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Newspaper Gets It: Battle for souls

"The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, And he who wins souls is wise." Proverbs 11:30

Do you remember the near-daily coverage that the Charlotte Observer carried before the national event with OR/OSA in Charlotte? Other North Carolina and Charlotte TV web sites carried articles last week and through last weekend. Every sin imaginable (and them some not) can come out of the closet in Charlotte and be welcomed with open arms. Yet let the Christians take their faith beyond the church house doors and one would think all hell has broken loose. Police officers, Sheriff's officers, detectives, federal Marshals, federal agents, detectives and undercover agents surround the saints everywhere they go. All hell is breaking loose and the saints just keep proclaiming Jesus is Lord in the streets!

Every newscast and each day's hardcopy newspaper in Charlotte carries stories and editorials with community members talking about OR/OSA and their theology become biography in the streets. Yet their seems to be a deliberate effort by the media, especially the Charlotte Observer, to put none of these stories on their web sites. Oh you can still find the old articles embracing the sin supporters and alignment with the abortion industry, sodomite agenda & Islam. Since the Christians have proven to be the gentle warriors carrying the Gospel of Christ we told them we were, we are no longer worthy of news outside of Charlotte in their eyes - OR they fear a nation hearing the truth.

Well, the gates are crumbling before the King of Glory as the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ faithfully proclaims Him Lord in the streets. For 5 days now Michael Roessler, a reporter with the Independent Tribune has followed OR/OSA everywhere. Thursday morning the following article hit the front page above the fold in one of the best examples of pure journalism we've ever seen in coverage of Operation Rescue. The Independent Tribune and Michael Roessler are to be applauded. Not only did they cover all sides equally and fairly, they posted it on their web site as well. Praise the Lord Jesus for answering prayers of over a decade prayed by many of you! - Stephen Mashburn.


 Battle for souls
Concord group offers no apologies for stands on abortion, homosexuality, Islam

By Michael Roessler
Independent Tribune
Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Homosexuality is a sin.

Islam is a lie.

Abortion is murder.

The debate about the truth or falsehood of these beliefs, so hotly contested throughout the country as part of America’s culture wars, has come to Cabarrus County this week.

Concord-based Operation Save America/Operation Rescue (OSA), a conservative, evangelical Christian group, has convened an estimated 500 people here this week to storm the streets of Charlotte to preach about sin and repentance.

The organization plans to hold a series of events protesting abortion clinics, mosques and so-called “gay churches” through Sunday.

Rev. Philip L. “Flip” Benham, OSA’s director, espouses a brand of Christianity that shuns compromise with other world views and dismisses what some participants in this week’s events call “comfort zone Christianity,” a belief system that accepts God’s love without living by his commands.

Compromise, Benham told those gathered last Saturday for the week’s opening rally at Kannapolis’ Truth Temple Church, is diluting the word of God. Such compromise of Christ’s message comes under the guise of progress, tolerance and diversity, he explained. And just as often, Benham added, members of the church facilitate that compromise.

“The light that is to light the world has become a strange shade of gray,” Benham said. “There is black and there is white. There is truth and there is lie. There is life and there is death.”

He said it is his duty as a Christian to tell people when they have not met God’s standard.

“We are our brothers’ keepers. It hasn’t changed from the beginning to now,” he said Sunday night.

Opponents of Benham’s organization see the group differently.

“They’re a group that’s filled with hatred,” said Mujahid Idlibi, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Charlotte. “Their rhetoric is extremely inflammatory.”

The intolerance that OSA’s adherents proudly proclaim as proof of the purity of their faith — t-shirts at this weeks’ events described intolerance as a “beautiful thing” — is seen by the organization’s critics as destructive.

“We want to understand our sisters and brothers throughout the world,” said Steve Ayers, senior pastor at Concord’s McGill Baptist Church. “Let’s see how we can get along and see what we do hold in common.”

But for Benham and his followers, getting along with people of other religious beliefs is not worth the cost of compromising on what they view as the absolute word of God contained in the Bible.

“I would rather be divided by truth than united by error,” Benham told a gathering of OSA members on Tuesday.

Ready for Battle

At the theological core of the OSA’s intolerance for other belief systems is John 14:6, which is regularly cited at OSA events: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the light: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

The consequence of that passage is the absolute rejection of all systems of thought and belief that do not acknowledge Jesus as the only road to salvation.

But in our world, OSA leaders and supporters argue, non-Christian world views have become prominent. Faced with such adversity, the proper response is to go to battle for the Lord, which is why the language and imagery of warfare proudly permeates the group’s work.

As its members gathered in Kannapolis to kick off this week’s protests and worship gatherings, Rusty Thomas, OSA’s assistant director, told them, “There’s a battle for the souls of men, the lives of children and the future of America.”

John Reyes, who runs the organization’s Dallas office, encouraged OSA’s followers to “take up the cross...and storm the gates of hell in this country.”

Chet Gallagher, a leader of OSA in California, told the audience, “We’re going to take the word of God into warfare.”

Continued failure to battle for the Lord will bring even more devastation to America, which has already suffered a host of maladies, including AIDS, the Sept. 11 attacks, abortion and crime, because of the country’s departure from Christ, according to Benham.

But what he and others with OSA view as righteous anger aimed at a sinful world, critics see as hatred.

Although he acknowledged the OSA’s demonstrations were peaceful outside a Charlotte mosque on Tuesday, Andy Baxter, executive director of Mecklenburg Ministries, said the organization still worries him.

“The larger concern is the kind of intolerance of other religious faiths,” said Baxter, whose organization promotes cross-cultural understanding and dialogue. “Even if they’re not violent in their actions, their rhetoric is violent.”

The danger of religious belief without tolerance for others’ beliefs, Baxter said, is that it may lead to dehumanization.

“Your heart can become hardened to other people and you can stop seeing their humanity,” he said.

The abortion debate

Although OSA’s week-long series of events has included protests at mosques, condemnation of homosexuality and plenty of fiery rhetoric about the many sins of man, abortion is undoubtedly the group’s primary passion.

OSA was previously known as Operation Rescue. Its Web site describes abortion as a modern-day holocaust, and medical clinics where the procedures are performed are referred to as “abortion mills.”

“The light that is to light the world has become a strange shade of gray. There is black and there is white. There is truth and there is lie. There is life and there is death.”   Rev. Phillip L. Benham

The organization’s Web site also includes a picture of Benham baptizing Norma McCorvey, the Texas woman who was Jane Roe in Roe v. Wade, the case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973 that legalized abortion.

The group’s pro-life passion can also be heard in the grief and anger that often accentuate their talks on the subject.

As a four-minute video of aborted fetuses played for a gathering of OSA members on Sunday, Benham spoke occasionally.

“What have we done? What have we become?” he asked. “It’s never been legal to kill God’s children. It’s only been decriminalized.”

A series of ministers offered prayers on Sunday, sometimes choking up with tears, that abortion in America would stop.

A passion for the humanity of the unborn and a strong desire to stop what pro-life advocates see as the legally sanctioned murder of innocent children is what brought Sheryl Chandler of Charlotte to one of the three abortion clinics targeted this week by OSA.

Early Monday morning, she stood on the edge of the clinic’s property and pleaded to two young women, probably no more than 20 years old, seated in a parked car beside the facility.

“We’re just here to help. This is the kindness of the Lord. We’re here to call you to repentance,” Chandler yelled.

A free ultrasound would be offered to the pregnant young woman, if only she would come over and talk, Chandler said.

“Let us help you,” she cried out. “Your baby is alive — breathing, swallowing, kicking, turning. It has no idea what awaits it.”

The driver of the vehicle appeared not to be affected by the protesters as she defiantly leaned back in her seat and extended her leg out the car’s open window.

The young woman in the car’s passenger seat, however, sat still and occasionally wiped tears from her eyes. It appeared the protesters were reaching her.

Even as a policeman entered the parking lot and spoke with the young women, Chandler continued to shout to the girls. They were not listening, it appeared, and Chandler finally called out in desperation, “Please respond.”

A few minutes later, the young women drove away. They did not enter the clinic, but neither did they speak to any of the roughly 50 protesters or take any of their literature.

At Tuesday evening’s OSA rally in Kannapolis, members were proudly reporting that three women intercepted at Charlotte abortion clinics so far this week were now going to have their babies.

With the promised assistance of pro-life doctors who will provide their services for free, these women considered aborting their babies, but changed their minds — literally as they approached the place where the procedure would have occurred.

With a whirlwind of pro-life activity in the area this week, pro-choice advocates are saying little.

All three Charlotte abortion clinics targeted this week by OSA declined to comment on the group’s protests.

Linda Breen, director of development at Planned Parenthood of Greater Charlotte, declined to comment specifically on OSA’s activities.

She did, however, express disagreement with the organization’s ideas.

“We believe in the freedom to choose when and whether to have a child. That is a fundamental right in our society,” she said.

Breen added that the activities of OSA and other similar groups do not keep people from seeking Planned Parenthood’s services.

“They trust us, and they have a level of safety with us,” she said. “It doesn’t stop them (from coming to us).”

Homosexuality and the Bible

The Sunday morning service at McGill Baptist Church in Concord ended unusually this week.

At the conclusion of the worship service and as OSA protesters mingled outside, a man rose from the pews and called the church a den of iniquity, according to Steve Ayers, the senior pastor.

The man, Steven Borchert of Lafayette, Ind., was asked to leave. He did not and continued to disrupt the service. The police were called and Borchert was arrested.

He now sits in the Cabarrus County Jail, unable to post the $2,000 bond needed to secure his release on charges of first-degree trespassing and resisting, obstructing or delaying a law enforcement officer.

Borchert traveled here this week with his wife and two children to participate in OSA’s activities. Along the way, Benham told a crowd of followers Tuesday, the family’s car broke down. That was after they saved all they had to travel here.

One reason OSA targeted McGill Baptist Church was its decision in April to baptize two gay men, a move that got the church kicked out of the Cabarrus Baptist Association.

Borchert’s arrest marks the only one so far this week related to OSA’s protests, and Benham told a crowd at Truth Temple Church on Sunday that what Borchert did was inappropriate.

“We did the right thing, but there we did it in the wrong way,” he said. “It is our responsibility and we need to own that sin.

“It is very important for us to admit when we are wrong. I believe that he failed there.”

Benham did not dispute that Borchert was right to stand against a church that sinned when it invited two gay men into its congregation.

Ayers agreed that Borchert’s behavior was inappropriate.

“They do not have the right to interfere with the worship life of this congregation,” he said. “We wouldn’t go to them and tell them how to run their organization.”

But Borchert was wrong about more than his tactics, said Ayers. His ideas are wrong. “Hate will not prevail.

“Jesus told us to be fishers of men. When you cast out nets you bring in everything,” Ayers said. “He never told us to judge them. That’s God’s prerogative.”

Trying to usurp that right is what led to man’s fall, he added.

“The original sin,” Ayers said, “was to want to be like God.

“The only people Jesus condemned were the religious people who wanted to play God.”

The black-and-white world that Benham and other OSA members see is not real, Ayers said. “We live in a world full of color and different shades of color” he said.

It is God’s love, he added, that helps us navigate life’s uncertainties.

“We’re inviting people on a journey of life,” Ayers said. “Jesus wants us to live in our humanity and fulfill our humanity.”

Despite last Sunday’s temporary disruption of McGill’s worship life, Ayers said he will not be deterred from living God’s message.

“We’ll continue to hold up God’s message of grace and love,” he said. “I have faith and trust in God’s loving mercy.”

Denying Christ

Another serious problem in the Charlotte area, Benham told a rally Sunday night, is that Islam is viewed as superior to Christianity.

“Islam is placed even above Christianity. How can that be? Islam is a false, demonic religion,” he said.

During the OSA’s events, little is said about Islam except that it is wrong. And it is wrong, Benham and others claim, because it denies that Jesus was God.

Some OSA members go further and hint at assigning responsibility for the Sept. 11 attacks to Islam.

A van at the Truth Temple Church displayed a large picture of the World Trade Center as the second tower was hit by an airliner on September 11. The caption on the picture reads, “Militant Islam: 2,900 dead.”

But OSA’s judgment of Islam, according to others in the greater Charlotte religious community, is uninformed.

“There are plenty of Christians who believe in their own sense of faith and the truthfulness of the revelation of God through Christ, but who don’t see their mission to attack Islam,” said Baxter of Mecklenburg Ministries.

“Sometimes I think the enemy of Christianity is not Islam, but a lot of these Christians who in their zeal do things that are unchristian.”

Such extremists often pervert the Christian faith, much as the Sept. 11 hijackers, who acted in the name of Islam, perverted their faith, Baxter said.

“We Muslims are law-abiding citizens, peaceful, tolerant,” said Mujahid Idlibi of the Islamic Center of Charlotte, who added there are between 8,000 and 10,000 Muslims in the greater Charlotte area. “I believe strongly that (Benham’s) misinformed or uninformed about our religion.”

Idlibi said Benham tried to meet with him to discus Islam, but Idlibi said he declined the offer.

“It’s basically a one-way monologue with him where he tries to impose his religion on me,” he said.

During their phone conversation, Idlibi said Benham, “basically resorted to dehumanizing my faith” and called Muhammad, the Muslim faith’s last and greatest prophet, “a demon-possessed individual.”

He added, “Flip resorted to insulting, defaming and demonizing our religion,” despite Islam’s belief that Jesus was a great man and prophet, but not God.

Recognizing common beliefs across religions would greatly reduce religious intolerance, according to Baxter. “We try to build some bridges of understanding that way,” he said.

“There’s never a danger of dialogue,” said McGill Baptist’s Ayers. “Our misunderstanding comes when we don’t talk to other faith groups.”

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