The New Christian Crusaders

After 9/11, pundits quickly relegated "irony" to history's dust bin. There was nothing left to laugh about. Several months later, there were no hosannas or fanfare when irony slithered back into our lives. These days, irony is alive and well, thank you, as recently embodied by several post-war proselytizing-in-Iraq proposals announced by fundamentalist Christian organizations.

With each passing day the U.S. rains down more death and destruction on the people of Iraq. Outrage within the Muslim world is rapidly growing. When the war against Iraq is over and occupation begins, the Bush Administration plans to establish an American-led government -- with ample benefits reaped by the president's long-time political supporters and oil industry cronies. Closely behind these grim reapers there will follow a host of fundamentalist Christian leaders, plowing the sand for new recruits.

Over the past 10 days, several fundamentalist Christian organizations announced plans to prop further open the window of opportunity by participating in the rebuilding of Iraq. Before the war, none seemed particularly interested in working to avoid the situation the Bush Administration has caused in the country, and now, none seems interested in whether or not they're invited or even desired by the people of Iraq.

And, in what can only be referred to as uber-chutzpah, the Rev. Franklin Graham recently said that his organization, Samaritan's Purse, will lead the way. You may remember that the Rev. Billy Graham's son, the Rev. Franklin Graham, lashed out at all Muslims shortly after September 11th. At that time he called Islam "wicked." Now, along with several other U.S. and Canadian-based fundamentalist Christian groups, he is organizing Christian welcome wagons stuffed with Bibles and bandages.

Here comes da' Rev.

Remember, Rev. Franklin Graham is one of several fundamentalist Christian leaders who engaged in an Islam-directed orgy of hate. In "How Islam-Bashing Got Cool," published several months after 9/11, Deborah Caldwell of Beliefnet pointed out that Muslim-bashing went beyond "commentators criticizing Muslim extremists." They included "remarks that attack[ed] Islam, Muslims, the Qur'an, and the Prophet Muhammad as pervasively and inherently bad."

Evangelist Franklin Graham, having already virtually taken over his father's organization, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, runs his own relief agency. Samaritan's Purse is one of the world's largest Christian relief agencies, and it "is mobilized and poised to assist those affected by the war to liberate Iraq," reports AgapePress, a Christian News Service.

Shortly after September 11, the Rev. Franklin Graham stunned Muslims and the Bush Administration by bashing Islam. He declared: "The God of Islam is not the same God. He's not the son of God of the Christian or Judeo-Christian faith. It's a different God, and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion." Later, he told NBC News: "It wasn't Methodists flying into those buildings, it wasn't Lutherans. It was an attack on this country by people of the Islamic faith."

Regarding his current crusade, Graham told Beliefnet: "We realize we're in an Arab country and we just can't go out and preach." However, he added, "I believe as we work, God will always give us opportunities to tell others about his Son. We are there to reach out to love them and to save them, and as a Christian I do this in the name of Jesus Christ."

"Franklin Graham obviously thinks it is a war against Islam," said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "This is a guy who gave the invocation at President Bush's inauguration and believes Islam is a wicked faith. And he's going to go into Iraq in the wake of an invading army and convert people to Christianity? Nothing good is coming of that."

The Rev. Graham isn't alone in pursuing this twenty-first century Christian crusade. The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the nation's largest Protestant denomination and the kingpin of proselytizers, is similarly planning a large relief effort in Iraq once the war ends. According to Beliefnet, five years ago, the SBC "reorganized its International Missions Board to focus on the part of the world where Muslims live. That year, the Convention published a prayer guide for use when praying for the conversion of Muslims."

The Rev Donald Wildmon's American Family Association (AFA) also has a plan for a relief effort incursion. Despite an AFA Web site banner-headline that reads "Is Islam a Peaceful Religion?" (the AFA answers the question no) the pastor-with-a-plan hopes "to help raise money to help the displaced people of Iraq rebuild their lives and let them know that Christians in America care for them and want to help them through their struggle against tyranny."

That's a thought. While Christians (and Jews) in the Bush Administration mastermind the wholesale destruction of the country and the slaughter of thousands, Rev. Wildmon wants Iraqis to know that "compassionate" Christianity doesn't stop at the water's edge.

Then, there is Jeff Christopherson, pastor of the Sanctuary of Oakville, a Southern Baptist-affiliated church just outside Toronto, Canada. According to Agape Press, Christopherson "hopes to plan churches in Baghdad once the regime of Saddam Hussein is deposed." Christopherson claims his church "has made substantial contacts with Iraqi Christians living in Toronto" and they "say their homeland is ready for the gospel. [Christopherson] says there are some 500 believers in Baghdad who are ready for the liberation."

When the "pipeline" opens, Christopherson says, his church will be ready. "With this apparent window of opportunity coming, we want to jam that window open with a pipeline and go in there so we can see churches established in Baghdad. "We're wanting to at least establish some sort of a network," he says, "and God has given us favor in some pretty high-level circles to give us an entrance into [Iraq]."

Finally, the anti-abortion American Life League (ALL) is warning that if Planned Parenthood has its way, the women of Iraq will be lining up for abortions in the near future. In a press release headlined "PPFA [Planned Parenthood Federation of America] President Gloria Feldt Wants Abortion Forced on Iraqi Refugees In Spite of Muslim Beliefs," ALL claims that as soon as the shooting war ends, the abortion rights war will commence.

"Planned Parenthood's lack of integrity truly knows no bounds!" said Jim Sedlak, Executive Director of American Life League's STOPP International. "The Iraqi people are embracing the prospect of real freedom from oppression, yet Planned Parenthood wants to wage its own war on Iraq's pre-born children through its dictatorial regime of abortion and contraception."

Can anyone keep Graham home?

Earlier in the week, Beliefnet's Steven Waldman reported that White House spokesman Ari Fleischer "said he'd have no comment on Graham's activities, and referred questions to the State Department." According to Waldman, a State Department spokesman "referred calls to the Agency for International Development, which coordinates humanitarian aid. 'What private charitable organizations choose to do without U.S. government funding is ultimately their decision,' said Ellen Yount, an AID spokeswoman. 'How could the U.S. government control that? We can't just say to an organization, "you can or cannot do something," if we don't fund them. Imagine what the United States Congress would say to us.'"

The publisher of the British Muslim magazine Q-News responded to the reports about Graham by writing in The Guardian, "For the few remaining Muslims who doubted the crusading nature of the coalition forces, the final blow came last week." The website khalifah.com, an Arabic site, reported the news as "Enhancing the conviction among some Arabs and Muslims that the U.S.-led war of aggression on Iraq is part of a new 'crusade' campaign."

Can you think of anything less welcome and more disturbing and humiliating to the Iraqi people than the sight of the Rev. Franklin Graham riding into shattered villages with plastic bandages in one hand and Bibles in the other?

Waldman asks: "So why has no one in the administration been willing to rein in Graham?...Are domestic politics keeping Bush or Powell from doing what's right for the country? Sure looks like that way. If that's not the reason, why won't they tell Franklin to stay home?"

Research assistance by Greg Paroff.

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