Church attacks Pokemon as occult |

Church attacks Pokemon as occult

— To grab the attention of a roomful of fidgety kids, Grace Fellowship Church sometimes turns to high drama.

On Wednesday night, the message to 85 children seated in pint-sized chairs was that a wildly popular Japanese-bred toy figure known as Pokemon is not fun and games, but instead a veiled symbol of the occult and evil.

To drive the point home, the children, ages 6 to 12, were given a display that included:

The burning of collectible Pokemon trading cards with a blowtorch.

The children’s pastor swinging a sword with a 30-inch blade to strike a plastic Pokemon action figure laid on a table.

That pastor’s 9-year-old son tearing the limbs and head off his own Pokemon doll.

Those details were confirmed Thursday by Mark Juvera, the children’s pastor, and Mark Cowart, the senior pastor, in interviews with The Gazette. The children reacted enthusiastically and, according to one account, chanted, ”Burn it! Burn it!” and ”Chop it up! Chop it up!” Though the tactics might seem unusual, Cowart said he believes in the message and the methods.

He said the 2,000-member, nondenominational church at 6540 Templeton Gap Road didn’t receive any complaints Thursday. However, it wasn’t clear how many people know what happened, and two parents criticized the church in interviews with The Gazette.

Juvera said he learned of the occult angle Wednesday after being sent an e-mail of an Internet essay written by a California woman, Berit Kjos. The essay alleges that the mania over Pokemon, short for ”pocket monsters,” encourages role-playing that elevates children over God to the position of master, and that the games and toys are laced with dark references.

Cowart said he had suspicions when one of his children showed him a Pokemon card with the word, ”abracadabra.” He said Pokemon also eggs on youth violence, because characters battle. And one character seems to sprout horns, he said.

”Being Christians, we’re very cautious about this sort of thing,” said Cowart, who plans to toss his kids’ Pokemon toys. ”Really, these are lessons in sorcery and occult activity, even though it’s shrouded in innocence.”

That interpretation was a surprise to Holly Ingram, a spokeswoman with Hasbro, which makes Pokemon toys. ”I guess you can look at it and think whatever you want, but everything we’ve heard about Pokemon has been extremely positive,” she said.

Jenny Bendel, a spokeswoman with Wizards of the Coast, a Seattle company that sells the trading cards, noted that when Pokemon characters ”battle,” the loser doesn’t die, it faints. ”It doesn’t get any more nonviolent than that,” she said.

Cowart said the methods employed Wednesday were necessary to compete with Hollywood and cartoons. He said parents are told the church uses ”graphic, visual” lessons. The sword was used because the Bible calls it the word of God, he said.

”We live in a sight-and-sound generation,” Cowart said. ”Linear teaching of the Bible is not gonna cut it.”

However, to Carol Williams, whose two sons, 5 and 7, were in attendance Wednesday, the church went too far and should have sought parental permission first. ”I understand they’re trying to educate children about being selective about what they watch, but personally, it’s up to me to monitor what my children watch,” said Williams, who attended the church sporadically for six months.

She said she won’t go again.

Sherry Feltch, who attends the church but didn’t take her kids there Wednesday night, said the message was too negative. ”To get kids all pumped up like that, that’s encouraging violence to me,” she said. ”I would think using a blowtorch in a church, to have 80 kids in one room, burning things … that’s not positive reinforcement.”

Frank Basilico, however, was glad his three children saw the destruction of what he considers a potential threat.

”You need to get them when they’re young,” he said. ”They can’t be worshiping these things.”

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