Religion Today Summaries, April 28, 2003

Religion Today Summaries, April 28, 2003


Daily summaries of the top national and international religious news stories impacting Christians.


In Today's Edition:


  • Castro Defends Arrests Of Dissidents As Pope Protests
  • Judge Says Harry Potter Books Must not be Restricted
  • 57,000 Gather for Franklin Graham Festival in Mexico
  • Southern Baptist Convention Membership Hits 16.2 Million, Record High


Castro Defends Arrests Of Dissidents As Pope Protests
Stefan J. Bos, Special Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

HAVANA / VATICAN CITY  (ANS) -- Cuban President Fidel Castro defended his government's most serious crackdown against dissidents in recent years, including three executions, despite protests from the Pope and other church leaders.  Speaking on national television, Castro blamed a "conspiracy' between the American government and exiles in Miami for the recent arrests of an estimated 75 dissidents who received prison sentences up to 28 years on charges of "anti-regime" activity.    Three men were executed April 11 by a firing squad for attempting to hijack of a ferry filled with passengers.   No one was injured in the failed attempt, which was apparently part of effort to flee to the
United States.    In a letter to Castro published Sunday, April 27, Pope John Paul II expressed his profound pain over the executions and asked the Cuban strongman "for a significant gesture of clemency toward those convicted."   Earlier the World Council of Churches and an ecumenical group of Cuban clergy in the U.S. have condemned what they see as the "harsh crackdown" on opposition in Cuba. The latest developments were also expected to further complicate the situation of persecuted Christians on the Communist Island.    


Judge Says Harry Potter Books Must not be Restricted
Religion News Service

(RNS) A federal judge in Arkansas has ruled that schoolchildren in Cedarville must have access to Harry Potter books, despite the objection of some parents who say the popular novels promote witchcraft.      U.S. District Judge Jimm Larry Hendren rejected a policy that forced children to obtain permission slips to check the books out of a school library.  "The Cedarville School District is ... directed to return to the books known as the `Harry Potter books' to its library shelves, where they can be accessed without any restrictions other than those administrative restrictions that apply to all works of fiction in the libraries of the district," Hendren ruled on Tuesday (April 22).  The policy was implemented last summer after one parent, Angie Haney, said her pastor had told her that the books about a young wizard taught children sorcery and witchcraft. The school board voted 3-2 to restrict the books, according to the Associated Press.  Billy and Mary Nell Counts, parents of a fourth-grader, filed suit with church-state and First Amendment groups to free up the books.   School officials said they were studying the judge's decision but planned to return the Harry Potter books to general circulation.


57,000 Gather for Franklin Graham Festival in Mexico
Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

VERACRUZ, MEXICO  (ANS) -- More than 57,000 people assembled for a three-day evangelistic Festival held by Franklin Graham in Veracruz, Mexico, April 10-12. More than 9,000 people responded to Graham's call to faith in Jesus Christ. Also, Graham's Samaritan's Purse organization handed out 90,000 shoe box gifts for needy children in the area.  The event was a partnership with 450 local churches in the city of 1.2 million people.   “God has touched my heart to see all these people come to Jesus Christ,” said Pastor Jose Manuel Fernandez Gonzalez, who was in charge of preparing the stadium for the event.   Even though the Festival is over, local Christians said its effects will continue to be felt for a long time. A group of evangelical pastors has been meeting together for three years to pray, to ask forgiveness for a lack of unity, and to take up the challenge of making
Veracruz a Christian city.  Governor of the state of Veracruz, Miguel Aleman, thanked Graham and the local churches for holding an event that would bring a positive impact on the local community.


Southern Baptist Convention Membership Hits 16.2 Million, Record High

Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service


  (RNS) The Southern Baptist Convention's membership has reached an all-time high of 16.2 million.       The denomination announced Tuesday (April 22) that total membership in Southern Baptist churches reached 16,247,736 in 2002, a 1.21 percent increase, or 194,816 additional members, over the previous year.  The total number of Southern Baptist churches increased to 42,775, an increase of 441 churches, or 1.04 percent, from the 2001 total of 42,334.  While membership totals grew, other figures showed some decreases. There was a slight decline in baptisms. The total, 394,893, was a decline of 1,037, or 0.26 percent, from the previous year.  Sunday school enrollment declined 8,251, or 0.10 percent, to a total of 8,174,493.  Church reports indicated growth in average worship attendance to 5,839,945, an increase of 108,965, or 1.9 percent.  The statistics are compiled by the denomination's LifeWay Christian Resources division in the Annual Church Profile, drawn from church reports received from local Baptist associations and state conventions.