Prisoners, Government Employees, Provide Captive Audiences for Christian Authoritarian

Vincent at Religion Related Injuries has noted the announcement of a faith-based prison in Florida, opened with a gushing endorsement from Jeb Bush:

I can’t think of a better place to reflect on the awesome love of our Lord Jesus than to be here at Lawtey Correctional. God bless you.

The news report adds that

Yesterday, Nashville-based Corrections Corp. of America, the largest operator of privately run prisons in the United States, announced that it has teamed up with the Institute in Basic Life Principles, a Chicago-based church group, to bring full-time religious programs to eight prisons next year. There are plans to expand into all of CCA’s 64 institutions.

What’s more:

Two years ago, Mr. Bush fired the head of the [Department of Children and Families] and appointed Jerry Regier, an Oklahoma conservative activist with a master’s degree in Bible studies who headed the Christian Family Research Council…[Regier] has…introduced a program called Character First!, in which government employees are coached in 49 key biblical qualities including deference, virtue, loyalty and meekness. It is modelled after a popular evangelical Christian program called the 49 Commands of Christ.

As ever, the journo does not ask the most obvious questions: who or what is the Institute of Basic Life Principles (IBLP)? And who’s behind Character First!?

Well, the answer is that both are derived from a controversial and authoritarian figure named Bill Gothard. He founded the IBLP and The Charter School of Excellance, which produces the secular Character First! textbooks. In 1999 these textbooks came very close to becoming standard in all elementary schools in Florida until the link to Gothard was noted by a local newspaper, The New Times Broward-Palm Beach. Quoting a second report from that paper:

Character First! was stripped from the [state legislature] bill after a New Times article revealed that it was designed by authoritarian Christian minister Bill Gothard and includes obedience drills — complete with group salutes and ”hup, two, threes” — demanding that children ”follow orders instantly.”

…Gothard, known to be a media recluse, has refused to speak with New Times, but his teachings can be found in seminars held around the world. He espouses ”universal, non-optional” principles and a ”chain of command,” which holds that authority figures represent God, and therefore wives must obey husbands, workers their employers, and citizens their politicians. He boasts of 2.5 million ”alumni,” who are given rules on everything — what clothes to wear, what music to listen to, how to manage money.

This sounds like the Shepherding Movement, and Gothard is a Charismatic, but although at least one source (here) links him to Reconstructionism, it seems that the late Reconstructionist leader Rousas Rushdoony disagreed with him on a number of issues. One critical assessment of his teachings (by, I think, a Calvinist by the look of it – more academic info is hard to come by) provides an outline to his thought with references to his works and statements. Including his war against Cabbage Patch Dolls…

Prisons, schools, books for government employees…I think this guy needs to become much more well-known between now and November. Very much so.

UPDATE (20 March): Blogger Jesus’ General has more on this in his 18 March entry. He links to an earlier New Times report and quotes this stirring number from Character First!:

Obedience is listening attentively,
Obedience will take instructions joyfully,
Obedience heeds wishes of authorities,
Obedience will follow orders instantly.
For when I am busy at my work or play,
And someone calls my name, I’ll answer right away!
I’ll be ready with a smile to go the extra mile
As soon as I can say “Yes, sir!” “Yes ma’am!”
Hup, two, three!

UPDATE 2 (22 March): More today.

Christian Iraq?

Following the murder of four missionaries in Iraq, the Los Angeles Times gives us some background, pointing out that Evangelicals are “flocking” to the country (large numbers of Christians always “flock” according to journalists). The article describes a church on an American base where 400 Iraqis worship every Sunday. The article describes the worshippers as

Converted from Islam and from other branches of Christianity

Bit of a difference there! How many from each? I suspect more Christians than Muslims. And were these people previously pious or nominal adherents of their faiths? Our journo fails to ask.

Kyle Fisk, executive administrator of the National Association of Evangelicals, is quoted as saying that:

Iraq will become the center for spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to Iran, Libya, throughout the Middle East…President Bush said democracy will spread from Iraq to nearby countries. A free Iraq also allows us to spread Jesus Christ’s teachings even in nations where the laws keep us out.

Sorry to curb Fisk’s enthusiasm, but even if democracy spreads in the area (and it’s a big “if”), there are a few more points to consider:

  • Proselytism is legal (albeit difficult) in democratic Turkey. But few Turks have converted and it’s hardly a centre for missionaries.
  • Groups like Pat Robertson’s CBN have been active in Middle East for years, based on Cyprus and the Lebanon. Not much to show for it so far, except grief for indigenous Christians across the Middle East.
  • Democracy does not always mean freedom to proselytise. For example, in 1996 evangelism came close to becoming illegal in Israel.
  • 400 Iraqis at a service is not actually all that that impressive. Why should significant numbers of Iraqis be interested in becoming Christians when most Turks are not?

However, the missionaries do have an advantage when we read of the strategy of the Muslim clerics:

Shiite Muslim leader, Sheik Fatih Kashif Ghitaa…said Shiite and Sunni clerics have discussed issuing a fatwa, or religious edict, against missionaries.

Rather less impressive than an intellectual rebuttal, or a plan to make Islam appear more attractive.

Meanwhile, what do the leaders of the local Orthodox and Catholic churches have to say about Evangelical sheep stealing? Alas, the Los Angeles Times does not even raise the issue.