Contributors and others interested in the work of Missionary Aviation Fellowship received an unusual letter last month from MAF president Charles Bennett.

“I am writing to tell you that something which belongs to you has been stolen,” wrote Bennett. “Your name and address.”

He went on to explain that the computerized mailing lists of MAF and five other California-based Christian organizations had been copied without permission and sold to at least two other Christian organizations—a felony violation of both state and federal laws. Mentioning neither the names of the five groups whose names had been ripped off nor the two accused organizations, Bennett said negotiations between the parties had gotten nowhere. Both recipient organizations, he said, had declined to refrain from further use of the names. But, said he, in fairness to the two organizations, “they probably did not know they had purchased stolen lists when they began to use them.”

Bennett apologized for “this invasion of your privacy” and said that MAF is now exercising exclusive control of the mailing lists in its own offices and with its own computer and with “elaborate safeguards.”

The MAF president said his mission had “seriously considered” giving the evidence to the authorities for prosecution. However, said he, “in deference to the wishes (almost pleas) of some of the other organizations whose lists had also been stolen and who would therefore be drawn into the legal proceedings, we have elected not to volunteer our evidence to authorities at this time.” He asked for prayers that the organizations involved “may act in a responsible, Christian manner in this unfortunate matter.”

CHRISTIANITY TODAY learned of the theft late last year and launched an inquiry. Executives of several of the organizations angrily demanded that no stories be written. One of them explained that some contributors might not understand why their names are on “impersonal” computerized lists handled by contract agencies, and that others might feel the breach of security could indicate sloppiness or carelessness in administration. Also, the case was in the hands of lawyers, and there was talk of filing a suit against the group accused of using the lists illicitly. “Many in our constituency would not approve of our taking other Christians into court,” said one executive in his plea for press silence.

No suit has been filed, and none is expected, even though attorneys are still working on the case. The six offended organizations seem resigned to writing it all off as a bitter lesson from the school of hard knocks in a technological age that abounds with wheelers and dealers and where the dollar is king.

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In addition to MAF, the groups whose lists were allegedly purloined are: Far East Broadcasting Company, Haven of Rest (producers of a radio program), Orinoco River Mission, Trans World Missions (formerly Air Mail From God broadcast), and World Literature Crusade.

At one time their lists were all being serviced by a firm known as Database. This company was taken over by Equidata, headed by two Christian businessmen, Ted Koury and John Williams. Equidata leased time on a computer owned by MacDonald Computer Service, a subsidiary of a Los Angeles tire distributor. In early 1975 Equidata fell into financial difficulty and sold its business to MacDonald.

Over the years, hundreds of individuals had access to the tapes on which the lists of the Christian organizations were stored, according to sources. One of those individuals was James Davis, a programmer who headed MacDonald’s computer operations until he was fired in March, 1976, in a dispute involving how well MacDonald’s records were being maintained. Davis proceeded to establish his own computer firm, Maja Data Services.

On the day after Davis was fired, he entered the premises at MacDonald’s at one o’clock in the morning and stayed for six hours, according to company officials and the records of an alarm company. Shortly afterward, according to a MacDonald executive, certain records and tapes—including those containing the mailing lists of the Christian organizations—were discovered missing. The tapes, for which there were back-up copies, contained several hundred thousand names, according to company estimates. (A lawyer later said “millions” of names may have been involved.)

A MacDonald source says the company suspected Davis and notified police. The police said it would be difficult to prove anything and apparently did not pursue the complaint.

In an interview, Davis said he had a right to be in the MacDonald offices on the night in question because he was an executive of the company. He denied copying or taking any files, tapes, or other records containing mailing lists. “I removed only property that belonged to me,” he said. The property apparently included programs that Davis had devised. (He says computer programs are far more valuable than mailing lists, which bring from $25 to $50 per thousand names for a single renting.) Moreover, said Davis, neither MacDonald nor the police have approached him about the stolen lists.

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After Davis set up his new company his biggest customer was the Voice of China and Asia (VOCA) organization, headed by evangelist-broadcaster Bob Hammond. Davis insists he did not provide any names for VOCA’s use. Nevertheless, many people whose names were on the stolen lists began receiving VOCA mailings. Since most organizations “salt” their lists with test names and addresses as a security measure, MAF and the other five groups soon became aware of what had happened. They hired legal counsel and confronted Hammond, but he denied that he had done anything wrong, and he rejected claims that his lists included stolen names. Neither VOCA’s attorney nor a VOCA spokesperson would comment on the case other than to deny wrongdoing. (In a separate action, MacDonald says it may have to write off a large bill VOCA refuses to pay.)

More recently, the people on the stolen lists have begun receiving materials from Tulsa evangelist T. L. Osborn. He, like Hammond, denies that he has done anything illegal. As in the VOCA case, Davis says he has not provided Osborn with any names directly or indirectly. “Any of the hundreds of persons who had access to the lists could have stolen them,” he asserts.

Hammond and Osborn are probably in a better position than anyone else to track down the thief. There are companies, brokers, and individuals who peddle lists, often to middle-man agencies servicing the accounts of organizations like VOCA and other fund-raising groups. Despite these layers of insulation, however, the bills for list acquisitions land on desks of responsible people in the fund-raising organizations, and checks are ostensibly sent to the ones providing the service. Eventually, at least part of the money filters down to the firms or persons who are at the beginning of the chain, the ones having physical possession of the lists. Thus if Hammond and the authorities were willing to pursue the matter, the thief might be uncovered.

Lists are compiled in a number of ways. They include contributors, persons responding to “free” offers, and subscribers to publications (these persons are usually classified as “actives” and “inactives”; the former are worth more money in the list-rental business). Sophisticated computer programs keep track of donors. The computers do everything from writing a thank-you letter and enclosing a receipt to integrating the contributions with the company’s bookkeeping system and writing “personalized” follow-up fund appeals (complete with color-underlined words and machine-written signatures of the organization’s leader in real ink).

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Most organizations for obvious reasons do not farm out their active-donor lists, and some as a matter of ethical principle do not rent or sell any of their names. MAF is one of them. In his letter to MAF’s contributors, Bennett wrote: “We respect your privacy, and we have always maintained a firm policy against renting or selling our mailing list for any purpose. (I am sure you know that many private organizations and government agencies do sell their mailing lists. That is the main reason why you and I receive so much unsolicited junk mail!)”

In light of rising costs and the fact that a person’s name may be worth its weight in gold, the buying and selling—and stealing—of lists will remain a reality.

Reformed Alliance: Sliding With Man?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights has had little effect, according to Dr. Jürgen Moltmann of Tübingen. Speaking at a press conference last month during the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) consultation in St. Andrews, Scotland, the German theologian cited the increasing use of torture. “It is as if we are sliding towards medieval times.… It is going on all over the world, and the means are more and more sophisticated to bring pain to people.”

The question of human rights had occupied one of the five workshops into which the 250 participants had divided during the week-long sessions. Since it had been decreed that no discussion would be allowed on the reports when they were presented (“the consultation recommends; the executive committee decides”), any expression of disagreement was all but avoided in plenary sessions.

Not quite, however. The presenter of the report on human rights suddenly departed from the no-participation-from-the-floor policy by inviting prayer requests. Of the five responses, three concerned South Korea which with South Africa had been singled out critically by name (a milder section asked the committee “to bring to the attention of the Belgrade conference [on compliance with the Helinski accords] the importance of human rights”).

Subsequently a South Korean participant tried to challenge the wording of the reference to his country, but was ruled out of order. When CHRISTIANITY TODAY spoke to him later he said that his objection was not what it seemed, but rather that what had been decided in his workshop did not in fact include a direct criticism of the South Korean government. A WARC official afterwards admitted privately that the incident had been “unfortunate.” Individual executive committee members, however, expressed no noticeable embarrassment that only two right-wing regimes had been identified in connection with the violation of human rights. (The executive committee, meeting behind closed doors, transacted all WARC business.)

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The St. Andrews consultation, which marked the centenary of the alliance’s first council meeting (also held in Scotland), had the theme, “The glory of God and the future of man.” A full-scale council had originally been intended, but was scrapped for reasons of economy and the clear Christian witness given by “developing new and simplified lifestyles.”

Such a life-style, said the report of one theological group, precluded “mere renunciation or flight from the developed technological and productive world.” God’s glory should elicit rather acknowledgment that “with our great human differences, we are all fundamentally in utter poverty and need, so that we may live together and share with one another as the poor for whom God abundantly provides.”

In a panel discussion a Hungarian member declared that there was no underground church in Eastern Europe, but only dissatisfied individuals who had found themselves at odds with church leaders or with the state.

At this session also each of the five distinguished panelists, who included American (United) Presbyterian William P. Thompson and the Basle-based Czech theologian Jan Lochman, was asked what he/she considered to be the main features of the Reformed faith. The answers were varied, but not one of the quintet mentioned the authority of Scripture. Was there any significance in this?, CHRISTIANITY TODAY’S reporter asked James McCord at a press conference. “We are people of the Book,” he affirmed. “The Bible is the cradle in which we found Christ. Jesus Christ takes us by the hand from Genesis 1 to Revelation.” Certainly, continued the president of Princeton Theological Seminary, the Bible was very significant to those of the Reformed faith. Was it not then odd that none of his colleagues had mentioned it? McCord did not commit himself here, but left the impression that some things were taken for granted (“the Immaculate Assumption,” murmured one of the press corps).


A typesetting mix-up in the news story, “Bob and Madalyn’s ‘Fight to the Finish’ ” (August 26 issue), resulted in a garbled sentence. It should have read: “Harrington denies the drinking and illicit-liaison charges.”

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Columnist Les Whitten was incorrectly referred to as Jack Whitten in the news report on the Assemblies of God convention in the September 9 issue.

The WARC, which elected McCord as its new president at St. Andrews, has nearly 150 member churches with a total constituency of about sixty million. It includes some churches which are not members of the World Council of Churches. The usual reason given for this is that the WCC is not evangelical enough and is too politically oriented. Ironically this would be a fair statement of why the Free Church of Scotland, a founding member, withdrew from the alliance.

More ambivalent is the predicament of the continuing Presbyterian Church in Australia, the minority which did not join with the majority in a union with Methodists and Congregationalists. WARC general secretary Edmond Perret confirmed that non-unionist Presbyterians would be offered the services of the alliance, but that the first approach about possible membership would have to come from them. The latter reportedly hold that they had done nothing to sever ties with the WARC.

The closing consultation service was held in Edinburgh’s historic Greyfriars Kirk.


Devilish Destruction

Police blame religious fanatics for vandalism wrought on eight churches of as many denominations in and near Portland, Oregon.

The vandals seem to know at least some of the Old Testament, for some of the slogans written on walls call the congregations servants of Baal.

Nobody thought it was the beginning of a series when vandals wrecked almost all the office equipment at Tigard Methodist Church near Portland last Christmas day. They also smashed filing cabinets and slashed some paintings which members say can never be replaced.

Nor did anybody think it was part of a series when vandals broke in through a basement door and wrecked icons, crosses, and communion service pieces at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Portland near the end of July. The vandals also wrote “Baalim worshippers” on the walls and scrawled “Turn from your idols” on an altar table. Candelabra, crosses, and chalices were bent out of shape. Canvas icons were slashed and vigil lamps were set on the floor. They did not tip and the oil thus did not set fire to the building.

Then police in Washington County, west of Portland, said the Mormon church at Beaverton had been ransacked May 31, St. James Episcopal Church near Tigard May 24, and the Community Church of Cedar Hills August 1. On July 31 Bethany United Church on the northwestern edge of Portland was vandalized and about $40 taken from a children’s offering box.

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For a time, Washington County authorities had thought the vandals were devil-worshippers or believers in the occult. But after the vandals attacked Hazeldale Bible Church west of Aloha they were convinced that it was the work of other religious fanatics. “The writing on the walls is anti-organization religious, not devil-worshipping,” said Detective Lou Schultze of the Washington County sheriff’s office. Vandals who sacked the Hazeldale church used a felt-tipped pen to scrawl on the wall, “Hurry, for the day of the Lord’s anger is at hand.”

The Washington County sheriff’s office asked authorities in Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Washington, and Oregon for information on church burglaries where references were made to Baal—and on cult activity involving the slaughter of cattle. The pattern was the same at Hazeldale and the Community Church of Cedar Hills. At the former pulpits were upset, public address equipment was stolen, and slogans were written on the walls. At the latter, banners were torn and a brass cross was used to smash the keys of the organ. Again, messages were scrawled with a marking pen, this time on the walls of the minister’s study.

Early on August 27 the Aloha Baptist Church was gutted by fire. The loss was estimated at $750,000. Leo Schlegel, pastor of the church, said, “The loss in irreplaceable antiques and memories is untold.” The building was built in 1959.

“It has to be a demoniac influence,” said Schlegel. “There is no other explanation for something like this.”

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