“Confrontational Evangelism” at Tampa Mosque


From a press release:

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today called on the FBI to investigate possible civil rights violations by a “biblical group” that allegedly harassed worshipers yesterday at a Florida mosque.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today called on the FBI to investigate possible civil rights violations by a “biblical group” that allegedly harassed worshipers yesterday at a Florida mosque.

More than 20 people used bullhorns to shout slurs against the faith of Islam and Islam’s Prophet Muhammad at those attending the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area. They also handed out anti-Muslim literature and, according to a mosque official, frightened children attending weekend school at the facility. The group was apparently in Tampa for today’s Super Bowl. Police were called to the scene.

From a video of the confrontation we can see that the group has a distinctive (albeit Fred Phelps-like) corporate image and delivery style; it is clearly the “Official Street Preachers”, which has a website here and is known for “confrontational evangelism” at sports and other random events. Besides some abuse directed at Muhammad, most of the chanting was simply generic calls to repent from the love of sinning – the mosque was obviously chosen opportunistically while on the way to the main event at the Super Bowl.

The “Official Street Preachers”  is led by Los Angeles-based Ruben Israel Chavez (often just named as “Ruben Israel”), who explains:

We started a group called Bible Believers in the eighties with the emphasis on confrontational evangelism and home Bible studies.  To date we have well over 40 chapters nationwide of active Christians and Churches under the umbrella of ‘Bible Believers’ that are a bold witness in their region.  So now with this network more places can be covered with preachers, signs and banners with attorneys watching our free speech rights.  I believe in almost every Church there are certain men inside those pews that want to do more than just sit in a service on Sunday, or where a Church might quench them for getting fired up.  The Lord is having us meet these men, as God is stirring the pot in these dark days when much of the Church is keeping their faith personal and private.

According to a 2006 press release (link added):

Ruben Israel Chavez has street-preached at Universities from Harvard to Berkley; for 22 straight years, he has preached at Mardi Gras; and, is now working with HBO regarding a Docu-Drama on “Open-air Preaching.”

Said Mr. Chavez, “Jesus preached in the open places; St. Paul preached in the open places. You cannot reach people in Churches, if they don’t go to Churches, Synagogues or Mosques.”

Ruben Israel Chavez was trained and sent by “Bible Jim” Webber, who preaches every night in front of the Bellagio in Las Vegas and is considered the Grandfather of “Bible Believers” open-air preaching.

[James Leonard] Elsman, himself, though a lawyer, just returned from preaching at Bethlehem’s Manger Square on Christmas Eve, 2005, in Palestine-Israel, in front of the Church of the Nativity, where he was featured on FOX-TV, ABC-TV and in over 2,000 papers via an AP news release.

The group is particularly obsessed with homosexuality (“homo-sex is a threat to national security”), and in 2007 Chavez and Elsman threatened to sue to be allowed to participate in a gay rights parade with his message. Israel is also Assistant Director of the “Street Preachers’ Fellowship”. Conservative pundit Glenn Beck gathered some pictures in 2003.

Another group connected to the Official Street Preachers is the Tampa-based Biblical Research Center, which is run by a certain Larry Keffer. The site carries many photos of other protests, under headings such as “Preaching at the 17th Annual Sodomite Film Festival at the Tampa Theater”; “Preaching to the Satanists”; “Preaching To The Atheists”, and “Preaching to Illegal Aliens and Their Supporters” (some of the photos are quite striking, and deserve to be on the covers of books about American religion – I particularly liked this one). In July, Keffer showed up in Norway; Mission Network News reports:

A trial court in Oslo, Norway has found two Christian missionaries guilty of failing to obey the police, media reports indicate. They face heavy fines but not imprisonment. 

Evangelists Petar Keseljevic of Norway and Larry Keffer of the Biblical Research Center in Tampa, FL were sharing the Gospel at a parade celebrating the anniversary of Norway’s constitution on May 17.

They were conversing with members of the crowd beyond the parade lines when the police arrested them and held them for almost four hours. Some members of the crowd had complained about the evangelists’ actions.

Following his arrest, Keffer was represented by Joel Thornton of the “International Human Rights Group” – he has a blog here. Keseljevic is another “Official Street Preacher”, and he was present at the Obama inaugaration. Charisma reported:

With a crowd of roughly 1.5 million people convened on the National Mall, the inauguration was a mostly peaceful event, according to media reports. Yet prayer leader Ken Joseph Jr. said a group of Christians evangelizing during an inaugural event was heckled and harassed. “At one point police had to be called to arrest one person who threatened their lives,” he said.

Joseph reported that Christians, who were led by Norwegian evangelist Petar Keseljevic and affiliated with OfficialStreetPreachers.com, a group known for carrying signs that say “God Hates Sin” or “Homo Sex Is Sin,” were countered by crowds that jeered “Go to hell,” “I love sin” and “You are crazy.” Eventually, a man selling “Obama condoms” led the crowd in chanting Obama’s name to drown out the Christians’ message.

“We are just here to share the love of Christ,” Keseljevic told Joseph. “It is so sad to see the way people are so hostile in America to Christ.”

(Hat tip: Islamophobia Watch)

10 Responses

  1. I’ve often wondered how successful groups like these are in securing new recruits or turning people away from their supposedly sinful ways? Really, does yelling and getting in peoples faces about their personal business ever yield their desired results?

  2. I think this is more about them feeling good about themselves than really seeking converts. Provoking hostility feeds into a martyr complex, and binds the group together against the outsiders. Railing against the evils of non-believers is also more congenial than self-examination. Here’s a quote from Dave Daubenmire I noted a while back:

    While millions of Christians gathered in the safety of their church on Sunday April 25th, the Minutemen, and women…trekked to Washington D.C. to stand for life against those who were marching for death. Hundreds of thousands of pro-death marchers spewed venom and hatred at us as we proudly defended the unborn.

    “Hey buddy”, we yelled at the effeminized men in the parade who marched dutifully behind their bossy women, “Real men raise babies, they don’t kill them.” Seems pretty radical, eh?

    It was the most gratifying church service of my life!

  3. The propaganda video above was filmed very close to the preaching so it sounds overly loud. It has further been cut several times. Those of us on the outside need to be very aware of how cutting a film can doctor it to the other person’s perspective and not give the entire story. One thing you will note about our video is that we are inches away from the man that is preaching and can still have a normal dialogue without raising our voices. This other film has been enhanced and is a false representation of what happened. You can see from our video that we were cordial and respectful to the man we were talking to as he was to us. In the doctored video it is obvious that there were several of these conversations going on. In addition, we have attempted several times to place our video on the pt. 1 video that is getting all the hits as a video response but the owner blocked us. He allowed our response to go up only on pt. 2 which is only getting a fraction of the hits and not before he was sure that the initial video got at least 10,000 hits. He has censored any posts that contain the word “Jesus.” This is how these folks operate in fear and deception. He only allows responses to go up that will continue to relate a story that did not happen in the way he has presented it. The only reason these men were there is because they care for these folks and their eternal souls, not to contend about which religion is right. We already know we’re on the winning team.

    • I think this video was edited so as to make this guy and other “open air preachers” appear lucid and cordial.

      This has not been the case with any of them that I have come across. Richard you are right. It doesn’t take much to see that these people intentionally put themselves in a situation that promotes solidarity within their ranks rather than actually get people to stop sinning.

      Not one of the people that I have talked to can give me a good reason why being confrontational with drunk people makes sense. Other than “God’s will”. Which is not found in any gospel. To say Jesus was confrontational is one thing. To try to push people’s buttons to represent yourself as always fighting against evil is another.

      Where are all these people at in washington? Wars have been waged throughout human history which carry the sin of murder. And these people’s choice is drunkards?

  4. […] The Open Air Mission was founded in 1853, and was created to make street preaching respectable (see James Winters, London’s Teeming Streets); among its  current targets is the theory of evolution, and it has a history of opposition to Roman Catholicism (Robertson’s conversion narrative includes a negative reference to the “Roman Catholic religion”). However, its style far more low-key than the American “confrontational Evangelism” I blogged on here. […]

  5. […] Steet Preachers” – this latter group held a protest outside a mosque in Tampa in February  and has personally rebuked me as a “beer-guzzling liberal”. McRae was previously in […]

  6. […] columnist and speaker”. In 2008, he was at Obama’s inauguration with some Official Street Preachers; last year, he for no apparent reason decided to troll the Facebook page of the naturalised […]

  7. […] Israel’s “Official Street Preachers” have been around for a while; in 2009 they abused worshippers at a mosque in Tampa while en route to evangelising a Super Bowl event; perhaps the […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.