It's a tradition!
Ah, Christmas in mid-November. A time when stores are pushing aisles of decorations and Bing Crosby CDs but haven't yet started playing the yuletide tunes over the PA system. A time when forward-thinking Midwesterners string up the lights while they clean out the gutters. And a time when Samaritan's Purse again faces criticism for its popular Operation Christmas Child. Actually, criticism of Samaritan's Purse is becoming like Christmas at Hallmark stores: It's not just a seasonal thing anymore.

Frankin Graham's organization already saw some backlash last month, when the South Wales Fire Service dropped its support, saying the program was too religious.

Now, from merry olde England, come complaints that up the ante: the problem with Operation Christmas Child isn't that it's religious, critics say, it's the particular kind of religion that Samaritan's Purse promotes.

"A particularly toxic version of Christianity it is," Giles Fraser, a Church of England vicar and Oxford philosophy lecturer, wrote in Monday's edition of The Guardian. "This is the same outfit that targeted eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall and was widely condemned for following US troops into Iraq to claim Muslims for Christ … Across the U.K., children in multicultural schools are being encouraged to support a scheme that is, quite understandably, deeply offensive to Muslims." The relief effort, he says, amounts to nothing more than " promoting Christian fundamentalism through toys."

Elsewhere in England, Unitarian minister Vernon Marshall called Graham's beliefs "an intolerant and racist form of Christianity" and similarly called for a boycott of Operation Christmas Child.

Samaritan's Purse has faced this kind of thing before. Last Christmas the debate was largely limited to Calgary. In March 2001 The New York Times criticized the charity, wrongly saying it mixed government aid funds with "seek[ing] converts among people desperate for help. And over the last year, Samaritan's Purse was the focus of much vitriol for its efforts to bring aid to Iraqis (see CT's recent article on what really happened when the ministry went to the country).

This latest round of attacks seems to be the most venomous yet. In a letter to the Guardian, Muslim Association of Britain spokesman Anas Altikriti called Operation Christmas Child "emotional and humanitarian blackmail." And Weblog has never seen SP accused of racism before.

It's all complete nonsense. Leftists' attempts to make Graham and Samaritan's Purse into anti-Islam boogeymen would the equivalent of trying to claim that Mr. Rogers was a radical gay activist.

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Graham hasn't commented yet, but Samaritan's Purse U.K. executive director David Vardy earlier told the BBC that the ministry goes "to strenuous lengths" to make sure that evangelistic literature isn't included in the more than 6 million gift-filled shoeboxes sent to children in 95 countries. "Our leaflets which we give to anyone who wants to send a shoebox, contain specific guidelines on what to put into a box and what not to put into a box," he said.

Very clearly we tell people not to put in any literature that is of a political, religious, or racial nature. Furthermore, we actively check every box we receive and remove any such literature which we find.
Where it is appropriate, and in approximately half of the distributions it is not, a booklet of Bible stories, in the language of the country is offered separately from the shoebox. There is no obligation whatsoever on any child to receive a booklet.
The shoeboxes are given without discrimination and unconditionally to children regardless of their nationality, political background or religious beliefs.

At least one local Operation Christmas Child organizer, Bob Evans of Tameside, Manchester, is fighting back more directly against the accusations. Here's what he told the Tameside Advertiser:

We're not a fundamentalist organization, and I am insulted by the claims that our annual appeal is racist. Every shoebox is given unconditionally to children no matter what their ethnic background.
Our Christian partners in some countries do offer a small booklet with each shoebox but the youngsters are under no obligation to take it.
By spreading these rumors, people like Mr. Marshall are trying to deprive these underprivileged children of the only Christmas gift they're likely to receive this year.
I'm not a bitter person but this kind of whispering campaign does upset me. Our volunteers work hard to put a smile on the face of children who have suffered a great deal of pain and loss in their lives so far. There is no ulterior motive.

Samaritan's Purse's explanation is true, but that doesn't mean the lies about the organization will stop. There are still 41 more criticizing days until Christmas.

Mixing root beer and religion
One of the joys of Colorado ski country—apart from, you know, the great snow and runs—is the constant witness of an A&W stand along I-70 in Fresco. For the last several years, the restaurant has posted Bible verses on its 30-foot sign. A few weeks ago, however, the sign went blank.

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"We were going to post the message, "Why was this sign blank last week?' but we chose not to get into that," said Donna Drebenstedt, who owns and runs the A&W franchise with her husband, Reuben.

But they are getting into it, and told the Summit Daily News that the reason it went blank (and now simply says "open") is that the A&W headquarters told the couple to stop quoting Scripture.

"We're in the restaurant business. We sell hamburgers and hot dogs and don't want to offend any of our customers, and we expect the same from our franchisees," A&W spokeswoman Virginia Ferguson told the paper.

The Drubenstedts are complying—for now. They say the verses will soon return, saying there is nothing in the franchise agreement barring such messages, nor prohibiting the Messianic Jewish evangelistic literature inside.

"We're not going to give up our Constitutional and religious freedoms," said Reuben, who is also pastor of Congregation HaShem, the local Messianic Jewish community. "I don't make my living selling hamburgers, that's just an aside to why I am here. It's not just about the money. This is God's restaurant."

They take that concept seriously: Profits go to missions, and employees are encouraged to engage in evangelism (and are given time off for Bible study, worship services, and other Christian activities).

The paper suggests that the corporate office was responding to complaints from local Jewish residents, and the local Anti-Defamation League says it has raised the issue over whether "the business fall[s] under the laws regarding public accommodation" and is "concerned for the rights of the employees who work there." (It could be worse: At least one pundit is suggesting that Messianic Jews be sued for "fraud.")

Synagogue of the Summit president Heidi Dickstein, however, says some of her parishioners are overly sensitive. "We've certainly noticed the Bible quotes, but most of the people I know have mostly just giggled over them," she said. "They have the freedom of speech and freedom of religion, just like everyone else in this country. We as Jews see evangelism as a sin, but we will support to the ends of the Earth the Messianic Jewish people's rights guaranteeing their freedom of religion and their freedom of speech."

Uh, yay? By the way, perhaps some other Jews can weigh in on that whole "evangelism is a sin" thing. Was Jonah right all along?

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More articles

Politics and law:


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Corporal punishment:


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Interfaith relations:


War on terrorism:

  • Christian Arabs possible attack targets | As details emerge about the victims of last weekend's bombing, many observers believe their profile made them targets for the suspected al-Qaeda attack (The Globe and Mail, Toronto)

  • How to win the religious wars | Neither the bullet nor the ballot box will remove the religious terrorist threat (Oliver McTernan, The Guardian, London)

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  • Methodist bishops eye security issues | Plans for the discussion include debates on "the validity of phrases such as 'war on terrorism,' " civil liberties concerns and the U.S. role in confronting terrorism (Religion News Service)

  • Lutheran leader advocates peace | Bishop Mark Hanson visits SR to honor Bethlehem church centennial (Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.)

  • Quakers promote immigrant rights | Citing an increase in abuses since the Sept. 11 attacks, the group is asking those who have been victimized to step forward (Los Angeles Times)

Terri Schiavo:

  • A race against time | A federally funded disability advocacy agency has begun an investigation into possible neglect and abuse of Terri Schiavo; her husband is in court to again remove her feeding tube. And a respected forensic pathologist is concerned about the events in 1991 that resulted in her present condition (Nat Hentoff, The Washington Times)

  • Judge rejects Bush effort in Schiavo case | A judge Friday rejected an effort by Gov. Jeb Bush to dismiss a challenge to the law that allowed him to order that a severely brain-damaged woman be kept alive over her husband's objections (Associated Press)

Life ethics:

Sexual ethics:

  • Doyle vetoes marriage bill | Assembly gears up for attempt to override decision on defining union (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

  • Also: Wisconsin governor vetoes marriage bill | Jim Doyle says state law already clearly prohibits same-sex marriage and the legislation was "mean-spirited" (Associated Press)

  • Rebel bid to outlaw gay ordination | Reforming Alliance of the Uniting Church of Australia wants the question put to individual congregations, which it believes will overwhelmingly reject gay ministers (The Age, Melbourne, Australia)

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  • Monument from hell | Make room for a Matthew Shepard hate monument in a town square near you (Emily Bazelon, Slate)

  • Gay Catholics act up | Confronting the bishops from within the church (The Village Voice)


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Church life:

Missions & ministry:

  • On a mission from God | Philip Smethurst is training young adventurers to spread Christianity to the planet's wildest corners (Outside)

  • Mobile ministry Jews for Jesus brings Messiah message | The team's purpose beyond one-on-one evangelizing is to educate churches about Jews and encourage them to witness to and pray for Jewish friends (The Herald-Dispatch, Huntington, W.V.)

  • Student evangelists stress positivity | Many students walking or biking through White Plaza yesterday afternoon witnessed a display of Christianity very different from the one presented by two evangelists last Thursday afternoon (The Stanford Daily, Stanford U.)

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  • Redefining omniscience | Theologians who contend that God doesn't know the future face fervent criticism—and expulsion from evangelical group (The Washington Post)

  • Cracking the moral code | Scientists, politicians, financiers, doctors, civil servants, the clergy … it seems we don't believe in anybody any more. But in an increasingly secular society, how can we rekindle our faith in the common good? (Iain Macwhirter, Sunday Herald, Glasgow, Scotland)



  • Religion books | Jeff Sharlet reviews Alan Wolfe's The Transformation of American Religion, Don Lattin's Following Our Bliss, and Mark Oppenheimer's Knocking on Heaven's Door (The Washington Post)

  • Lunch with "Left Behind" author | Jerry Jenkins wants me to know that he's not an anti-Semite (Debra Pickett, Chicago Sun-Times)

  • Hard times change life for new author | Bob Blair's Courage to Change gives readers a step-by-step guide on embracing change and becoming all God wants them to be (Peninsula Clarion, Kenai, Alaska)

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  • Churches find 'purpose' with book's help | Last month, over 4,000 churches began a 40-day campaign to explore the ideas about faith and the meaning of life presented in Rick Warren's bestseller, The Purpose-Driven Life (Fox News)

  • Also: 'Purpose-Driven' movement | Best-selling book triggers wave of Bible studies as churches examine their strengths and weaknesses (Knoxville News Sentinel)

The Da Vinci Code:

  • 'Da Vinci Code' generates discussion | Commenting on The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown's best-selling novel, has become virtually unavoidable (Leo Sandon, Tallahassee Democrat, Fla.)

  • Family-friendly Jesus sparks discussion | While the ranks of those who firmly believe Jesus was married are relatively thin, those willing to discuss such a thing seem to be growing (Kristen Campbell, Mobile Register, Ala.)


Pop culture:

  • Tuning in to a higher power: Divine intervention hits pop culture | Humans are on easy speaking terms with God, with other heavenly emissaries or with the departed. It happens on television ("Joan of Arcadia," "Tru Calling"), in movies ("Bruce Almighty") and books ("The Five People You Meet in Heaven.") (The Columbian, Wash.)

  • For God's sake, kids, Jesus isn't a profanity | "This generation of school-age children is the first with no residual memory, no image of church that they are rejecting - they have no reference points at all," says Ruth Powell, a researcher for the National Church Life Survey (The Sydney Morning Herald)

  • Thank the Lord for a religious show reflecting society | The Sword and The Cross, as the title succinctly implies, is an investigation of the history of religious conflict in Scotland, a subject that stretches from the arrival of the first missionaries from Ireland or Roman Britain all the way through to last month's Old Firm derby (The Scotsman)

  • 'Gospel' truth—The Bible fails as a screen play | While narrator Christopher Plummer has a perfectly lovely voice, showing is almost always preferable to telling when it comes to film (The Orlando Sentinel)

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  • Apocalypse wow | God vs. Satan in NBC's end-of-the-world skein (Variety)

  • Haunted Hollywood | The much-anticipated final entry in the Matrix trilogy, Matrix Revolutions, a disappointing film roundly and justifiably lambasted by critics, provides evidence that the story of Christ continues to haunt the most unlikely of communities (Thomas Hibbs, National Review Online)

  • Artist offers computer blessings | Users can put their heads against their computer screens before printing out a certificate promising happiness (BBC)

  • Also: God in the machine? | An art project launched by Tate Online today will guide visitors through a three-step ritual, which includes placing the forehead to the computer screen on a spot marked X (PA, U.K.)

Money and business:


  • Saying no dice to slots | Voters in a number of states last Tuesday emphatically rejected big-time gambling propositions (Editorial, The Washington Post)

  • South Carolina Baptist Convention opposes gaming | South Carolina Baptists passed resolutions at their convention Tuesday in support of placing the Ten Commandments or Christian symbols in public places and against the Catawba Indians creating more gambling venues in the state (Associated Press)

  • Casino plan transforms pastor into activist | Assembly of God leader Chip Worthington campaigns for RP 'family lifestyle' (Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.)

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Other stories of interest:

  • Georgia Christians plan apology to Cherokee for 1800s removal | "We, as a group of Christians here, feel it's important that someone apologize for the sins of our fathers," said Mary Ellen Childree, a volunteer helping with the event. "Basically, it's just saying we recognize this happened." (Asheville Citizen Times, N.C.)

  • Erasing of gender roles is sad goal of feminism | Now that I am older and, I hope, wiser, I believe that it is not feminism that will liberate women, but Christianity (Lorraine V. Murray, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

  • Remembering their sacrifices | Christians are like soldiers on a spiritual battlefield, Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee told a gathering Tuesday at a Veterans Day chapel service at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Tex.)

  • Religious leaders to debunk myths about donating organs | Traditionally, religion has been the No. 1 reason people give for not donating, but all major religions either actively support organ donation or leave the decision up to the individual (Daily Herald, Chicago suburbs)

  • New Age explores the happiness of pursuit | Critics object to equating New Age thinking with religion, but its practitioners treat it with the same reverence and enthusiasm as traditional faith, if not with the same sense of mutual responsibility (David Yount, Naples Daily News, Fla.)

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November 12 | 11 | 10
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