In this week’s news round-up, twelve Chinese Adventists are sentenced to prison, GC General Counsel discusses religious freedom case with NPR, an Adventist church in Sydney is hit with theft and arson, a new Christian documentary highlights Adventism, and the Lake Union Conference issues a statement regarding an Adventist woman murdered in Chicago.
Twelve Chinese Adventists Sentenced to Prison. In late January, the People’s Court of Gong’an county, under the jurisdiction of Jingzhou city in central China’s Hubei Province, held a hearing for 12 arrested members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Pastor Zhu Zhongcai and 11 church co-workers were accused of “illegal business operations” for printing sermons and other faith-related materials — a collection of sermons, the Book of Revelation, and the Book of Daniel — and distributing them to the congregation. Pastor Zhu was sentenced to five years, Elder Li Aihui to four, and nine co-workers from one to three and a half years in prison; one was exempted from criminal punishment. Even though the Seventh-day Adventist Church joined the government-approved Three-Self Patriotic Movement in the 1950s, only a few of its churches and meeting venues in Hubei have religious activity venue registration certificates. Also, the Two Chinese Christian Councils do not approve the official publication of the church’s materials or books. Without the government-issued ISBNs, the church could only release self-made publications for members of the congregation. And this is precisely what the pastor and the co-workers had done.
Pastor Zhu’s defense lawyer said that “illegal business operations” would mean that the publication and distribution of religious materials had been done in pursuit of illegal gains or they had harmed social order and disrupted the market. But they did nothing of the kind: the Collection of Sermons and other publications consist of church materials distributed within the church. Moreover, only small amounts of money were collected to cover printing and transportation expenses without any intent to seek illegal gains.
A church co-worker who requested anonymity told Bitter Winter that the court ruling is unjust for many reasons. All of the books are not-for-sale, they are not violating any copyright laws, and do not infringe on others’ rights. The believer added that it was only after repeated requests from members of the congregation that Pastor Zhu finally printed a collection of his sermons. According to the co-worker, this was not the first time Pastor Zhu was sentenced to prison. In July 2011, People’s Court of Shahekou district in Dalian city in northeast China’s Liaoning Province sentenced him to nine years charged with “illegal business operations” for printing the Bible. He served his sentence at Wafangdian Prison in Dalian. His sentence was later commuted, and he was released on September 3, 2017. The crackdown on religious materials in China is intensifying as part of the CCP’s ongoing operation to “eradicate pornography and illegal publications.” From Bitter Winter, “Five Years in Prison for Religious Materials.”
GC General Counsel Todd McFarland Discusses Religious Freedom with NPR. The Adventists' support for the United States’ First Amendment establishment clause has allied them on various occasions with the American Civil Liberties Union, an unlikely partnership for other conservative Christian denominations. The two parts of the freedom of religion provision in the First Amendment are sometimes seen as conflicting: Is the government in favor of religion or against it? Traditional American religious freedom advocates say the two clauses can also be read as complementary: The free exercise of religion is guaranteed only if it applies to all faiths. That can happen only if government does not take sides. Currently, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering whether to hear the religious freedom case of Seventh-day Adventist Darrell Patterson who was fired from Walgreens in Orlando, Florida, for refusing to work on Sabbath. In hearing the case, the court may revisit the question of what religious freedom means. Todd McFarland, associate general counsel at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, is tracking the case closely. He expects Patterson to be broadly supported, but he also recognizes that the politics around religious freedom issues have shifted in recent decades. From NPR, “How The Fight For Religious Freedom Has Fallen Victim To The Culture Wars.”
Sydney SDA Church Robbed, Thousands of Dollars of Film Equipment Stolen. New Hope Seventh-day Adventist Church in Sydney, New South Wales, was hit by theft and arson at 4:00 a.m. May 23. Thieves stole thousands of dollars of film equipment from a shipping container and trailer before setting the trailer on fire. Initially, the thieves attempted to break into the Vineyard Christian Church building itself — which the New Hope congregation is currently using — before targeting the church’s mobile van that plugs straight into the high-tech church. Lloyd Grolimund, New Hope’s pastor, and Andrew Hunt, chief of production, are devastated. Although some of the equipment was insured, the team has lost thousands of dollars, spending holidays, evenings, and weekends building the mobile van and investing in New Hope’s media ministry. “It’s a severe blow to us,” said Hunt. “We’re not sure how long the rebuild will take, but we’ve received countless mysterious donations and answers to prayers in the past, so we know God wants this ministry to continue, and we know He is still good.” Receiving over a hundred thousand hits to their weekly podcasts, videos, and live streaming, the duo and their dedicated volunteers have worked tirelessly to transform New Hope church into a dynamic television ministry. “It’s the voice of God in the local community,” said Hunt. “We’re devastated because the mission of New Hope was to be a TV church.” From Adventist Record, “New Hope devastated by theft and arson attack.”
Seventh-day Adventist Denomination Represented in New Christian Documentary. Filmmaker Clinton Toughill said he felt ready to jump into the world of movies with his first documentary: Different Roads to Heaven. The majority of this film focuses on interviews with religious leaders in four different Christian denominations: two Roman Catholic priests and pastors at Lutheran, Baptist, and Seventh-day Adventist churches.
Each faith leader talks about religious traditions and what makes them similar to other Christian faiths and what is unique about each sect. Many of the leaders also provide back story about who they are and how they became priests or pastors. To include the Seventh-day Adventists, he and his documentary crew drove to Red Wing, Minnesota, to interview Brian Beavers, the church's pastor. In crafting Different Roads to Heaven, Toughill was interested in all of the similarities between the congregations that he found throughout the interviews and highlighted many of these corresponding beliefs in the film. The most common belief was the importance of Jesus in their faith. The differences came in the more “minor” details, such as how to interpret history and historical events and the aspects of the Bible on which the traditions focus. The most time-consuming aspect was finding times that the church leaders could sit down for interviews. Toughill explained that the four churches represented in the film had a lot going on: charity events, Bible studies, holiday events, regularly scheduled services. “Once we got the timing done everything went smoothly.” In keeping with the theme of the Christian faith, the documentary was released on April 19, Good Friday. The documentary is available on Amazon. From Hastings Star Gazette, “‘Different Roads to Heaven’: Documentary based in Hastings, Red Wing released.”
Lake Union Conference Issues Statement in Murder of Chicago Adventist Woman. The Lake Union Conference president has issued a statement in response to the highly-publicized killing of a member in our territory. According to news reports, Chicago resident Marlen Ochoa-Lopez was nine months pregnant when she was strangled, and her baby boy removed from her womb. The infant remains in critical condition. In his statement, President Maurice Valentine said, “It is with heartfelt sorrow that we, the Lake Union Conference officers and staff, share our collective thoughts of grief and utter dismay with the Chicago area faith community for the tragic death of Marlen Ochoa-Lopez. Moreover, we express our profound sense of sorrow to the husband, sibling, family, church family and surrounding community of the South Shore Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church for this senseless loss, and our prayers for the baby that struggles to survive this horrific act. Knowing death was never a part of God’s plan, we are disturbed by any loss of life. However, this instance of unspeakable violence toward a young mother of our church family causes our hearts to mourn in ways beyond words description. We ask that the Lake Union Conference family encompassing our four-state region to thoughtfully join us in prayer for this family as we work collectively for a day when sin, violence and viciousness will have no place in God’s universe.”
According to news reports, Ochoa-Lopez grew up primarily in Chicago with her mother. Her father lives in Iowa and is a member of the Des Moines Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church, which is collecting donations to assist the family. Arnulfo Lopez told reporters that, despite his daughter’s gruesome death, he and his family are still trusting in God. “It is a terrible crime. We must remember that God will return one day and bring His people home, but while we are here, we will suffer. We must believe God is with us.” From the Lake Union Herald, “Lake Union issues statement in response to slain Chicago member; baby removed from womb.”
Pam Dietrich taught English at Loma Linda Academy for 26 years and served there eight more years as the 7-12 librarian. She lives in Yucaipa, California.
Image credit: Wikipedia.org
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