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Koran-Burning Pastor Was Once The GOP's Poster Child For German Intolerance Of Christians

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Newscom / PHELAN M. EBENHACK

Jones went to Germany in 1981 to found the Christliche Gemeinschaft Köln (known in English as the Christian Community of Cologne), Americans would recognize as a Pentacostal church in the charismatic tradition. A recent observer, for instance, described services there as energetic and saw a congregation member speaking in tongues.

The whole worship time resembled more an aerobics class or a night club (it was Friday evening after all) and was very energetic. Three hundred people bouncing up and down are quite something to behold. In addition, there were a female dance group in white costumes and 15 people waving national flags performing in front of the stage. A gentleman behind me was loudly singing in tongues.

Reports in the German press describe Jones' tenure as somewhat darker. One journalist told Deutsche Welle that church members' persecution at the hands of the state and their neighbors was a common theme of his services.

[Jounalist Brigitte] Baetz told Deutsche Welle that Jones commonly referred to the city of Cologne as a "Gate to Hell" and emphasized that Christians were "persecuted" there and took on the role of "innocent victims who would be rewarded for their suffering."

A contemporaneous interview with Jones for Christian magazine The Voice (since removed) confirms that account. Baetz noted that Jones was deeply involved in opposition to a planned mosque in Cologne, and Der Spiegel noted yesterday that Jones inveighed against Islam from his German pulpit as well. But his preaching went far beyond sermons about religious differences.

Jones became increasingly radical as the years went by, former associates say. At one point he wanted to help a homosexual member to "pray away his sins." Later he began to increasingly target Islam in his sermons. A congregation member reported that some members were afraid to attend services because they expected to be attacked by Muslims.

But even before Jones began inveighing against Islam, Der Stern reported that he was having trouble with the local government in the mid-nineties because he organized a group of nurses to encourage very ill patients to end treatment in favor of prayer. In a court trial in the nineties, Theo Matthias Herget (a nurse and former Pentacostal adherent) testified in German:

"I have heard from colleagues that members of the group attempted a healing in the hospital with an old woman in a wheelchair - she had multiple sclerosis. One dragged her out of bed and declared that she was healed." He also observed that in further "healings, two more people died."

The church denied the allegations -- but it was around this time that local authorities apparently began looking into the congregation and its finances.

In the 1990s, Germany was under fire by the U.S. State Department over its classification of the Church of Scientology as a for-profit institution rather than a church -- in part because of its widely-reported tithing policy. In Germany, as in the United States, Jones' church had a for-profit arm. By Jones' own admission, the CGK collected used furniture from its members for donation and sold off the remainders: investigations by the Gainesville Sun, Alternet, Daily Kos (which unearthed Jones' eBay store) and TPMMuckraker, show that both Jones' business and his use of church members to staff it continue today.

Jones' for-profit businesses threw his church's non-profit status into question and prompted reported raids by local tax authorities in Germany. It also brought Jones and his church to the attention of Amnesty International, British Lord Duncan McNair, the U.S. State Department, then-Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-NY) (who was chairing the Commission on Cooperation and Security In Europe at the time), and Sen. Michael Enzi (R-WY), all of whom defended Jones and his church. (Neither D'Amato nor Enzi returned calls for comment. [Ed note: See update below])

Eventually, the church's tax-exempt status was reinstated; in 2002, Jones was forced to pay a 3,000 Euro fine for using the honorific "Doctor" without a degree. In 2007, members reportedly confronted Jones about the direction of the church and his increasingly disturbing rhetoric, to no apparent effect. In 2008, following reported financial irregularities, Jones and his wife were expelled by the congregation and returned to the United States.

At least a few of his German congregants initially followed Jones to Gaineville before becoming disillusioned. The remaining, smaller CGK in Cologne has had no contact with Jones since expelling him, and doesn't support the Koran burning.

Late Update: Senator Enzi's office contacted us on Friday morning with this response.

Senator Enzi has always fought against state persecution of religious freedom. Over 10 years ago he spoke out against state persecution and harassment toward a number of different churches and religions in Germany. His inquiry in 1999 was not about harassment by private citizens and he was not protecting one doctrine or one church above any other. Senator Enzi believes in religious tolerance and does not condone burning Korans.

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