News Update - October 2014

Chinese Pastor Who Organized against Church Demolition "Grateful" for Prison Sentence
A Chinese pastor maintains that he is grateful for the opportunity to serve a prison sentence. Huang Yizi faces up to seven years in prison for criticizing the government's campaign to demolish church buildings, according to the Christian Post

China Aid reports Pastor Yizi gathered church members and other believers to defend Salvation Church by creating a human wall to keep authorities out on July 21. Fourteen people were seriously injured that day.

On Aug. 3, police took forty-year-old Pastor Huang Yizi of a Wenzhou-based church into criminal detention. Aug. 28 he was arrested for "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order."

"He [Yizi] seems well. He is grateful that God has given him the chance to serve time in the detention centre," Beijing-based rights lawyer Zhang Kai Ahaojie said.   Upon approval from Pingyang County People's Procuratorate, this bureau placed Huang Yizi under arrest on August 28, 2014 on suspicion of "gathering a crowd to disrupt public order." Huang Yizi is currently being detained at Pingyang County Detention Center.

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City of Houston Subpoenas Sermons that Address Homosexuality
A group of pastors in Houston, Tex., have been ordered to turn over to the city their sermons that address homosexuality or be held in contempt of the court. Sermons that mention gender identity or Annise Parker, Houston's first openly gay mayor, have also been subpoenaed. 

Five Houston pastors have filed suit in Harris County court, arguing that the subpoenas are "overbroad, unduly burdensome, harassing and vexatious." Attorneys from Alliance Defending Freedom are representing the pastors in the case. Attorney Christina Holcomb said, "The city's subpoena of sermons and other pastoral communications is both needless and unprecedented. The city council and its attorneys are engaging in an inquisition designed to stifle any critique of its actions." She continued, "Political and social commentary is not a crime. It is protected by the First Amendment."

The pastors and their attorneys believe that Houston's demands, which are under the city's new non-discrimination ordinance, are really an attempt to "out" the pastors, publicly shaming them for being "anti-gay". Steve Riggle, senior pastor of Grace Community Church and one of the pastors served with a subpoena, said, "This is an attempt to chill pastors from speaking to the cultural issues of the day. The mayor would like to silence our voice. She's a bully."

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Supreme Court Opts Not to Hear Appeals, Gay Marriages Begin in New States
The United States Supreme Court on October 6 refused to hear five gay marriage appeals yesterday, a decision that allowed homosexual couples in Virginia, Oklahoma, Utah, Wisconsin and Indiana to marry immediately. 

Virginia became the first southern state to legalize gay marriage. Family Foundation of Virginia president Victoria Cobb expressed a dissenting opinion. Cobb said that voters banned gay marriage; the Supreme Court justices discounted the voice of the people and "left Virginians without a definitive answer."

Six other states that were currently fighting gay marriage bans in appeals courts will also be affected by the Supreme Court's decision. North Carolina, West Virginia, South Carolina, Wyoming, Kansas and Colorado will likely be the next states to allow homosexual couples to marry. This will bring the number of U.S. states that permit gay marriage from 19 to 30. In recent days, likely taking a cue from the high court, lower court rulings or dropped lawsuits have overturned gay marriage bans in Idaho, Nevada, Alaska, and Arizona.

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Mark Driscoll Resigns from Mars Hill Church
Mark Driscoll, the larger-than-life megachurch pastor who has been accused of plagiarism, bullying, and an unhealthy ego that alienated even his most devoted followers, resigned from his Seattle church October 14, according to a document obtained by Religion News Service.

The divisive Seattle pastor had announced his plan to step aside for at least six weeks in August while his church investigated the charges against him. Driscoll's resignation came shortly after the church concluded its investigation. "Recent months have proven unhealthy for our family-even physically unsafe at times-and we believe the time has now come for the elders to choose new pastoral leadership for Mars Hill," Driscoll wrote in his resignation letter.

Driscoll was not asked to resign from the church he started 18 years ago, according to a letter from the church's board of overseers. "Indeed, we were surprised to receive his resignation letter," they wrote. Seven elders and one member of the board of overseers conducted this investigation, and the board of overseers provided findings and conclusions.

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Asia Bibi's Death Sentence Confirmed by Pakistani High Court
Asia Bibi, the Pakistani Christian mother charged with blasphemy, has been sentenced to death by the Pakistani High Court. Bibi's appeal has postponed by the court at least five times before the death penalty was confirmed by the court October 16. Following her 2009 accusation, Bibi was sentenced to death by hanging in 2010. 

Nasir Saeed, director of the Centre for Legal Aid, Assistance and Settlement (CLAAS), the organization that has represented Bibi said, "I am very disappointed with today's result and my thoughts and prayers are with Asia's family. It is not surprising that the judges were swayed by pressure from local influential Muslims, but I had hoped that justice would prevail and that the case would be judged based on its merits. While the rest of the world condemns such draconian laws, Pakistan continues to persecute its minorities simply because of their religion."

Bibi's attorneys will submit a final appeal against the ruling to the Pakistani Supreme Court within 30 days. "I have to now remain hopeful that the Supreme Court judges will look at the case objectively and allow the final appeal, eventually acquitting Asia," Saeed said.

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