25 August 2014
WORLD News Service – August 22 2014
Ebola Patients Released: Doctors at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital declare two American missionaries cured of Ebola
Florida Judge Strikes Down Marriage Amendment
NYC Recruits Clergy to Avoid Another Ferguson: Mayor meets with religious leaders after an African-American man dies in a police chokehold
New York Farmers Ordered to Host Gay Weddings
Critics Throw Cold Water on the Ice Bucket Challenge
New Orleans’ Charter School Experiment
Risking Genocide: As the Islamic State has raged from Syria to Iraq, it threatens to wipe out Christians and other religious groups with singular roots in ancient Mesopotamia
Miracle in Atlanta: Ebola Patients Released
Doctors at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital declare two American missionaries cured of Ebola
By Andrew Branch
(WNS)--Both Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, the missionaries who became infected by the Ebola virus, are now Ebola-free and spending time with their families. Brantly gave glory to God as he held his wife’s hand and walked out of an Atlanta hospital to loud cheers.
“Today is a miraculous day,” a thin but beaming Brantly told reporters in a prepared statement. “I am thrilled to be alive, to be well, and to be reunited with my family.”
After nearly three weeks of treatment, the two aid workers infected with Ebola in Africa pose no public health risk, Dr. Bruce Ribner of Emory University Hospital stressed. “After a rigorous course of treatment and thorough testing,” Ribner said, “we have determined … he can return to his family, his community, and his life without public health concerns.”
Nancy Writebol was released Tuesday, Ribner said. Emory officials honored her request to keep her release private. A statement from SIM, the aid group Writebol worked with, said she was resting with her husband at an undisclosed location. Brantly told reporters that “as [Writebol] walked out of her isolation room, all she could say was, ‘To God be the glory.’”
About two dozen of Brantly’s doctors and nurses laughed and joked at the press conference, beaming with proud smiles. Several blinked back tears, and the couple gave them bear hugs.
“We are profoundly grateful to have the opportunity to have applied our training, our care, and our experience to meeting their needs,” Ribner said. “All of us who have worked with them have been impressed by their courage and determination. Their hope and faith have been an inspiration to all of us.”
Brantly and Writebol contracted the deadly disease the same week in late July at a mission hospital in Liberia. “As I lay in my bed in Liberia for the following nine days, getting sicker and weaker each day, I prayed that God would help me to be faithful even in my illness, and I prayed that in my life or in my death, He would be glorified,” Brantly said.
In a statement, Writebol’s husband, David Writebol, said his wife “was greatly encouraged knowing that there were so many people around the world lifting prayers to God for her return to health. Her departure from the hospital, free of the disease, is powerful testimony to God’s sustaining grace.”
Brantly asked reporters and the public to respect his family’s privacy as they reunite after more than a month apart. He urged people to keep praying for him and for Africa. “I am forever thankful to God for sparing my life and am glad for any attention my sickness has attracted to the plight of West Africa in the midst of this epidemic,” he said.
Ribner dispelled criticism that bringing Brantly and Writebol to the United States was a bad idea: “We cannot let our fears dictate our actions. We must all care.”
Franklin Graham, president of the North Carolina-based Samaritan’s Purse, said the group was “giving thanks to God” for Brantly’s recovery. Brantly has been in Emory University Hospital’s isolation unit in Atlanta for nearly three weeks.
“I have marveled at Dr. Brantly’s courageous spirit as he has fought this horrible virus with the help of the highly competent and caring staff at Emory University Hospital,” Graham said in a statement. “His faithfulness to God and compassion for the people of Africa have been an example to us all.”
Aid groups evacuated Brantly, 33, from Liberia on Aug. 2. His colleague Nancy Writebol, 59, followed on Aug. 5. The two were infected while working at a missionary clinic outside Liberia's capital. Writebol was working for North Carolina-based aid group SIM, and Emory officials are expected to release more information today about when she may be released.
Both Americans received an experimental drug that some say contributed to their recovery. While one Spanish priest who received the drug died, the Liberian government says three Liberian health workers are showing “remarkable” progress after getting the last doses of the serum. Experts have cautioned that it’s unclear whether the drug, never before tested in humans, is effective. The California-based drug maker said additional doses of the drug won’t be available for months.
The current outbreak in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Nigeria has killed more than 1,350 people, and officials have said treatment centers are filling up faster than new ones can be opened or expanded. Sick patients are packing hallways, potentially infecting more people. Ebola is transmitted by direct contact with the bodily fluids of someone who is sick. The disease causes internal bleeding and has been fatal in more than 50 percent of cases.
The death toll is rising most quickly in Liberia, which now accounts for at least 576 of the fatalities, the World Health Organization said. With at least 2,473 people sickened across West Africa, this outbreak has more recorded cases than the previous two-dozen outbreaks combined. Graham said Samaritan’s Purse is sending more health workers to Liberia to aid the more than 350 already there.
Calm returned Thursday to a slum in the Liberian capital that was sealed off in the government’s attempt to halt the spread of Ebola. Suspicious residents rioted and raided an Ebola screening area Saturday. Hundreds more rioted Wednesday as police and soldiers used scrap wood and barbed wire to seal off the slum of 50,000 people. Officials and residents are now trying to determine how to get food into the neighborhood.
Florida Judge Strikes Down Marriage Amendment
(WNS)--A federal judge on Aug. 21 declared unconstitutional Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage.
Repeating an argument made by many other federal judges, Judge Robert L. Hinckle in Tallahassee said the constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, approved by Florida voters in 2008, violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Hinckle stayed his decision until the Supreme Court rules on the issue, which it is almost certain to do in 2015.
“The U.S. Supreme Court, they need to decide this case, they are going to decide this case, hopefully sooner than later so we will have finality,” Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi said earlier this week. “There are good people on both sides of this issue and we need to have finality for everyone involved.”
Bondi, a Republican, has been appealing local court decisions that would allow same-sex marriage in four Florida counties. The effect Hinckle’s decision will have on those cases is not yet clear.
NYC Recruits Clergy to Avoid Another Ferguson
Mayor meets with religious leaders after an African-American man dies in a police chokehold
By Emily Belz
(WNS)--In July, before the chaos in Ferguson, Mo., an unarmed African-American man, Eric Garner, died after a New York City police officer put him in a chokehold during an arrest on Staten Island. The medical examiner ruled Garner’s death a homicide, and the local district attorney is moving to bring evidence to a grand jury to possibly indict the officer responsible. Garner was placed in a chokehold in the course of being arrested for selling cigarettes on the street, and a video of the arrest shows him repeating, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.”
Unlike in Ferguson, the protests in New York against Garner’s death have been peaceful, with the NYPD accustomed to managing large crowds. The National Action Network has scheduled a march for Saturday in Staten Island, and Police Commissioner Bill Bratton said on Wednesday he expects the march to be peaceful and mostly “self-policed.”
On Wednesday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio attended a meeting of local religious leaders to talk about improving community relations with police in the wake of Garner’s death. De Blasio asked Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York to convene the group, and they met at Dolan’s residence in Midtown.
“It’s their mission to save lives, to help heal wounds,” said de Blasio of the religious leaders. He said the meeting would have been impossible without Dolan, a “leader who has the respect of all.”
The meeting was set up before Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, but Dolan is a St. Louis native.
“Ferguson is heavy on my heart,” Dolan said. “We are very much aware of the flaws in New York, but we’re aware of the strong points, and we want to be a light to the world.”
To this point, most of the outcry against Garner’s death has come from local African-American pastors, most prominently the Rev. Al Sharpton. He came to Dolan’s meeting, along with several other prominent African-American leaders like Rev. Herbert Daughtry from House of the Lord in Brooklyn. The rest were prominent Catholic leaders, Jewish rabbis, and an imam. Notably absent were representatives from Staten Island churches, although the mayor said the group came together last minute and was not fully representative. Bratton and the NYPD chaplain joined the meeting, which stretched on for two hours. The mayor said after the meeting that it was only the first of many such get togethers. After events like Garner’s death, public leaders often reach out to community organizers but ignore religious leaders, he said.
“Faith leaders arguably have the greatest reach of any set of leaders,” de Blasio said. “We aren’t tapping into that enough. … We’re adamant about going on this journey with them.”
New York first lady Chirlane McCray, also present, said she had learned a lesson from talking to people in New York. “Who do they listen to, connect with?” she said. “Their clergy.”
“We believe in a God that can bring something good out of evil,” Dolan said after the meeting, holding a Bible. Rabbi Michael Miller of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, who came to the meeting after getting off a plane from Israel, said Dolan opened the meeting by reading Psalm 76.
“What came out of the meeting was the role of religion in New York,” said Miller. “The public sector and the spiritual sector need to work in partnership.”
The leaders and the mayor were light on the specifics of their plan going forward, other than to say they were building relationships with each other. De Blasio has given more attention to the role of religious leaders in the city than the previous administration.
When de Blasio took office this year, the tension between minority communities in the city and police was already high because of the Bloomberg administration’s stop-and-frisk policy, where officers disproportionately stopped African-American and Hispanic men. A district court ruled the policy unconstitutional, and de Blasio rolled the policy back. Better relationships between the police and community were a central theme of de Blasio’s campaign.
New York Farmers Ordered to Host Gay Weddings
By Sarah Padbury
(WNS)--An administrative law judge in New York has found a couple guilty of discrimination because they refused to allow two lesbians to rent their farm for a wedding ceremony. The judge ordered the couple to pay $13,000 in fines and damages and undergo “anti-discrimination” re-education.
Robert and Cynthia Gifford own and operate Liberty Ridge Farm, a 100-acre property in Schaghticoke, N.Y., about 20 miles north of Albany. For 15 years, they have operated a family business renting various areas of the farm for public events, including weddings, parties, corporate meetings, summer camps, and an annual fall festival.
In September 2012, Cynthia Gifford received a call from a woman inquiring about the farm’s wedding options. During the conversation, Gifford determined the caller’s fiancé was also a woman and declined the booking.“We do not hold same-sex ceremonies here at the barn,” Gifford told her. When asked if that decision was legal, Gifford said it was legal because the couple operated a “private business,” the lawsuit claims.
Melisa and Jennie McCarthy filed suit against the Giffords in October 2012 for violating New York’s Human Rights Law, which prohibits a “provider of public accommodation” from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. Places of public accommodation include businesses that offer entertainment, recreation, or food. Religious organizations and private clubs with 100 or more dues-paying members are exempt from the law.
Melisa McCarthy told the court the Giffords’ rejection left her feeling “shell-shocked” and “horrible.” Jennie McCarthy, who had recently come out as a lesbian, was “very upset” because the policy was “kind of a blow” to her coming-out process. The couple eventually held a wedding ceremony on a farm in Central Bridge, N.Y., in August 2013.
“I think it’s our right to choose who we market to, like any business,” Robert Gifford said during an interview with Albany’s localFox affiliate. “We are a family business and we just feel we ought to stay down the family path.”
But on July 2, Judge Migdalia Pares declared that the government’s values trump the Giffords’ right to run their business according to their beliefs. Pares also determined the Giffords’ actions warranted a severe penalty, with the “goal of deterrence.” The Giffords must pay $1,500 to each woman for “mental pain and suffering,” as well as a civil fine of $10,000 payable to the state. Interest on the debt accrues at 9 percent from the date of the order until it is paid.
The order also requires the Giffords to “prominently post” in a public area a poster designed by the New York Division of Human Rights that details the state’s anti-discrimination law and features a red heading in all-capitalized letters that reads, “Discrimination really hurts.” The poster provides a toll-free number to report any signs of discrimination.
Lastly, the Giffords must establish “anti-discrimination” training and procedures for their employees and provide proof of such training “upon written demand,” as well as cooperate with any future investigations regarding their compliance with the order.
The Giffords have 60 days to appeal the decision.
Critics Throw Cold Water on the Ice Bucket Challenge
By Courtney Crandell
(WNS)--In 2012, “Gangnam Style” parodies stormed the internet. In 2013, thousands posted videos of themselves convulsing to the “Harlem Shake.” But in 2014, the #IceBucketChallenge has become the summer internet sensation. A Google search yields more than 14 million videos from regular people to public figures like Bill Gates and former President George W. Bush dumping buckets of ice water on their heads to raise awareness and money for the ALS Association, a nonprofit organization promoting research for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and support for its victims. About 5,600 people are diagnosed each year with ALS, the progressive neurodegenerative condition also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Each video features someone dowsing himself in frigid water then challenging other people to do the same within 24 hours—or donate money to the ALS Association. Statistically speaking, the social media campaign appears to be working. As of Aug. 19, the organization gained more than 450,000 new donors and received $22.9 million in donations, 12 times the amount it took in during the same time period last year.
“We need to be strategic in our decision-making as to how the funds will be spent so that when people look back on this event in 10 and 20 years, the Ice Bucket Challenge will be seen as a real game-changer for ALS,” said Barbara Newhouse, president and CEO of the ALS Association.
But despite the campaign’s ubiquitous presence on social media, not everyone is a fan. Some criticism focuses on the campaign’s execution, but members of the pro-life community are worried about how the money will be spent.
The American Life League (ALL) designated the ALS Association as “unworthy of support” due to its connection with embryonic stem cell research. In a July 2 email to ALL, Carrie Munk, chief communications and marketing officer for the ALS Association, said the organization primarily funds adult stem cell research but also funds one embryonic stem cell study through contributions from a specific donor. Munk said donors may stipulate that their donations not go toward the research project. But the current study may not be the last the organization funds. “Under very strict guidelines, the association may fund embryonic stem cell research in the future,” she said.
Live Action President Lila Rose described the ALS Association as “tainted” due to its connection with embryonic stem cell research. “It’s such a shame that the ALS Association, while striving to save some people, chooses to support research that thrives from experimenting on and killing tiny, innocent human beings,” she said. Father Michael Duffy at his Patheos blog recommends challenge participants donate to the John Paul II Medical Research Institute instead.
Originally, the Ice Bucket Challenge didn’t connect to the ALS Association at all. Instead, participants donated to the charity of their choice. The challenge attached to the ALS Association after pro golfer Chris Kennedy challenged his cousin Jeanette Senerchia of Pelham, N.Y., whose husband has ALS. Her challenge spread to Pat Quinn of Yonkers, N.Y., who also has ALS. Members of his social network began posting the challenge, which eventually reached Pete Frates, a former Boston College baseball player diagnosed with ALS in 2012. Frates, whose wife is expecting a baby in September, posted a video of himself bobbing his head to “Ice Ice Baby” by rapper Vanilla Ice. (According to Frates, ice water and ALS don’t mix.) The ALS challenge quickly spread from Frates’ Boston connections to the rest of the United States.
“This is certainly a very unique, very broad phenomenon that I have not seen in this magnitude before,” said Markus Pfeiffer, a strategic communications professor at Regent University. Pfieffer suggested Christians participating in the challenge could return to the its original intent by supporting Samaritan’s Purse or doctors battling Ebola.
But the pro-life community isn’t the only source of criticism against the campaign. Some claim the campaign promotes “slacktivism”—activism without meaningful action—and feeds millennial narcissism through glorified selfies.
“There are a lot of things wrong with the Ice Bucket Challenge, but most annoying is that it’s basically narcissism masked as altruism,” wrote Arielle Pardes, a writer for Vice and a millennial herself. She cited other hashtag campaigns that quickly lost popularity, including #Haiti, #Kony2012, and, more recently, #BringBackOurGirls. “If you want to make some fraction of a difference, consider donating to the ALS Association or volunteering your time with an ALS organization,” Pardes suggested.
Regardless of the criticism associated with the Ice Bucket Challenge, the campaign has raised some much-needed funds for the ALS Association, revealing the potentially positive impact of social media, Pfeiffer said, adding, “If that little bit of self-exposure can lead to more discovery about ALS, I would not look at that negatively.”
But not all analysts think the extra exposure has been universally beneficial.
The campaign has “done a mixed job raising awareness,” said Rick Cohen, communications director for the National Council of Nonprofits. Many people who accept the challenge know nothing more about ALS after dousing themselves with ice water than before. Others post videos without mentioning ALS. “Too many people are doing it with the fun element in mind and not connecting to the issue at all,” he said.
Cohen did praise the ALS Association for doing a good job connecting people to its cause by highlighting human stories, noting that increased awareness can encourage communities to support those suffering from ALS. But it’s too soon to know if the #IceBucketChallenge will benefit the fight against ALS long-term. Like anything that “goes viral” on the internet, the Ice Bucket Challenge faces potential oblivion. Its success depends on the ability of the ALS Association to educate participants and turn new donors into returning donors, Cohen said. And despite the short-term benefits, not all nonprofits would want to be in the association’s shoes.
“Many [nonprofit groups] would prefer a more substantive victory in the long term,” Cohen said.
New Orleans’ Charter School Experiment
By Emily Scheie
(WNS)--Nine years ago this month, Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans. Though it brought destruction, it also brought an opportunity for change.
In the years before Katrina, the city was known for failing schools. “Pre-Katrina, ‘fraud, corruption and flat-out theft’ were the norm in a school system where $71 million in federal funds were mismanaged or lost,” according to a 2007 report from Cowen Institute, a Tulane University think tank on public education initiatives. But today, New Orleans is known for one of the nation’s largest experiments with charter schools.
In the wake of Katrina, then-Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco transferred more than 100 of the city’s low-performing schools to the state-run Recovery School District (RSD). The district changed most of them to charters and closed the doors of its last traditional public schools in May, according to the The Washington Post.
This year will be its first with nothing but charter schools.
“It is an ongoing experiment,” said John Merrow, director of a documentary on New Orleans schools, during a June PBS interview. Nine years after Katrina, some people point to test scores and school ratings as proof the experiment is succeeding. But critics have taken legal action against the change, and a poll of voters in the city shows mixed support for the schools.
Charter schools receive public funding, but they operate—and innovate—free from what supporters see as the politics and bureaucracy of traditional public schools. In exchange, a school must meet the standards in its charter.
The RSD currently oversees 57 charter schools in New Orleans, and most of the 20 schools run by the Orleans Parish School Board are also charters. School enrollment is down about 31 percent from before Katrina, but the number of failing schools is also down—from 78 to nine, according to October ratings from the Louisiana Department of Education. At the same time, the percentage of RSD students in grades 3-8 who scored “basic” or above on state tests increased from 37 percent in 2009 to 57 percent in 2014.
But the system has its downsides. The lottery the city uses to place students in schools can be frustrating to families. Dawn Howard homeschools her children, avoiding “the fear, the dread” of getting children into good schools. The schools are “all performing at different levels, and it seems like everyone’s trying to get into the same ones,” Howard said. Some students now travel long distances to get to school because they no longer attend one in their neighborhood.
Some critics say the reforms are not fair to students, especially African Americans. In May, organizations against closing traditional public schools filed a civil rights complaint against the Louisiana Department of Education, the RSD, and the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. It argues the state subjected African-American communities to more neighborhood school closures than white communities and has prevented African Americans from getting into high-performing schools. The city uses an enrollment process called OneApp, in which parents list their top school choices. But the lawsuit claims “OneApp’s metric is unclear” and lacks “accountability or oversight.”
In May, the Cowen Institute polled 602 voters for their perspective on the city’s schools. While 45 percent said public schools in New Orleans are improving, 18 percent said they’re getting worse. Only 38 percent strongly or somewhat agree New Orleans schools “do a good job of preparing young adults for college” while 52 percent somewhat or strongly disagree. The response to whether schools prepare students for jobs was similar.
Education journalist Sarah Carr studied and wrote on the city’s school change in her 2013 book Hope against Hope and says New Orleans is a test of school reform that the nation is watching. “Even though what happened and the way it happened was very unique in New Orleans, it definitely has a lot of implications as urban school systems restructure across the country,” Carr told PBS.
As the Islamic State has raged from Syria to Iraq, it threatens to wipe out Christians and other religious groups with singular roots in ancient Mesopotamia
By Mindy Belz
(WNS)--Sami Dagher is waiting in the hot sun for a truck delivering air coolers. It’s 5 p.m. in Erbil on Saturday, Aug. 16, and the temperature hangs stubbornly at 111°F. He needs 500 air coolers—evaporative cooling units that use fans with water and consume less electricity than air conditioners. He can locate only 100 but hopes to have a few hundred more trucked in from Iran tomorrow.
“Here in Ainkawa area of Erbil alone we have 30,000 displaced—all Christians—and the heat is terrible,” said Dagher, pastor of a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Beirut and a church planter who has helped start churches across the Middle East.
The Alliance church in Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdistan region, is working with aid groups to coordinate relief to many made homeless by waves of onslaught across Iraq by ISIS (or ISIL), the Islamic militant group now calling itself the Islamic State. At least one church in Erbil has 140 people sleeping in its halls. Once mattresses arrived, more spilled out to sleep on dirt or grass outside the church buildings.
Along with air coolers, food, clothing, diapers, mattresses, pillows, and blankets—not to mention housing—are all in short supply. Many of the displaced Christians in Erbil are living in tents outdoors and in buildings under construction. They are surviving with no bathrooms, no running water, no finished windows or doorways, and no relief from the heat, said Dagher: “Yes we are getting supplies, but our city is overwhelmed.”
Much of Iraq’s Christian population—halved and halved and halved again since the 2003 U.S. invasion—now finds itself shoved into the Kurdish corner of Iraq with nowhere else to go but cities like Erbil and Duhok, cities isolated from the rest of the country and surrounded by mountains with limited transit routes. War in Syria, hostility in Iran, and a closed border to Turkey all leave the Christians forced from Mosul and Nineveh Plain this summer with next to no options—and so they have crowded into church courtyards, sleeping in streets and parks, living out of tents or on open ground.
Over 1.5 million Iraqis have been displaced in three waves of ISIS onslaught starting in January in Anbar Province. Most brutal was the third wave Aug. 1-6 across Nineveh Province: It forced out up to 33,000 families, according to the UN, and killed thousands, leading to genocide for Yazidis and other minority populations in Iraq. On Aug. 13 the UN declared Iraq a “Level 3 Emergency,” its highest category for humanitarian crisis.
Despite more recent gains on the ground—made possible by U.S. air strikes in the area starting Aug. 8—ISIS retains a hold on one-third of Iraq. Homeless Christians and others have no idea what will happen to them next, where they might go, or how to make a home that’s secure again.
Aid coordinators like Dagher, who is working with Samaritan’s Purse, emphasize the extreme level of relief needed: water, food, milk and diapers for babies, mattresses, pillows, and blankets. Most families who escaped the ISIS grip in Mosul and surrounding areas lost everything, including their homes and any money they had in the bank. Reports have circled the internet of women whose wedding rings ISIS confiscated, babies whose gold earrings the militants removed.
“We have to take care of them or they will not survive at all,” said Yousif Fahmi, a monk who oversees Mar Mattai, a Syriac Orthodox monastery in Nineveh Province.
A fourth-century enclave set in mountains 12 miles east of Mosul, Mar Mattai is under protection of Kurdish forces now, after for a time this summer becoming a safe haven to dozens of families from Mosul and the villages of Nineveh Plain fleeing the ISIS ultimatum to convert or be killed.
Fahmi left the monastery in the care of Kurdish peshmerga to escort many of the families to the city of Duhok further north—where an additional 20,000-30,000 Christians are estimated to have taken refuge. But necessities are in short supply and some of those families are living on the street, he told me by telephone: “There are babies without milk, boys and girls without food, and a whole family here with only one blanket among them.”
Dagher said the hardest part of the unfolding crisis is the number of young people affected. A third of those living outdoors, he estimates, are young children. “You will see newborns, even 3 days old, who have to be put on the ground. They are crying in the heat, the ants will come and eat on them, and there is really nothing we can do about it.”
Brutality against Christians heated up in June with the ISIS takeover of Mosul, forcing tens of thousands to flee. June 15 marked the first worship day in 1,600 years when no Mass was said in Mosul, according to Chaldean church leaders. ISIS turned churches into mosques, and on July 24 blew up the tombs long ascribed to the Old Testament prophets Jonah and Daniel.
Already ISIS held Syria’s northern province of Raqqa. With gains south of Mosul near Baghdad, it declared an Islamic caliphate stretching from northern Syria to eastern Iraq, and declared itself the Islamic State in late July.
Attacks escalated as ISIS drove out Christians and other minorities from most remaining towns of Nineveh, including Qaraqosh, a city of 50,000, on Aug. 2. The same day Islamic State fighters attacked Sinjar, an area of mostly Yazidis, but also home to Christians, Shabaks, and Turkmen.
About 40,000 residents took refuge along the Sinjar Mountains, where they became cut off from Kurdish protection. Many perished there in the first 24 hours for lack of water. With genocide of the Yazidis a threatening possibility, President Barack Obama authorized air strikes (citing concern for U.S. citizens in the area) and humanitarian aid drops Aug. 7, and they began the next day. Since that time the United States and the European Union reluctantly have taken a larger role in trying to hold together a tattered Iraq.
On Aug. 11 Iraq’s president selected Haider al-Abadi to take over as Iraqi prime minister from the long-embattled Nouri al-Malaki, who resigned three days later—a move widely seen abroad as crucial to bringing peace again in Iraq and ending atrocities. On Aug. 18 Kurdish ground forces assisted by U.S. air strikes retook parts of Nineveh Province, including Mosul Dam, a key facility.
But atrocities continue. Dozens of Christian families remain unaccounted for who lived in the mostly Yazidi area of Sinjar. More than 70 girls and women from the area “were taken, raped, captured and sold,” reported the Assyrian Aid Society. ISIS executed at least 2,600 mostly Yazidi men who refused to convert to Islam and abducted 500 women, reportedly to Mosul where they could be sold into forced marriages or sex slavery.
Although many Yazidis were escorted by Kurdish militias to safety in Kurdish territory, ISIS militants executed 80 men from the Yazidi village of Kocho Aug. 16 and detained hundreds of women, Kurdish peshmerga commander Ziad Sinjar told The Washington Post.
Yazidis claim to have the world’s oldest religion, one that predates Christianity and Islam. They worship angels, believe in reincarnation, and stick together: Yazidis only marry among themselves and are forbidden to convert others. Experts say about 400,000 live in Iraq—and ISIS put to flight perhaps 300,000. Yazidis also suffered the worst terrorist attack of the Iraq War, when a triple suicide bombing in 2007 killed 500 of them near the town of Shekhan.
With the latest terrorism, experts agree genocide is a real possibility. “We’re talking about a very real, immediate threat that an entire, ethno-national religious group is wiped off the face of the earth,” said David Romano, professor of Middle East politics at Missouri State University. “And we’ve already seen what’s happened to the Christians of Mosul. They’ve been there about 1,800 years, since long before Iraq existed, and since long before Islam came onto the scene. And there’s none left in Mosul.”
For Jews and Christians, exile and mass bloodletting on the hot, brittle plains of Nineveh are a common thread of history. Ancient bas-reliefs depict the Assyrian conquest of Mesopotamia with men in skullcaps, long assumed by archaeologists to be captive Jews. In the sculptures the Jews carry their children with them, along with bowls and skins of water. The women are tearing their hair, throwing dust on their heads, and wailing. Some are bound with iron manacles.
With the arrival of Arab Muslims in 632, pressure to convert to Islam began (similar to Islamic State threat to convert, pay tax under Muslim law, or “have nothing but the sword”). Many Arab Christian tribes did convert, but in Nineveh the Assyrians and Chaldeans for the most part did not. Waves of persecution followed. At the end of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, hundreds of thousands of Assyrian Christians in what’s now northern Iraq perished along with Armenians.
With the Iraq War, Sunni militants under al-Qaeda again targeted Christians—and an exodus from Baghdad, Mosul, and elsewhere sent between 30,000 to 50,000 north to Nineveh Plain, where they resettled ancient Christian villages. Around 2008 the Kurdish regional government financed the rebuilding of dozens of churches (along with schools and houses) in those villages.
Now many of those resurrected villages are empty again. Even with U.S. air power, ISIS believes it can hold the once-Christian heart of Iraq.
“This is a force that is ideologically motivated, battle hardened and incredibly well equipped,” said Douglas Ollivant of the New America Foundation, who served the Obama and Bush administrations on Iraq. “It also runs the equivalent of a state. It has all the trappings of a state, just not an internationally recognized one.”
Iraq’s Christians have a long history of learning what to do under an oppressive state: They continue to worship, to help one another, and to pray. Many have told me they have new appreciation for Kurdish protection, despite tensions in managing the crisis. Dagher told me worship services are overflowing in Erbil, and he preached on Aug. 17 for the fifth time since his arrival. “The Holy Spirit is doing wonderful work among the people here,” he said. “Refugees are standing in church and repenting of their sins and confessing. Even when they have lost everything, they are joyful in finding and trusting Christ.”
Mars Hill Church Cancels Resurgence Conference
(WNS)--Seattle’s Mars Hill Church has canceled its annual Resurgence Conference, one of the megachurch’s flagship events, originally scheduled for Oct. 28-29. The website for the conference, which until this week contained biographical sketches of speakers and registration information, now has only the cancellation notice. The cancellation of the Resurgence Conference capped a tough week for Driscoll and Mars Hill Church. Earlier in the week, Driscoll was dropped from four upcoming “Act Like Men” conferences. He was scheduled to speak in Phoenix this October, Dallas-Fort Worth in November, and Miami and Chicago in 2015. He’s also been dropped from the Gateway Conference scheduled for Oct. 20-22 at Dallas’s Gateway Church. On Monday, Lifeway and Lifeway.com, the retail arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, said it was pulling Driscoll’s books from its 180-plus retail stores. Lifeway’s media relations manager Marty King said the retail chain made the decision to give Lifeway’s leadership time to “assess the developments regarding his ministry."
Family-Owned Pharmacy Leans on Hobby Lobby Ruling for Support
(WNS)--Attorneys in Washington state filed a brief in federal appeals court last week arguing their clients shouldn’t have to choose between their livelihoods and their consciences. State law requires all pharmacies to dispense the abortifacient drugs Plan B and Ella. A pharmacy and two pharmacists filed suit against the state for violating their religious rights. They say the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case supports their claim. In January 2006, the Washington State Board of Pharmacy investigated the refusal by some pharmacists to “dispense lawfully prescribed medications,” according to the lawsuit. The board’s investigation targeted the refusal of a few pharmacies and pharmacists to sell abortifacient drugs marketed as emergency contraceptives. The Food and Drug Administration requires the drugs be held behind the pharmacist’s counter, but any adult over 18 can buy them with proof of age. Minors can get the medication by prescription only.
Family Pleads for Detained American’s Release from North Korea
(WNS)--The family of an American man detained in North Korea for “anti-state” crimes apologized to the country and pleaded with officials to show mercy and release him, saying in a statement that they were desperate for him to return home. Jeffrey Edward Fowle, 56, is from Miamisburg, Ohio. His wife and three children appeared at a newscast, but didn’t speak. Attorney and family friend Tim Tepe acted as their spokesperson, reading their statement and answering questions while they sat nearby. He said the family was not answering questions out of fear of compromising Fowle’s situation. Tepe said Tatyana, Fowle’s 40-year-old wife and their family is struggling to survive financially. Fowle told her on a recent phone call that he was afraid the benefits from his job at the city streets department would run out soon. Fowle was detained sometime after arriving in North Korea on April 29 for what the country said were hostile actions that violated his tourist status. It is suspected that he left a Bible in a nightclub in Chongjin. Tepe said Fowle was not on a church mission, but on a vacation tour in the country.
Tennessee Judge Issues First Ruling in Favor of Traditional Marriage
(WNS)--A judge in eastern Tennessee has dropped an anchor amid the deluge of state and federal court rulings favoring same-sex marriage. In a decision in mid-August, Roane County Circuit Judge Russell E. Simmons Jr. said Tennessee, which defines marriage as only between a man and woman, need not recognize gay marriages performed in another state. “The court finds that Tennessee’s laws concerning same-sex marriage do not violate the equal protection clause or the U.S. Constitution,” Simmons wrote in his opinion, which U.S. Supreme Court reporter Lyle Denniston posted online. The case involved two men, Frederick Michael Borman and Larry Kevin Pyles-Borman, who married in Iowa in 2010. They later moved to Tennessee, separated, and filed for divorce. But since Tennessee bans same-sex marriage in its constitution and does not recognize homosexual marriages made in other states, Tennessee officials would not grant divorce proceedings.
Who Will Get to Decide Definition of Marriage?
(WNS)--The 6th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati held a three-hour session to hear six marriage cases out of Michigan, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Ohio. In each case, lower courts had struck down state laws affirming marriage between a man and woman or forced states to recognize marriage licenses granted to same-sex couples by other states. Themes of tradition and child rearing arose, as they have before. But in a new and different twist, one judge thought the issue was for the legislature and voters to decide, not the courts. “I would have thought the best way to get respect and dignity is through the democratic process, not forcing one’s neighbors, co-employees, friends to recognize that these marriages or this status deserves the same respect as the status of a heterosexual couple,” Judge Jeffrey Sutton said.
France Loosens Abortion Restrictions Despite Strong Pro-life Protests
(WNS)--French lawmakers legalized abortion on demand for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy under a new law passed Aug. 5 despite pro-life protests. The law, part of a broader legal push to increase gender equality, alters France’s nearly 40-year-old law allowing abortions only for women who prove they are in situations of “distress.” Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the country’s women’s rights minister, called that limited restriction obsolete. France’s population may be overwhelmingly Catholic, but about 220,000 abortions are performed in France annually. And, one out of every three French women will have an abortion.
Ebola Claims Another African Doctor
(WNS)--Another leading physician in Sierra Leone’s fight against Ebola has died from the disease, an official announced Wednesday. So far, Ebola has infected more than 1,848 in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, and Nigeria, and 1,013 people have died. Those numbers include 52 new cases of Ebola reported between Aug. 7 and Aug. 9. Many of the dead are health workers, who often work with inadequate supplies and protection. Dr. Modupeh Cole died on earlier today, according to Sidie Yayah Tunis, director of communications for Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation. Trained in the United States, Cole was one of the top doctors working in the isolation ward in Freetown’s Connaught Hospital. He tested positive for the disease last week and received treatment from Doctors Without Borders. Fearful Connaught staff briefly went on strike upon hearing his diagnosis.
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