Multnomah Books Attacked Over Pro-Gay Title In Related Imprint

From Christian Retailing (links added):

Convergent Books, an imprint of Random House’s Crown Publishing Group, plans to release a pro-gay book the company describes as an “affirmation of both an orthodox faith and sexual diversity.” Releasing April 22, God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships was written by homosexual activist Matthew Vines after years of intensive research on what the Bible says about homosexuality.

Stephen W. Cobb, president and publisher of Convergent, also oversees WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, home to Christian imprints WaterBrook Press and Multnomah Books, and Image Books.

The decision to publish the book has brought down the ire of religious right activist and anti-gay obsessive Matt Barber. Barber does not just criticise the decision to publish the book – inevitably, the motive of the publisher must be venal. Writing at Charisma News, under the headline “Deception: Christian Publisher Sells Soul for Mammon“, he thunders:

Convergent is simply WaterBrook Multnomah by another name.

Is it any wonder that the company’s Christian employees are upset? Moreover, is it any wonder that WaterBrook Multnomah allegedly wants them silenced? Convergent’s sole purpose is evidently to both print and make tons of money from counterbiblical books that would otherwise set off a firestorm if printed under the WaterBrook Multnomah banner.

Barber cites an email from a supposed “whistleblower”, which states:

“…An ‘imprint’ in the publishing world is like a mask—the name and logo of the entity may be unique, but the same staff, editors, executives, promoters, are behind the book as are behind those put out by other ‘imprints’ (i.e., directly from Multnomah, and wearing that brand/mask). So Multnomah is now consciously trying to hide from NRB [National Religious Broadcasters] and its members the fact that it is putting out this new project. Insiders are reporting threats should they release any such information outside the company…”

But Barber himself cites press articles about Cobb’s control of various imprints – actually, imprints are “brands” rather than a “masks” – so what exactly is Multnomah supposedly “consciously trying to hide”?

The article is based on piece Barber previously published on his own site, under the title “Christian Publisher Plans Pro-’Gay’ Book, Employees ‘Under Threat’“, although the url suggests this has been modified (“whistleblower-multnomah-hiding-plans-apostate-pro-lgbt-book-threatens-employees-silence”)

Cobb has responded on the Convergent Books website:

It is important to know that WaterBrook, Multnomah, Convergent, and Image each have their own distinct editorial guidelines and missions. Convergent’s mission is to publish nonfiction for less traditional Christians and spiritual seekers who are drawn to an open, inclusive, and culturally engaged exploration of faith. As such, Matthew Vines’ new book is appropriately positioned as a Convergent publication.  God and the Gay Christian is not published by WaterBrook or by Multnomah—nor would it be editorially appropriate for either.

…A published report raised the question of whether my colleagues have been pressured to not express privately or publicly any objections they might have to the Convergent publication of God and the Gay Christian. This allegation is as untrue as it is deeply offensive to me.

The issue, it seems to me, is whether a publisher representing a cause exists simply to propagandize, or to facilitate a conversation. There of course has to be debate around how far to go, but why does Barber feel the need to engage in such bad-faith demonization?

But this is hardly a new issue; more than 20 years ago, Giles Semper, a former senior editor at HarperCollins Religious, complained in the UK Bookseller that

…Christian publishers… find themselves in a paradoxical position: while debate in the Church rages over an issue like homosexuality and gay priests, they can only offer one Christian perspective, namely, the conservative one, for fear of alienating Christian booksellers. (1)

Accordingly,  Christian Retailing carries a quote from Dightman’s Bible Book Center in Tacoma:

“I would not carry the book and definitely would not promote it… I cannot agree with the premise. Since WaterBrook was acquired by Random House, they have had some books that cross the line. They have classified some books as ‘Christian’ when they don’t have Christian values.”

Charisma News has followed up with a second attack piece, by Michael Brown and entitled “A Shameful Day in Evangelical Christian Publishing“:

The WaterBrook Multnomah group publishes books by authors like John Piper, Chuck Swindoll, Ravi Zacharias, David Jeremiah, Randy Alcorn, David Platt and Bill Gothard, and now its sister publisher is releasing a purported evangelical book defending homosexuality?

Charisma News (like Christian Retailing) is published by Charisma Media (formerly Strang Communications), which is currently making “tons of money” through an absurd “near death experience” book in which a boy explains how he visited heaven and petted Jesus’ “rainbow horse”.

(1) Giles Semper, “Soul Searching in an Age of Alternative Ideologies”, Bookseller, 17 January 1992, p. 130.

WorldNetDaily Reports Claims that Book It Published Is Bringing Jews to Jesus

Rabbi Messiah Discounted

This one’s a couple of weeks old, but worth a mention. From WND:

Two thousand years ago, Jesus of Nazareth was first proclaimed by Jews in Israel to be God’s “Messiah,” and a flurry of miracles took place.

Now, two millennia later, the cycle is repeating itself as Orthodox Jews who once rejected that message are coming to realize the man slain at Calvary in Jerusalem is indeed God’s “Anointed One.”

“Supernatural stories and events surround this new phenomenon,” says Carl Gallups, author of the best-selling book and DVD “The Rabbi Who Found Messiah.” “This has to be the handiwork of God!”

Gallups is referring to the work of Zev Porat, an Israeli man raised as an Orthodox Jew by a rabbinical family. Working today with the Messiah of Israel Ministries, Porat is now championing Yeshua (Jesus of Nazareth) as the prophesied Messiah, and is using Gallups’ material to convince his fellow Jews to wake up to that fact.

As I’ve blogged previously, Gallups’ book discusses the case of Rabbi Yitzchak Kaduri, an influential Kabbalist who died aged 108 in 2005. Shortly before his death, Kaduri claimed that Ariel Sharon would be the last Prime Minister of Israel, and that the “soul of the Mashiach has attached itself to a person in Israel.” He also allegedly wrote a note that was published posthumously,  identifying the name of this person as “Yehoshua” or “Yeshua”. This is an ordinary Hebrew name, but its Anglicised form is “Jesus”.

Gallups – a pastor and birther* who first came to wide attention with his claim that Barack Obama is named in the Bible as the anti-Christ – reworked the story for his WND-published book The Rabbi Who Found Messiah. In his version , Kaduri was a secret believer in Jesus, and he had been given a vision linking the return of Jesus to the death of Ariel Sharon – thus avoiding the problem of Israeli Prime Ministers who have come after Sharon.

Following Sharon’s death, Gallups argued that the fact that Jesus had not yet returned was a confirmation of Kaduri’s prophetic power, but it’s difficult to see how the book could remain relevant and WND is now attempting to shift copies at cut-price. However, Porat’s evangelism opens up a whole new vista: the conversion of the Jews has traditionally been seen as a sign of the “Last Days”, and WND‘s story puts Gallups and his book at the heart of an unfolding supernatural and eschatological drama. WND quotes Gallups:

“…Zev says that there are now ten of Kaduri’s students who are believers in Jesus as Messiah and many others who are openly testifying of Kaduri’s promise to leave a note. When they found out that the note was posted on Kaduri’s website and two Israeli news sources reported on it, as heavily documented in my book, they are mesmerized by the news. Some are shaken by it. Others are given their lives to Jesus as Messiah and Lord. These are exciting and prophetic times in which we live! I am honored and humbled to be a small part of it.”

Porat also has YouTube videos in which he interviews two men (here and here) who claim to have been among Kaduri’s students.

Porat’s ministry is entitled “Messiah of Israel”, and his website abounds with long-lens photos of him attempting to discuss Bible passages with ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem. Apparently he has also taken a copy of Gallups’ book into a synagogue:

“Zev sent me an email telling me that he had a ‘leading of the Lord’ to take The Rabbi Who Found Messiah book into an Orthodox synagogue to reveal to the rabbi and people of that synagogue what Rabbi Kaduri had said regarding the name of the Messiah. He asked me to pray for him and said that this was a ‘dangerous’ thing that he was doing. I assured him of my fervent prayers.

“I was blown away when I saw the pictures of him in the synagogue doing what he had set out to do! There he was using my book to open up the Kaduri story, which the Israeli media had shutdown and covered up.

“After showing them the Kaduri note that proclaimed Jesus (Yeshua) was Messiah, he then followed up with scriptural proof. This man is ministering as a modern day apostle Paul!”

Some copies of Gallups’ book come with a notice on the cover advertising that the book is “By the Creators of the No. 1 Faith Film The Isaiah 9:10 Judgment”; this is WND‘s official DVD tie-in with Jonathan Cahn’s book The Harbinger (published by Charisma rather than WND), which links the 9/11 attacks with God’s judgement against the USA; Cahn and WND editor Joseph Farah are planning a second tour of Israel together later this year.

Meanwhile, the same “By the Creators…” notice will be appearing on a new DVD from Joel Richardson, entitled End Times Eyewitness: Israel, Islam and the Unfolding Signs of Messiah’s Return. Richardson, who has been dubbed “Glenn Beck’s End-Times Prophet”, has written books arguing that the Bible predicts an Islamic anti-Christ, and his work has been endorsed by Robert Spencer.

Footnote

*Frank Arduini has chronicled Gallups’ birtherism in comprehensive depth – see here, here, here, and here. He also discusses the basis on which Gallups says that his book is a “bestseller” and among the top 100 on Amazon:

The only way to consider it a “best seller” is to narrow the categories significantly. For example, it is currently the number one seller in the textbooks, subcategory humanities, subcategory religious studies, subcategory Judaism. To put this into perspective, none of the other top 6 sellers in this category were published after 2011 and one was published as far back as 1992. Gallups never says how many books are actually being sold, just that it is a best seller. Keep in mind that his publisher is WND, which also published Corsi’s book “Where’s the Birth Certificate”, which was listed as a best seller despite the fact that the vast majority of its sales were from a bulk sale purchased by WND itself. Not only is Gallups’ book not a best seller, it is so bad that Gallups “bribed” people to give it a good review on Amazon.com. Specifically, on November 10, 2013, Gallups offered the people who gave the book a five star review a free copy of the DVD documentary that went with the book.

Child-Witch Exorcist Helen Ukpabio Comes to London

Helen Ukpabio in London

Channel 4 News has the latest on Helen Ukpabio:

A controversial Evangelical Christian and “witch hunter” arrives in the UK in the hope of performing exorcisms on children. But in Nigeria witch scares have resulted in violence, torture and death.

The founder of the bizarre Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries has been accused of exploiting superstitious beliefs around demonic possession and endangering children.

…She offers “deliverance” sessions, crude exorcisms which have been accused of fuelling witchcraft accusations against children in Nigeria.

The report comes with a video, in which Channel 4′s Paraic O’Brien showed up at an event in south London where the “Lady Apostle” was addressing a small group of adults in what seems to have been a community centre. Ukpabio appeared wary and unsure of what to do, and O’Brien was quickly told to leave by the event organisers. The video also captured a glimpse of a table display of Ukpabio’s publications: I noticed the cover of her opus Akwa Ibom State Child-Witch Scam: The Wholesome Truth, an abusive and crudely libellous screed in which she outlines how her critics (including me) are part of a world-wide atheist conspiracy against her.

For wider context about what happens when children are accused of causing misfortune through witchcraft, O’Brien referred back to the 2000 murder of Victoria Climbié, and, unfortunately, to the case of “Adam”, the West African boy whose  torso was found by the Thames in 2001 – I say “unfortunately”, as this was an unrelated matter (other reports have also conflated the story of “Adam” with child witches, leading to some regrettable sensationalism).

The report also covered a small protest that took place outside the venue, that was organised by the International Humanist and Ethical Union; the IHEU’s Bob Churchill wrote on Twitter afterwards:

her support network on the ground seems thankfully very small. small numbers at the event.

It should be remembered that the Evangelical Alliance as long ago as 2007 issued a statement that condemned accusing a child of witchcraft as “abusive, immoral, and unbiblical”, and that highlighted efforts by the African and Caribbean Evangelical Alliance to ensure the issue was addressed within black-majority churches. However, there are many small African churches operating in the UK, and journalists have uncovered a few cases where little-known pastors from Nigeria and Congo continue to identify children as witches.

Ukpabio’s current visit to the UK is low-key, and probably deliberately so: after she came to wide attention in 2008 following the broadcast of the documentary Saving Africa’s Witch Children, she claimed that a mob had “almost killed” her when she visited London shortly afterwards. In 2010 she cancelled a planned visit to a Liberty Gospel franchise in Houston following bad publicity.

As it was, her latest London venue had to be hastily rearranged after her original booking at the Albany in Deptford was cancelled; the theatre has issued a statement:

We only cancel bookings in very exceptional circumstances. In this instance we were not given full information about the nature of the booking by the booker, which is at odds with our terms and conditions and ethical policies as an organisation.

And according to Churchill, her second-choice venue was also closed to her after the first evening.

Ukpabio’s publicity for the London visit does not focus on child-witches; instead, the three-day event (10-12 April) is billed as a “Season for Disconnections from All Spiritual Attacks”, and her flier asks:

Are you under:
Witchcraft attack?

Ancestral spirit attack?
Mermaid spirit attack? 

The “mermaid spirit” element has led to some baffled mockery on Twitter – and I suspect that’s why Channel 4 has dubbed Ukpabio’s church “bizarre”. However, it’s less out of place in Ukpabio’s African context, where there is widespread belief in water spirits, known as “Mami Wata“.

Ukpabio has complained bitterly that critical coverage of her teaching and activities maligns her: she insists that although “child-witches” are abused elsewhere, at her own church (which has 150 branches), children are given “a very easy and mild” exorcism that does no harm. But this simply will not do: the tragedies caused by child-witch stigmatisation will only become a thing of the past when the belief itself has been rooted out of religious communities. Ukpabio spreads her teaching on child-witches through videos and paperbacks, and her influence goes beyond those who will bring their children to her church for a “mild” exorcism. And the teaching is abusive in itself: imagine how it must feel to a child to be told that they have caused misfortune within their family due to witchcraft, and how other family members are likely to regard them afterwards.

It should also be remembered that Ukpabio has actively obstructed efforts to protect children: in 2009, she orchestrated a raid on a hostel for children who have been abandoned due to child-witch stigmatisation, and when the Governor of Akwa Ibom intervened she warned him to “remember what happened to Saddam Hussein”. Ukpabio also sent thugs to disrupt a conference on the subject of child witches organised by the Nigerian sceptic Leo Igwe, and in 2010 her lawyer left a comment on this blog expressing glee that Leo’s father had come to harm due to Leo’s anti-corruption campaigning.

WND Rewords Headline To Imply Guilt Ahead of Trial

I really can’t imagine why WND (formerly WorldNetDaily) felt the need to rewrite this headline from MediaTrackers to minimise the “alleged” detail

WND Oberlin

Original:

Media Tracker Oberlin

And yes, the claim that the nephew was “brought… to the US to kill her” is also part of what’s “alleged”, despite the deliberate and bad faith attempt by WND to obscure that this has not been established as fact.

The story concerns a Professor Eunjung An, who claims that her colleague Professor Ali Yedes had said to her that “in his culture, he could have had the female Department Chair [i.e. An] killed because of his perceived mistreatment by her in postponing his tenure.” Also, An says that “Yedes told another professor that he had “brought his nephew to the United States on a student visa some time in the past few years, specifically to ‘stab and kill someone from his department,’ in particular a French professor who is Asian.” According to the report:

An’s request for a jury trial has been granted, and the case has been assigned to Lorain County Common Pleas Court Judge James L. Miraldi. Oberlin College applied for an extension to respond last week, and must submit its reply to the complaint by May 8.

It looks like WND has already decided what the verdict is going to be.

Cliff Kincaid Sees Aleister Crowley Link In Russian Politics

Accuracy in Media’s Cliff Kincaid takes aim against fellow US conservatives who support Russia because of Putin’s “family values” authoritarianism:

Rather than embrace Christianity, the evidence shows Russia has embraced the Russian Orthodox Church, always a tool of Soviet intelligence… Former KGB officer Konstantin Preobrazhensky has called it “Putin’s Espionage Church,” and devotes a major portion of his book, KGB/FSB’s New Trojan Horse, to its use by the Russian intelligence service.

But that’s just the warm-up:

…The scholarly paper, “The Occult Revival in Russia Today and Its Impact on Literature“… describes how “post-Soviet Russia” has embraced New Age and occult ideas, even what the author, German academic Birgit Menzel,  calls “dark” or “evil forces”… Theosophy, writes Dr. Peter Jones, one of the world’s foremost experts on paganism and the occult, is part of a movement which “plans to eat the Christian church alive in the days ahead.”

…One of many fascinating revelations from Menzel’s well-researched 2007 article is that Aleksandr Dugin, now an adviser to Putin, has incorporated some of these ideas into his theory of “geopolitical Eurasianism,” a revival of the Russian empire that includes Islamic Iran… Robert Zubrin, the author of several articles about Dugin, points out the similarities between the National Socialism of Hitler and Dugin’s original National Bolshevism… Equally troubling, there are reports that Dugin’s vision of a resurgent Russia is built in part on the ideas of Aleister Crowley (1875-1947), a Satanist who described himself as the “Beast 666,” or Antichrist, of the Book of Revelation. “It [is] worth mentioning that in early 90s the National Bolsheviks and their main ideologist Aleksandr Dugin tried to bring Aleister Crowley’s ideas to wide popular masses in Russia with enviable persistence,” one observer of the Russian political scene noted.

Kincaid’s article rebukes Pat Buchanan, and (for the second time or more) the World Congress of Families, and he notes the WCF’s association with Vladimir Yakunin, who is close to Putin.

Now, many of us have criticisms of Putin and of the position of the Russian Orthodox Church in Russian life; but that Aleister Crowley might turn out to be the key to understanding Putin’s ultimate motivation isn’t something that I was expecting. Has Kincaid got a bit carried away, perhaps?

Kincaid’s “observer of the Russian political scene” is actually a certain “Frater Marsyas”, who is apparently involved with the OTO in Russia. “Marsyas” is critical of Dugin’s attempt to appropriate Crowley as a “conservative revolutionary”, and he adds: “It looks like after that our ‘conservative revolutionaries’ became disappointed in Crowley”. Dr Peter Jones, meanwhile, is an “Adjunct Professor of New Testament” at Westminster Seminary California; he has no formal expertise in “paganism and the occult”, and he runs a polemical Christian fundamentalist website called truthXchange.

It’s perhaps also worth noting a few points about some of Kincaid’s other sources: Zubrin is a nuclear engineer of eastern European descent who has advised Newt Gingrich on the need for humans to go to Mars, while Preobrazhensky left the KGB more than 20 years ago and moved to the USA in 2006. As with Ion Pacepa (also quoted in the article, and discussed by me here), it’s difficult to judge the extent to which Preobrazhensky’s background means he really has a special insight into current affairs, or whether he’s milking a long-past privileged position to maintain pundit status. His book – full title KGB-FSB’s New Trojan Horse: Americans of Russian Descent - was published by Gerard Group Publishing, which is attached to Gordon Cucullu’s Gerard Group International (I previously wrote about Cucullu here), and his section on the Orthodox Church was previously available on the website of the  CI Centre (“The Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies” – based in Virginia, despite the spelling of “Centre”).

The nature of Dugin’s influence on Russian politics is certainly an interesting subject, and he’s been the focus of recent media attention. Foreign Policy ran a profile (by Anton Barbashin and Hannah Thoburn) a few days ago, entitled “Putin’s Brain“; Oleg Shynkarenko followed up at the Daily Beast with “Alexander Dugin: The Crazy Ideologue of the New Russian Empire“. However, an article from a month ago by J. Paul Goode in the Washington Post cautions that

Though Putin is given to quoting nationalist philosophers, this narrative also overstates the influence of Eurasianism in the Kremlin. Alexander Dugin and Gleb Pavlovskii—two figures most often associated with Eurasianism—have not held Putin’s ear for some time, and one suspects the majority of state and quasi-state actors actually involved in foreign policy are more interested in rent-seeking and asset stripping than empire. 

A piece in the Boston Globe by Leon Neyfakh on the Eurasian Union adds that:

…While the language and aesthetics may sound like the definition of fringe, Dugin has become increasingly influential over time. According to fascism scholar Anton Shekhovtsov, he “entered the mainstream” “when he became an adviser to the head of the State Duma, Russia’s parliamentary body, in 1998. Today, Shekhovtsov, says, “his ideas are taken seriously by people who are close to Putin.”

Dugin and his followers may be the most worrisome face of Eurasianism, but they are not its only supporters; other Eurasianists disdain him as a fascist using the philosophy for his own ends. Among these is Yuri Kofner, the founder of the Eurasian Youth Movement, a clean-cut, blond 20something who makes friendly YouTube videos in English aimed at Westerners who might be curious about the Eurasian dream…

 

Archbishop of Canterbury Suggests African Christians Killed Over Tolerance of Homosexuality

Updated

From the UK Tablet:

The Archbishop of Canterbury warned today of the “absolutely catastrophic” consequences for Christians in other countries if the Church of England decided to solemnise gay marriages.

Archbishop Justin Welby said that a visit to a mass grave for persecuted Christians in Nigeria in January “burnt into his soul” the effect that decisions made at Lambeth Palace could have.

The Christians were killed by their neighbours who thought that their tolerance of homosexuality would corrupt others, he explained during an LBC radio debate hosted by James O’Brien.

Meanwhile, according to the BBC:

Speaking on his first live phone-in on LBC Radio, Archbishop Welby recalled visiting a grave in South Sudan where 369 people had been buried.

He said the victims had been killed because local people believed allowing a Christian community to exist would mean “we would all be made to become homosexual”.

So was it Nigeria or South Sudan? It seems that Welby wasn’t completely clear, and some confusion has slipped in. LBC has the snippet, in which Welby explains why the Church of England cannot just agree to allow gay marriages in church:

…The impact of that on Christians in countries far from here, like South Sudan, like Pakistan, Nigeria and other places would be absolutely catastrophic, and we have to love them as much as we love the people who are here…  I’ve stood by graveside* in Africa of a group of Christians who’d been attacked because of something that had happened far, far, away in America, and they were attacked by other people because of that, a lot of them had been killed. And I was in the South Sudan a few weeks ago, and the church leaders there were saying “please don’t change what you’re doing, because then we couldn’t accept your help, and we need your help desperately”.

…So a Christian on the ground in Africa could end up being on the receiving end of violence and abuse because of a decision taken at Lambeth Palace about sexual equality, about gay marriage?

Yes, precisely… I’m afraid it’s only too sadly true. What was said is “if we leave a Christian community in this area” – I’m quoting them, this not obviously something I think – “if we leave a Christian community in this area we will all be made to become homosexual, and so we’re going to kill the Christians.” The mass grave had 369 bodies in it, and I was standing with the relatives.

(*sic for lack of article, making it unclear whether he meant “a graveside” or “gravesides”)

The Archbishop does not here locate the “mass grave” specifically as being in Nigeria, but that does indeed appear to have been where he meant; Andrew Brown writes in the Guardian:

He referred to a particularly harrowing experience he had in the middle belt of Nigeria, where the ethnic cleansing of a Christian village by Muslim neighbours was supposedly justified or prompted by something gay-friendly done by the Anglican church in the US.

There’s no doubt that Welby was profoundly affected by the experience. He has talked about it to me privately – not your average cocktail party conversation – and he was clearly anguished by the memory of the mass grave and the way it smelled.

There was a similar account when Rowan Williams decided to ditch his old friend Jeffrey John in 2003: he was apparently told that, if John were consecrated as bishop of Reading, Christians in Pakistan would die in the subsequent rioting.

It would still be good to know exactly where this was and what the specific circumstances were: it seems to me that the killing is likely to have been within the context of pre-existing strife, and that this needs to be weighed against whether “gay-friendly” Anglicanism in the USA (or even the general increasing western tolerance of homosexuality) was really the true determining factor.

Welby has a long-standing interest in Nigeria, but he was not there in January. He did, though, as he mentions above, visit South Sudan at the end of that month, as part of a tour of Central Africa. On 31 January, he attended a mass grave in the town of Bor, shortly after “scores” of female church workers had been massacred at a local church by rebels; but there’s no suggestion that this particular horror had anything to do with homosexuality.

According to The Church Mouse on Twitter, Welby told him the story of the Nigerian graveside “over a year ago”.

Journalists Go Wild Over “Holy Grail in Spain” Claim

From the Daily Mail (link added):

Jewel-encrusted goblet found gathering dust in tiny Spanish museum ‘touched the lips of Jesus and is in fact the HOLY GRAIL’ say two historians with evidence to prove it

…The onyx chalice has been sat in the Basilica of San Isidoro in Leon, north Spain, for 1000 years – touted to visitors as a goblet belonging to 11th century Queen Urraca.

But in fact, there is ‘no doubt’ it contains the cup which touched the lips of Jesus Christ, two historians claim.

The Daily Mail appears to be using the expression “no doubt” in a special sense; here’s the Irish Times, which first picked the story up from Spanish media on 28 March:

[Margarita Torres and José Manuel Ortega del Río] admit that the first 400 years of the chalice’s history remain something of a mystery and they cannot say for sure whether this chalice ever actually touched Christ’s lips.

The two authors published a book on the subject last month, entitled Los reyes del Grial; in fact, the phrase “no doubt” refers to their claim that the chalice – known as the Chalice of Doña Urruca, and not actually “gathering dust” - can at least be traced back to Christian veneration in antiquity:

However, they insist there is no doubt that this is the cup that the early Christians revered as the chalice used at the last supper…

[Torres] said the duo had initially been researching the history of some Islamic remains in the Saint Isidore basilica. However, their discovery of two medieval Egyptian documents which mentioned the chalice of Christ caused them to change course.

Those parchments told of how Muslims took the sacred cup from the Christian community in Jerusalem to Cairo. It was then given to an emir in Denia, on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, in return for help he gave to Egyptians who were suffering a famine.

Of course, it’s difficult to assess the strength of their argument based on secondary snippets, such as a Reuters report in Spanish. However, the chalice is made from two Roman-era cups, and the old Catholic Encylopedia notes:

In the sixth and seventh centuries pilgrims to Jerusalem were led to believe that the actual chalice was still venerated in the church of the Holy Sepulchre, having within it the sponge which was presented to Our Saviour on Calvary. Curiously enough, while Antoninus of Piacenza refers to it as made of onyx, Adamnan, less than a century later, describes it as a “silver cup holding the measure of a Gallic sextarius and with two opposite handles” 

So it’s possible that some object venerated by Christians in Jerusalem in the early medieval period (not quite “early Christians”) may have been taken by Muslim rulers; but to link this to a specific item in Spain via documents written in Egypt centuries later is somewhat speculative. And why is there no tradition of the chalice in Leon ever having been venerated as a relic, if that’s its true significance?

According to the London Times, Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch believes the identification with the Holy Grail to be “idiotic”.

UPDATE: The Daily Mail article comes a mere three months after the paper reported on how Griff Rhys Jones “tracked down a wooden bowl that supposedly works miracles, believed to be the Holy Grail itself, which was until recently kept in a house near Aberystwyth” (H/T @mr_ceebs).

UPDATE 2: Special mention should be given to Good Morning America, which invited archaeologist Robert Cargill onto the show by videolink to discuss the claims… and then cut out all of his debunking! Robert also drew attention to potential “ticket sales around Easter”, another detail GMA didn’t think would be of interest to viewers.

UPDATE 3: The Independent digs into the authors and their publisher, with some help from historian Richard Barber:

“One of the authors looks like a perfectly respectable Spanish medievalist, but I can see she has been publishing one or two more popular books,” Barber says… Margarita Torres has a website that includes a page listing her novelas historicas, which include at least one “swashbuckling adventure”. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, but, Barber says: “The fact that she also writes these books means that I don’t think this latest work is entirely serious.”…

Barber, who is more familiar than most with works of this type, now turns his attention to the new book’s publisher. Reino de Cordelia (“Kingdom of Cordelia”) is based in Madrid and otherwise appears to major in comic fiction.

As for the book itself (based on a perusal of a section on the publisher’s website):

“It’s littered with footnotes, which make it look frightfully learned, but there’s something very odd going on,” he says. “No scholar on earth would footnote anything as basic as John, Luke or Judaea. You just don’t do that.”

Christian Jessen Examines “Gay Cure” Treatments

Somewhat belatedly, I’ve got around to watching Cure Me, I’m Gay, Dr Christian Jessen‘s Channel 4 documentary about so-called “gay cure” treatments. The programme toured several approaches in less than an hour, starting with aversion therapy (no longer used, but previously available in the UK on the NHS), and including interviews with psychotherapists who practice “reparative therapy”, an exorcist, and a man who diagnoses sexuality and trauma by asking patients to colour in a drawing of the human brain.  The hook was that Jessen, who is himself gay, would undertake the various treatments and then see if his sexuality had been changed. This, however, wasn’t followed through in any meaningful way: Jessen engaged with the treatment programmes only very superficially, and in some cases merely interviewed practitioners.

Much of the programme was filmed in the USA, particularly in Dallas and Paris, Texas. Jessen’s first call is with John Smid, who previously worked for Love In Action (now known as Restoration Path), described as offering “gay rehabilitation”. Smid has since repudiated his work and is now openly gay, but he explains how the rehab programme would work by separating the “addict” from sources that might “stimulate sensuality” – this included certain clothing and non-Christian music. Rifling through Jessen’s travel bag, Smid finds an Adele CD and observes that the singer is “very popular among the gay community”; the comment was subsequently misreported in the media as “‘Adele songs make you gay,’ says Texan doctor“, much to Smid’s annoyance.

After being turned down for interviews with various practitioners of “reparative therapy” – which links homosexuality to childhood trauma – Jessen eventually meets with David H. Pickup to discuss the approach; Jessen is unimpressed, not having experienced any kind of childhood trauma himself, and he meets a man named Todd, who went through such a programme of therapy without positive results (there’s a reference here to James E. Phelan’s book Practical Exercises for Men in Recovery of Same-Sex Attraction). Back in the UK, Jessen also talks about reparative therapy with Mike Davidson of the Core Issues Trust – Davidson’s group has received media attention for wanting to run bus adverts in London with the slogan “Not gay! Ex-gay, post-gay and proud. Get over it!” Davidson suggests that reparative therapy works for “some people”, and when Jessen says researchers believe this not to be the case, Davidson asks whether the researchers are themselves gay.

It may perhaps have been more to the point to have had an entire programme on the debate over reparative therapy; however, much of the documentary instead heads off into more intellectually marginal territory. In particular, Jessen goes undercover for a session with Jerry Mungadze, who offers a risible “Right Brain Therapy“. This involves using crayons to colour in a drawing of a cross-section of the human brain; Mungadze then examines the colours chosen (with a bit of help – he’s colour-blind) to make inferences about personality and past trauma (“phrenology by colours”, in Jessen’s words). As a bonus, Mungadze points to the parts of the brain that contain the adrenal gland and the thyroid.

Mungadze is self-evidently an uninformed quack pushing a crackpot theory, but the programme shows footage of him expounding on Joni Lamb’s Joni Table Talk, a religious chat show that regularly features leading neo-Pentecostal evangelists. Mungadze’s appearance on the show was also noted at the time by Right Wing Watch; he’s also been promoted by Benny Hinn. As a result of his encounter with Jessen, Mungadze is apparently now threatening to sue Channel 4.

Jessen also visits a megachurch in Texas to ask teenagers about their views on homosexuality; he becomes upset when told that it’s the work of demons, and in London he attends Vincent ten Bouwhuis‘ Amazing Grace church to see an exorcism. Bouwhuis’s (small) church is affiliated with Bob Larson’s  Spiritual Freedom church grouping, and last September he featured on BBC Three’s Teen Exorcists documentary about Larson’s daughters (discussed here).

The documentary also features Jessen travelling from Texas to Washington DC to attend an Ex-Gay Rights protest outside the Supreme Court; on the way, he listens to a subliminal recording tape by a certain Barrie Konicov (one of the Atlantic‘s top “Ten Tax Scofflaws“, apparently), called Gay and Unhappy (“you enjoy ejaculating in a woman’s vagina”, Konicov intones soporifically). The protest was covered by Right Wing Watch last July (Jessen can be seen in one of RWW‘s photos of the event), and there were very few attendees. The programme doesn’t give any information about who these people are; RWW notes

Ex-Gay Pride Month organizer Christopher Doyle… Greg Quinlan of Parents and Friends of Gays and Ex-Gays (PFOX), Richard Cohen of the International Healing Foundation and Douglas McIntyre of Homosexuals Anonymous…

Jessen invited the protestors to take part in a test devised by Ritch Savin-Williams of Cornell University that purports to reveal sexual preference through stimulation; several agreed to do so, but all but one afterwards backed out, claiming the scope of the test was too narrow; and the one potential subject who was still willing to go through with it was deemed to be too old (69) to give meaningful results.

Rick Joyner and the Return of Mike Warnke

From the website of MorningStar, the ministry of Rick Joyner:

50+ Joshua and Caleb Generation Gathering: April 3-5, 2014

You’re in your 50s or 60s or more. You love God with all your heart and want to live in your purpose at this most important time of your life. That’s what God wants for you, too… This gathering is specifically designed with you in mind, training, equipping, and affirming you more fully in God’s purpose for your life. Whether you are married or single, a man or a woman, you fit in.

A short list of speakers follows, headed by…

Mike Warnke – “I’ve known Mike for many years. When I first heard him speak, I thought he was the funniest man I had ever heard. We need humor, and we’ll need more of it as these times unfold. Yet we also need the other great devotion Mike has—saving the lost and delivering those who are in bondage.” ~Rick Joyner

That would be Mike Warnke, author of the most shameless and grotesque bogus “memoir” in evangelical history. Warnke’s 1973 book (which was ghosted by David Balsiger) was The Satan Seller, an absurd account of his supposed early years as a high-ranking Satanist, and it was the subject of a comprehensive and exhaustive debunking by two Christian journalists more than twenty years ago. Warnke made a religious career out of telling the most florid lies – and he contributed to a climate of “Satanic panic” that saw innocent lives blighted by false and hysterical accusations of Satanism across the USA and also in other countries (particularly, the UK).

Many people were under the impression that Warnke had disappeared from public platforms after his exposure, but although he’s no longer an evangelical “A lister” he’s maintained a presence on  the church speaker circuit, through his “Celebrations of Hope” ministry. And this is not his first appearance alongside Joyner: last autumn, he took part in Joyner’s HarvestFest 2013 (tagline: “the greatest move of God of all time is about to come upon the earth”), where the headline speaker was Reinhard Bonnke.

Warnke is not the first disgraced evangelist whom Joyner has attempted to rehabilitate: other associates include Jim Bakker (MorningStar’s Fort Mill base, where the “Joshua and Caleb Generation Gathering” will take place, is sits amid the ruins of Bakker’s Heritage USA), as well as the recently-deceased former “Kansas City Prophet” Bob Jones, and Todd Bentley (in late 2012, Joyner agreed with Bentley that the MP for Croydon, Malcolm Wicks, had died from cancer because he had opposed Bentley’s entry into the UK).

Joyner also endorses other fabulators: in particular, he regularly promotes Kamal Saleem, whose bogus “ex-terrorist” memoir is the direct lineal descendant of Warnke’s volume.

(Video H/T Christian Nightmares)

Vladimir Yakunin’s Western Allies Criticise Sanctions

The World Public Forum has published a statement about the sanctioning of its co-founder, Vladimir Yakunin:

We, the undersigned people from various countries around the world, including the USA, express our great dismay about President Obama’s list of sanctions on top Russian officials. The world in 2014 does not need a new Cold War. It needs de-escalation instead of a spiral of sanctions. The solution of the Ukrainian and Crimean crisis is dialogue and diplomatic efforts which include all parties concerned instead of individualized sanctions.

We consider it to be a particular mistake to “sanction” Vladimir Yakunin who is not only President of Russian Railways but also the founder and president of the World Public Forum – Dialogue of Civilizations which enjoys consultative status in United Nations’ ECOSOC. For more than a decade Vladimir Yakunin has devoted a lot of efforts and activities to dialogue among different religions, cultures and nations as the alternative to armed conflicts. He has stood up against hatred, xenophobia, antisemitism as well as Islamophobia.

Many people around the world know of and greatly value Dr. Yakunin’s extraordinary and tireless work for peace and justice and the resolution of conflicts…

The letter is signed by Walter Schwimmer, Former Secretary General of the Council of Europe, followed by Fred Dallmayr of the University of Notre Dame and various academics. Schwimmer has also penned his own statement:

The solution of the Ukrainian and Crimean crisis is dialogue and diplomatic efforts which include all parties concerned, as former Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Walter Schwimmer, stated in response to President Obama’s list of sanctions of Russian top officials. The world of 2014 does not need a new Cold War. It needs de-escalation instead of a spiral of sanctions. We fully share Mr. Schwimmer’s view that it is a particular mistake to “sanction” Vladimir Yakunin, not only President of Russian Railways but founder and president of World Public Forum – Dialogue of Civilizations. Vladimir Yakunin has devoted since more than a decade a lot of efforts, time as well as activities, to dialogue among different religions, cultures and nations as the alternative to armed conflicts. He has stood up against hatred, xenophobia, antisemitism as well as Islamophobia. His efforts are appreciated by many people throughout the world, including the United States of America. We want Vladimir Yakunin to continue without interruption and hindrance his work for a better and peaceful world where dialogue prevails. We demand that President Yakunin enjoys free access to all United Nations Headquarters including New York as chairman of an NGO with consultative status in UN Economic and Social Council.

As I’ve noted previously, Yakunin’s WPF has made links with an extraordinary array of top-tier academics, religious leaders, and emeritus politicians (along with some rather more eccentric figures), who have spoken at conferences in Rhodes and Vienna and written for WPF publications. However, Yakunin’s enthusiasm for “dialogue” actually means rallying conservative forces against Western liberalism, styled as “neo-liberalism”: just last month he suggested that human rights is deployed in international relations to “de-sovereign states”, and in 2011 he gave a WPF speech in which he opined on the “incompatibility between the neo-liberal interpretation of the system of human rights and the system of human values” and explained that “the universal urge to have the ‘freedom’ to say ‘anything and in any form’ has a temporary character and is beginning to fade away”. Yakunin has also denounced anti-Putin protestors in Russia as having ” no connection with democracy” and as “a direct threat to the sovereignty of our country.”

By suggesting a clash between how “human rights” have been understood and “human values”, Yakunin is speaking generally, but he is also alluding to Russia’s increasingly authoritarian opposition to homosexuality. Yakunin has links with a number of US “family values” activists – most notably, Allan Carlson, Don Feder and Larry Jacobs of the World Congress of Families. But the Ukraine crisis has provoked dissension within the US conservative movement: Feder recently published a boiler-plate rant entitled “Putin Doesn’t Threaten Our National Security, Obama Does”, which prompted Cliff Kincaid of Accuracy in Media to issue a rebuke that “conservatives opposed to Obama’s agenda do not have to ignore, excuse, or rationalize Russian aggression in Ukraine” (however, Kincaid managed to outdo Feder in the “most absurd article title” stakes, with “Putin Now Threatens Nuclear Attack”).

A further link between Yakunin and US conservatives is somewhat stranger: another co-founder of the World Public Forum is a Greek-American businessman named Nicholas Papanicolaou. However, Papanicolaou is also the “Grand Master” of a chivalric order which had been known to meet in Rhodes around the same time as WPF events. The order’s Grand Chancellor is none other than “Jerry” Boykin, while a “Deputy Member of the Supreme Council” is the neo-Pentecostal evangelist Rick Joyner.

Last week, the New York Times profiled Yakunin as part of a piece on “Foes of America in Russia” (links added):

 …there are important stakeholders who, faced with the threat of sanctions last week, have advocated that Russia cut itself off from the West. The most obvious among them is Vladimir I. Yakunin, president of Russian Railways and one of Mr. Putin’s trusted friends, who in a recent interview with The Financial Times described the struggle against a “global financial oligarchy” and the “global domination that is being carried out by the U.S.” On Tuesday, Mr. Yakunin presented plans for a Soviet-style megaproject to develop transportation and infrastructure in Siberia, a move toward “an economics of a spiritual type,” he said, that would insulate Russia from the West’s alien values.