The game, slated for release by October 2006 in advance of the Christmas shopping rush, has been previewed at video game exhibitions, and reviewed by major newspapers and magazines. But until now, no fan or critic has pointed out the controversial game's connection to Mr. Warren or his dominionist agenda.
Time magazine has described Mr. Warren as one of the nation's most influential Evangelical Christian leaders. He describes himself as a "stealth evangelist" and describes his training programs as "a stealth movement, that's flying beneath the radar, that's changing literally hundreds, even thousands of churches around the world." He claims that he has sold tens of millions of copies of The Purpose Driven Life by developing a worldwide network of pastors.
The international director of Mr. Warren's Purpose Driven Church, Mark Carver, is a former investment banker who serves on the Advisory Board of the corporation created in October 2001 to develop and market this game. The creators plan to market their game using the same network marketing techniques that Mr. Warren used to turn The Purpose Driven Life into a commercial success. For example, they plan to distribute their merchandise through pastoral networks, especially mega-churches.
This game immerses children in present-day New York City -- 500 square blocks, stretching from Wall Street to Chinatown, Greenwich Village, the United Nations headquarters, and Harlem. The game rewards children for how effectively they role play the killing of those who resist becoming a born again Christian. The game also offers players the opportunity to switch sides and fight for the army of the AntiChrist, releasing cloven-hoofed demons who feast on conservative Christians and their panicked proselytes (who taste a lot like Christian).
Is this paramilitary mission simulator for children anything other than prejudice and bigotry using religion as an organizing tool to get people in a violent frame of mind? The dialogue includes people saying, "Praise the Lord," as they blow infidels away.
The designers intend this game to become the first dominionist warrior game to break through in the popular culture due to its violent scenarios and realistic graphics, lighting, and sound effects. Its creators expect it to earn a rating of T for Teen. How violent is that? That's the rating shared by Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell - Chaos Theory, a top selling game in which high-tech gadgets and high-powered weapons - frag grenades, shotguns, assault rifles, and submachine guns -- are used to terminate enemies with extreme prejudice. [Nota bene: While some versions of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory have been rated M for Mature, Amazon.com offers a version rated T for Teen, which invites players to "Go into battle with futuristic weapons and high-tech gadgets used by real-life spies," and "Strike without mercy." -- JH]
Could such a violent, dominionist Christian video game really break through to the popular culture? Well, it is based on a series of books that have already set sales records - the blockbuster Left Behind series of 14 novels by writer Jerry B. Jenkins and his visionary collaborator, retired Southern Baptist minister Tim LaHaye. "We hope teenagers like the game," Mr. LaHaye told the Los Angeles Times. "Our real goal is to have no one left behind."
The game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces, is based on scenes from the first four novels in the series. The game was developed by a publicly-traded company called Left Behind Games, according to SEC records. The developers obtained the license from Tyndale House, the Christian publisher of Left Behind.
Tyndale also publishes Bringing Up Boys and The Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide by Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, PhD. Mr. Dobson has advised parents to monitor the amount of time children spend playing video games and "avoid the violent ones altogether." But he has not yet stated his views on whether there should be an exception for video games that role play gunplay in the name of Christ, or of the AntiChrist.
Tyndale's licensing of the project infuriated one of its authors, Jack Thompson, a conservative Christian attorney and outspoken critic of video game violence, who told the Los Angeles Times that he severed ties with his publisher in a dispute over "Left Behind: Eternal Forces."
"It's absurd," said the video critic. "You can be the Christians blowing away the infidels, and if that doesn't hit your hot button, you can be the Antichrist blowing away all the Christians."
The firm's CEO is relying on network marketing through pastoral networks as a key part of his business plan, according to a report in the March 6, 2006, issue of Newsweek Magazine:
Left Behind Games CEO Troy Lyndon, whose company went public in February, says the game's Christian themes will grab the audience that didn't mind gore in "The Passion of the Christ." "We've thought through how the Christian right and the liberal left will slam us," says Lyndon. "But megachurches are very likely to embrace this game." Though it will be marketed directly to congregations, Forces will also have a secular ad campaign in gaming magazines.
As part of its marketing pitch, Left Behind Games hypes the realism with which it portrays the neighborhoods of New York City. There is, for the most part, a remarkable verisimilitude except for one detail - all of the ambulances have 911 painted on their roofs. In the reality-based world, most ambulances have a red cross on top. Yet the game designers make prominent use of these 911 ambulances to evoke the tragic events of September 11, 2001. The historical context of 911 is invoked as if to say, We are living in the End Times, and Muslims are among the kinds of infidels whom you should fear, whom you should be prepared to kill for your cause.
For game enthusiasts, there is also a multi-player mode, in which you can go online and battle to take territory from other players. If you happen to blow away a neutral party - and collateral damage is inevitable in the End of Days - then you will lose "Spirit Points". But you can power back up with merely a brief timeout for prayer, or by converting one of New York's terror-stricken citizens.
In this way, the game resembles a send-up of Christian-themed video games by "The Simpsons." "Billy Graham's Bible Blaster," is a first-person shooter game in which you fire Bibles at club-carrying heathens to convert them into card-carrying Republicans. (Hint: after you finish reading this blog piece - and eating all your vegetables -- visit the Simpson's official web site and open file drawer F-H, then click on the character of Evangelical Christian kid Rod Flanders to play the game.)
Time has dubbed Mr. Warren "America's minister." But Mr. Warren says that his agenda stretches far beyond America, and far beyond traditional ministry. He sees himself as the CEO of a global marketing enterprise, and as the Commander in Chief of a stealth army of one billion Christian foot soldiers.
On the 25th Anniversary of his Saddleback Church on April 17, 2005, Mr. Warren filled the Angels baseball stadium in Anaheim, California, with tens of thousands of his flock. Mr. Warren signaled his belief that we are now approaching the End of Days by opening with a rock band, which played the Jimi Hendrix drug anthem Purple Haze. As the band jammed, Mr. Warren sang the lyrics:
Purple haze all in my eyes
Don't know if it's day or night
You got me blowin', blowin' my mind
Is it tomorrow, or just the end of time?
The Director of the Peace Corps, Gaddi Vasquez, read a message of support from President George W. Bush. Then Mr. Warren called on his flock to support a $40 million capital campaign
to expand missionary training facilities at Saddleback's 120-acre campus in Lake Forest, California. He pledged participants to achieve a purpose-driven ministry overseas. His dominionist theology is apparent in this ministry. A key aspect of dominionist thought is a conviction that the Scripture gives the church a mandate to take dominion over this world socially and culturally before the return of Jesus Christ. Mr. Warren's global plan is a strategy to realize a dominionist vision of churches, states, and corporations forming partnerships to bring about a new world order to make way for Christ's return by establishing a literal, physical kingdom of God on earth. In order to build this earthly kingdom, Mr. Warren plans marketplace ministries - business ventures with a veneer of missionary compassion that slip into a country in order to transform it systematically through the governmental, corporate, and social sectors. And that is why Mr. Warren calls himself a "stealth evangelist" - because he wishes to cloak his dominionist agenda, which is the establishment of an earthly kingdom that reflects his skewed vision of Christianity.
According to Mr. Warren, the establishment of this earthly kingdom requires "foot soldiers." As part of his plan, Mr. Warren said he would encourage laypeople to "adopt" needy villages overseas in order to plant churches, expand business opportunities, educate children, influence governments, and overthrow corrupt political leaders, whom he described as "little Saddams." Mr. Warren said his purpose is to enlist "one billion foot soldiers for the Kingdom of God" in the developing world. And the stadium crowd roared its approval.
Celebrants included Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, a tiny east African country that lost hundreds of thousands of people when it suffered genocide in 1994. Catholic and Protestant clergy have been convicted in connection with that genocide. Yet Mr. Kagame announced that he would allow Mr. Warren to turn his country into the first purpose driven nation. The following month, 16 Rwandan religious leaders arrived in Orange County to begin religious training at Saddleback Church. Mr. Warren has said that his global initiative was developed "underground" and in "stealth". Presumably, this was done with the assistance of Mr. Carver, who directs the Purpose Driven Church in all its activities outside North America.
Yet through an unexpected turn of events in Georgia, the spotlight was turned on Mr. Warren's stealthy strategy in March 2005, when Ashley Smith read a passage from The Purpose Driven Life to the Atlanta courthouse killing suspect, Brian Nichols. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Nichols freed his hostage and surrendered to police. The entire world suddenly wanted to hear from Mr. Warren, who was busy planting the seeds of a Christian theocracy with his "foot soldiers" in Rwanda.
On March 22, 2005, CNN's Larry King interviewed Mr. Warren about the Atlanta courthouse shooting and hostage taking. A caller asked, "Can you explain the sudden thirst or craving that people seem to have for religion?
Mr. Warren replied:
"[T]here are really two stories going on in our culture right now. There is the story of things are getting more worse [sic] in some ways. We're seeing the increase in violence. We're seeing terrorism. We've seen these recent shootings. We're seeing the coarsening of our society, that has disgusted a lot of people. And there is people [sic] -- some people are more materialistic than ever.
But at the same time, there's another story going on in America, that I think is a spiritual awakening that is brewing. And that is a desire and hunger to know God. I don't always think it's always a desire and hunger for church. But there is a desire and hunger to know God.
So according to Mr. Warren, the worst of American culture is reflected in examples of violence, terrorism, shootings, and the coarsening of our society, that turn people away in disgust. And in addition, "some people are more materialistic than ever."
If violence, coarseness, and materialism are serious social problems, then what purpose is served by exploiting a global pastoral network to mass market a game about mass killing, whether in the name of Christ or the AntiChrist?
On the one hand, this video game is anti-American, because it endorses roving death squads engaged in faith-based violence without any regard for Constitutional law. On the other hand, the video game is anti-Christian, because it argues that the Kingdom of God can be advanced by using the methods and tools of the kingdoms of this world, namely guns and bombs.
The Scriptures say, "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6) The Scriptures do not say, "Train up a child in the way he should blow away the people of God as well as infidels: and when he is old enough, he will go out and do some killing."
As Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would fight that I might not be handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here" (Gospel According to John 18:36). As Paul said, "Though we walk in flesh, we do not make war in accordance with the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly." (2 Corinthians 10:3-4a).
The dominionist Christians pushing this violent video game are modeling neither Christian charity nor patriotism. Both Christians and patriots should oppose them.
Endorsement by Association
What is going on here is an old fashioned business idea of endorsement by association, in which a corporation gains the implied endorsement of a product by being able to invoke the name brand of a prominent person or celebrity. In this case, this is an alliance of business and ministerial interests invoking the name brand of the Mr. Warren's Purpose Driven Church. Mr. Warren does not have to explicitly endorse or be involved in the product in order to be held accountable for allowing his name brand to be used in the selling of this antisocial product.
Some people have commented that the link between Mr. Warren's purpose driven empire and this product is casual. Let's be clear: Mark Carver is Executive Director of the Purpose Driven Church, and therefore works directly for Mr. Warren in one of the most senior roles in his empire. It would seem unlikely that Mr. Warren, who plans an international stealth evangelism campaign that already includes the president of Rwanda, is unaware of this project, the biggest Christian video game in history. Mr. Carver's role on the Advisory Board of Left Behind Games, the corporation created in October 2001 specifically to develop and market this violent video game, is an association clearly more active than a casual. People are involved on this Advisory Board because of their expertise, and their connections to markets -- in this case, Mr. Warren's. On its corporate web site -- part of its merchandising pitch -- Left Behind Games touts its association with Mr. Carver, and makes clear his prominent role in Mr. Warren's Purpose Driven Church.
In other words, Left Behind Games is invoking its association with Mr. Warren's Purpose Driven Church as part of its product marketing strategy. Do we think that Mr. Warren would allow his name brand and reputation to be casually invoked in a major business venture that involves one of the largest publishers in the Christian marketplace, who published the Left Behind novels, one of the best selling fiction series of all time? Does anyone think that Left Behind Games invoked the name brand of Mr. Warren's Purpose Driven Church without his permission? Since this possibility is farfetched, what we are looking at here is a business/marketing alliance between several evangelical business and ministerial entrepreneurs for whom the Great Commission also means great profits.
Left Behind Games plans to market directly to pastoral networks and mega-churches, using the same network marketing strategies that turned Mr. Warren's book The Purpose Driven Life into a best seller . Mr. Carver has a lot of expertise and connections in this area. Will Mr. Warren's mega-church be offering this game for sale to its members? Will Mr. Warren's global pastoral network be used to distribute the game? On the other hand, if Mr. Warren is unaware and uninvolved, do we think he will fire Mr. Carver for marketing a product that helps children practice killing New Yorkers?
The Purpose Driven Life Takers (Part 1)
Violent Video Marketed Through Mega-Churches (Part 2)
Mega-Church Exec Resigns as Adviser to Video Game (Part 3)
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