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2003 PE Report

Americans find comfort in ‘nesting,’ but connecting is another matter (December 22, 2002)

Viewer discretion advised: Reality-based programs stoop to new low (December 15, 2002)

A/G among fastest growing faith groups (December 8, 2002)

Christians play crucial role in foster care (November 24, 2002)

A/G churches remember with outreaches (November 17, 2002)

Elderly face added woes from credit card debt (November 10, 2002)

PE Kidz News from BGMC (October 27, 2002)

Cyber-evangelists find innovative ways to share gospel (October 20, 2002)

Risks, stigma accompany wearing of tattoos (October 13, 2002)

Women lead on-campus ministries (September 29, 2002)

Tobacco, alcohol, gambling industries find underage Internet client base (September 22, 2002)

Marijuana, cocaine have abusive company: Ecstasy, meth and prescription painkillers (September 15, 2002)

September 11: A day that changed American Christians forever (September 8, 2002)

Congress, courts clash over Internet filtering issue (August 25, 2002)

People with disabilities bless churches (August 18, 2002)

Short-term youth binges can result in long-term habit (August 11, 2002)

Christians aim to preserve traditional marriage (July 28, 2002)

Payback time: Christian volunteers motivated to give back to community (July 21, 2002)

Urban training centers minister
to ever-growing population
(July 14, 2002)

E-mail rumors dupe multitudes, hurt credibility (June 30, 2002)

Not so innocent: PG-13 films increasingly push sex, language limits (June 23, 2002)

Skipping church: Why are some Americans staying home on Sunday? (June 16, 2002)

Fudge fellowship: Pastor's wife treats tavern clientele (June 9, 2002)

Persevering nomadic church finally reaches promised land (May 26, 2002)

Tragedy brings A/G church, community closer to God (May 19, 2002)

Couples find God's calling in adopting, raising children (May 12, 2002)

A/G chaplain ministers to women in maximum-security prison (April 28, 2002)

Youth center offers alternative to teens (April 21, 2002)

A week without television (April 14, 2002)

Technological know-how aids San Jose church outreach (March 31, 2002)

Cincinnati racial reconciliation brings inner peace to inner city (March 24, 2002)

District's fund-raising efforts aid pastors planting churches (March 17, 2002)

GED program an effective ministry (March 10, 2002)

Building relationshipis at heart of women's ministries outreach (February 24, 2002)

Single-minded devotion: Unmarried ranks offer ministry opportunities (February 17, 2002)

Bethany College honors black minister pioneer (February 10, 2002)

A/G quarterback wins Unitas Award (January 27, 2002)

Camp Melody plants song of love in boys' hearts (January 20, 2002)

Pastor breaks giving record after 10 days atop billboard (January 13, 2002)

2001 News Digest stories

2000 News Digest stories

E-mail rumors dupe multitudes, hurt credibility

(June 30, 2002)

By Kirk Noonan

When George W. Bush campaigned for the presidency did he really take time out at a banquet to share his faith with a rebellious young man? Did thousands of people with Jewish heritage stay home after being warned that terrorists were going to attack the Trade Center on September 11? Is a group in California actually trying to clone Jesus?

The answer to all of these questions is no. These and hundreds of other stories, which are known as urban legends, have been making the rounds on the Internet and duping everyone from network journalists to college students. Besides clogging e-mail servers, playing on fears, wasting time and money, and spreading misinformation, such stories also tarnish the sender’s credibility. This can be particularly damaging to Christians.

Gretchen Passantino, 48, is co-director of Answers in Action, an evangelical organization in Costa Mesa, Calif. "A [significant] consequence [of spreading misinformation] is that when Christians do proclaim the truth of Jesus many won’t believe it," Passantino told PE Report. "They’ll think that story is as unreliable as the e-mail rumors and urban legends Christians have unwittingly passed on.

"As Christians we have an obligation to check out stories and not pass them on unless we know them to be the truth," she says. "One thing that distinguishes Christians from others is that we serve the God of truth, so we need to be sure to tell the truth."

Two years ago a fabricated story taken from an Internet site known for its satirical articles reported that Harry Potter books had influenced millions of children to embrace satanism and that author J.K. Rowling was pleased. Blasphemous quotes attributed to Rowling and outlandish quotes from children began making the rounds. But experts say the story would never have reached the status it did if those who so eagerly sent it on would have checked its veracity and origin.

Christians should be wary of any e-mail that arrives in their computer inbox after it has been forwarded several times. This, experts say, is a tip-off that the e-mail could be a hoax or rumor. Other telling signs the stories are fake is that they play on hopes or fears; promise riches or forecast doom depending on what action the reader takes; are not reported by credible news agencies; and implore the reader to pass the information along to others.

"One of the biggest dangers of hoax messages is that they multiply," says Bill Campbell, online services manager and webmaster at the Assemblies of God national headquarters in Springfield, Mo. "If one person sends a hoax message to just 10 people in his or her address book and each of those recipients does the same, the result is 1 million messages by the sixth generation."

Though the mode of transmission has changed due to technology, urban legends are nothing new. In the 1970s, some believed a rumor that claimed scientists had drilled through the earth’s crust and discovered hell. In the ’80s, the president of Procter & Gamble was portrayed as a satanist who allegedly appeared on Phil Donahue’s talk show to confirm the company’s symbol was satanic. Despite repeated announcements by both Donahue and Procter & Gamble that the rumor had no veracity, it continued for years.

One of the biggest rumors to stand the test of time, though it has been altered in several ways, involves Madalyn Murray O’Hair. O’Hair — the atheist who in 1963 convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to end state-sponsored prayer in public schools — supposedly petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to ban all religious radio and television programs.

According to, no such petition has ever been presented to the FCC by O’Hair. But the rumor continues even though O’Hair disappeared in 1995. Even identification of her remains a year and half ago have not put it to rest.

According to Passantino, two motives compel people to spread rumors such as the O’Hair story. "It makes the person passing the information feel like he or she is in the know, and most people genuinely want to save others from problems or disaster," she says. "But either motive doesn’t justify passing on information that is false."

It’s not just Christians who keep hoaxes, rumors and urban legends swirling.

Television network journalists Peter Jennings and Diane Sawyer have fallen for Internet hoaxes and reported inaccurate information on the air, according to the April edition of American Journalism Review. But usually it’s the everyday, good-willed person’s reputation that is damaged most by the stories.

"I thought it was true," says one Christian man, who asked to remain anonymous, about the e-mail rumor he passed along about Bush and the rebellious young man. "The e-mail came from a close acquaintance. But when I learned it was fabricated I felt bad that I was a victim of deception and that I had passed it along to others."

To avoid propagating stories that are not true, Passantino encourages Christians to put any stories or news they receive via e-mail to the test. Double check the facts of the story; visit Web sites such as or to see if the story has already been debunked; talk to the person who sent the e-mail; but most of all, practice common sense. "When in doubt," Passantino says, "always throw it out."


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