Saturday, September 15, 2012

"Courageous Christians" and a Film That Sparked a Muslim Flame

As the unrest in the Middle East spills over into other Muslim countries, the debate about the controversial film trailer for Innocence of Muslims said to have sparked the protests continues as well. Print and video media have recently linked it to Steve Klein, an individual connected to an evangelical "counter-cult" ministry called Courageous Christians United. This ministry utilizes confrontational approaches with adherents of various religions, including Mormonism and Islam. In the latter they have an affiliated ministry called The photo above demonstrates the kinds of approaches they use, pointing people to a website in ways that are sure to outrage Muslims.

When news broke about the Courageous Christians' connection to the film trailer the organization's president, Rob Sivulka, posted the following on their website:
We at Courageous Christians United (CCU) had no knowledge of the film "The Innocence of Muslims" or Steve Klein's involvement in it until September 12, 2012. Steve was removed from the board of CCU as of September 14, 2012 because of his involvement in this film. As the founder of CCU, Steve was an honorary board member, but he has never been to any of our board meetings. In 2006, when I wanted to form my own non-profit corporation, Steve gave me CCU, which he was no longer using.

Steve was in no way acting on behalf of our mission organization in the production of the video. While both Steve and the film maker have a right to express their views, that doesn't mean that we here at CCU endorse this movie as a good means to convey the truth about Islam. In fact, we find this film reprehensible and irresponsible, and serving primarily to provoke a violent response. (emphasis mine)
I appreciate the lack of direct involvement that Klein may have had with the film, and Courageous Christians' desire to distance themselves from it. But this statement from Sivulka and his organization has me confused. It also appears disingenuous. As demonstrated above in the photo, the organization has engaged in forms of "outreach" to Muslims at mosques by holding up signs that insult Muhammed, the prophet of Islam. They do similar things in Mormon contexts, holding up signs that insult the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith. In each religio-cultural context their has been anger and resistance on the part of Muslims and Mormons. I submit that holding up signs in front of a mosque demeaning the Muslim prophet should be construed as a parallel to the Arabic-dubbed film trailer for Innocence of Muslims which may have at least partially inflamed large segments of the Muslim world. Therefore, how can Courageous Christians pursue the types of activities they do before American Muslims and at the same time condemn a film that functions in the same way among Muslims overseas? Must not the film and the questionable approaches of Courageous Christians be considered "reprehensible and irresponsible, and serving primarily to provoke a violent response?"

In a recent essay at Aslan Media co-authored with Paul Louis Metzger in response to the recent Islamic uprisings we wrote, "What lessons might be learned by Evangelicals as they seek to respond to and interact with the broader religious world, including Islam, in a context that all too easily leads to violence?" As the article continues, among other things, we suggest the following:
Much of the conservative commentary on this event, within and outside Evangelicalism, has emphasized American freedoms of speech concerning the right to share whatever views one might have about Islam. While it is certainly true that Americans have the right to express our convictions, from a Christian perspective our freedoms are informed by love for others; at times, we must be willing to restrict our freedoms for the brethren (1 Corinthians 8) and the world at large. In this instance, it may very well entail restricting our use of our constitutional freedoms for the greater good in the public square here and abroad. With this in mind, we would do well to remember that with the Internet we live in a global village, and the rhetoric, tactics and approval of a controversial pastor or filmmakers can contribute to an international climate of tension that may lead to violence and death in other parts of the world. Simply because we have such freedoms does not mean we must always exercise them; when we do exercise such freedoms, they should be exercised in ways that come down on the side of caution, seeking to contribute to the way of peace for the sake of Americans living and serving overseas, including our fellow Christians living in Muslim lands.
The events connected with the 11th anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on American soil provide evangelicals with an opportunity to reflect on our religious identity often formed in hostile relation to those in other religions, and how our attempts at persuading others of our religious convictions might be dramatically less than persuasive, if not offensive and downright counter-productive. For those interesting in considering an alternative vision, see the website of the Evangelical Chapter of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy, and our previous essays touching on this at Aslan Media:

"On the Dearborn Drama: Pig-Headed Engagement of Islam"

"Sikhs and Muslims, Shootings and Burnings: A Call to Peaceful Contestation"


April Tanner Muegge said...

While I do not believe that this movie is the root of the current violence, it has clearly been used by radical Muslims to further incite angry crowds. Rob Sivulka can try to distance himself and Courageous Christians United from Steve Klein and this movie, but the picture of him holding a sign saying "Mohammed Lied .com" says it all.

Rob apparently had no problems with Steve Klein's openly hostile and offensive views when he took over Mr. Klein's "ministry" in 2006 and then allowed him to continue on as a board member of Courageous Christians United. Rob states that he first learned of the film on Sept. 12th, yet it was two more days before he issued a disclaimer on his website. Based on this delay and also the posts he made on his personal FaceBook page from Sept. 12 – 14, it is clear that he didn’t take issue with the film until it began to have a negative impact on his own life.

The following is a statement Rob posted on his FaceBook page on the morning of Sept. 14th, which was later removed:

Rob Sivulka: The SPLC is now labeling us as a hate group: Really not that surprised since the Family Research Council is also on that list. This really sucks for all of us on the board of CCU, and the extended ministries we’re related to. I have concluded that it was really unfortunate that Steve Klein had anything to do with this film. The primary reason is the same as when our government told WikiLeaks that releasing video of Abu Ghraib would have our service men killed. We are working to immediately remove Steve from our board of directors, but the long term damage to our ministry has already been done. Here’s our latest statement on our Courageous Christians United site:

I was struck by the self-centeredness of Rob’s post and also by the complete lack of empathy for those whose lives have been lost and the loved ones they left behind. This violent outbreak, which has been at least partially fueled by a deliberately offensive movie, has affected many people in many countries.

As of Sept. 15th, Rob Sivulka has not posted the CCU disclaimer on his own personal FaceBook page. However, the following comment he made on the afternoon of Sept. 13th, is still there:

Rob Sivulka: Well neither Steve, nor Courageous Christians United, was doing the mocking... if that's what it was. It was made by another guy who simply consulted Steve as to the accuracy. So if you're accurate in telling the world who Muhammad really was, then that itself is considered "mocking." Further, Elijah mocked the false prophets of Baal.”

Given the above statement, it is disingenuous for Rob to claim: "we find this film reprehensible and irresponsible, and serving primarily to provoke a violent response."

In addition to picketing at mosques, Rob Sivulka frequently walks around Temple Square and other Mormon sites carrying a sign which says, “Joseph Lied .com.” He also regularly posts on FaceBook about how he told someone “You’re going to Hell!” The aggressive and offensive “witnessing” tactics used by Rob Sivulka and others, are as effective as it would be for an Atheist to march around a Christian church carrying a sign saying “Jesus Lied .com” and yelling “You’re all idiots!” This type of approach is just an attempt to be provoking and trigger a hostile response. "Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ." ~Ephesians 4:15

Blair Hodges said...

Excellent post. It should also be added that Mr. Sivulka has also been coordinating with Mike Norton, a former Mormon who unethically snuck into a Mormon temple with hidden camera equipment and filmed Mormons during their religious ceremonies. Mormons consider these ceremonies extremely private and sacred. Mr. Norton posted the videos online as approved by Mr. Sivulka, who posted links to the films on CCU's website and his own facebook page. Mr. Norton claims he will release more films in the coming weeks and Mr. Sivulka has praised his efforts.

In other words, Mr. Sivulka disingenuously claims to be sensitive regarding Islam, and he is trying to distance himself from a film which offends Muslims. But he simultaneously distributes unethically obtained videos of unknowing Mormons practicing rituals in Mormon temples, which is deeply offensive to Mormons.