Noah’s Ark Hoaxer to Save Bush

An email from CBA (the Christian Bookselllers Association) announces that Michael Moore will soon be undone:

The documentary George W. Bush: Faith in the White House, which premiered at CBA Convention, will air on network television in September and may release in theaters later this summer as a contrast to the negative Fahrenheit 9/11

The documentary was made by Grizzly Adams Productions, whose producer is David Balsiger. Balsiger is a one-time Council for National Policy member, and is best known as the enabler of two hoaxes. The first, in the early 1970s, was when he co-ghostwrote Mike Warnke’s autobiography The Satan Seller, launching the “Satanic survivor” genre that caused so much panic and harm over the next twenty years (Balsiger still stands by the book). The second was in the 1990s, when his Sun International Pictures made The Quest for Noah’s Ark, a pseudo-documentary that included an interview with a man who falsely claimed to have found it. That fiasco led to the termination of a contract with CBS.

In 1977 Balsiger also made The Lincoln Conspiracy, about the assassination, for which he won an honorary doctorate from the Lincoln Memorial University.

Balsiger’s other works include:

Secrets of the Bible Code Revealed

How to Prepare Your Family for Y2K

Bible Code: The Future and Beyond

The Bible’s Greatest Secrets Revealed

The Bible’s Greatest Miracles

Satanic Panic Comes to Cyprus

Back in March, Cypriot Justice Minister Doros Theodorou declared fears about Satanism on Cyprus to be baseless. He now seems to have changed his tune, according to the Cyprus Mail:

Speaking at a conference on Satanism in Limassol yesterday, Theodorou said the Council of Europe and European Parliament had both called on their members to confront the problems connected with sects and new religious movements on a political, social and economic level…”both neo-Satanism and Occultism are groups that belong to the so-called ‘New Age’ and move within society using various masks”.

Further:

He said the best tool against these dangers was prevention through providing correct information and sensitising people to the actions and dangers surrounding these groups.

Well, if that’s his aim the conference is likely to be counter-productive. Most of the information about Satanism on the island comes from Archimandrite Christophoros Tsiakkas, head of the Pancyprian Parents Union for the Protection of the Greek Orthodox Culture, the Family, and the Individual (P.P.U), which was founded in 1944. Tsiakkas (also spelt as Christoforos Tsiakkas or Christoforos Chiakkas) makes some lurid accusations, claiming there is a “mass initiation of school students into Satanism.” He has also warned of a “Satanic conference” that took place on the island on June 14 and claims that a Satanic temple has been built in Limassol.

However, Tsiakkas has been banging this drum for a while. A previous conference was held by the PPU and the Ministry of Justice and Public Order back in 2000, where he announced that “18.9% of High School children had some experience of Satanism and Occultism.” Part of his “evidence” was that high school students considered rock music to be Satanic and supposedly had the following feelings when listening to it:

32.5% fear
28.4% disruption
26.8% disturbance
22.0% rage
20.5% anger
7.2% pleasure
4.5% tranquillity

Back then, Ministry officials vowed to act against the “200 cults” on Cyprus, in order to “protect and safeguard public order, national security, and national sovereignty.” Seems rather peculiar that nothing seems to have improved after four years – unless, of course, the threat is an imagined one.

The 2004 conference also featured Alexander Dvorkin, a man with rather extreme views. According to the American conservative CNS News, at a roundtable in Moscow in 2003

Dvorkin lashed out what he called “imported sects.”

Dvorkin, who is attached to the Orthodox Church, is a U.S. citizen who has lived in Russia for about a decade on a permit for foreign residents. A controversial figure, he has even labeled Pentecostal Christianity as a “totalitarian sect”.

Clearly, the Satanic threat is being manufactured from a conflation of new religious movements with Satanism and of harmful religion with anything that the Orthodox Church disapproves of, including rock music. Theodorou should go back over his notes from March.

(Several links for this entry came via the Religious News Blog, the Pagan Prattle, and the Wiccan Web)

Zen on the Streets of London

The Observer profiles the Peacemaker Circle International Community, a Zen Buddhist group that holds “street retreats” in which participants spend several days living homeless in major cities. At a “retreat” in London this weekend, participants paid £150 (about US$220), much of which is donated to homelessness charities, but their time on the streets includes making use of facilities (soup kitchens and free blankets) intended for the genuinely homeless. The experience was also supposed to include begging, although a police warning put a stop to that. Speaking to the Observer’s sister paper The Guardian a few weeks ago, group leader Grover Gauntt (or Senso Grover Genro Gauntt) had explained the motivation behind the “retreat”:

Everybody takes away something different…To understand the other you begin to understand yourself, to bear witness to what actually is; you transform yourself.

However, according to the Observer journalist, who lasted half of one night undercover with the group, many people are unimpressed. The journalist herself was left

cursing the self-righteous and self-indulgent arrogance of some so-called spiritual communities.

Homelessness charities have complained of “grotesque tourism”, arguing that it “is dangerous, obstructive, foolhardy and patronising. It is obscene.” Homeless people themselves were also critical, calling the group “bonkers”, “religious nutcases”, and expressing scepticism over their decision to sleep rough in June rather than during the winter.

The “street retreats” actually predate the Peacemaker Circle, although both were begun by ex-NASA scientist Bernie Glassman (or Bernie Tetsugen Glassman), first President of the Soto Zen Buddhist Association of America. Glassman (of whom Gauntt is a “dharma successor”) considers “street retreats” to be a form of “Bearing Witness”. The Peacemaker Circle and Glassman’s Zen Peacemaker Community also undertake retreats to Auschwitz, have organised various reconciliation/dialogue events in Israel/Palestine and Jordan, and have some community programmes in New York. In 1991 the PCI won a “Best of America Award for Social Action” from US News & World Report.

Glassman himself studied under Roshi Taizan Maezumi,* a Soto Zen monk who established the Zen Center of Los Angeles in 1967. Maezumi, the son of a prominent Soto Zen priest, received approval from three teachers: Hakujun Kuroda (who seems to be confused with Maezumi’s father, Baian Hakujun Daiosho, on some sites), Koryu Osaka, and Hakuun Yasutani (whose wartime militarism and anti-Semitism, some years before he met Maezumi, were exposed by Brian Victoria, as reported here). More of the lineage is untangled here.

*Japanese family names here appear after the given names, in Western style.

Oregon Republican Theocrat Seeks 100% Christian Turnout

With all the attention given to the Texas GOP, no-one seems to have noticed that the theocrats also hold at least some influence in the Oregon Republican Party. Writing in The Oregonian (link via Christianity Today), former Oregon Republican congressional district chairman David Crowe chides Christians who failed to vote in 2000:

This failure to exercise our most fundamental citizenship duty cannot continue, lest we allow the secular minority to destroy the Christian foundations upon which our nation was established.

…Far too many Americans, by their indifference to revealed truth, are in rebellion to God, and far too many American Christians are ambivalent when unrighteousness prevails through unenlightened legislation and judicial decision.

A Jeremiad against abortion, MTV, gay marriage and the removal of the Ten Commandments from courthouses follows, along with this observation:

Truthfulness is not important to most secular candidates and some Christian candidates. It has become the acceptable mode of politics to posture and deceive.

Crowe, a Vietnam veteran and ordained graduate of the Dallas Theological Seminary, runs Restore America, a “grassroots” organization that was founded in 1999 and which hopes to achieve “100 percent Christian voter registration and turnout in the November general election”. Restore America is endorsed by Perry Atkinson, another former Oregon GOP chair. Although Crowe seems unlinked to many of the other theocrats we have considered recently, his political vision is a familiar story of religious coercion dressed up in the language of freedom:

Our parents are not to take God’s place and rule in the family independently of Him. Our teachers are not to take God’s place and teach as if there were no authority that gives all the facts in the universe meaning. Civil government is not to take God’s place and rule independently of His one government (Isaiah 9:6,7; cf. Romans 13:1-7). Whenever any government oversteps its proper magisterium, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29; cf. Daniel 3:16-18; 6:10ff).

But don’t we act as if someone else is god? We want the state to educate our children, to nurse us when we get sick, to establish homes for us when we get old, to protect us from ourselves, to care for the poor, and to support us when we are out of work. Man often makes the state civil government into an idol.

An epic list of affirmations and denials follow, which include the following highlights:

We deny that any final authority outside the Bible (e.g., reason, experience, majority opinion, elite opinion, nature, etc.) ought to be accepted as the standard of government for any individual, group, or jurisdiction…

We deny that man’s government is independent and unlimited, and that any government can claim independence from God on the basis that governments arise out of “social contracts.”…

We affirm that Jesus Christ, supporting the jurisdictional separation between Church and state set forth in the Old Testament, acknowledged and supported the legitimate but divinely limited jurisdiction of civil government when He commanded us to “…render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:22).

While opposing eccleslocracy, the control of the state by a particular church,

We deny that Christians should take fellow Christians to civil courts, and that the state ought to usurp the legitimate and God-ordained jurisdiction of ecclesiastical courts…

We affirm that civil governments everywhere ought to follow a Biblical moral order…

We deny that civil government has a duty to care financially for widows, orphans, aliens, and the truly needy through a coercive tax system, unless the primary providers totally fail to fulfill their responsibility to do so.

And, rather obscurely:

We deny that any civil government ought to overturn its obligation to maintain just weights and measures by issuing any type of fiat currency

This is all inspired by the Coalition for Revival, which endorses Crowe’s organization. The CoR is run by Jay Grimstead, a disciple of Francis Schaeffer, and is focused on bringing a wide variety of conservative Christians together along fundamentalist lines for political action. Its “42 Articles of the Essentials of a Christian World View” (no homage to Douglas Adams intended, I’m sure) can be seen here.

Other endorsements come from a variety of religious figures, the most well-known being Frank Damazio and the most odd-sounding being Clifford Mansley of the “Protestant Committee on Scouting”.

But what of the actual Oregon Republican Party platform? Well:

We believe all authority flows from The Creator to the parent and family. Parents have the inalienable right as well as the responsibility to form the character of their children, including but not limited to, correction, religious instruction and expression, general values and education. We believe it is the role of the parent and family to direct topics of education in sexual matters, sex related diseases, birth control, ethics and moral values. Governmental or public agencies shall obtain parental permission before discussing sex-related subjects with minor age children.

How this fits with a later commitment to “educating the public” about AIDS is not explained (and are there any non-“minor age” children?). Further:

We recognize the practice of homosexuality to be a matter of personal choice, and morally wrong. We oppose efforts to teach, promote or present homosexuality in public schools.

Also:

Science [education] shall include scientific creationism.

Plus, among much else:

We support academic freedom in higher education and oppose policies which call for the teaching of secular humanist/socialist theories as the only acceptable world view.

Jack Ryan, Sacred and Profane

Jack Ryan, GOP Senate candidate for Illinois, in public, from the Chicago Sun-Times in April:

Still, every day, at some point, Ryan can be found in one of the back pews of a church, praying.

“People ask me, ‘Why do you go to church every day?…I’m not very effective in my home. Too many distractions…

“I believe in God,” he says. “The order of priorities is no revelation here: God, family, country. That’s how I try to think about my life, in that order.”

And he believes in prayer, he says, explaining that he doesn’t recite specific prayers. He has a conversation with God.

Discussions of C.S. Lewis, St. Thomas More, St. Francis of Assisi and his calling from God to enter public service follow.

Jack Ryan, GOP Senate candidate for Illinois, in private, from the Chicago Sun-Times in June:

Actress Jeri Ryan accused ex-husband Jack Ryan of insisting she go to “explicit sex clubs” in New York, New Orleans and Paris during their marriage — including “a bizarre club with cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling.”

According to her declaration:

[Jack Ryan] took me to two clubs in New York during the day. One club I refused to go in. It had mattresses in cubicles. The other club he insisted I go to… It was a bizarre club with cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling.

[He] wanted me to have sex with him there, with another couple watching. I refused. [He] asked me to perform a sexual activity upon him, and he specifically asked other people to watch. I was very upset.

Well, as Evelyn Waugh replied when challenged about his behaviour: “think how much worse I would be if I wasn’t [a Christian].”

God Votes for UK Independence Party

The BBC (cribbing shamelessly from the PA) reports on an Anglican church service due to take place today:

An anti-EU vicar is planning to hold a special service on Sunday, thanking God for the European election results.

The Reverend Philip Foster said the UK Independence Party’s success showed the tide was turning and Europhiles could be beaten.

Mr Foster wrote to the congregation of St Matthew’s Church, Cambridge, inviting them to the thanksgiving as a “sign of God’s mercy on our country”.

Last week’s European election results were a breakthrough for the UK Independence Party, which wants Britain to leave the European Union. They approach the subject from the right, and although their campaign concentrated on the issue of sovereignty, anti-immigrant feeling may well have played a part in their success.

Foster is a long-time campaigner against the EU, as well as against regional assemblies for England, as reported here:

Rev. Philip Foster from St Matthews, C of E Church, Cambridge also wrote to all 43 diocesan Bishops explaining the hidden purpose of regionalisation. In his letter to Bishop Langrish he wrote “My very worst fears about this imposed parliament were most dramatically realised before my eyes and ears…we were faced with a demand that we either sign a paper approving regional parliaments or be asked to leave… I beg you and your fellow Bishops similarly engaged to withdraw from your frankly treasonous activities”.

Unsurprisingly, these political activities are tied to his religious vision. From his church in Cambridge he runs St Matthew Publishing Ltd., which includes the following titles on its booklist:

The Principality and Power of Europe: Adrian Hilton Britain and the Emerging Holy European Empire by Adrian Hilton Extended and UPDATED Where is the European Union taking the United Kingdom and why? This timely and lucid book throws light on the spiritual and political powers at work throughout Europe. This book looks squarely and honestly at what our rulers are seeking to impose upon Britain…

The Final World Empire by Alan Franklin A most comprehensive Christian book on the EU’s current activities and their ultimate destination in relation to what the Bible has to say. Alan has been a newspaper editor in Britain for 18 years and a journalist for 38…

UN Global Straitjacket by Joan Veon World government is far closer than you might think

Another author on his list is James Jacob Prasch, who runs the Christian Zionist Moriel Ministries. An article on Prasch’s site to which Foster is just one signatory includes the following:

I have no doubt that the Ecumenical movement is a prelude to the rebirth of Babylon the Great in Revelation and that deceptions like [the neo-Pentecostal revival at] Pensacola are preludes to the Great apostasy of Thessalonians. With the current drive for a false peace with Islam in Israel and the reconfederation of the Roman Empire via a pseudo-democratic federal Europe, the juxtaposition of these trends and the constellation of events that result indeed are setting the stage for the Man of Sin which Antiochus [the Syrian King who desecrated the Jewish Temple in 169 BCE], among others, typifies and foreshadows.

Although himself a Charismatic, Foster objects to much in the neo-Pentecostal movement, and contributed to The Signs and Wonders Movement-EXPOSED, a critique of John Wimber. Other targets include the Promise Keepers and the Alpha Course.

Foster is also part of Christian Witness Ministries, where he tells us about the satanic Eastern forces allegedly at work in the Christian West:

By the 19th century, despite the evangelical revivals under the Wesley’s, etc. the general ethos of the West was once more wide open to Eastern influence. This time the onslaught was more subtle. By the end of the 19th century only the elite’ were getting involved in the occult. Partly as a result of Darwinian Evolutionary philosophy, which encouraged the removal of moral law, and encouraged belief in the survival of the fittest: men began to dabble in dirt’…

The emergence of Theosophy and occultism as a respectable para-science by the turn of the century led to the impact that was to come through Carl Jung…The demons of the East awaited their opportunity!…

It startled me most of all to discover that the philosophy behind the whole counterculture of drugs, rebellion, and rock music was basically Hinduism: the same deception about the unity of all life, vegetarianism, evolving upward to union with the Universe, and doing one’s own thing.

A few more personal details are available here.

Russian Art Exhibitors Face Five Years for Clash With Orthodox Fundamentalists

Just as Christianity Today reports on the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia (a subject of this blog here), the AP provides details on the “anti-religious trial” currently underway in Moscow:

Yuri Samodurov, who manages the Andrei Sakharov Museum, was charged after holding an exhibit titled “Caution, Religion” in January 2003.

Samodurov and his colleague, Lyudmila Vasilovskaya, face up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $17,000 if found guilty of inciting religious hatred, while artist Anna Mikhalchuk faces a prison term of up to four years and a fine…

And what exactly did they exhibit to face such a heavy penalty?

Exhibited works by about 40 artists included a Russian Orthodox-style icon with a hole instead of a head where visitors could insert their faces.

Another work featured a Coca-Cola logo against the usual red background but with Jesus’ face drawn next to it and the words, “This is my blood.”

The AP also adds that:

The exhibit was vandalized four days after its opening. The six attackers were detained and charged with hooliganism, but the charges were dropped after a publicity campaign conducted by a Russian Orthodox priest.

And who would the priest be? Art News Online reports:

In January 2003, a gang of Russian Orthodox activists destroyed an exhibition in the Sakharov Museum and Public Center called “Caution! Religion.” Last December two Sakharov Museum…

The vandals were locked in the gallery by an alert custodian and arrested by the police. But they had influential protectors. All of them were members of the congregation of St. Nicholas in Pyzhi, whose archpriest, Alexander Shargunov, is a well-known radical fundamentalist. A graduate of the Institute of Foreign Languages in Moscow and a former translator of poetry, Shargunov abandoned literature for the priesthood and since the early 1980s has been campaigning for the canonization of Russia’s last czar, Nicholas II, and his family. In 1997 he established a movement called the Social Committee “For the Moral Revival of the Fatherland.” In 2001 the committee’s Web site carried instructions on how to vandalize “immoral” billboards by splashing paint on them, and followers promptly destroyed 150 billboards in Moscow. Now the Social Committee is agitating against the ad campaign for the popular Red Devil Energy Drink, which Shargunov believes promotes Satanism.

Shargunov, as it happens, was a subject of the very first day of this blog, where I noted both his pamphlet about the soldier Evgeny Rodionov and his compilation about Tsar Nicolas II, that states that:

Even if many will become silent out of fear of the Jews about the murder of the Royal passion-bearers, the rocks will cry out.

Funnily, that doesn’t count as inciting religious hatred…

The outcome of the trial would appear to be a foregone conclusion, their guilt having already been affirmed by the Russian Parliament:

In February 2003, the Duma passed a decree stating that the 1999 exhibition’s purpose had been to incite religious hatred and to insult the feelings of believers and the Orthodox Church. The state prosecutor was ordered to take action against the organizers, with 265 of 267 deputies present approving the measure. Sergei Yushenkov, leader of the Liberal Russia party and one of the two who voted against the measure, mounted the podium and stated sadly, “We are witnessing the origin of a totalitarian state led by the Orthodox Church.” (Yushenkov was murdered in Moscow a few weeks later. Four men were convicted of his murder in March.)

However, Art News notes also that the Patriarchate itself is not calling for the harsh penalty against Samodurov. Probably his defence of Chechen human rights is the real reason the government wants him put away: the outrage of religious fundamentalists is just a means to an end.

Michael Newdow Wins Libel Case

Michael Newdow may have lost the Supreme Court case over “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, but Yahoo News (via Christianity Today) reports on a consolation prize: he’s just won a $1 million dollar libel suit against the Rev Austin Miles, although he does not expect to receive the cash:

In an Internet posting shortly after the federal appeals court ruling [favouring Newdow in 2002], Miles accused Newdow of perjury, saying he lied about his daughter suffering “emotional damage” and “a sense of being left out” for not reciting the pledge at school.

Newdow argued that he never said any such thing. Miles has also claimed that Newdow had undertaken frivolous lawsuits against WorldNetDaily and ASSIST News Service (which Miles contributes to), among many others, with the aim of persecuting Christians. Newdow is a qualified attorney, and Miles sought to use all these grounds to have him disbarred in California. Miles’ full complaint, filed in 2003, can be found here.

Miles also objected to Newdow on moral grounds. Writing in BushCountry.org, he tells us that:

Michael Newdow, the atheist whose persistence resulted in having the Pledge of Allegiance declared illegal shortly after the attacks on America on 9/11 (which made his actions even more outrageous), is a man who can count on support from the liberal establishment. One would be hard-pressed to witness a more traitorous action than that of this man who latched onto one of America’s greatest emergencies in order to bring attention to himself; giving comfort to the enemy in the process while dividing America (to the delight of the enemy) and harpooning the morale of a grieving and shocked country still digging for bodies of loved ones buried under the rubble of the World’s Trade Buildings and the Pentagon.

Miles also claims that Newdow runs Evolvefish, which contains a link to (weird grammar and square brackets in original)

the most shocking blasphemous website of all that Newdow is connected to, called: God’s ex boyfriend. The site is blatantly homosexual and explicit and the name of the ‘writer’ is Scott, which is possible [to be] one of the names that Newdow uses. And to suggest that God is homosexual and had a ‘boyfriend’ is, I believe, the unpardonable sin.

However, Evolvefish, which is based in Colorado, denies any official connection with Newdow, (although it supports him) and Miles offers no reason why he thinks Newdow is Scott, except that Newdow is a Bad Person. But a look at Scott’s website shows it to be an obviously unconnected blog by someone else who just happens to agree with Newdow. Miles, a 70 year old who has suffered two strokes, also makes much of Newdow supposedly persecuting an old man in ill health.

But who is Austin Miles? Several stories from the mid 1990s have been gathered by someone called Shy David here [UPDATE: Shy David has now contributed to the comments]. It appears Miles has clashed with the law in the past:

A former evangelical preacher has been convicted of violating a state law by publishing a sheriff deputy’s home address in his conservative Christian newsletter.

Prosecutors said the Rev. Austin Miles published the address of Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Deputy Charles Mould in The Connecting Link as a protest last year after county officials took over custody of a 6-year-old with leukemia.

Miles had also allegedly claimed that there exists an “alternative treatment for cancer including herb therapy which has been proved amazingly effective”.

Miles is a former clown and ringmaster, and is the source of a number of other claims, most recently that school children in California were being indoctrinated into Islam, a story Miles broke in ASSIST. He also tells us that Madalyn Murray O’Hair almost converted to Christianity before an unnamed evangelist she was impressed by fell from grace. Interestingly, for a while Miles was himself an atheist, having left the Assemblies of God and Jim Bakker’s entourage, and during this time he wrote an exposé, titled Don’t Call Me Brother. This book contains the following accusations, according to an advert:

Austin Miles opened the door on the steam room where Jim Bakker was cavorting – in the nude – with three other men.

Austin Miles watched the development of Jim Bakker’s violent mood swings and saw the chilling possibility that Jim Bakker could have become another Jim Jones.

Austin Miles was there when Jim Bakker started a fist fight with his producer over the favors of the current Miss America.

However, another Christian has taken issue with Miles’s book:

Miles does spend a great deal of time describing how the Assemblies of God church ruined his life, his health, his finances, and so on, supposedly with some help from the FBI. Yes, the FBI. I must admit that I do find much of what I read in his tell-all hard to believe. After all, it seems odd that Miles should have been privy to so many damaging and important conversations, been victimized by so many people, been at just the right (wrong?) place at just the wrong (right?) time so many times, peeking in doors, standing in hallways, just as this or that person does this or that thing that evokes a startling revelation…had we not known otherwise, we would have supposed that this was the biography of a Montana Freeman. But that’s what he’d have us swallow, and I’ll just have to accept it at face value. If I didn’t, he’d undoubtedly accuse me of being judgmental.

No doubt the same malign forces that have victimized Miles through the years will now be held responsible for Newdow’s legal victory against him.

UPDATE 1: Austin Miles has re-surfaced in relation to James Watt. See here.

UPDATE 2: The default judgement has been set aside. See here.

Winners Chapel Accused of Tax Dodge

The Ghanaian Chronicle has been reporting on Ghana’s Charismatic churches, with an emphasis on the powerful Winners Chapel:

we have learnt that at Winners Chapel alone, over $60,000 was sent monthly from Ghana to the Nigerian headquarters of the church – tax-free! It is significant that but for the current leadership struggle in the church, the average citizen and probably the ordinary church member would never have learnt the truth of how the tithe and offering money were changed into dollars on the black market and sent to Lagos, smuggled in car tyres and what not, like some drug barons trying to launder their dirty money.

What has been revealed so far about the strange goings-on in that church points to just one thing: a massive illegality has been perpetrated against this country and as far as we at The Chronicle are concerned, must be accounted for, no matter whose ox is gored.

According to an earlier report, this has all come out because the leader of Winners Chapel of Ghana, Bishop George Adjeman, had decided to stop making the payments to Nigeria. The church’s Nigerian head, Bishop David Oyedepo, responded by dismissing Adjeman against the wishes of the Ghanaian congregation, leading to secession, legal action, and – if an astonishing piece of gossip is to be believed – regional tension:

news [is] going round that the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, has threatened to stop supplying oil to Ghana if a Nigerian did not replace the Ghanaian bishop.

Oyedepo is very popular on the international circuit of Charismatic and neo-Pentecostal speakers, and is an associate of NAE leader Ted Haggard. Oyedepo’s flagship Faith Tabernacle in Lagos is described by one Christian source, writing in 2000, as follows:

the largest church facility in the world, seating an approximate 53,000 people. In addition to this mega sanctuary, their campus also consists of a Bible college, residential quarters and various other facilities that enhance their outreach to the city. Judging by the more than 47,000 attendees in one service, they are doing an excellent job of impacting their region.

The BBC, profiling the Tabernacle in 1999, provides some wider context:

As living standards have collapsed in the past 15 years, and as schools and hospitals fall down, so bigger and bigger churches are still being built.

Online Nigeria provides a profile of the man himself:

David Oyedepo, general overseer of Living Faith Ministries aka Winners Chapel has grown to become an oak tree in Christendom. His 50,000 capacity worship centre known as Cannanland in Otta, Ogun State , has attracted Christian worshippers from within and outside the country. Newswatch learnt that in the last 10 years of his ministry, many barren women have given birth to babies after attending his miracle programmes. Many more claimed that they received healings, secured employment, financial breakthroughs, turn-arounds in their respective businesses and deliverance from ancestral curses.

Oyedepo’s motivational, faith-building teachings have also endeared him to many. As part of his outreach programmes, the church acquired an aircraft in 1996 to facilitate his evangelism programmes to countries outside Nigeria . Tagged “Gospel on Wings,” the programme was launched as an arm of the World Mission Agency Incorporated – the organ responsible for foreign mission operations.

Today, the church is said to exist in every state of Nigeria and in some other African countries. Oyedepo has more than 20 books published by his Dominion Publishing House to complement his soul- winning efforts.

Newswatch gives further details:

David Oyedepo, bishop of Living Faith Outreach more popular as Winners’’ Chapel, is a man who lives like an accomplished person. Whenever he or Faith, his wife is going out in the town, either separately or together, they usually go out with a convoy of vehicles and blaring of siren to beat the traffic. The couple like riding in posh jeep vehicles with one or two vehicles in front and a similar number of cars following the one occupied by either of them.

Although the Winners’ Chapel is one of Africa’s fastest-growing Pentecostal churches, Oyedepo is often invited for crusades by other churches. He has a global vision of evangelism and has taken the gospel outside the shores of Nigeria, which have yielded a lot of financial rewards. “Your financial revolution is tied to what you do with your finances on the gospel,” he often tells his congregation.

As part of his outreach programmes, Oyedepo, who is stupendously rich acquired a multi-million naira aircraft in 1996 to facilitate his evangelism programmes to countries outside Nigeria. This earned him the appellation “Jet-Age pastor”. This powerful man of God believes that he is sent to a generation and not just a denomination to work signs and wonders. Only recently, Oyedepo established the Covenant University in Ota, Ogun State, thereby using his wealth for the promotion of tertiary education in Nigeria.

Dipo Ajayi, a pastor of the church, however, said that the money Winners’ Chapel has made came from voluntary contributions. “Your financial standing as a Christian, born-again is not dictated by the economy of the nation. We are self-sufficient; we operate the heavenly budget,” he said.

Last autumn Oyedepo contributed to a book about the global significance of Nigerian Christianity edited by C Peter Wagner, the influential American Charismatic who promotes “spiritual warfare” ideas. The article from 2000 also notes that in Wagner’s terminology, Oyedepo is running an “Apostolic reformation” church, meaning a church held together through the spiritual charisma of its leader rather than a denominational structure. Wagner sees these kinds of churches as the future of Christianity, and just last October Oyedepo was speaking at a revival conference convened by Wagner at Haggard’s New Life Church in Colorado. Perhaps a financial accountability conference should be next on the agenda?

Oil Be Damned

Part One

For a while now Hal Lindsey has been promoting Zion Oil & Gas, a company that introduces itself as a

private U.S.-based corporation formed under Delaware corporation law [the laxest in the USA – RB], exploring for oil and gas in Israel on a licensed area of approximately 95,800 acres located onshore between Tel Aviv and Haifa.

The company is looking for funds that

will be principally used to drill one or more high-risk oil and gas exploratory wells on the license. In the event of a commercial discovery, following recoupment of certain exploratory costs, Zion intends to donate 6% of its gross revenues from the license to two charitable trusts to be established by Zion, one in Israel and one in the U.S.

According to Lindsey, writing recently in WorldNetDaily:

[Genesis 49] predicts [Jacob’s] great blessing [to Joseph] will come from “the deep that lies beneath” his land. And specifically on “crown of his head.” The land that was allotted to Joseph’s two sons forms the profile of a man’s head.

Now listen to another prophecy about the blessing of another of Jacob’s sons whose land adjoins Joseph’s.

Moses proclaimed blessings on Jacob’s sons just before he died. He predicted concerning Asher:

Asher is most blessed of sons; let him be favored by his brothers, and let him dip his foot in OIL.

– Deuteronomy 33:24

Not sure about the geographical Rorschach test (Hal provides a map; you can judge for yourself), and one suspects some kind of anointing oil is suggested in Deut 33 (any Hebraists out there?), but those suitably impressed by Hal’s previous predictions (the USSR attacking Israel and nuking the USA comes to mind for some reason, or the end of the world in the 1980s) should know that Zion Oil and Gas is a hot Hal tip for investors:

The land allotted to Asher looks like a leg with a foot. Its toe points straight at the crown of Joseph’s head. Zion Oil’s leases are directly under where Asher’s toe points. Coincidence? If it were anywhere other than Israel, I would say it is merely coincidence. But here we are dealing with a nation of miracles in the crosshairs of God’s prophetic Word.

One thing Lindsey doesn’t tell us, though: Zion Oil and Gas includes on its board as a director Ralph F. DeVore, who is described as being also “a director of Hal Lindsey Ministries”. The Dallas Business Journal last year noted that

The company listed 72 shareholders of record as of July 11. Chairman and CEO John M. Brown currently owns 69.5% of Zion; director Ralph DeVore owns 18.1%.

Meanwhile, an old Jack Kinsella Omega Letter reposted here (“Excerpted from the Omega Letter Daily Intelligence Digest Volume 32, Issue 8″) states that:

Last week, Hal Lindsey came to Toronto to speak at a prophecy conference…With Hal was his cousin and fellow evangelist, Ralph, of whom I had heard much but had not yet met. Ralph is also involved in the oil exploration efforts ongoing in Israel. Ralph directed me to the Scripture that has guided Zion Oil and Gas to drill in a specific place in northern Israel.

There’s no other Ralph connected with Zion Oil, so this must be Ralph DeVore. In other words, Hal Lindsey informs us that Zion Oil is an excellent investment, but does not tell us that his cousin is a major shareholder.

Part Two

Meanwhile, The Observer today reports on an Israeli company that claims to have struck oil:

In an announcement that could shift the power balance in the Middle East, it claims to have discovered a £3 billion oilfield in the centre of Israel. But Tovia Lushkin says his company, Givat Olam, needs £18 million to develop wells and extract the oil.

Lushkin is an ultra-Orthodox Jew, and he too uses Deuteronomy 33 as his guide:

Blessed of the Lord be his land, for the precious things of heaven, for the dew, and for the deep that coucheth beneath…and for the precious things of the eternal hills [Givat Olam], and for the precious things of the earth and fullness thereof.

However, The Observer does not tell us that this is not the first time Givat Olam has discovered black gold. A website called Prophecy Corner archives a 1998 email from Christian Zionist group Bridges for Peace:

Bridges for peace: Clarence H. Wagner, Jr., International Dir. – Jerusalem: 11 Dec 98 OIL EXPLORATION IN ISRAEL

“The Givat Olam Oil Exploration Company redrilled a well near Rosh HaAyin to confirm the presence of oil in the area. A huge gas flame, more than seven meters high, shot from the well, confirming the presence of gas or oil.

“Tests will be done over the next few days to determine the quality of the gas or oil. In addition, Givat Olam is trying to raise NIS 60 million on the Tel Aviv stock market to finance the drilling of another well three kilometers away.”

So what happened? Well, an AP report from last month, when the current claim was first made public, includes the following:

Israeli oil expert Amit Mor said the company had made claims of oil discoveries in the past that had not born fruit. “They have a credibility problem,” he said.

Part Three

As it happens, there is one real reference to oil in the Bible, although no-one seems to talk about it. This is in 2 Maccabees 1:19ff, where we read how the sacred fire of the First Temple had supposedly been preserved:

When our fathers were being exiled to Persia, devout priests of the time took some of the fire from the altar and hid it secretly in the hollow of a dry cistern, making sure that the place would be unknown to anyone. Many years later, when it so pleased God, Nehemiah, commissioned by the king of Persia, sent the descendants of the priests who had hidden the fire to look for it. When they informed us that they could not find any fire, but only muddy water, he ordered them to scoop some out and bring it. After the material for the sacrifices had been prepared, Nehemiah ordered the priests to sprinkle with the water the wood and what lay on it. When this was done and in time the sun, which had been clouded over, began to shine, a great fire blazed up, so that everyone marvelled…When the event became known and the king of the Persians was told that, in the very place where the exiled priests had hidden the fire, a liquid was found with which Nehemiah and his people had burned the sacrifices, the king, after verifying the fact, fenced the place off and declared it sacred…Nehemiah and his companions called the liquid nephthar, meaning purification, but most people named it naphtha.

My New Jerusalem Bible judiciously notes that “The story combines elements of Persian fire worship, v.34, with some knowledge of the properties of naphta – crude petroleum – which so impressed Greek and Roman geographers and naturalists”. Just the thing to inspire modern oil worshippers.

UPDATE (14 June): I finally found the Givat Olam website (link added above) where you can see Lushkin with the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

UPDATE 2 (5 Feb 2005): Ralph DeVore has quit Zion Oil, citing the company’s “rebellion against God” for allowing itself to become more Jewish than Evangelical. See here.

UPDATE 3 (26 Sep 2005): A bit on John Brown’s inspiration, James R Spillman (Hal Lindsey stole his idea, by the way).