In some arenas of conflict, the best defense is a good offense.

That strategy is apparently being pursued by the Church of Scientology in its latest altercation with the federal government, and it might pay off.

Swarms of FBI agents last month raided church offices in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., and seized cartons of documents that allegedly included material stolen from government files. An FBI affidavit claimed that church spies had infiltrated federal agencies over the past two years, had burglarized government offices, and on at least one occasion had bugged an Internal Revenue Service meeting. The FBI said its information came from a former top official of the church who had turned himself in after escaping from church custody. In defense, the Scientologists:

• Launched legal efforts to have the raids declared illegal, to block grand jury testimony, and to prevent disclosure and circulation of the seized material.

• Filed a $7.8 million damage suit against federal agents who planned and conducted the raids (the church earlier had filed a $750 million suit against the FBI, the Central Intelligence Agency, and other government agencies, accusing them of a massive conspiracy against the church).

• Uncorked a media campaign designed to win sympathy for the church (the main theme: the church has stood up against unwarranted government intrusion into its affairs, and the church has exposed corruption on the part of federal officials, so now the government is retaliating against the church.

On July 27 Chief Judge William B. Bryant of the U.S. District Court in Washington quashed the search warrant. He declared it illegal and ordered the government to return all materials taken in the raids. The warrant, he said, was too “general,” allowing the FBI to rummage throughout church property in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Commented a Scientology attorney: “This whole episode bears out the church’s continuing contention that government agencies have been conspiring and acting illegally toward the Church of Scientology.” Government prosecutors said they would appeal Bryant’s ruling. Meanwhile, the documents have been impounded.

The Church of Scientology, founded in Washington, D.C., in 1954 by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, has had a long history of clashes with the government. These conflicts have involved the church’s finances and its tax-exempt status, its use of mechanical devices known as E Meters to help people rid themselves of psychological problems, and its international aspects. The church has filed many Freedom of Information suits to obtain access to material concerning it in government files, and it has tried to force the government to cut its ties to Interpol, the international organization that collects and disseminates information to police agencies.

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The FBI identified its informant as Michael Meisner, until a year or so ago one of Scientology’s top five officials and national secretary of the church’s “Guardian Office.” Meisner and another Scientologist, Gerald Bennett Wolfe, were caught using forged Internal Revenue Service credentials to enter the U.S. courthouse in Washington in June, 1976. Wolfe eventually pleaded guilty to using the fake credentials and was sentenced a year later to two years probation. Meisner, however, changed his appearance and remained a fugitive until he surrendered to federal authorities in late June of this year. Meanwhile, Scientology spokesmen had denied that Meisner and Wolfe were still members of the church. They said Meisner was expelled in June, 1976, “after having blown his legally assigned” post in the church.

Lights Out, Clergy On

When the lights went off during New York’s power blackout last month, government officials appealed to clergy to help calm the city’s neighborhoods. More than a dozen clergymen rode with police in patrol cars and used loud speakers to appeal to crowds in trouble zones. Many, though, drove or walked around on their own. They talked to young people, soothed older citizens who were afraid, and comforted people who had lost their businesses. Most of the neighborhoods that were wrecked were in black and Hispanic areas.

Some congregations, said pastor Samuel Simpson of Bronx Baptist Church, quickly organized community meetings to discuss what could be done to keep things peaceful. He said the clergy of the Bronx plan to draft recommendations on how to handle such a situation in the future.

Black Protestant pastors in Harlem appealed to citizens not to purchase goods taken in the looting that occurred during the blackout.

No churches or religious schools were known to be damaged in the violence, said church sources.

(Meisner’s wife Patricia is currently president of the Founding Church of Scientology in Washington. Church press spokesman Hugh Wilhere last month said the couple had split up “about eighteen months ago” because of Meisner’s “personal problems.” Wilhere also denied that Meisner was ever a national official of the organization.)

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For two weeks after he turned himself in, Meisner was grilled by the FBI. He told the following story, according to an FBI affidavit:

An international officer of the church issued an order in 1974 calling for an all-out attack against the IRS through the use of lawsuits, public relations campaigns, and infiltration of the agency. Wolfe was recruited to get a job at the IRS, and Meisner and another Scientology officer went to his office and showed him how to gain access to pertinent agency files. In Los Angeles, Scientologists placed a listening device in an IRS conference room to eavesdrop on a discussion of strategy regarding the church (Meisner said he saw a transcript of that meeting). In March, 1975, Meisner took over supervision of “all covert Scientology agents within government agencies.” He supervised break-ins at numerous offices at IRS headquarters, from which government files involving several agencies were stolen, copied, and then returned by Scientology agents. Meisner and Wolfe forged IRS credentials to gain entry to the courthouse office of a U.S. attorney where other files were kept. They stole a key to the office during a secretary’s lunch break and had it copied. At night they went to the courthouse ostensibly to study in the court’s library, but instead they entered the U.S. attorney’s office and copied many Scientology-related documents. It was during one of these expeditions that suspicious building employees called the FBI.

Fighting The Feds

Former Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver and his wife Kathleen filed a $4.2 million damage suit against the FBI, the CIA, and a number of other government and police officials. The suit claims the couple’s constitutional rights were violated as a result of illegal activities directed against them and the Black Panthers by the government. Cleaver became a Christian in 1975 during self-imposed exile in France (see July 8 issue, page 14). Now out of prison on bail awaiting trial, he is making the rounds on the evangelical speaking circuit. Last month he announced the establishment of his own evangelistic organization, Eldridge Cleaver Crusades.

Following the break-in incident, the affidavit says, Meisner was called to Scientology headquarters in Los Angeles to discuss the situation. A cover story was concocted for Wolfe, and it was decided that Meisner should change his appearance and keep out of sight. When Meisner threatened to return to Washington on his own, the affidavit claims, he was placed under “house arrest” by church officials. Meisner said he was gagged and handcuffed during this period. He finally escaped and surrendered to federal authorities, who are keeping him in protective custody. The authorities insist that no immunity has been offered him, and they say he will plead guilty to a felony carrying a five-year sentence.

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Federal agents arrived at the Scientology headquarters sites in Los Angeles and Washington early on July 8, using crowbars, sledgehammers, and saws and drills to break into locked offices, cabinets, and safes. They wore rubber gloves to avoid making additional fingerprints on the files, and stenographers itemized the materials removed. These included dossiers on the personal lives of judges, prosecutors, and others involved in Scientology litigation, according to press sources. There were files and comments about reporters with whom the Scientologists have dealt, the sources say. Some of the information on judges and prosecutors came from discarded garbage from their homes, the Washington Post reported.

Among the some 20,000 documents seized by the FBI, as described on its 550-page inventory, are the following: a folder marked “U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Agents Directory”; a folder captioned “U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Employment of Psychiatrists” containing a “raw data” report; a file entitled “Locksmith Course” with manuals and data concerning locks; a folder on “bugging” devices; sheets depicting Justice Department and IRS organization charts; “compliance reports” on judges; an eighty-three-page report dated January 6, 1977, on Bo Hi Pak, the former South Korean military intelligence officer who is now a top aide to founder Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church; material marked “This data very covert cannot be used.”

Two weeks after the raid, the Church of Scientology filed the $7.8 million damage suit against the FBI. The suit charges that agents unnecessarily damaged church property, invaded private sleeping quarters and bath facilities, trespassed in areas not covered by the search warrants, and “violated the confidentiality of priest-penitent confessional folders.” Some of the files, according to the suit, were privileged attorney-client documents containing the church’s legal strategy in upcoming suits against the government.

“This raid is clearly an attempt to silence the church,” said press spokesman Wilhere. He told reporters that some of the documents seized by the agents were obtained through Freedom of Information suits. No official spokesman of the church, however, issued a blanket denial that some documents in Scientology files might have been obtained illegally. Wilhere said the church’s lawyers would allow no comment on that topic. He did suggest that “provocateurs” or FBI agents themselves may have planted such documents, if they exist.

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If Judge Bryant’s ruling to quash the search warrant is upheld on appeal, the damage amount the church is asking in its suit against the FBI is expected to rise substantially.

This is not the first time the Church of Scientology has been accused of stealing confidential documents. In November, 1975, investigators hired by the American Medical Association alleged that the Scientologists had infiltrated AMA offices to remove documents and leak them to the press. The files detailed AMA political lobbying efforts and finances. Three secretaries were pinpointed as the persons who copied the documents, but the investigators confided that they lacked the legal evidence to prove the allegations. The church, which has had conflict with the AMA for years, denied having any link to the leaks and promptly filed a $1.6 million libel suit against the AMA for a 1968 article in the AMA’s magazine Today’s Health.

In another development last month, the Scientologists announced a $10 million suit for fraud and libel against the American Broadcasting Company and several of its employees. The charges involve a documentary on Scientology and the Unification Church aired by ABC television in September, 1976. The suit charges that ABC had “no intention of creating a fair, impartial, or even objective view of the religion of Scientology,” as had been promised. It also alleges that the show was aired even after ABC had knowledge that it contained false reports and innuendo.

Children, Go Home

Will members of the Children of God be coming home soon?

Maybe, A press release and a photocopy of a “Mo Letter” purportedly written by COG founder David “Moses” Berg has reporters guessing. The documents surfaced in press circles last month. The author confesses that he has erred in many ways, and he blames much of his sinfulness on an inflated ego. In the beginning, he says, the controversial youth group was right in its purpose and strategy of witness. But, he explains, his followers began regarding him as a special prophet, and he allowed his pride to carry himself and the group off course. He directs members to cease all COG operations and use of COG’s name within three months (apparently by the end of September). As part of his penitence, he implies, he will drop out of sight forever.

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COG members contacted by CHRISTIANITY TODAY said they had received no such communication as of late July, and they expressed doubt regarding the authenticity of the documents. The documents bore as a return address the post-office box number of COG’s public relations office in London. A cable seeking verification of the announcement was sent there but was undelivered; telegraph officials said the postal box was cancelled on June 25, and no forwarding address had been left. Berg, who organized COG in California in 1968, moved to Europe in the early 1970s and has managed to elude reporters, detectives, and irate parents ever since. He is thought to be living currently in northern Italy.

The style and language of the “Mo Letter”—described as Berg’s final one—is similar to that found in past letters.

If the announcement turns out to be authentic, it is doubtful that COG’s members will all rush home. A number of the colonies scattered around the world will probably continue to function as before but minus the COG name and under full control of local leadership. (For previous coverage of the Children of God, see the following issues: November 5, 1971, page 38; September 15, 1972, page 45; April 27, 1973, page 35; July 20, 1973, page 14; February 15, 1974, page 49; and February 18, 1977, page 18.)

Tolerance, But Away From Home

Americans are overwhelmingly opposed to having homosexual clergymen in their churches or homosexual teachers in their schools, but they believe homosexuals should have equal job rights. Those apparently contradictory positions are two of the findings in a nationwide Gallup poll released last month. The survey of 1,513 adults was conducted just after voters in Dade County, Florida, repealed an ordinance guaranteeing job rights to homosexuals (see July 8 issue, page 36). The defeat prompted “gay rights” activists to launch a national campaign to seek federal legislation barring discrimination in employment.

Those polled were split evenly, 43 per cent each way, on whether “homosexual relations between consenting adults” should be legalized. However, the percentage of those favoring equal job rights was reported at 56 by the pollsters.

Just over a majority, 53 per cent, told the surveyors that they thought a homosexual could be a good Christian or a good Jew. Negative answers to the same question were given by 33 per cent. Of those saying no, only 34 per cent said they thought homosexuals should have equal job rights.

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In reporting the results of the poll, the New York Times quoted its polling consultant, Michael Kagay, who said the data suggested “a familiar pattern of attitudes toward nonconforming groups.” Americans may tolerate the abstract idea of equal rights for homosexuals, he said, but do not want to sanction their behavior legally.

Of those surveyed by Gallup, 66 per cent said they believed that homosexuality is more prevalent today than it was twenty-five years ago. The Times report indicated that “a few” public officials in major American cities have announced that they are homosexuals, but it indicated that relatively few people identify themselves as such elsewhere.

One of the largest percentages—77—to give a negative answer in the poll was the bloc which told pollsters that homosexuals should not be allowed to adopt children. Only 14 per cent said such adoptions should be permitted. Gallup reported no significant difference in answers from men and women.

The Porno Jesus

A British film company has signed a secret deal with the Danish film producer Jens Jorgen Thorsen to publish the script of his proposed film The Sex Life of Jesus Christ (formerly The Many Faces of Jesus Christ).

David Grant, head of Oppidan, a London-based film company that has fought in court on a number of occasions for permission to distribute films with “explicit sexual content,” has obtained international rights on the script and plans to publish it in book form in both French and English. He reportedly was seeking an American distributor for the book.

“Something like 300 people have read the script of Thorsen’s The Sex Life of Jesus Christ in [Britain] and not one of them have found the script to be obscene or blasphemous, and the majority opinion is that it is beautiful and brilliant and surrealistic,” says Grant. “A lot of things have been said about it, but nobody has said that it is pornographic. There’s no sex as such in the book whatsoever.”

Mrs. Mary Whitehouse, an evangelical activist against moral corruption on radio, television, and films, expressed amazement that Grant should claim there was “no sex as such in the book” unless he was talking about a heavily edited version of the script. “The Thorsen film script which we had translated is both extremely blasphemous and extremely pornographic,” she insists. (Thorsen reportedly remains at his apartment in France, having failed to gain permission to produce the film in Britain, Israel, Sweden, Denmark, and other countries.)

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On a different front, the West Virginia state senate took action to head off pornographic representations of Christ. Portraying him in a “lewd, obscene, or immoral manner” was condemned in a resolution that received overwhelming approval. Democrat Robert Hatfield of Putnam conceded there might be a constitutional infraction but said he felt compelled to offer the resolution because “this country is slowly falling apart.”

Under the measure, Jesus may be shown only as “expressly presented by the Holy Bible or by the teachings of Christian theology.” This led fellow Democrat David Hanlon of Ritchie, an opponent of the measure, to ask: “Are we to say Muhammadans cannot teach children that Christ was a prophet and not the messiah?”

Democrat Si Galperin of Kanawha, who cited constitutional reasons for his opposition, fumed: “Maybe we ought to go further and require everyone to worship Jesus Christ.”


Fines For Sixty-Six Lines

Britain’s first blasphemous libel trial since 1921 ended last month in London when by a 10 to 2 vote a jury brought in guilty verdicts against a homosexual newspaper and its editor.

The indictment had stated that the fortnightly Gay News and its editor, Denis Lemon, 32, “unlawfully and wickedly published a blasphemous libel concerning the Christian religion, namely an obscene poem and illustration vilifying Christ in his life and Crucifixion.”

The sixty-six-line poem by English professor James Kirkup, 54, longtime resident of Japan, was entitled “The Love that Dares to Speak His Name.” It purported to describe the feelings of a homosexual Roman centurion toward Christ after His body had been taken from the Cross.

The defense pleaded that the poem was not intended to harm or hurt, “but to express love for Christ—though it was love not in the normal heterosexual sense but of a homosexual kind.” The piece had been misread, misunderstood, and misquoted by the prosecution, said defense attorney Geoffrey Robertson.

Not so, said prosecutor John Smyth. The poem had been understood all too well. To suggest that the central figure of Christianity had a homosexual relationship with Paul of Tarsus, the apostles, Herod’s guards, and Pontius Pilate was blasphemous. “You are being asked,” Smyth told the jury, which included five women, “to set the standard for the last quarter of this century and beyond. If you decide this is not blasphemy by your verdict, and find these defendants not gulty, that will set the standard and open the floodgates.”

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The paper was fined $1,700; the editor was fined $850 and given a suspended nine-month prison sentence. Costs of the seven-day trial were to be met by the defendants. Passing sentence, Judge Alan King-Hamilton called the poem “quite appalling in its content and one of the most scurrilous profanity.”

The prosecution had been initiated by Mrs. Mary Whitehouse, described as “the Birmingham housewife who has become the nation’s conscience about pornography,” but it was eventually taken over by the crown (see preceding story).

The defendants are appealing the verdict.


Bangladesh Update

As the neighboring countries of Thailand, India, and Pakistan experience political and social unrest, Bangladesh remains tranquil. The tight martial law administration of General Ziaur Rahman has brought about positive changes in economics, law enforcement, and the use of foreign aid. The man on the street is openly saying that Bangladesh is now in better shape than at any other time since the 1947 partition.

However, other forces are testing the resilience of the Bengali people. In April unseasonal tornadoes touched down in dozens of villages. More than a thousand people were killed, according to official estimates, and hundreds of thousands were left homeless. Standing crops were wiped out. The planting cycle was severely disrupted. A number of Christian missions and relief organizations rushed supplies and medical teams into the affected areas.

In late March, German missionary Hans Werner was attacked and killed by seven hooded thieves in the remote village of Shantikutir. He is the third foreign missionary to be killed while resisting thieves since 1970.

Church-growth theory was applied to the Bangladesh scene by New Zealand Baptist missionary Peter McNee in his book Crucial Issues in Bangladesh, and this has prompted missions throughout Bangladesh to reevaluate their ministries. His well-documented volume won the Donald McGavran award for the most significant book on church growth produced in 1976.

The tribal belt along the India-Bangladesh border continues to be responsive to the Gospel. Sylhet Khasis, Mynensingh Garos, and Dinajpur Santalis are among the most receptive tribes. Norwegian and Danish Lutherans are active in evangelism among them.

New approaches have been tried among low-caste Hindus by the Southern Baptists and International Christian Fellowship. There are signs of positive response from the Namashudras and Muchis.

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In Dacca, 100 missionaries met recently to consider new approaches to Muslim evangelism. Stress was laid on minimizing social dislocation; it was strongly felt that the convert should remain in his own habitat. Several Bengali nationals and missionaries reported the formation of small worship groups composed entirely of Muslim converts.

Christian relief and development organizations continue to function in Bangladesh. In HEED (Health, Education and Economic Assistance), one of the largest, 60 foreign workers are teamed up with more than 150 nationals to operate a diverse development program in several areas of the country. Funding (a budget of $1 million last year) and staffing come from eleven evangelical organizations. The North American representatives are World Concern, Medical Assistance Programs (MAP International), and Bible and Medical Missionary Fellowship. Dr. Howard Searle, former director of Emmanuel Hospital Association of India, is the executive secretary.

Twenty-five mission boards are represented in Bangladesh. Of 360 missionaries assigned to the country, 300 are currently on the field. They include 132 Americans, 84 British, and 56 Norwegians.


Advance In North Africa

Evangelical work in North Africa is costly. Missionaries cannot operate openly in the predominantly Muslim countries, and mission agencies must therefore restrain publicity about their work back home (a headache to recruiting and development officers). There are comparatively few converts, and those who do follow Christ are often subjected to intense opposition. Under the pressure, some converts turn away. Missionaries are known to withhold baptism for several years—to make sure a convert “lasts.” Still, the Christian community in North Africa is growing.

North Africa Mission (NAM) is quietly developing evangelical leadership in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia through a Theological Education by Extension (TEE) program. A number of TEE students were introduced to the Bible earlier through a correspondence course offered by the mission’s Radio School of the Bible.

Not long ago five young-adult believers were baptized on the coast of Algeria. All have been Christians for five years or longer, all have been enrolled in NAM’s study programs, and all have leadership potential, says a mission worker. One is a second-generation Christian, who chose the faith of her mother over the ancestral religion of her father. One says he wants to become the Billy Graham of his country.

That he is so alone (there are only about 200 Christians in a population of 17 million) does not seem to dampen his spirit.

For the Record

Word Books says its first-print run of 800,000 copies of evangelist Billy Graham’s new book, Born Again, is the largest printing of a hardcover book on record. Word, which is owned by the ABC broadcasting conglomerate, got exclusive rights to Graham’s works (he was formerly with Doubleday) as part of a package arrangement worked out between Graham and ABC last year.

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