The Electric Pencil

Archive for May 2006

Update – Murtha speaks

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Just a quick follow-up on last night’s post: Today’s Toronto Star has an article by Tim Harper on the investigation into last November’s Haditha massacre:

Comparisons are being made to the 1968 My Lai massacre in Vietnam, when U.S. soldiers, including members of an army platoon led by Lieut. William Calley, killed some 500 innocent Vietnamese villagers.

The massacre was blamed, in part, by the psychological pressure of overtaxed soldiers fighting an unpopular war and [former marine and Democratic Congressman James] Murtha has already speculated that with respect to the current incident, the members of Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, made up of Marines mostly in their second Iraq deployment, may have been stressed past their limit.

Murtha goes on to say:

“I will not excuse murder. And this is what happened. There’s no question in my mind about it. This investigation should have been over two or three weeks afterwards, and it should have been made public, and people should have been held responsible for it.”

It has taken seven months for the investigation into the Hadditha tragedy to become public – the question is how long will it take for the Mukaradeeb massacre to make it into North American newspapers and for an actual investigation to take place?

Written by Tim McSorley

May 29, 2006 at 7:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Prophet Churchill?

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Posted on the BBC news site on Sunday, May 28th:

BBC NEWS | UK | At least 1,000 UK soldiers desert: “More than 1,000 members of the British military have deserted since the start of the Iraq war, the BBC has learned.

Figures for those still missing are 86 from 2001, 118 from 2002, 134 from 2003, 229 from 2004, 377 from 2005, and 189 for this year so far.”

The rest of the article features UK government officials furiously back-pedalling, stating there is nothing unusual about these numbers, and that the number of soldiers away without leave has held steady. But, as British lawyer Justin Hugheston-Roberts tells the BBC, “I am approached regularly by people who are seeking to absent themselves from service. There has been an increase, a definite upturn.”

A few months ago I interviewed Ward Churchill for a piece on the North American anti-war movement for Siafu Magazine. During the interview he was emphatic that the only anti-war movement that had real impact during Vietnam were American soldiers who rebelled against their own commanders. He also went on to say that the only way the US government will end the occupation of Iraq is if the same type of resistance from within the army begins to develop. While we haven’t yet seen any grenades rolled under commanders’ bunks, echoes of Vietnam are growing.

According to the BBC, the US is “winding up” its investigation of the killing of at least 15 Iraqi civilians by American troops last November. U.S. officials are warning the report will be “shocking”: that American soldiers murdered Iraqi civilians in cold blood.

More recently, according to a Guardian report on May 21, 2006, American soldiers have been accused of attacking a wedding party in the village of Mukaradeeb and subsequently levelling several buildings:

[Haleema Shihab, who had attended the wedding,] lay there and a second round hit her on the right arm. By then her two boys lay dead. “I left them because they were dead,” she said. One, she saw, had been decapitated by a shell.

“I fell into the mud and an American soldier came and kicked me. I pretended to be dead so he wouldn’t kill me. My youngest child was alive next to me.”

Mrs Shibab’s description, backed by other witnesses, of an attack on a sleeping village is at odds with the American claim that they came under fire while targeting a suspected foreign fighter safe house.

She described how in the hours before dawn she watched as American troops destroyed the Rakat villa and the house next door, reducing the buildings to rubble.

As more of these events come public and outrage grows, including among the rank and file soldiers serving in the US Occupation Coalition, the war resisters movement in North America and the UK may transfer overseas, and we may see Churchill’s real anti-war movement begin.

Written by Tim McSorley

May 29, 2006 at 5:24 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Example No. 1

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I’ve been thinking about starting this up for a while now, but somehow wasn’t able to find the inspiration to do so. Part of it was that there are so many blogs out there that don’t really say anything, and I didn’t really feel like being one of them. But then I came across the following article in the Wall Street Journal and it kind of tied together what I want this blog – and my hopefully burgeoning carreer as a journalist – to be about. It starts a little promising:

Second Chance: In Africa, Preacher Draws Audiences He Can’t at Home — Failing to Find Flock in U.S., Mr. Davis Leads `Crusades'; Talk on Satanic Infiltration — `I Want You to Expect a Miracle’
By Michael M. Phillips
25 April 2006

The Wall Street Journal

MERU, Kenya — When he was 22 years old, Loren Davis bought 75 chairs from a funeral home and opened his own fundamentalist church next to a Hells Angels bar on the Houston docks. Someone shot out a window once, he says, but nobody ever came in to hear him preach.

Every Sunday for three months, Mr. Davis stood before the empty seats and preached the Gospel as if he were Billy Graham in a packed stadium. Finally, he recalls, his mother showed up and, after listening to her son’s solo sermon, suggested he find another career.

So began 40 years in the desert for the aspiring Texas evangelist, 40 years of being shunned by American churches as an irrelevant theological extremist. The pain of exile has softened, however, since he discovered that being a failure at home didn’t mean he couldn’t be a success in Africa.

“What’s amazing to me is my ministry has been rejected in America — I’m a nobody — and here this thing has just taken off,” Mr. Davis said during five days of preaching in Meru, a rutted city of 125,000 on the flank of Mt. Kenya.

Roaming East Africa with his wife Celeste, Mr. Davis, 61 years old, has found he can draw thousands, even tens of thousands, to mass conversions that he calls crusades. He promises born-again Christians the joy of salvation, the thrill of speaking in tongues and the miracle of God’s power to cure AIDS, blindness and malaria. For everyone else, he warns his audiences, all that waits is “the lake of fire.”

You would assume that the article would go on and discuss the controversy of such work – how it is received by the East Africans he preaches to, but also by HIV/AIDS prevention activists, maybe some government officials – there is so much room for potential, especially since it is datelined Kenya.

Instead, it goes on to give a hokey, if incredibly well-written, account of a preacher in search of a flock to guide and how Davis – and others like him – have found it among Christians and converts in various parts of Africa.

In fact, in the entire piece, which runs 3,000 words, these are the only two paragraphs where Africans are allowed to speak:

Mr. Davis and his supporters think it’s his message of biblical purity that attracts followers. Ben Mwangi, a 36-year-old former Muslim who says he made a living selling illegal narcotics before he found Jesus, says he likes the evangelist’s view that Christians should “let the Bible be the final word.” When he’s not preaching in Nakuru, Mr. Mwangi volunteers as an interpreter, driver and aide for Mr. Davis.

Typically Mr. Davis’s crusades begin with musicians playing, singers praising Jesus and Mr. Davis swaying stiffly to the beat. One of his Kenyan allies, 42-year-old pastor James Karanja, takes the microphone to warm up the crowd. “We are spirits connected,” Mr. Karanja shouts. “He is white on the outside, but I think he is black on the inside.” It’s a big applause line.

And when we finally get an opinion (mildly) critical of Davis’ work – surprise – it comes from an American who even in his criticism seems to look down his nose at Africans:

Mr. Davis’s views place him on the fringe of the Protestant missionary movement in Africa. Phil Walker, president of International Christian Ministries, suggests that Africans are simply too polite to tell Mr. Davis to go home. “Africa is an easy target for people who haven’t done very well in the U.S. because it’s so easy to get a crowd,” he says.

The Wall Street Journal has never, and will never be, a medium for social transformation (at least not one that doesn’t involve Structural Adjustment Programs or free-market capitalism), but to print an entire article, a cover article no-less, on white, American evangelicals in Africa and relegate the voices of Africans to two out of over 50 paragraphs is at the same time unbelievable and yet symptomatic of the problem with mainstream journalism across North America. And it is the first of many examples I hope to post here over the next little while of why we need to focus energy on spreading alternative media.

Read on for the entire article:

Second Chance: In Africa, Preacher Draws Audiences He Can’t at Home — Failing to Find Flock in U.S., Mr. Davis Leads `Crusades'; Talk on Satanic Infiltration — `I Want You to Expect a Miracle’
By Michael M. Phillips
25 April 2006

The Wall Street Journal

MERU, Kenya — When he was 22 years old, Loren Davis bought 75 chairs from a funeral home and opened his own fundamentalist church next to a Hells Angels bar on the Houston docks. Someone shot out a window once, he says, but nobody ever came in to hear him preach.

Every Sunday for three months, Mr. Davis stood before the empty seats and preached the Gospel as if he were Billy Graham in a packed stadium. Finally, he recalls, his mother showed up and, after listening to her son’s solo sermon, suggested he find another career.

So began 40 years in the desert for the aspiring Texas evangelist, 40 years of being shunned by American churches as an irrelevant theological extremist. The pain of exile has softened, however, since he discovered that being a failure at home didn’t mean he couldn’t be a success in Africa.

“What’s amazing to me is my ministry has been rejected in America — I’m a nobody — and here this thing has just taken off,” Mr. Davis said during five days of preaching in Meru, a rutted city of 125,000 on the flank of Mt. Kenya.

Roaming East Africa with his wife Celeste, Mr. Davis, 61 years old, has found he can draw thousands, even tens of thousands, to mass conversions that he calls crusades. He promises born-again Christians the joy of salvation, the thrill of speaking in tongues and the miracle of God’s power to cure AIDS, blindness and malaria. For everyone else, he warns his audiences, all that waits is “the lake of fire.”

“I prefer to be an outcast than compromise,” he said, sweat beaded on his bare pate after two hours of stamping across a custom-made stage on a field in Meru. “All I can figure out is God has honored me because I have refused to compromise.”

Mr. Davis has found his groove in what is turning out to be a golden age for missionaries in Africa. There were 95,800 long-term missionaries in Africa last year, up from 90,460 five years earlier, according to the World Christian Database at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass. More than a quarter of them were Americans. Many are Protestant fundamentalists preaching in Kenya, a nominally Anglophone nation, where the majority of people identify themselves as Christians.

U.S. churches have recently come to view a short overseas mission, lasting from a few weeks to a year, as a way to get congregants involved in spreading Christianity and good works. The Mission Handbook, a reference book published by the Billy Graham Center, says 346,000 Americans ventured abroad on such trips in 2001, up from 64,000 in 1996.

The evangelistic surge springs from simultaneous trends. Like other private charities, religious groups now deliver a hefty share of Western government aid, allowing them to spread faith along with food. At the same time, missionaries with a strictly spiritual agenda are arriving in Africa from such countries as the Philippines and South Korea, which have seen their own Protestant booms, says Scott Moreau, professor of intercultural studies at Wheaton College, an Evangelical school in Wheaton, Ill.

Westerners often see Africa as a place of mystery and need, making it particularly appealing to the zealous, Mr. Moreau says. “It is still part of the imagination of the Evangelical church that that’s the place to go,” he says.

So at a time when faith is a global flash point, American Evangelicals are seeking converts in the poorest countries in the world, just as Muslim businessmen from the Persian Gulf, Pakistan and India are building mosques, establishing Koranic schools and providing food to secure Islam’s hold south of the Sahara. Roman Catholics are in the fray, as well. The Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, for instance, have long preached the teachings of Jesus and now run clinics, schools and other projects in six African nations.

“There’s a real competition for souls in Africa,” says John Voll, professor of Islamic history at Georgetown University.

Some of the biggest names in American Protestantism have turned to Africa after winning huge followings at home. T.D. Jakes, founder of the 30,000-member Potter’s House ministry in Dallas and a proponent of the idea that diligent prayer brings material riches, visited Nairobi, Kenya, last year to preach, provide aid and dig wells. Bruce Wilkinson, author of the Christian best-seller “The Prayer of Jabez,” spent years in South Africa and Swaziland trying to defeat hunger and AIDS. Rick Warren, the California pastor whose book, “The Purpose Driven Life,” has sold tens of millions of copies, has become so influential in Rwanda that the country’s president last year declared it the “purpose-driven nation.”

But in the shadow of the celebrity ministers marches an army of evangelists virtually unknown at home. Deborah Kober, assistant manager of a gas station in Prairie du Chien, Wis., and founder of the Touch of Grace Internet ministry, recently returned from a preaching trip to Kenya, where she says the faithful call her “prophetess” for her predictions that the country’s devastating drought was at an end. Jerry Anne Chisesi, pastor of a 50-member church in Kenner, La., that was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, ordained 80 new ministers and preached to thousands during divine-healing ceremonies in Kenya.

Michael J. Robertson, who left his position as a Sprint lobbyist in 1987 to start the God and Country Revival ministry, appears on local television stations around Altoona, Pa. But now, he says, God has told him to evangelize, build churches and ordain bishops in Kenya, where he says he is known as an apostle. Last month, he completed a mission that, he says, “probably got a million salvations” in the Nairobi slums, where he preached “hard against false teachers and preachers.”

Few American preachers, however, have seen their pastoral fortunes climb so steeply in Africa as has Mr. Davis. “I think there are going to be more Africans in heaven than Americans, because Americans have been systematically brainwashed,” he says.

Mr. Davis — a nondenominational Christian Evangelical — was born to a preaching family in Port Arthur, Texas. At 12, he began reading a Bible chapter each day. “I knew the Lord would call me to the ministry,” he says. The next year, his father bought an 80-foot-by-140-foot tent and took to the road, holding revivals. Mr. Davis went along, pounding tent stakes into the ground with a sledgehammer.

It was in El Paso in 1957 that Mr. Davis witnessed the first of many miracles he says he’s seen. When a bedridden man was carried into the revival tent, Mr. Davis remembers his father asking, “Is God going to heal you?”

The man pulled back the sheets and said, “I have my shoes on.” Then, Mr. Davis says, the man stood up and walked. “That really electrified my faith,” Mr. Davis recalls.

Once his father settled into a church again, he let Mr. Davis preach on Sunday nights.

But the confidence he was gaining evaporated, he says, when at the age of 19, he began losing his hair. Right out of college he took to wearing a hairpiece, which shifted around when he sweated and once came off when he ran after a fly ball at a church softball game. He wore flamboyant clothes to compensate for his baldness, he says. Once his brother refused to walk beside him because he was dressed all in black with a feathered hat.

Mr. Davis married three times over the 20 years that followed college. Each time, he met the woman in church. Each time, he says, he discovered she was unfaithful.

The infidelity left him shaken and depressed; the divorces left him an untouchable in the fundamentalist California churches that briefly seemed interested in his preaching in the late 1960s. “I was treated with no mercy,” he says. “Nobody came to comfort me.”

There were moments of hope — a well-attended preaching event in Nicaragua, another in Panama — but his experience with his empty church on the Houston docks, the Waterfront People’s Church, was more typical. At one point he got by selling insurance and repairing beehives. He spent more than a year jobless and living in his mother’s mobile home. Mr. Davis’s brother found him sobbing in a car one day.

Mr. Davis set up a house-painting business that prospered briefly. He fed his need to preach by writing articles announcing “Jesus is coming back to Earth” and paying to have them published as ads in newspapers in the U.S., Mexico, Israel, India and Egypt.

He remembers a moment after his third divorce when he wept in the shower and pleaded with God: “I can’t take it anymore. Take me home.”

Instead, he decided to give up on women, jettison his toupee and flashy apparel, and begin using his middle name, Loren, rather than his first name, Richard. He turned his attention to finishing a novel, recounting the Book of Revelation in the “style of a Hitchcock thriller.” He couldn’t find a publisher, so he recorded the book and took it to a Christian radio station near Lubbock in 1986 to buy airtime and play it on the air.

It was there that he met Celeste, a divorcee who hosted a talk show at the station. “I saw that he had been crippled by the experiences he had,” she says, citing his early hair loss and his divorces. “He had a sort of innocence; he was not a worldly person.” But she admired his certainty that he knew biblical right from wrong. “He was so strong and so opinionated and so definitive,” recalls Mrs. Davis, 61 years old.

“She just wiped the tears away from my eyes,” says Mr. Davis, a solidly built man with a bushy moustache and a horseshoe fringe of gray-tinged red hair that his wife smooths into place.

Once married, the couple moved into a rented mobile home. Mr. Davis’s painting business faltered, and they ran so low on money that someone at church gave them food stamps. Some mornings Mr. Davis says he found his wife in the bathroom in tears, but she’d put on her mascara and encourage him anyway. “God didn’t call you to paint,” Mrs. Davis told him. “He called you to preach.”

Sure enough, at a Houston missions conference in 1988, Mr. Davis says a Tanzanian man, seemingly out of the blue, told him: “You’re the man. You’re supposed to come to our crusade in Africa.”

Mrs. Davis agreed: “That sounds like God to me.”

The church where they were members at the time paid their airfare to Tanzania. They say an American man whom they barely knew gave them $1,000 for expenses.

Over the years that followed, even as failure continued to dog Mr. Davis’s efforts to preach at home, his reach in Africa grew, and he led crusades in Tanzania, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Mr. Davis takes pleasure in describing trials he says he has overcome during 18 years traveling to Africa: clashes with Muslim crowds, a bout of tuberculosis, tribal warfare, angry witch doctors, carjacking, mugging, wild animals — and the demons trying to stop him from delivering the Word. “When you preach the Gospel you have enemies,” he says.

These days, Mr. Davis says, he regularly draws big crowds, including 400,000 at a crusade in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The estimates are guesses at best, but footage of a Nairobi event last year shows an audience that certainly ran into the tens of thousands. His final night preaching in Meru, a far smaller city, brought out 4,000 people, according to a head count done from photographs. Even that’s an audience he could only dream of back in Texas.

For Mr. Davis, crowds matter, since he is a man who wants to be heard. He says he certainly isn’t in the missionary business for the money. The Meru events cost Mr. Davis’s ministry about $25,000, he says, but the collection bags brought in just $605 in coins. Mostly, the Davises rely on a core of about 300 U.S. donors, who provided some $350,000 in contributions in 2004, up from $124,000 in 2000, according to the ministry’s latest tax filings. His group is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a tax-exempt religious organization.

The couple spends half their time in suburban Houston, resting and raising money so they can spend the other half proselytizing in Africa. “It’s hard for us to go home because of the hostility to the Bible,” Mr. Davis says.

To woo donors, the couple produces videos showing poor villagers accepting Jesus and being healed during Mr. Davis’s crusades. “Where they spend eternity is the stake,” Mr. Davis narrates in one DVD he is using to try to raise funds for a $750,000 bush plane.

When in Texas, the Davises live on a ministry allowance and a salary of less than $20,000 a year, Mr. Davis says. He says they avoid telling donors and their African staff about their divorces for fear their ministry would collapse.

On a recent day in Meru, about 100 ministers packed into a rustic chapel to hear Mr. Davis discuss Satan’s infiltration of the church and society. Using a laptop projector and a bedsheet screen, he lit up the wall with photos of symbols that he says he considers to be Satanic: The five-pointed stars on the American flag. The semicircular windows on church facades, relics of heathen sun worship. The eye-and-pyramid on the U.S. dollar. The Statue of Liberty’s crown. The star between Wal and Mart.

“Just because you call yourself a Christian doesn’t make you a Christian anymore than calling yourself a donkey makes you a donkey,” Mr. Davis told the pastors.

He said the United Nations is trying to create a single world religion, in the name of making peace with Muslims, and handed out copies of his self-published, 483-page book, The Paganization of Christianity. By the time Mr. Davis finished, the pastors wanted to know if it’s theologically sound to worship on Sunday — because it might be seen as worshipping the sun — and whether it’s possible that their ATM passwords might actually be the “mark of the beast.”

Mr. Davis’s views place him on the fringe of the Protestant missionary movement in Africa. Phil Walker, president of International Christian Ministries, suggests that Africans are simply too polite to tell Mr. Davis to go home. “Africa is an easy target for people who haven’t done very well in the U.S. because it’s so easy to get a crowd,” he says.

Mr. Davis and his supporters think it’s his message of biblical purity that attracts followers. Ben Mwangi, a 36-year-old former Muslim who says he made a living selling illegal narcotics before he found Jesus, says he likes the evangelist’s view that Christians should “let the Bible be the final word.” When he’s not preaching in Nakuru, Mr. Mwangi volunteers as an interpreter, driver and aide for Mr. Davis.

Typically Mr. Davis’s crusades begin with musicians playing, singers praising Jesus and Mr. Davis swaying stiffly to the beat. One of his Kenyan allies, 42-year-old pastor James Karanja, takes the microphone to warm up the crowd. “We are spirits connected,” Mr. Karanja shouts. “He is white on the outside, but I think he is black on the inside.” It’s a big applause line.

On the last night of Mr. Davis’s stint in Meru, the vacant lot where he had set up his aluminum stage was packed, with a few locals also watching from the roof of a beauty salon across the road.

During the ride from his $25-a-night hotel, Mr. Davis chugged a Red Bull energy drink. He needed the caffeine jolt after long days of crusades and conferences. But he hid the can before he arrived so his audience wouldn’t think that it imparts any divine properties.

Mrs. Davis took the stage and welcomed the crowd in Swahili. “Bwana asifiwe!” she said. “Praise the Lord!” Mr. Davis stepped to the microphone, in a cream-colored blazer and brown trousers, his voice echoing from loud speakers: “I want you to expect a miracle tonight.”

Next to the stage was a huge banner with a photo of a small plane upside down in a Kenyan field. “I should be dead tonight,” he said, telling his audience how, with the intervention of Jesus, he has survived two plane crashes. As he talked, his translator, a Kenyan pastor, copied his motions, striding around the stage. “Death did not cross my mind,” Mr. Davis said. “I’d seen God do things before when everything looked impossible.”

The night reached its climax when hundreds raised their arms to be reborn as Christians and Mr. Davis called the sick and injured to come forward. On recent nights, he welcomed to the stage a man who claimed he had been instantly cured of cerebral malaria and he danced with a woman who had lesions on her legs. On this night, several worshippers fell writhing to the ground, demons leaving their bodies, Mr. Davis said. A blind girl tearfully prayed for sight.

Afterward, Mr. Davis made his way down into his curtained sanctuary beneath the stage, where he sipped lemon tea. Outside, one of the Kenyan pastors asked the crowd if they want Brother Davis to return to preach in Meru some day. The raucous cheer that followed didn’t surprise Mr. Davis.

In Africa, he expects it.

Online Today: WSJ.com subscribers can see a gallery of images from preacher Loren Davis’s crusade in Kenya, at WSJ.com/OnlineToday.

Document J000000020060425e24p0002w

© 2006 Dow Jones Reuters Business Interactive LLC (trading as Factiva). All rights reserved.

Written by Tim McSorley

May 22, 2006 at 6:28 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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