you like your health care, you can keep it.’ Not so. According to the Congressional Budget Office, more than 7 million Americans will lose their employer-based insurance thanks to Obamacare. Unintended consequences always come back to haunt us, and try though they might, government actors are incapable of overturning economic law by mere decree. Instead of joining the majority of Americans who want this bill repealed, unions are seeking to use their political leverage to shield themselves from the harm Obamacare will impose on hundreds of millions of their fellow Americans.”
  • America has turned from God and has forgotten right from wrong, says WorldNetDaily founder Joseph Farah, who is announcing the launch of a dramatic new national billboard campaign featuring the Ten Commandments to help awaken believers and non-believers alike to “the wickedness and evil that abound in our country,” reports conservativebyte.com. The campaign kicks off this week with 11 major billboards—all in the heart of what some call “sin city,” Las Vegas. “The problem is America is not limited to atheists, agnostics, cults and non-believers,” says Farah. “In fact, the biggest problem America has is with those who call themselves believers but who act no differently than the worldliest individuals on the planet. You can call these people backslidden. You can call them false converts. Or you can call them undiscipled, nominal believers. What they all have in common is they are not in obedience to God. They are not even trying to follow the most basic moral law, as Jesus and the prophets all instructed.”
  • Republican Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad told Karl Rove to keep his new super PAC, which some conservatives believe was created to wage war on them, out of Iowa’s Republican primaries, reports breitbart.com. “I basically told Karl Rove that what he was doing is counter-productive and he needs to stay out of it,” Branstad told the Associated Press last Friday. “If some outside group that has no connection to Iowa attacks somebody from Iowa, that is not smart.” After Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat, announced he would be retiring from the Senate in January, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) indicated he may be interested in pursuing the Senate seat, which has been held by a Democrat for 30 years, in 2014. Rove’s group promptly decided to smear King a week later, indicating he would be a Republican against whom the group would try to obliterate with negative ads in a potential Iowa GOP Senate primary.
  • Supporters of a Mississippi bill that would legalize school prayer say the measure would ensure religious liberty, reports washingtontimes.com. Both the state House and the state Senate have passed versions of the Schoolchildren’s Religious Liberties Act, but they have to agree on a single bill before anything would go to Republican Gov. Phil Bryant, the Associated Press reports. Republican Rep. Mark Formby said that even though religious liberty is guaranteed under the Constitution, schools are afraid of getting involved in disputes over religion and are suppressing students from writing or talking about their faith in any context, the AP reports. “I’m not so much worried about what’s allowed as what’s disallowed,” Formby said. “I keep having parents come to me and complain. This would give clarity to the law.”
  • Carnival cruise ship Triumph might have fallen short of its name when a fire left the vessel lifeless in the Gulf of Mexico, but many passengers indeed triumphed over the foul conditions that ensued, thanks in part to an impromptu Bible study that brought them closer to each other and closer to God, reports charismanews.com. Joseph and Cecilia Alvarez were among the 400-plus passengers and crew who began the cruise on Feb. 7, with plans to return Monday, Feb. 11. But early that Sunday morning, Joseph smelled smoke from the couple’s room on the first floor. An engine room fire soon left the 893-foot ship stranded in the Gulf of Mexico, causing what would become nearly a four-day delay and leaving passengers with less than ideal accommodations. Cecilia could see nothing but water for miles and soon the questions began. Cecilia kept thinking about one Bible verse, Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Wouldn’t it be great, she thought, if she and Joseph could get together with other Christians on the ship? If they could join other believers to lift each other up? It wasn’t long after that they heard an announcement over the ship’s intercom; passengers were invited to join a Bible study on deck. It started out with about 25 people, Joseph said. They met on the upper deck running tracks. “The Bible studies were great,” he said. “We did it for four days. . . . It put our minds and our hearts at ease. We felt peace the whole time. We knew that there was a Mighty Power out there that would get us home and keep us safe so we could get home and see our children.”
  • Mathayo Kachili, pastor of an Assemblies of God church in Buseresere, Tanzania, was beheaded when a group of religious extremists attacked Christians at the church on Monday, Feb. 11, reports ag.org. “Escalating hostility and violence toward Christians in various places in Africa causes us grave concern for our brothers and sisters, and especially for our pastors,” states Mike McClaflin, AG World Missions regional director for Africa. “Our prayers are with the family of Pastor Mathayo Kachili as well as the other pastors of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God in Tanzania and missionaries from the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada laboring in East Africa.” Barnabas Mtokambali, the Tanzania AG general superintendent, encouraged Christians in the Tanzania AG to remain Christlike in their faith. “Our response as a church is not one of violence and hatred, reflecting the attitude of those committing such crimes, but that of Christ and reflecting his image by loving and praying for those who humiliate and persecute us, and not holding such sins against them,” Mtokambali says. In light of the tragic events in Tanzania and ongoing persecution throughout the world, AG World Missions Executive Director Greg Mundis urges Christians to increase their prayers for the suffering church.
  • Hobby Lobby, the Christian-owned crafting store, continues fighting the Obama administration’s HHS mandate in court, reports lifenews.com. After losing its initial bid to stop the mandate from imposing more than $1 million in fines every day for not complying, the company was forced to appeal a judge’s decision and roll back the date of its employee health care plan in order to temporarily escape the fines. The mandate has engendered strong opposition from pro-life groups and Catholic and evangelical Christian companies that do not want to be compelled to pay for drugs for employees that may cause abortions. Now, Americans United for Life filed two more amicus curiae briefs supporting legal challenges to the Obama Administration’s unconstitutional “HHS mandate,” siding with Hobby Lobby. AUL president Charmaine Yoest told LifeNews that Obamacare continues to be “the largest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade compounded by violations of Americans’ First Amendment Rights of Conscience and complained the HHS mandate forces companies and organizations to provide employees with insurance coverage for life-ending drugs and devices against their beliefs and consciences.” “In these two briefs, we continue the fight to preserve the freedom of conscience in the United States. It is a complete affront to the Constitution to force private companies to choose between their conscientious beliefs and maintaining and growing their businesses. This is truly the battle of our time to protect the liberties guaranteed to us over 200 years ago,” she said. AUL filed the briefs in Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. v. Sebelius, pending before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, and Autocam Corporation v. Sebelius, pending before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. In both cases, federal district courts have refused to grant the plaintiffs relief from the draconian HHS mandate, meaning that the companies will face ruinous fines and penalties if they do not provide coverage of so-called “emergency contraception.”