Faith: May 2004 Archives

An interesting piece in the latest The New Republic about globetrotting evangelist K. A. Paul:

Over the past two decades, Kilari Anand Paul, a self-described "Hindu-born follower of Jesus," has cultivated a peculiar specialty as spiritual adviser to the scum of the earth. Liberia's Charles Taylor, Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic, and Iraq's Saddam Hussein are among the more infamous butchers to talk with Paul about the moral implications of running a brutal, repressive, and occasionally genocidal regime. In fact, Dr. Paul, as everyone calls him (thanks to an honorary degree from Living Word Bible College in Swan River, Manitoba), has counseled scores of corrupt political leaders at all levels of government, as well as warlords, rebels, and terrorists from Mumbai to Manila to Mogadishu. By Paul's estimate, he has gone mano a mano with the leaders of every significant terrorist and rebel group in the 89 countries where his ministry operates. ...

But, despite such high-profile interventions, Paul remains virtually unknown in the United States--and the anonymity is driving him crazy. It's not that he craves public acclaim, says Paul (though quite clearly he does). It's that GPI's humanitarian work--aiding disaster victims and supporting thousands of orphans and widows throughout the Third World--costs money, and the United States is where the money is. But it's hard to raise cash when no one has ever heard of you. ...

Americans tend to prefer their humanitarian and spiritual leaders humble and self-deprecating, la Jimmy Carter or Billy Graham. Paul, by contrast, is so desperate to convince you of his influence that he can come across as either a liar or a crank. ...

By all accounts, Dr. Paul's overseas peace rallies are sights to behold. Most take place in Africa or India, where villagers stream in from around the countryside to see, as one Indian paper put it, "the mesmerizing evangelist," who has become a minor celebrity across much of both continents. A "small" rally is defined as an audience of 10,000 or 20,000. Large rallies stretch upward of a million. (GPI claims its largest was three million attendees at a 2001 event in Lagos, Nigeria.) Surrounding the speakers' podium, on which Paul is joined by local politicos and traveling dignitaries, bodies crowd together in a sea of humanity. "I hesitate to tell people how big these crowds are, because they can't comprehend it," says Texas oil billionaire Nelson Bunker Hunt, who served as co-chair of GPI until recently. Until you see the crowds yourself, you assume the numbers are inflated, agrees Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who traveled to India with Paul in January 2002. "But there were maybe seventy-five thousand, a hundred thousand," Huckabee says of the rally he attended. "I'm not sure I ever saw that many people except at a major football game."

Very interesting to read of this man and his cultural dilemma -- how do you win the support of Americans when the way you talk about yourself pegs the finely-tuned B.S. meters of most Americans. American evangelicals are accustomed to hearing "evang-elastic" accounts of ministry success, which they credit in inverse proportion to the size of the claim.

The same article links to an earlier TNR story about India's untouchables, and the troubles they face if they convert from Hinduism to a religion that will treat them like equals.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Faith category from May 2004.

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