Local Think Tank Invites Media Pundit

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (September 1997)

On October 20, for $7 you could have heard ABC’s 20/20 personality John Stossel speak on “Greed and Freedom.” Sponsored by the Acton Institute, Stossel was to speak about the evils of regulation and the “unnecessary level of fear that exists for the American consumer.”

Of course Stossel would say this, he works for ABC, which is owned by Disney, a company that makes its money off of the slave labor of mostly women in poor countries around the world. Stossel, who used to be a consumer advocate and activist-reporter has now become one of corporate America’s favorite pundits. According to Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon in their most recent book, Wizards of Media Oz, Stossel has been producing bogus shows on 20/20 like “Much Ado About Nothing?” where he questioned the bans on unsafe chemicals or “The Town That Loves Garbage” where he hailed landfills and belittled environmentalists who worked for conservation.

Stossel was such a hit with big business and ABC that he eventually began hosting hour-long specials. One entitled “Are We Scaring Ourselves to Death?” was a critique of the federal regulations aimed at the chemical industry. “Unknown to viewers, two of the three producers hired to work on Stossel’s special had resigned–because their research, including data that showed product safety regulation to be cost-effective, did not conform to Stossel’s preconceived beliefs (Wizards, pg. 20).”

Also according to Cohen and Solomon, Stossel gave a speech in 1994g to the “American Industrial Health Council” – a group that includes Du Pont, Procter & Gamble, Pfizer, and Squibb – telling the firms what they wanted to hear. Stossel claimed that the EPA and the FDA should be abolished. The Council paid Stossel $11,000 for the speech.

Increasingly there is less and less distinction between the “news” companies and those they are doing stories about. Stossel himself is quoted as saying “I have come to believe that markets are magical and are the best protectors of the consumer. It is my job to explain the beauties of the free market.”

The Sweetened Version of a Modern Day Crusader

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (September 1997)

On Saturday, October 18, the Grand Rapids Press ran a front page of the “Religion” section article on Campus Crusade for Christ co-founder Vonette Bright’s recent talk in town. Press writer Joane Sher tells us that Bright was hosted at Calvary Chruch, the mega-church located just off the East Beltline with a seating capacity greater than DeVos Hall.

The article quotes Bright frequently on the importance of women being witnesses, sort of a compliment to the growing men’s movement known as the Promise Keepers. The article also gives us quote a bit of background on both Vonette and her husband Bill, how they met and co-founded the Campus Crusade for Christ movement in the early 1950g’s. Interestingly, nothing much is said about what Campus Crusade has done, nor what its mission is.

Founded on the campus of UCLA in 1951g, Bill Bright’s goal was always to promote an ultra-conservative Christian worldview. To counter the anti-war movements on campuses in the 1960g’s, bright organized the Christian World Liberation Front. The group eventually split off to become what was known as the “Jesus Movement.”

In the 1970g’s, Bright went worldwide with a huge crusade in South Korea called “Explo 74.” The crusade was endorsed by South Korean leader Park Chung Kee who was notorious for being repressive. The site of Bright’s headquarters for the South Korean campaign was located on a spot that was donated by the government, which was the scene of a bloody battle between Park’s military and squatters in 1968g.

In 1973g, Bright co-founded Third Century Publishers, a conservative evangelical publishing house to promote a right-wing economic agenda and a neo-theocracy approach to government. Amway co-founder Rich DeVos was also involved with the project. In 1987g, Bright was personally invited by President Reagan to be a part of a dinner meeting with Salvadoran President Duarte and his military brass. Bright attended and there was no mention of his challenging Duarte for his bloody campaign against the Salvadoran people, nor Reagan’s military and financial support of the bloodbath.

These are only a few omissions from the Press article on an ultra-conservative movement leader while in town. This should not surprise us in a religious political atmosphere that praises the Promise Keepers and demonizes women who question their agenda. (Some of the info in this article comes from Sara Diamond’s book Spiritual Warfare)

Keeping the Promise of Patriarchy Alive: Some Reflections on the Promise Keepers Men’s Movement

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (July 1995)

A headline in the local Christian publication Something Better News reads “Promise Keepers: Christians 72,000; Lions Zero.” This strange but telling headline boasts of the rapidly growing numbers of a “new” men’s movement known as the Promise Keepers. 72,000 men gathered recently in the Pontiac Silverdome football stadium to “worship, pray, and commit themselves to God and their families.” I attended a smaller meeting here in Grand Rapids just prior to the larger gathering in Pontiac and I came away feeling frustrated and afraid for the future of relationships between opposite genders. This “new” men’s movement is fundamentally the OLD one, where male dominance is the order of the day, in the family, church, and society. I also recently read the Promise Keepers handbook, Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper, published by the ultra-conservative Focus on the Family of Colorado. In this article I will give some analysis of the movement based on their own writings and my observations at one of their meetings.

The first and most disappointing aspect of what I understand about the Promise Keepers is their failure to denounce violence against women. In the 207 pages of Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper, not one word was mentioned about the need for men to stop raping, beating, and murdering women. Sure, at the meeting that I attended men were admonished to treat their wives with respect, but that advice within a male dominant context may have nothing to do, as we shall see, with the end of spousal abuse.

Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper is a collection of 18 essays by 17 different men who offer strong advice to men on how to keep women subordinate. Many of the book’s contributors have not only been faithfully anti-feminist, but also anti-gay, pro-military, and intolerant of other religious and spiritual traditions. A quick look at some of these men will help put in perspective their urgings to other men.

Dr. James Dobson is the founder and leader of one of the largest rightwing sectors of evangelical Christianity, known as Focus on the Family. Started in 1997g, this organization has grown to a $90 million a year operation, an operation that publishes books, 10 different magazines, and broadcasts its radio program on 1,400 radio stations daily. Dobson has been a big supporter of Operation Rescue, is opposed to sex education and evolutionary theories in the public schools, but is more recently known for his major influence in the passing of anti-gay legislation in Colorado.

Luis Palau, as was reported last fall in The Fundamentalist, advocates Christianizing the world, even through violent means. This has been demonstrated by his long standing relationships with numerous despots throughout Latin America, most notably the former General of Guatemala, Efrain Rios Montt, who was responsible for the deaths of nearly 20,000 people in 18 months as president by coup.

Jack Hayford has been a longtime preacher on Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), the Network that produces the “praise the Lord” program that brought Jim and Tammy Baker to fame. Hayford has been the personal minister to Paul and Jan Crouch, the founders of TBN. The Crouchs, although less political in their programming, are very involve in the politics of Israel, especially since it fits into their Armageddon theology (the notion that the world is going to end soon with the return of Jesus).

Bill Bright is president of Campus Crusade for Christ, which began on the campus of UCLA in 1951g. Bright’s movement became well known during 1968g, when it entered berkely with the intention of “thwarting the efforts of the movement against the Vietnam War and supporting Governor Reagan in his attempt to contain massive campus disruption (Diamond, Spiritual Warfare, pg. 52). Bright also is active in setting up chapters of his ministry on military bases. Known as the Officers Christian Fellowship, this group of 7,000 officers ministers to active duty officers on United States military bases here and abroad. In 1987g, Bright was included on the exclusive guest list of Ronald Reagan at a dinner for then Salvadoran President Duarte.

One of the features of the Promise Keepers, as eluded to in the opening paragraph, is by way of making their events seem like a sporting event. One of the main proponents of this men’s movement is Bill McCartney who is the head football coach at the University of Colorado. The language and metaphors that he uses in his essay of the book Seven Promises of a Promise Keeper are exclusively sports related. McCartney talks about he gets men to relax before a game by watching boxing matches. This is similar to the military showing pornographic films to soldiers before going into battle, as was done during the United States war in the Persian Gulf. McCartney is also hailed as being a healer of racial tensions, specifically between Blacks and Whites. At one point he relates his experience of being at the funeral of a former Black football player. He says that this mostly Black-attended funeral changed his life, yet does not elaborate on it or give any specific examples of what it did for his future relations with Blacks. Sure he advocates that his Black and White players get along, but that is in part so they play better together, because, as I believe, with male unity women can be better kept in place. Many other contributors to the book echo this same sentiment.

Several of the contributors refer to men “who have let the women be heads of household” as “weak” and “sissies.” Dr. Tony Evans, who is a Chaplin for the Dallas Mavericks professional basketball team, says tthat the primary crisis for this country is the “feminization of the American male…a misunderstanding of manhood that has produced a nation of sissified men who abdicate their role as spiritually pure leaders, thus forcing women to fill the vacuum.” Evans’ essay on Spiritual Purity is by far the most blatant in its advocacy for female subordination, in a subsection entitled “Reclaiming your Manhood,” Evans says, “The first thing you must do is sit down with your wife and say something like this: ‘Honey, I’ve made a terrible mistake. I’ve given you my role. I gave up leading this family, and I forced you to take my place. Now I must reclaim that role.’ Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. I’m not suggesting that you ask for your role back. I’m urging you to take it back.” In many ways this sums up the fundamental principles behind this men’s movement: to subordinate women, because God says so. This is one of the differences between this movement and that of the Robert Bly version. This movement is exclusively supported by the perceived male godhead religion of Christianity. What is interesting is that even these men, like many other men’s movements, are trying to appropriate the language of women’s ability to give birth by saying that “Like a woman who is pregnant and nearing the end of her term, we Christian men are about to burst forth with the coming of the Lord in ways we have never experienced.”

While I can acknowledge that this movement may help men to stop drinking, cheating on their spouses, and spend more time with their children, it does not promote real equality where women are seen as equals and not as narrowly defined homemakers. In my opinion the Promise Keepers is a movement that, apart from being homophobic and supportive of the economic status quo, is a response to the influence of the feminist movements to challenge the old guard of male dominance. It is a pep rally-like movement that brings men together to primarily affirm their desire to control women. Like a football game, they are the stars that score the touchdowns, while the women stand on the sidelines in a non-participatory role to cheer them on. God is the coach and HE sends in the ideological plays that men zealously follow with other men to achieve their goals. The only promise that the Promise Keepers really keep is to continue to play this game.

The Acton Institute’s War on the Poor

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (May 1995)

On Thursday, March 30th, the Grand Rapids Press ran a short article about recent efforts by the Grand Rapids based Acton Institute to lobby congress on the current welfare for the poor debate. The Acton Institute held a day long press conference in Washington on the “ethical implications of welfare reform.” Its founder and main spokesperson,, Paulist priest Robert Sirico said “This [welfare for the poor reform] is not just a question of efficiency, it’s a question of morality.” Cute, but we need to know more reverend. The article does not articulate what exactly Fr. Sirico means, but does say that the “institute’s agenda won high praise” from Gang Leader (House Speaker) Newt Gingrich. It’s too bad that the Press did not look farther, even within the ranks of the corporate media, to expound on this morality that Sirico refers to.

The neo-fascist and fanatic Rev. Moon’s paper The Washington Times featured an editorial by Rev. Sirico on Feburary 3 of this year. In response to the urgings of some politicians and most working class people for an increase in the minimum wage, Fr. Sirico displays his true colors. He says that if we “Raise the wage high enough, all but a few would be out of work.” Sounds awful to me. Then he says “Labor productivity would fall to near zero.” That’s right, pay people better and they will have no incentive to work. Please! The good reverend claims that a raise in the minimum wage would hurt the poor in particular, because they “lack the skills for the high-wage job.” Such concern for the poor is noble, but tremendously misled. In the reall world people cannot live off of the wages that are presently being paid, especially since wages for many people have either stagnated or actually dropped over the last 15-20 years (see “Overworked America,” by Juliet Schor). Rev. Sirico also feels that in order for businesses to continue to make profits, they would have to scale back their jobs if the minimum wage increased. This may be true as long as the businesses’ primary concern is profits and not providing economic security for its workers or serving the public interest. But with the paradox of the USA economy (higher unemployment and bigger corporate profits) we can clearly see where most corporate interest lies.

Last but not least, in a March 5 article in the paper of record, The New York Times, Fr. Sirico, in response to comments about the GOP’s Contract for America said, “I would go further than the contract.” Oh, beware America and beware Grand Rapids. We are surely going to have tough times ahead with the Acton Institute blasting the poor.

Luis Palau: Bringing the Nations to Christ… and Under Control

Reprinted from The FUNdamentalist (November 1994)

To many, Grand Rapids, Michigan is known as the City of Churches. With a population of just over 190,000, Grand Rapids boasts an astonishing 650 churches. That’s roughly 1 church for every 300 people. These ecclesiastical statistics, however, are not the only thing that this Michigan City can boast. Grand Rapids is home to the Christian Reformed Church’s North American headquarters and its largest college in the country, Calvin College. More importantly the city is also a veritable breeding ground for religious right zealots. We have numerous churches, especially Assemblies of God, who host Operation Rescue rallies that have given birth to significant violence directed against local women’s clinics and Planned Parenthood. Zondervan Publishing Co., which has produced books by Ollie North and Dan Quayle, resides here. Another publisher, Baker Book House, recently released a book by Nicaraguan Minister of Education Humberto Belli, an anti-Sandinista intellectual who had his first book financed by the CIA and the Puebla Institute. For the more high-browed Christian we also have the Acton Institute, a sister organization to the Washington based Institute for Religion & Democracy (IRD), that promotes the marriage of capitalism and Christianity. Last, but not least, Grand Rapids is also the home stomping grounds for the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” Amway cofounders Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel, whom Forbes magazine listed as tied for 5th place as the wealthiest MEN in the US. With this line-up of conservative Christians it is no wonder and no surprise that in September some 500 churches and several local businesses invited Argentine-born evangelist Luis Palau to town for a crusade.

Next to Billy Graham, Luis Palau is possibly the most globally known evangelist today. Latin America is his area of high notoriety, but in the past 2 decades he has made significant inroads in the US, Europe and even the former Soviet Union. So why would Christians in West Michigan, an area that is staunchly Christian/conservative, bring this Oregon based evangelist to town?

I went to hear him one of the nights he was in Grand Rapids and I must say that I was not impressed. Palau is not a flashy preacher nor particularly good with words. He does not strongly play on your emotions, therefore not attracting a large Pentecostal crowd. In fact, I found Palau to be down right boring, but that did not deter an average 8,000 people (mostly White) per night who came out to hear him. In many ways the event was purely entertainment, with a 100 head choir, a tonight show type band and an MC who got people excited by asking who was gonna win the football game that weekend. They had a “Blind” section for the visually impaired, as well as book displays and other tables by groups such as Compassion International. What was important about Palau, I believe, was that he represented the world vision of the power structure of West Michigan.

Palau is “clean” by certain evangelistic standards. He has no publicly known past sexual blemishes, nor has he been investigated for fraud or tax evasion. Palau even states that he is disgusted with the type of TV evangelists that have given his work a black-eye. Palau is an evangelist in the traditional Christian bible believing sense. He believes that accepting Jesus as your personal savior is paramount, but he also believes in capitalism and nurturing political connections when serves his purposes. Thus, more than anything, Palau affirmed the status quo attitudes of many West Michigan residents, especially in business and political circles.

The other reason that Palau may have been invited to the area was to theologically help assimilate the growing Latino/a population. West Michigan has one of the largest migrant populations in the country. Every year thousands of migrant workers come the area to work in the fields before heading back to Mexico or some other southern USA state. While Palau was in town he had 2 exclusively Spanish crusade nights out of 10 days here. As someone who has worked with Central American refugees in the area since 1987, it is quite probable that the conservative majority Christians here do not want their city infected with liberation theologies from base Christian communities that are in exile or traditional non-Christian religions that many from Latin America still practice. Surely we welcome their cheap labor, but we do not want any bothersome and disruptive ideologies.

The local coverage in the Grand Rapids Press certainly seemed to reflect the status quo message of the crusade. Their headlines gave an uncritical, almost applauding posture; “Ambassador with a commission arrives in GR”, “America desperately needs God’, Palau tells crowd”, “Palau crusade achieved most of its goals”. Again Palau was portrayed as nothing more than this unblemished evangelist bringing the message of the gospel. Nowhere in the GR Press articles is Palau’s deeper political connections touched on, and on only one occasion does the local monopoly paper refer to Palau’s overseas adventures.. Palau and his activities have been reported in over a dozen article in Christianity Today during the past 20 years. During that time Palau was in Somoza’s Nicaragua, where, unlike the community of Solentiname, a Nicaraguan Christian based community under persecution, he was welcome with open arms. In 1977, Palau was greeted and accompanied on his crusade by Colombian president Alfonso Michelsen, not particularly known for being a human rights advocate. Also in the 70’s Palau visited Bolivia with the help of an organization known as Food For the Hungry (FFH). According to Sara Diamond’s book Spiritual Warfare, FFH “argues that poverty is rooted in individuals’ belief systems and by extension, in cultures supposedly conducive to underdevelopment and poverty.” (Diamond pg 226) The founder of FFH, Larry Ward, was also with Palau on that trip. Ward, a former overseas director of World Vision “was known to have a close relationship with South Vietnamese and US military leaders.” In 1982, Palau brought his crusade to Paraguay, under the brutal dictatorship of Alfredo Stoessner. According to recently released documents there was massive execution of civilians during Stoessner’s reign. (see Covert Action Quarterly, Fall 1994). Stroessner’s government gave Palau his approval to distribute 100,000 bibles and study courses to children nationwide.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Palau was crusading in the Soviet Union. In 1989, Palau was said to have brought the first open-air evangelism of its kind. The Christianity Today article quoted Kent Hill as a Soviet specialist who was pleased with the outcome of Palau’s crusade. Kent Hill is with IRD, who I mentioned earlier. In 1992, Palau was in Mexico and was given the title “Distinguished Visitor” by Mexican neoliberal president Carlos Salinas. In Mexico that title has previously been given only to the Catholic Pope and the Dali Lama.

Probably the most revealing article was a May, 1983 interview that Chritianity Today did with Palau. In my mind it clarifies the theology and politics of this crusader. Palau had just returned from Guatemala when this interview was conducted. Christianity Today asked Palau “How much control does President Rios Montt have of the army? (Palau) To turn a nation around as he has, knowing Latin Americans and how independent we are, that has got to be the helping hand of God. Generally, it appears he’s given the right instructions urging the people to do the right thing, and putting it on the basis of righteousness. In the first weeks in office he said, ‘I will not lie, I do not cheat, and I do not abuse my powers.'” For anybody who knows anything about the history of Guatemala this statement is utterly scandalous.

Efrain Rios Montt became president in 1982 via a military coup. During his 18 months in power Montt presided over a genocidal campaign waged against the Indigenous and poor of that country. Americas Watch documented the atrocities in which women were frequently raped and children were bayoneted to death or smashed against rocks. Even one of Montt’s supporters in the church El Verbo said, “The Army doesn’t massacre the Indians. It massacres demons, and the Indians are demon possessed; they are communists.” (Diamond pg. 166)

Some of Palau’s connections have also helped to further these repressive policies in Guatemala and elsewhere. Frequently when Palau travels he is accompanied by a representative from Bible Literature International (BLI). In the early 1980’s BLI helped to distribute hundreds of thousands of bibles to army personnel and civil patrol units in Guatemala, for what was known as “Operation Whole Armor”, another counterinsurgency tactic developed by Rios Montt. BLI, which began in 1923, has been distributing bibles and bible literature throughout the globe as an attack communism, most notably in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. In El Salvador they are said to have sent bibles to everyone in the Salvadoran telephone directory. As former president of Overseas Crusades, one of the largest US-based missionary organizations, Palau was able to utilize their connections as well. According to Sara Diamond, Overseas Crusades “said that at one time virtually all of its personnel were being debriefed by the CIA. Debriefings included questions by the CIA on the internal politics of remote Third World regions and detailed questions on Indigenous religious and political leaders.” (Spiritual Warfare pg. 207) So much for being a clean evangelist.

On the 100th anniversary of Protestantism in Guatemala (1982), Montt invited as the main speaker Luis Palau, who predicted that Guatemala would be the first majority Protestant country in Latin America. In many ways that was not just a prediction, but a promise. More than any other Latin American country Palau and his ministry team works diligently to spread their message in Guatemala. Guatemala is the distribution center for Palau’s radio and TV shows in Latin America. At least 17 radio stations and one TV station runs Palau’s message within the country. Palau also has a newspaper column in one of Guatemala’s largest dailies La Prensa Libre, where it is published twice a week. Palau also publishes 2 magazines Cruzada and Continente Nuevo. This all has a tremendous impact on the rise of evangelical and Pentecostal churches in Guatemala. Some estimates say that 35-40% of the population is now Protestant. Many analysts attribute this rise to what is referred to as salvation theology, a theology that focuses on personal salvation and hopes for a better life in the next world. In many ways much of Guatemala is ripe for this type of theology. In a country that has one of the worst human rights records in the Western Hemisphere this type of theology has a certain emotional and psychological appeal. As a way of dealing with the incredible pain and suffering that so many Guatemalans have endured, it is quite understandable that huge numbers of people would embrace this pie in the sky world-view. But lets not kid ourselves about the role that the US funded Guatemalan military has in helping this process along.

During the scorched-earth campaign under the regime of Rios Montt many “model villages” were set up as an attempt to pacify the areas that had been traditionally more sympathetic to the guerrilla movement. Many of the Palau-type evangelicals were invited in to help pacify the people, often using USAID food to win them over, in what Montt called his “Beans and Guns” program.

In the recent elections in Guatemala, Rios Montt was elected to Congress (only 20% of the population voted). He attempted to change the law that would have allowed him to run for president in the Nov. 1995 elections. At present the Guatemalan constitution bars anyone from running for president who has participated in previous military coups. Montt was unsuccessful in his attempts to change the law, but ran a candidate that finished second in the voting with the slogan “Portillo for President, Montt to Power”.

For me all this background on Palau harkens back to my reasoning for bringing Palau to Grand Rapids. He could preach a gospel of passivity and tolerance to structural injustice to the Latino/a community. In the end Palau fulfills his role as a modern day crusader. Unlike the crusaders of old who butchered you on the spot if there was rejection of their plan, Palau has sophisticated his approach of theological imposition and imperialistic control. Palau’s invitation and huge support is in sharp contrast to the visit by Adolfo Perez Esquival, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and author of Christ in a Pancho, who came to town in 1983 and received a marginal welcome. I guess you need to be an endorser of mass murder to gain the approval of the larger religious community here in Grand Rapids.