Religion Today Summaries - Sept. 1, 2006

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk Editorial Staff

Religion Today Summaries - Sept. 1, 2006

Daily briefs of the top news stories impacting Christians around the world.
In today's edition:

  • Prison Becomes a Uniter, Not a Divider
  • Vietnam Could Be Removed from U.S. Blacklist
  • Presbyterian Megachurch Becomes Largest to Leave Denomination over Gay Policy
  • Lakewood Tops List of Fastest-Growing U.S. Churches

Prison Becomes a Uniter, Not a Divider

Whereas convicted criminals are sent to prison to separate them from the rest of society, the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola will bring its inmates and their children together for the nation's largest prisoner-child event at Returning Hearts scheduled for Sept. 9 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on site at the prison. The sponsors, Awana Clubs International and the Louisiana State Penitentiary are seeking to help close the gap between fathers and their children and to help end the cycle of violence that is often the legacy passed down to children of prisoners. Returning Hearts will unite some 375 prisoners with 500 of their sons and daughters. Awana's Returning Hearts theme is based on Malachi 4:6, "He will return the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers."

Vietnam Could Be Removed from U.S. Blacklist

Following an August 15-18 visit to Vietnam by U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom John Hanford, indications are that Vietnam will be taken off the U.S. list of the world’s worst religious liberty offenders, Compass Direct News reports. With the planned September 2 release from prison of key Hmong Christian leader Ma Van Bay – described as “propaganda exercises” by one human rights advocate – various releases by the Vietnam News Agency signal that Vietnamese officials expected Ambassador Hanford to take good news of religious liberty progress back to Washington. Vietnam’s presence on the list of “Countries of Particular Concern” has remained a barrier to its membership in the World Trade Organization. According to representatives of the majority of Protestants in Vietnam – who remain unregistered and thus illegal – while there have been some modest and spotty improvements, there is still no clear indication of a breakthrough or even that reform is uniform and systematic. They also note that not one of the many officials who have broken Vietnam’s laws in mistreating Christians has yet been charged.

Presbyterian Megachurch Becomes Largest to Leave Denomination over Gay Policy

Members of a Presbyterian megachurch in Tulsa, Okla., have decided overwhelmingly to withdraw from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), agencies reported this week, making it the largest congregation to do so. Just over one-thousand members of Kirk of the Hills Presbyterian Church turned out and voted 967-to-36 to affirm a vote by church elders to leave, the The Christian Post cites AP as having reported. The group then voted to request affiliation with the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) – a smaller denomination with less than 200 churches and about 70,000 members. The decision comes after the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) adopted a policy that some pastors say will allow gay pastors in the church.

Lakewood Tops List of Fastest-Growing U.S. Churches

Lakewood Church in Houston is the fastest-growing U.S. church, according to Outreach Magazine's 2006 church growth study, The Christian Post reports. In 2005, Joel Osteen's congregation gained a total of 12,000 members. The annual report listed the top 100 fastest growing churches in America, including 52 new churches and 48 returning from last year's list. Texas was the most represented state with 19 churches featured in the top 100. Lakewood jumped from the third to the top spot this year and was followed by Park Cities Presbyterian Church in Dallas. New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga.; Salem Baptist Church in Chicago, Ill.; and Without Walls International Church in Tampa, Fla., were placed in the top five, respectively. The reports are provided by Dr. John N. Vaughan, president and founder of Church Growth Today, who specializes in research related to megachurches both domestically and globally.