|Photo from The Cambodia Daily, Philip Heijmans, May 17|
Family Radio and their adherents have been peddling this lunacy around the US for the last year and in recent months have published advertisements around the world touting their Armageddon prophesy.
Yesterday The Cambodia Daily reported that Family Radio doomsday ads were on display on several billboards around Phnom Penh, and that upon learning of the existence of these billboard advertisements the Cambodian government took exception. Today's Daily reported that the city has ordered the billboards removed today on the basis that they had not received prior approval from the appropriate authorities. The Ministry of Information also ordered the advertisements taken down "to avoid confusion among the public and to ensure public order."
In fact, many if not all of the billboard adverts were removed yesterday afternoon. I saw two of the billboards in the Wat Sampo Meas area yesterday around 2:00PM with the advertisements still in place. I went home to get my camera and returned at about 4:30PM only to find that the advertisements had already been removed (which is why I have used the photo from yesterday's Cambodia Daily here instead of my own.)
Ordinarily I would be arguing that this is a violation of freedom of speech and religion, but in this particular case I agree with the government order to remove the ads. The right to freedom of speech is not absolute. As is often noted, it does not include the freedom to falsely yell 'Fire!' in a crowded theater because such an action would present a clear danger to the public. I think these doomsday ads represent just such a case.
I recall November 1994 when the Texas-based evangelical preacher Mike Evans came to Cambodia to hold a faith-healing revival. The event was preceded by flurry of advertising promising that of those who attended his revival at Olympic Stadium would be healed - that the blind would see and the lame would walk. Many Cambodians bought it. Thousands of desperate, poverty stricken folk from the countryside sold their meager possessions - their bit of land, their store of rice, their cow, whatever they had - to come to Phnom Penh to be healed. They showed up in ox-carts and on foot, limping into town, hauling along their elderly parents and ailing children in the hope that they might be healed. The event night came and the stadium was full. Evans took the stage and did his faith healing shtick - prancing this way and that, sweating, praying fervently and yelling passages from the Bible - pointing at people and declaring them "Healed!!" After a short while of Evans' snake oil show, the audience realized that nobody was being healed - that their children were still sick and grandma was still dying. Grumbles of "fraud" grew, and then a near riot ensued. The betrayed and angry crowd chased Evans from the stage, out to the street and back to his luxury room at the Hotel Cambodiana, where he cowered until he was able to escape the country with police protection the following day. He no doubt cost everything of many who could least afford it - their meager savings, their food, their stock animals, their homes, even their lives, or worse, the lives of their loved ones. Unrepentant, Evans scurried back to Texas and made hay of the ordeal, claiming to his American audience that the Khmer Rouge, in their hatred of Jesus, had chased him out of the country.
As a side note, as a result of the Evans debacle the Christian church in Cambodia experienced its first overt persecution since it had regained freedom in 1990. Evans did damage to the cause of Christianity in this country that lingered for years, perhaps to this day.
And here today we have another group of fringe dwelling Bible thumpers trying to foist their lunacy onto the Cambodian people. At least in America, from which these people hail, they are preaching it to educated (or semi educated) folk, most with cash to spare, at least by comparison to most of the Cambodian population. And the Americans have seen plenty of these sorts of Christian charlatans before. If they choose to buy into the tomfoolery, they have nobody to blame but themselves. But here in Cambodia, where a significant portion of the population is uneducated, unsophisticated and unfamiliar the ways of Christian doomsayers from the West, many are particularly vulnerable to this sort of chicanery. Given the susceptible state of much of the Cambodian populace, these advertisements posed a clear and present threat to public welfare and safety. As such, it was right and correct for the Cambodian government to order their removal.
And on a final note, like the Evans farce, the Family Radio doomsaying will do their fellow Christians no favors in Cambodia. Aside from making Christians look foolish, this sort of incident may cause the government to turn a more scrutinizing eye toward foreign-run Christian activities in Cambodia, some of which are already skirting the edges of Cambodia's anti-proselytizing laws.