"Clergy Response Teams" vs. "Christ In Action"
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Aug 23, 2007 at 01:12:11 AM EST
"The pastoral community represents a large and often untapped resource in times of crisis. It possesses a unique aggregation of characteristics that makes it uniquely valuable amidst the turmoil of a psychological crisis.... the pastoral community may possess especially powerful restorative attributes.... This paper represents an initial effort to elucidate how the principles of pastoral care may be functionally integrated with those of crisis intervention." reads a Spring 2000 NIMH paper on "Pastoral Crisis Intervention". Since September 11, 2001 lines between private "pastoral crisis intervention" efforts and official government disaster relief operations have become increasingly blurred as , and a sensationalized Louisiana television station report asserting that "clergy response teams" played a role in pacifying the population of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina has raised questions about the evolving realm of religiously based disaster relief. It is not clear that "Christ In Action" (described later in this report) or other privately organized "pastoral crisis intervention" efforts are receiving federal, state, or local government funds, but some of these efforts are at the very least receiving government encouragement and what could be reasonably construed as government endorsement.

At this early stage there are far more questions, on the evolving realm of "pastoral crisis intervention", than answers but the character of some of the efforts under that rubric is clear. As "Christ In Action" volunteer Gail Ritter who was working with the group's Pentagon relief effort which was provisioned not just with food but also a pallet of Bibles, stated, "Hearts were ripe. People are so broken."

As KSLA news anchor Shannon Royster asked, "could martial law ever become a reality in America ? Some fear any nuclear, biological, or chemical attack on the US could trigger just that. And as KSLA News 12 Jeff Ferrell discovered, the clergy would help the government with potentially their their biggest problem: us."

Some thought it could be a hoax. Reporter Ferrell, for the Louisiana based TV station KSLA, described a program in which, in the event of another national disaster on a scale similar to that created by Hurricane Katrina, Christian "clergy response teams", embedded in or working closely with National Guard or Federal military units and citing Biblical passages to the effect that the authority of government derives from God, would be deputized to work with troops to pacify the local population of the disaster area. As Jeff Ferrell narrated in his KSLA report, "If martial law were enacted here at home, like depicted in the movie 'The Siege', easing public fears and quelling dissent would be critical. And that's exactly what the 'Clergy Response Team', as it's called, helped accomplish in New Orleans..... such "Clergy Response Teams would walk a tightrope between the needs of the government vs. the wishes of the public.... for the clergy, one of the biggest tools that they will have in helping calm the public down or obey the law, is the Bible itself, specifically Romans :  Romans 13." Ferrell's story then cut to Dr. Durrell Tuberville, who stated that the "Clergy Response Teams" would cite Romans "Because the government's established by the Lord, you know, and that's what we believe in the Christian faith, that's what's stated in the scriptures." The KSLA TV report concluded with the statement that "according to [Dr.] Tuperville, the 'Clergy Response Teams' provided 38 chaplains, around the clock, at 8 different camps".

Was it a hoax ? The veracity of the report is so far unknown, and I have not found evidence of working plans for the coordination, during domestic US disasters, of government troops with teams of clergy but the reality behind the hype points towards continued erosion of state-state boundaries.

The White House website notes the emergence of a private, non-governmental effort clergy disaster relief effort, "Christ In Action", headed by Assemblies Of God minister Denny Nissley. According to a WH website page concerning lessons learned from the Katrina disaster:

"Dr. Denny Nissley, the Director of Christ in Action is organizing a Coalition of Faith-Based First Responders from around the Nation to be prepared for the next major disaster. This Coalition will perform disaster relief training for volunteers and will maintain a current roster of thousands of volunteers who can be quickly called upon to provide support during the next major disaster."

At least one individual who spoke in the KSLA news report, Dr. Durrell Tuberville, is involved with the "Christ In Action" effort", but "Christ In Action" is not officially endorsed by the US government. Still, Christ In Action's working relationship with top level government officials has at times seemed surprisingly close, even to the point of a "joint operation", publicly announced by Brigadier General working at the Pentagon, during the relief efforts that following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

"Christ In Action", says it specializes in "Creative Evangelism Strategies" and its website describes Buddhism a "false religion". The group has a considerable track record as a "first responder" organization quick to bring its mobile kitchen to the scene of tornadoes, hurricanes, and other disasters, and Denny Nissley's organization was on site providing meals shortly after the Set. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon; a November 18, 2001 Assemblies Of God publication reports that Nissley's effort to feed Pentagon officials quickly morphed into a "joint operation", announced by Brigadier General Bob Smolan, who "designated the [Christ In Action kitchen] tent as the hub for the feeding operation" at the disaster site. A volunteer account on the "Christ In Action" website states that the group ran a water distribution station for FEMA during the Katrina relief effort. That site also website described disaster relief efforts at "Ground Zero" in New York City as a "ministry opportunity" and possible public perceptions that the group might carry some level of government endorsement raises the specter of [apparently] government-sanctioned religious predation.

Denny Nissley, a fundamentalist Assemblies Of God minister, is nearly as far out on the hard Christian right as he could be. Nissley, who is purportedly well connected to potentates on the religious right, is a member of the Christian home schooling, antiabortion, and Ten Commandment movements who states unequivocally that his top priority, bar none, is evangelizing [see audio clip, below]. [Here's the extended sermon, by Denny Nissley, which that audio clip derives from.

Christ In Action states was involved in post-Katrina relief efforts from 9/26/2005 to 12/21/2005. A Trinity Broadcast Network transcript also seems to confirm the organization's involvement: "We felt strongly that we needed to get Ken and a 'quick response' team on the ground in New Orleans as soon as possible," said Paul Crouch Jr., Vice President of Administration for TBN, who with a gift from TBN for $25,000 officially commissioned Henderson and his team during TBN's September 6th "Behind the Scenes" program. "We saw them as a kind of mercy 'Strike Force,' ministering God's love and compassion with an urgency the situation called for".... That "Strike Force" included veteran outreach ministers like Doug Stringer of Somebody Care in Houston, Bishop Bart Pierce of Rock City Church in Baltimore, Maryland, and Jerry Davis of Street Reach Ministries, as well as representatives from groups like Operation Blessing, Oasis of Hollywood, and Christ in Action.

The CIA website even notes that George W. Bush visited the organization's "Hope" camp, and a Bush visit to at least one CIA effort location is confirmed by a September 12, 2005 USA Today report :  "Bush stopped at a distribution center run by Christ in Action. "Good to see you" and "Good luck," Bush murmured to people he greeted along long tables where food and supplies such as water, diapers and toilet paper were being distributed. He also cheered on a group of Mexican marines and Navy Seabees just back from Iraq who were clearing debris at the 28th St. Elementary School."

George W. Bush's special attention to "Christ In Action", evidenced on the current White House website, is further fleshed out in a FOX News report from Sept. 13, 2005 which notes a 2nd location of a "Christ In Action" effort during the Katrina period:

The tour is Bush's third in the two weeks since the Category 4 hurricane hit, but the first extensive tour of New Orleans on the ground. Among the areas he toured by military convoy, Bush visited New Orleans' historic French Quarter....

After the closed-door meeting, the president then headed to Gulfport, Miss., where he toured a relief center run by Christ in Action. The president, accompanied by Gov. Haley Barbour, shook hands and met with workers and displaced persons.

While the visit to the region is Bush's third so far since the disaster, his job-approval rating has suffered over the past two weeks. Public opinion of other agencies has taken a dive, too, according to recent polls.

There is nothing unconstitutional or untoward in private religious group efforts aimed at disaster relief, and such efforts have every right to proselytize. But the danger of such efforts, as the Pentagon "joint operation" incident describes, seems clear - the entanglement of the federal government in efforts concerned as much or more with proselytizing as with disaster relief.


Sorry Bruce, but this reads like a conspiracy theory that I have tracked for 30 years. The names change, but it has circulated from both the political right and political left. The Christic Institute pushed this theory as part of its lawsuit that failed due to the inclusion of conspiracy theories about the Rex 84 martial law contingency plan. A sensible discussion of this plan was written by Diana Reynolds.

I think it is not ready for prime time.

_ _ _

Chip Berlet: Research for Progress - Building Human Rights
by Chip Berlet on Thu Aug 23, 2007 at 09:17:24 AM EST
I can't speak on the rest of it (though it does fit with a general pattern of infiltration of the military by the Assemblies in particular that has been documented in multiple sources), but the Katrina stuff in general DOES point to something a number of us who are both civil-defense heads and anti-dominionist activists have suspected.

Namely, dominionist groups got highly preferential treatment in both being allowed access to Katrina survivors (in some cases, before legitimate governmental and secular/nonpartisan religious relief agencies).  A documented example of this was with the promotion of Operation Blessing and many other dominionist charity groups (including, notably, an Assemblies charity frontgroup known as Convoy of Hope and a group known as Dream Center of Los Angeles which is a regional Assemblies-run "faith-based detox"--and one linked to profiteering from survivors and potential mistreatment including forced prosyletisation) on FEMA's own website above most secular and nondiscriminatory religious groups (literally the only inclusive group listed above the dominionist charities was the American Red Cross).  In fact, this continued until the major media got hold of it.

Operation Blessing, of note, is Pat Robertson's pet charity--it not only was among the various dominionist charity-fronts hawked (along with Dream Center, Christians in Action, and others) on TBN (which, of note, is owned by Assemblies televangelists and has always had a very heavy bias towards that denomination in its programming) but is more notoriously known for potential fraud and even the use of Operation Blessing planes in the conflict diamond trade (specifically claiming they were ferrying out Zairian refugees but instead shipping in equipment to mine blood diamonds).

If one looks deep, Bush has a long history of favoritism towards dominionist charity-fronts (especially things like "faith-based rehabs" and "Bible-based boot camps" and such) and especially favoritism towards Assemblies of God members in his own administration (quite possibly the result of Doug Wead, who was in large part the guy who initiated Bush into dominionism in the first place); one particularly infamous example involves Bush's almost blanket protection of the dominionist "Bible-based kid gulag" industry in Texas, including removal of almost all regulation when Assemblies-run "Bible boot camp" Teen Challenge was cited for potential violations of law regarding youth facilities:

Yet despite these cautionary examples--and despite the testimony of numerous experts who say that what is needed to prevent them from recurring is more federal oversight, not less--Bush's enthusiasm for these programs has not waned. In 1997, after Texas regulators had tried to shut down a Christian rehabilitation program called Teen Challenge because its staff failed to meet educational requirements, then-Governor Bush responded by scuttling all the state's training and safety regulations for such facilities. And in a speech two years later, Bush praised the fact that at Teen Challenge, "if you don't work, you don't eat." Now that he's ensconced in the White House, Bush intends to deregulate Teen Challenge-type programs nationwide.

(Of note, Bush also maintains close relationships with Mel Sembler, the head of Straight, Inc.; the latter has been described as "the most abusive program in US history" according to watchdog groups like International Survivors Action Committee.  Many former members of Straight, Inc. work in the dominionist "parallel economy" alternatives to mental health and social services--including, notoriously, the "Love In Action/Refuge" facility where Zach Stark was taken in 2005 to be involuntarily "de-gayed" and where no less than two others have had to go through legal emancipation proceedings to escape (the case of DJ Butler is particularly telling; he had to escape the facility not once but twice as his emancipation proceeding was interrupted by his parents who forced him back in handcuffs; he had to escape to complete the proceeding, which was successful).

(And yes, I know I'd not been on here for a while.  I'm going to start cross-posting a series on dominionism's "parallel economy" here that I've been running on Daily Kos for a bit :D)

by dogemperor on Thu Aug 23, 2007 at 02:20:02 PM EST

Initially, I wrote a very different version of this story and after a night's sleep I decided that my original version didn't hold up - the facts didn't support a connection between the White House, "clergy response teams" , and "Christ In Action".

So, Chip's comment actually refers to my (rather different) original post. Rather than it's 2nd incarnation which is far less sensational but much more accurate.

by Bruce Wilson on Thu Aug 23, 2007 at 03:17:46 PM EST

Sorry, hate to be a pest, but the original version freaked me out a bit.  This version is much better, but I still worry about finding a balance between legitimate concerns over civil liberties violations (and there are many) and conspiracist claims about martial law, tryanny, and skullduggery that originate from Alex Jones, Webster G. Tarpley, Jim Marrs, Michael C. Ruppert, David Ray Griffin, and others.
_ _ _

Chip Berlet: Research for Progress - Building Human Rights
by Chip Berlet on Thu Aug 23, 2007 at 03:46:43 PM EST
I think that there were, and are issues of sourcing and evidence here. And there is an addtional matter of topicality.

Replaying a sensationalized local TV news story that raises the specter of martial law and clergy complicity in pacification of dissent -- is not the best way to get at issues of church state separation issues in federal disaster relief; or even the interesting story of a politically connected dominionist minister favored by the White House. As we know, there are lots of politically connected dominionists allied with various administration projects, some of which have even received federal funds.  But finding the actual significance of the Nissley story is clouded by conflating it to any degreee with the sketchy and alarmingly reported story of the clergy support program -- even in the revised version of this post.  

In the original version of this post, there was a claim of a connection, which I am glad to see has been renounced.  

It is worth noting that it turns out that the notorious conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and his related web site, prisonplanet.com, has been flogging the clergy support program story since last year, and it has promoted the TV news story as "proof" of its extravagant claims. (I don't know, but I would hazzard a guess that prisonplanet was a source for the story and the framing of its overwrought conclusions.) More, and more reliable reporting needs to be done to sort it out.

But now that we view the two pieces separately, there is a question of the clergy support program even being on topic for this site.

We recognize that there are legitmate gray areas about topicality, but we also all agree that the basic topic is the religious right and what to do about it. The story of a politically connected dominionist minister and his relationship to White House-endorsed volunteer disaster relief coordination is clearly on topic.  A more generalized clergy support program for domestic pacification in time of national emergency as reported, and as concerning as it might be, is clearly not.  And just because even as framed it raises secondary issues of church state separation, it does not necessarily make the matter about the religious right.  Relevance to the religious right political and social movement needs to be shown, and cannot be presumed.

That said, one of the things about the blogosphere is that we write, and post and take our chances. Everyone makes mistakes and and are walking a fairly high wire sometimes. And we are all likely to take a tumble from time to time. Fortunately we have a net: we can delete, correct and learn from  our errors and move on. When we started this site, we said that we are here to learn, and by the very nature of what we are doing and how we are doing it -- we are learning in the open.

I think that the take away lessons for all of us in this is that before posting anything:

-- We need to be sure that the facts support our main assertions

-- We need to use great care in the sources we rely on, and view all sources skeptically (even great journalists and scholars get stuff wrong. For example I caught Bill Moyers in what I considered a fairly significant error a few years ago)

-- And finally, we need to view our posts rigorously through the lens of the site topic. This site needs to stay focused -- or we lose sight of our purpose.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Aug 23, 2007 at 05:14:41 PM EST

I'd not seen draft 1.0, so I'll trust your word on this.

As an aside, there has been secondary confirmation of the whole "Clergy recruited into disaster team" stuff:

(from OpEdNews)

A  KSLA-TV news report from Louisiana has confirmed the story that Clergy
Response Teams are being trained by the federal government to "quell dissent" and pacify citizens to obey the government in the event of a declaration of martial law.

The report confirms the existence of a nationwide Homeland Security program which is training pastors and other religious representatives to teach their congregations to "obey the government" in preparation for a declaration of martial law.

A whistleblower who attended one of the training sessions reports that the feds were recruiting religious leaders to help implement government Homeland Security directives in anticipation of a terrorist attack or a nationally declared emergency.

The first directive was for pastors to preach to their congregations Romans 13, the often taken out of context bible passage that was used by Hitler to hoodwink Christians into supporting him, in order to teach them to "obey the government" when martial law is declared.

It was stressed that the pastors needed to preach subservience to the authorities ahead of time in preparation for the round-ups and to make it clear to the congregation that "this is for their own good."

Pastors were told that they would be backed up by law enforcement in controlling uncooperative individuals and that they would even lead SWAT teams in attempting to quell resistance.

Though some doubted the accuracy of earlier reports about government training the clergy, the story has now been confirmed by a
KSLA 12 news report, in which participating clergy and officials admit to the existence of the program.

(from KSLA-TV, Shreveport, LA)
[...]gun confiscation is exactly what happened during the state of emergency following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, along with forced relocation.  U.S. Troops also arrived, something far easier to do now, thanks to last year's elimination of the 1878 Posse Comitatus act, which had forbid regular U.S. Army troops from policing on American soil.
     If martial law were enacted here at home, like depicted in the movie "The Siege", easing public fears and quelling dissent would be critical.  And that's exactly what the 'Clergy Response Team' helped accomplish in the wake of Katrina.
     Dr. Durell Tuberville serves as chaplain for the Shreveport Fire Department and the Caddo Sheriff's Office.  Tuberville said of the clergy team's mission, "the primary thing that we say to anybody is, 'let's cooperate and get this thing over with and then we'll settle the differences once the crisis is over.'"
     Such clergy response teams would walk a tight-rope during martial law between the demands of the government on the one side, versus the wishes of the public on the other.  "In a lot of cases, these clergy would already be known in the neighborhoods in which they're helping to diffuse that situation," assured Sandy Davis.  He serves as the director of the Caddo-Bossier Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
     For the clergy team, one of the biggest tools that they will have in helping calm the public down or to obey the law is the bible itself, specifically Romans 13.  Dr. Tuberville elaborated, "because the government's established by the Lord, you know.  And, that's what we believe in the Christian faith.  That's what's stated in the scripture."

by dogemperor on Mon Aug 27, 2007 at 04:52:09 PM EST
Darnit, I forgot that the KSLA article was actually quoted...eh, never mind :P

by dogemperor on Mon Aug 27, 2007 at 04:53:14 PM EST

maybe there is a different perspective that is closer to reality: thousands of people of faith simply decided to help their fellow man during a time a significant disaster. can't people simply show up and help, whether it's feeding, counseling or cleaning up the muck and not be labeled a "conspiracy"? i seem to recollect that millions of dollars were given without any strings attached by Christians simply wanting to help. i think dogemporer and his ilk are looking for a devil behind every rock! not everyone has bad motives.

by ErwinDale on Sat Aug 25, 2007 at 04:54:36 PM EST
Sorry, bub, I have a very serious problem with groups that claim to be Christian and which lie to their members and use the proceeds to support Mammon (which is quite frankly what Operation Blessing did, in the most despicable way possible).

I have no problem with faith-based charities as long as:

a) They are inclusive--they are not going to turn away someone from their doors just because they don't want to listen to a sermon before getting a bite to eat or a roof over their heads

b) They are there primarily to help folks out, not prosyletise to them (at a particularly vulnerable time).

For the record, I also have the exact same problem with the Scientologists in NOLA that I do with Operation Blessing or the half-a-dozen Assemblies frontgroups.  Same exact problem.

I don't seem to have that problem with a number of Christian groups I do have listed as the good guys on the Big List--very unavowedly Christian groups like the Presbyterian Disaster Response or the United Methodist Committee on Relief or the Lutheran Disaster Fund or the Mennonite Disaster Services or the Catholic Charities USA or Friends Disaster Service.  Hell, I don't even have a problem with the good Christian folks at Habitat for Humanity, or all the other Christian charities I listed as "good guys" (as an aside: almost all the "Good Guys" listed are Christian charities, with a handful of Buddhist, Jewish, and secular groups thrown in).

Feed the Children, one of the "Good Guys" and unavowedly Christian, has noted that the "Bad Guys" and groups like them--the sort that prosyletise to the poor folks who've just had their homes hoovered and washed away by hurricanes and tornadoes, won't let them get disaster relief till they are forced to listen to sermons, offer "emergency housing" in faith-based "detox centers" that (as Ted Haggard has kindly revealed unintentionally) probably wouldn't accept LGBT people save to "degay" them, and so on--those kinds of "Bad Guys" make it much, much harder for the "Good Guys" to even get into a country to render aid to all who need it.  (It's not uncommon for countries to shut their doors entirely to religious aid groups when a dominionist missions group gets too carried away with the "convert or you don't eat" stuff.)

My issue is with:

a) faith-based coercion in general (sorry, as a survivor of a coercive religious group, you are not going to swing my opinion on this :3)

b) targeting of sick, starving, scared, homeless people for essentially forced prosyletisation under the guise of aid

c) an extremely dominionist-friendly president giving outright favouritism to dominionist groups even moreso than inclusive Christian groups who provide their aid to all without a carrot of "aid" to the stick of "preaching", much less secular groups.

Seeing as you have apparently targeted me twice (both in basically stumping for faith-based initiatives and both times literally calling me out by nym to demonise me), now you've got me curious--what faith-based charity are you associated with?  Curious minds want to know :3

by dogemperor on Sat Aug 25, 2007 at 10:42:48 PM EST

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