3 - New Chris Tomlin album tops Billboard album sales chart
For the second time in less than a year, a Christian music artist has topped the Billboard 200 album sales chart. This past week, it was announced that singer-songwriter Chris Tomlin's latest release, Burning Lights, had sold 72,000 copies during its first week, enough to place it in the #1 position. In September, tobyMac's Eye On It, was atop the weekly chart.
This is only the fourth time a Christian CD has ever reached that milestone. The first, Bob Carlisle's "Butterfly Kisses (Shades of Grace)" was the first Christian music album to hit #1, back in 1997.
According to a piece on the WORLDmag.com website, Burning Lights is the second-highest selling Christian album after Casting Crowns’ Come to the Well sold 99,000 during its first week release in 2011. Billboard said Tomlin’s first-week sales were helped by this month’s Passion conference in Atlanta, where Tomlin has performed since 1997. Sales from Passion-related purchases and church sales made up 40 percent of the album’s numbers.
2 - Iranian pastor faces trial, U.S. government demands release
Saeed Abedini, a native of Iran and a naturalized American citizen, is expected to enter one of Iran's revolutionary courts Monday to face accusations that he is a threat to national security. His attorneys say he faces a lengthy prison term and even the death penalty at the hands of one of Iran's most notoriously severe judges. Saeed was arrested in September by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
Abedini had moved to the United States in 2005, but continued to visit Iran, under a 2009 agreement with Iran's intelligence police, according to the Christian Examiner, quoting Tiffany Barrans, international legal director for the American Center for Law and Justice, who said that Abedini was allowed to come and go from Iran to build an orphanage, but only if he stayed out of church planting. By last July, he had visited Iran eight times.
On Sept. 26, Abedini was arrested by Revolutionary Guard soldiers, and has been kept at Evin prison, where many political prisoners are held. The Guard soldiers snatched him off a bus, confiscated his passports, and threw him in prison. Since then, supporters say, the pastor has been subjected to solitary confinement and beatings.
Sometime between that eighth and ninth visit, Barrans said, police jurisdiction over Iranian Christian life shifted from the politically controlled intelligence police to the religiously controlled Revolutionary Guard, which answers directly to Iran's grand ayatollah.
The U.S. government has become involved now, and the White House on Friday called on Iran to release Abedini. On Friday, U.S. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor issued a statement demanding Abedini's release.
“We remain troubled by the case of U.S. citizen Saeed Abedini, who was arrested by Iranian officials more than three months ago on charges relating to his religious beliefs," Vietor said in the statement. "We call upon Iranian authorities to release him immediately.”
Earlier in the week, On Tuesday, 11 members of the U.S. Senate and 37 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging the U.S. to bring whatever diplomatic pressure it can to persuade Iran to release Abedini. The United States and Iran do not have diplomatic ties, so any pressure would have to be applied indirectly.
Also,the Commission on International Religious Freedom, comprised of presidential and congressional appointees, demanded Abedini's release in a statement issued Wednesday:
“The national security charges leveled against Mr. Abedini are bogus and are a typical tactic by the Iranian government to masquerade the real reason for the charges: to suppress religious belief and activity of which the Iranian government does not approve,” Commission Chairwoman Katrina Lantos Swett said.
1 - Religious Freedom Day brings acknowledgement of heritage
This past Wednesday, January 16th, was "Religious Freedom Day", marking the passage of the 1786 Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. The statute, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, formed the basis for the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom. According to the website, www.religiousfreedomday.com, quoted by CitizenLink, the day is a call for Americans to participate in events and activities in their homes, schools and places of worship.
“Religious Freedom Day is particularly poignant this year — it’s very timely,” said Eric Buehrer, president of Gateways to Better Education, a national organization promoting greater awareness of the day. Buehrer added, “Wednesday will be a perfect time to give students a civics lesson about their religious freedom at school.”
Candi Cushman, education analyst for CitizenLink, was quoted as saying: “It is ironic that even as the president is expected to make this religious freedom proclamation when there are more than 40 cases involving lawsuits from schools, business and organizations battling with the government over their religious freedoms...They are fighting not to have to implement health care policies in a way that violates their deeply held religious beliefs.” Indeed, the President did make a Religious Freedom day proclamation, and he was taken to task for making it while the Administration is being sued by more than 110 plaintiffs in 44 cases.
And, the World Changers organization in Florida observed the day by distributing Bibles in two counties in the state - a court ruling in favor of the ministry paved the way for World Changers to make Bibles available in Collier County, which had attempted to halt the distribution, as well as Orange County, which had allowed the Bibles to be passively distributed in the past. Not unexpectedly, in response, an assortment of secularist/atheist groups demanded that their materials be made available, as well, which is apparently a provision of the court decree.