As the war in Iraq winds down, Christian evangelical groups plan to go to Iraq with humanitarian aid, including food and medicine. However, the groups also plan to “spread the Gospel,” according to the Los Angeles Times. In a country that is 97 percent Muslim, “combining assistance with proselytizing only increases suspicions in the Muslim world that this war is part of a crusade against Islam. It’s very destructive,” said Rick Augsburger, director of emergency programs for the Church World Service, according to the Times.
Chris Kimball, a Baptist minister and director religious studies at Wake Forest University, wants that the mixing of US patriotism and Christianity is no more than “whipping up a kind of Christian nationalism” that could have a negative impact on America’s credibility in Iraq and the rest of the Muslim nations, according to Salon. Already, Rev. Franklin Graham has drawn criticism for an op-ed piece that ran in the LA Times saying that he wanted to go to Iraq to minister “quietly” to the people. The Washington Post ran an editorial today saying that Graham could hardly be a neutral presence in Iraq as “the son of America’s most famous Christian evangelist, a friend of the president–and, more to the point, a public figure who has called Islam a ‘wicked’ and ‘evil’ religion, ‘a greater threat than anyone’s willing to speak’.” Graham’s presence at a Pentagon function indicates that he and his group, Samaritan’s Purse, will meet with no resistance from the Bush administration in their plans to proselytize in Iraq, according to Salon.
In related news, the US Army is investigating reports that a Sourthern Baptist chaplain in Iraq refused to allow soldiers to enter a 500-gallon pool of water unless they agreed to be baptized, according to the Charlotte Observer. A Knight Ridder reporter noted that the chaplain, Josh Llano, said, “It’s simple. They want water. I have it, as long as they agree to get baptized,” the Observer reports.