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Title: Pastor calls Pokemon 'poison'

Source: Denver Post, 8/14/99

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Pastor calls Pokemon 'poison'

By Erin Emery

Denver Post Southern Colorado Bureau

Aug. 14 - COLORADO SPRINGS - A minister used a blowtorch and a sword during a church service this week to drive home his belief that Pokemon games and toys are only sugar-coated instruments of the occult and evil.

At a church service Wednesday at Grace Fellowship Church, children's pastor Mark Juvera told 85 children ages 6 through 12 that Pokemon is evil.

To make his point, Juvera burned Pokemon trading cards with a blowtorch and struck a plastic Pokemon action figure with a 30-inch sword. Juvera's 9-year-old son then tore the limbs and head off a Pokemon doll.

During the demonstration, the children chanted: "Burn it. Burn it,'' and "Chop it up. Chop it up.''

Manufacturers of the hugely popular Pokemon products, including Nintendo and Hasbro Inc., said they've never heard of Pokemon being associated with the occult.

And the national Christian Coalition told The Denver Post on Friday that it will stay out of the fray over Pokemon.

"We won't weigh in on it at all,'' said Chris Freund, a spokesman for the national Christian Coalition based in Virginia. "It's a church issue and not a policy issue. We've never heard about it.''

Beth Llewelyn, spokeswoman for the Redmond, Wash.-based Nintendo, said the company had never heard of anything like this before.

"We've only heard good things, very ... positive things about Pokemon,'' Llewelyn said. "We get volumes and volumes of letters from parents and kids about how wonderful they think Pokemon is. They say, "My kids are now reading because they want to read all they can about Pokemon.' It's a universally positive experience.''

Holly Ingram, a spokeswoman for Hasbro Inc., said Pokemon - one of the most popular toy crazes this year - has been favorably received by parents and children.

"For us, it's been a completely positive response from parents and kids. Everything we've done with Pokemon has been positive. I really can't imagine how somebody would feel that way about it,'' Ingram said.

Pokemon, (pronounced POH-kaymahn), is short for pocket monsters. The pop-culture phenomenon began in Japan as a cartridge for Nintendo, Game Boy and Nintendo 64 and quickly spread to America. Its popularity fueled the debut of the Pokemon animated television series. Hasbro has a line of toys and merchandise for kid collectors and a third company, Wizards of the Coast, based in Seattle, sells Pokemon trading cards. This fall, a Pokemon movie will hit movie theatres across the country.

"The whole idea behind Pokemon is to become a "master trainer,' '' Ingram said. "Kids look for different Pokemon characters, find them and use strategy and tactics to capture them in a very mildmannered way. It's not very violent at all. They collect them, and when they've collected all of them, they become a Pokemon master.''

At Grace Fellowship Church, pastors learned of the occult angle after receiving an e-mail of an Internet essay written by a California woman. The essay says Pokemon encourages role-playing that elevates children over God to the position of master and that the games and toys are laced with dark references.

Mark Cowart, pastor of the 1,500-member, nondenominational church, said the essay confirmed his suspicions about Pokemon. While driving with his kids, he heard them in the back seat talking about "Abra'' and "Cadabra,'' and "my antenna went up,'' Cowart said.

Cowart said one of his concerns is that one of the Pokeman characters sprouts horns. Another concern, he said, is that children exploring a Pokemon Web site can click to other games, including "Magic: the Gathering,'' a game similar to Dungeons and Dragons.

"It's got sugar coating on it, but, underneath, it's poison,'' Cowart said.

Focus on the Family, the Colorado Springs-based Christian organization whose messages reach as many as 5 million people weekly via radio broadcasts, has not researched Pokemon, said Julie Able, project coordinator the Youth Culture Department.

Cowart said the church used the sword and blowtorch to get its message across to kids because "we live in a sight-and-sound generation. A little church is competing against Hollywood with multibillion budgets.''

He said kids are used to visual messages, and if you give them a linear message, they'll be bored. 

Cowart said the sword was used in the demonstration because the Bible says that the "way you come down against the powers of darkness is with the sword of the spirit. We don't do things just for the sake of being sensational like the World Federation of Wrestling.''

Copyright 1999 The Denver Post. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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