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Interview with Julia Duin

Julia Duin is religion editor for the Washington Times and author of six books, including Quitting Church: Why the Faithful and Fleeing and What to Do About It. Her latest book is Days of Fire and Glory: The Rise and Fall of a Charismatic Community. Julia agreed to answer some questions for me about her new book via email. I hope these provoke further discussion on the nature of community, the Charismatic movement, and the importance of story even when the telling is fraught with difficulty.

Chris Rice: I consider one of the most interesting things about your book the fact that you yourself are a charismatic Episcopal Christian and you approach the subject of this book as a member of the church itself. You came to the community not to do a story but because you were looking for what the Holy Spirit had for you. As a journalist in this position how do you feel you maintained objectivity throughout the writing process?

Julia Duin: Much of what happened at Redeemer – 2/3 of the book, in fact, happened before 1986, which is the year I arrived in Houston. So it was easy to be dispassionate about what happened during the first 22 years of this renewal simply because I was not part of the action. However, I did manage to visit all the places the community was: 3 sites in the UK and the main 2 sites in the United States. It was really helpful for me to see the island of Cumbrae and the 2 community places in southern England – one of which I unwittingly visited in 1982 years before I moved to Houston or thought of doing the book. I will say a reporter who was not also an insider would have had an impossible time doing the book. They would not have known the code words, the inside stuff – things I was privy to for several years before deciding to write the book.

CR: You say “the places the community was” but don’t you mean the places where Graham Pulkingham started ministries? I mean, in the book Church of the Redeemer and Graham Pulkingham have friction between them by the time he is starting ministries elsewhere. So these are separate entities right?

JD: Actually, Redeemer and the Community of Celebration were separate entities. Graham and the CoC were the same.

CR: Every member of a community has his or her own expectations for their lives in and among the other members and so are limited in their ability to see the whole picture. They have a particular vantage point for telling the community’s story in their own way. In telling the stories of Church of the Redeemer, Graham Pulkingham, and their place in the larger Charismatic movement how did you move from your own vantage point to seeing the bigger picture overall?

JD: I felt that Redeemer was a microcosm of what happened all over the country. Word of God in Ann Arbor and other Catholic communities (ie Mother of God in Gaithersburg, Md. and Sojourners in Washington, DC) had similar melt-downs. Being that I was covering a lot of this as a freelancer for Christianity Today at the time, I knew what was going on nationally – which I might add most people at Redeemer had no idea of, say, what Christian communities in the Pacific Northwest were doing. Well I did know stuff like that. It really helped that I had lived in this Portland community several years before so I was one of the few people at Redeemer who knew how the other half lived; how community was being done elsewhere.

CR: Were there angles to the story that you wanted to picture but were just unable for some reason?

JD: About angles, I cut out a lot of the theological critique. I thought the extra stuff was valuable but I knew the readers would not stick with me. I also knew a lot more of the sexual sin that was going on – what got mentioned in the book was the tip of the iceberg – but some stuff I was unable to prove. One person said he was going to sue me if I mentioned him. Well I did mention him but I was not able to confirm the fact he raped a 14-year-old. I know some people in Houston are really unhappy with the book but if they only knew the stuff I *didn’t* write about.

CR: You conducted most of the interviews in the early 1990s, why did the book take twenty years to get published?

JD: I went through 32 publishers before I found one that would take this book. That’s what took the 20 years. The current one was #33. The secular publishers didn’t know who Graham was nor what charismatics and pentecostals were and they sure didn’t ‘get’ the intentional community concept. Evangelical publishers were more attuned to those things, but they objected to the sexual content. One told me the book was prophetic and needed to be published; he was just afraid of lawsuits. Please. I had a good libel lawyer working with me and there has not been a problem.

CR: It sounds like the book was a largely thankless task for a long time. You knew you had an important story, but faced a lot of opposition. Did you ever feel like throwing in the towel?

JD: Believe it or not, I didn’t because of the amazing ways the story fell together. How was I do know Graham would die in such a dramatic way? That he’d spill everything in that late-night talk with me? That people like Marilyn Mazak would magically show up in Houston just when I needed her? And then she disappeared, never to be heard from again? It was clear God was arranging things so I could write the book but what was discouraging was the 15-year wait between the time I finished writing the book and got it published.

CR: In a nearly linear timeline you chronicle and describe in detail the different problems that lead to the decline of the Church of the Redeemer. At the same time you describe Graham Pulkingham’s new community ventures in Scotland and then in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. You seem to see the Community of Celebration as a failed venture and yet that community lives on today with a Benedictine Rule. Has the community been opposed to your writing this book or cold toward you personally?

JD: The community has been tremendously cold since the scandal broke in August 1992 and since then has refused to work with me re the book. They blamed me for exposing Graham. I sent Bill Farra a registered letter around that time asking him to help me about but he refused. Several years later, I was in North Carolina and had arranged to meet with Betty Pulkingham to wrap up some loose ends. She cancelled the interview about 3 hours beforehand despite the fact it had been a two-day trip for me to get down there. After that, I figured I was on my own and that I’d have to work without the help of the community. Fortunately I had already completed 95% of my research by the time the story ‘broke.’

Yes, they live on – in a fashion. I talked with a friend who recently visited them – and looked at their web site – I think they’re down to 7 members. They appear to be living off the copyrights and proceeds of their music although I never hear it played any more nor do I see their books for sale in Episcopal venues so at some point that money has got to dry up.

CR: When you say that, “they live on—in a fashion. . . at some point their money has got to dry up” it sounds like you want them to fail. They’ve been going on as a small community, serving very locally for around twenty years. That’s a lot longer than many Christian communities lasted. It’s clear from the book that the way he confessed to you and it all came out was quite a mess, quite emotional, more so than you wanted it to be. But isn’t it possible that these Christians at Community of Celebration are still a beautiful expression of God at work in their local community in spite of all the sin in Graham’s life and at Church of the Redeemer before their founding?

JD: The folks at Celebration did do a lot of good, no doubt about that. But when I began observing them in 1990 – after they’d been 4 years in the Pittsburgh area – it was clear they were not making much of a dent in the neighborhood. I never heard anything further about their business incubator and I saw first-hand how few actual inhabitants were coming to Celebration’s services. It was 180 degrees from what happened in Houston.

CR: On a side note I would point out that Community of Celebration is offering .pdfs of all the books written by and about Graham and Betty Pulkingham on their website for free. These books are long out of print. To address the other side of your comment, “they appear to be living off the copyrights and proceeds of their music,” I know from the newsletters I’ve received from them over the last twenty years that this is not the major source of their income. They have a donor base similar to other small communities that consists of churches and individuals who visit the community at least annually and make contributions. Members also have outside jobs in the area. They work as chaplains and social workers in Aliquippa.


JD: I just heard from a former member who visited them earlier this month and they’re down to 6-7 people. I just do not call that healthy. They are obviously not growing, compared to what Shane Claiborne is doing in Philly. And Shane is pushing people away – he’s gotten inquiries in droves.

CR: Church of the Redeemer was unique in that it was controversial within the Episcopal Church but the Bishop took a hands-off approach even where his authority and accountability were obviously needed. How does this story speak to the way denominational churches discipline congregations?

JD: Well, one important thing is the bishop should not be as compromised as Alden Hathaway was in letting Graham be his spiritual director. One important thing I’ve seen in the Catholic charismatic communities that went belly-up is that people were warning the bishops way ahead of time that fishy things were happening there. Often the bishop did nothing. It was not until the secular media started calling that anything was done.

CR: It would be easy for someone who opposes the Charismatic Movement and Christian communities in general to use your book as proof of all their worst fears. But you don’t seem to be on a crusade against Charismatics or Christian community overall. Looking back on all that you’ve been through with this book, how did you end the book with so much hope for what God can still do through flawed humans in the future?

JD: Am certainly not on a crusade against charismatics as I still am one. But we had such high hopes back in the 1970s -we thought all of American Christianity would go communal and instead, the communities were what did not survive. By 1990-92, nearly all had crashed and burned. Even Sojourners, which did survive, gave up its households (except for interns). I think interest in community is going to come back in a major way, so I am writing to warn folks of what happened 30 years ago with Christians who were just as smart as people are today. I am hoping that younger people do not repeat the mistakes of the baby boomers.

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2004 interview and book review Mitri Raheb

Strength and Hope in Perilous Times: An Interview with Mitri Raheb

On June 3rd Cornerstone Mag writer Chris Rice caught up with Rev. Mitri Raheb for an engaging conversation about his new book, the involvement of Americans Evangelicals with Palestinians, and how to maintain hope in the midst of desperate situations.

Chris: Please tell us your name and what you do.

Mitri: My name is Mitri Raheb and I am pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethehem and director of International Center of Bethlehem there.

C: You’ve just written a book entitled Bethlehem Besieged: Stories of Hope in Times of Trouble. Could you just give us sort of a summary of what you go into in the book and what the book has meant to you.

M: Basically there are 18 true stories–personal stories–which I have experienced myself in the last three years living in Bethlehem under the Israeli occupation and the Intifadah and my reflections and experience as a Palestinian Christian and as a human being. Through these stories I’m trying to show what the occupation does to the life of ordinary people and at the same time how to get out of this mood of being overwhelmed with what happened into an action to bring hope in hopeless situations.

photo by Musa al Shaer

C: In many ways from reading your book it seems you’re trying to bridge the gap between what people may not understand about living under the occupation, just by virtue of us living in the West. How can we use these stories that you’ve told to build better relationships there with people in Palestine?

M: For me I choose this method of narrative theology or basically telling stories because I think its something everyone can relate to.

C: Yes

M: I mean there’s lots of theology and lots of thinking behind it, [but its presented in a way] that every person, every average american can understand. [So] they are short stories and they are perfect to be used in Bible classes or in other education groups, in house churches, [or small group settings] and discussed. So really with this book I try to give a tool to Christian churches to see our conflict from a new perspective and be able to discuss it in their different settings.

C: On a personal and informal level how can we begin to encourage American Christians and mainly from where I am, Evangelicals, to come and form relationships and come to the spiritual and emotional aid of Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and even refugees here in America?

M: I really think the first thing every American should do is get some first hand information and education on the conflict because unfortunately my experience is that American people are very good-hearted people the problem is that they don’t know much about the situation. I mean even now they are spending days and weeks talking about Scott Peterson. You know who he is? [Scott and Laci Peterson murder trial in California]

C: Mmhmm.

M: and they just don’t know much about what’s happening in that corner of the world unless there’s suicide bombings or something and they just don’t know much about it so the first step is to get more information.

C: You talk in the book about Americans in the past who’ve come to help, but these days are there people emailing or calling with their support?

M: We have many Mainline American Christians-.–Presbyterians, Lutherans, Catholics and Episcopalians who come and want to make a difference. Unfortunately many of the Evangelicals who come to the Holy Land come to support Israel. Every year around October at the Feast of the Tabernacle they come—four to five thousand Evangelical Christians— and they support Israel financially even in buying weapons, which I think has nothing to do with the Christian faith. Its become ideology. . . .

photo by Carina Appel

C: Mmm. (Sigh.) So what I’m hearing is that there’s not much encouragement coming from American Evangelicals, especially on a personal level. I guess why I’m asking is that I have a friend there who I email quite often, and he emails me back and just tells me how he’s doing. When he’s severely depressed he tells me. Sometimes I’ve actually called him just to let him know that I care. And what I keep hearing is that you feel so alone and lost as though the whole world isn’t even paying attention. But I guess what I’m asking is is there some way we can foster, and is your ministry doing this in some way, that one on one type of encouragement. I mean the giving and support is important and obviously the activism is so important on the political level, but on the personal level from those who want to offer that personal touch of support by saying “I know I care, my prayers are with you during this time.”

M: This is something very important that people in this country need from people there. It is very important that we continue connections and relationships. In our work at the Center we know that we often feel forsaken from the whole world, and yet we think that our role as Christians is not to sit there and weep like the woman on the Sunday morning in front of the Tomb. But we hear God telling us “Go and tell my brothers.” For us Christianity is all about transformation from being people who just cry into being people who hit the road to Proclaim even in the midst of this devastating situation.

C: I find your book very convicting, particularly when you talk about what you would do as an American. Its around pg. 83 when you describe trying to get out of Palestine [by airplane] at a particular time. Here in America its easy to feel your hands are tied by our government. Personally I’ve been tempted to stop signing online petitions or calling the White House. I don’t think my government cares to hear my opinion. And the fear is that you can’t make a difference anyway because they ignore all voices except what they want to hear, you know, even in the International community or the UN. Is this an irresponsible position?

M: I think change will come from the accumulation of several factors together. Petitions alone will not make a difference. But they are important because again they just let people know that there are people who care. Its important for us to know that there are people who care for the Palestinians and who care for justice in the Middle.East, because they are hearing the other side all the time. I mean they hear from the Pro-Israeli Lobby all the time. And I don’t think we should give the impression that everyone in the States are supporting their policies. Because that is not true. So that is why I think its important to raise your voice, sign the petitions and write your senators and congress persons and so forth. But this alone [is not enough}. Often a Church or a denomination will think that because it has drafted a resolution it has done something. It is important as an educational tool. But what I would say it is also important to bring relationships to people in Palestine and to, if possible, support a ministry in Palestine. [These are more concrete things.]

C: I must confess that if I were in your shoes I would probably give up traveling. As Americans we hate inconveniences. In your case inconvenience is a severe understatement. It probably ranges from inconvenience to outright abuse. But the things you describe would disarm me, which is I’m sure the intention. But how do you maintain a trust in the basic human decency of the Israeli Authorities when they’ve done you and your loved ones wrong so often.? How do you treat them with dignity and expect it from them?

M: Well I don’t really expect the Israeli military to deal with us in a humane way.

C: Well you talk to them and you don’t give up.

M: Right, I challenge them and try to get through to the human being in them because I think its very important and I think it’s the Israeli people who will play a very important role in changing our situation and their situation. And I think that the Israeli civil society is strong enough so that if they want to make a change they can make it. . . .

C: Mmm. Hmm.

M: and so we have to reach out to them, which is very important. But again I think that all of this would not be possible without the faith I’m in because from a human point of view bitterness and revenge and hatred would seem appropriate. But I think it’s a very destructive approach and it destroys us more than the Israelis. And again its very important that we keep holding to the human in them and in ourselves.

C: At the end of your chapter “Challenging yet Transforming the Enemy” (chapter 2, page twenty-five) you write:

photo by Musa al Shaer

“We discussed how to evaluate a situation and how to calculate risks. I thought that if they grow up in this region, they must learn how to deal with these issues while they are young. Who knows when they will need to quickly evaluate difficult situations and take calculated risks?”

To me that’s an amazing example of what must go on. You’re sort of describing what you must have experienced growing up under the occupation all the time. And having to say that to your daughters is an amazing thing to me. One thing that I experienced when I was there, and I certainly don’t want to just talk about me, but coming through the checkpoints in February of 2003 I witnessed my friend hand his passport—his identity, his everything—to the soldiers and cross to the other side to wait with us for a taxi, and that blew me away because I saw in that act that that was a brave thing to do. What was to keep them from just keeping that passport? And yet he did it out of a simple kindness. Facing those people that could be your enemies, assessing that risk and taking it. That boggles my mind. That’s amazing to me.

M: I think that this is something very important. These are devastating times and we must act in Truth rather than fear.

C: Now in the book you talk about a lot of hopeful things that are not even covered in the press, like the candle light ceremony. You talk about how because no shootings occurred and no one was killed this was not even covered. Do events like this that we aren’t aware of happen all the time?

M: Yes, actually. Most of the time. Good news is no news unfortunately. And as the old adage goes, “if it bleeds it leads.”

C: Thank you Rev. Raheb for talking with us.

M: You are very welcome.

We invite you to please visit the following websites associated with Mitri’s work and as you are able give your support:

See http://www.bethlehemmedia.net/diaries.htm for more personal everyday accounts from various Palestinians enduring life under Israeli occupation.

Bethlehem Besieged: Stories of Hope in Times of Trouble

By Mitri Raheb
Fortress Press, 2004.
159 pages.

Book Review by Chris L. Rice

Many pundits are all too eager to share their opinions on the politics and violence in the Middle East. Has any other modern region of the world received as much attention as Israel and Palestine? And with each breaking news item many people feel helpless and discouraged that anything good will happen in the future. But wait, what of the people who have grown up and live there? Some wonder why they don’t just all give up and move away. Humanizing the struggle, and getting to the real stories behind the headlines and sound bytes, is a true beginning toward change. In Bethlehem Besieged: Stories of Hope in Times of Trouble, Mitri Raheb offers a glimpse into his everyday life as a pastor, husband and father in Bethlehem. Mitri says of his book, “Writing under siege overcomes the siege imposed on us, and publishing while the apartheid-like wall is being built enables me, in a sense, to transcend the wall.”

This collection of personal short stories give us a window not only into what its like to have grown up under the Israeli Occupation and the extenuating circumstances brought on by the Intifadah as they relate to everyday family life, but also into his very soul. Mitri demonstrates the gospel promises he espouses as an Evangelical Lutheran minister in the face of regularly hopeless situations. It should be noted that his work at the International Center of Bethlehem (also known as Center Dar al-Nadwa which means “house of worldwide encounter”) integrates people of all faiths and walks of life. The Center states on its website “we believe in the necessity of dialogue between cultures and encounter between people from different contexts. Since its opening, the Center has provided services for more than 20,000 people annually, both local and international.” The purpose of this book is to welcome us into the hopeful reality of life as pastor Raheb sees it. In the face of complete uncertainty this group of Christians continues to build and rebuild connections and community.

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