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Religion Today Summaries - January 24, 2005

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk News Staff

Religion Today Summaries - January 24, 2005

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

  • Survey: U.S. Pastors Consider Billy Graham 'Most Influential,' 'Most Trusted'

  • Lawsuit Seeks Green Light for 'JOHN316' License Plate Rejection

  • Witnessing Tool Halfway Around The World

  • Kazakhstan: No Under-18s To Attend Worship Or Sunday School

Survey: U.S. Pastors Consider Billy Graham 'Most Influential,' 'Most Trusted'
Jody Brown, AgapePress

Who do pastors in the United States consider the most influential personality on churches today?  Or the most trusted spokesperson for Christianity?  Christian pollster George Barna asked senior pastors those very questions last month.  Interestingly, the large majority of the greatest "influencers" are themselves not in the pastorate. Barna spread his poll over three basic groups of Protestant clergy: Pentecostal, Baptist, and "Mainline" (American Baptist/U.S.A., United Church of Christ, Episcopal Church, United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Presbyterian Church U.S.A.).  After asking more than 600 senior pastors to identify up to three individuals they consider to have the greatest influence on churches and church leaders, as well as those they consider to be the most trusted spokesperson for the faith, the pollster makes several observations: Evangelicals dominate both lists; Denominational background affects pastors' choice of leaders; Para-church leaders, by far, are more likely be cited as trusted ambassadors of Christianity; and The influence of those cited is "broad and deep," as less than two dozen names show up on the two lists. Once the final survey results were tallied, one individual's name appeared at the top of both lists, regardless of the clergy segment: Dr. Billy Graham. Thirty-four percent of pastors feel the 86-year-old evangelist has the greatest influence on American churches today, but an even larger group, 58%, see him as the most trusted spokesperson for Christianity.

Lawsuit Seeks Green Light for 'JOHN316' License Plate Rejection
Charisma News Service

Vermont officials have put the brakes on a well-known scriptural reference that summarizes the gospel message. On Tuesday, Shawn Byrne sued officials with the state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) after his application to have "JOHN316" displayed on his personalized license plate was turned down. "The Constitution does not permit DMV officials to discriminate based upon the applicant's point of view," said Joshua Carden, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, which filed the suit for Byrne. "Religious speech is not inferior to secular speech. The department's actions are clearly unconstitutional." After Byrne submitted his application for the special plate in April, he received a letter from the DMV stating that each of his choices, including "JOHN316," was "deemed to be a combination that refers to deity and has been denied based on that reason." Byrne appealed the decision, but an administrative law judge upheld the denial based on the statute that prohibits combinations that refer to "deity," among other things. Although DMV officials rejected Byrne's application, they approved other plates that used names and numbers referring to religion. "DMV officials selectively censored Mr. Byrne's expression. When officials suppress speech because they don't like the message of the plate or the viewpoint it expresses, that's illegal discrimination," Carden explained. (http://www.charismanow.com)

Witnessing Tool Halfway Around The World
Allie Martin, AgapePress

A Christian ministry that sent 200 responders to Sri Lanka to help with tsunami relief efforts has also equipped its workers with specially designed gospel tracts entitled "When Disaster Strikes." These witnessing tools, newly released by the Texas-based American Tract Society (ATS), were given to Victim's Relief Ministries, one of many groups engaged in the disaster response. Mark Brown, vice president of ATS, says the tracts will be used by many relief agencies. ATS mobilized quickly to provide ministry resources as soon as word of the devastating waves in Asia reached the U.S. "We've always been responding to different kinds of disasters," Brown says, "and in the last 10 years we've really developed a 'Quick Response Program' that will literally stop the presses and get a tract on that's needed halfway around the world if necessary. And we'll get it to print and into the hands of people and churches within a very short period of time." The ATS spokesman notes that ATS was providing its services in times of crisis even as far back as the Civil War, and after September 11, 2001, the agency printed more than 4 million gospel tracts relating to the terrorist attacks.

Kazakhstan: No Under-18s To Attend Worship Or Sunday School
Igor Rotar, Forum 18 News Service for ASSIST News Service

On January 18, schoolchildren in the town of Temirtau in central Kazakhstan, were forced to fill in a questionnaire asking about their religious beliefs and whether they attend a place of worship, local Baptist Dmitri Yantsen told Forum 18 News Service from the town the following day. "Teachers don't have the right to force schoolchildren to write about their religious convictions," Almaty-based lawyer Roman Podoprigora told Forum 18. Yantsen is concerned that this questionnaire in Karaganda region and an instruction from the department of education of neighboring Akmola region to all school directors late last year instructing them to conduct compulsory "educational work" with children who attend places of worship are "links in the same chain". Officials have tried to downplay these instructions to Forum 18, insisting they are mere "recommendations", though they follow earlier instructions to school directors not to allow school children to attend places of worship. Education Ministry spokesperson Zhanara Usibekova categorically denied to Forum 18 that her ministry had issued any new instruction about children's religious education. "The last such instruction was issued on 7 April 2003," she told Forum 18 from the capital Astana on 19 January. She also denied any knowledge of any questionnaire being handed out to school children in Karaganda region.