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From “Faith Leaders” to “Proud Leaders”to “Fleeing Leaders” – Philip P.Eapen

Rev. Lee seated on a stage with leaders of "Faith Leaders Church of God" (Picture from Faithleaders website.)

The recently concluded “Faith Leaders Church of God” convention at Kochi, Kerala, christened “Music Splash 2011″ is in the news for all the wrong reasons.

The people of Kerala woke up on Thursday, 13 October 2011, to read/watch a rather alarming news – “Lookout notice for US Evangelists”; “Detained US Pastor goes missing in Kochi.” Christians who had attended the three-day gospel meetings were embarrassed and confused.

News reports varied in detail. It was reported that the Kochi city police came to the meeting venue – the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium grounds – on the final evening to stop Rev. William A. Lee from preaching at this public meeting. Newspapers reported that Rev. Lee escaped from the stage after he sniffed trouble. Rev. Lee was on a tourist visa that did not permit him to preach at a public meeting. The police wanted to book him for violating this visa condition and to deport him. However, having found that he had fled the city without even reporting at his hotel, the police filed a “First Information Report” against him. They also intimated all airports in the country to prevent his flight from India. Having thus been cornered, latest reports suggest, Rev. Lee was willing to surrender before the Kerala police.

Rev. Lee seated on a stage with leaders of “Faith Leaders Church of God” (Picture from Faithleaders website.)

Unlike Rev. Lee, the internationally acclaimed singer Dr Ron Kenoly and his woman associate did not flee or abscond. They were allowed to leave India on Thursday without getting blacklisted or deported!

Interestingly, the “Faith Leaders” who invited Dr. Ron Kenoly and Rev. William A. Lee went underground. They switched off their mobile phones. The police were unable to contact them. (Even the FaithLeaders.org website seems to have pulled down some key pages that reveal information about their leaders!) So much for “faith leaders!”

The police however was in possession of Rev. Lee’s mobile phone number and made efforts to track him. There is an unconfirmed report that the Kochi City police have arrested Rev. Lee. If so, he will be blacklisted (along with Dr Ron Kenoly) and deported from India soon.

Giant Billboards were put up at vantage points in Kochi portraying a father-son duo as the promoters

I am sure that the police in Kochi were aware of Rev. Lee’s stay in Kerala.  It is reported that the police advised him to leave the country without preaching in any meeting. We don’t know if this is true. If true, then Rev. Lee and/or his hosts were bent on testing the Kerala Police. Both Rev. Lee and the organizers are responsible for shaming themselves and the Christians of Kerala. Rev. Lee should have known that he’s not allowed to preach in public meetings when he is in the country on a “tourist visa.”

Although it was reported that the Central Intelligence Bureau had informed the city police about Rev. Lee’s violation of visa conditions, I doubt whether the local police needed such inputs. Why would the city police need inputs from a federal intelligence bureau when the organizers of the “Music Splash” put up huge billboards in the city announcing the arrival of Rev. Lee and Dr Kenoly? The billboards shouted out loud that Rev William Lee would preach the Word. How could the organizers be so bold and presumptuous as to announce that an American on tourist visa would preach on “God’s Procedural Justice?” What an irony! Were the organizers testing God’s Procedural Justice or were they testing their money power, assuming that local law enforcers would look the other way? (Each of these billboards costs a fortune by Indian standards. It’s not just these billboards. There were other evidences that revealed the deep pockets of the organizers.)

Giant Billboards were put up at vantage points in Kochi portraying a father-son duo as the promoters

The police in Kochi knew very well that Rev. Lee was on a tourist visa and that he was scheduled to preach at a public religious meeting. Yet, they looked the other way and let him preach for three days. What then forced the police to crack down Rev. Lee during the final hour on the final evening of “Music Splash 2011?”

On the final evening, as on the previous two nights, Dr Ron Kenoly sang worship songs and led the crowd in worship. Before Rev. Lee came on stage to preach, one bearded local pastor, came on stage and engaged in a vulgar exercise of boasting, to put it lightly. His speech implied that the Music Splash 2011 was a program designed and executed to highlight the glories of his relatively new denomination. It sounded like, “Look, we can do it without the help of any other denomination!”

This meeting was not about God’s glory or about the salvation of souls. The whole venue resembled a mini movie set. The expensive hoardings, state of the art photography, camera jib crane, dolly, high tech DJ-lighting, laser projectors, high-end sound system, the multi-million saloons, and the showcasing of “imported” preachers–these were all to show that “Faith Leaders Church of God” is a rich and powerful organization. No wonder these “faith leaders” did not team up with any other church or Inter-church fellowship in Kochi City or Kerala for “Music Splash 2011.”

Why else would this pastor say, “People who organize crusades in this land collect money from Christians. But, as you see here tonight, we do not even collect an offertory. We don’t come to you with a begging bowl.” (This is not a verbatim translation; this is the import of what he said.) This vulgar statement turned off the crowd. It was a cheap display of organizational wealth. I wish Dr. Ron Kenoly and Rev. William Lee knew Malayalam!

Our man wasn’t through yet. A few minutes before he spoke, policemen came to the venue and ordered the organizers to ensure that the meeting was over by 8:30 pm. Instead of silently complying with the directive, this arrogant pastor shouted out his folly, challenging the authority of the police. According to a senior pastor who was present in the meeting, the bearded local pastor said something to this effect, “Some time ago, a couple of policemen came here to tell us that the meeting should be wound up by 8:30 pm. I wish God would touch these men …” That was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Within minutes, police teams arrived at the venue to pull up Rev. Lee on charges of violating his visa conditions. There were reports in the regional press that the police would initiate an inquiry into the organizer’s source of income to conduct such meetings.

Several websites reported that the Rev. Lee was absconding. However, for the past 12 hours, the media is relatively silent about the issue – except for random reports that Rev. Lee had fled Kerala state. Where could he have gone at night from Kerala? Could he have fled to the US Consulate in Chennai?  That’s a wild guess. By the time the Kerala Police knew that Lee had fled, he must have been pulling the right strings at the right place! Even though it was reported that Rev. Lee would surrender before Kerala Police by Friday, there’s no sign of him. Press photographers and reporters waited at the Palarivattom Police Station till late in the afternoon to catch a glimpse of Rev. Lee. But today’s shroud over the whole episode suggests that there’s more here than what meets the eye!

This is a good lesson for preachers who intent to come to India. They should seek to be on the right side of the law – especially if they intend to preach in public meetings. Visa rules that place restrictions on Christian missionaries or preachers may be here to stay. There’s no use protesting against such discrimination unless the Indian Church rises unitedly to fight these funny rules.

If Rev. Lee indeed fled to the US Consulate in Chennai, he might have done a smart thing. But all preachers can’t do that. If he’d just stood his ground, the police would have politely taken him to his hotel and then deported him. Absconding! That’s the last thing a Christian preacher should do when he/she is caught on the wrong side of the law. Probably, Rev. Lee feared that he would be arrested and tortured or that his story would make another episode of  “Jailed Abroad.”

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