Religion Today Summaries, July 8, 2004

Compiled & Edited by Crosswalk News Staff

Religion Today Summaries, July 8, 2004

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

  • Artist-Sponsor Announces First National Christian Art Competition
  • Sri Lanka: Hostility Intensifies, Anti-Conversion Bill Progresses
  • Religious Freedom Law Touts Diverse Support
  • Biggest Megachurch in the Nation Poised to Become Even Bigger

Artist-Sponsor Announces First National Christian Art Competition
Allie Martin and Jenni Parker, Agape Press

A Kentucky artist is trying to encourage artists of all ages to use and showcase their gifts for God's glory.  Stephen Sawyer, perhaps best known for his paintings of Christ as part of his "Art for God" series, says Christian artists have a huge responsibility. "What we can accomplish in serving the Kingdom through art is phenomenal -- and the responsibility that goes with talent, I think, is commensurate with that," he says. Sawyer is now sponsoring the first National Christian Art Competition, a unique contest for artists of all ages. In an effort to draw out the creators of contemporary, radical, and compassionate Christian art, the sponsor has opened the competition to adults and children and is accepting entries in a variety of media.  Sawyer notes that the National Christian Art Competition is "the first to honor and award schools, churches, and teachers as well as the artists." He hopes these awards will serve to recognize and reward talented artists -- as well as some of those who have supported them in the development of their gifts -- and that the prizes will also encourage the artists to continue "tithing their talents." Sawyer and his wife Cindy Sawyer, fellow artist and co-owner of Art for God, will be judging the entries.

Sri Lanka: Hostility Intensifies, Anti-Conversion Bill Progresses
Elizabeth Kendal, ASSIST News Service

The Sri Lankan government is sponsoring a bill in the Parliament banning 'forcible' conversion of religion. Entitled 'The Act for the Protection of Religious Freedom', it was drafted by the Minister for Buddha Sasana (Ministry of Buddhist Affairs). If this extremely threatening bill is passed, conversion from one religion to another under any circumstance would be a criminal offence. The word 'force' as used in the bill can mean simply to persuade someone to attend prayers of a religion of which they are not a member. If conversion is 'committed' by a group, 'every director or shareholder ... partner, member, employee or officer of that group or company shall be guilty of an offence'. Court action against conversion may be initiated by the police, by anybody 'affected or aggrieved by an offence' or by anyone 'interested in the welfare of the public who has reason to believe that the provisions of this Act have been contravened'. The minister has also said he will create informal tribunals run by Buddhist monks where village disputes can be resolved, without the involvement of the police or courts of law. The very existence of the bill fuels the zeal of the militant Buddhists, legitimises anti-Christian sentiment and justifies anti-Christian acts.

Religious Freedom Law Touts Diverse Support
Agape Press

A new law will make it easier to express religious beliefs in the workplace.  The Workplace Religious Freedom Act of 2003 (Senate Bill 893) will be getting lots of attention in Congress this year -- and that is just fine with Nathan Diament, who directs the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations in America.  "It will encourage, not mandate, employers to allow employees to have flexible scheduling so they observe religious holy days, to wear religious clothing to the workplace, and to observe other religious practices [provided] they don't compromise the workers' abilities to perform the essential functions of their job," he explains.  Diament says the law is being supported by a very diverse coalition of religious groups, from Southern Baptists to Orthodox Jews.

Biggest Megachurch in the Nation Poised to Become Even Bigger
Charisma News Service

A Houston congregation that started in an abandoned feed store in the 1950s didn't become the biggest megachurch in the nation overnight. Pastored by Joel Osteen, Lakewood Church has grown from 8,000 to 30,000 since 1999 and it is poised to become even bigger. "I believe one day we're going to have 100,000 a weekend," he said. The way things have been going, there's every reason to think that will happen. In December, the Texas church moved into the Compaq Center, a 16,000-seat arena and the former home of the Houston Rockets. Despite having an 8,000-seat sanctuary, Lakewood Church - named last year by "Forbes" magazine as the nation's largest megachurch - couldn't accommodate the estimated 25,000 to 30,000 people who were coming through its doors weekly. Before Joel was born, his dad, the late John Osteen, was a Southern Baptist pastor. But he left the denomination in 1959 to start a nondenominational, charismatic church. His first church building was a former feed store. Located then in a low-income neighborhood on the east side of Houston, Lakewood was racially integrated - a trait that continues today in a congregation that is more or less equal parts Caucasian, African American and Hispanic. Lakewood Church had about 6,000 members when Joel took over the pastorate from his father. Within a year attendance more than doubled. Services are now broadcast nationally on the ABC Family Channel, Black Entertainment Television, the PAX-TV Network and Trinity Broadcasting, among others, as well as on overseas stations and live on the Internet.