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God may work in mysterious ways, but Pastors shouldn't!

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Countryside Community Church congregation gets selectively-edited info regarding the Tri-Faith Initiative

Ok, I get it. You really, really, really want to be a part of this “new thing,” and you’re willing to push the boundaries a bit to make it happen. Maybe more than a bit. I can understand that Reverend Elnes. Everyone has ambitions, goals and desires and Pastors certainly aren’t any different.

But… shouldn’t truth trump ambition? Perhaps not.

I’ve been looking into the project occurring at 132nd & Pacific streets in Omaha for a few weeks now. I’ve written several articles for national publications detailing the troubling circumstances surrounding the project known as the Tri-Faith Initiative.

Their plan is to co-locate a Mosque, a Synagogue and a Church on the same campus in an effort to foster interfaith dialogue and understanding. A laudable goal in today’s world, given the convulsive conflicts that all too often hallmark the present intersections of Islam with other faiths.

Unfortunately the board of the Tri-Faith Initiative has chosen to ignore questionable associations on the part of the Islamic component of the project, the American Institute of Islamic Studies and Culture (AIISC) which has evident associations with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Council on American and Islamic Relations (CAIR).

The Tri-Faith Board denies any connections to these groups, yet both CAIR and ISNA are featured prominently on the Tri-Faith website as Resources and Recommended Reading. When confronted with that irksome reality, they say “there’s nothing wrong with CAIR & ISNA,” which of course begs the question, “Why then, do you deny the connections in the first place?”

This brings us to the subject of the first paragraph – Reverend Eric Elnes, Pastor of Countryside Community Church in Omaha – who appears to be so enamored of the possibility of taking the place of the Episcopal Church as the Christian leg of the Tri-Faith stool that he is willing to mislead his congregation.

The Episcopalians were originally to be the Christian component, but have since decided to bail on the project and are now trying to unload their $1.5 million dollar stake. Enter Countryside Community Church, a congregation belonging to the United Church of Christ.

Pastor Elnes wants to buy into the project, but is constrained by the hesitation of his congregants. Forced by their resistance to abandon a quick decision, his fallback position was to enter a 40 day period of “discernment,” during which the Church is to pray and discern the will of God relative to this move.

To facilitate this investigatory period, there is a lovely little section of the Countryside website titled “Tri-Faith: A “New thing?” patterned after Isaiah 43:19, Behold, I am doing a new thing… where Pastor Elnes makes his case for joining the project under the auspices of “informing” his congregation of both sides of the question.

A brief examination of the content in this section leaves no doubt as to the good Pastor’s position. As an aside, if the whole “man of God” thing doesn’t pan out, he has a future in political spin.

In a post titled “Question: Who are ISNA & CAIR?” Reverend Elnes copied and pasted (literally!) the “About Us” sections from both group’s websites. Of course he altered the format a bit, so it might appear to be spontaneously written, perhaps even mistaken for being the result of the Pastor’s exhaustive research (read: non-existent!) into the groups to which he plans to join his flock.

Despite being made aware of the mounds of evidence against CAIR and ISNA, Reverend Elnes has put his blinders on tightly.

Nowhere in the post does he mention any controversy surrounding these groups, any of the reams of evidence from the Holy Land Foundation trial (which revealed extensive involvement on the part of CAIR & ISNA in the scheme to launder money through charities in order to conceal cash transfers to terrorist groups in the Middle East) or the disturbing refusal of the Tri-Faith Initiative to simply renounce association with known bad actors of radical Islamism.

One thing for certain is Reverend Elnes’ omission of any reference to CAIR & ISNA’s origins in radical Islamism, or their FBI-noted connections to the funding of HAMAS.

I’m Catholic, so I can’t speak to the expectations of United Church of Christ parishioners, but I know I would expect my Parish Priest to give me a heads up if he knew such information. Certainly I would insist he not deliberately keep it from me.

I was a guest via telephone on a local radio show last week discussing this project when the host received word that Pastor Elnes had stopped by the studio unannounced and wanted to be on the show. Of course the host announced the arrival of the unexpected guest, then took a commercial break to prepare.

This was a welcome turn of events as no one from the Tri-Faith Initiative had been willing to respond to repeated requests for clarification of the role of CAIR and ISNA and had taken to ignoring media requests for comment.

Alas, hopes were soon dashed as the host came back after the top of the hour break and announced that the Reverend didn’t want to actually be on the air, but merely came by simply to tell the host that he would be happy to provide background information about himself and his church; a reason the host characterized as being akin to going to Burger King, not to eat, but just to say hi to the drive-thru staff.

I can’t say with any certainty whether the Pastor had intended to go on the air, and perhaps received a call suggesting he not do so, but it would seem to be a more plausible explanation than the one he provided the perplexed host.

In any event, his reticence in providing his parishioners with all the information needed to make an informed decision is in my opinion, unconscionable - both from a financial point of view, (considering the amount of money at stake) and as a Pastor, who according to the Bible, must answer to God for the spiritual well-being of his flock.

God works in mysterious ways, but pastors should not.

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