The peacemaker with a PR firm

drkapaulMichelle Cotelle of The New Republic has written a thoughtful cover profile of K.A. Paul, an evangelist from India who is building a reputation as a geopolitical (or, if you prefer, theopolitical) troubleshooter. Paul does his work through Gospel to the Unreached Millions and the more web-savvy Global Peace Initiative.

Cotelle repeatedly returns to the theme that Paul’s primary interests — promoting himself, helping people in the Third World and persuading power-mad leaders to give their lives to God or to step aside — leave him an outsider among evangelicals who are more interested in culture-war issues:

The public face of religion in the United States, Paul and his supporters have found, looks nothing like that of a peculiar, self-promoting Indian minister. Americans tend to prefer their humanitarian and spiritual leaders humble and self-deprecating, à la Jimmy Carter or Billy Graham. Paul, by contrast, is so desperate to convince you of his influence that he can come across as either a liar or a crank. And even those who aren’t turned off by Paul’s self-aggrandizement are often unmoved by his cause. Rescuing widows and orphans may be big news in the Third World, but the subject doesn’t exactly grip the American imagination, which is preoccupied with culture-war standards like abortion, gay rights, and school prayer. Focused as he is on Third World hunger and other apolitical issues that don’t get you on “Crossfire,” Dr. Paul simply may never fit the American image of a Spiritual Leader. But such challenges simply make the indefatigable peace crusader even more determined to try.

The New Yorker published a Talk of the Town item about Paul in September 2003, after he convinced Liberian President Charles Taylor to resign and leave the country. The New Yorker‘s piece said Taylor gave due credit to Paul in a letter he sent to The New York Times, but the Times declined to publish it. Both pieces mention that Paul has hired the New York PR firm of Rubenstein Associates to help him spread the word about what he’s doing.

Paul also has surrounded himself with some rich, famous or powerful Americans: Nelson Bunker Hunt (The New Yorker adds: “of what Dr. Paul calls ‘the Hunt brothers silver deal’”), Evander Holyfield, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and some former members of Congress.

Cotelle provides a sensible explanation of why Paul has not appeared in many American newspapers or magazines:

Paul’s preference for speaking in absolutes (meeting with every terrorist and rebel group in 89 countries, building the world’s largest orphanage, drawing every politician in a region to his rallies) suggests a tendency toward exaggeration, even when the claims are basically true. He must be grilled on every story in order to separate narrative embellishment (he once “beat up” the head of his college) from reality (he threw a couple of punches at the guy), and, even then, it’s wise to confirm with outside sources. For naturally skeptical journalists, all this is hardly worth the trouble for a story about some odd little preacher no one has ever heard of anyway.

Beneath all Paul’s self-promotion, it seems, are some legitimate news stories waiting to be written. The New Republic and The New Yorker have done a service by writing two of them.

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  • Andy Crouch

    Cotelle’s article is generally well-done. But her thesis about evangelicals being uninterested in the needs of the poor is overdone, and woefully unsupported by facts. A cursory Web search shows that World Vision, one of the largest evangelical relief organizations but hardly the only one, had $368M in cash revenue alone in 2003 (and another $337M in gifts-in-kind, but I believe that’s mostly governmental food aid); Pat Robertson’s CBN and James Dobson’s Focus on the Family *together* had $227M in total primary revenue in 2002. I’m sure that Jerry Falwell’s revenue was a drop in the bucket compared to CBN & Focus. (Note that all these figures include forms of income other than direct charitable giving–like I said, it was a cursory Web search.) So how do we get to the conclusion that “conservative Christians” only give to domestic culture warriors? It simply ain’t true. Cotelle is perpetuating a rank stereotype here.


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