Plans by a Christian group to send an evangelical video game to U.S. troops in Iraq were abruptly halted yesterday by the Department of Defense after ABC News inquired about the program.
Operation Start Up (OSU) Tour, an evangelical entertainment troupe that actively proselytizes among soldiers, will not be sending the "apocryphal" video game in care packages as planned, according to the department.
"Left Behind: Eternal Forces" was inspired by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins' best-selling book series about the battle of Armageddon, in which believers of Jesus Christ fight the Antichrist.
The game has inspired controversy among freedom of religion advocates since it was released last year.
"It's a horrible game," said the Rev. Timothy Simpson of the Christians Alliance for Progress. "You either kill or covert the other side. This is exactly what the Osama bin Ladens of the world have portrayed us."
Troy Lyndon, the producer of the game, said the game's "warfare" is not violent, and that it emphasizes "spiritual battles" over fighting with guns. The game gives incentives to recruit believers instead of killing the forces of the Antichrist, according to Lyndon.
Lyndon added, "There is no forcible conversion to Christianity, and killing is never an objective in any of the 40 missions in the game."
A team of researchers at the Military Religious Freedom Foundation discovered OSU Tour's plan to send the game to Iraq, and their discovery was first reported by Max Blumenthal in The Nation last week.
MRFF President Mikey Weinstein said he is gratified the Pentagon "claims it is going to cease this provocative act" that emboldens organizations like the Taliban and al Qaeda.
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"I doubt this will prevent unconstitutional activity in the Pentagon with regards to freedom of religion for more than just a few days," said Weinstein.
OSU Tour is one of the newest members of the Defense Department's America Supports You program, which connects citizens and corporations with members of the military and their families at home and abroad.
OSU Tour's entertainment aims to help military children and families become stronger through faith-based entertainment, according to its Web site. Sports personalities, comedians and actors, including Stephen Baldwin, make up the show.
OSU president Jonathan Sprinks in a recent press release said of Baldwin, "Since God made a difference in his life, he's been very outspoken."
Sprinks came under fire from bloggers for writing on his Web site, "We feel the forces of heaven have encouraged us to perform multiple crusades that will sweep through this war-torn region," about OSU Tour's planned trip to Iraq. "We'll hold the only religious crusade of its size in the dangerous land of Iraq."
The above text has been removed from Sprinks' site but can be viewed on the cached page.
Sprinks did not return requests for comment on this article.
The Defense Department's only comment on the record was that the OSU Tour is "currently not planning on sending any care packages to the troops in Iraq."
In addition to the game, OSU Tour's "Freedom Packets" were supposed to include pocket-sized editions of the New Testament, evangelical DVDs and books, baby wipes and phone cards, according to its Web site.
© 2007 ABC News