Religion Today Summaries, December 30, 2003

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk News Staff

Religion Today Summaries, December 30, 2003

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

  • Library Overturns Ban on 'Upsetting' Pictures of Jesus
  • Mission America Coalition Previews Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ"
  • Egyptian Arrests of Christians Continues
  • Christian Ministry Helps Equip Indigenous Leaders to Evangelize Muslim Indonesia

Library Overturns Ban on 'Upsetting' Pictures of Jesus
Charisma News Service

The library board of a Connecticut community has overturned a ban on an artist's paintings of Jesus that were deemed "upsetting." Earlier this month, they voted unanimously to allow artist Mary Morley to display her religious paintings of Jesus at the Meriden library as part of her "Visions, Hopes and Dreams" exhibit. Library director Marcia Trotta last month asked Morley to omit three paintings from her show, which depicted the Crucifixion, the Nativity and Jesus carrying the cross to Calvary. Library officials told her that paintings of Jesus "would cause too much upset and outcry." Morley refused to display any paintings if the three were not allowed. Library staff worried that having all the paintings of Jesus in the display area would lead some library patrons to believe the city favors Christianity over other faiths. However, the library board said Morley should be allowed to exhibit all of her paintings. Morley, who hired an attorney and was ready to file a free speech suit against the library, said she was pleased with the board's decision.

Mission America Coalition Previews Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ"
ASSIST News Service

Nearly 100 Christian leaders from across the country gathered in Burbank, CA earlier this month for a special screening of the Mel Gibson movie "The Passion Of The Christ." The meeting, organized by the Mission America Coalition (MAC), offered many leaders their first opportunity to view the film, hear from producer Mel Gibson and pray and strategize about appropriate follow-up to enhance the film's use for outreach. The movie, a graphic portrayal of the last twelve hours of the life of Jesus Christ and his resurrection, is slated for release February 25, 2004. Reaction from Christian leaders at the screening was overwhelmingly positive. Dr. Paul Cedar, chairman of MAC, believes the film "offers a tremendous opportunity for Christians across America to introduce people to Jesus Christ." Rev. Wayne Pederson, President of MAC, says the movie could well be one of the most powerful evangelistic tools in the marketplace. One major component of the meeting was discussion on engaging culture by using resources like movies that raise relevant issues. Ministry and entertainment leaders were able to come together to create a strategy for using films as ministry and evangelism tools. Pederson called the meeting a breakthrough in using the culture of film to bring people to Christ, as ministries and movies moved from an adversarial position to a synergistic relationship.

Egyptian Arrests of Christians Continues
Charisma News Service

Two Christians who were recently released on bail along with about 20 other Muslim converts to Christianity, have been rearrested in Egypt. Aziz Zakher Sarkis and Sharif Kameel Nazer from Alexandria were detained Dec. 16 on charges of helping Muslim converts to Christianity obtain new identities. The pair was previously freed on bail with other ex-Muslims, many of whom were reportedly beaten, interrogated and tortured. One former Muslim, Mariam Girgis Makar, 30, was released on bail earlier this month. She was one of nearly two dozen believers arrested in October in Cairo. Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) sources said Makar seemed well, despite having been tortured while under interrogation. Makar and several of the Christians arrested were accused of assisting converts in changing their identity cards. A Christian who converts to Islam can receive new identity papers with a new Muslim name within 24 hours. However, there is no such arrangement for a Muslim who converts to Christianity.

Christian Ministry Helps Equip Indigenous Leaders to Evangelize Muslim Indonesia
Jenni Parker and Allie Martin, Agape Press

Students at a Christian seminary in Indonesia are not letting persecution stop them from spreading the gospel. The Inter-National Needs Network (IN) operates a seminary in Jakarta with 1,200 students. IN spokesman Harvey Stuart says all students at the seminary take part in extensive evangelism efforts throughout the Muslim country at Christmastime. But like other Christians in Indonesia, the students face many difficulties. "There is a lot of persecution," Stuart says, "and the fundamental Muslim group has been trying to eliminate other religions." Many of the areas where the students minister have experienced violence, including the killing of people and the burning of churches. According to Stuart, at times the fundamentalist Muslims seem to be winning the battle to make Indonesia a totally Muslim country. But Stuart says the students are faithful and persistent in their evangelism efforts despite anti-Christian persecution. "They have tried not to let the problems stop their ministry," he says. "Even the seminary itself has been invaded a few times, and there have been a lot of threats against the seminary." The IN Network's mission is to help Christians serve God in their own countries, since there are many places around the world where Western missionaries are unable to preach the gospel. Soon 190 students from IN's seminary in Jakarta will be sent out throughout the Islamic-dominated nation of Indonesia on a six-month evangelism mission.