Saturday, December 21, 2013

The extremist Christian infiltration of Taiwan (中文 link at bottom)

Intensifying efforts to block same-sex marriage regulations and to promote chastity in Taiwan are led by a loose coalition of evangelical groups with worrying ties to extremist Christian organizations in the U.S.

One of the things we did when I was an intelligence officer was something called “link analysis,” which consisted of establishing a full picture of the ties that bound individuals, groups, organizations, and firms, to our targets. By doing this, we hoped to obtain a fuller understanding of where indoctrination, orders, and money were coming from, while enlarging the scope of our investigation if our targets met other suspect individuals. While we could never hope to have a complete picture of, say, a terrorist organization, it drove home the fact that contemporary terrorist groups tend to be complex and use many fronts to achieve their objectives.

Fast-forward more than a decade, and I find myself once again attempting to establish a picture of another entity that, in some but radically different ways, also threatens society. This time, my endeavors were prompted by the campaign against amendments to Article 972 of the Civil Code, which would legalize same-sex unions in Taiwan, and the disgraceful actions of many participants at the Happiness of the Next Generation Alliance rally on Nov. 30 against same-sex marriage.

What drove me to pursue the matter was the fact that the most sustained and strident opponents of homosexual unions in Taiwan were individuals who were closely associated with Christian churches here. The deeper I dug, the clearer it became that ordinary Taiwanese either didn’t care one way or another, or in fact supported the amendment (about 53%). Those who were vocal in their opposition overwhelmingly belonged to Christian churches, and their ideology sounded oddly similar to that which one encounters in the most conservatives of U.S. (southern) states. In other words, despite claims by the Alliance that homosexuality and same-sex marriage were “Western imports,” it was becoming increasingly evident that the real foreign imports were in fact their intolerant views and the arguments they used to “warn” society about the ills that would befall it should 972 be amended.

I have now spent weeks “link analyzing” the Alliance, and have made some of my findings public in previous articles on the subject. The more I delve into this, the more I am reminded of loose organizations like al-Qaeda (disclaimer: I do not intend to imply that the Alliance is a terrorist organization; the analogy refers strictly to structure). Those who have taken the lead in Taiwan opposing same-sex unions — and interestingly, in spearheading True Love efforts to promote chastity in high-schools — are all part of a loose network whose epicenter can be traced back to ultra-rightist evangelical Christian organizations in the U.S. Many of the leading religious individuals here received training in divinity with groups like the round-the-clock prayer International House of Prayer (IHOP) and the Wagner Institute — two recurrent standouts in my research — before returning to Taiwan to spread a rigidly theistic and zero-sum version of Christianity that involves a blend of magic, cultism, and let’s be frank, homophobia.* Theirs is a spiritual battle to Christianize the world by spreading the gospel in every corner of society, from schools to the workplace, our bedrooms to government (IHOP University’s mission statement is to “equip and send out believers who love Jesus and others wholeheartedly to preach the Word, heal the sick, serve the poor, plant churches, lead worship, start houses of prayer, and proclaim the return of Jesus [my italics]). The Kingdom Revival Times, a rather useful resource, is full of news articles about IHOP members, including Jerry Chow (周吉仁), being invited to address congregations in Taiwan.

This is where the al-Qaeda analogy becomes useful. It would be invidious to accuse, say, IHOP of directly involving itself in legislative decisions in Taiwan. It doesn’t need to, as it has indoctrinated foot soldiers to do so on behalf of its doctrinaire view of the world. This is very similar to many of the terrorist organizations that sprang up all over the world following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the U.S. and after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Although most of those offshoots subscribed to al-Qaeda ideology, and many of their leaders and foot soldiers had at some point received training in al-Qaeda camps, al-Qaeda central had little direct say over what those organizations did. Most of the time, their actions served al-Qaeda’s grand purpose, though admittedly they sometimes undermined the cause. Regardless, the loose structure of the “alliance” made establishing a full picture of the constellation a near impossibility. 

On a smaller scale, the same can be said of the overlapping evangelical Christian organizations across the U.S. that advocate hardline views on homosexuality, abortion, and “intelligent design” (creationism), which extend tentacles in government, courthouses, universities, and the media.

This structure is now being replicated in Taiwan, and I suspect, across Asia. And as in the U.S., they have been recruiting wealthy individuals and government officials in positions of influence to push policies that ill reflect the wishes of the moderate majority. There is now in Taiwan a cross-pollinating (no pun intended) constellation of Christian churches and bible study centers that recruit, train, and indoctrinate Taiwanese, who are then encouraged to spread the gospel. Conduct Google searches on almost any of them or their leaders — the Bread of Life Christian Church, Agape Christian Church, Top Church, New Life (yes, Ted Haggard), Impact Bible School, Asia for Jesus, “Workplace House of Prayer” — and you will eventually unearth connections to IHOP, Wagner, and other religious organizations that all share the characteristics of cults.

Despite the relatively small number of its members, this loose alliance tends to punch above its weight, perhaps because of the tendency of society and governments to bend over backwards to make sure we show no disrespect to religion (in fact I suspect that this may be one of the reasons why police officers stood by on Nov. 30 as Alliance members blocked and surrounded proponents of same-sex marriage in a public space). Those groups have infiltrated the halls of government and our schools, encouraging high-school children to sign a pledge to chastity until marriage (science demonstrates that such efforts have failed miserably) or forcing upon them literature on the alleged dangers of homosexual unions. Such efforts will only intensify as the groups further consolidate their presence in Taiwan.

Scary stuff.

* I doubt that organizations like IHOP would be able to indoctrinate Taiwanese minds to the same extent as, say, in Uganda, where their rhetoric has reached levels of encouraging people to kill homosexuals. Among other things, their reach in Taiwan is hampered by socio-economic conditions, not to mention education levels, that differ markedly from those seen in countries like Uganda, where missionary and humanitarian work serve as the entry point to proselytizing. It is difficult to imagine Taiwanese, even those who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds, being receptive to calls to kill homosexuals or imprison them for life. Limitations notwithstanding, cultish groups like IHOP can do severe harm to modern societies like Taiwan by spreading intolerance and irrationalism. 

NEW! A Chinese version of this article is available here.

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