Religion news in brief
Obama makes his first presidential visit to a US mosque
CATONSVILLE, Md. (AP) - In a campaign season rife with concerns about terrorism, President Obama is visiting a mosque in Baltimore.
While the president has visited mosques overseas, his stop Wednesday at the Islamic Society of Baltimore is his first visit to an American mosque since taking office. Aides say the idea for the visit was broached late last year during a White House meeting with Islamic leaders concerned about rising anti-Muslim sentiment after the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.
Obama is concerned about what he sees as anti-Muslim rhetoric among GOP presidential hopefuls and other signs of intolerance aimed at immigrants and minorities.
He made that point last week in a Holocaust speech at the Israeli Embassy and will sound a similar theme Thursday at the annual National Prayer Breakfast.
Christian scholar notes global religious issues
WASHINGTON (AP) - A Christian scholar says the world's future will hinge on how three religious questions are answered.
Author Os Guinness, founder of the Trinity Forum, took part in a panel Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington.
He said the first question is whether Islam will modernize peacefully. The second is "which faith or ideology" will ultimately replace communism in China, and the third is whether Western civilization will return to its roots.
Guinness said, "Religious freedom is absolutely pivotal to each of the answers to those questions if they're to come out constructively."
Guinness was joined by former Congressman Frank Wolf and international religious freedom advocate Nina Shea (NEE'-nah shay), who cited what she called "genocide" against Christians and other religious minorities by Islamist radicals.
Wolf highlighted the rise in religious oppression in China and other nations, and called for a stronger U.S. response.
Pope extends new olive branch to China in bid to mend ties
VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Francis has expressed admiration for China and has declined to criticize its longtime one-child policy in a bid to heal decades of estrangement between Beijing and the Holy See and open a new era of dialogue.
Francis expressed both respect for and awe of China, its culture and its role in the world in an interview with the Hong Kong online daily Asia Times. It was published Tuesday in advance of next Monday's Chinese New Year.
The pope explained that his view of dialogue is one in which neither side compromises or carves out its foothold, but both decide to "walk together" respecting differences.
Francis has continued a Vatican's outreach to China that started under Pope Benedict XVI. Relations were severed in 1951 when the Communists took over.
China says pastor suspected of misappropriating funds
BEIJING (AP) - China's state-sanctioned Protestant church body says a pastor in a province where authorities have been cracking down on churches is under investigation for suspected misappropriation of funds.
The Zhejiang (ZHUH'-zhee-ahng) province branch of the Three-Self Patriotic Movement said on its website Monday that Gu Yuese was also accused of other unspecified economic crimes.
The notice expressed "deep shock and regret" over the news and said Gu's alleged crimes were his personal behavior and were unconnected to the movement in general.
In an apparent attempt to allay doubts about their allegations, it urged parishoners to be "clear-headed" about the developments and said all were equal under Chinese law.
Gu has openly opposed the provincial government's destruction of church crosses and other outward symbols of the Christian faith.
His Chongyi Church in the provincial capital of Hangzhou is among the largest in China.
Virginia man in same-sex custody case ordered to prison
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - A Mennonite pastor who was convicted of helping a former Vermont woman flee the country rather than share custody of her child with her former same-sex partner has been ordered to prison.
The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York issued a mandate Monday upholding the conviction of Kenneth Miller, of Stuarts Draft, Virginia, for his role in helping Lisa Miller flee the country in 2009 with her daughter Isabella. The Millers are not related.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions ordered Kenneth Miller to surrender to prison on March 1 to begin serving a 27-month prison sentence that had been delayed pending his appeal.
Lisa Miller and her daughter Isabella fled the country rather than share custody with her former Vermont civil union partner Janet Jenkins.
Bell at historic Virginia church sounds 'cry of liberty'
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) - A church in Williamsburg, Virginia that was founded by slaves has marked its 240th anniversary with the sounding of a restored bell to mark the beginning of Black History Month.
The First Baptist Church of Williamsburg, which was established by slaves in 1776, welcomed descendants of Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings at a ceremony Monday attended by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and other dignitaries. Jackson said the bell's sounding "represents the cry of liberty."
The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation loaned some of its famous conservators to restore the bell, which had been silent since the era of segregation.
The church's commemoration will continue throughout this Black History Month at Colonial Williamsburg and the College of William and Mary.