Dark Christianity
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May 2008
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News Roundup


The Washington Post has some very interesting articles today:

Taking Vacations Religiously talks about missionaries at resorts and beaches, and touches upon the problem of the deceptive tactic of 'bait and switch' events:

Some religious groups try to appeal to tourists by offering programs that at first seem entirely secular.

On a recent Saturday night, about 100 teenagers and young adults showed up for a film on the beach advertised on signs throughout town that said only: "Free! SURF MOVIE 8:00 PM." Most attendees were surprised when they realized that the main film featured evangelical surfers talking about their relationship with Jesus. Tables on the boardwalk offered free suntan lotion, "JESUS LOVES ME!" stickers and a "Surfers Bible New Testament."

Tom Clarke, a founder of Florida-based Everlasting Rock Ministries, which organized the event, said he didn't want to scare people off with an overtly religious message in the ads.

"I don't want anyone to think that we're the Jesus freaks," said Clarke, 39, of Cocoa Beach, Fla., as he sat on the boardwalk. "We're not trying to shove religion down anyone's throat. We're just trying to encourage a positive lifestyle."

Matt Tiberi, 15, from Middletown, Del., said he considers himself a Christian but almost never goes to church. But after watching the movie during a day trip to Ocean City, Matt said he felt moved to become more religious.

"It tells you how God helps you out whatever you're doing," he said.

Some groups criticize such advertising as deceptive. "They are using stealth strategies to try and suck people in," said Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based group of atheists and agnostics. "They know if they advertise religion, then people won't go. You really do have to question the ethics here of what they are doing."

We knew this would happen, and it is: Evangelicals are flocking into Iraq and the Middle East.

BAGHDAD -- With arms outstretched, the congregation at National Evangelical Baptist Church belted out a praise hymn backed up by drums, electric guitar and keyboard. In the corner, slide images of Jesus filled a large screen. A simple white cross of wood adorned the stage, and worshipers sprinkled the pastor's Bible-based sermon with approving shouts of "Ameen!"

National is Iraq's first Baptist congregation and one of at least seven new Christian evangelical churches established in Baghdad in the past two years. Its Sunday afternoon service, in a building behind a house on a quiet street, draws a couple of hundred worshipers who like the lively music and focus on the Bible.

"I'm thirsty for this kind of church," Suhaila Tawfik, a veterinarian who was raised Catholic, said at a recent service. "I want to go deep in understanding the Bible."

Tawfik is not alone. The U.S.-led toppling of Saddam Hussein, who limited the establishment of new denominations, has altered the religious landscape of predominantly Muslim Iraq. A newly energized Christian evangelical activism here, supported by Western and other foreign evangelicals, is now challenging the dominance of Iraq's long-established Christian denominations and drawing complaints from Muslim and Christian religious leaders about a threat to the status quo.

The evangelicals' numbers are not large -- perhaps a few thousand -- in the context of Iraq's estimated 800,000 Christians. But they are emerging at a time when the country's traditional churches have lost their privileged Hussein-era status and have experienced massive depletions of their flocks because of decades-long emigration. Now, traditional church leaders see the new evangelical churches filling up, not so much with Muslim converts but with Christians like Tawfik seeking a new kind of worship experience.

"The way the preachers arrived here . . . with soldiers . . . was not a good thing," said Baghdad's Roman Catholic archbishop, Jean Sleiman. "I think they had the intention that they could convert Muslims, though Christians didn't do it here for 2,000 years."

And here's columnist Art Buchwald putting a cheeky spin on the evangelicals in the USAF Academy.

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