Archive for the “Religion” Category

Posts concerned specifically with religion

Five members of the church Word of Faith Fellowship in North Carolina face kidnapping and assault charges. (WSPA-TV, via (NY) Daily NewsFor several months now, the Associated Press has been digging into the abuse inflicted on congregants at the Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale, NC, including continuing criminal trials (one of which recently imploded in spectacular fashion). The crux of it all is this fiercely fundagelical church’s practice of assigning every problem a congregant has to diabolical or demonic infestation, which they “treat” by — literally! — beating the devils/demons out of people. (Because naturally, it makes total sense that incorporeal beings will flee from people who’ve been beaten to within an inch of their lives, and never come back. Right?)

The abuse at Word of Faith has been going on for decades, and had been sporadically reported on through that time. For instance, it was covered by Inside Edition in 1995. Despite this, Word of Faith had avoided prosecution, and the AP uncovered the reason why: Word of Faith insiders in the NC justice system had shielded them from being investigated at all, in many cases, and whenever Johnny Law did come poking around, coached witnesses in how to answer questions.

The AP recently published another article explaining how and why it took so long for charges to be filed in the case of one abused congregant who’d reported what happened (WebCite cached article):

For two years, Matthew Fenner said he pleaded with authorities to investigate his allegations that a group of fellow congregants at the Word of Faith Fellowship church had punched, slapped and choked him to expel his “homosexual demons.”

An Associated Press investigation found that Rutherford County investigators and then-District Attorney Brad Greenway delayed investigating and told Fenner his only option was to pursue misdemeanor charges against the church members he said assaulted him for nearly two hours in the evangelical church’s sanctuary.

The AP’s conclusions are based on more than a dozen interviews and court documents, along with a series of secretly made recordings that were provided of Fenner’s meetings with law enforcement authorities, including Rutherford County Sheriff Chris Francis.…

Fenner tried to get action, but there was resistance:

When Fenner fled to his grandparents two days later [after he was attacked by church personnel], they called authorities. But Fenner told the jury that law enforcement — ranging from the Rutherford County sheriff’s office to the Federal Bureau of Investigation — didn’t take his allegations seriously.

The AP found that Fenner not only told law enforcement agencies about what happened to him, but also warned of ongoing abuse in the church.

“Over the last two decades, it appears that different politicians or leaders in the community have had a certain fear of the Word of Faith and for whatever reason that sort of encapsulated them and made them untouchable,” said Jerry Wease, chairman of the Rutherford County Democratic Party and a licensed counselor who has worked with people who left the church.

In Fenner’s case, it wasn’t even just the North Cackolackian justice system refused to budge; even the FBI wouldn’t pick up the case:

On Jan. 31, 2013, he met with FBI agent Fred Molina, who was investigating a complaint from another congregant who said he was beaten because he was gay. Fenner detailed what happened to him, along with the abuse of other congregants, six people told the AP.

A month later, Fenner called the FBI to check on the progress of the agency’s inquiry and was told a new agent was on the case because Molina was about to retire. That agent never called him back, Fenner said. When he received a letter months after that saying the FBI wasn’t going to investigate, he inquired why and said he was told it was because the other church member who reported being attacked had recanted.

Molina declined to talk to the AP, saying he was told by his former bosses not to discuss the case. But Nancy Burnette, who became familiar with the church through her court work with foster children and who helped some congregants flee, said Molina told her that he was pulled from the investigation. He urged her to “keep fighting” to get the “truth out,” she said.

So it seems even FBI management within NC was protecting Word of Faith. Nice, huh?

Fenner simultaneously pressed both state and federal law enforcement. Assistant US attorney Jill Rose declined to prosecuted because she said Fenner’s case didn’t meet federal hate-crime standards and didn’t cross state lines. At the state level he met with the DA (Brad Greenway) and sheriff (Chris Francis). Like Rose, Greenway refused to prosecute, and the sheriff told Fenner to file misdemeanor charges on his own.

It took Greenway being voted out, for the charges to be pressed. Indictments were handed down shortly after that. Hmm.

As I’ve noted previously, colossal deference to churches is certainly not unique to North Carolina, nor to fundagelical churches. The very same phenomenon helped the Roman Catholic Church avert charges against its own abusive clergy — and it happened all over the world for decades, if not centuries. It’s a tendency that must fucking stop. The idea that churches, and religious institutions generally, are not to be held accountable for their actions, is simply unacceptable. Folks within the criminal justice system are going to have to grow up, pull up their big-boy (or big-girl) pants, and just fucking deal with allegations against churches and religious personnel. They can no longer be allowed to skate just because they’re religious folks.

Photo credit: WSPA-TV, via (NY) Daily News.

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Cardinal George Pell in 2012Like many countries, Australia has been investigating how the Roman Catholic Church (along with other groups) handled child abuse by clerics in its ranks.

Over the last couple years, the man who’d been Australia’s top Catholic hierarch, Cardinal George Pell, had to testify about what he, and other hierarchs, had done. During these hearings, Pell let fly the excuse that Catholic hierarchs didn’t want to report child abuse, because they weren’t “gossips.”

Pell may have faced some heat, as a hierarch, over how the Church’s management handled the scandal, but as the New York Times reports, the state of Victoria has charged him with sexual assault, himself (WebCite cached article):

Australia’s senior Roman Catholic prelate, and one of Pope Francis’ top advisers, has been charged with sexual assault, the police in the Australian state of Victoria said on Thursday.

The prelate, Cardinal George Pell, became the highest-ranking Vatican official in recent years to face criminal charges involving accusations of sexual offenses.

Pell has been in the Vatican since 2014, when Pope Francis named him to a key post in the Church. He is, effectively, the number 3 man in the Vatican. Although Pell has been criticized (not unjustly) for how he handled abuse allegations against clergy working under him, while he was archbishop of Sydney and of Melbourne before that, these charges appear to be about him, directly, and aren’t really new:

Last year, detectives from the state of Victoria flew to Rome to interview Cardinal Pell over sexual abuse accusations, the police said.

The detectives were part of a task force charged with investigating allegations of abuse that arose from a parliamentary inquiry in Victoria into the abuse of children, as well as the Royal Commission’s hearings.…

News reports that the Australian police were weighing abuse charges against the cardinal came on May 17, days after the release of a book, “Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell,” by Louise Milligan.

Pell has said he will return to Australia to answer these charges. (Since the Vatican has no extradition agreement with Australia, he could just hide out there and ignore the charges, if he wanted.) We’ll just have to see how his case plays out.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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1099 Siege of JerusalemI’ve blogged about “the Great Neocrusade” for several years. This, of course, is my name for the Religious Right movement that seeks to drive Muslims out of the US — and then eradicate Islam from the planet. These folk are enraged at the very existence of Islam, because it’s the chief rival religion of Christianity, to which the majority of them belong (although there’s a notable minority of Neocrusaders who’re Jewish).

They’ve long used the barbaric terrorism of militant Islamists, such as ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh/whatever-the-fuck-you-want-to-call-that-savage-brood, to justify their demand that Islam be obliterated. Sure, there are extremists within Islam — which I’ve argued doesn’t reflect well on their religion — but many of the Neocrusaders are, themselves, religious militants; they just happen to be militant Christianists rather than militant Islamists.

Their reasoning, therefore, is nowhere near as utilitarian or “pure” as they’d have you believe. They don’t realize, or care to know, that Christian and Right-wing terror is every bit as real a problem as Islamist terror.

Neocrusaders’ blanket condemnations of Islam, of course, make them look like sanctimonious bigots — which, if truth be told, they are! But some of them have realized this, and have undertaken a different tack. What they’ve done is to declare themselves opposed not to Islam, or to Muslims, but instead, to what they call shari’a law.” This is a generalized term for “Islamic law traditions” which have legal force, of one kind or other, in some Muslim-majority countries. According to this particular wing of the Great Neocrusade, “shari’a law” is about to be imposed on the US; and once that happens, supposedly, every American will be forced to convert to Islam.

This past Saturday, as the Los Angeles Times reports, one “anti-shari’a law” group took to the streets around the country to protest the putative imposition of “shari’a law” on Americans (WebCite cached article):

Speaking out about what they believe are the ills of Islam, anti-Sharia law activists demonstrated nationwide Saturday, but were met by counter-protesters who assailed their rhetoric as insensitive and demeaning.

Members of Act for America, which has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, gathered in parks and plazas across the country, organizing nearly two dozen so-called March Against Sharia rallies, stoking concerns and counter-events by Muslim leaders who say the group is spewing hate.

In Atlanta, an assortment of militia men brandishing assault rifles, supporters of President Trump waving American flags and men’s rights activists wearing helmets descended on Piedmont Park, a leafy oasis in the city’s affluent, liberal Midtown neighborhood.

In New York, nearly 100 people attended a rally near lower Manhattan. They were outnumbered by counter-protesters, and the two sides hurled insults across two rows of police barricades.

The problem with this outfit is that it’s premised on a lie. There is no effort to impose “shari’a law” on any American. It’s impossible for it ever to happen, since the First Amendment prevents government from imposing a religion — or by extension, a religious law code — on Americans. “Shari’a law” can’t be imposed on the US any more than Roman Catholicism’s canon law can be. It’s a figment of their paranoid imaginations. It has not happened; it is not happening now; and it will not happen any time in the future. Period. End of story.

To be clear, if I thought for a moment that “shari’a law” was going to be imposed on me, I damned well would protest it, right alongside the members of Act for America, or anyone else who protests it. But it’s not … and the idea that it will soon be, is an outright fucking lie. It’s simply a rationale for pitching fits over the fact that Islam exists and that there are Muslims here in the US. Nothing more.

This specific form of the Neocrusade movement reminds me a bit of anti-Semites who cloak themselves behind the contention that they’re not really “anti-Jewish,” they’re really just “anti-Zionist.” Unfortunately, most of their invective is directed at Jews generally, not at Zionists specifically. It also reminds me of a subset of Holocaust deniers who don’t necessarily deny that the Third Reich went after Jews, it’s just that they dispute that around 6 million Jews died at their hands. They contend the number is smaller — often much smaller. But really, this quibbling about numbers isn’t really relevant. For instance, if the Nazis had “only” killed 600,000 Jews instead of 6,000,000, that still wouldn’t make what they did anything other than a horrible atrocity.

I note that some of the Neocrusaders who participated in these supposed anti-“shari’a law” rallies, themselves, acknowledged they had other reasons to protest Islam:

Some anti-Sharia marchers in Orlando, Fla., such as Sheryl Tumey, noted the timing of event, two days before the one-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, as a reason to protest. The gunman, who killed 50 people at the gay club, had been inspired by Islamic State extremists.

“We live here and that touched us — and that was a terrorist,” said Tumey, 50. “We are here and they want to bring in a religion of hate and oppression.”

These people, you see, can’t even keep their own disingenuous pretenses straight! As for who’s promoting “a religion of hate and oppression,” I acknowledge that’s what Islamists do … but it also happens to be what the Religious Right, a predominantly Christian movement right here in the US of A … also does. Fucking hypocrites! Maybe they should pay attention to their Bibles, and note that the founder of their own faith reportedly ordered them never to be hypocritical, at any time or for any reason. They’re quite simply not allowed — by their own Jesus! — to do so. Ever.

What these sanctimonious liars need to do is fucking grow the hell up, for the first time in their sniveling little lives, and accept the fact that Islam exists, that there are some Muslims here in the US, and that they can never change either of those realities, no matter how angry they get about them.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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Word of Faith Fellowship Church grounds in Rutherford County, N.C. / CBS affiliate WSPAI just blogged about the case involving North Carolina’s “abuse church,” Word of Faith Fellowship in the little town of Spindale. But only a short time later, the trial of one of the abusive pastors imploded … and as CBS News reports, it happened in remarkable fashion (WebCite cached article):

A judge held a juror in contempt and declared a mistrial Tuesday in the case of a North Carolina church minister charged in the beating a congregant who says he was attacked to expel his “homosexual demons.”

Superior Court Judge Gary Gavenus immediately sentenced the juror, Perry Shade Jr., to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine. Gavenus said the juror brought in three documents, including one related to North Carolina law, but it wasn’t the right law pertaining to the charges in the case.

Gavenus said he had warned the jurors not to bring in outside material.…

[Word of Faith minister Brooke] Covington was the first of five church members to face trial in the case. Each defendant will be tried separately. Covington’s trial began May 30.

And that’s not all, either:

Chad Metcalf, 35, was brought to Gavenus in handcuffs after he allegedly told the jury in a hallway to reach a verdict. Deliberations had begun Monday.

“I take this very seriously,” Gavenus told Metcalf.

The juror who was held in contempt was the same one who reported Metcalf’s comment to the judge.

Gavenus said Metcalf could face 39 months in prison and set a $100,000 bond.

This case was years in the making, given that indictments were first handed down in December 2014 (and likely had been the result of no short amount of proceedings) … so I expect it’ll take several years more for a retrial to take place — if they even have one. The fix really was in, where Word of Faith was concerned; as the Associated Press’s investigation showed, some area prosecutors were members of the church who actively helped shield them from prosecution. It also doesn’t take rocket science to understand that North Carolina is a Bible-belt Bobble Bayelt state, and I’m sure the good ol’ boys who run it aren’t any too happy about having to prosecute a fundamentalist church over its practices (in this case, literally beating the demons, devils, whatever out of people).

Photo credit: WSPA-TV, via CBS News.

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Map of London attacks on 6/3/2017, by BBC NewsBy now all my readers will have heard about the attacks in London yesterday, on London Bridge and in Borough Market (WebCite cached version):

A white van hit pedestrians on London Bridge at about 22:00 BST on Saturday, then three men got out and stabbed people in nearby Borough Market. They were shot dead by police minutes later.

There’s little doubt at this point that Islamists are behind this, and specifically, ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh/whatever-the-fuck-you-want-to-call-that-barbaric-brood:

All through the night supporters of so-called Islamic State have been celebrating the London attack, even before any claim has been made by IS.

There was never much doubt either in their minds, or in those of British counter-terrorism officials, that this was a jihadist attack inspired by IS.

It follows a widely-circulated propaganda message put out by the group on social media urging its followers to attack civilians in the West using trucks, knives or guns.

The message makes reference to the current Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Last year attacks intensified during this month with deaths resulting in Istanbul, Dhaka and Baghdad.

Some analysts see this as a last desperate bid by IS to its supporters, following multiple setbacks in the Middle East where its self-proclaimed caliphate is shrinking fast.

However, the ideology of IS is likely to survive those defeats and will continue to fuel terrorist attacks around the world.

Reports have also come in that the name of al-Lah, Islam’s deity, was invoked by at least one attacker (cached):

One eyewitness on London Bridge, told the BBC he saw three men stabbing people indiscriminately, shouting “this is for Allah”.

And, Dear Reader, what’s important to note, here, is that even if “the Islamic State” with its base in Raqqa, Syria were wiped out tomorrow, “Islamic State attacks” are sure to continue worldwide. Really, ISIS/ISIL/IS/whatever-the-fuck is an unbeatable foe. It will be with us forever. It’s a product of the Salafi movement within Islam, and as such is nearly a century old. It has given us “Salafist jihadism” which can be found worldwide. Unfortunately, Salafism — and by extension, Salafi jihadism, is actively being spread, by wealthy Salafists and even by governments, such as that of Saudi Arabia (cached). We can talk about “carpet-bombing ISIS,” if we want — and as Sen. Ted Cruz has done (cached) — but even if we did, it won’t matter one iota. There are just too many childish, sanctimoniously-enraged Islamists out there who’ve been ifantilized by Salafi religionism in the world, and that infantilization grows daily.

Once and for all, we need to put away the fucking ridiculous canard that “Islam is a religion of peace.” It cannot logically be “a religion of peace,” if some of its followers — no matter how few — can use it to justify vicious terror attacks in many different parts of the world. This also cannot be the case, so long as financiers and governments who are part of Islam actively promote such a vicious form of the religion.

Oh, and instead of trotting out laughable bullshit like calling for imposition of a Muslim ban (cached), or promises to “carpet-bomb ISIS,” a better plan for the US to deal with it would be to block the networks which finance and promote Salafism around the world, and coerce governments (including our supposed ally, Saudi Arabia) to stop doing so themselves. But I doubt that will ever happen.

Photo credit: BBC News.

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Word of Faith Fellowship, Spindale, NC / Alex Sanz/AP, via (NY) Daily NewsI blogged a few times about the Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale, NC. A trial is underway there, as I type this, and as the Associated Press reports, one of the defendants suddenly turned state’s evidence and testified against the rest (WebCite cached article):

One of five people charged with trying to beat “homosexual demons” out of a fellow church member in North Carolina testified for prosecutors on Friday, saying she threw the first slap after their minister began the attack.

Sarah Anderson took the stand despite defense objections in the trial of Word of Faith minister Brooke Covington. Anderson accused her of starting the confrontation with Matthew Fenner after a January 2013 service at the Spindale church.

She testified that Covington started pushing Fenner’s chest and screaming “Open your heart!” Anderson said she then slapped Fenner in the face, and about 30 church members then joined in, beating, screaming and choking the man for about two hours.

Not only did Anderson testify about the beating, she also testified about the subsequent attempt to obstruct justice:

Anderson testified that church leaders, including two working prosecutors at the time, met with the people who participated in the attack after Fenner pressed charges. She said then-assistant District Attorneys Frank Webster and Chris Back coached them to tell investigators that nothing violent happened that night.

The case involving Fenner’s beating predates the AP’s multi-story exposé; of the abuse, this past February. indictments were handed down back in December 2014 (cached). It took 2.5 years for the case to grind its way through the North Cackolackian justice system and reach this point. I’m actually amazed it proceeded even that quickly, given it’s a Bible Belt Bobble Bayelt state, where churches are granted deference.

Photo credit: Alex Sanz/AP, via (NY) Daily News.

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'One Nation, Under God: Remember, if you don't believe in God, you're not a REAL American. Keep prayer and God in school, where they belong!' / Image © Austin Cline, Licensed to About; Original Poster: University of GeorgiaI’ve blogged a few times about Bible classes in public schools. The nation’s Christianists have long agitated against the Supreme Court’s 1963 decision in Abington School Dist. v. Schempp, which forbid the reading of Bible passages or reciting the Lord’s Prayer in public schools. Even decades later, militant Christianists throughout the country are still fighting back against that decision. They’ve consistently whined that Abington ripped the Bible out of public schools — which isn’t true — and have repeatedly pushed to get more Bible classes in more public schools throughout the country.

The reality is that lots of school systems have “Bible-as-secular-literature” courses. But many of them still run afoul of Abington. An example is the Mercer county, WV school system, which has a Bible course running through many grades, beginning in elementary school. The Freedom from Religion Foundation filed suit to end Mercer county’s Bible classes this past January (WebCite cached article). The FFRF’s complaint shows how the program’s lessons are more like Sunday-school religious lessons than “Bible-as-secular-literature.” After some wringing of hands over the last few months, as the Bluefield (WV) Daily Telegraph reports, Mercer county schools have decided to suspend the program for a year while they review its content (cached):

Mercer County’s Bible in the Schools program is being suspended for next year, providing time for a review of the optional class for elementary and middle school students.

Members of the board of education approved the suspension last night at their regular meeting.

“Since the Bible class is an elective, I would like to include community members and religious leaders along with our teachers in this process,” said Dr. Deborah Akers, superintendent of schools. “In order to conduct a thorough review, we need to allow at least a year to complete the task. Therefore, I am recommending that we suspend the elementary Bible classes until this review is completed.”

The way the schools got around the law on this is, as I see it, moderately clever. Their “Bible in the Public Schools” program is administered by the school system, but funded by private donations, with those funds paying the program’s teachers. They also say it’s an “elective,” but virtually every student takes it, which is undeniable evidence that it’s not actually an “elective” at all.

The Bluefield Daily Telegraph ran a second story to reassure readers this wasn’t necessarily the end of the program (cached). Rather pathetically, it lamented “the loss of jobs” due to the year suspension:

Although Mercer County schools administers the program, Pelts’ group raises money to pay the seven teachers, who will now be out of their jobs at least for next year.

“Right now, the loss of jobs for our teachers is heartbreaking,” said Pelts. “Our primary and immediate emphasis is to honor and show appreciation to our Bible teachers.”

The group raises almost $500,000 a year to pay for the program.

I don’t know about you, but that’s a staggering sum of money for a private fund to raise, just to pay for Bible classes in one Appalachian county. As of 2015, Mercer county’s population is a mere 60,000 or so. I can’t imagine those residents can consistently raise half a million dollars a year, just among themselves. It doesn’t seem plausible. Outside groups must be paying for this program.

If I may crib from my earlier remarks on this topic: As someone who’s studied the Bible, both as sacred and secular literature, I don’t dispute that “Bible-as-literature” classes add value to public schools. There’s no doubt whatever about that! Biblical allusions are common in other literature and art, and some of the Old Testament books serve as tremendous examples of etiology. Kids can certainly use this as a foundation for understanding other works.

The problem I have with public-school Bible classes is, I don’t trust the people — generally, devout Christians — who create curricula for, and teach, them. Many are motivated by a desire to proselytize. Even if they set out with the intention of keeping these classes completely secular, will they be able to resist the temptation to turn them into religious instruction? The ardency with which some of them have pressed to get such classes into public schools makes me question how truly committed they are to a secular approach to the Bible. I particularly find it suspicious that half a million dollars is spent annually, in little Mercer county, WV on this effort. That kind of money makes the whole thing appear very suspicious.

Photo credit: Austin Cline, Licensed to About.Com; Original Poster: University of Georgia.

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