Source of "Bible coins" distributed by USMC in Iraq discovered
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Sun Jun 01, 2008 at 05:04:11 PM EST
In what is--sadly--yet another case of the extent of which blatant prosyletisation is tolerated in the modern US military, a recent incident where members of the US Marine Corps were handing out coins to persons in Fallujah with John 3:16 on one side and "where will you spend eternity?" on the other shows that dominionism can even be potentially a risk to national security.

One thing that has not yet been revealed in this incident--which has already led to the suspension of at least one Marine--is  the source of the coins, a fundamentalist "Bible church" which increasingly has embraced both war imagery--and America's fighting men.

Tracking down the group behind the Coin Fiasco

The group behind the incident--one of a series of incidents of blatant dominionist prosyletisation of Iraqis--is a disturbing example of both targeting of the military and the increasing military imagery of certain "Christian Nationalist" groups.

A good friend of mine (and incidentially, one of the folks who first convinced me to write about what I'd seen "behind the lines" in the Joel's Army movement) is probably the first to have noted the actual source of the coins in the latest scandal.  Suprisingly, this hasn't been brought up before--so feel free to distribute thsi and distribute it widely.

As it turns out, one group of folks promoting these "bible coins" specifically to Marines  are a group calling themselves Basic Training Bible Ministries and specifically a group calling itself Osborne Coinage:

The Rest of the Story

As I said earlier, every story at its ending is the beginning of a new story. Building on the idea of Gary Horton's "America" coin we took the legacy of Arthur Stace's question and developed the "Where will you spend eternity" coin, with John 3:16 on the other side. Here is what Paul Harvey likes to call "the rest of the story". In 1999 I was asked to teach at the Arizona youth Camp, which was hosted by Westside Bible Church in Glendale, Arizona. I brought the "Where will you spend eternity" coins with me and gave them to many who attended the camp. One of those who received them was Burt Camenzind, from California. Burt first impressed me for serving as night watchman all night, then attending every Bible class during the camp, without fail. When Burt received the coin, his eyes lit up, and he said, "Imagine if this coin was translated into many other languages. How many people could be reached for Christ?"

Burt soon began to put his vision into practice. Every time he would meet someone who had immigrated to California from another part of the world, Burt would ask them how to write "Where will you spend eternity" in their native language. Then he would share with them John 3:16, at the same time witnessing to them of the power of Christ to save, and asking how to write the verse in their language. Burt began a one-man crusade to get the coin in as many languages as possible. At last count I believe he has personally had the coin translated and minted in at least 80 different languages! Recently I walked in to a shop in Prescott Valley, Arizona and found a pile of the coins on the counter. I asked the proprietor about the coins and was told, "Yes, they are there for people to take. Isn't it wonderful! I get them from this man named Burt in California. And the amazing thing is, he doesn't sell them. When I call he just sends a box to me, free of charge. But I always try to send an offering to help with the cost."

Over the last few years, I have carried these coins to some far-flung corners of the world. We have been surprised to find on returning to some places years later, people carrying or wearing the coins around their neck. In some places, we have seen them turned into ear-rings! We have found that unlike a paper tract, they cannot be torn up or wadded into a ball. When you throw them down, they ring like any coin, and people are quick to run and pick them up. We once saw on the streets of Perth our daughter toss one from the second story balcony of a Coffee house, onto the mall below. A street band was playing, and one of the band picked up the coin. After reading both sides (I have never seen anyone only read one side) he placed the coin on his guitar case. Later, another member of the band saw it, picked it up, and after reading it, tossed it down the mall. It went ringing down the way, and immediately, someone picked it up, read it, and put it in their pocket. It is in this way, by an obscure and unknown ministry, that Burt Camenzind has become the "Mr. Eternity" of our times. To order the coins directly call Osborne Coinage (1-800-488-2646).

Osborne Coinage would appear to be primarily a token manufacturer--making the sorts of coins formerly used in the NYC subway system, the tokens at old arcades and present-day casinos, and so on.  (One of their more popular lines apparently seems to be custom coins for Mardi Gras krewes.)  Hence, we must look more at the group promoting the coins.

The proprietor of these coins, one Gene Cunningham, is linked with at least two fundamentalist "Bible churches" (and maintains links with several others.  (As best can be determined, his group would fit more in the vein of "Fundamentalist Baptist" than neopentecostal.)

Their doctrinal statement in and of itself raises a number of red flags.  Not only is it the classic "bibolatrous" statement (that places the Bible, and its inerrancy, above that of God and Jesus), not only is it premillenial-dispensationalist (which is not always a danger sign, but in conjunction with a few other things can be a sign of a church that merits careful watching), but whilst (in a rare example) explicitly declaring itself non-pentecostal does espouse the concept of the "fivefold ministry" common in "Joel's Army" neopentecostal churches.

One of the things that the crew at Basic Training seems to be especially fond of is the concept of using disaster aid as "missionary activity"; again, not unlike "Joel's Army" groups, the concept of "prayer warriors" is common in the group.  The org also seems to promote its own version of Alcoholics Anonymous, only this time with Jesus explicitly noted as an essential step in addiction recovery.

And of particular note--keeping in mind that this church is surprisingly genteel in its adoption of military imagery--there does seem to be a lot of targeting of Marines and other military personnel.  Among other things, apparently an explicit missionary effort aimed at both Marines--and at Moslems in Iraq--is sponsored by Basic Training Ministries...including the very coins linked to the scandal.

As for Burt Camenzind, he would appear to ESPECIALLY be a piece of work.

We focus on the man behind the curtain

Camenzind, the other person behind the "Bible Coins" (and, it would appear, now the primary person behind minting and producing them), would appear to himself be linked to fundamentalist-Baptist "Bible church" televangelists, who happily promote his "Bible coins".  It'd appear, based on one of the televangelists happily hawking the coins, that ol' Burt specialised in a particularly nasty form of "bait and switch" evangelism before he cottoned on the coin idea:

Burt first used a small passenger airplane for his evangelistic efforts. He would invite children to look at his plane and offer them a ride, and then he would share the gospel with them. When Burt learned of the gospel coins, he saw an even greater opportunity. He says, "God is teaching me through the coins how to share the gospel without them." Each day, Burt mails out between 2,000 and 20,000 coins, so others can share their faith as well.

(Yes, you read that right.  Sucker little Johnny in with a plane ride in a Cessna, and then once he's literally a captive audience at 5000 feet, spring the hard-sell evangelism on him.  All the better reason to convince your kids NOT to accept plane rides from strange men.)

The only other bit of info I can find on Camenzind is more than enough.  It turns out he operates a nonprofit known as "Operation Grace"; interestingly, it does not use the infamous "form 990 loophole", but does put out a form 990.  According to aforementioned form 990, pretty much the entire business of the group is putting out those "Bible coins".  If Google Maps is to be believed, "Operation Grace" would appear to be run entirely out of Camenzind's house.

Camenzind's little coins seem to be popular with a number of groups--including, notably, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, a pentecostal denomination that can be said to be the most direct ancestor of the Assemblies of God.  

And it is here, ultimately, that the latest incident in a history of prosyletisation in Iraq finds its home.  We write much more about this tomorrow--including how, ironically, one of the oldest Christian communities in the world has been decimated because of aggressive dominionist "missionary" groups.


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