Is Terry Jones’ Dove World Outreach Center a cult?

Is Terry Jones’ Dove World Outreach Center a cult?

By Lauve Steenhuisen

The 4/3/2011 Post story “Local Church that torched Koran has divided pastors, family, and others” noted that some former members of Terry Jones’ Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville Florida have accused the church of being a “cult.” Sociologists of religion have mixed feelings about the word ‘cult,’ particularly after the 1993 Branch Davidian crisis in Waco Texas, where 76 ‘cult’ members died in a fire after their compound was surrounded and fired upon by government agents. Scholars of religion charge that government authorities investigating the Branch Davidians branded them a “cult’, using the term for ‘deviance amplification,’ in order to lower the public’s identification with the group thus freeing the FBI and BATF to charge the Davidian compound with tanks and tear gas.






NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 16: Controversial Florida pastor Terry Jones stands at a small protest at the site of the Park 51 proposed mosque and community center November 16, 2010 in New York City. (Mario Tama – GETTY IMAGES)


After the Waco incident, scholarship exploded on cult research, and now, “new religious movement” is the term scholars use to neutralize the pejorative aspects of “cult.” Cult-like tools and techniques remain in use in some groups however, designed to pacify membership. The Cult Awareness Network and International Cultic Studies Association have identified several characteristics of cult-like behavior:

1. high degrees of authoritarian control over members
2. veneration and obedience to charismatic leaders
3. insider/outsider mindset, through the use of mind-control techniques
4. infantilization and shaming of members to obviate critical thinking
5. absolute claims to truth
6. punishment and expulsion of the disobedient
7. using this punishment as a deterrent to inside members.

Former members of the Dove World Outreach church have decried Terry Jones’ demands that members swear allegiance to him, cut ties to nonmember family, restrict diet and stop outside work—all techniques associated with cult-like behavior. These techniques normalize uncritical submission.

Whether the group is a ‘cult’ however remains to be seen. Using definitions by sociologists of religion, the group wound more likely be termed a ‘sect with cult-like tendencies,’ that is, a break-off group from Christianity which asserts that they are more authentic to the original teachings of the host religion, more purged of cultural accretions, and use a high degree of tension with the ‘established’ manifestations of the religion and with the surrounding society in order to create their own organizational identity.

The Dove World Outreach Center has dwindled down to 30 members, several of them family members of Terry Jones himself. Like Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church, public recognition gives them the significance they crave, even if highly negative. They use positive recognition to legitimate their authority within the group, and use negative attention to demonstrate to members that they are indeed the ‘pure and righteous’ showing a corrupt and lawless world the right way to go.



Cult and Sect Definition Characteristics

Cult Definition:

A small religious/spiritual group which demonstrates 1. high degrees of authoritarian control over members, 2. veneration and obedience to charismatic leaders, 3. insider/outsider mindset, through the use of mind-control techniques, 4. infantilizing and shaming of members to obviate critical thinking, 5. absolute claims to truth, 6. punishment and expulsion of disobedient.

Mind control

(Also known as brainwashing, coercive persuasion, mind abuse, thought control, or thought reform) refers to a process in which a group or individual “systematically uses unethically manipulative methods to persuade others to conform to the wishes of the manipulator(s), often to the detriment of the person being manipulated.” Mind control is facilitated through the use of isolating the individual, demanding repetitive behaviors, depriving them of sleep, water, and food, and enforced assertions of obedience and subservience.


Meaning of the word “sect:”

A sect is a small religious group that is an offshoot of an established religion or denomination. It holds most beliefs in common with its religion of origin, but has a number of novel concepts which differentiate them from that religion.

Sects assert that they are more authentic to the original teachings of the host religion, more purged of cultural accretions, and use a high degree of tension with the ‘established’ manifestations of the religion and with the surrounding society in order to create their own organizational identity.


Lauve Steenhuisen is a scholar of American theologies and religious movements and teaches at Georgetown University.



By Lauve Steenhuisen

Religious Rally Against Israel

Religious Rally Against Israel

Posted By Mark D. Tooley On June 11, 2010 @ 12:19 am In FrontPage | 18 Comments

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) tries to organize American religious opinion against Israel with relatively measured tones.  Its participants predictably include officials from the left-dominated Mainline Protestant denominations, liberal Catholic orders, and the Greek Archdiocese of North America, as well as the Antiochian Orthodox Church in the U.S.  Its official “friends” include more overtly anti-Israel diehards like Friends of Sabeel – North America, which essentially wants to dissolve Jewish Israel in favor of a multi-ethnic “Palestine.”   Various advocates of anti-Israel divestment, an otherwise largely defeated cause, are also “friends” to CEMP, including the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, and the Methodist Federation for Social Action.

The star of CMEP’s annual “advocacy” conference in Washington, D.C. starting June 13 will be Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.  Comfortably liberal Episcopal refinement is exactly the sort of tone that CMEP often prefers to mask its more provocative agenda.  Bishop Schori is enmeshed in the melt-down of her own denomination, including lawsuits against departing local congregations, and its schism with the more theologically orthodox global Anglican Communion.  But denouncing Israel still merits her attention.

Last week, she wrote President Obama a relatively long, substantive and, by Religious left standards, temperate denunciation of Israel’s interception of the Gaza-bound flotilla. But the bias and preoccupation with Israeli sins, perceived or real, are still obvious, even if cloaked in Episcopalian politesse.  Admitting all the details of the flotilla event are still unclear, she still insisted:   “It is clear, however, that the deaths of civilians working to deliver humanitarian aid could not have happened absent the counterproductive Israeli blockade of Gaza.”  Ostensibly there are “far better ways to protect Israel’s security and promote moderate political leadership in Gaza than a blockade that intensifies human suffering and perpetuates regional insecurity.”

What are the alternatives to counteracting Hamas rule in Gaza short of a partial blockade against it?  Like most Israel critics, Bishop Schori does not say.  And as with other professions of supposed concern about Israel’s “security,” Bishop Schori and other clerics who publicly pontificate about the Middle East almost never offer substitute proposals for whatever Israeli defenses they reject.  The security wall is supposedly an outrage, but what else will impede suicide bombers?  Israel’s continued security oversight of the West Bank is purportedly oppresses the Palestinians.  But since most Palestinians still seem to reject a Palestinian state existing peacefully alongside a Jewish Israel, what are the other options?  Religious and secular complainants insist that removal of Jewish settlements from the West Bank is prerequisite for peace.  But the abrupt closure of all Jewish settlements in Gaza hardly generated good will and instead seemed only to stimulate appetite for more Israeli concessions.  Browbeating Israel into endless accommodations that only feed an inexhaustible expectation by Palestinians for further Israeli retreat and eventual Arab/Islamist triumph seems to be the Religious Left’s main strategy for Middle East “peace.”

“Instead of enhancing Israel’s security, the blockade has harmed its international standing and imposed an inexcusable humanitarian toll on the people of Gaza,” Bishop Schori insisted in her letter to Obama.  ”While Israel has allowed a very limited amount of humanitarian aid to enter Gaza, the restriction on basic goods for agriculture, fishing, and infrastructure construction has caused poverty and joblessness to soar.”  This may be true, but why is Israel exclusively at fault for Gaza’s suffering?  How was Gaza faring before to the blockade, and under the rule of the Palestinian Authority?  What evidence is there for Palestinian leadership genuinely interested in responsible governance rather than indefinite conflict?

Bishop Schori provided details about the number of trucks with supplies entering Gaza per day. The concern is partly admirable, if sincere.  But why is a U.S. Episcopal Bishop obsessed with living standards for Gaza, or the Palestinians, when hundreds of millions globally live in far greater poverty?  Would Palestinian GNP, in Gaza or the West Bank, interest liberal U.S. bishops at all, absent Israel as the targeted culprit?  How many anti-Western dictators have blockaded or literally starved hostile populations much larger than Gaza, without a murmur from Bishop Schori or the Religious Left?

Rather than tacitly backing an ill-advised blockade, the U.S. should work with its ally, Israel, to promote constructive new policies toward Gaza that serve the aims of peace and security,” Bishop Schori lectured.  The former oceanographer and teacher wants “continued efforts to halt violence, and credible long-term strategies to support Palestinian leaders who are actively working for peace,” while also drawing “support and legitimacy from across Palestinian society.”  She suggests “political reconciliation so that a future Palestinian government can draw strength both from its internal support and from its external actions on behalf of peace.”  How does the Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop, unable to reconcile the divisions within her own denomination of tea sippers and Volvo drivers, propose to reconcile Hamas with other Palestinians, much less Israel?

For Schori, the goals for the Middle East are simple.  The Episcopal Church has “repeatedly” supported a “secure Israel with defined borders, whose right to exist is universally recognized; a sovereign, independent and secure state for the Palestinian people; and shared custody and protection of the holy sites in Jerusalem held sacred by the three great Abrahamic faiths.”  This rhetoric appeals to Episcopalians snugly secure in their New England hamlets.  But how many Palestinians, even outside Hamas, share this vision?

Schori instructed Obama to shift our nation’s posture” towards “lifting the blockade,” while also “robustly” encouraging “long-term peace.”  She also expects “direct negotiation between the parties,” i.e. apparent recognition for Hamas.  How will abandoning the Gaza blockade and recognizing Hamas, which would surely inflate that Islamist group’s prestige and ambitions, advance peace?   In the rarified and often beautiful world of Episcopal liturgy, noblesse oblige, gothic spires, and ancient endowments, simply demanding “long-term peace’ may seem quite attainable over a lunch at the country club.  In the real world of guns, power, and even more ancient hatreds, appeasement often only breeds greater conflict.

Bishop Schori’s pleas to appease Hamas were relatively more thoughtful than other Religious Left voices.  United Methodist lobbyist Jim Winkler histrionically bewailed Israel’s “high-seas piracy” against the “Freedom Flotilla.”  But her appeal to Obama, and her likely commentary to Churches for Middle East Peace later this week, are just as feckless, and, if heeded, just as dangerous.

Emory U’s Religious Left Can’t Handle the Truth

Emory U’s Religious Left Can’t Handle the Truth
By David Horowitz and Robert Spencer | May 7, 2007

In conjunction with the Terrrorism Awareness project we published an ad in the Emory Wheel, the campus paper at Emory University. The ad was called “What Americans Need to Know About Jihad” and described the threat to Christians, Jews, women and gays in particular, from Muslim fanatics. Soon thereafter the Emory Religious Life Staff and Campus Ministry Affliliates published a counter-ad condemning what we had written. Their response was fairly typical of the responses of campus authorities, including campus religious authorities to the threat of radical Islam: deny the threat itself and condemn those who describe it as intolerant alarmists. We post here the entire exchange to illustrate the problem our campuses and our country face.– David Horowitz and Robert Spencer.

I. Terrorism Awareness Project Ad (published in the Emory Wheel)

What Americans Need to Know About Jihad

The goal of jihad is world domination

Jihad demands the suppression of all Infidels

Jihad’s battle cry is “Death to America”

The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies — civilians and military — is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it…to comply with God’s order to kill the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever they find it. We also call on Muslim ulema, leaders, youths, and soldiers to launch the raid on Satan’s U.S. troops and the devil’s supporters allying with them…” – Osama bin Laden

Jihad is a war against Christians

Jihad is a war against Jews

Jihad is a war against Women

Jihad is a war against Gays

Jihad is not about American policy towards Israel

Jihad is not about Israel’s policy towards Palestinians

It is about the global rule of radical Islam

“Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” – Hamas Charter

“The Jews are a cancer which is liable to spread again at any moment. There is no solution to the conflict except with the disappearance of Israel. Let the entire world hear me. Our hostility to the Great Satan [America] is absolute. Death to America. I encourage Palestinians to take suicide bombings worldwide. Don’t be shy about it.” – Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah

A Public Service Announcement by the Terrorism Awareness Project.

II. Emory Campus Ministry Ad

A Statement by Emory Religious Leaders

The Emory Religious Life Staff & Campus Ministry Affiliates are a group of religious representatives and advisors approved by their respective faiths’ judicatories, as well as the Office of the Dean of the Chapel, for the purpose of ministry and religious advising for Emory University students, faculty, and staff. In response to recent expressions of a selective, reductive, and hurtful nature toward particular groups on the Emory campus, such as the publication of the “What Americans Need to Know About Jihad” advertisement in the February 9, 2007 issue of The Emory Wheel, we issue the following statement:

We condemn any act that aims to intimidate, threaten, or reductively portray a religious group with the intent to antagonize or demean its members. At the same time we affirm the University’s commitment to the values of energetic inquiry, open discussion and disagreement, and respectful engagement with diverse groups, we maintain that Emory University must be a place of dignity and sensitivity for all religious groups. We call upon all members of the Emory University community to actively engage in challenging interfaith discussion while upholding the University’s high standards of respect and dignity for all religious communities.

III. Response from David Horowitz and Robert Spencer

Emory’s Religious Life Office Stifles Debate

By: David Horowitz, Robert Spencer

Issue date: 5/1/07 Section: Editorials.

We are the authors of the ad “What Every American Needs To Know About Jihad,” to which the Emory religious life staff & campus ministry affiliates have taken exception in a response published in The Emory Wheel. While their statement makes serious – one might say defamatory – charges claiming that our ad “aims to intimidate, threaten, or reductively portray a religious group with the intent to antagonize or demean its members,” it fails to explain how our ad does this, or in what way it is inaccurate. This kind of undocumented smear constitutes a kind of hate speech itself.

The text of our ad was quite clear. We quoted Osama Bin Laden’s statement that is the duty of Muslims to kill Americans, and the Hamas Charter which promises that Islam will “obliterate” Israel, and Hassan Nasrallah’s statement that “the Jews are a cancer.” We stated that “the goal of jihad is world domination,” that “jihad demands the suppression of all infidels,” that its battle cry is “death to America.” We noted that it is a war against Christians, Jews, women and gays. Does the Emory religious life staff deny that these are statements of Islamic leaders or that all around the globe there are movements – united under the banner of “jihad” – devoted to these goals?

We are well aware that there are within Islam other understandings of jihad, but that does not negate the fact that those who are pursuing the agenda we outlined call what they are doing “jihad.” It is demeaning to peaceful Muslims to deny or minimize this fact, as the Emory religious life staff does, for denying it robs Muslims of an opportunity to work for reform within their own community, refuting the version of jihad put forward by Ahmadinejad, Bin Laden, Nasrallah and the global Islamic terrorist movement. One cannot address a problem while simultaneously denying the existence of that problem.

We are disconcerted to see members of Hillel condemning the truths in our ad when Islamic jihadis have openly declared their goal to be the destruction of the Jewish state. If Jews will not defend themselves, who will?

It is shameful that a group of religious leaders in an academic community, instead of addressing an argument, would resort to ad hominem attacks against those they disagree with. This is a poor example to set for Emory students and a dangerous way to conduct a debate about an enemy who has declared war on all Americans who do not subscribe to their perverse view of Islam. A group purporting to speak for moral standards should know better.

IV. Replies from the Muslim Religious Adviser and the Director of Campus Hillel

Horowitz and Spencer Are Promoting Intolerance and Paranoia

By: Aysha Hidayatullah

Issue date: 5/1/07 Section: Editorials

It is with much reluctance that I – one among the Emory religious advisors who co-published a statement in the April 20 issue of The Emory Wheel – respond to the allegations of David Horowitz and Robert Spencer directed at us (see “Another Substanceless Objection” at

In doing so, I risk inadvertently dignifying their so-called invitation to “respectful” discussion, as if it is anything more than an incitement to join them in hateful, self-involved disputation. However, despite this risk, namely in the interest of making it clear that I stand by our message of responsible interfaith engagement at Emory University, I have chosen to respond briefly.

It is a reflection of the perverse narcissism of Spencer and Horowitz that they would interpret our statement as being “defamatory” against either of them. The careful reader will note that our only reference to their advertisement described it as an example of “selective, reductive, and hurtful” speech. It is a description which would be quite difficult to refute, given that numerous members of the Emory community have described the ad in a similar light. Nor is our statement defamatory, for it is intentionally much wider and more significant in its scope.

In my line of work, I have neither the time nor the inclination to expend my energy toward debating with those who hide behind the alarmist and manipulative rhetoric of terrorism. My job has very little to do with Spencer and Horowitz, as I am not in the business of debate with antagonists. Rather, my work involves compassionate and productive inter-religious cooperation – confronting and grappling with the realities of religious violence and difference, while at the same time aspiring to rise above the antagonism of the Terrorism Awareness Project.

Aysha Hidayatullah is the Muslim Religious Advisor in Emory’s Office of Religious Life.

Horowitz and Spencer Are Promoting Intolerance and Paranoia

By: Michael Rabkin

Issue date: 5/1/07 Section: Editorials

I stand by my decision to align with fellow campus ministers in our objection to the Terrorism Awareness Project advertisement. (See “Another Substanceless Objection” at I object to David Horowitz and Robert Spencer’s manipulation of our fears about global terrorism to suggest that Islam is our enemy. I recognize that to moderate Muslims, including our friends in the Muslim community at Emory and most Muslims in America, jihad represents a theological struggle, and not world domination, as the ad asserts.

Of course, I am not so naive as to defend the sinister people who lay claim to Islam and distort its teachings in order to wage war on Israel and the West. Nor do I dismiss the very real threat they pose to Jews, Israel and virtually all humanity.

Yet I refuse to allow Horowitz and Spencer’s alarmist rhetoric to intrude on our campus and breed mistrust between Jews and Muslims at Emory while we strive to build bridges of understanding and respect between our communities.

Fostering a culture of fear creates division, not positive change. We can maintain constructive conversation between our communities while simultaneously opposing the brutality of violence against any people.

In fact, it is a vital Jewish interest to improve relations with the Muslim community, and in so doing, we must insist that moderate Muslim leaders raise their voices in opposition to terrorism and the culture of hate propagated by Islamic extremists. Only through personal interaction, partnerships, and coalitions can we communicate our concerns, build respect for one another, and pursue peace.

My position on this issue has no bearing on Hillel’s support for Israel. Our support for Israel as a Jewish and democratic state remains steadfast even as we work on campus to develop positive Jewish-Muslim relations on the basis of common fundamental values and a common destiny. The future of the children of Abraham depends on the decisions we make together today.

I pray that Muslims and Jews, as well as our friends of other faiths, find the path of justice without resorting to the tactics employed by Jihad Watch.

Michael Rabkin is the director of Emory Hillel

V. Response by David Horowitz and Robert Spencer

Submitted to the Emory Wheel on May 3, 2007.

We are disappointed in the responses of Aysha Hidayatullah and Michael Rabkin to the ad we placed in the Emory Wheel and to the response we made to their attacks on the ad. They make a serious charge, claiming that we are “promoting intolerance and paranoia,” but neither actually produces even a single concrete example to show that we have done that.

Hidayatullah dismisses our invitation to dialogue as an “an incitement to join [us] in hateful, self-involved disputation.” Yet what is the incitement? Our ad merely quotes Osama bin Laden, the Hamas Charter, and Hizbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, and makes a series of observations about the goals of today’s jihad terrorist movement that are readily demonstrable from the words and deeds of the terrorists themselves. How is this “hateful,” much less  “selective, reductive, and hurtful,” as the Emory Religious Life staff characterized it?

When Hidayatullah denounces us for “hid[ing] behind the alarmist and manipulative rhetoric of terrorism,” her focus is in the wrong place.

If she is really interested in “confronting and grappling with the realities of religious violence and difference,” her attention should be focused on devising positive ways to combat the seductive appeal of the message of the jihadis that we summarized in our ad – not on defaming those who are calling attention to jihadi activity.

Rabbi Michael Rabkin who is the director of the Emory Hillel accuses us of suggesting that “Islam is our enemy.” This is a false and defamatory claim. Nowhere does our ad state anything of the kind. In fact, in our response we specifically referred to our “enemy [as one] who has declared war on all Americans who do not subscribe to their perverse view of Islam.” In addition to distorting our stated position, Rabbi Rabkin fails to explain how publishing quotes from Osama bin Laden, Hassan Nasrallah, and the Hamas Charter says anything at all about Islam as such, or constitutes “alarmist rhetoric” that breeds “mistrust between Jews and Muslims.”

The mistrust is bred by Imams like Nasrallah who openly call for the extermination of the Jews. It is tragic that a rabbi should want to silence those who point this out.

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Don’t Worry! The Religious Left Is Making “Peace” with Iran

Don’t Worry! The Religious Left Is Making “Peace” with Iran
By Mark D. Tooley | February 28, 2007

On Friday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed that Iran will not backtrack on its nuclear program. And on Thursday, the International Atomic Energy Agency announced that Iran had ignored a United Nations Security Council ultimatum about potential nukes.

But do not fear! An ecumenical delegation from the U.S. is currently in Iran, meeting with the Iranian president and various ayatollahs.  Peace is at hand. 

“The headlines in U.S. newspapers talk about missed deadlines and stalemates,” recounted Quaker official Joe Volk in his report.  “But sitting here in Iran, we see a different picture.”  He promised that “the Iranians are willing to begin negotiations to return their nuclear program to full international safeguards.”  After all, the Iranian deputy foreign minister has assured Volk’s delegation that this is so. 

The U.S. religious representatives, representing United Methodists, Episcopalians, Quakers, Mennonites, “Sojourners,” Pax Christi, and the National Council of Churches, have found an “openness to negotiations here in Iran,” according to Volk.  But, “sadly, the United States has not demonstrated a similar openness.  The U.S. government has refused for many years to enter into any type of negotiations with Iran, focusing instead on a program of sanctions, isolation, and threats of regime change.”

Worried about Iran’s safety in the face of U.S. belligerance, the ecumenical delegation is meeting with whomever the Iranian theocratic police state will allow it to in Teheran, in pursuit of peace.  The churchmen are in Iran at the special invitation of the Iranian dictator, anti-Semite and apocalyptic preacher, Ahmadinejad, who met with a much larger group of U.S. clerics when he was in New York last September.

Dave Robinson of the left-wing Catholic group Pax Christi explained in his dispatch from Teheran that the delegation therapeutically “plans to highlight and draw attention to the source of each nation’s pain and mistrust and to understand what divides us historically.”  Robinson, of course, was pleased when assured by Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani that Iran’s nuclear program is not a weapons program and that in fact, nuclear weapons are incompatible with Islamic law.

“Our delegation has come to Tehran in a humble posture of listening and learning as well as to raise difficult questions,” Robinson explained.  But the delegation seems to be eager to accept dubious answers to its supposedly difficult questions.  When the ayatollah was asked about Iran’s “harsh” rhetoric about the U.S., the cleric responded, “What you mention is not against the American people. Our objection is to statements of the American government.”  Undoubtedly, the ecumenical delegation liked that answer.  The imam even assured his visitors, “Please consider Iran as your second home for Americans.”  Such hospitality.  The imam might be disappointed that this batch of American churchmen is likely to take his offer seriously. 

Of course, sojourning in Teheran is not quite like jetting to the Virgin Islands.  Jeff Carr of the evangelical left group Sojourners noted that as the delegation’s plane descended, the pilot warned:  “By order of the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, all women need to cover their heads for their own protection.” Welcome to the Shiite paradise!  

Before taking off for the vacation land of imams, Mennonite official Daryl Byler dashed off an urgent letter to President Bush about Iran.  “I wish you were the one meeting with President Ahmadinejad.” Byler wrote.  “Not because I fear meeting Iran’s president. To the contrary, when I met him last fall in New York I found him to be bright and engaging.  Like you, Ahmadinejad is a religious man. I believe you would enjoy one another’s company. Your conversation could signal a positive change in a relationship severed more than 25 years ago.”

Bush and Adhmadinejad, as religious men, would have much in common to discuss. The American president could discuss his Methodist church and his daily prayer devotionals.  And the Iranian could talk about his dreams of destroying Israel in a final holocaust that would apocalyptically usher in the the Reign of the Mahdi in a sea of blood.

Byler fretted to Bush that the U.S. has captured several Iranian diplomats inside Iraq and dispatched a second U.S. naval carrier group to the Persian Gulf.  “Many see these events as provocative,” he worries.  “Of course, Iranian rhetoric and actions have added to the volatile mix.” he reclutantly added.
Will you be a “repairer of the breach” as the biblical prophets urged of leaders long ago (Isaiah 58:12)?” Byler asked of Bush.  Byler and the rest of the delegation will meet with Ahmadinejad before leaving for home to begin their “education” of the American public about the reality in Iran. 

Undoubtedly, the church delegation will be as charmed as they were last September.  The Iranian president likely will courteously omit any of his rhetoric about killing infidels as he serves the American Christians hot tea and Iranian pastries.

For the latest updates about the delegation’s final adventures in Iran, check out:

The Religious Left vs. “Demonic” America

The Religious Left vs. “Demonic” America
By Mark D. Tooley | February 13, 2007

Mainline American Protestantism, when its elites were still theologically orthodox, viewed the
United States as a providential instrument for prosperity and freedom.  But after its elites abandoned traditional Christianity for a plethora of radical ideologies, it discovered that
America is actually “demonic.”
The recently published “American Empire and the

Commonwealth of
God” vividly illustrates the cosmological hatred that mainline Protestant elites, especially in academia, now reserve for their country.  “Empire” is a project of the Presbyterian Church (USA) publishing house, Westminster John Knox Press.

Authored by three Methodist theologians, with help from a Jewish professor of law from Princeton, “American Empire” asserts that the
United States is the “primary threat to the survival of the human species (along with that of may other species as well).”  At least one of the authors argued that America is worse than Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, and all four writers rejoiced in resistance to the “empire,” whether it is from communist
Cuba, Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez, or various Islamic dictatorships.

Ultimately, the authors believed, the only effective restraint to the American “fascist” empire is a world government.  The three theologians, with seeming sympathy from the Jewish law professor, rejected traditional Jewish and Christian concepts of an omnipotent God.  Instead, they advocated a “process theology,” in which the deity is constantly evolving in reaction to human and natural events.

Not surprisingly, the authors of “Empire” faulted the supposed oppressions of the American imperial project on traditional Judaism and Christianity, which rely on the Bible’s  supposedly dangerous notions of God as King and Lord.  The authors’ brand of “process” religion depends on liberation theology, feminist theology, and eco-theology, they gladly acknowledged.


How else can the American Empire be stopped, unless God is reinvented, the authors grumbled.

“A theology of omnipotence electrifies the halo of American domination,” fretted author Catherine Keller, a theologian at
University’s seminary in
New Jersey.  “Might it be the very doctrine of divine omnipotence that charges the halo with its holy electricity?” she wondered.


Unfortunately, “even many thoughtful people assume that faith requires some big guy in the sky,” Keller complained.  But more preferably, she opined that “God is called upon not as a unilateral superpower but as a relational force, not an omnipotent creator from nothing, imposing order upon inert entities, but the lure to a self-organizing complexity…”


Similarly, fellow “Empire” author John Cobb, a celebrated process theologian at Claremont School of Theology in
California, excoriated the mindless Christians who “worship a cosmic ruler who came to earth to save them and sanction their country.”  More intelligent Christians, like the dwindling numbers of students at radical seminaries, will look to the “actual message of Jesus” and help reverse the “headlong plunge of our nation into the lust for world domination.”


Of course, George W. Bush, who once named Jesus as his “favorite philosopher, is among these thoughtless Christians, Cobb readily asserted.   But the process theologian is non-partisan in his contempt for
America.  He warned that the “goals of the dominant faction in the Democratic party are not so different from those of the Republicans.”  The only difference is that Democrats will pursue “multilateral methods” that make “American hegemony more acceptable and secure greater support from others,” which helps to reduce the costs of empire.


Princeton professor of law Richard Falk easily agreed with Cobb, noting the absence of any “mainstream alternative” in either political party to the “fascist implications” of the Bush-Cheney worldview.  The epithet “global fascism” applies with equal validity to the extremism of jihadists and the proponents of American empire,” Falk equitably concluded.  Llikewise, the mainstream media in the
U.S. is untroubled by “the national readiness to commit mass suicide and engage in terrorism on a grand scale.”

 “Terrorism” is natural for the American hegemon, observed author David Ray Griffin, a professor at Claremont School of Theology and a 9-11 conspiracist who believes the Bush Administration, and not al Qaeda, blew up the

Center and torched the Pentagon.  After all, American history is rooted in the “extermination” of about ten million Native Americans and another ten million African slaves.   Its blood thurst still unsated, the
United States, as fascist lord of “global apartheid,” now murders about 150 million citizens of the planet every decade, making it far more genocidal than any other tyranny in world history.  Characteristic of his careful scholarship, Griffin derived these figures from his assumption that ALL deaths everywhere relating to poverty are the responsibility of the
United States.


America’s ongoing global genocide might get worse.  The human race is on a “trajectory towards self-annihilation through human-caused climate change,” which naturally is made in
America.  But all is not gloom and doom for these troubled theologians.  They see in Jesus the antidote to American fascism. 
Griffin rejected the central Christian idea that Jesus bodily rose from the dead, which was actually a doctrine that the church contrived decades after Jesus’ death. Instead, Jesus had a spiritual “resurrection” over the demonic power of the
Roman Empire.


Similarly, this Jesus, who is now recognizable as a feminist eco-theologian, will motivate a new generation of faithful apostles to rally against
America’s global fascist empire.  “For Christians in this country to denounce and work against the America empire will, of course, require courage, because we may be subjected to one of the many contemporary forms of crucifixion,” Griffin nonetheless warned.  “It is good, therefore, that we have our resurrection faith.”  Except this “resurrection” is, for
Griffin, not a real thing, but merely a helpful political metaphor.


“The American Empire and the

Commonwealth of
God” was being sold by the United Methodist Publishing House at an annual Methodist Congress on Evangelism that I attended last month.  But the book seemed to be untouched by the hundreds of Methodist evangelists and pastors streaming by, who were more attentive to the conference’s simplistic Gospel preachers. These naïfs, evidently lacking enlightenment, spoke of a bodily resurrection rather than the “resurrection” into eco-feminist consciousness for which Griffin et al hope.


This begged the question.  If theologians write a book, and almost nobody reads it, did the book really happen?  Likewise, religious Americans are largely tuning out the tired voices of 1960’s era protest religion, with its endless harangues, indecipherable conspiracies and self-contempt.  Mainline Protestant elites may have collapsed into insensibility.  But their audience has thankfully moved on to better performances.

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The Religious Left’s Conflicted Loyalties

The Religious Left’s Conflicted Loyalties
By Mark D. Tooley | October 12, 2006

Reacting to North Korea’s claims of a nuclear weapons test must have been difficult for the Religious Left. They do not like nuclear weapons, but they also do not relish criticizing communist governments. So some church officials have emphasized that North Korean nukes will threaten the environment. They also have denounced nuclear weapons by all governments as equally threatening, as though the nuclear arsenal of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s government were as disturbing as nukes in the grasping little paws of maniacal dictator Kim Jong Il.   

“Nuclear proliferation can not be good news for the planet,” lamented National Council of Churches chief Bob Edgar, who is also a United Methodist minister. “I have seen firsthand the effects of nuclear testing on human beings and God’s planet when I visited the Marshall Islands where the U.S. government tested nuclear weapons after World War II.”

The chief of the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Global Ministries is also worried about “the planet.” According to the Rev. Randy Day, “Nuclear weapons are menaces to all forms of life on the planet and to the Earth itself. This is true of the arsenals of the several nuclear nations. Such weapons must be controlled and rapidly eliminated by international covenant.”

Some church prelates are concerned about demonizing the North Korean communist dictatorship, which has infamously impoverished, starved, imprisoned and tortured its people while lavishing funds on its oversized military.

“We can’t build a peaceful relationship when we label the other as evil,” warned Chicago United Methodist Bishop Hee-Soo Jung, who is himself Korean. He said his denomination opposes any country testing or developing nuclear weapons “which can be misused and destroy all of God’s creation.”

The head of the World Council of Churches (WCC), Samuel Kobia, a Methodist pastor from Kenya, addressed his letter about North Korea’s nukes to the UN ambassadors of Russia, the U.S., China, France, Great Britain, North Korea, South Korea, and Japan, while helpfully copying the ambassadors of Israel, Pakistan and India. Presumably Rev. Kobia wanted to communicate with the representatives of all nuclear powers.

Kobia reminded the respective ambassadors, who were no doubt anxious to hear from him, that the WCC wants “talks to lead to a formal peace treaty in the Korean Peninsula, [has] urged the [North Korean] government to abandon its nuclear weapons program and make a verified return to the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear-weapons state, and [has] urged…due consideration to [North Korea’s] concern for its security in order to resolve the crisis.”

It was thoughtful of the WCC’s Kobia to emphasize North Korea’s “security” concerns. But nowhere in his letter did Kobia mention the plight of the North Korean people, who have miserably suffered under their current slave masters for over 60 years.

Likewise, the NCC’s Bob Edgar never mentioned the oppression that North Koreans endure or the sadistic nature of their communist overseers. But like Kobia, Edgar was concerned about offering security guarantees to the North Korean tyranny.

“We urgently reaffirm our 2003 call for the prompt reconvening of talks with North Korea leading to a non-aggression pact between North Korea and the United States, renouncement of pre-emptive attack and negotiation of a peace treaty replacing the present Armistice Treaty of 1953 and the establishment and exchange of liaison offices between the United States and North Korea as a sign of good faith,” Edgar declared. 

None of the leftist church prelates were quite able to identify the North Korean regime as singularly threatening because of its innately despotic and quixotic nature. Instead, nuclear weapons themselves are identified as an abstract, impersonal threat, irrespective of the character of their owners.

United Methodist missions official Randy Day explained this by quoting the official stance from his denomination: “We reaffirm the finding that nuclear weapons, whether used or threatened, are grossly evil and morally wrong. As an instrument of mass destruction, nuclear weapons slaughter the innocent and ravage the environment. When used as instruments of deterrence, nuclear weapons hold innocent people hostage for political and military purposes. Therefore, the doctrine of nuclear deterrence is morally corrupt and spiritually bankrupt.”

Day also expressed hope for a “unified” Korea, a hope that Kim Jong Il no doubt also shares. The question is, what kind of “unified” Korea? Day mentioned nothing about human rights or democracy, but it is the complete absence of both in North Korea that has kept Korea divided. None of the leftist church prelates ever mention this. Obliquely, Rev. Day is “concerned that North Korea, one of the world’s poorest nations, has used limited resources for nuclear military purposes.”

Why is North Korea so poor? And how were its meager resources diverted into nuclear weapons, while millions have starved? Rev. Day does not explain. He also throws in how much “we value our links with the Christian Federation in North Korea,” which is the puppet church organization that the North Korean government exploits for its propaganda relations with international religious groups.

In perhaps the most bizarre church response to the North Korea nuclear test was a liturgy of prayer offered by the United Methodist Board of Discipleship, to be read in worship services on Sunday. Again, there is special concern in the prayer not just for people but also the potentially affected environment, specifically “trees, plants, animals, earth, water, and air,” each of which evidently merits special prayer.

Rather unexpectedly, the liturgy uncritically incorporates the words of President Bush’s response to the North Korean test. “Once again North Korea has defied the will of the international community, and the international community will respond,” Bush is quoted as saying. Bush is himself a United Methodist, but he likely never imagined his words would be turned into a worship liturgy.    

Admirably, the liturgy stands out from the other church statements, because it actually seems to presume that North Korea’s tyrannical regime is uniquely dangerous. “We pray especially for the leaders of China, South Korea, Russia, and Japan, with all who may be most immediately in harm’s way,” the liturgy intones.

“We pray for terrorists and all who wish us harm,” the liturgy continues. “Protect us and all people.” Again, the acknowledgement of terrorism, its potential connection to North Korean nuclear proliferation, and the threat that link poses to countless innocents is unique among the church statements. 

Even more remarkably, the liturgy actually admits to the sad plight of North Korea’s population: “Open our eyes to the oppression and poverty of the North Korean people, and show us ways to declare and embody the liberation and wholeness of life you desire for them and all peoples.”

The liturgy, though odd, at least makes some thoughtful points not typically found from left-leaning mainline church bureaucracies. It also concludes with the Lord’s Prayer, which is a refreshing spiritual alternative to more routine verbiage about “the planet.” But a more robust ecclesiastical response to the North Korean nuclear development might quotes from the Psalms, specifically 46:9:  “He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.

Church leaders might receive more attention and respect if they confidently reminded their parishioners of the ancient and transcendent promise of their faith: that tyrants and their evil designs, even if backed by nuclear weapons, are in the end always defeated by a kind and omnipotent Providence.