Thursday, October 19, 2006

Mickey's Mantle of Faith

From WorldNetDaily ... Mickey's Mantle of Faith: Yankee great, who would be 75 tomorrow, committed life to Christ prior to death. In full ...
It's October – World Series time.

During much of his Hall of Fame baseball career, Mickey Mantle was a fixture in the Fall Classic.

He was known as a great baseball slugger.

He was known as the fastest man in the major leagues.

And he was known as a hell-raiser off the field.

But two of Mickey Mantle's closest friends – Bobby Richardson and Pat Summerall – say that's not how he died 11 years ago. And, had he lived to see his 75th birthday tomorrow, the world would have a much different picture of the New York Yankee great.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Mickey Mantle's name was synonymous with baseball.

Beginning in 1951, he played for New York Yankee teams that appeared in the World Series 12 of the next 14 years.

Inheriting the centerfield position from the legendary Joe DiMaggio, he won three American League Most Valuable Player awards and the coveted Triple Crown in 1956.

Mantle's former New York teammate, and later the Yankee team manager, Billy Martin, once said, ''No man in the history of baseball had as much (baseball hitting) power as Mickey Mantle.'' Mantle was inducted into Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame five years after his retirement from the major circuit in 1969.

But despite all the triumphs and accomplishments, Mantle's baseball career was hobbled by injuries and the ever-present real fear of an early death.

His father, Mutt, an alcoholic, died in his 40s of Hodgkin's disease – a plague with a virulent family history.

From the mid-1950s until his death in 1995, Mantle developed a strong relationship with two professional athletes that would later have a profound effect on his life. One of those athletes was Bobby Richardson, the Yankee second baseman and Mantle’s teammate from 1955 to 1966. Richardson had strong Christian convictions. He also had some outstanding years with the New York team, including winning the World Series MVP in 1960. Richardson described his friendship with Mantle as ''one that lasted a lifetime.''

Richardson always had the ear of his good friend Mantle.

''On numerous occasions Mickey would help me with various (outside) interests I was involved in,'' Richardson told WND. Mantle participated ''in sports banquets, fund-raisers (for the YMCA) and even a baseball instructional film event'' from the University of South Carolina, where Richardson was head baseball coach in the 1970s.

During their years with the Yankees, Richardson had many opportunities to share his faith with Mantle. It appeared at the time, though, that Mantle never really took Richardson's words of spiritual advice seriously. Most everyone closely associated with Mantle knew he had a reputation for playing hard and partying even harder. He also struggled with alcohol.

While Richardson never got discouraged in sharing his faith with his friend, he noticed that Mantle, with the realization of his own mortality, finally asked the questions that revealed he was open to spiritual things. In a television interview with Bob Costas long after he retired from the game, Mantle said he had ''a void in his heart and an emptiness inside'' after the 1985 death of his friend and former Yankee great Roger Maris.

In the 1950s, Mantle used the same locker stall as another New York professional athlete, Pat Summerall, but during different seasons. Summerall was the place kicker and tight end of the NFL's New York Giants. Summerall recalled that he first met Mantle when they played minor league baseball together. Over the years, Summerall and Mantle ''played a lot of golf and interacted socially.''

When Summerall entered the Betty Ford Center for Alcohol in the early 1990s, Mantle showed interest in the center. Summerall told WND, ''Mickey was concerned about his own alcohol consumption.''

After many long question-and-answer sessions with the Hall of Fame baseball player, Summerall challenged Mantle to enter the clinic. Summerall was thrilled when his friend agreed to enter the facility, and did so on a day not normally reserved for new patients.

It was the policy of the Betty Ford Center to disallow outgoing telephone calls during a patient's one-month stay. Summerall remembers fondly how Mantle somehow got on the phone and called him a number of times, sometimes late at night. While this was a difficult period in Mantle's life, both Richardson and Summerall agree their friend was later to become an outstanding spokesman for people everywhere who were suffering from alcoholism.

By 1995, Mantle's health took a turn for the worse when it was discovered he had cancer – that on top of liver problems associated with alcoholism. While hospitalized, it didn't take long for Mantle to call Richardson and ask him to pray for him.

Richardson vividly remembers visiting Mantle a few weeks before his death Aug. 13, 1995. One of the first things Mantle wanted to tell his former teammate was that he ''now trusted in Christ as his Lord and Savior.'' Mantle assured him by quoting to Richardson and his wife one of the more famous verses from the Bible, John 3:16: ''For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.''

Years later, Richardson found out that Mantle, while in the hospital, somehow listened to a Focus on the Family testimonial tape of NBA Hall of Famer Pete Maravich. Commenting on how this tape was instrumental in leading Mantle to Christ, Focus Vice President Kurt Bruner told WND that ''after achieving nearly everything that the world has to offer and finding that something was still lacking, Pete discovered Jesus Christ and never looked back.'' Richardson felt that his former teammate identified with similar aspects of the basketball player's life.

Now, 11 years after Mantle's death, both Richardson and Summerall are more grateful than ever for their friendship with the former Yankee centerfielder.

Mantle is still adored by fans across America. His family still operates several ''Mantle's'' restaurants, and his baseball memorabilia is popular as ever.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Iraq’s Christians Flee as Extremist Threat Worsens

From the New York Times ... Iraq’s Christians Flee as Extremist Threat Worsens. Join me in praying for our brothers and sisters in Iraq. In full ...
The blackened shells of five cars still sit in front of the Church of the Virgin Mary here, stark reminders of a bomb blast that killed two people after a recent Sunday Mass.

In the northern city of Mosul, a priest from the Syriac Orthodox Church was kidnapped last week. His church complied with his captors’ demands and put up posters denouncing recent comments made by the pope about Islam, but he was killed anyway. The police found his beheaded body on Wednesday.

Muslim fury over Pope Benedict XVI’s public reflections on Islam in Germany a month ago — when he quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor as calling Islam “evil and inhuman” — has subsided elsewhere, but repercussions continue to reverberate in Iraq, bringing a new level of threat to an already shrinking Christian population.

Several extremist groups threatened to kill all Christians unless the pope apologized. Sunni and Shiite clerics united in the condemnation, calling the comments an insult to Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. In Baghdad, many churches canceled services after receiving threats. Some have not met since.

“After the pope’s statement, people began to fear much more than before,” said the Rev. Zayya Edward Khossaba, the pastor of the Church of the Virgin Mary. “The actions by fanatics have increased against Christians.”

Christianity took root here near the dawn of the faith 2,000 years ago, making Iraq home to one of the world’s oldest Christian communities. The country is rich in biblical significance: scholars believe the Garden of Eden described in Genesis was in Iraq; Abraham came from Ur of the Chaldees, a city in Iraq; the city of Nineveh that the prophet Jonah visited after being spit out by a giant fish was in Iraq.

Both Chaldean Catholics and Assyrian Christians, the country’s largest Christian sects, still pray in Aramaic, the language of Jesus.

They have long been a tiny minority amid a sea of Islamic faith. But under Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s million or so Christians for the most part coexisted peacefully with Muslims, both the dominant Sunnis and the majority Shiites.

But since Mr. Hussein’s ouster, their status here has become increasingly uncertain, first because many Muslim Iraqis framed the American-led invasion as a modern crusade against Islam, and second because Christians traditionally run the country’s liquor stories, anathema to many religious Muslims.

Over the past three and a half years, Christians have been subjected to a steady stream of church bombings, assassinations, kidnappings and threatening letters slipped under their doors.

Estimates of the resulting Christian exodus vary from the tens of thousands to more than 100,000, with most heading for Syria, Jordan and Turkey.

The number of Christians who remain is also uncertain. The last Iraqi census, in 1987, counted 1.4 million Christians, but many left during the 1990’s when sanctions squeezed the country. Yonadam Kanna, the lone Christian member of the Iraqi Parliament, estimated the current Christian population at roughly 800,000, or about 3 percent of the population. A Chaldean Catholic auxiliary bishop, Andreos Abouna, told a British charity over the summer that there were just 600,000 Christians left, according to the Catholic News Service.

At the Church of the Virgin Mary, Father Khossaba showed a visitor the baptism forms for parishioners leaving the country who need proof of their religious affiliation for visas. Some weeks he has filled out 50 of the forms, he said, and some weeks more.

Attendance on Sundays has dwindled to four dozen or so, he said; it used to be more than 500 on average, and on Easter Sundays, before the collapse of the Hussein government, more than 1,500. Not all the missing members have left, of course; some simply stay at home on Sundays because of fears for their safety.

Many Christians have relocated, changing neighborhoods or even cities. About a thousand Christian families, from Mosul, Baghdad, Basra and elsewhere, have taken refuge in Ain Kawa, a small town outside the Kurdish city of Erbil, which has become an oasis for Christians, said the Rev. Yusuf Sabri, a priest at St. Joseph’s Chaldean Catholic Church there.

A Christian man with Baghdad license plates on his car who asked not to be identified said he had just arrived in Ain Kawa to inquire about moving there. A leaflet had been left at his home demanding he leave in three days. It bore the signature of Muhammad’s Army, a Sunni insurgent group.

“They regarded me as an agent for the crusaders,” he said.

Asaad Aziz, a 42-year-old Chaldean Catholic, is one of those trying to leave the country. After the ouster of Mr. Hussein, he bought a liquor store in a mostly Shiite neighborhood. Nine days after he opened, the store was bombed. Mr. Aziz was hospitalized for a month.

The employees rebuilt the store. But several months later, a note slipped under the door gave Mr. Aziz 48 hours to close.

“Otherwise, you will blame yourself,” it said.

Mr. Aziz closed. But after an unsuccessful stint at a friend’s printing company, he returned to the business he knew best, opening a liquor store in a mostly Christian neighborhood. Last month, a gunman riddled the new storefront with bullets as Mr. Aziz cowered in a back room.

He told another story: the teenage daughter of another Christian family he knows was kidnapped recently. The captors initially demanded a ransom, but later sarcastically said the pope was the only one who could release her. She was eventually killed.

“When the pope gave his statement, it destroyed any last hope that we had here,” said Mr. Aziz, who has forbidden his daughters, one in high school and the other in college, to return to school.

He recently went to the Turkish Embassy to inquire about a visa but was rebuffed. At this point, he said, he will go anywhere.

“We cannot practice our rituals and we cannot bring food home to our families,” he said. “That’s why I want to leave the country.”

Mosul, near the historic heart of Christianity in Iraq, has also become increasingly dangerous. The recently murdered priest, the Rev. Boulos Iskander Behnam, is just the latest member of the Christian community to be kidnapped or killed there.

Conditions have been especially bleak for Christians in Basra, the southern city that is dominated by radical Shiite militias. Christian women there often wear Muslim head scarves to avoid harassment from religious zealots trying to impose a strict Islamic dress code. After the pope’s statement, an angry crowd burned an effigy of him.

In Baghdad, Juliet Yusef attends St. George’s, the country’s lone Anglican church. She, too, now wears a head scarf anytime she ventures outside her neighborhood. “I am afraid of being attacked,” she said.

Dora, a neighborhood in southern Baghdad that was once heavily populated by Christians and has been plagued by sectarian violence, has now been mostly emptied of them. Christians were singled out there by insurgents who accused them of being friendly with the occupying Americans.

“They are Christian, we are Christian,” said one holdout, who asked to be identified only by her first name, Suzan. “They think most likely we know each other well.”

Two priests were kidnapped over the summer in Dora, although both were released, one after nearly a month.

Oddly, before the pope’s comments, as sectarian violence has escalated in Baghdad in the past year, some said the situation might have actually improved for Christians as Muslim militants turned their attention on one another.

Canon Andrew White, the Anglican vicar of Baghdad, who lives in Britain but visits Iraq frequently, said his driver was kidnapped recently but was promptly released after his Sunni Arab captors discovered he was a Christian. He said his captors apologized by saying, “We thought he was Shiite.”

“It must be the only occasion when being a Christian actually helped in this country,” he said.


Friday, October 13, 2006

Over 35,000 Christians Have Fled Iraq

From the Jerusalem Post ... Over 35,000 Christians Have Fled Iraq. Join me in praying for our Christian brothers and sisters in the Middle East. In full ...
More than 35,000 Iraqi Christians have fled to Syria to escape the violence in their country, the leader of an Iraqi Christian group said Thursday.

Christians, who make up three percent of Iraq's 26 million people, are leaving because of individual threats from Muslim extremists and the general deterioration of security in Iraq, said Emmanuel Khoshaba, the Syrian head of the Assyrian and Democratic Movement.

His figure indicates an increase of 75% from the 20,000 Iraqi Christians who were said to have moved to Syria in 2004, the year after US-led forces invaded Iraq and began the conflict.

One Iraqi Christian refugee, Bassam Najjari, 29, said he arrived in Syria last month; 40 days after gunmen shot and injured him in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, as police looked on.

"I decided to leave Baghdad with my family," said Najjari, who is staying in a camp near the Syrian capital, Damascus, with his parents and brothers.
His brother, Wissam, said he plans to start his own business in Syria.

"There is no hope of going back home as the security situation is very bad and there is no indication that it would get better soon," Wissam said.

"We want to live in safety. We don't want to be killed. We love life," said another Christian refugee, Saddallah Mardini, 43.

Mardini said US forces should leave Iraq now.

"The occupation has brought destruction to Iraq," he said.

His wife, Wissam, 25, complained of shortages of electricity and water in Iraq.

"My kids go to school now (in Syria), which is something they were deprived of in Iraq," she said.

Syria's relaxed visa rules for Arabs, as well as its border and cultural proximity to Iraq, have attracted thousands of Iraqi refugees, Muslims as well as Christians. But a disproportionate number of the refugees are Christian.

The violence in Iraq has hit Christians as it has targeted Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims.

Seven Christians were killed in 2004 when suspected Islamic militants set off bombs in five churches in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul. It was the first major assault on Iraq's Christians since Saddam Hussein's regime was toppled in April 2003.

More recently, the Rev. Hanna Saad Sirop, the director of the Theology Department at Babel University, central Iraq, was abducted Aug. 15 as he left a Baghdad church after a mass celebrating the Assumption.


Friday, October 06, 2006

Evangelicals Fear the Loss of Their Teenagers

From the NY Times ... Evangelicals Fear the Loss of Their Teenagers. In full ...

Despite their packed megachurches, their political clout and their increasing visibility on the national stage, evangelical Christian leaders are warning one another that their teenagers are abandoning the faith in droves.

At an unusual series of leadership meetings in 44 cities this fall, more than 6,000 pastors are hearing dire forecasts from some of the biggest names in the conservative evangelical movement.

Their alarm has been stoked by a highly suspect claim that if current trends continue, only 4 percent of teenagers will be “Bible-believing Christians” as adults. That would be a sharp decline compared with 35 percent of the current generation of baby boomers, and before that, 65 percent of the World War II generation.

While some critics say the statistics are greatly exaggerated (one evangelical magazine for youth ministers dubbed it “the 4 percent panic attack”), there is widespread consensus among evangelical leaders that they risk losing their teenagers.

“I’m looking at the data,” said Ron Luce, who organized the meetings and founded Teen Mania, a 20-year-old youth ministry, “and we’ve become post-Christian America, like post-Christian Europe. We’ve been working as hard as we know how to work — everyone in youth ministry is working hard — but we’re losing.”

The board of the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group representing 60 denominations and dozens of ministries, passed a resolution this year deploring “the epidemic of young people leaving the evangelical church.”

Among the leaders speaking at the meetings are Ted Haggard, president of the evangelical association; the Rev. Jerry Falwell; and nationally known preachers like Jack Hayford and Tommy Barnett.

Genuine alarm can be heard from Christian teenagers and youth pastors, who say they cannot compete against a pervasive culture of cynicism about religion, and the casual “hooking up” approach to sex so pervasive on MTV, on Web sites for teenagers and in hip-hop, rap and rock music. Divorced parents and dysfunctional families also lead some teenagers to avoid church entirely or to drift away.

Over and over in interviews, evangelical teenagers said they felt like a tiny, beleaguered minority in their schools and neighborhoods. They said they often felt alone in their struggles to live by their “Biblical values” by avoiding casual sex, risqué music and videos, Internet pornography, alcohol and drugs.

When Eric Soto, 18, transferred from a small charter school to a large public high school in Chicago, he said he was disappointed to find that an extracurricular Bible study attracted only five to eight students. “When we brought food, we thought we could get a better turnout,” he said. They got 12.

Chelsea Dunford, a 17-year old from Canton, Conn., said, “At school I don’t have a lot of friends who are Christians.”

Ms. Dunford spoke late last month as she and her small church youth group were about to join more than 3,400 teenagers in a sports arena at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst for a Christian youth extravaganza and rock concert called Acquire the Fire.

“A lot of my friends are self-proclaimed agnostics or atheists,” said Ms. Dunford, who wears a bracelet with a heart-shaped charm engraved with “tlw,” for “true love waits,” to remind herself of her pledge not to have premarital sex.

She said her friends were more prone to use profanity and party than she was, and added: “It’s scary sometimes. You get made fun of.”

To break the isolation and bolster the teenagers’ commitment to a conservative lifestyle, Mr. Luce has been organizing these stadium extravaganzas for 15 years. The event in Amherst was the first of 40 that Teen Mania is putting on between now and May, on a breakneck schedule that resembles a road trip for a major touring band. The “roadies” are 700 teenagers who have interned for a year at Teen Mania’s “Honor Academy” in Garden Valley, Tex.

More than two million teenagers have attended in the last 15 years, said Mr. Luce, a 45-year-old, mop-headed father of three with a master’s degree from the Graduate School of Business Administration at Harvard and the star power of an aging rock guitarist.

“That’s more than Paul McCartney has pulled in,” Mr. Luce asserted, before bounding onstage for the opening pyrotechnics and a prayer.

For the next two days, the teenagers in the arena pogoed to Christian bands, pledged to lead their friends to Christ and sang an anthem with the chorus, “We won’t be silent.” Hundreds streamed down the aisles for the altar call and knelt in front of the stage, some weeping openly as they prayed to give their lives to God.

The next morning, Mr. Luce led the crowd in an exercise in which they wrote on scraps of paper all the negative cultural influences, brand names, products and television shows that they planned to excise from their lives. Again they streamed down the aisles, this time to throw away the “cultural garbage.”

Trash cans filled with folded pieces of paper on which the teenagers had scribbled things like Ryan Seacrest, Louis Vuitton, “Gilmore Girls,” “Days of Our Lives,” Iron Maiden, Harry Potter, “need for a boyfriend” and “my perfect teeth obsession.” One had written in tiny letters: “fornication.”

Some teenagers threw away cigarette lighters, brand-name sweatshirts, Mardi Gras beads and CD’s — one titled “I’m a Hustla.”

“Lord Jesus,” Mr. Luce prayed into the microphone as the teenagers dropped their notes into the trash, “I strip off the identity of the world, and this morning I clothe myself with Christ, with his lifestyle. That’s what I want to be known for.”

Evangelical adults, like believers of every faith, fret about losing the next generation, said the Rev. David W. Key, director of Baptist Studies at the Candler School of Theology of Emory University, in Atlanta.

“The uniqueness of the evangelical situation is the fact that during the 80’s and 90’s you had the Reagan revolution that was growing the evangelical churches,” Mr. Key said.

Today, he said, the culture trivializes religion and normalizes secularism and liberal sexual mores.

The phenomenon may not be that young evangelicals are abandoning their faith, but that they are abandoning the institutional church, said Lauren Sandler, author of “Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement” (Viking, 2006). Ms. Sandler, who calls herself a secular liberal, said she found the movement frighteningly robust.

“This generation is not about church,” said Ms. Sandler, an editor at “They always say, ‘We take our faith outside the four walls.’ For a lot of young evangelicals, church is a rock festival, or a skate park or hanging out in someone’s basement.”

Contradicting the sense of isolation expressed by some evangelical teenagers, Ms. Sandler said, “I met plenty of kids who told me over and over that if you’re not Christian in your high school, you’re not cool — kids with Mohawks, with indie rock bands who feel peer pressure to be Christian.”

The reality is, when it comes to organizing youth, evangelical Christians are the envy of Roman Catholics, mainline Protestants and Jews, said Christian Smith, a professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame, who specializes in the study of American evangelicals and surveyed teens for his book “Soul Searching: the Religious and Spiritual lives of American Teenagers” (Oxford, 2005).

Mr. Smith said he was skeptical about the 4 percent statistic. He said the figure was from a footnote in a book and was inconsistent with research he had conducted and reviewed, which has found that evangelical teenagers are more likely to remain involved with their faith than are mainline Protestants, Catholics, Jews and teenagers of almost every other religion.

“A lot of the goals I’m very supportive of,” Mr. Smith said of the new evangelical youth campaign, “but it just kills me that it’s framed in such apocalyptic terms that couldn’t possibly hold up under half a second of scrutiny. It’s just self-defeating.”

The 4 percent is cited in the book “The Bridger Generation” by Thom S. Rainer, a Southern Baptist and a former professor of ministry. Mr. Rainer said in an interview that it came from a poll he had commissioned, and that while he thought the methodology was reliable, the poll was 10 years old.

“I would have to, with integrity, say there has been no significant follow-up to see if the numbers are still valid,” Mr. Rainer said.

Mr. Luce seems weary of criticism that his message is overly alarmist. He said that a current poll by the well-known evangelical pollster George Barna found that 5 percent of teenagers were Bible-believing Christians. Some criticize Mr. Barna’s methodology, however, for defining “Bible-believing” so narrowly that it excludes most people who consider themselves Christians.

Mr. Luce responded: “If the 4 percent is true, or even the 5 percent, it’s an indictment of youth ministry. So certainly they’re going to want different data.”

Outside the arena in Amherst, the teenagers at Mr. Luce’s Acquire the Fire extravaganza mobbed the tables hawking T-shirts and CD’s stamped: “Branded by God.” Mr. Luce’s strategy is to replace MTV’s wares with those of an alternative Christian culture, so teenagers will link their identity to Christ and not to the latest flesh-baring pop star.

Apparently, the strategy can show results. In Chicago, Eric Soto said he returned from a stadium event in Detroit in the spring to find that other teenagers in the hallways were also wearing “Acquire the Fire” T-shirts.

“You were there? You’re a Christian?” he said the young people would say to one another. “The fire doesn’t die once you leave the stadium. But it’s a challenge to keep it burning.”


Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Lest We Forget, Part XVII

From the Voice of the Martyrs blog ... A Christian Under Persecution Asks for Prayer. In full ...
Prisoner Alert has updated their website with a new prisoner that we can all pray for and be an advocate for. All we have to do is take a few minutes to pray and then act. My prayer is that all of you reading this take the time to act. Make it a family event that you can do with your children, or you can involve your bible studies or Sunday School classes. Whatever you do, please try.

The picture you're looking at is Issa Motamedi who was arrested on false charges of drug trafficking. It is suspected that because Issa and his wife, Parvah, attempted to register the birth of their son, Micah, who was born in January, with the civil population bureau. Selecting such a Biblical name may have caused the authorities to begin investigating this Christian family.

At the time of his July 24th arrest the convert was told he must renounce Christianity or face years in jail and possible execution for his apostasy. Under Iran’s judicial system based on Islamic law, anyone who leaves Islam for another religion has committed a capital offense. Lakan Prison officials reportedly tried for days to force him to confess to being involved in illegal drug trafficking.

Using strong psychological pressures, including threats to kill his family and other Christian believers, Issa was interrogated by secret service agents and a professor of Islamic theology, who urged him to recant his Christian faith and return to Islam. Issa refused to do so.

Iranian court authorities in the Northern city of Rasht have released Issa. He was granted bail August 24th, but the judge introduced new accusations against him at this hearing. According to unnamed “confidential witnesses,” the judge said, the convert’s eight-year-old daughter, Martha, allegedly had been trying to lead other children to the Christian faith.

He was reunited with his wife, Parvah, and his two children following his release. He has moved his family to an undisclosed location, but is subject to be recalled to court. Issa converted to Christianity seven years ago. He asks, “Pray for me, that I would be stronger in my faith.” Issa told other believers that the calmness and protection God gave him during his time in prison were miraculous.


South Park Creators Say 'Open Season on Jesus,' but Not Mohammed

From the Christian Post ... South Park Creators Say 'Open Season on Jesus,' but Not Mohammed. Give Matt and Trey credit, they're crude and immature -- but they recognize hypocrisy when they see it. In full ...
A Christian religion and media expert agreed with the creators of “South Park” that the Christian response to disrespectful portrayal of Jesus has been “far tamer” than the response from depictions of Mohammed.

“The Christian response to the disrespect shown for Jesus has been far tamer obviously than the response of sacrilegious depiction of Mohammed,” said Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center and director of the Religion & Media program on Thuesday.

“While Christians are bothered by these depictions of Jesus, you don’t see anybody issuing threats of violence and if there are any protests they are protests of non-violent form – namely boycotting products or something like that,” Cromartie noted. “But it is never the case that these people threaten violence because we do believe in freedom of speech and freedom of expression.”

South Park, a hit animation on Comedy Central which has been described as crude and disgusting, has poked fun at a wide range of religious figures, politicians, and celebrities including Jesus, Mohammed, President Bush, and Tom Cruise.

The creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, were recently interviewed on ABC “Nightline” about the show and its upcoming 10th season.

“That’s where we kind of agree with some of the people who’ve criticized our show,” said co-creator Matt Stone on Sept. 22. “Because it really is open season on Jesus. We can do whatever we want to Jesus, and we have.

“We’ve had him say bad words. We’ve had him shoot a gun. We’ve had him kill people. We can do whatever we want. But Mohammed, we couldn’t just show a simple image.”

The creators said when Mohammed was supposed to air on the screen, Comedy Central replaced the cartoon with a black screen that read: “Comedy Central has refused to broadcast an image of Mohammed on their network.”

Following the Mohammed cartoon uproar earlier this year, several networks had refused to air images of Mohammed, even during coverage of the Denmark cartoon riots, claiming to observe religious tolerance, said the South Park creator.

“No you’re not,” Stone countered during the interview. “You’re afraid of getting blown up. That’s what you’re afraid of. Comedy Central copped to that, you know: ‘We’re afraid of getting blown up.’”

Most recently, more than ten churches in Nigeria were burned or destroyed in late September over a dispute between a Muslim and Christian woman, according to Voice of the Martyrs sources in Nigeria. Muslims had accused the Christian woman of blasphemy against the Muslim Prophet Mohammed.

Barnabas Fund’s International director, Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo, had said he hopes that “Muslims [will] have the courage now to address this part of their faith and stop these attacks on Christians,” following the Nigeria church attacks.


Viewing God as Male 'Contributes to Domestic Abuse'

From WorldNetDaily ... Viewing God as male 'contributes to domestic abuse'. Join me in praying for the Church of England. In full ...
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is backing a Church of England report that claims viewing God in masculine terms can validate "overbearing and ultimately violent patterns of behavior" in intimate relationships and "contributes to domestic abuse," the London Daily Mail reports.

The document, entitled "Responding to Domestic Abuse, Guidelines for Pastoral Responsibility," is a response to a motion passed by the church's General Synod in July 2004 for guidelines to assist dioceses in working with other agencies and "speak[ing] out against the evil of domestic violence."

The report encourages churches to provide pastoral counsel to victims of domestic abuse and to provide information about relevant agencies and support services to those in need.

"Domestic abuse in all its forms is contrary to the will of God and an affront to human dignity," reads the forward co-signed by Williams. "All need to play their part in preventing or halting it."

But it is not the church's focus on the problem of domestic abuse that is drawing attention – it's the report's assertion that traditional church teaching reinforces abuse - intentionally or unintentionally.

"Deficient" and "perverse," the document charges, is the belief in "self-denial," which can be used to urge a victim to forgive without taking action to end the abuse.

"I think of the experience, not least of some victims themselves who can be locked into a belief that they deserve the punishment that they receive and they link that with the theology that they hear in church where Christ is victim," said the Rt. Rev. Graham James, Bishop of Norwich. "... maybe even that they think their suffering has redemptive quality to it which justifies it in some way."

The document points to "misguided" or distorted conceptions of God derived from the Bible and the Christian tradition that portrays divine power in "unhealthy and oppressive" ways. Among them are attributing violent actions and attitudes to God, primarily from the Old Testament – scripture that requires "careful" interpretation, the report warns.

Viewing man's relationship with God in terms of domination and submission and "uncritical use of masculine imagery," the report says, can validate "overbearing and ultimately violent patterns of behavior" responsible for domestic abuse.

This is not the first time the archbishop of Canterbury has raised eyebrows. In 2004, Williams publicly backed a new version of the Bible that promotes fornication and flatly contradicts traditional core Christian beliefs on sex and morality.


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Liberals Don't Have Very Many Kids

Lord Ron has some thoughts on his blog about a recent USA Today article entitled Liberals Don't Have Very Many Kids. Enjoy.


"We Had Abortions"

From the Associated Press via ... The 'We Had Abortions' Petition. In full ...
At a pivotal time in the abortion debate, Ms. magazine is releasing its fall issue next week with a cover story titled "We Had Abortions," accompanied by the names of thousands of women nationwide who signed a petition making that declaration.

The publication coincides with what the abortion-rights movement considers a watershed moment for its cause. Abortion access in many states is being curtailed, activists are uncertain about the stance of the U.S. Supreme Court, and South Dakotans vote Nov. 7 on a measure that would ban virtually all abortions in their state, even in cases of rape and incest.

"All this seems very dire," said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, which publishes Ms.

"We have to get away from what the politicians are saying," she said, "and get women's lives back in the picture."

Even before the issue reaches newsstands Oct. 10, anti-abortion activists have been decrying it. Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, wrote in a commentary that when she saw a Ms. announcement of the project, "the evil practically jumped right off the page."

Ms. executive editor Katherine Spillar said more than 5,000 women have signed the petition so far _ heeding its appeal to declare they are unashamed of the choice they made. The magazine itself had room for only 1,016 names, she said Tuesday, but all of them will be viewable online as Ms. encourages other women to continue adding their signatures.

Ms. says it will send the petition to Congress, the White House and state legislators.

The signatories include Ms. founder Gloria Steinem, comedian Carol Leifer, and actresses Kathy Najimy and Amy Brenneman, but most are not famous names.

Tyffine Jones, 27, of Jackson, Miss., said she had no hesitation about signing _ although she lives in a state where restrictions on abortion are tough and all but one abortion clinic has been closed.

Jones said she got an abortion 10 years ago _ enduring harassment from protesters when she entered the clinic _ in order to finish high school. She went on to become the first member of her family to graduate from college, and hopes at some point to attend law school.

"I wanted to do something bigger with myself _ I didn't want to be stopped by anything," she said in a telephone interview.

Another signatory, Debbie Findling of San Francisco, described her difficult decision last year to have an abortion after tests showed that she would bear a son with Down syndrome.

"I felt it was my right to make the decision, but having that right doesn't make the decision any easier," she said. "It was the hardest decision I've ever made."

Findling, 42, is married, with a 5-year-old daughter, and has been trying to get pregnant again while pursuing her career as a philanthropic foundation executive.

She says too many of her allies in the abortion-rights movement tend to minimize, at least publicly, the psychological impact of abortion.

"It's emotionally devastating," she said in a phone interview. "I don't regret my decision _ but I regret having been put in the position to have to make that choice. It's something I'll live with for the rest of my life."

Findling strongly supports the Ms. petition, and believes women who have had abortions need to be more open about their decisions. She has written an essay about her own experience, and plans to include it in an anthology she hopes to publish next year.

Ms. mounted this kind of petition drive when it was first published. Its debut issue in 1972 included a manifesto signed by 53 women _ many of them well-known _ declaring that they had undergone abortions despite state laws outlawing the procedure.

The next year, the Supreme Court issued its Roe v. Wade decision establishing abortion rights nationwide. Some abortion-rights activists are concerned that Roe could be overturned, either by the current court or if President Bush has the opportunity to appoint one more justice.

Smeal said Ms. staffers called the women who signed the petition to verify their information and be sure they were willing to have their names in print.

"The women thanked us for doing this," Smeal said. "They wanted to tell their stories."


Modern Eugenics: Our Brave New World

From American Vision ... Modern Eugenics: Our Brave New World. In full ...
The New York Times has seen the future. According to a recent, ominously titled article, “Couples Cull Embryos to Halt Heritage of Cancer,” it will not be long before a parent can choose her child the way a diner chooses her meal at a restaurant. “Soon...prospective parents may be able to choose between an embryo that could become a child with a lower risk of colon cancer who is likely to be fat, or one who is likely to be thin but has a slightly elevated risk of Alzheimer’s, or a boy likely to be short with low cholesterol but a significant risk of Parkinson’s, or a girl likely to be tall with a moderate risk of diabetes.”

What the article does not emphasize is that if the tall girl with a risk of diabetes is chosen, the other three will likely be left to die.

Many newspapers are reporting that preimplantation genetic diagnosis, or P.G.D., is growing in popularity. P.G.D. is a process that begins with in vitro fertilization, where eggs are removed from the mother’s body and fertilized by sperm in a petri dish, creating a set of human embryos. When these embryos are three to five days old they consist of eight cells. One of those cells is removed and genetically tested for diseases, such as colon cancer, breast cancer, Down syndrome, or cystic fibrosis. Scientists can also determine whether the tiny embryo is a boy or a girl. Based on this information, parents can decide which embryos they want to keep, abandoning the rest.

With this technology, we usher in a dangerous new eugenics movement. The theory of eugenics was developed by Sir Francis Galton (1822–1911), who was Charles Darwin’s half-cousin. Natural selection, which drives Darwin’s evolution, says that the strong, fit, and well-adapted survive in nature, while the weak and sickly die off. Therefore, the strong pass their healthy genes to the next generation, and the evolutionary tree grows up and up.

In human societies, Galton noticed, evolution is thwarted. Whereas natural selection requires that the weak die early, leaving few, if any, children, society actually protects the poor and the sickly. This compassion for the weak works against evolution and creates a “reversion towards mediocrity.” Galton, and many others at that time, believed that, by practicing selective breeding, human societies could weed out those who were prone to illness or other undesirable traits, thus putting evolution back on track. After all, who wouldn’t want an improved genetic pool?

The eugenics movement was big in the United States in the early 20th century. It took the form of forced sterilizations, reduced immigration quotas for those from “inferior stock”, and marriage laws that prevented the “epileptic, imbecile or feeble-minded” from marrying. It was also big in Nazi Germany, where it took the form of the Holocaust.

After facing the grim reality of the Holocaust, eugenics lost its public appeal...for a time. Still, the hope of an improved gene pool seems too tempting for some to resist.

Modern eugenics seeks to project a kinder, gentler visage. Today’s eugenics isn’t about government officials in state offices determining who can or cannot marry. Its proponents maintain it is about mothers and fathers who want to protect their children from debilitating family diseases. Who wouldn’t want their baby boy or girl to be as healthy as possible?

Unfortunately, this understandable desire has led to the destruction of numerous embryonic human beings. With genetic screening, parents now know before their child is born whether or not it has undesirable handicaps, like Down syndrome. A 2002 study found that, when tests determine that a pre-born child has Down syndrome, the parents choose abortion 91-93% of the time. Our desire for healthy children is leading us to destroy those with actual or potential handicaps.

With P.G.D., children are created in a lab, tested, and graded. Those who fail the test are destroyed. In the New York Times article, a teacher named Denise Toeckes, who has a genetic mutation that puts her at a higher risk for breast cancer, says, “It’s like children are admitted to a family only if they pass the test...It’s like, ‘If you have a gene, we don’t want you; if you have the potential to develop cancer, you can’t be in our family.’ “

Articles about P.G.D. often imply that, thanks to the technology, a child is saved from a genetic disease, but that simply is not the case. As many handicapped and at-risk children are conceived today as ever before. The only difference is that now, when the handicap or risk is detected, the unborn child is likely to be discarded or destroyed.

Cynics respond, “Who cares?” If Darwin was right, maybe all these genetically unhealthy people really do just pollute the gene pool. Maybe they are the source of unnecessary suffering, for their families, for the state, and even for themselves. Perhaps they really are “lives unworthy of life,” a category of people targeted for destruction by Hitler’s euthanasia program.

Such cynicism runs counter to Judeo-Christian values. The Scriptures teach that human beings have worth, value, and dignity because they are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26–27). We have been redeemed not merely with silver and gold but with the “precious blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18, NIV). Our worth is not determined on the basis of what we can do, or how we look, or how smart we are. It is based on who we are and what God has done for us.

God loves us notwithstanding our diseases, handicaps, and sin. Christ never shrank from reaching out to the blind, the lame, or the leper—and neither should we.


Revival in India?

From the BBC ... 'Miracles' boost Indian Christians. In full ...
More than 100 years after the first waves of a great Welsh religious revival reached faraway north-eastern India, Christian church leaders are claiming a religious reawakening in the region.

Leaders of the Presbyterian Church in the north-eastern Indian states of Meghalaya and Mizoram - sandwiched between Muslim Bangladesh and Buddhist Burma - say there have been miracles occurring.

A church at Malki, in Meghalaya's capital Shillong, has been receiving a steady stream of devotees ever since word spread that a cross here has been glowing and radiating the image of Lord Jesus.

This, combined with recent reports of several school students "convulsing, behaving abnormally and even fainting", has prompted the talk of a revival.

"The Holy Spirit is here to reawaken people," says Reverend Laldawngliana, a spokesman for the Presbyterian Church of India in Shillong.

Special prayers

He says similar religious experiences proclaimed the beginning of a reawakening in the region in 1906, just two years after the last great revival in Wales.

The Presbyterian Church celebrated the centenary of the revival with special congregations and prayer services in April.

Reverend Laldawngliana says reports of students fainting started pouring in a couple of weeks after the centenary celebrations.

Theologian Reverend Chuauthuama says similar reports have come in from Mizoram too.

All the seven north-eastern states have a significant population of Christians and at least three states in the region - Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland - are Christian majority.

Christianity came to the northeast in early 19th century when the British conquered Assam and slowly muscled their way into the rest of the region.

The Presbyterian Church of India was founded in 1841 by a Welsh missionary, Reverend Thomas Jones, in Meghalaya (then a part of Assam).

'A boost'

"The revival in 1906 gave a fillip to the evangelical works of Welsh missionaries in both Meghalaya and Mizoram," says Rev Vanlalchhuanawma, an expert in the history of Christian revivals.

"Christianity came to the region in a western garb. Now if a revival really occurs in the region, we will be very happy. It will possibly give a boost to our efforts to get rid of the 'foreign religion tag'," he says.

Christian leaders in Mizoram and Meghalaya say a revival here may help the church in Wales, the seat of the Presbyterian Church.

Though Wales witnessed some 15 major revivals in the 18th and 19th centuries, the region has of late been going through a religious crisis.

According to a 2001 study, not even one in 10 people in Wales regularly go to church.

The Presbyterian Church of India sent two priests - Rev Hmar Sankhuma and Rev John Colney - to Wales a few months back to fill the "spiritual void" there.

"We owe a lot to the Church in Wales. We have to do our bit when our parent church is in crisis," says Rev Chuauthuama.

'Bogus attempt'

The claims of miracles in Meghalaya have gone largely unchallenged.

But Bengal-based rationalist Prabir Ghosh dismisses the phenomenon as a "bogus attempt" by the Church to draw converts.

Earlier, Mr Ghosh had challenged the basis for Mother Teresa's beatification. He argued that she should be conferred sainthood on the basis of her great work amongst Calcutta's poor rather than over miracles attributed to her.

"The Pope has said this will be the century of Christianity, so churches all over are seeking large-scale conversions and the miracles are part of the exercise," says Mr Ghosh.

The governments of the north-eastern states have maintained a studied silence on the issue.

"We are keeping a close watch on the situation," is all that they will say officially.


US Invaded Iraq to Stop Islamic Messiah, al Sadr Claims

From the Times Online UK ... Waiting for the imam's return to Earth. In full ...
The followers of Moqtada al-Sadr believe that the US invaded Iraq to prevent the return to Earth of their sect’s messiah-like figure, the Mahdi, or 12th imam.

Hojatoleslam al-Sadr claims that his militia is preparing for the day when the Mahdi, the last direct descendent of the revered Shia figure Ali, reappears. Shia believe that the Mahdi, who disappeared in 868, will bring justice to Earth.

At a prayer service in the central Iraqi city of Kufa on September 15, the cleric told a crowd of thousands that the Americans were collecting a dossier on the Mahdi to prevent his return. “Did you ever ask yourself about why all of this, the bloodshed and the prisons? Why are the brothers fighting each other for a political game planned by the Americans? This all happened because they (the Americans) are waiting for the Mahdi. This planning started ten years ago. They have a big file for Imam Mahdi and they just need his picture to complete it.”

Hojatoleslam al-Sadr and his advisers are convinced that the Americans want to destroy Islam and stop the Mahdi. “The Americans are trying to hijack Islamic movements. They think that these are serving the Mahdi’s interests. Whatever they did in Afghanistan and Iraq are all attempts to hijack the Mahdi’s return.”


Friday, September 29, 2006

Lest We Forget, Part XXVI

Boy Slave 'Crucified' by Sudanese Muslim: Now a youth, he tells Voice of the Martyrs he's forgiven attacker. From World Net Daily, via, in full ...
A Sudanese slave who was assigned to watch his Muslim master's camels was "crucified" when he was caught sneaking out to attend a Christian church, according to reports from Voice of the Martyrs.

The aid organization that helps persecuted Christians worldwide said the reports come from witnesses in the Sudan who were in contact with the youth, now about 15.

Damare Garang was seven when the attack happened, officials said. He had been captured by Islamic soldiers when his Sudanese village was attacked, and then sold as a slave to a Muslim family in Tuobon, Bahr el Gazel.

His duties were to tend the master's camels, but one day one fled.

"How could you do this? You will surely have to pay! You stupid slave, I should just kill you now," he was told.

However, the child escaped any injuries at that point.

Then the following day Damare, who had been raised in a Christian family, sneaked away for a time to a small church service across the village.

His master was waiting when he returned.

"Where have you been?" he was asked, and partly from fear and partly from not having another answer, he said, "to church."

"You have made two grave mistakes," the slave master said. "Yesterday you lost one of my camels, and today you worship with infidels!"

The master went to a barn and returned with a large board, some rusty spikes and a hammer, the report said.

"Frozen in fear, Damare was dragged out to the edge of his master's compound where he was forced to the ground with his legs over the board," the VOM report said. "The savage brutality of the master was unleashed as he proceeded to drive the long nails through Damare's knees and then nail his feet securely onto the board."

While Damare was screaming in agony, the slave master simply walked away.

The boy's help arrived in the form of a Good Samaritan who happened by, and saw the small boy. The man sneaked into the compound and carried the boy to a hospital where the board and nails were removed.

Damare later was released to the custody of his helper, with whom he lived for the next 18 months.

Once again, then, there was a militia attack on his village, and he was separated from his protector. When the Islamic army soldiers were driven off, a commander of village forces recognized Damare's speech as being of the Dinka tribe, and took charge of him.

That commander eventually adopted Damare, who now lives in Mario Kong.

He remains disappointed he is unable to run quickly like other boys, but he says he's forgiven his attacker, because Jesus was nailed to a cross to forgive all sins.

"Before leaving, we gave Damare a care package with mosquito netting, soap, new clothing, shoes, a hat, a new Bible, a soccer ball, and a fishing line and hooks," said the VOM report by Tom Zurowski.

"Please tell the Christian children in America to remember to pray for the children of Sudan," Damare told his visitors.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Suicide bombers follow Quran, concludes Pentagon briefing

From World Net Daily ... Suicide bombers follow Quran, concludes Pentagon briefing. In full ...
With suicide bombings spreading from Iraq to Afghanistan, the Pentagon has tasked intelligence analysts to pinpoint what's driving Muslim after Muslim to do the unthinkable.

Their preliminary finding is politically explosive: it's their "holy book" the Quran after all, according to intelligence briefings obtained by WND.

In public, the U.S. government has made an effort to avoid linking the terrorist threat to Islam and the Quran while dismissing suicide terrorists as crazed heretics who pervert Islamic teachings.

"The terrorists distort the idea of jihad into a call for violence and murder," the White House maintains in its recently released "National Strategy for Combating Terrorism" report.

(Story continues below)

But internal Pentagon briefings show intelligence analysts have reached a wholly different conclusion after studying Islamic scripture and the backgrounds of suicide terrorists. They've found that most Muslim suicide bombers are in fact students of the Quran who are motivated by its violent commands – making them, as strange as it sounds to the West, "rational actors" on the Islamic stage.

Palestinian child pretends he's a suicide bomber

In Islam, it is not how one lives one's life that guarantees spiritual salvation, but how one dies, according to the briefings. There are great advantages to becoming a martyr. Dying while fighting the infidels in the cause of Allah reserves a special place and honor in Paradise. And it earns special favor with Allah.

"Suicide in defense of Islam is permitted, and the Islamic suicide bomber is, in the main, a rational actor," concludes a recent Pentagon briefing paper titled, "Motivations of Muslim Suicide Bombers."

Suicide for Allah a 'win-win'

"His actions provide a win-win scenario for himself, his family, his faith and his God," the document explains. "The bomber secures salvation and the pleasures of Paradise. He earns a degree of financial security and a place for his family in Paradise. He defends his faith and takes his place in a long line of martyrs to be memorialized as a valorous fighter.

"And finally, because of the manner of his death, he is assured that he will find favor with Allah," the briefing adds. "Against these considerations, the selfless sacrifice by the individual Muslim to destroy Islam's enemies becomes a suitable, feasible and acceptable course of action."

The briefing – produced by a little-known Pentagon intelligence unit called the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA – cites a number of passages from the Quran dealing with jihad, or "holy" warfare, martyrdom and Paradise, where "beautiful mansions" and "maidens" await martyr heroes. In preparation for attacks, suicide terrorists typically recite passages from six surahs, or chapters, of the Quran: Baqura (Surah 2), Al Imran (3), Anfal (8), Tawba (9), Rahman (55) and Asr (103).

CIFA staffs hundreds of investigators and analysts to help coordinate Pentagon security efforts at U.S. military installations at home and abroad.

The Pentagon unit is especially concerned about a new wave of suicide bombings hitting Afghanistan.

Suicide bombings have killed more than 200 people in Afghanistan this year, up from single digits two years ago. On Tuesday, a suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest and killed 18 outside an Afghan government compound. Last week, a suicide bomber riding a bike killed at least four NATO soldiers. And earlier this month, a suicide car bomber rammed into a U.S. military convoy near the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, killing 16 people, including two American soldiers.

500 suicide bombers in reserve

The U.S. command in Afghanistan now warns that a suicide bombing cell is operating inside the Afghan capital. Meanwhile, the Taliban's top military commander told ABC News he has 500 suicide bombers at his disposal.

"We have so many of them that it is difficult to accommodate and arm and equip them," Mullah Dadullah Akhund said. "Some of them have been waiting for a year or more for their turn to be sent to the battlefield."

The emergence of a suicide cell in Kabul troubles military analysts because suicide attacks are the most effective weapon Muslim terrorists can use against the West. The Rand Corp. predicts they'll pose a serious and constant threat to the U.S. for years to come.

The U.S. intelligence community is growing increasingly worried, as well.

"Most jihadist groups will use suicide attacks focused primarily on soft targets to implement asymmetric warfare strategy," warns the just-declassified executive summary of the National Intelligence Estimate on the global terror threat. "Fighters with experience in Iraq are a potential source of leadership for jihadists pursuing these tactics."

Many scholars and media pundits, however, insist Muslim suicide bombers are not driven by religion.

"Beneath the religious rhetoric with which [such terror] is perpetrated, it occurs largely in the service of secular aims," claims Professor Robert A. Pape of the University of Chicago. "Suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation rather than a product of Islamic fundamentalism."

He says U.S. foreign policy is more a factor than faith.

"Though it speaks of Americans as infidels, al-Qaida is less concerned with converting us to Islam than removing us from Arab and Muslim lands," Pape said.

But what about the recent video by Adam Gadahn, the American al-Qaida, warning fellow Americans to convert to Islam before al-Qaida attacks again?

"He never mentions virgins or the benefits Islamic martyrs receive in Heaven," Pape asserted.

In fact, Gadahn notes 36 minutes into his speech that Allah reserves the highest rewards – "honors and delights" – for martyrs in Paradise.

"[He] promised the martyr in his path the reward over and above the reward of the believer," Gadahn said. "He has promised them honors and delights too numerous to go into here."

The 9/11 hijackers and the London bombers made martyrdom videos. In their last testaments, they recite the Quran while talking of their "love of death" and "sacrificing life for Allah." Seven martyrdom videotapes also were recovered by British authorities in the foiled transatlantic sky terror plot.

Before the 9/11 attacks, the hijackers shaved and doused themselves with flower water in preparation for their weddings with the beautiful virgins in Paradise. "Know that the women of Paradise are waiting, calling out 'Come hither, friend of Allah,'" according to a four-page letter circulated among them titled "THE LAST NIGHT." "They have dressed in their most beautiful clothing."

But are the virgins scriptural or apocryphal? French documentarian Pierre Rehov, who interviewed the families of suicide bombers and would-be bombers in an attempt to find out why they do it, says it's not a myth or fantasy of heretics.

He says there's no doubt the Quran "promises virgins" to Muslim men who die while fighting infidels in jihad, and it's a key motivating factor behind suicide terrorism.

"It's obviously connected to religion," said Rehov, who features his interviews with Muslims in a recently released film, "Suicide Killers." "They really believe they are going to get the virgins."

He says would-be Muslim suicide bombers he's interviewed have shown him passages in the Quran "in which it's absolutely written that they're going to get the girls in the afterlife."

Muslim clerics do not disavow the virgins-for-martyrs reward as a perverted interpretation of the Quran.

And even Muslim leaders in the West condone suicide bombings. British scholar Azzam Tamimi recently told 8,000 Muslims in Manchester, England, that dying while fighting "George Bush and Tony Blair" is "just" and "the greatest act of martyrdom." Earlier, he said it's "the straight way to pleasing Allah."

And the founder of an allegedly mainstream Muslim group in Washington – the Council on American-Islamic Relations – also has given his blessing to suicide bombings.

Addressing a youth session at the 1999 Islamic Association for Palestine's annual convention in Chicago, CAIR founder Omar Ahmad praised suicide bombers who "kill themselves for Islam," according to a transcript provided by terror expert Steve Emerson's Investigative Project.

"Fighting for freedom, fighting for Islam, that is not suicide," Ahmad asserted. "They kill themselves for Islam."

Osama bin Laden has encouraged "Muslims brothers" to defeat the U.S. and U.K. with suicide attacks.

"I tell you to act upon the orders of Allah," he said in 2003, "be united against Bush and Blair and defeat them through suicide attacks so that you may be successful before Allah."


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Killing Disabled Newborns is Acceptable

"Bioethicist" Peter Singer states that Killing Disabled Newborns is Acceptable. Give him credit. Unlike most pro-deathers, at least he's consistent. In full ...
Princeton University's Peter Singer, widely known for his founding of the Great Ape Project to grant apes the same rights as humans, said Sept. 11 he would kill a disabled baby “if that was in the best interests of the baby and of the family as a whole.”

“Many people find this shocking, yet they support a woman’s right to have an abortion,” Singer, a professor of bioethics, said in a question and answer article in The Independent, a British newspaper. “One point on which I agree with opponents of abortion is that, from the point of view of ethics rather than the law, there is no sharp distinction between the fetus and the newborn baby.”

Singer’s position is the "logical extension of the culture of death,", a pro-life news agency, asserted. He contends there is no inherent dignity in man and no sanctity of human life. Singer rejects the idea that man was created in the image and likeness of God, the site noted, and therefore believes man deserves no special treatment.

“Once again Singer is making distinctions between human beings he would consider normal and those he would consider not normal, thus he is deciding who is a person and who is not,” Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, told “Non-persons are allowed to be killed.”

In the same article, Singer was asked a question about giving rights to animals that can’t understand those rights: “Isn't it contradictory to ascribe human-based rights to animals? Surely it is absurd to apply a purely human concept to an animal who has no hope of ever understanding such a thing.”

Singer said the idea of giving human-based rights to animals was not at all absurd.

“Anyone who ascribes rights to babies or humans with intellectual disabilities must be willing to attribute rights to beings who can't understand the concept,” Singer said. “It's the moral agents, the ones who are acting, who need to understand the concept. Those to whom we attribute rights do not need to understand these concepts.”

Another question dealt with what Singer would do if he were forced to decide between “shooting 10 healthy cows and one healthy human.”

“I've written that it is much worse to kill a being who is aware of having a past and a future, and who plans for the future,” Singer said. “Normal humans have such plans, but I don't think cows do. And normal humans have family and friends who will grieve their death in ways more vivid and longer-lasting than the way cows may care about other cows. (Although a cow certainly misses her calf for a long time, if the calf is taken from her. That's why there is a major ethical problem with dairy products.) If I really had to make such a decision, I'd kill the cows.”

When asked whether there are moral absolutes, Singer said there is only one.

“The only moral absolute is that we should do what will have the best consequences for all those affected by our actions,” he said.

In a question and answer article for the St. Petersburg Times in Florida published Sept. 14, Singer again addressed the issue of euthanasia.

“You've written about Terri Schiavo,” reporter Susan Aschoff said. “You say people have the right to end their lives or those of their loved ones. Where do you draw the line?”

“You have to distinguish cases,” Singer said, “where people are competent to make their own decisions and cases where human beings are not competent, and who should then make those decisions. If it's a newborn baby, it's really the parents.

“When we talk about decisions that are made in utero, most people would agree that a pregnant woman who has a fetus with a severe abnormality ought to be able to terminate the pregnancy,” he added. “Most people, including Catholic hospitals, don't say you have to do everything to keep a newborn infant alive.”

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., has written commentaries on Singer’s radical views several times, including in 2005 when Mohler said the very fact that Singer and others seriously make such arguments about the value of human life indicates that the culture of death is growing in assertiveness.

“Once we accept any moral distinction between a human being and a human person, we embrace the logic of death and inch our way toward an inevitable embrace of murder. It doesn't get much scarier than this,” Mohler wrote.


The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege

A book review of The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege from the Sunday New York Times. In full ...
So much for the power of prophecy. If the great prophets of the 19th and early 20th centuries agreed on anything, whether they were utopians like Marx or pessimists like Weber, it was that God was on his deathbed. Religion was a fading force; society was secularizing; and theology, once the queen of the sciences, was headed for irrelevance.

Six years into the 21st century, fanatics are strapping on suicide belts and blowing themselves to smithereens in the name of God. The onward march of religion is not confined to Islam or the left-out bits of the globe. In much of the developing world, Christianity is doing a much better job of harvesting souls than Islam. In the only remaining superpower, the United States, hot religion is triumphing at the expense of cool religion (the mainline has long since passed to the sideline); and the religious revival is spreading from the masses to the intelligentsia.

“The Theocons” is a study of a group of Roman Catholic thinkers who, by their own lights at least, have been at the heart of this intellectual revival — Michael Novak, George Weigel, Robert P. George and, most important of all, Richard John Neuhaus, a former Lutheran pastor who converted to Catholicism in 1990. Damon Linker clearly wants to capitalize on the infamy of the neocons — a groupuscule that is recognized and reviled the world over — and he has half a point. The theocons come from a different generation from Irving Kristol and company: they reached maturity in the 1960’s rather than the 1950’s. But the parallels are striking.

They started life as left-wing radicals: Neuhaus looked forward to a social conflagration, and Novak called for the destruction of “the idol of inhibition, repression and shame.” They broke with their radical past, dismissing the 1960’s as what Neuhaus calls a “slum of a decade,” feuding with their former friends and moving smartly to the right. And they eventually found a comfortable home in the bosom of the conservative establishment. Novak is a cardinal in the papal college of neoconservatism, the American Enterprise Institute.

Linker is a disillusioned theocon who cut his journalistic teeth working for Neuhaus’s magazine, First Things. But his tone is admirably restrained, dispassionate and scholarly when it could so easily have been rank and recriminatory, and he uses his insider’s knowledge to build up a detailed account of the movement. The result, for anybody who wants to understand the growing public role of American religion, is a book to reckon with.

Linker tells the story of how the theocons advanced on several fronts at once: establishing links with conservative foundations, forging an alliance with evangelicals and trying to redirect Roman Catholicism (Novak’s “Spirit of Democratic Capitalism” remains the most ambitious attempt to reconcile Catholicism with Reagan-style capitalism). He argues that these maneuvers involved convolutions and compromises. As Americans, the theocons were treated with some suspicion in Rome; as Roman Catholics, they were treated with suspicion by both the evangelicals, who dominated the religious right, and the secular Jews, who wielded growing influence on the intellectual right.

In telling his tale Linker scores some good points against his former bedfellows, without abandoning his dispassionate tone. First Things, he reminds us, once ran an issue seriously discussing the case for resisting the American “regime” because of its support for abortion. He also convicts the theocons of cafeteria Catholicism — as strict as you can get when it comes to contraception and euthanasia but willing to second guess the Vatican when it comes to war in the gulf. The best passages in the book deal with a schizophrenia that has them demonizing “the people” when they vote for Bill Clinton and sanctifying them when they vote for George W. Bush. “This is the permanent theocon dynamic,” Linker writes, “hurtling wildly from theological affirmation of the country to theocratic denunciation and back again.”

But Linker overestimates the importance of his subject matter: the theocons are pale imitations of the neocons and the evangelicals when it comes to exercising influence in the Earthly City. The evangelical movement is the engine of the Republican majority, after all. The bearer of the Republican standard has talked about Jesus changing his heart. (Neuhaus deeply dislikes the evangelicals’ “overly confident claims to being born again,” as well as their “forced happiness and joy” and their “awful music.”)

In the end, the theocons are just too eccentric to exercise the sort of influence on America that Linker ascribes to them. Again and again — in their deference to papal authority, in their belief that American ideals and institutions derive from Catholic principles, in their willingness to sanction civil disobedience — the theocons come across not as harbingers of a conservative revolution but as a rather eccentric intellectual clique. Secular America has more potent enemies to worry about than the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus and his colleagues.


The Reality of Religion

Michael Ledeen from the National Review online enters the fray with a profound overview of the Pope kerfuffle. The Reality of Religion. In full ...
It’s notable, I think, that religion — not so long ago pronounced irrelevant by most everyone in proper society — now dominates the global debate. Even a Communist like Hugo Chavez used religious terms to denounce W., perhaps because he is now in a tag team with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who speaks for a theocracy. But despite the fundamental importance of religion, most of our sages and scribblers are poorly equipped to deal with it, as you can see from the awkward coverage of the pope’s speech at Regensberg. It was, as you’d expect from a pope, a religious text, but the religious content was rarely reported, aside from Benedict’s remarks about Islam — themselves a part of a broader religious message aimed primarily at Europeans. A big part of his message was that Greek philosophical thought is central to Roman Catholicism, and that Catholicism evolved in Europe, in the constant interplay between faith and reason. It’s almost impossible to find that in the discussion.

The stuff about Islam was predictably discussed in the usual context of political correctness, according to which it is always wrong to criticize another person’s beliefs, and very wrong to criticize the beliefs of a foreign “culture.” They seemed unable to comprehend that, in ultimate issues, this sort of total tolerance doesn’t work. And the pretense that violently conflicting views of the world can be smoothed over in pleasant conversation only has the effect of intensifying the conflicts. We have arrived at the present unhappy situation not so much because we challenged those with different worldview, but because we ceased to assert our own values and advance our world view. In my graduate-student days, I met a fine New York editor by the name of Howard Fertig. Howard edited the books written by my boss, the great historian George L. Mosse, and from time to time I got to have lunch with him in Manhattan, usually at a long-gone German restaurant, Luchow’s. At one of these lunches Howard shook his head sadly — we’re talking 1963 or 64 — and pronounced the death of America. Why? Because, he said, we had adopted the view that everyone is entitled to one hang-up. Yes, so-and-so was a child molester, but hey, that’s his hang-up. This attitude used to be applied to great artists and writers, like Ezra Pound, whose hang-up was the embrace of fascism.

The combination of this crackpot toleration with a general contempt for religion made it difficult for us to comprehend the nature of the current war. Everyone from W. on down has been at great pains to assure us and themselves that we have no basic conflict with Islam, that our battle is with some lunatics who say falsely that they speak in the name of Islam. So we feel quite uncomfortable when the pope — quite deliberately — poses a question about Islam itself: Is it capable of responding to reason, or is it, as he put it, completely transcendent, beyond the reach of man, and hence unchallengeable by man under any circumstances?

It’s a big question, not easily reduced to newspeak like “did the pope anticipate the reaction?” Or “did the pope go too far?” That sort of banter is embarrassingly silly. Of course the pope anticipated the reaction, he’s one of the smartest and most learned men in the world, and he’s spent a lot of time studying Islam. He wanted to draw a line. He is not prepared to extend total, blind toleration to people who use violence in the name of faith, and he’s challenging the Muslims to answer the real questions. That quotation he chose — the one that asks, Is there anything positive that has emerged from the expansion of the domain of Islam? — wasn’t generated at random. He picked it quite wittingly. Of course he knows that, for several centuries, Islam conserved the wisdom of the West, the same “Greek” wisdom he invoked as the indispensable partner of Christian faith. He’s defying the Muslims to admit that, because he knows that the jihadis don’t want to hear about it, and that an open debate about it may undermine the sway of so many dogmatic mosques, schools, TV stations, and Internet sites.

And a surprising number of Europeans understood it, and responded positively. Did you notice that the former archbishop of Canterbury weighed in with a statement even tougher than anything the pope said? Lord Carey said that our problem was not with a minority of Muslims but with Islam itself, whereas the pope left the question open, and called for dialogue. Even the famously wimpy Spanish President Zapatero had words of support, an amazing spectacle for a man who has delighted in flaunting his laicism and challenging numerous Catholic doctrines.

But I’m afraid that we’re not engaging this debate, because our leaders are afraid to do so, and poorly equipped to participate. Our educational system has long since banished religion from its texts, and an amazing number of Americans are intellectually unprepared for a discussion in which religion is the central organizing principle. I learned from a teacher at one of the best private high schools in this area that it was virtually impossible for him to teach the Reformation properly, since the major metaphors came from the Book of Daniel, and virtually none of his students was familiar with the text.

Ignorance of things religious is terribly damaging for other reasons as well, not least of all because it prevents us from understanding the nature of our most dangerous enemies. Michael Rubin wrote a fine piece in the Wall Street Journal the other day, listing some of the lies produced by the Islamic Republic of Iran, and noting that there was actually a provision in sharia that made such lying to infidels completely acceptable and on occasion admirable. Yet the Europeans, who preen themselves on their cultural superiority, continue to be gulled by the Iranians, and W. has now completely swallowed the notion that if the Iranians ignore one ultimatum, we must not act, but simply set a new deadline. Down this path lies ruin. Yet the self-proclaimed “realists” always color themselves “surprised” when the Iranians do it.

In their latest attempt at realistic appeasement, the Council on Foreign Relations hosted President Ahmadinejad, obviously hoping to begin that “dialogue” so dear to their hearts. But, at least according to the New York Times, it didn’t go well at all. “He is a master of counterpunch, deception, circumlocution,’’ Brent Scowcroft said, shaking his head. Robert Blackwill emerged from the conversation wondering how the United States would ever be able to negotiate with this Iranian government...”If this man represents the prevailing government opinion in Tehran, we are heading for a massive confrontation with Iran,” he said.

As usual, the most surprising thing about the likes of Scowcroft and Blackwill is that they are surprised. But then, these are the folks who gave us the debacle of the first Bush presidency — the desperate attempt to prevent the fall of the Soviet empire, the last-minute rescue of Saddam, etc. Let’s hope they don’t convince the second President Bush to follow in their tiny footsteps.


God's Boot Camp?

More on the documentary Jesus Camp ... from the LA Times ... God's Boot Camp? In full ...
"Jesus Camp," a documentary feature film that follows evangelical Christian children at a religious summer camp, won prizes and critical praise on the summer festival circuit, but it wasn't until its quiet opening in the Midwest two weeks ago that a news clip about the film hit, inciting a whirlwind of controversy.

Already, the movie, which opens in L.A. this week, has split the Christian community and horrified those who fear the ascendance of the religious right on the national stage. "Jesus Camp" opened Friday in New York and will open in 20 more cities nationally Oct. 6.

Bloggers of all stripes have been so disgusted by the bits of the film they have seen on the Web that the film's central subject, camp founder Pastor Becky Fischer, has become a public figure, bombarded with hateful e-mails and bracing for her media appearances next week, including a scheduled appearance on ABC's "Good Morning America." The A&E Indiefilms/Magnolia Pictures film follows Rachael, now 10, Levi, now 13, and Tory, now 11, engaging and articulate children from Midwestern towns who attend Fischer's "Kids on Fire" Bible camp in Devils Lake, N.D., in 2005. The filmmakers, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, take a straightforward look at their subjects.

The film's cherub-faced children cheer when asked if they'd be willing to give up their lives for Jesus, pray over a cardboard cutout of President Bush and sob as they plead for an end to abortion. One is home-schooled by a mother who teaches that "science doesn't prove anything."

'This is war!'

At one point in the film, Fischer shouts to the children, "This is war! Are you part of it or not?" She proudly compares her work to the indoctrination of young boys by extremist Muslims in Pakistan and elsewhere. The film intersperses footage of Fischer and the children with clips of radio talk-show host Mike Papantonio, a liberal Methodist, excoriating conservative Christians like Fischer.

Fischer is disappointed by the way she appears in the film. "I do understand they're out to tell a story and they felt they found it with some of the political things," she said by phone from her home in Bismarck, N.D. "And they're out to show the most dramatic, exotic, extreme things they found in my ministry, and I'm not ashamed of those things, but without context, it's really difficult to defend what you're seeing on the screen."

More controversy over the film erupted last week when the Rev. Ted Haggard — whose constituency at the National Assn. of Evangelicals is 30 million strong — took a public stance against it, claiming that the film makes evangelicals look "scary." His condemnation apparently chilled the film's opening in 13 theaters in Colorado, Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri on Sept. 15.

Even before its release, lurid fascination with the film's trailer bloomed on the Internet. A Sept. 17 ABC News report on the movie turned up on shortly after it aired, and by the next day, the segment was the website's most-viewed clip, with about 200,000 downloads in a matter of hours.

When Fischer arrived home Tuesday after a few days touring with the filmmakers, her e-mail inbox was loaded with hate mail. She spent the next two days writing lengthy explanations to the most common accusations — "How dare you brainwash those kids!" and "Are you raising up Christian terrorists or another Hitler Youth movement?" — then posted them on her website Thursday.

"I've gotten thousands of hits on my website from those people," she said. "I'm wearing sunglasses in the airports. It's really making me nervous."

Haggard — who appears in the film noting that when evangelicals vote, they determine an election — acknowledged he "hated" the film and called it "propaganda" for the far left. He said the filmmakers take the charismatic, evangelical jargon too literally and portray the children's and Fischer's "war talk" as violent and extremist, when it's just allegorical.

"It doesn't mean we're going to establish a theocracy and force people to obey what they think is God's law," he said. "None of that's clarified in the movie."

Word about the film initially spread online after the Tribeca Film Festival screening in New York in April and then again in June, after former Talking Heads lead singer David Byrne saw it at the AFI/Discovery Silver Docs Film Festival in Washington, D.C., and mentioned it on his blog.

"I kept saying to myself, 'OK, these are the Christian version of the Madrassas (those Islamic religious instructional schools in Pakistan and elsewhere, often financed by Saudi oil money) … so both sides are pretty much equally sick," he wrote.

It garnered even more attention in early August when Michael Moore refused to honor a request by Eamonn Bowles, the head of Magnolia Pictures, to cancel the film's screening at Moore's Traverse City Film Festival to avoid alienating conservative Christian audiences.

Bowles hoped to build interest among conservative Christians for the film's opening with a word-of-mouth campaign generated by faith-based publicity firm A. Larry Ross in Carrollton, Texas. Instead, only handfuls of people turned out.

"We were getting good feedback from a lot of Christian groups interested in the film," Bowles said. After Haggard's statements, he said, "it was almost like a switch was flipped and the people who were going to support it the day before were like, 'Oh no. We're not going to support the film.' "

The New York-based Ewing and Grady said they want the film to make a broad statement about how politics and faith have become inexorably intertwined in America. Yet the conversations that have been sparked by the movie are less about the stark differences between people with different ideologies and more about the interest in bridging them. "No one's going anywhere and no one's going to change their minds," Grady said. "So some sort of compromise has to happen, or we're just going to become more and more divided."

All the controversy surrounding the film, Grady said, "speaks to the fact that this is a conversation that people are dying to have."

A political turn

Grady and Ewing, who last year won awards for their documentary "The Boys of Baraka" about a group of inner-city American kids attending a school in Africa, said everyone was enthusiastic about participating in the project. But as Fischer explained, no one, including the filmmakers, expected the film to become so overtly political. But after Sandra Day O'Connor resigned from the Supreme Court during their filming, leaving a spot open for a more conservative judge, the evangelical community galvanized around the selection of a replacement, and Fischer's children chanted, "Righteous judges!" Ultimately, though, Fischer said, "no one was more shocked or horrified when they told me that was the turn the film was making." That's because, like many evangelical Christians, Fischer doesn't see what she does as political.

The Bible, she said, instructs people to "pray for those in authority over us and in government positions so we can live a peaceful life." And Fischer said she's "dumbfounded" that people would find her anti-abortion lessons disturbing when she sees them as a way to teach children to value human life.

Despite her reservations about the film, Fischer said she's still helping to promote it and considers Ewing and Grady friends. She's also grateful for the national attention the movie and its controversy have granted her. "I couldn't have paid for this kind of advertising," she said.


Saturday, September 23, 2006

Young, Restless, Reformed

From Christianity Today ... Young, Restless, Reformed. If you can't read the t-shirt on the cover, it says: "Jonathan Edwards is my homeboy." In full ...
Nothing in her evangelical upbringing prepared Laura Watkins for John Piper.

"I was used to a very conversational preaching style," said Watkins, 21. "And having someone wave his arms and talk really loudly made me a little scared."

Watkins shouldn't be embarrassed. Piper does scare some people. It's probably his unrelenting intensity, demanding discipline, and singular passion—for the glory of God. Those themes resound in Desiring God, Piper's signature book. The pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis has sold more than 275,000 copies of Desiring God since 1986. Piper has personally taken his message of "Christian hedonism" to audiences around the world, such as the Passion conferences for college-age students. Passion attracted 40,000 students outside Memphis in 2000 and 18,000 to Nashville earlier this year.

Not all of these youth know Piper's theological particulars. But plenty do, and Piper, more than anyone else, has contributed to a resurgence of Reformed theology among young people. You can't miss the trend at some of the leading evangelical seminaries, like Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, which reports a significant Reformed uptick among students over the past 20 years. Or the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, now the largest Southern Baptist seminary and a Reformed hotbed. Piper, 60, has tinged the movement with the God-exalting intensity of Jonathan Edwards, the 18th-century Puritan pastor-theologian. Not since the decades after his death have evangelicals heaped such attention on Edwards.

Reformed theology often goes by the name Calvinism, after the renowned 16th-century Reformation theologian John Calvin. Yet even Edwards rejected the label, saying he neither depended on Calvin nor always agreed with him. Still, it is Calvin's followers who produced the famous acrostic TULIP to describe the "doctrines of grace" that are the hallmarks of traditional Reformed theology: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints. (See "It's All About God.")

Already, this latest surge of Reformed theology has divided Southern Baptist churches and raised questions about the future of missions. Its exuberant young advocates reject generic evangelicalism and tout the benefits of in-depth biblical doctrine. They have once again brought the perennial debate about God's sovereignty and humans' free will to the forefront.

The evidence for the resurgence is partly institutional and partly anecdotal. But it's something that a variety of church leaders observe. While the Emergent "conversation" gets a lot of press for its appeal to the young, the new Reformed movement may be a larger and more pervasive phenomenon. It certainly has a much stronger institutional base. I traveled to some of the movement's leading churches and institutions and talked to theologians, pastors, and parishioners, trying to understand Calvinism's new appeal and how it is changing American churches.

God Starts the Party
A pastors' conference is the wrong place to schedule a private meeting with Joshua Harris. He didn't even speak at the conference I attended, but we still struggled to find a quiet spot to talk at his hotel. Slight and short, Harris doesn't stick out in crowds. But that doesn't stop pastors from recognizing him and introducing themselves. The unassuming 31-year-old took time to chat with each of them, even as our interview stretched late into the night.

Harris was a leader among his generation even before he published I Kissed Dating Goodbye in 1997. But the bestseller introduced him to a wider evangelical audience, earning many fans and at least as many detractors. Now he pastors Covenant Life Church, a congregation of 3,800 in Gaithersburg, Maryland.

Harris grew up as a youth leader in a seeker-sensitive church and later joined a charismatic congregation. Neither place emphasized doctrine. "Even just thinking doctrinally would have been foreign to me," he explained. He knew enough to realize he didn't like Calvinism, though. "I remember some of the first encounters I had with Calvinists," Harris told another group of pastors during Mark Driscoll's Reform and Resurge conference in Seattle in May. "I'm sorry to say that they represented the doctrines of grace with a total lack of grace. They were spiteful, cliquish, and arrogant. I didn't even stick around to understand what they were teaching. I took one look at them and knew I didn't want any part of it."

Harris's response is anything but uncommon in evangelical history. Reformed theology has periodically boomed and busted. Calvinists have always inspired foils, such as Jacob Arminius. The Dutch theologian argued that God frees up human will so people can accept or reject God's offer of salvation. That debate prompted his critics to respond with TULIP. Reformed theology waned during the Second Great Awakening. Most recently, Calvinism has played second fiddle to the charismatic and seeker-sensitive/church-growth movements, all of which downplay many theological distinctives.

For Harris, things started changing when he read Piper describe God's glory and breathtaking sovereignty. Later, C. J. Mahaney, a charismatic Calvinist and founding pastor of Covenant Life, took Harris under his wing and groomed him to take over the church. Mahaney, 51, turned Harris on to his hero, Charles Spurgeon, the great 19th-century Calvinistic Baptist preacher in London. Mahaney assigned him a number of texts, such as Iain H. Murray's Spurgeon vs. Hyper-Calvinism. "I would have been reading Christian comic books if left to myself," Harris told me, flashing the characteristic self-deprecating humor he shares with Mahaney.

The theological depth attracted Harris. "Once you're exposed to [doctrine]," he said, "you see the richness in it for your own soul, and you're ruined for anything else."

He notices the same attraction among his cohorts. "I just think there's such a hunger for the transcendent and for a God who is not just sitting around waiting for us to show up so that the party can get started."

Passion conferences also inspired Harris to trust in a God who takes the initiative. Harris first attended Passion in 1999 and sought the help of conference founder Louie Giglio to plan a similar event, from which blossomed Harris's New Attitude conferences. "Someone like Louie is saying, 'You know what, it's not about us, it's about God's glory, it's about his renown.' Now I don't think most kids realize this, but that's the first step down a pathway of Reformed theology. Because if you say that it's not about you, well then you're on that road of saying it's not about your actions, your choosings, your determination."

Passion's God-exalting focus keeps Piper coming back to speak year after year. He attributes the attraction of Reformed theology to the spirit of Passion—namely, pairing demanding obedience with God's grandeur. "They're not going to embrace your theology unless it makes their hearts sing," Piper said.

More Than a 'Crazy Guy'
During the weekend when I visited Piper's church, the college group was learning TULIP. The student teacher spent about 30 minutes explaining unconditional election. "You may never feel the weight, you will never feel the wonder of grace, until you finally relinquish your claim to have any part of your salvation," he said. "It's got to be unconditional."

Following that talk, I met with a group that included Laura Watkins, a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota. Like Harris, Watkins grew up in an evangelical church that downplayed doctrine. Calvinism certainly wasn't much of a draw for Watkins as she searched for a church in college. "The only exposure I had was high-school textbooks that teach about John Calvin as this crazy guy who burned people," she said.

Yet she stayed for the spiritual maturity and depth she noticed in the church. Now she's as articulate an advocate of Calvinism as I met. She unwittingly paraphrased Spurgeon as she explained her move toward Reformed theology. "When you first become a believer, almost everyone is an Arminian, because you feel like you made a decision," Watkins said.

Watkins didn't stop with election. An enlarged view of God's authority changed the way she viewed evangelism, worship, and relationships. Watkins articulated how complementary roles for men and women go hand in hand with this type of Calvinism. "I believe God is sovereign and has ordered things in a particular way," she explained. Just as "he's chosen those who are going to know him before the foundations of the earth," she said, "I don't want to be rebelling against the way God ordered men and women to relate to one another."

Piper no longer scares Watkins. He's more like a father in the faith, though she says they have never spoken. Privately, Piper contrasts sharply with his authoritative pulpit persona. I dare say he's even a little meek, if relentlessly serious. We mused on Reformed theology in his home in February following one of the last sermons he delivered before undergoing surgery for prostate cancer. He reflected on the rebellion he has unrepentantly fomented.

"One of the most common things I deal with in younger pastors is conflict with their senior pastors," Piper said. "They're a youth pastor, and they've gone to Trinity or read something [R. C.] Sproul or I wrote, and they say, 'We're really out of step. What should we do?'"

He tells them to be totally candid and ask permission to teach according to their newfound convictions, even if they are in Wesleyan-Arminian churches. Of course, he tells the young pastors to pray that their bosses would come to share their vision.

Baptist and Reformed
Starting in 1993, the largest Protestant denomination's flagship seminary quickly lost at least 96 percent of its faculty. SBC inerrantists had tapped 33-year-old Al Mohler to head the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, which until then had remained open to moderate and liberal professors. Mohler addressed the faculty and re-enforced the school's confession of faith, derived from the landmark Reformed document, the Westminster Confession.

"I said, in sum, if this is what you believe, then we want you to stay. If not, then you have come here under false pretenses, and you must go," Mohler, now 45, said. "As they would say, the battle was joined."

Indeed, television cameras and news helicopters made it difficult for Mohler to work for a while. He still isn't welcome in some Louisville churches. That's not surprising, since no more than 4 faculty members—from more than 100—stayed with Southern after Mohler arrived.

Now it's hard to believe that less than 15 years ago, Southern merited a reputation as a liberal seminary. Mohler has attracted a strong faculty and spurred enrollment to more than 4,300 students—which makes it the largest Southern Baptist seminary. But SBC conservatives may have gotten more than they bargained for in Mohler. The tireless public intellectual freely criticizes perceived SBC shortcomings, especially what he considers misguided doctrine. Oh, and Mohler is an unabashed Calvinist. His seminary now attracts and turns out a steady flow of young Reformed pastors.

"This generation of young Christians is more committed, more theologically intense, more theologically curious, more self-aware and self-conscious as believers because they were not raised in an environment of cultural Christianity," Mohler said. "Or if they were, as soon as they arrived on a university campus, they found themselves in a hostile environment." Mohler explained that Calvinism offers young people a countercultural alternative with deep roots.

Mohler's analysis brought to mind one Southern seminarian I met in Louisville. Bradley Cochran grew up attending a mainline church with his family in rural Kentucky. He hated Sunday mornings, and by age 15 he had racked up a police rap sheet and developed a drug problem. But Cochran's troubles softened his heart to the gospel, and he fled his hometown to enroll at Liberty University. While there, he eagerly shared the Good News and earned an award for his evangelistic enthusiasm. A classmate loaned him some Sproul books, where he learned about predestination. He grew to accept this doctrine, but he said other students criticized his Calvinism before he even understood what the term meant. They couldn't understand how he squared God's sovereign choice with evangelism. Those challenges only intensified his study of Reformed theology. He became emboldened to persuade others.

"I felt like Calvinism was more than abstract points of theology," said Cochran, 25. "I felt you would get a much bigger view of God if you accepted these things, an understanding of justice and grace that would so deepen your affections for God, that would make you so much more grateful for his grace."

Cochran bolstered his arguments by boasting that he had never even read Calvin. Indeed, the renowned reformer appears not to be a major figure among the latest generation to claim the theology he made famous. Centuries ago, George Whitefield, the Calvinistic Methodist evangelist of the First Great Awakening, similarly argued: "Alas, I never read anything that Calvin wrote; my doctrines I had from Christ and his apostles; I was taught them of God."

The relationship of theology to evangelism has become a flash point among Southern Baptists. SBC Life, the journal of the SBC's executive committee, published two articles on Calvinism in April. In one, Malcolm Yarnell, associate professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, argued that Southern Baptists generally reject any notion that God "arbitrarily chooses individuals to be damned before they are born."

"[T]he greatest tragedy is when adherence to TULIP leads to division in churches and prevents them from cooperation in, and urgency for, a passion toward fulfilling the Great Commission," Yarnell wrote. He concluded, "Southern Baptists are first, last, and always followers of Jesus Christ, not John Calvin."

The most provocative comments in the SBC may belong to Steve Lemke, provost of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. In April 2005, he presented a paper on "The Future of Southern Baptists as Evangelicals." Lemke warned, "I believe that [Calvinism] is potentially the most explosive and divisive issue facing us in the near future. It has already been an issue that has split literally dozens of churches, and it holds the potential to split the entire convention."

Lemke noted that Calvinism has periodically waxed and waned among Southern Baptists. "However, the number of Calvinist faculty dramatically increased [starting in the 1980s and] over the next 20 years." Lemke and many others explained to me that Calvinists like Mohler earned leadership roles during the SBC's inerrancy battles due to their reliably conservative theology. Their academic and biblical rigor suited them for seminary positions. Now, Lemke said, their influence has made the "newest generation of Southern Baptist ministers … the most Calvinist we have had in several generations."

Lemke doubts that Calvinism has yet reached its high-water mark in the SBC. But he is no fan of this trend. Baptism and membership figures, he said, show that the Calvinist churches of the SBC's Founders Ministries lack commitment to evangelism. According to Lemke, the problem only makes sense, given their emphasis on God's sovereign election.

"For many people, if they're convinced that God has already elected those who will be elect … I don't see how humanly speaking that can't temper your passion, because you know you're not that crucial to the process," Lemke explained.

Evangelicals who adhere to Reformed theology have long chafed at such charges. They remind their critics that Whitefield, one of history's most effective evangelists, believed God elects his church. In addition, Edwards defended the First Great Awakening's revivals with Religious Affections. More recently, J. I. Packer's Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (1961) showed persuasively that there is no contradiction between those two ideas.

"I think the criticism of Reformed theology is being silenced by the mission and justice and evangelism and worship and counseling—the whole range of pastoral life," Piper said. "We're not the kind who are off in a Grand Rapids ghetto crossing our t's and dotting our i's and telling the world to get their act together. We're in the New Orleans slums with groups like Desire Street Ministries, raising up black elders through Reformed theology from 9-year-old boys who had no chance."

Deep into Doctrine
Calvinistic Baptists often told me they have less of a problem with churches that don't teach election than with churches that downplay doctrine in general. An SBC Life piece published in April by Daniel Akin, a former Southern professor and current president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, presented this perspective. "Let us be known for being rigorously biblical, searching the Scriptures to determine what God really says on [God's sovereignty] and other key doctrinal issues," Akin wrote. "For the most part, we are not doing this, and our theological shallowness is an indictment of our current state and an embarrassment to our history!"

The young people I talked to want churches to risk disagreement so they can benefit from the deeper challenges of doctrine. Joshua Harris said years after he graduated from high school, he bumped into his old youth pastor in the grocery store. The pastor seemed apologetic as they reminisced about the youth group's party atmosphere, focused more on music and skits than Bible teaching, Harris said. But the youth pastor told Harris his students now read through Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology.

"I think there's an expectation that teens can't handle that, or they'll be repulsed by that," Harris told me. "[My youth pastor] is saying the exact opposite. That's a dramatic change in philosophy in youth ministry."

Pastor Kent Hughes senses the same draw for students who cross the street from Wheaton College to attend College Church. "If there's an appeal to students, it's that we're not playing around," Hughes said. "We're not entertaining them. This is life and death. My sense is that's what they're interested in, even from an old man."

Perhaps an attraction to serious doctrine brought about 3,000 ministry leaders to Louisville in April for a Together for the Gospel conference. The conference's sponsors included Mohler and Mahaney, and Piper also spoke. Most of the audience were in their 20s and 30s. Each of the seven speakers holds to the five points of TULIP. Yet none of them spoke of Calvinism unless I asked about it. They did express worry about perceived evangelical accommodation to postmodernism and criticized churches for applying business models to ministry. They mostly joked about their many differences on such historically difficult issues as baptism, church government, eschatology, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. They drew unity as Calvinist evangelicals from their concerns: with seeker churches, church-growth marketing, and manipulative revival techniques.

Roger Olson, professor of theology at Truett Seminary, Baylor University, said more than just Calvinists worry about these problems. "A lot of us evangelical Arminians agree with them in their criticisms of popular folk religion," Olson said. "I agree with their basic theological underpinnings—that doctrine is important, that grace is the decisive factor in salvation, not a decision we make."

If Olson is right, co-belligerency on these concerns could forestall further conflict, at least on the Calvinist-Arminian debate.

A Passion for Puritans
Mark Dever hasn't sold books to the degree Piper has. And he doesn't head a flagship institution like his longtime friend Mohler. He doesn't even pastor a megachurch. But oh, how strategic his church is. Hop off Washington, D.C.'s Metro on the Capitol South stop. Head north past the Library of Congress and the Capitol. Turn right and bear east before you reach the Supreme Court. A couple blocks later you'll see Capitol Hill Baptist Church, which Dever has led for 12 years, beginning when he was 33.

Yet location isn't what makes Dever's church so strategic. Maybe it's all the political maneuvering in the air, but Dever networks effectively. He conceived Together for the Gospel and otherwise works to connect conservative evangelicals who worry about the same things. Dever's church also trains six interns at a time, imprinting his beliefs about how a local church should run through a related ministry, 9 Marks.

I visited Capitol Hill Baptist in January. The church kicked off with Sunday school, which really should have been called Sunday seminary. Class options included a survey of the New Testament, spiritual disciplines, and a systematic theology lesson on theories of the Atonement.

Such rigor can be expected from a church led by Dever, who earned a Ph.D. from Cambridge studying the Puritans. He embodies the pastoral theologians who are leading young people toward Reformed theology. He has cultivated a church community in the Puritan mold—unquestionably demanding and disciplined. And the church attracts a very young crowd. Its 525 members average 29 years old. Dever mockingly rejected my suggestion that they aim to attract an under-30 crowd. "Yes, that's why we sing those hymns and have a [55-minute] sermon." Dever smiled. "We're seriously calibrated for the 18th century."

Dever and others have turned a young generation onto some old teachers. He organizes his study around a canon of renowned church leaders that includes Augustine, Luther, Calvin, John Owen, John Bunyan, B. B. Warfield, Martin Lloyd-Jones, and Carl Henry. It's mostly Puritans who have fueled this latest resurgence of Calvinism. Leaders like R. C. Sproul and J. I. Packer have for decades told evangelicals they have something to learn from this post-Reformation movement. During the late 1950s, Banner of Truth starting reprinting classic Reformed works, including many from Puritans.

Among the Puritans, Edwards is most popular. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School professor and Edwards scholar Douglas Sweeney said his seminary includes many more Calvinists than 20 years ago. Not unrelated, he said among evangelicals "there is more interest in Edwards today than there has been since the first half of the 19th century."

Garth Rosell, church history professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, has noticed his students' increased interest in Puritan studies, especially Edwards. He suspects young evangelicals gravitate toward the Puritans looking for deeper historic roots and models for high-commitment Christianity.

That's at least what Jordan Thomas, a 28-year-old church planter, told me about the Puritans. "I don't read them to find out what these guys say about Calvinism," Thomas told me in Piper's church. "It's their big-hearted love for Christ. They say things about their devotion to him that I'm just like, I wonder if I know the same Jesus these guys love."

Scripture Trumps Systems
Evangelicals have long disagreed on election and free will. The debate may never be settled, given the apparent tension between biblical statements and the limits of our interpretive skills. In addition, some will always see more benefit in doctrinal depth than others.

Those fearing a new pitched battle can rest easy. That's not because the debate will go away—for the foreseeable future, the spread of Calvinism will force many evangelicals to pick sides. And it's not because mission will trump doctrine—young people seem to reject this dichotomy.

It's because the young Calvinists value theological systems far less than God and his Word. Whatever the cultural factors, many Calvinist converts respond to hallmark passages like Romans 9 and Ephesians 1. "I really don't like to raise any banner of Calvinism or Reformed theology," said Eric Lonergan, a 23-year-old University of Minnesota graduate. "Those are just terms. I just like to look at the Word and let it speak for itself."

That's the essence of what Joshua Harris calls "humble orthodoxy." He reluctantly debates doctrine, but he passionately studies Scripture and seeks to apply all its truth.

"If you really understand Reformed theology, we should all just sit around shaking our heads going, 'It's unbelievable. Why would God choose any of us?'" Harris said. "You are so amazed by grace, you're not picking a fight with anyone, you're just crying tears of amazement that should lead to a heart for lost people, that God does indeed save, when he doesn't have to save anybody."