Plans Under Way for Christianizing the Enemy - New House, USA
- Plans Under Way for Christianizing the Enemy
BY MARK O'KEEFE
c.2003 Newhouse News Service
Two leading evangelical Christian missionary
organizations said Tuesday that they have teams of
workers poised to enter Iraq to address the physical
and spiritual needs of a large Muslim population.
The Southern Baptist Convention, the country's largest
Protestant denomination, and the Rev. Franklin
Graham's Samaritan's Purse said workers are near the
Iraq border in Jordan and are ready to go in as soon
as it is safe. The relief and missionary work is
certain to be closely watched because both Graham and
the Southern Baptist Convention have been at the heart
of controversial evangelical denunciations of Islam,
the world's second largest religion.
Both organizations said their priority will be to
provide food, shelter and other needs to Iraqis
ravaged by recent war and years of neglect. But if the
situation presents itself, they will also share their
Christian faith in a country that's estimated to be 98
percent Muslim and about 1 percent Christian.
"We go where we have the opportunity to meet needs,"
said Ken Isaacs,international director of projects for
Samaritan's Purse, located in Boone, N.C. "We do not
deny the name of Christ. We believe in sharing him in
deed and in word. We'll be who we are."
Mark Kelly, a spokesman for the Southern Baptists'
International Mission Board, said $250,000 has already
been spent to provide immediate needs, such as
blankets and baby formula. Much more will follow,
along with a more overt spiritual emphasis.
"Conversations about spiritual things will come about
as people ask about our faith," said Kelly, based in
Richmond, Va. "It's not going to be like what you
might see in other countries where there's a preaching
service held outside clinics and things like that."
Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs
of the National Association of Evangelicals, is urging
caution for the two groups, as well as other
evangelical organizations planning to go into Iraq.
"Evangelicals need to be sensitive to the
circumstances of this country and its people," said
Cizik, based in Washington, D.C. "If we are perceived
as opportunists we only hurt our cause. If this is
seen as religious freedom for Iraq by way of gunboat
diplomacy, is that helpful? I don't think so. If
that's the perception, we lose."
Graham, the son of legendary evangelist Billy Graham,
has been less diplomatic about Islam than his father
has been. Two months after the Sept. 11 attacks,
Franklin Graham called Islam "a very evil and wicked
religion" during an interview on NBC, the television
network. In his book published last year, "The Name,"
Graham wrote that "The God of Islam is not the God of
the Christian faith." He went on to say that "the two
are different as lightness and darkness."
On the eve of the Southern Baptist Convention in St.
Louis last year, the Rev. Jerry Vines, a former
denomination president, told several thousand
delegates that Islam's Allah is not the same as the
God worshipped by Christians. "And I will tell you
Allah is not Jehovah, either. Jehovah's not going to
turn you into a terrorist," Vines said.
Widespread condemnation of those comments followed
from other Protestant leaders as well as from Catholic
and Jewish groups. The Graham and Vines statements
even created a problem for President Bush, who has
called Islam a "religion of peace."
Bush, an evangelical Christian himself, has close ties
to both Franklin Graham, who gave a prayer at his
inauguration, and Southern Baptists, who are among his
most loyal political supporters.
Isaacs, who works for Franklin Graham, refused to
comment about his boss' views of Islam, except to say,
"most of Franklin's work is to the Muslim world and
those are sincere acts of love, concern and
In a written statement, Graham said: "As Christians,
we love the Iraqi people, and we are poised and ready
to help meet their needs. Our prayers are with the
innocent families of Iraq, just as they are with our
brave soldiers and leaders."
Isaacs said Samaritan's Purse has assembled a team of
nine Americans and Canadians that includes veterans of
war-relief projects in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Rwanda and
Somalia. The teams include a doctor, an engineer and a
They will bring resources that include a system that
can provide drinking water for up to 20,000 people,
material to build temporary shelters for more than
4,000 families, packages of household items for 5,000
families, and kits designed to meet the general
medical needs of 100,000 people for three months.
So far, there's no budget for the effort because it's
so fluid, said Jeremy Blume, a Samaritan's Purse
spokesman, but donors are being asked to help. A
Southern Baptist fund-raising drive is under way to
help underwrite the cost, Kelly said. Both groups said
only private donations have funded their plans thus
far, with no government assistance in the works.
Southern Baptists, representing a denomination of 16
million members, have workers in Jordan waiting to
help refugees. But so far, few refugees have arrived,
perhaps because it's still too difficult for much of
the population to maneuver between warring militaries
on their way to the border, Kelly said.
Baptist Men, a national organization devoted to
providing disaster relief work, has promised to send
volunteers from the United States "on a moment's
notice," Kelly said.
As soon as they gain access to northern Iraq, teams
will go, Kelly said, with plans of feeding up to
10,000 or more people a day.
"The hope is that as the war front moves and the
situation in the outlying areas improves, we'll be
able to send mobile teams in.
"Our understanding of relief ministries is that
anytime you give a cup of cold water in the name of
Jesus you've shared God's love in a real physical way.
That also raises the question as to why you did that.
When people ask you, you explain that it's because of
the love of God that has been poured out into my life
and I have a deep desire that you know that same love
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