1. Islamic State kidnaps Christian villagers in Syria
As many as 200 Assyrian Christians have been kidnapped in raids by Islamic State on villages in Syria. Christian Today spoke to Aryo Edward, who has family in one of the villages. When his wife phoned her cousin there; a member of IS picked up the phone. "My wife asked 'Where is my cousin? And he [the IS militant] said this is not his house any more, this house is for ISIS," he said. Kurdish and Christian militias are making progress against the militants and an attempt to retake Mosul will be made later this year. In the meantime, the Christian population of the Middle East is vanishing and the plight of Iraqis and Syrians continues to appal.
2. American missionary kidnapped in Nigeria
Phyllis Sortor was abducted by five armed men who jumped over the fence into her compound firing shots into the air. They have demanded $300,000 for her return and the motive for the kidnapping is likely to be financial rather than political: Boko Haram does not operate in the area. He minister Brenda Young, lead pastor of Cornerstone Free Methodist Church in Akron, Ohio, described Sortor as "relentless. She's very courageous. She perseveres." This is not a Boko Haram story. Instead it is about violence and lawlessness, of a kind that affects Nigerian citizens as much as expatriate Americans: everyone has the right to live in peace and safety. We pray for her and everyone vulnerable to such insecurity.
3. Charity head guilty of sexual assault
Patrick Sookhdeo, head of the major UK charity Barnabas Fund, sexually assaulted a woman and intimidated witnesses, according to Swindon Crown Court. He had denied the charges and was cleared in an internal review of the case, but the jury did not believe him. He will serve a three-month community sentence for each conviction. Sookhdeo has also been placed on a three-month curfew under which he cannot leave his house between 3pm and 7am. The charity has so far not commented. This is a sad case which will inevitably leave question marks over Sookhdeo's future at the charity with which he is so closely identified.
4. Author dropped by publisher after coming out as gay
First-time author Brandan Robertson's book 'Nomad' was pulled by Christian publisher Destiny Image after he revealed in a Time magazine article that he was gay and declined to sign Destiny Image's statement of faith renouncing homosexuality. He was told that the publisher had tried to sell the book to distributors who had turned it down. Destiny Image told Time that "as with all books, a publisher decides what is financially viable". This seems entirely reasonable, from Destiny Image's point of view: there's no point in publishing a book if it's only going to be pulped. However, the book isn't about homosexuality, and the idea that someone could be blacklisted by distributors for their sexuality doesn't seem very 21st century.
5. Archbishop of Canterbury defends bishops' pastoral letter on politics
Most Rev Justin Welby offered a defiant justification of last week's controversial bishops' pastoral letter 'Who is my neighbour?' at a conference in Coventry. He said that it was impossible for the Church "get on with the family business of saving souls" while politicians dealt with public policy. He also warned of the danger of the Church being driven by a particular political agenda, saying that it needed to avoid being drawn into "miserablism" – "That sense that we are only really happy as Christians when things are really bad". The left wing that dominates so much Christian activism needs to hear that; yes, there's much to be done, but it loses credibility when it doesn't give credit for what's gone right.
A good week for:
The owner of a letter from Albert Einstein in which he talks about God as creator, which sold at auction for £49,000.
A bad week for:
Kirk Cameron's Christian comedy 'Saving Christmas', which won in four categories at the pre-Oscar Golden Raspberry awards or 'Razzies'.
The story you might not have read, but ought to know about:
Aggression may be the cause of the downfall of humankind, according to Stephen Hawking.
And one for pure enjoyment (though not for its subject):
An ailing police dog was saluted by his entire force, who gave him an honour guard complete with flashing lights. Then he was put down.