Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, hit Washington's radar screen after 9/11 when he called Islam a "very evil and wicked religion." An invitation for Mr. Graham to preach a Good Friday service at the Pentagon last week triggered more bitter debate, as did an April 21 story in Time, which focused on Mr. Graham's relief work in Iraq.
But that may just be the tip of the iceberg. For months, Time has been working on a sensational cover piece: the inside story of evangelical "special ops," missionaries working undercover in the Muslim world. Mission agencies don't want the story told: The risk of imprisonment, torture, or death for Christian workers in the Middle East is the reason.
Time editors have sent a four-page e-mail to their reporters worldwide explaining what they want: "We are planning a major piece on the flood of Christian missionaries, most of them evangelical, to Muslim countries. We will touch on all kinds of missionary work ... but we will eventually narrow our focus to a more radical crew of proselytizers: those who proclaim the Gospel of Christ, even if that means risking deportation, imprisonment, or death. (At least four missionaries have been killed in the last two years in Lebanon, Yemen, and the Philippines.)"
Of special interest to Time: "Often, to avoid detection by authorities, this new breed employs a tactic called 'tentmaking' or 'tunneling.' Essentially, this means doing some kind of other work as a cover or pretext, when [the] real goal is preaching.... How exactly do they get away with preaching in such a hostile climate? (We are fascinated by this secret-agent aspect and would like to hear about it in great detail.)"
Yet it is precisely this level of detail-what the Pentagon calls "operational security"-that most Christian leaders don't want publicly discussed. Heather Mercer, a Christian aid worker imprisoned by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, has refused to cooperate with the magazine. So has Gary Witherall, a missionary in Lebanon whose wife Bonnie was killed by Islamic militants on Nov. 21, 2002. Other groups have warned staff not to talk to any reporters.
Jim Kelly, Time's managing editor, told WORLD he is "sensitive to the consequences that any story has" and that his magazine is "a responsible publication that weighs carefully anything that goes into the pages of the magazine."