Chuck Carlson and his disciples are taking it to the streets, demanding that pro-life churches practice what they preach and condemn war in Iraq

Martin is clearly not overjoyed that Carlson and his posse have shown up with their signs, but neither does he seem perturbed. The last time Project Strait Gate appeared there, several weeks before, Martin's security guards and Carlson got in a pissing match over a strip of gravel-covered ground serving as a sidewalk in front of the church. Was it public ground, or church property off-limits to the protesters? Police were called, and tempers flared.

This time, however, Martin makes it clear that Carlson and his friends are welcome to the gravel strip.

Calvary Community Church is a 20-year-old institution that burgeoned from an 11-person congregation, and the legacy of a religious movement started by Jesus freaks in California in the 1960s.

Carlson and his wife, Oneeda, aim their signs at churchgoers, not passing traffic.
Carlson and his wife, Oneeda, aim their signs at churchgoers, not passing traffic.

Says deacon Bob Barnier, "It grew from kids that were hippies on the beach into huge churches." Asked if the hippies were opposed to the Vietnam War, Barnier replies, "Could have been."

Today, the heirs to this hippie tradition say they will make no statement against Bush's intended attack on Iraq.

"I'm not a politician, I'm a preacher," Martin says.

When he's asked if his congregation studies end-times biblical prophecy, Martin says, "Yeah, I think we see [the establishment of] Israel being a fulfilling of prophecy."

Inside, once the service has begun, Martin looks out over the 900 people who take up nearly every chair in the cavernous sanctuary. It is a young congregation, seemingly very friendly and dressed somewhat casually. Martin begins by lamenting the loss of the space shuttle Columbia and its crew, but soon mentions that people outside the church are carrying signs regarding rumors of war. Martin makes no comment about Carlson and his group, then he begins speaking the language of dispensational, apocalyptic prophecy.

"The current world situation is a powder keg," Martin says into a mobile headset. "The prophecies say that the end of the world will bring very trying times. . . . Sacred human lives are at stake, but we can't bury our heads in the sand."

Outside, about 10 security guards and several Phoenix police officers keep watch on Carlson and his six companions.

Martin, meanwhile, leads his congregation in prayer. "The things we're seeing are all signs of the coming of Jesus Christ," he says. "Lord, your words say that in the last days there will be wars . . . and sudden destruction will come upon the world."

But if Martin sounds like he's getting awfully close to endorsing such worldwide destruction, he then makes a heartfelt-sounding appeal for peace. "Lord, hold back war, hold back destruction. . . . Please bless our president, our cabinet, and other leaders of the world."

Few members of Martin's congregation had any word for Carlson and his crew on their way into the service. But some did make pointed remarks in support of an attack on Iraq.

"Stuff needs to be taken care of," said Calvary member Greg Jacobs, 23, who added that he didn't see a contradiction in being pro-life and pro-war.

One of Carlson's colleagues, Paul Hansen-Mitev, says one congregation member, hurrying to hear the sermon, snapped at him: "We have to support Israel, we're in the end times!"

Hansen-Mitev is one of Carlson's first converts. Just arrived in the Valley, he had happened to run into a Carlson-led protest while on his way into a Scottsdale Baptist church. "I wasn't sure why they were protesting, but I was surprised that the first thing Chuck spoke of was the number of children dying in Iraq because of the [economic] sanctions," Hansen-Mitev says.

Soon, he realized he wanted to join the group. "What impressed me was that they did something so patently obvious. Rather than demonstrating in a public place or in front of politicians, they chose to demonstrate in front of churches that could have enormous influence on our leaders. I thought to myself, Why didn't I think of this?'"

About the few church members who confront him, Hansen-Mitev says, "Certain people believe it's best that the Earth end soon. It makes them feel special if it's true that this is the last generation."

The tall, straw-hat-wearing 27-year-old had taken a bus across town to join that morning's demonstration, but he was perturbed that Calvary's security guards had denied him a chance to go inside to hear Martin's words, or even to visit Calvary's bookstore.

If Hansen-Mitev had, he would have seen rows of inspirational volumes, books that contained denunciations of Mormonism and Seventh-Day Adventism (filed under the heading "cults") Ė along with diatribes against Darwinism.

And he might have noticed another section devoted almost entirely to a popular apocalyptic line of fiction.

The Left Behind books, which are hugely popular at Calvary Community Church, are a series of novels about premillennial dispensationalism that constitute one of the most remarkable publishing phenomena in American history. The first in the series was published in 1995, and the ninth volume, Desecration, was not only the most popular offering of religious fiction of 2001, it was the most popular hardback novel of any kind. It outsold John Grisham's Skipping Christmas by nearly a million copies, marking the first time since 1994 that a Grisham novel did not top the charts. The previous eight volumes of the Left Behind series, meanwhile, were all among the top-25-selling trade paperbacks of 2001, according to Publishers Weekly. More than 35 million copies of the Left Behind series have been sold, and there's no doubt that when the 11th volume, Armageddon, hits bookstores on April 8, it will quickly top the New York Times fiction chart.

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