- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 29, 2001

In the beginning were two Christian best sellers, "Left Behind" and "The Prayer of Jabez." And these two books were without discernable form, and void of heavy theology. And darkness was on the face of the buying public, which snapped up millions of these books, making their authors very rich.
And God said, "Let there be parodies."
And so there were.
Published by Canon Press, a small Moscow, Idaho, publisher, the parodies are "The Mantra of Jabez," whipped off in one month by Douglas M. Jones, and "Right Behind," written by Nathan D. Wilson. Both are professors at New St. Andrew's College, a Christian institution.
They are part of a rarity in evangelical Christian life: humorists who poke fun at churches' sacred cows.
"When evangelicals were a struggling Jesus movement, they were harder to parody," says Bob Darden, senior editor for the Dallas-based magazine "The Door," a Christian satire magazine. "Now that they are so big, when you have people like Ralph Reed or Pat Robertson influencing national politics, you need someone to yell, 'The emperor is buck naked.'"
A few Web sites out there lampoon evangelicals: www.landoverbaptist.org is a pseudo-cyber-church that touts "Dating Tips for Christian Men," "Religious Outerwear for Every Occasion," "Scary Bible T-shirts," and a "permanent injunction against all unsaved persons" to get off the site.
Or there is www.ship-of-fools.com, a British site with entries for "Savanarola lookalikes," an essay on the "liturgical importance of gin," a "biblical curse generator" that allows one to "smite the enemy with the help of the hard men of the Old Testament" and the day's question: "Where Would Jesus Surf?"
"I do believe God has a sense of humor," says Mr. Darden, whose publication runs its own humor site at www.thedoormagazine.com. "I believe that in heaven, the people in the greatest positions of authority will be clowns and those who laugh."
Mr. Jones, 38, a conservative Presbyterian, wrote "The Mantra of Jabez" out of disgust over the original Jabez book, a slim volume written by Chamblee, Ga., evangelist Bruce Wilkinson that has sold millions. The book recites a one-sentence prayer from 1 Chronicles 4, which, if repeated daily, Mr. Wilkinson wrote, could result in all sorts of blessings.
Mr. Jones rebelled at this.
His parody asserts the popular prayer has become a mantra — a Hindu term that would never resonate with most Christians — to a push-button God who dispenses blessings when given the right combination of words.
"American evangelicalism is so thin and narrow as to what it considers important," Mr. Jones says. "The book mirrors contemporary Christianity: It delights in immaturity. God is this coddling person who protects us from all pain."
The parody book was introduced at a Christian Booksellers Association convention in July.
"We were half hoping to get kicked out, so we could get 'banned at the CBA' on the cover," he says. "But people actually thanked us for writing it. People know there is something goofy about both books, but are afraid of articulating it. Most felt the books were trivializing Christianity."
A spokeswoman for Mr. Wilkinson disclaimed any knowledge of the book.
Mr. Wilson, 23, who introduced his "Right Behind" book at the CBA also, calls the object of his satire "marshmallow theology."
His target: a series of Christian tomes on events leading up to the end of the world, co-written by San Diego evangelist Tim LaHaye and Colorado Springs novelist Jerry Jenkins. The ninth book in the series, "Desecration," is due out Oct. 30, with a print run of 2.8 million.
Including children's and audio versions, 42 million of these books are in print. "Left Behind" is the first book of the series and the title of a movie patterned after the book. The seventh and eighth books in the series have all been atop the major, weekly hardcover-fiction best-seller lists, and its Web site, www.leftbehind.com, gets 60,000 hits a day.
Publicist Beverly Rykerd said both authors have received but have not read the parody. She added that the publisher, Tyndale House, commissioned a recent survey that revealed widespread belief in the Second Coming and the Rapture, a belief that the world's Christians will ascend into heaven just before Armageddon.
"People refer to the Rapture as being very fringe, but 64 percent of Americans have heard of the phrase," she says. "Forty-four percent believed it would happen. When asked if they believed the world would end supernaturally, 40 percent said yes, 50 percent said no and 10 percent didn't know.
"But when asked about whether Jesus would return on Earth, 64 percent said very likely."
"It has sold an amazing amount," Mr. Wilson says, "but as all of us know, high sales doesn't mean something is good."
Mr. Wilson's parody starts out with a steamy love scene — usually verboten in evangelical books — loaded with Christian cliches. The main character, named Rayford Steele in the real book, but renamed Buford Tin in the parody, spends much of the book lusting after a flight attendant.
"I can't imagine surviving without humor in terms of looking at Protestant Christian churches," says Mr. Wilson, who like Mr. Jones belongs to an evangelical Presbyterian church. "If we did not have humor, we'd shoot ourselves."
He wrote the spoof in two weeks after getting his master's degree this spring at St. John's College in Annapolis. He got his fill of evangelical culture, he says, by attending Liberty University during the 1999-2000 school year.
Then he stumbled across the "Left Behind" books.
"A lot of people say they are trashy, but I enjoyed reading them," he said. "Look at the stock cliches. Jerry Jenkins wouldn't know metaphor if it sat on him."
Neither he nor Mr. Jones mocks Scripture, he says, "but we would mock their application of it."
In the world of Christian humorists, televangelists are especially easy targets. The Door's Mr. Darden says his organization has had a field day providing secular TV with clips for its take-offs on Christian evangelists, notably the Dallas-based televangelist Benny Hinn.
"We came into possession of an extraordinary clip of Benny Hinn's wife, who was shouting that 'what this country needs is a Holy Ghost enema,'" he says. "We did the only Christian thing we could do: We sent a copy to Comedy Central."
Other targets: televangelist Pat Robertson — "he's always a lot of fun to do"; Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, and disgraced televangelist Robert Tilton, who although decked by a ABC's "Prime Time Live" expose 10 years ago, has recently appeared on the BET and Univision cable networks.
"We think humor will bring down a lot more empires than investigations will," he says. "As long as we continue to make fun of them, it is hard for them to come back to their original level of power. You have to keep laughing in order to not cry."

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