Late yesterday Pope Francis announced--apparently after some prodding--that he will set up a panel to advise him on how to deal with child abuse by priests
The announcement was a forthright acknowledgment by the Vatican of the enduring problem of abusive priests, and fit with Francis’ pattern of willingness to set a new tone in the governance of the church nine months into his tenure.
Whether the new commission portends a significant change in how the Vatican deals with abusive priests and their protectors remains to be seen, experts on the church said. Yet the timing of the announcement, two days after a United Nations panel criticized the Vatican over its handling of abuse cases, suggested that the pope and his closest advisers wanted to at least be seen as tackling the issue with greater firmness.
Had it not been for the death of Nelson Mandela yesterday, this likely would have been THE major story yesterday. No word yet on who will be on this commission, but according to Sean Cardinal O'Malley, the archbishop of Boston and one of the main fixers in the abuse scandals, it will include priests, men and women from religious orders and laypeople and will have a sweeping mandate to develop "norms, procedures and strategies for the protection of children and the prevention of abuse of minors."
However, in what can only be described as a disappointment, it will focus mainly on pastoral care rather than judicial functions. And that gives two groups serving as watchdogs on this issue pause.
(T)he Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, known as SNAP, the leading United States-based support group for clergy abuse victims, called the news a disappointment that reflected badly on the new pope. David Clohessy, executive director of the group, said the announcement suggested that the Vatican remained strongly resistant to making sexually abusive members of the clergy and their church protectors accountable to external criminal prosecution.
“A new church panel is the last thing that kids need,” Mr. Clohessy said in a telephone interview. “Church officials have mountains of information about those who have committed and those who are concealing horrible child sex crimes and cover-ups. They just have to give that information to the police.”
BishopAccountability.org, an organization that has amassed an enormous collection of documents on the abuse problem in the church, gave a cautious welcome to the announcement, but also expressed skepticism.
“It’s good that the Vatican will be giving this terrible problem high-level and focused attention,” Anne Barrett Doyle, the group’s co-director, said in a statement. “But we are concerned that the commission will be toothless and off-target.”
In a press conference, O'Malley claimed that it was important to focus on pastoral care as well as the judicial aspect. The problem with that argument is that there are quite a few bishops who turned a blind eye to abuse, and one word from Francis would end their careers on the spot. Most notably, Robert Finn, who knew or should have known as early as 2010
that one of his priests, Shawn Ratigan, was a pedophile--and yet didn't do anything until the issue was essentially forced on him.
When John Hagee opens his mouth, you expect to hear lunacy. An appearance earlier this month on TBN was no different. On Friday, People for the American Way stumbled on a special prophecy-focused edition of Praise the Lord that aired on November 1. On this show, Hagee claimed that the Jewish people will make a deal with the Antichrist just before the End Times start. As a result, they won't accept Jesus until he returns. Watch here.
When Hagee said this, another "prophecy" snake oil salesman, David Reagan of Lamb and Lion Ministries, claimed that two-thirds of Jews won't survive the End Times, and the one-third that will survive will "come to the end of themselves" before accepting Jesus.
Watch the whole thing--if you can stand it--here. Hagee also claims that the 2008 financial crisis and the 9-11 attacks were both divine retribution.
Doug Phillips resigned as president of Vision Forum earlier this week, citing an "inappropriate relationship."
Phillips posted an announcement on the Vision Forum website, stating,
There has been serious sin in my life for which God has graciously brought me to repentance. I have confessed my sin to my wife and family, my local church, and the board of Vision Forum Ministries. I engaged in a lengthy, inappropriate relationship with a woman. While we did not "know" each other in a Biblical sense, it was nevertheless inappropriately romantic and affectionate.
Phillips, who founded Vision Forum in 1998, is one of the biggest names in the world of homeschooling as well as Biblical patriarchy, Quiverfull ideology, and the Family Integrated Church. He is the son of the late Howard Phillips, founder of the Conservative Caucus and U.S. Constitution Party.
Since it's only two weeks from Halloween, I made my usual foray into Christian Right Country to find out what their plans are for this Halloween. I don't know where to be sad or just bored that there is nothing original to report. The same folks are still claiming that if you let your child dress up as Spiderman or a Disney princess and collect candy from the neighbors, that child will wind up killing cats and murdering babies as offerings to his or her Dark Master Darth Vader--er, Lucifer. Or at the very least they'll end up sneaking copies of Harry Potter books which will lead them into corruption and Satanism, with usual cat killing and baby murdering along the way. You do get the usually advice that you should give out Jack tracts warning of the dangers of Halloween (dead cats and babies, and eternal damnation, natch) to the poor misguided innocents who expect candy, not a cheesy cartoon pamphlet designed to lure them into Dominionism . Funny how these people are always screaming "parental rights" when it comes to their kid being exposed to the theory of evolution or accurate info on birth control and STI prevention--but have no qualms about foisting their values on the children of people who don't buy into their rather unpleasant version of Christianity.
I thought I had nothing to write about this year, and then I remembered something that gave me chills. Back in 91-94, we were living in Brunswick, ME, and we often visited friends near Boston. One afternoon, we decided to head over to Salem. There are number of great museums there, from the House of the Seven Gables, where Nathaniel Hawthorne's ancestor and one of the judges of the witchcraft trials, lived to the Peabody Essex Museum, home to many exhibits of historical interest but particularly rich in the China Trade. The first time we went we concentrated on that museum and having a late lunch. We avoided the more touristy aspects like the plague.
In 2010, Liberty University got more federal funding than the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
In a 2011 Talk To Action story, contributor Bill Berkowitz covered the new trend in which right-wing evangelical colleges and universities were vacuuming up federal dollars. Berkowitz focused on the late-Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, which promotes Young-Earth creationism.
""I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!" - The Rev. Jerry Falwell, America Can Be Saved
This year, the fortieth anniversary of Liberty University, Rev. Falwell's dream -- now being looked after by his son Jerry Jr. -- has become a reality thanks in large part to America's taxpayers.
Founded by Falwell in 1971, Liberty University, which according to its website is "the largest and fastest growing Christian Evangelical university in the world" and "the largest private university in Virginia," is "celebrating 40 Years of Training Champions for Christ."
Liberty U. receives massive government aid
During the last fiscal year alone, Liberty received about $445 million in federal financial aid money, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Over the past few years, Liberty University has raked in so much taxpayer money from the federal government that is now ranked among the top ten universities in the United States receiving federal dollars. It is also Virginia's top recipient of federal money.
In a 2009 piece for RH Reality Check titled "Why is the Federal Government Supporting Evangelism?", Eleanor J. Bader pointed out that LU's [Jesse] Helms School of Government "crows that it turns out 'Christ-centered leaders, able to apply God's word in every area of life.' What's more, LU's webpage showcases its mission, promising students an 'action-oriented curriculum dedicated to world evangelism and repudiation of political correctness.'
"Not sure what that means? The site explains: 'A strong commitment to political conservatism, total rejection of socialism, and firm support for America's economic system of free enterprise.'"
Since it doesn't get much more religiously oriented than Liberty University, a fair question to ask is: Should a private sectarian institution be receiving federal funds?"
Earlier this week, Rick Joyner, one of the main leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation--an out-and-out fascist offshoot of the religious right that believes it can bring about Jesus' return by taking over the world--called for a military overthrow of the government of the United States. Joyner declared that since there's no chance the people who can really bring change to this country will ever be elected, nothing short of a military coup can save the nation from oncoming tyranny. People for the American Way got a clip, but it's been deleted--at least for now--due to a takedown demand from Joyner. PFAW is working to get it back up, arguing--rightly--that the clip was fair use. But you can watch the whole thing here. Joyner's call for a coup comes at roughly the 7:40 mark.
Well, late yesterday, in a bulletin to the members of his dominionist-oriented grassroots group, the Oak Initiative, Joyner--who is reckoned as a "prophet" in dominionist circles--declared that ever since receiving a message from God in 1987, he has believed that this country is going to go through martial law.
In 1987, I began warning about what is now happening. When I was first shown this in the prophetic experience I wrote about in The Harvest, I was as disconcerted and grieving as much as some were when they saw the Prophetic Perspectives program in which I boldly stated these things. For this reason, I fully understand and empathize with their outrage. However, everything I was shown in that vision has either come true or is unfolding now.
I have the benefit of seeing many things unfold the way I was shown, and I surely understand the outrage of those who do not have this benefit. Some infer that this is something I actually want to happen in America, but that could not be further from the truth. I don’t prophesy what I want to see happen, but what I am shown. In fact, I know it is something that the Lord did not want to happen, which I will explain below.
At best, even with the best martial possible, martial law is a very dangerous thing. America is now sailing deeper and deeper into these most treacherous seas. If there was any prophecy that I have made that I hope does not come to pass, this would be one of the highest on that list. However, like it or not, see it or not, this is where we are headed.
Can this be avoided? Until it happens, I do think it can be avoided. However, unless you change your direction you will end up where you are headed, and martial law is where we are headed. In 1987, this was very hard for me to see. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, it was even harder to see, but since then all of the changes in our nation have been more in the direction of this.
When I began to see that this is now almost certainly unavoidable, I did receive encouragement that even if our present government collapsed, if we, as a nation, returned to the Lord, it would be used for good and not evil. It could be a reset, a jubilee, and our Republic could be restored on a solid foundation, one that would not be so easily shaken again. I still hold to that promise. Not only will our Republic be restored, but even more importantly, America will turn back to the Lord and fulfill our destiny and purpose.
That being said, without a soon and very radical turn back to what we were called to be as a nation, we are going to pass through a time of martial law in America. The crucial issue is who the martial is going to be. This could be a very difficult time, much darker than we can probably imagine, or it could be a time when peace and stability is restored, and the Republic is restored to its Constitutional moorings. That choice is up to Americans.
What's important here, though, is what Joyner didn't
say. Nowhere did he repudiate his earlier call for a coup. Incredibly, he actually claimed that it only sounded that way because "some on the national news edited the video to make it seem what I was not saying." I invite you to watch for yourself. If Joyner seriously expects anyone to believe that he was misquoted, there's a bridge in Brooklyn I'd like to sell him.
Joyner is based only 20 minutes south of me in Fort Mill, South Carolina--at the old Heritage USA complex built by Jim Bakker. And yet, he's almost unknown here in Charlotte even though his church has existed since 1995. It's all the more reason to put the hot lights on both him and his other compatriots in a movement that is the closest thing to fascism we've ever seen in this country.
Pope Francis' recent statements urging restraint by the Catholic Church on hot-button issues is a hopeful sign that he may be looking to modify the Church's behavior in the political sphere. His words are likely a reaction to the hierarchy's tendency of late to identify with the political right and to use doctrinal litmus tests for determining the loyalty of Catholics. If one wants a true indicator of Francis' real intentions, however, it might be best to go beyond the general tone of his remarks and explore how much he seems to agree or disagree in specific instances with the worldview of his hard-line predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. In particular, where does he stand, as far as can be determined, on the broad issue of secularism in modern society, a favorite preoccupation of Benedict's.
A couple of weeks ago, I wondered if the vile behavior of the likes of Westboro Baptist Church may be on the verge of becoming mainstream for the religious right. After all, you had two "mainstream" fundie leaders encourage their followers to engage in tactics straight out of Fred Phelps' playbook. Gordon Klingenschmitt suggested that born-again photographers who work LGBT weddings ought to deface the pictures with Romans 1:32, and Kevin Swanson called for Christian cake decorators to write Leviticus 20:13 on LGBT wedding cakes.
Well, we may be getting yet more proof that Phelps' behavior is gaining more acceptance--or at the very least, more mainstream fundie leaders are willing to condone it. Yesterday, one of the more popular fundie radio hosts and speakers, Dave Daubenmire, noted how often fundies join the chorus of criticism of Phelps' actions, and suggested that they should back off because he may be doing what God tells him to do. For good measure, Daubenmire also said that born-agains have no business speaking out against Quran-burning pastor Terry Jones either--after all, he may be just obeying God. Watch here.
There is so much wrong with this that I don't know where to start. Is Daubenmire saying that we shouldn't speak out against a guy who finds it acceptable to picket the funerals of kids? And is he saying that we shouldn't speak out against a guy who not only thinks it's OK to burn the Quran--especially during Ramadan, which would be like burning a Bible on Easter or Christmas--but to put an effigy of Obama hanging from a noose in front of his church?
This video seems even more dense considering Daubenmire's background. Daubenmire was a longtime high school football coach in Ohio, his last stop being in London, south of Columbus. I would expect such head-in-the-sand commentary to come from someone who spent his career in the fundie bubble, not someone who spent so much time in the secular world.
Then again, considering Daubenmire's past, something this warped isn't as surprising. Starting in the early 1990s, he came under fire for forcing his players to take part in religious activities. The ACLU sued the school district in 1999. Just before the case was to go to trial, the school district and ACLU reached a settlement in which the high school's principal was required to report any complaints about religious indoctrination to both the school board AND the ACLU until 2001. Under the agreement, any violations could have been reported to the federal court in Columbus and resulted in citations for contempt. And yet, Daubenmire claims he won. Talk2Action's Bruce Wilson also reports that Daubenmire filed a libel suit against a group of seven parents and faculty members who spoke out against him, and lost. And it turns out that Daubenmire has taken part in Koran burnings himself.
We already knew the religious right is increasingly becoming a ghost from the past. But if they really are starting to think Phelps and Jones' behavior is even remotely OK, then this movement really has become a cartoon.
In what has to stand as one of the dumbest lawsuits in recent memory, a Kansas-based fundie group has filed a federal civil rights suit which seeks to ban the teaching of evolution in Kansas public schools. They argue that evolution has no place in the classroom because--wait for it--science is a religion.
The group, Citizens for Objective Public Education, had criticized the standards developed by Kansas, 25 other states and the National Research Council for treating both evolution and climate change as key scientific concepts to be taught from kindergarten through 12th grade. The Kansas State Board of Education adopted them in June to replace evolution-friendly standards that had been in place since 2007.
The new standards, like the ones they replaced, reflect the mainstream scientific view that evolution is well-established. Most board members believed the guidelines will improve science education by shifting the emphasis in science classes to doing hands-on projects and experiments.
The nonprofit organization based in the small community of Peck, south of Wichita, was joined in its lawsuit by 15 parents from across the state with a total of 18 children — most of them in public schools — and two taxpayers from the Kansas City-area community of Lake Quivira. The parents say they're Christians who want to instill a belief in their children that "life is a creation made for a purpose."
Read the full complaint here
. It claims that by including evolution in science standards, Kansas is "indoctrinating" students and engaging in "excessive government entanglement with religion" in violation of the First Amendment. It further argues that Kansas is violating the rights of Christian parents by allowing "only 'materialistic' or 'atheistic' explanations to scientific questions." Last I checked, only scientific answers were legitimate in science classes. Then again, most fundies have no concept of what a theory really means, so this ridiculous argument comes as no surprise.
People for the American Way (where I first learned about this crazy lawsuit) discovered that COPE is actually following a strategy that was suggested three decades earlier by John Eidsmoe, one of Michele Bachmann's mentors. In his 1984 book, God and Caesar, Eidsmoe argued that attacks on evolution should center on the premise that evolution promotes the "religion" of secular humanism.
one Talk To Action site member, back in July
"Terry Jones, the jackass preacher who has moved to this county, is now planning another Koran-burning.
His plans are to burn 3000 Korans on the property of a Bill McKinney (a name to check on) on September 11.
I suspect his core motivation is to get more people killed..."
But, it was not to be. Not this time, at least.
As we all know, Westboro Baptist Church is supposedly persona non grata even among the religious right. But recent statements by two supposedly mainstream religious right leaders have me wondering if Fred Phelps' behavior may be on the verge of becoming mainstream practice.
First, Gordon Klingenschmitt--best known as the yayhoo ex-Navy chaplain who got drummed out for wearing his uniform at a White House protest--suggested that born-again photographers who work at LGBT weddings ought to write Romans 1:32 and other anti-gay Scriptures on the pictures. hen a few days later, Kevin Swanson of Generations with Vision, who operates one of the most popular fundie podcasts, said that born-again cakemakers ought to write Leviticus 20:13 on the cakes of any LGBT weddings--in effect, telling them to die.
If a photographer or cakemaker were to take either of these "reverends'" advice, he or she better have a lawyer on speed dial, as well as a backup plan for his or her finances. Either sort of behavior is a business-destroying lawsuit waiting to happen. About the only reason I can think of for why Klingenschmitt and Swanson would even think this is a good idea is so the defendant in the inevitable lawsuit could claim he or she was just expressing his religious views, so therefore what he or she was doing was protected under the First Amendment. But the closest parallel I can draw is to someone who didn't like how he or she was treated at a store and decided to vandalize it.
I see no difference whatsoever between defacing someone's wedding pictures or wedding cake and picketing someone's funeral. None, zip, zero. And yet, we've seen a lot of signs of desperation on the fundie front because the fundies know they're losing this battle, and losing it big. How else do you describe fundies rushing to the defense of Arthur A. Goldberg, a guy who is being sued for running a conversion therapy outlet that swindled and degraded its clients? In a previous life, Goldberg was the mastermind behind one of the worst financial frauds of the 1980s, in which he sold billions of dollars in fraudulent municipal bonds to impoverished communities with large minority populations.
Also, based on my own experience with fundie lunacy, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if someone actually took up Klingenschmitt and Swanson on their advice. After all, As many of you know, during my freshman year at Carolina I was tricked into joining a campus ministry that was affiliated with one of the more notorious dominionist outfits, Every Nation. The guys and gals in there engaged in some of the most disreputable tactics in the name of getting people saved. Deceiving people about who they really were, hectoring people about being saved--and even going as far as to trump up false charges of harassment against me for daring to speak out against them. They seemed to believe that all was fair when it came to getting people saved--a mentality no different from what Klingenschmitt and Swanson seem to be encouraging here.
So Gordon and Kevin, you want your followers to ruin one of the most special days of anyone's life, then turn around and claim they're the ones being persecuted? Please proceed.
A new documentary may be one of the highest-caliber shells fired across Pat Robertson's bow in a long time. Back in 1994, Robertson's humanitarian organization, Operation Blessing, claimed to have raised scads of money to help thousands of Rwandan refugees who fled across the border to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. But according to Mission Congo, slated to premiere tonight at the Toronto International Film Festival, much of that money actually went to fund a diamond mining operation run by Robertson.
Mission Congo, by David Turner and Lara Zizic, opens at the Toronto film festival on Friday. It describes how claims about the scale of aid to Rwandan refugees were among a number of exaggerated or false assertions about the activities of Operation Blessing which pulls in hundreds of millions of dollars a year in donations, much of it through Robertson's televangelism. They include characterising a failed large-scale farming project as a huge success, and claims about providing schools and other infrastructure.
But some of the most damaging criticism of Robertson comes from former aid workers at Operation Blessing, who describe how mercy flights to save refugees were diverted hundreds of miles from the crisis to deliver equipment to a diamond mining concession run by the televangelist.
Read more about the film at the festival Website
. The allegations it makes would send a chill down the spine of any fair-minded viewer. Officials with Doctors Without Borders told the filmmakers that Operation Blessing was more or less nonexistent in one of the hardest-hit towns, Goma--only one tent and seven doctors. Then, several weeks later, even that minimal effort apparently stopped.
Robert Hinkle, the chief pilot for Operation Blessing in Zaire in 1994, said he received new orders. "They began asking me: can we haul a thousand-pound dredge over? I didn't know what the dredging deal was about," he said.
The documentary describes how dredges, used to suck up diamonds from river beds, were delivered hundreds of miles from the crisis in Goma to a private commercial firm, African Development Company, registered in Bermuda and wholly owned by Robertson. ADC held a mining concession near the town of Kamonia on the far side of the country.
"Mission after mission was always just getting eight-inch dredgers, six-inch dredgers … and food supplies, quads, jeeps, out to the diamond dredging operation outside of Kamonia," Hinkle told the film-makers.
Hinkle claims that a whopping 38 out of the 40 sorties he made into Congo actually went to help the mining operation. He was so disgusted that he removed Operation Blessing's livery from the plane. And apparently Robertson was so brazen that he passed off a landing strip for the mining operation as one he'd created for the relief effort.
Even the aid that did get to Congo didn't do any good. Jessie Potts, who was Operation Blessing's operations manager in Goma, claimed the medicines that were sent were of almost no use in fighting the massive cholera outbreak down there. Additionally, a 100,000-acre farm in Dumi failed soon after being set up due to poor soil and the use of American seeds that were completely unsuitable for the region. A school that Operation Blessing set up there had long since been abandoned by the time the filmmakers arrived in 2011.
Poor Terry Jones. He has to find a new location, as the original site for his Koran burning is flooded and isn't expected to be usable in time for his plans to deliberately offend Muslims.
Earlier today, I found a real lulu of an article in Charisma magazine penned by Cindy Jacobs. In her latest piece, Jacobs muses on what to do about how to combat ungodly influences in our cities. Her solution? Lay siege to them through prayer.
The army of God is on the move and ready for battle strategy. A new breed of watchmen is emerging across the nations. This breed is ready to lay siege to its cities.
Ezekiel 4 gives a prophetic pattern for establishing the lordship of Christ in your area. Ezekiel was called of God to perform an intercessory act over the city of Jerusalem, much like Joshua when he was called to march around Jericho. Ezekiel's prophetic intercession provides a model—with principles found throughout the Word of God—on how to intercede for a city against spiritual strongholds.
It may look innocuous, but you have to remember that Jacobs and others of her ilk believe that in order for Jesus to come back, Christians must take over all aspects of our culture. So when Jacobs is calling for intercession against "strongholds," she is calling for her followers to pray against anything and anyone who isn't under "submission" to those of her ilk.
How are they supposed to do it? According to Jacobs, there are four steps. First, make a map of the "strongholds" in a city, set a strategy to intercede for the city, implement it, and build a "wall of protection" around it.
As part of this strategy, "watchmen" should be placed at various points to "spy out, research and harass the enemy through intercession." This is all too familiar to me. For those who don't know, during my freshman year at Carolina I was tricked into joining a campus ministry affiliated with one of the more notorious dominionist/NAR outfits, Every Nation (which is itself a repackaging--or at least a linear descendant--of one of the more notorious campus cults of the 1980s, Maranatha Campus Ministries). They believed that God had "strategically" placed Christians all around the campus. Although it was never said, it was strongly implied that we were supposed to befriend people only with the purpose of converting them.
As anyone who's delved into these people knows who Jacobs thinks the enemy is. This is a woman who once declared war on separation of church and state
and once said this country was in for a major "shaking" unless it elected more Republicans
Back in 2010, Oklahomans voted overwhelmingly (70 percent!) to amend their state constitution to ban the consideration of Sharia law. Well, late Thursday, a federal judge in Oklahoma City threw it out on First Amendment grounds.
In finding the law in violation of the U.S. Constitution's Establishment Clause, U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the certification of the results of the state question that put the Sharia law ban into the state constitution.
"While the public has an interest in the will of the voters being carried out, the Court finds that the public has a more profound and long-term interest in upholding an individual's constitutional rights," the judge wrote.
The full ruling is available at the ACLU site
Just 48 hours after the election, Muneer Awad, the then-executive director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on Islamic-American Relations, sued on the grounds that the so-called "Save Our State" amendment violated the First Amendment's establishment and free exercise clauses. He was later joined by four other plaintiffs.
Miles-LaGrange gave a pretty loud hint of where she was going in a preliminary injunction issued on November 29, 2010, in which she hinted that the amendment was indeed unconstitutional, and that Awad's First Amendment rights would be irreparably harmed if the law were allowed to take effect. This ruling was upheld by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which preemptively demolished the all-but-certain claims of judicial activism by saying, "When the law that voters wish to enact is likely unconstitutional, their interests do not outweigh Mr. Awad's in having his constitutional rights protected."