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Oh, Jeebus (or “Onward, Christian Soldiers”)

What a fucking idiot.

The US military confirmed yesterday that a marine in Fallujah passed out coins with Gospel verses on them to Sunni Muslims, a military spokesman in the Iraqi city said. The man was immediately removed from duty and reassigned.

The coins angered residents who said they felt that the American troops, whom they consider occupiers, were also acting as Christian missionaries in a predominantly Muslim nation.

“It did happen,” said Mike Isho, a spokesman for Multi-National Force West. “It’s one guy and we’re investigating.”

The marine was passing out silver coins to residents of the Sunni Anbar province with Arabic translations of Bible verses on them. On one side, the coin read, “Where will you spend eternity?” and on the other, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16”.

Following a McClatchy newspaper report about the proselytising coins, a force was sent to the western gate of Fallujah and the Marines there were searched, Isho said. One man was found with the coins, removed from the gate and will no longer be working in predominantly Sunni Anbar province, he said.

Yesterday, the US military apologised for the incident, telling McClatchy special correspondent Jamal Naji that action would be taken following an investigation.

Would that he were the only one.

But he’s not.

As the war in Iraq moves into its next phase, Christian missionaries are moving forward with their own battle plans: to distribute humanitarian aid and spread the gospel to the region’s Muslims. TIME’s Broward Liston spoke with Albert Mohler, the boyish president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S., about the challenges facing missionaries venturing into potentially hostile territory:

To many, the image of American missionaries lining the Iraq- Jordan border, preparing to distribute food, clothing, tents and medical supplies as soon as the shooting dies down, looks eerily like a second invasion. Or at least a profoundly destabilizing force, an army prepared to act on the inflammatory words lobbed between evangelical Christian ministers and anti-American Muslim clerics.

That’s a false impression, says Albert Mohler. The missionaries, he says, whose aim is partly humanitarian, see themselves as part of a tradition dating back 2000 years, to the mission that brought Jesus to Jerusalem. It was a journey that provoked unrest, frightened authority and led Christ to the cross, but ultimately, Christians believe, delivered a life-saving message to the world.

(And, yes, this is the same Albert Mohler who had some interesting ideas about preventing homosexuality in the womb.)

And so it goes. And so more missionaries go to Iraq.

Fears are growing that the presence in Iraq of foreign Christians will increase the risk of violence against foreigners and local Christians alike. Paul McGeough reports from Baghdad.

After the declaration of “a war for souls” by US Christians, the arrival in Iraq of missionaries with almost a million Arabic translations of the Bible has become a new security flashpoint.

Non-religious aid workers accuse the missionaries of exposing all foreigners to more attacks because of the risk of inflaming Muslim sensitivities.

After the murder last week of four US missionaries at Mosul, in the north, an American church worker refused to talk to The Age, because the reporting of any identifying information could make him and his church a target. “You guys (reporters) are spotters for snipers,” he said.

A spate of deadly attacks on foreigners has left US occupation officials in Iraq confused as to whether the four were targeted because they were foreigners or because they were missionaries.

But they have taken the precaution of removing a list of about 50 Christian aid groups from public files in Baghdad.

…But when a US Christian website reported the death of the missionaries in Mosul, it left a question mark on such claims, stating: “As a tactic in such sensitive areas, missionaries engage in ‘good works’, reaching out through humanitarian efforts, and sharing their faith with appreciative and curious locals only when asked about it.”

The unguarded rhetoric and pumped-up claims on these sites are seen by some Iraqis as proof the invasion of their country was part of a US war against Islam.

And why shouldn’t they? We’ve had generals who’ve declared just such a war.

Lt. Gen. William G. “Jerry” Boykin, the new deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence, is a much-decorated and twice-wounded veteran of covert military operations. From the bloody 1993 clash with Muslim warlords in Somalia chronicled in “Black Hawk Down” and the hunt for Colombian drug czar Pablo Escobar to the ill-fated attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran in 1980, Boykin was in the thick of things.

Yet the former commander and 13-year veteran of the Army’s top-secret Delta Force is also an outspoken evangelical Christian who appeared in dress uniform and polished jump boots before a religious group in Oregon in June to declare that radical Islamists hated the United States “because we’re a Christian nation, because our foundation and our roots are Judeo-Christian … and the enemy is a guy named Satan.”

Discussing the battle against a Muslim warlord in Somalia, Boykin told another audience, “I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol.”

“We in the army of God, in the house of God, kingdom of God have been raised for such a time as this,” Boykin said last year.

On at least one occasion, in Sandy, Ore., in June, Boykin said of President Bush: “He’s in the White House because God put him there.”

(The same general was implicated in Iraqi prison abuse.)

Besides, they might remember what some American missionaries tried to do after the tsunami.

A Virginia-based missionary group said this week that it has airlifted 300 “tsunami orphans” from the Muslim province of Banda Aceh to Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, where it plans to raise them in a Christian children’s home.

The missionary group, WorldHelp, is one of dozens of Christian, Muslim and Jewish charities providing humanitarian relief to victims of the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami that devastated countries around the Indian Ocean, taking more than 150,000 lives.

Most of the religious charities do not attach any conditions to their aid, and many of the larger ones — such as WorldVision, Catholic Relief Services and Church World Service — have policies against proselytizing. But a few of the smaller groups have been raising money among evangelical Christians by presenting the tsunami emergency effort as a rare opportunity to make converts in hard-to-reach areas.

“Normally, Banda Aceh is closed to foreigners and closed to the gospel. But, because of this catastrophe, our partners there are earning the right to be heard and providing entrance for the gospel,” WorldHelp said in an appeal for funds on its Web site this week.

The appeal said WorldHelp was working with native-born Christians in Indonesia who want to “plant Christian principles as early as possible” in the 300 Muslim children, all younger than 12, who lost their parents in the tsunami.

“These children are homeless, destitute, traumatized, orphaned, with nowhere to go, nowhere to sleep and nothing to eat. If we can place them in a Christian children’s home, their faith in Christ could become the foothold to reach the Aceh people,” it said.

That statement came down, after the Washington Post reported on the story, and once exposed the missionaries changed their plans.

The Virginia-based missionary group WorldHelp has dropped its plans to place 300 Muslim “tsunami orphans” in a Christian children’s home, the group’s president, the Rev. Vernon Brewer, told news agencies yesterday.

The children were still in the Muslim province of Aceh and had not been airlifted to Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital, according to an e-mail under Brewer’s name circulating yesterday among his supporters.

In an interview Tuesday for an article published in yesterday’s Washington Post, Brewer said that the children already had been airlifted to Jakarta and that the Indonesian government had given permission for them to be placed in a Christian children’s home. Brewer did not return calls from The Post yesterday to his home, office and cell phone to address the discrepancy.

In the e-mail, as well as in statements given to Reuters and Agence France-Presse, Brewer said WorldHelp had raised $70,000 to place 50 of the children in a Christian orphanage but had halted its efforts when it learned on Wednesday that the Indonesian government would not allow it.

“Once we became aware that the government had refused to let these children be placed in a Christian home, we immediately stopped all fundraising efforts for the remaining 250 Indonesian orphaned children and appeals were removed from our website,” the e-mail said.

The group’s plan to raise children from Muslim families in a Christian home struck a nerve in Indonesia, which had regulations in place even before the tsunami requiring orphans to be raised by people of their own religion. This rule was adopted in large part to ensure that Muslim children were not converted.

The Pentagon has become a place for evangelical proselytizing, something I mentioned earlier.

A military watchdog group is asking the Defense Department to investigate whether seven Army and Air Force officers violated regulations by appearing in uniform in a promotional video for an evangelical Christian organization.

In the video, much of which was filmed inside the Pentagon, four generals and three colonels praise the Christian Embassy, a group that evangelizes among military leaders, politicians and diplomats in Washington. Some of the officers describe their efforts to spread their faith within the military.

“I found a wonderful opportunity as a director on the joint staff, as I meet the people that come into my directorate,” Air Force Maj. Gen. Jack J. Catton Jr. says in the video. “And I tell them right up front who Jack Catton is, and I start with the fact that I’m an old-fashioned American, and my first priority is my faith in God, then my family and then country. I share my faith because it describes who I am.”

Pete Geren, a former acting secretary of the Air Force who oversaw the service’s response in 2005 to accusations that evangelical Christians were pressuring cadets at the Air Force Academy, also appears in the video. The Christian Embassy “has been a rock that I can rely on, been an organization that helped me in my walk with Christ, and I’m just thankful for the service they give,” he says.

The 10-minute video is on the group’s Web site, Christianembassy.com. The organization was founded nearly 30 years ago by the late Bill Bright, who also founded Campus Crusade for Christ. The Christian Embassy Web site says the group holds prayer breakfasts each Wednesday in the Pentagon’s executive dining room and organizes small groups to help military leaders “bridge the gap between faith and work.”

But don’t take my word for it. See it for yourself.

So has the Air Force Academy.

The Air Force said yesterday it is creating a task force to address the religious climate at the U.S. Air Force Academy, following allegations that its faculty and staff have pressured cadets to convert to evangelical Christianity.

The acting secretary of the Air Force, Michael L. Dominguez, ordered the task force to make a preliminary assessment by May 23 of the religious atmosphere on the Colorado Springs campus and its “relevance . . . to the entire Air Force.” He named Lt. Gen. Roger A. Brady, the Air Force deputy chief of staff for personnel, to head the effort.

…Alumni also have played a key role in raising the complaints of religious intolerance. Michael L. “Mikey” Weinstein, a White House attorney in the Reagan administration who graduated from the academy in 1977 and has sent two sons there, said yesterday that “a colossal failure of leadership is resulting in a constitutional train wreck” at the school.

Last week, the Washington-based group Americans United for Separation of Church and State issued a 14-page report charging that there is “systematic and pervasive religious bias and intolerance at the highest levels of the Academy command structure.”

The report said that during basic training, cadets who declined to go to chapel after dinner were organized into a “Heathen Flight” and marched back to their dormitories. It said the Air Force’s “Chaplain of the Year” urged cadets to proselytize among their classmates or “burn in the fires of hell”; that mandatory cadet meetings often began with explicitly Christian prayers; and that numerous faculty members introduced themselves to their classes as born-again Christians and encouraged students to become born again during the term.

Weinstein, in a telephone interview from his home in Albuquerque, said the Americans United report was “spot on.”

“The place is being held hostage in a vise grip by evangelical Christians, and people are terrified to come forward,” he said. While welcoming the creation of the task force, Weinstein said it was not yet clear who would be appointed to it.

We were going to send our soldiers the “kill or convert” video game from the apocalyptic Left Behind series.

Actor Stephen Baldwin, the youngest member of the famous Baldwin brothers, is no longer playing Pauly Shore’s sidekick in comedy masterpieces like Biodome. He has a much more serious calling these days.

Baldwin became a right-wing, born-again Christian after the 9/11 attacks, and now is the star of Operation Straight Up (OSU), an evangelical entertainment troupe that actively proselytizes among active-duty members of the US military. As an official arm of the Defense Department’s America Supports You program, OSU plans to mail copies of the controversial apocalyptic video game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces to soldiers serving in Iraq. OSU is also scheduled to embark on a “Military Crusade in Iraq” in the near future.

“We feel the forces of heaven have encouraged us to perform multiple crusades that will sweep through this war torn region,” OSU declares on its website about its planned trip to Iraq. “We’ll hold the only religious crusade of its size in the dangerous land of Iraq.”

The Defense Department’s Chaplain’s Office, which oversees OSU’s activities, has not responded to calls seeking comment.

But those plans were changed when an inquiry from ABC caused the Defense Department to nix the idea, thus spoiling lots of infidel-killing/converting fun.

Plans by a Christian group to send an evangelical video game to U.S. troops in Iraq were abruptly halted yesterday by the Department of Defense after ABC News inquired about the program.

Operation Start Up (OSU) Tour, an evangelical entertainment troupe that actively proselytizes among soldiers, will not be sending the “apocryphal” video game in care packages as planned, according to the department.

“Left Behind: Eternal Forces” was inspired by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ best-selling book series about the battle of Armageddon, in which believers of Jesus Christ fight the Antichrist.

The game has inspired controversy among freedom of religion advocates since it was released last year.

“It’s a horrible game,” said the Rev. Timothy Simpson of the Christians Alliance for Progress. “You either kill or covert the other side. This is exactly what the Osama bin Ladens of the world have portrayed us.”

Again, see for yourself.

And why would we want to send a game like this to troops in Iraq?

Well.

OSU Tour is one of the newest members of the Defense Department’s America Supports You program, which connects citizens and corporations with members of the military and their families at home and abroad.

OSU Tour’s entertainment aims to help military children and families become stronger through faith-based entertainment, according to its Web site. Sports personalities, comedians and actors, including Stephen Baldwin, make up the show.

OSU president Jonathan Sprinks in a recent press release said of Baldwin, “Since God made a difference in his life, he’s been very outspoken.”

Sprinks came under fire from bloggers for writing on his Web site, “We feel the forces of heaven have encouraged us to perform multiple crusades that will sweep through this war-torn region,” about OSU Tour’s planned trip to Iraq. “We’ll hold the only religious crusade of its size in the dangerous land of Iraq.”

Our president declared it so, inadvertently or not.

As Europeans wait to see how the United States is planning to retaliate for last week’s attacks on Washington and New York, there is growing anxiety here about the tone of American war rhetoric.

President Bush’s reference to a “crusade” against terrorism, which passed almost unnoticed by Americans, rang alarm bells in Europe. It raised fears that the terrorist attacks could spark a ‘clash of civilizations’ between Christians and Muslims, sowing fresh winds of hatred and mistrust.

“We have to avoid a clash of civilizations at all costs,” French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine said on Sunday. “One has to avoid falling into this huge trap, this monstrous trap” which he said had been “conceived by the instigators of the assault.”

On Sunday, Bush warned Americans that “this crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take awhile.” He and other US officials have said that renegade Islamic fundamentalist Osama bin Laden is the most likely suspect in the attacks.

His use of the word “crusade,” said Soheib Bensheikh, Grand Mufti of the mosque in Marseille, France, “was most unfortunate”, “It recalled the barbarous and unjust military operations against the Muslim world,” by Christian knights, who launched repeated attempts to capture Jerusalem over the course of several hundred years.

Just to refresh your memory.

Our pundits have declared it so.

We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That’s war. And this is war.

At least the military yanked the “Jesus coin” soldier out of Iraq.

A US marine in Iraq has been removed from duty following claims that he handed out coins inscribed with biblical verses in Arabic.

Residents in Falluja had complained that the coins were being distributed at a checkpoint, the US military said.

US troops are forbidden from proselytising any religion.

The case comes a week after US President George Bush made a personal apology over a US soldier in Iraq shot holes into a version of the Koran.

In the Falluja incident, a military statement said a service member had been discharged “amid concerns from Falluja’s citizens regarding reports of inappropriate conduct”.

Along with that guy who used the Koran for target practice.

A U.S. Army soldier was removed from Iraq after he shot a Quran full of bullets and marked it with graffiti, the U.S. military announced Sunday.

U.S. military officials, fearing a backlash as a result of the desecration moved quickly to resolve the case after Iraqi police found the desecrated book May 11 at a shooting range in the predominantly Sunni Muslim area of Radwaniya in western Baghdad.

They briefed tribal leaders on their investigation and expressed regret for the damage to the Quran, the Islamic holy book.

So far, there has been no public outcry over the desecration.

“This incident is not representative of the professionalism of our soldiers or the respect they have for all faiths,” said Col. Bill Buckner.

How American forces treat the Quran has been a recurring source of complaint dating back to the earliest days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and reports about them have triggered angry outpourings throughout the Muslim world, including riots in Afghanistan in 2005 that left at least 17 dead.

The U.S. military has said, however, that most reported incidents of Quran desecration did not happen, though they have acknowledged five incidents where the Quran was mishandled at the Guantanamo Bay detention center for suspected terrorists.

So, what’s the Muslim world to think? What’s the rest of the world to think?

Well.

Meanwhile, let’s go back to that McClatchy article that broke the story. Not for the article itself, but one of the comments.

Everything that is written on these coins is important to the Iraqis. It is good that these truths will spread and it is vital that they know them. facing the truth requires maturity and peace with oneself. But there are two fundamental problems with passing these coins right now: first, the time is not ripe; and second, many Iraqis may not be ready for this truth. “There is time for everything under the sun,” says Quohelet 3, 1. When the nation is in existential crisis, a redoubled caution is required not to alienate the people even further. The “damage” has been done, but I would advocate a halt in proselitism. I say “damage” in brackets … because a great good will come out from this “error.” Still, for the moment, let’s knock it off. Iraq needs peace above all, right now!

And, as Ed points out, we do it over here.

A veteran wrestling coach at Fordson High School lost his job amid concerns that his one-time assistant, who is a local minister and parent of a wrestler, attempts to convert local Muslim youths to Christianity. …According to Marszalek, parents and community leaders, Fadlallah and other parents have long been concerned about contacts between the wrestling team and a local clergyman, the Rev. Trey Hancock of the Dearborn Assembly of God. Hancock, who helped Marszalek with the team for 10 years, and whose son, Paul, is now a member, confirmed that he attempts to convert Muslim youths to Christianity and that he baptized a 15-year-old Muslim student in Port Huron a few years ago. Meanwhile, Hancock’s publicized attempts to convert a Muslim girl are at issue in a divorce case pending in the Michigan courts. Hancock insisted that he never attempted a conversion as part of his work with the wrestling team, or on school grounds. But when asked if he understood the concerns of Muslim parents, he said, “I consider it my work to pastor to anyone who is within my reach. So I can imagine they would be concerned. But is the Dearborn Public Schools going to be dictating what every pastor can or cannot do within his congregation?”

So, why shouldn’t we do it “over there”?

Oh, wait. We do. Again, via Ed.

Some U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq appear to have launched a major initiative to convert thousands of Iraqi citizens to Christianity by distributing Bibles and other fundamentalist Christian literature translated into Arabic to Iraqi Muslims.

A recent article published on the website of Mission Network News reported that Bible Pathway Ministries, a fundamentalist Christian organization, has provided thousands of a special military edition of its Daily Devotional Bible study book to members of the 101st Airborne Division of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, currently stationed in Iraq, the project “came into being when a chaplain in Iraq (who has since finished his tour) requested some books from Bible Pathway Ministries (BPM).”

“The resulting product is a 6″x9″ 496-page illustrated book with embossed cover containing 366 daily devotional commentaries, maps, charts, and additional helpful information,” the Mission Network News report says.

Chief Warrant Officer Rene Llanos of the 101st Airborne told Mission Network News, “the soldiers who are patrolling and walking the streets are taking along this copy, and they’re using it to minister to the local residents.”

“Our division is also getting ready to head toward Afghanistan, so there will be copies heading out with the soldiers,” Llanos said. “We need to pray for protection for our soldiers as they patrol and pray that God would continue to open doors. The soldiers are being placed in strategic places with a purpose. They’re continuing to spread the Word.

“It’s one guy,” says the military. I don’t think so. Do you?

2 Comments

  1. No, it’s not just one guy. A deleted scene in “Jesus Camp” shows us the father of one 10-year-old girl, who is headed to Iraq, admitting that he is going to do the same thing. My commentary: http://www.phatpage.org/news/062507.html (about halfway down)

  2. You need to update your information about Left Behind: Eternal Forces. All the rumors about the game have proven false.

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