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Citing love of God, Butler County church burns books, tapes, CDs

Bonfire of the offensive

Monday, March 26, 2001

By Carmen J. Lee, Post-Gazette Education Writer

After all was said and done, it was a pretty tame book burning service.

Les Nolker signs with other pashioners as the pile of books goes up in flame at Harvest Assembly of God last night. (Robin Rombach, Post-Gazette)

Dana Schreiber, 44, of Richland, brought about a dozen mellow rock albums from the '70s such as "Foreigner" and "Joe Walsh." Some of the lyrics and song titles she no longer approves of, and her two teen-age daughters enjoy contemporary Christian music, so there was no reason to keep them around the house, she said.

"I was always going to pitch them, so this was a prime opportunity," she said of last night's ceremony at Harvest Assembly of God Church in Penn Township, Butler County. "This kind of prompted me to do it."

Richard Stawecki, 25, of Mars, had some CDs that were a bit edgier that he decided to purge from his music collection: AC/DC, Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen.

"They promote drugs and alcohol," he said in explaining why he added them to the bonfire.

Absent was any noticeable pornography or discernible idols, unless you count a small, black and beige stuffed dragon or a coconut carved with the face of a pink pig.

Participants and spectators were limited to about 30 people, most of whom were church members. No protesters showed up to express outrage or indignation about the pyre.

And as the group stood around the well-controlled, mid-sized fire at one end of the gravel-covered church parking lot, there was more of a church camp feel to the gathering, with a guitar strumming as a group of teen-agers helped to lead songs such as "Amazing Grace," "Father of Creation" and "Lord, I Lift Your Name on High."

"I would have liked to have seen more visitors," said the Rev. George Bender as he stood and watched the flames crackle and flying embers mix with snow flurries. "But I think it worked out well. It made us pay attention to what we're doing. It made us think about how to focus on the Lord as we should. I hope people understand our intentions, though I know some won't."

Bender said that the idea for book burning came from a couple of church youths while studying the book of Revelation.

Although the church publicized the event, participation was designed for people who had "received Christ" and wanted to demonstrate their commitment to him, Bender said. It was inspired by Acts 19:19, describing how former practitioners of magic burned their books in public.

"We're only dealing with our own stuff, and we're inviting people to see why," he said.

Of course, limiting the burning to participants' personal property didn't mean that Bender or church members were hesitant to express their opinions about what they considered objectionable material, including items which some might have difficulty in seeing as harmful.

For example, among what amounted to a trunk load and a few grocery bags of books, videotapes, records and CDs were some of the popular Harry Potter children's books and Disney animated videos like "Pinocchio" and "Hercules."

Bender was firm in describing the Potter books, specifically, and Disney productions, in general, as containing sorcery and witchcraft. He also did not back down when explaining that materials by Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons were included because, he contended, they were not truly Christian and promoted several gods.

Among the contributions from Lisa Rebmann of Lyndora was an REM CD and a set of audiotapes titled "The Road to Good Fortune," which she described as New Age.

"We didn't have a lot to bring, but there were things that we thought we wouldn't be loyal to God by listening to them," she said.

The "Jurassic Park II" video that Ben Brugere's mother gave him also went up in flames. The 15-year-old who is home-schooled said his mother doesn't attend church often so he goes with his grandmother. He decided to burn the video because he didn't "agree with the blood and stuff."

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