Rick Warren to Head 200,000 Missionaries

I missed this from Time a couple of weeks ago:

Already established as perhaps the most important voice in contemporary American Evangelical Christianity, Rick Warren last week pressed the button that he hopes will take his “brand” to the ends of the earth.

Warren’s “brand” consists of the ideas in his Purpose Driven Life book, which was recently described by Jeff Sharlet as a “spiritual time-management manual”. Linked to this is Warren’s “PEACE” plan for the economic and spiritual development of Africa, and his vision has been “beta-tested” (Time’s word) in Rwanda (as I blogged here and here) and Uganda (where Warren recently expressed his strong support for laws against homosexuality). Now Warren has apparently brought much of the US evangelical mainstream on board at a “PEACE Coalition Summit”:

…If last week’s conference increases the number of participant congregations in the PEACE plan from 12 to 1,200 — a reasonable estimate, given that 1,700 pastors were in attendance and many actually head networks of congregations — then the number of PEACE missionaries would jump from roughly 2,000 a year to 200,000…

Warren is particularly excited by the hands-on involvement of some of the larger players in the Evangelical community. “A guy was going, ‘I’ll take Mozambique,’ and another guy was going ‘I’ll take Nigeria,’ ” he said happily, adding that he’s already secured personal commitments from influential leaders in the Salvation Army and the Assemblies of God (the largest Pentecostal denomination.) “They’ve said, they’re in, and they have to get their boards along,” he reported.

Warren is also keeping the home front in mind; an interview from the Religion News Service notes that he is also planning a “40 Days of Purpose” event for New York City. Says Warren:

The idea behind “40 Days of Purpose” is that the pastor teaches on it so you hear it, then you read about it every day, then you discuss it in a small group and then you memorize a Bible verse about it and then you do a project with a group of other people.

By (using those) five ways, we find that people’s spiritual maturity was growing a whole lot faster than if I just taught a series of messages on it. That was the idea of multiple reinforcement.

(Since 2002,) 31,000 churches in America — 31,000! — have done “40 Days of Purpose.” That’s one out of every 10 churches in America. Two thousand churches in the Philippines, 1,000 in Australia, about 800 in the United Kingdom. A group of churches said, “Why don’t we do this together as a city?”

And as for PEACE:

…The P.E.A.C.E. plan is 100 times more complex than the traditional ways to do mission. I’m willing to go slow at it in order to get the long-term benefits. If you’re going to do long-term, you have to start at the lowest level. You start at the village level, not at the top level… We’ve had invitations from Guatemala, from the Philippines and … other countries saying, “Could we be next?” In the last four years, I’ve sent out 7,766 of our members to 68 countries.

More on Hagee and Anti-Semitism

An email from the “Jerusalem Connection” brings an uncompromising message from Rev. Jim Hutchens:

Christian Zionists have a special mandate and “duty to expose and confront anti-Semitism wherever it is found.” This is true of the overt anti-Semitism of evil Islamic Jihadists like Iran, who would “wipe Israel off the map,” or Palestinian Jihadists who refuse Israel’s right to exist. It is equally true of the veiled anti-Semitism that lurks in the bowels of Replacement Theology/Supercessionism among Christians. For Zion’s sake we must not keep silent.

So, does “wherever it is found” include someone who rants about how the US economy is run by a group of Satanists called the Illuminati, in particular naming Alan Greenspan and “the Rothschilds”? Or who infers that Satan was able to make particular use of Karl Marx because he was Jewish and Hitler because he was “partly Jewish”? Alas no, seeing as Hutchens has said nothing against John Hagee’s views on these subjects.

Meanwhile, Hagee has issued yet another apology for his past sermonizing, this time for his much-reported comments about Hitler being a hunter sent by God to persuade the Jews to move to Israel:

“In a sermon in 1999, I grappled with the vexing question of why a loving God would allow the evil of the Holocaust to occur,” John Hagee, the Texas-based preacher wrote in a letter to Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman. “I know how sensitive the issue of the Holocaust is and should be to the Jewish community and I regret if my Jewish friends felt any pain as a result.”

Hagee doesn’t really “do” sensitive: in 1996 he held a charity “slave auction” at his church.

But is he an anti-Semite? It’s a description I’ve always been reluctant to use (much as I dislike what he stands for), because Hagee has also said so much that is philo-Semitic. It also risks conflating Hagee with a different strand of American Christian fundamentalism which is unambiguously anti-Jewish; Hagee is no Gerald L.K. Smith. However, it’s clear that Hagee’s philo-Semitism collapses in on itself: Hagee sees Jews not as real three-dimensional people, but simply as instruments in a divine drama. Those Jews who act according to God’s script receive Hagee’s regard and support, but the logic of his theology means that the Jew who strays from the path – such as Marx, the Rothschilds, and, erm, Hitler – potentially becomes a uniquely effective tool of Satan. Thus, like the late Jerry Falwell, Hagee teaches that the anti-Christ will be at least “partly” Jewish.

Hagee co-opts old anti-Jewish conspiracy theories while expressing support for Jews. But this just means that the essential anti-Jewish element of these theories is currently (more or less) dormant – and Hagee’s “paranoid style” is inseparable from an irrational hatred of minority groups. The possibility remains that Hagee’s conspiracy teachings may one day help to create an anti-Jewish climate, just as their originators intended.

Ironically, this anti-Jewish flip-side to Christian Zionist philo-Semitism has been acknowledged by some right-wing Jewish supporters of Israel, who have used it as a stick with which to beat Israeli moderates; in 2004 Herbert Zweibon, head of Americans for a Safe Israel, warned in the Jerusalem Post that

If Israel withdraws from Judea, Samaria and Gaza, I think you will see anti-Semitism in America like you have never seen. These people [Christian Zionists] will see it as a betrayal of their own trust…Why should they stand by [Israel], if the Jews don’t?

Hagee claims his support for Israel is unconditional (and doubtless he recalls Israel’s repudiation of Pat Robertson after Robertson claimed God had struck down Ariel Sharon for the Gaza withdrawal), but the mix of pro-Jewish sentiment and inherently anti-Jewish conspiracy theory must result in a psychological double-bind. How long before we see some lashing out, if not from Hagee then from others in the wider movement…?

PS: The Jewish Virtual Library explains the origin of the story of Hitler possibly being “partly Jewish”:

The idea seems to arise from the remote possibility that Hitler’s grandfather was Jewish. Hitler’s father, Alois, was registered as an illegitimate child with no father. Alois’ mother worked in the home of a wealthy Jew and there is some chance a son in that household got the woman (i.e., Hitler’s grandmother) pregnant. Adolf Hitler was not Jewish.

Prominent Zambian Evangelist Backs Milingo

A few days ago I blogged on ex-Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo’s first public mass since he was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. Milingo, it will be recalled, married a Korean Unificationist in 2001 and has now accepted Rev Moon as “the Messiah sent by God”. Recently he ordained several married men as priests, establishing a breakaway Catholic church to receive direction from Moon and the Unification Church.

The Catholic Church has urged its members to give Milingo a wide berth, but details about the mass in the Lusaka Times suggest that some other Christians are less bothered:

Hundreds of people from all walks of life – Sunday turned up for a healing mass conducted by former Catholic Archibishop Emmanuel Milingo in Lusaka’s Matero township.

Archibishop Milingo conducted the healing mass that lasted for over two hours.

Christians from different churches sung songs of praise as the Archibishop conducted his healing session.

…Every Nation Church Bishop, John Jere thanked Archibishop MILINGO for bringing transformation in the church.

“Every Nation” is the controversial neo-Pentecostal grouping which I blogged several times a couple of years ago; Jere has also featured on this blog in the past, as the Zambian link-man for Peter Hammond’s Frontline Fellowship. Jere’s “Zambia United Christian Action” helped to spread the political religious supremicist teachings of Christian Reconstructionism in the country. According to his website:

Bishop John Jere has planted many churches in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia, Botswana, Malawi and Angola. John is still planting more churches in Zambia under Every Nation Church. The recent two church plants in Lukulu is a greater challenge as the areas arein abject poverty.

Jere’s prefered means to challenging “abject poverty” is to promote free-market fundamentalism, and he has introduced Zambian ministers to Douglas J Shaw, a Scottish free-market economist. Jere is also noted for running an orphanage.

Also at the Milingo mass were a number of Anglican clerics, obliging Anglican bishops to make a statement:

Council General Secretary, Rodgers Banda said any priest who attended the healing sessions and mass did so in their personal capacity.

The Bishops were reacting to some of the Anglican priests who were seen on ZNBC television news during Archbishop Milingo’s healing sessions and mass Sunday.

Private Pasts and Public Interests 2

Ed Brayton draws attention to an interesting legal case concerning Jason Van Dyke, the Texas-based legal advisor to Young Americans for Freedom at Michigan State University. The group became an object of notoriety last year when it brought in the British National Party leader Nick Griffin as a speaker, and Ed’s journalistic colleague Todd Heywood regularly reports on the YAF’s activities here. Ed explains the legal background:

Back in 2000, Van Dyke had some legal problems at MSU. He struck a plea bargain and later had the record expunged. Todd Heywood received the documents about that arrest from the court in East Lansing last year and wrote about them.

Van Dyke then filed to have those records sealed. Todd went to court to argue against sealing them, arguing that as a public figure who has inserted himself into a public controversy and as an officer of the court in Texas (where he practices law), the public has a right to know and he as a journalist has a right to report on Van Dyke’s history of illegal actions. This week, the judge agreed with Todd and refused to seal the records.

Van Dyke responded to this by describing Heywood as an “AIDS infected faggot” and announcing his plans to sue him and the judge:

Maybe, after spending a fortune on legal bills only to end up paying a hefty judgment, they will think twice before they tangle with me again.

This is, of course, the perennial boast of bullies with legal qualifications, who know they can use their professional position to make life difficult for investigators and the unduly curious; writing letters and making court filings doesn’t cost them a penny, while those on the receiving end are put to all kinds of inconveniences. In some cases, the sense of power doubtless also provides a weird thrill that serves as some sort of substitute for a normal emotional life.

Van Dyke apparently argued for he records to be sealed on the grounds of privacy. Heywood, although no lawyer, put his case very well in his submission to the court, arguing that Van Dyke is a “limited purpose” public figure, and his past acts should be matter of discussion:

Defendant is alleging that disclosure of the court documents will harm his reputation. However, by virtue of his leadership position as the Legal Advisor of MSU-YAF, and administrator position at [a website], Defendant has “thrust” himself into the forefront of particular public controversies in order to influence their resolution…As such, the Defandant has opened himself and his political arguments up for dissection by the public body. Included in this dissection must be his criminal background because it shows a personal bias towards things such as gun possession on college campuses. Defendant is not a private person who is being attacked, he has sought and maintained a public role…and has sought, through the publication of his blog and commentaries…to thrust himself into public controversies…Thus sealing the records in this case will be damaging to a legitimate public discourse.

This “public figure” distinction is something we could very well do with in the UK.

This blog post is the sequel to a post I made here.

Russian Orthodox Church Receives Land in Jericho

Novosti reports:

Russia has received three plots of land in Jericho in the West Bank, a RIA Novosti correspondent said on Monday from a ceremony in Moscow to hand over land ownership deeds.

Russian Audit Chamber chief Sergei Stepashin, who heads the Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, said prior to the ceremony that, “The decision to return to Russia plots of land in the Holy Land was made during a recent meeting with Palestinian National Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas… the first decision will be implemented today.”

The plots of land had once belonged to the pre-revolution Imperial Orthodox Palestine Society, and they include an area known as “Moscovia” and a tree supposedly climbed by Zacchaeus when he wanted to see Jesus. The JTA notes that this is “one of several efforts by Russia to gain a religiously symbolic foothold in Israel and the West Bank”. I’ve blogged on this trend more than once: last year I noted an attempt by the Russian Orthodox Church to retake control of property in Palestinian areas lost in 1917, and more recently I blogged on the restoration of a compound in Israeli Jerusalem; in this last case, Novosti adds the detail that funding was provided by the billionaires Roman Abramovich and Arkady Gaidamak (This was doubtless a nice puff for Gaidamak, who owns the paper. I blogged on his Jerusalem mayoral ambitions here).

Eyeing these developments warily will be the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos, who recently complained about Russian Orthodox “aggressive policy”, both now and historically. The Russian Orthodox Church’s all-purpose pundit Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin responded to this in a recent newspaper interview:

I am certain that the scandal arose accidentally. Many people called me and said it’s a conspiracy against the Church or a CIA plan…

Let the comments made by the Blessed Patriarch Theophilos about the Russian presence weigh on his conscience.

Today, many people acknowledge the positive contribution that Russia and the Church made in the Holy Land. We have built schools and hospitals, and preserved ancient Christian sanctuaries from desecration. We have given up our people’s lives so that holy places would stay in the hands of the Jerusalem Greek Patriarchy. This was during the Crimean War, waged by Russia to ensure the Jerusalem Patriarchy would continue to exist. If it wasn’t for Russia, it is possible there would not be any Orthodox presence in the Holy Land. So I cannot agree with such a negative estimation of Russia’s and the Church’s role in the Holy Land.

Time calls the Russian Orthodox Church Russia’s “main ideological arm and a vital foreign policy instrument”.

Wead Gives McCain a Headache

One thing that John McCain learnt from his star-crossed love affair with John Hagee is that courting the Christian right can have serious costs, as well as potential benefits. However, that’s not a message congenial to former Bush assistant Doug Wead, who is alarmed at the idea of Christian right leaders losing their kingmaker status. In the battle for McCain’s soul, Wead recently tried to enlist the biggest hitter of them all: Billy Graham. Wead managed to cause some discomfort to the McCain campaign, but only at cost to his own credibility

On Sunday, Wead spilled some beans in Newsmax:

In another disturbing sign that Sen. John McCain has little interest in reaching out to his conservative base, including evangelical Christian voters, his campaign has declined an offer to meet with the Rev. Billy Graham.

…In recent weeks I have been involved with Brian Jacobs, a Fort Worth, Texas, minister and consultant to the Billy Graham Association, to broker a meeting between McCain and Graham. In May, we contacted the McCain campaign with an offer to arrange such a meeting, as we had done between candidate George W. Bush and Graham during the 2000 election.

Wead goes on to reprint a letter sent to him from the McCain campaign which thanks him for the offer but adds that “I must pass along our regrets and do not foresee an opportunity to add this event to the calendar”. Wead – who boasts about how he liaised with evangelicals for George H.W. Bush and arranged a meeting between George W. Bush and Graham in 2000 – clearly had his nose put out of joint by this.

Noting that McCain had also avoided James Dobson, Wead adds:

McCain’s decision not to meet with Graham will likely provoke outrage. And the campaign will likely back down. Graham is no Hagee or Dobson. They will say it was all a mistake and blame it on staff or a “misunderstanding.” But in the process they have revealed their mind-set.

Wead’s carefully-timed controversy appears to have hit the target; the McCain campaign quickly announced that in fact it has been attempting to arrange a meeting with Graham, through his son Franklin Graham. Alas for McCain, though, the Charlotte Observer reports that:

That assertion surprised the Graham organization. Spokesmen for Franklin Graham said he has never negotiated or even discussed with the McCain campaign such a meeting with his dad.

Mark DeMoss, another spokesman for Franklin Graham, did acknowledge that Brett O’Donnell, a senior McCain staffer, had called Franklin Graham’s office months ago, and left a message. But that message, Blume said, asked Franklin Graham to call McCain’s office if he wanted to sit down with the candidate.

But alas for Wead and his associate Brian Jacobs, too:

Wead and Jacobs have no connection with the Graham organization and were never authorized to speak for Billy Graham, according to spokesmen for Billy and Franklin Graham.

“We don’t know who this Brian Jacobs is – we had to Google him to find out,” said Jeremy Blume, a spokesman for Franklin Graham.

(the obscure Jacobs was in fact an area crusade team coordinator for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for a year, and after that Crusade Director for Jerry Savelle, a Prosperity Gospel preacher and protégé of Kenneth Copeland.)

Mother Jones has further details, and carries a statement from the Graham organization:

Upon further inquiry I understand that two people unaffiliated with either Billy or Franklin Graham apparently independently, without any knowledge by the [Billy Graham Evangelistic Association], tried to broker a meeting between Mr. McCain and the evangelist. Apparently it was their indirect and unofficial involvement that was declined.

Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise for McCain, or even for Obama, to seek out a meeting with Billy Graham, although it would be more of a photo-op than anything else; as Jeff Sharlet noted in 2005, Graham has managed to position himself as someone who has transcended politics, so an endorsement is extremely unlikely (although Graham did once jokingly semi-endorse Hillary Clinton, to the gnashing of conservative teeth).

However, Graham’s son Franklin is a rather less impressive figure, known mainly for his 2001 comments on Islam as “a very evil and wicked religion”. Given Billy Graham’s age and frailty, Franklin Graham would in all likelihood be part of the package of any meeting. Judging by the Hagee and Parsley fiascoes, is it really worth the hassle?

Prominent Conservatives Reaffirm Support for Hagee

Daniel Pipes puts John Hagee in context:

[Hagee] is someone who is not at the extremes of American life, who is dealing with and close to or endorsed by those who hate the United States. This is someone who’s a patriot…[Hagee] is working within the mainstream of American political life. He is a serious and important actor in the pro-Israel movement. And I might add that I’ll be speaking for him next month at his conference.

In fact, Pipes is to some extent quite correct, and if you’ve ever read Richard Hofstadter’s famous essay on “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” you’ll know that what Hagee stands for has a pedigree (Chip Berlet has more background here). Here’s (once again) the “serious and important” Hagee in full-throttle on the New World Order and the Illuminati and such (Hagee’s voice is in the audio; the video and musical backing has come from another source):

Participants at the recent AIPAC conference have also reaffirmed their support for Hagee; although he wasn’t at the recent conference, The Forward reports that his name elicited applause and an ovation:

…Speakers at the session, titled “Friends in Faith: Evangelical Christians and the Pro-Israel Movement,” included Gary Bauer, president of American Values; John Buhler, founder of Christian Advocates for Israel, and David Brog, executive director of Christians United for Israel, the group led by Hagee.

“I want to take a moment to discuss with you a good man, evangelical pastor John Hagee,” Brog said to the audience. Before Brog could finish the sentence, the crowd broke into a lengthy round of applause, ending in a standing ovation. Among the few attendees who did not cheer at the mention of Hagee’s name was the Anti-Defamation League’s national director, Abraham Foxman, who has occasionally been critical of the ties between the Jewish community and Christian Zionists.

Brog, who runs Christians United for Israel on behalf of Hagee, has been busy defending the pastor over the past week or so, putting forward the argument that Hagee’s detractors are guilty of religious prejudice. As I blogged back in 2006, Brog is the author of Standing with Israel: Why Christians Support the Jewish State, which has a foreword by Hagee. The book is a call for his fellow American Jews to stop worrying and to learn to love evangelical Christians, much as Merrill Simon’s Jerry Falwell and the Jews did back in 1984.

Meanwhile, Bauer’s response to the McCain repudiation of Hagee featured recently on OneNewsNow:

“The only winner in all this has been the radical left and big media, who despise Senator McCain and also despise Pastor Hagee — and not incidentally, [also] despise Israel,” he contends.

When all is said and done, Bauer continues, the other side has scored a victory. He says the left-wing blogs, including the Huffington Post, distorted Hagee’s comments in order to “drive a wedge” between evangelical voters and McCain.

Actually, most of the work in bringing Hagee’s views to wider attention was undertaken by religious-right watchers alarmed that someone like Hagee should enjoy being courted by serious politicians when he ought to be “out in the street, shouting and hollering with a cardboard sign and selling pencils from a cup” (to borrow a phrase from Christopher Hitchens’ memorable dyslogy after the death of Jerry Falwell). And, as Matthew Avery Sutton has recently noted, McCain (who sought out Hagee against his better instincts) could have avoided the entire fiasco:

In his efforts to court the Religious Right, he has taken the worst approach possible. Rather than build bridges to the new generation of evangelical power players such as Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, and Joel Osteen, each of whom tries to put the emphasis on the compassion in “compassionate conservative,” he has instead been wooing tongues-speaking, fire-breathing, ministers of doom…That McCain didn’t see it coming reveals what terrible advice he is getting and how truly out-of-touch he is with religious conservatives. In picking some of the most extreme agents of intolerance to buddy up to in an effort to mend fences with the Religious Right, and then having to publicly denounce them, McCain has done the unthinkable—he has simultaneously lost face with the moderates who liked his independent streak and the religious conservatives that he so badly needs.

Rev Moon and the “Third Vatican Council”

Claim of support from “150,000 married priests”

The Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation reports:

Archbishop Milingo said the third Vatican Council will be launched in South Korea before the end of this month.

…The Archbishop, 78, leads 150,000 married priests across the world.

Of course, the location will be South Korea because Milingo is now completely Rev Moon’s creature, and Milingo’s breakaway church is Moon’s means to gain influence in Africa. As I noted in December, Milingo’s new church was established at a special ceremony in a “Peace Embassy” owned by the Universal Peace Federation – a choice of venue which suggests that the UPF’s declared aim of bringing people and faiths together may not be quite all that it seems.

Milingo performed his first mass since his excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church just a few days ago. The Times of Zambia reported his justification:

He said there were few priests hence the need for those who had been excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church to come forward and serve the masses.

He said when a priest was ordained; he could never lose the powers just as was the case with a person who had been baptised.

…”We are coming back, Saint Peter was married, all of them were except John the evangelist. We are not a sect but just reminding you of your duties. You can’t just sit down. The priests should not fear excommunication. It does not exist. You are priests forever.”

However, the Catholic News Service claims that Milingo has lost his popularity:

“As archbishop (of Lusaka) he could fill a football stadium, but now he is easily able to use the conference room of the motel he is staying in to hold his healing ceremonies. That tells the story,” Father Joe Komakoma, general secretary of the Zambia Episcopal Conference, said in a June 3 telephone interview with Catholic News Service from the Zambian capital, Lusaka.

While “the media is still fascinated by him,” Archbishop Milingo “is largely ignored by Zambian Catholics now that he is no longer a member of the church,” Father Komakoma said.

…Father Komakoma said there is no evidence to back Archbishop Milingo’s claims that up to 100 former priests in Zambia have joined his movement.

“You would think this visit would bring them out but it hasn’t happened,” the priest said, noting that he “has spoken to at least 10 ex-priests who want nothing to do with” Archbishop Milingo.

So much for that “150,000”, then…

Reports of US Soldiers Spreading Jack Chick Tracts in Iraq

In the wake of a story about an American soldier in Iraq handing out coins bearing an evangelistic message, The Public Record notes other Christian material being promoted by members of American forces:

In addition to coins and Bibles, there have been reports of the distribution to Iraqi children of Christian comic books published by companies such as Chick Publications. These inflammatory comic books, published in English and Arabic, not only depict Mohammed, but show both Mohammed and Muslims burning in hell because they did not accept Jesus as their savior before they died.

…Sending more of these materials than would be necessary for an individual’s personal use, but not a large enough quantity to risk being flagged by the postal service, is one way that these materials are making their way into Iraq. Chick Publications advises those wanting to send their literature to military personnel to first find out “just what tracts would be most useful and how many they can effectively use,” and “to find out whether the tracts can be drop shipped from Chick Publications or if they should be sent as personal mail from the soldiers’ families.”

A spokesman for Chick refused to comment for this story about the comics handed out to Iraqis.

For the uninitiated, Jack Chick is the world’s most-published author, with hundreds of millions of comic-strip tracts in circulation. Robert Ito profiled him for the Los Angeles Magazine back in May 2003:

The experience of reading a Chick tract can seem disarmingly familiar. In many ways the stories adhere to the standard rules and visual language of comic books: When people are angry or stressed, huge beads of sweat shoot off their foreheads. Bad men say things like “@#$%!”; exclamation points are everywhere. Characters, with their side parts, bell-bottoms, and stilted language, have the stuck-in-time quality of Archie comics. But behind the reader-friendly style is a disturbing, hateful message: There are demons hiding everywhere. There are devil worshipers in the federal government and gay men plotting to taint the nation’s blood supply with AIDS. The pope is an agent of Satan. So is your next-door neighbor.

…Chick’s most popular book, This Was Your Life!, was published in 1964. At 21 pages, it is a masterpiece of shorthand horror. By the second panel, the Scotch-swilling, ‘Vette-driving protagonist has dropped dead of a heart attack. “Review his life!” the Lord commands, and an angel produces a massive CinemaScope screen in the night sky. The man watches scenes from his wasted life, in which he tells filthy stories, leers at blonds (“ummm nice!” he says to himself), and thinks about a ball game in the middle of church.

Although they express the most virulent Christian fundamentalism and conspiracy-mongering, the tracts enjoy an ironic following among comics fans, and apparently Robert Crumb is an admirer.

The Record notes other proselytism efforts, and quotes Mickey Weinstein:

“The Military Religious Freedom Foundation has been acutely aware of such astonishing unconstitutional and illicit proselytizing in Iraq and Afghanistan for over three years now and knows how massively pervasive it really is. These proselytizing transgressions are all blatant violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and MRFF is now demanding that any and all responsible military personnel be immediately prosecuted under Article 92 of the UCMJ: Failure to Obey an Order or Regulation,” Weinstein added.

I looked at Christian enthusiasm for evangelism in Iraq back in the very early days of this blog, and in March 2004 I noted a quote by National Association of Evangelicals official Kyle Fisk:

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.

Apparently there has been some growth in evangelicalism in Kurdish territories, but there’s nothing anywhere near the feverish the predictions from the “Mission Accomplished” era, even with illicit assistance from US troops.

Incidentally, in the UK Chick Tracts are imported by B. Mccall Barbour, a cramped bookshop in Edinburgh with an elderly owner (somewhat unexpectedly, a picture of this bookshop was featured on Lindsey Beyerstein’s blog last year). They are also available elsewhere: the CLC (“Christian Literature Crusade”) bookshop in central London sells them in plastic multi-packs.

(Hat tip: Ed Brayton)

Evangelists Threatened with Arrest in Birmingham

From the Telegraph:

A police community support officer ordered two Christian preachers to stop handing out gospel leaflets in a predominantly Muslim area of Birmingham.

The evangelists say they were threatened with arrest for committing a “hate crime” and were told they risked being beaten up if they returned. The incident will fuel fears that “no-go areas” for Christians are emerging in British towns and cities, as the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, claimed in The Sunday Telegraph this year.

Arthur Cunningham, 48, and Joseph Abraham, 65, both full-time evangelical ministers, have launched legal action against West Midlands Police, claiming the officer infringed their right to profess their religion.

Both men are members of Grace Bible Fellowship Church, which declares itself to be “a free fundamental, evangelical, Bible-believing ministry… not ecumenical, Charismatic, Arminians, Calvinists or denominational”. Further:

In this age of wide-spread religious apostasy, compromise, liberalism, false religions, cults & political correctness we stand without apology on the authority of the Bible as the infallible word of God… For further information on how to be saved from eternal damnation click here.

The church is affiliated with the Grace Church of Mentor in Ohio (see here, click on “England”). According to the church’s website, Abraham was raised as a Muslim in Egypt, and was raised to be a “Muslim priest” (sic), but after flirting with atheism he was converted by an unnamed American evangelist:

Dear Muslim friend, remember, you will stand some day before the throne of God, just by yourself. Would you be able to stand God’s judgment?

Christians — those who believe Christ as their Saviour — are no longer under God’s judgment, because God already judged them in the Person of Christ. He died for them. Well, He died for you too.

There are no details about what kind of “gospel leaflets” were being handed out.

Naturally, various websites are following the Telegraph’s lead that the “hate crime” threat is a sign of Muslim “no-go” areas. That’s a rather alarmist take on what happened, although does appear that the officer acted unprofessionally:

The preachers, both ministers in Birmingham, were handing out leaflets on Alum Rock Road in February when they started talking to four Asian youths.

A police community support officer (PCSO) interrupted the conversation and began questioning the ministers about their beliefs.

They said when the officer realised they were American, although both have lived in Britain for many years, he launched a tirade against President Bush and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A “police community support officer” is not the same thing as a full police officer, but in this case they are under the jurisdiction and direction of the West Midlands Police, which has promised to give the officer concerned extra “training”. This is notable as the WMP has recently been obliged to pay out libel damages to the makers of the TV documentary on Islamic fundamentalism after accusing it of “distorting” various inflammatory statements.

However, the case also comes in the wake of police in London incorrectly warning a teenage protestor that signs describing Scientology a cult were illegal. In an age of increased religious sensitivity, it seems that police are taking the view that public disputes over religion ought to be suppressed. Without robust free speech protections such as we see in the USA, this is always going to be the easiest option.

UPDATE: MediaWatchWatch reports that Birmingham police have threatened anti-Scientology protestors with arrest for using “cult” signs, and leafletters have been issued with on-the-spot fines. Strathclyde police have also ordered that placards be taken down.