F Grade For Jakes, Hinn

The Lincoln Tribune reports that MinistryWatch has issued a “Donor Alert”, giving various Christian ministries an “F” for non-transparency. According to MinistryWatch founder and CEO Howard “Rusty” Leonard:

The refusal by these ministries to release the financial information is reason enough for donors to find other ministries to support, whether for tsunami relief or other purposes. We are confident that donors committed to doing their due diligence and who prayerfully consider how to best help those in need can find many worthy ministries to support by utilizing our website and the resources of those organizations listed on the last page of the Donor Alert.

MinistryWatch points the finger at 27 organisations, including several high-profile ones:

3. Benny Hinn Ministries/World Outreach Church

8. Creflo Dollar Ministries

9. Crystal Cathedral Ministries [Robert Schuller]

17. Kenneth Copeland Ministries

18. Kenneth Hagin Ministries

26. TD Jakes Ministries/Potters House of Dallas, Inc.

This is not particularly surprising: Hinn’s finances have come under critical scrutiny in the past, while the others are associated with “Word of Faith” Prosperity Gospel teachings (which MinistryWatch objects to for theological reasons as well as for the financial practices of its proponents). However, while Jakes (whom I saw in London in 1999 alongside Matthew Ashimolowo) undoubtedly has been influenced by Prosperity Gospel ideas, he is a much more complex and significant figure than Copeland, Dollar or the late Hagin. In 2001 Time called Jakes “America’s best preacher”, and “the next Billy Graham”, and his recent movie, Woman Thou Art Loosed, managed 50% on Rotten Tomatoes and a gained Jakes more media attention. Jakes can also claim to be an international figure, and just recently he was received enthusiastically in Uganda and Kenya.

MinistryWatch explains its transparency guides here. The organisation derives its grades (F being the lowest) from two questions (Wall Watchers is the organisation behind MinistryWatch):

How much transparency has the organization demonstrated through its responsiveness to Wall Watchers’ requests for information? (Responsiveness)

How much transparency has the organization demonstrated through the quality and quantity of financial information it makes available? (Disclosure)

However, it adds that:

This system for evaluating an organization’s transparency is not meant to be comprehensive. There are many other factors that could be considered in determining transparency. These other factors include membership in accountability groups, internal policies, and fundraising practices, to name just a few. However, Wall Watchers believes that the best indication of an organization’s transparency is how it responds when those commitments and policies are actually put to the test. This system tries to assess that commitment within organizations.

MinistryWatch has a database of 500 organisations, and the lack of information from Jakes and the others can be contrasted with comprehensive entries for very high-profile groups such as the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Charles Colson’s Prison Fellowship Ministries. On the other hand, back in 2003 a spokesperson for the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability told the Christian Examiner that:

The unfortunate thing about the Transparency Watch list is that it lumps together organizations who by policy do not disclose…Non-disclosure to Wall Watchers shouldn’t translate into non-disclosure…There are philosophical differences in the community with the Wall Watcher findings.

Jakes, though, is not a member of the ECFA either…

(Lincoln Tribune link from Religion News Blog)

Mother of Russian Anti-Semitism

“Bnei Levi” has undertaken the unhappy task of translating into English the recent anti-Semitic petition signed by 19 Russian parliamentarians and 500 other individuals. The petition, which calls for all Jewish groups to be banned, begins with a short collection of alleged citations from the Shulchan Oruch, a late Rabbinic commentary that the petition author claims demonstrates Jewish hostility towards Christianity and gentiles (1); the fact that Jewish leaders in Russia actually recognise the problematic nature of the passages cited is presented as an admission of Jewish malevolence. It goes on to assert that anti-Semitic incidents in Russia are actually the work of Jews, that the Jewish hope for the Messiah is really longing for the Anti-Christ, and that Jews are Satanists bent on global domination and undermining Russian identity. Jewish practice even includes human sacrifice:

the Jewish religion is anti-Christian and human-hating, reaching as far as ritual murders. Many cases of this extremism were proven in court (for example, see a study by a well-known scholar V. I. Dal “Rozyskaniye O Ubiyenii Yevremyimi Christianskih Mladentsev i Ispolzovanya Ih Krovi” [Investigation of Murders of Christian Babies by Jews and the Use of Their Blood], St. Petersburg, 1884).

Speaking to the Moscow News, Chief Rabbi Berl Lazar responded that the signers were either insane or

infinitely cynical. They know perfectly well that their accusations are lies…But they knowingly commit the forgery hoping that by playing the anti-Semitic card they can win more votes

The petition is a blow to the Jewish leadership’s strategy for dealing with increasing nationalism in Russia. As I noted on this blog back in May, Lazar supported the Moscow ban on Jehovah’s Witnesses, while Rabbi Adolf Shayevich spoke against new religious movements. The plan seemed to be to head off anti-Semitism by placing Judaism firmly within the Russian religious establishment, even if that meant abandoning any argument for general religious freedom. But, as could have been predicted, their acquiescence has only emboldened the bigots.

The petition was first published in a Russian newspaper named Rus Pravoslavnaya (Orthodox Russia), and is signed by the paper’s editor-in-chief. It was faxed to the AP by parliamentarian Alexander Krutov of the Rodina (“Motherland”) party bloc; deputies of the Communist and Liberal Democratic parties also signed. Actually, this is not very surprising. The Liberal Democratic party is led by the absurd Vladimir Zhirinovsky; Krutov (also spelt “Aleksandr Krutov”) is a long-time anti-Semite conspiracy theorist and Orthodox fundamentalist. The US-Russia Business Council provides a useful profile of the man:

Krutov, Alexander Nikolaevich

Affiliation: Rodina

DOB: October 13, 1947

Alexander Krutov holds the post of Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Information Policy and is a member of the Commission on the Credentials and Deputies’ Ethics Issues. He is also the author and the host of the TV program Russian House and the main editor of the monthly magazine, Russian House. Prior to his tenure in the Duma, Mr. Krutov occupied various positions in the central TV and radio broadcasting companies. In 1990, he served as people’s deputy, and from 1997 to 2000 he was named General Director of Moscoviya, a TV and radio broadcasting company. In 1986, he was the first journalist to broadcast the consequences of Chernobyl’s catastrophe. Alexander Krutov graduated from the journalism department of the Moscow State University.

“Russian House”, (or “Russkii Dom“, “Russky Dom”), is described by Finnish analyst Inna Rogatchi as “the most pro-fascist a’la Russe TV program”. Some choice quotes from the show, which promotes hardline Russian Orthodoxy, were reported by Anastasiia Boichenko in 1999. Most notable:

“In the murder of Nicholas II did the two-thousand-year-old struggle that has been conducted against Christianity since the crucifixion of Christ find its logical culmination?” Krutov insinuates delicately. It turns out that the answer is “no.” What is happening now is more beastly.  “On 17 July Orthodox people will mark the memorial day of the ritual murder of the tsarist martyrs”

The Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union gives more details:

Over its ten years on the air, the show has focused mostly on standard Russian Orthodox topics. But it has also featured virulently antisemitic material and conducted interviews with extremist elements in the Russian Orthodox Church. Archimandrite Tikhon of the Sretensky Monastery, a leading voice in extremist Church circles, sits on the editorial board of the television program and reportedly has links to antisemitic groups. Representatives of the neo-Nazi group Russian National Unity and the Black Hundreds have been guests on the show.

In June 1999, the show hosted an “expert” who claimed that the Holocaust never took place. In shows earlier that year, Jews were accused of being part of a conspiracy to take over the world, and there was a call that kosher food ought to be sold in separate stores…Nevertheless, last year [2002] Patriarch Alexi II wrote a glowing letter of congratulations on the tenth anniversary of the show, stating that it “has earned its reputation as a fighter against any sort of untruth and a champion of the high ideals of Holy Russia. [‘Russian House’] gathers under its hospitable firmament all of those who love Russia.”

The UCSJ has also profiled Motherland/Rodina in depth. Shortly after 9/11 Krutov brought Lyndon LaRouche onto his show to explain world affairs. Krutov also rails against Chinese in Russia and, in 2002, Roman Catholicism:

The holy pious Prince Alexander Nevsky delivered a firm repulse to the aggression of Catholicism and showed how it is necessary to act with respect to uninvited guests.

Nevsky repelled the Roman Catholic Teutonic Knights in the thirteenth century – Krutov appears to be suggesting military action against ordinary Roman Catholics living in Russia today.

Putting the Motherland bloc in context, Rogatchi observes that:

For the very same racist activities people in many countries would face the court action, in nowadays Putin’s Russia not only they has become legitimatised, but intentionally were made legislators themselves. The only difference of Motherland block with a grass-root neo-nazis in Russia is that its leadership has been covered with a scientific titles, they are present themselves as doctors of science in different areas… there is hardly anyone in Russia who is mislead on the real stand of Motherland block ­ their speeches are quite clear and presents their views in full. The real problem is that too many of the Russian people, especially those aged between 45 and 55, seems to share this stand.

Further details on Russian political extremism and anti-Semitism can be found on the websites of SOVA and Panorama.ru (click on top right for English). The leading Russian researcher on the topic appears to be Alexander Verkhovsky. The US State Department Report on Global Anti-Semitism also contains some useful information, including the titbit that “an anti-Semitic novel, The Nameless Beast, by Yevgeny Chebalin, has been on sale in the State Duma’s bookstore since September 2003.” However, the report also notes that there have been prosecutions of public figures for instigating hatred.

UPDATE: Two reports from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency:

Russian legislators rebuked some lawmakers who signed a strongly anti-Semitic letter last week.

The letter later was revoked and most of its signatories repudiated their signatures, but the Duma resolution Friday said that the fact that such statements appear cannot leave the lower house of Parliament unconcerned. “A clear-cut anti-Semitic tendency of such statements is causing indignation and a sharp condemnation,” said the resolution, which passed by a vote of 306-58. “There should be no place in Russia for anti-Semitism, ethnic and religious strife.”

and

The majority of Russian viewers who called in to a national television channel during a debate on anti-Semitism in Russia supported a legislator who made frequent anti-Semitic remarks on the show.

Duma deputy Albert Makashov [the anti-Semite] squared off against former Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov.

******************************

(1) I haven’t been able to view the text itself in order to verify the quotes, and the petition is hardly a reliable source. But there are some hostile and unedifying passages in the Talmud, although given the context in which it was composed this is hardly surprising (you can find unpleasant passages in the writings of all religions, including in the New Testament). The many anti-Semitic websites that trumpet these passages (mixed in with outright forgeries and distortions) of course ignore both historical background and their marginal status within most forms of contemporary Judaism.

Easy Words

Tuesday:

BERLIN, Germany (AP) — Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder paid tribute Tuesday to the victims of the Auschwitz death camp, expressing his shame as he acknowledged that the Nazis had wide support and promising Germany will keep alive the memory of their crimes.

Wednesday:

Pressure from Turkey has resulted in the removal of a reference to the Armenian genocide from a German school curriculum, reports said Wednesday.The eastern German state of Brandenburg has eliminated half a sentence on the Armenians included in ninth and tenth grade history classes after a Turkish diplomat complained to state Prime Minister Matthias Platzeck, the newspaper Die Welt reported.

(Both links via the History News Network)

Unnatural Vice

Red State Rabble (via Pharyngula) brings to attention certain changes to the definition of science proposed by an eight-member pro-Intelligent Design grouping within the Kansas State Board of Education. Blog author and concered parent Pat Hayes notes:

Here are excerpts from their proposed revisions:

“Science is a systematic method of continuing investigation, that uses observation, hypothesis testing, measurement, experimentation, logical argument and theory building, to lead to more adequate explanations of natural phenomena. Science is the human activity of seeking natural explanations for what we observe in the world around us. Science does so through the use of observation, experimentation, and logical argument while maintaining strict empirical standards and healthy skepticism.” (Words highlighted in blue are maked for deletion in the revised draft submitted by minority — all supporters of Intelligent Design Theory)

The second bit in blue is just a redundancy (those processes still appear at the start of the passage), but the first blue section is rather alarming. The ID-ers argue that methodological naturalism is itself a form of religion, and so their criticisms of the dogma should be given equal time with proper science. Unfortunately, they give no systematic description of how non-naturalistic methodologies in science should be applied more generally. Hayes notes:

If you read their revisions carefully, you’ll see that they don’t just want an alternative (teleological) explanation for evolution taught in biology. They now challenge the naturalistic explanation for what happens when students add aqueous ammonia to a beaker containing a few drops of aqueous copper sulfate in chemistry class. Maybe, it wasn’t the chemical properties that turned the solution blue, maybe it was God or some unknown designer.

Ahh, but Hayes has not considered the Unwritten Rule of Non-Naturalistic Scientific Method (here revealed for the first time ever):

When observing any phenomenon, the scientist should first of all consider how it could be explained as evidence for an action by God, angels, or demons. However, a supernatural interpretation should not be given when even a poorly-informed lay-person could reasonably say that such an explanation is “silly”.

The ID-ers also argue that evolutionary biology

presents a purely naturalistic perspective on a question (“Where did we come from?”), the answer to which has profound implications for ethics, religion and government.

That’s beating around the bush a bit – why not just say: “evolutionists are bad people who want to undermine American government”, since that’s obviously what they’re getting at? Or would that appear a bit crude and unconvincing?

The full documents that Hayes has quoted from are available here. Leading the group is William S Harris, a Catholic medical specialist who has previously written a study that purported to show that effects from prayer could be discerned on the recovery rates of heart patients (by an underwhelming 10%). Profiles of Harris (a nutritional biochemist with a specialism in fish oil) and of other Kansas School Board ID-ers have been compiled by University of Nebraska plant virologist Les Lane.

A public hearing on the proposed changes is due to take place on Saturday. Back in 1999, it should be recalled, Kansas shocked the world by removing evolution from its science curriculum (proponents claimed they were just “de-emphasising” evolutionary theory, as if that made it OK – full documentation is available here). That decision was reversed in 2001. But in the past four years religious conservatives across the USA have learnt a lot about how to present their case: methodological naturalism is just “bias”; this is a battle of democracy against “elitism”. With ID Creationists making headway in several states, Hayes has a tough battle ahead.

Flew Two

Agape Press reports that Creationist organisation Answers in Genesis (AiG) is crowing over Antony Flew’s supposed “conversion” to Intelligent Design (discussed previously):

Dr. Terry Mortenson of Answers in Genesis says Flew, who had previously subscribed to Darwinian theories of evolution and natural selection, cited one major reason for changing his tune. But now, the creationist points out, Flew has weighed the evidence for some of those ideas and found it wanting.

Mortenson says, ultimately, Flew said he was dissatisfied with “the arguments from science for the complexity of life,” and had also determined that “the naturalistic theory of evolution for explaining the first reproducing organism is just unconvincing.” Basically, the philosopher concluded that life is simply too complex to have just happened and, therefore, must have had a creator.

However:

…despite the realizations Flew acknowledged in his article, the philosopher cannot be called a creationist just yet.

“In this same article,” the creationist notes, Flew fails to reject Darwinism, but rather states that he still “accepts Darwinian evolution and the origin of all the different species from a common ancestor. What he doesn’t accept any longer is that the first living cell came into existence by chance.”

As noted previously, many advocates of Intelligent Design (ID) reject the term “Creationist”, which they see as an insult – or at least, as bad PR. The last thing they want is to be placed in the same category as a complete Biblical literalist like Terry Mortenson, who believes that the world is only a few thousand years old. But, on the other hand, ID is currently having remarkable successes persuading the scientifically semi-literate that their theories deserve equal time with evolutionary theory. Mortenson probably privately resents being seen as an embarrassment to the slick ID lobby (apparently a spokesperson for the pro-ID Discovery Institute once described AiG as “guitar-strumming hillbillies”), but he appreciates the “wedge” strategy that ID represents. Once it has been established (by politicians and school boards, if not actual scientists) that ID should be considered as valid science, the door is open to others who wish to use populism and misinformation to promote their religious ideas in environments that are currently seen as inappropriate. So a prominent philosopher’s conversion to ID is better than nothing, or, as Mortenson optimistically puts it: “a step in the right direction”.

But it seems Flew has now taken a step back, in a recent letter unfortunately only tucked away as an update to a Secular.web article from last month (although cited on The Panda’s Thumb):

I now realize that I have made a fool of myself by believing that there were no presentable theories of the development of inanimate matter up to the first living creature capable of reproduction…I have been mistaught by Gerald Schroeder…it was precisely because he appeared to be so well qualified as a physicist (which I am not) that I was never inclined to question what he said about physics.

(Schroeder is a Jewish ID-er, whose work has been critiqued here) Richard Carrier, to whom Flew addressed his letter, adds:

this attitude seems to pervade Flew’s method of truthseeking, of looking to a single author for authoritative information and never checking their claims…As Flew admitted to me, and to Stuart Wavell of the London Times, and Duncan Crary of the Humanist Network News, he has not made any effort to check up on the current state of things in any relevant field.

True enough, and also an explanation for Flew’s ignorant pronouncements on Palestinians (again see my previous entry on Flew). But the interesting thing is that, for the likes of Mortenson, asking why Flew had apparently embraced the ID position was not that important. It was simply enough to have a prominent figure who embodied some sort of authority declare his “conversion”. So much for nullius in verba (loosely, “taking nobody’s words as proof”)…

Brethren for Bush

The St. Petersburg Times (link snagged from God and Consequences) reports on a substantial donation made by a British member of the Exclusive Brethren for the publication of newspaper advertisements to assist the re-election of George W Bush:

The Thanksgiving 2004 Committee raised the money from residents of 18 states, plus $377,262 from Bruce Hazell of London, England. None of the money was raised in Florida, according to a report filed with the Federal Elections Commission.

The group of men who formed the committee belong to the Exclusive Brethren, a reclusive religious group with roots in England and Australia. The group includes members from Knoxville, Tenn., Omaha, Neb., and other U.S. cities. Members of the Exclusive Brethren do not vote, read newspapers, watch television or participate in the outside world, according to published reports. So why would they care who gets elected in the United States?

That’s hard to say and members contacted by the St. Petersburg Times wouldn’t say anything except to praise President Bush and say they wanted to see him re-elected.

…Hazell, reached at his London office last week, said he is a member of the Brethren. He said the reasons he donated so much money to an American election committee were complicated and offered to explain later. When a reporter called him at the appointed hour, a secretary said Hazell “just popped out” and wouldn’t be back until next week. “He had to suddenly rush out,” she said.

St Petersburg Times first noticed the “Thanksgiving 2004 Committee” back in November, but a fuller account is available from Peebs.Net, a site run by ex-members of the Exclusive Brethren (the Exclusive Brethren itself does not have a website, as the internet is a tool of “the Man of Sin”). Peebs provides some theological background for this strange turn of events, but this serves only to highlight some other questions (Click on “News” on the Peebs site):

November 1st, 2004 (EB News) We have just received news that there will be a world-wide Exclusive Brethren Prayer Meeting at 06:00am tomorrow in order to “pray George W. Bush back into power”. The USA go to the polls tomorrow, Tuesday November 2nd, 2004, and the EB Proclamation indicates that the Prayer Event will commence at 6am in each EB Territory.

The proclamation is from an officially still-recovering Bruce Hales who stated recently that: “If George Bush and Tony Blair are not returned to office, then the Rapture is very near.”

Hales is the group’s leader (the “Elect Vessel of God”), and the 6:00am service time is normal. Peebs then asks the obvious question:

Mr Hales, we understand that you teach that the Rapture is the ‘Great Hope’ for the Church, the Bride of Christ. Why then do you not pray for John Kerry and thus support your own teachings?

Peebs also notes that:

The Exclusive Brethren used a Section 527 organization called Thanksgiving 2004 Committee to channel well over US$600,000 into the placement of large ads in certain politically sensitive areas. It would seem that the Exclusive Brethren enjoyed their experience enough to continue their political advocacy into 2005 with the formation of a new 527 group called Integrity 2005 Committee…The stated purpose of the new group is: “To engage in issue advocacy. Will not make contributions to state or federal candidates and will not engage in express advocacy for state or federal candidates”. This is the identical stated purpose of the preceding Thanksgiving 2004 Committee.

UPDATE: Actually, I’ve just found out that No More Mister Nice Blog blogged the Peebs source back on Tuesday.

Many New UK Faith Schools Not Performing Well

Britain’s Chief Inspector of Schools has got into a row over private Muslim schools. As reported in The Telegraph:

“I worry that many young people are being educated in faith-based schools with little appreciation of their wider responsibilities and obligations to British society,” he told a London conference on citizenship.

Mr Bell said that many of the new faith schools were being opened by a younger generation of British Muslims who recognised that traditional Islamic education did not entirely fit pupils for life in modern Britain. But a significant proportion of others had been told that they did not meet the conditions for being registered as schools.

Hardly earth-shattering (full text available here). Bell isn’t saying that Muslim schools should be closed down or that they represent a threat to society – only that some need to improve drastically. We knew that already, as the case of the Imam Muhammad Zakariya school in Dundee showed back in April.

Unfortunately, though, rather than address the problem highlighted by Bell, some Muslim educational leaders have preferred to take the easy route of crying “Islamophoia”, as quotes from The Guardian demonstrate:

Last night Dr Mohamed Mukadam, chairman of the Association of Muslim Schools, accused Mr Bell of Islamophobia and challenged him to a public debate on the issue…”I am very surprised to hear Mr Bell’s comments and I challenge him to come up with evidence that Muslim schools are not preparing young people for life in British society.”

Well, the evidence that some Muslim schools are not preparing young people properly can be found in the government inspection reports that Bell drew on in his talk. However, not everyone is as dismissive as Mukadam:

Idris Mears, of the Association of Muslim Schools, said: “One of the things the Association of Muslim Schools is doing is to get schools participating in the community. I don’t think it’s unfair of Mr Bell to bring the matter up. Muslim schools are aware of it.”

But there are a couple of points that the media’s take on Bell’s talk have glossed over. Back to the Telegraph report:

Ofsted [the Office for Standards in Education] said that 175 private faith and special schools, of which 29 per cent were Muslim, had been told that they must improve their curriculum to qualify or continue to qualify for registration. Independent schools do not have to follow the national curriculum but they must show that they provide for “the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development” of pupils.

In other words, there are around 120 non-Muslim “special” schools that are failing to cut the mustard. So, are these Christian schools or what? Unfortunately, Ofsted only does reports on individual schools or geographical areas, so finding out would require wading through hundreds of inspections.

It is also rather depressing that while Bell is concerned about how schools prepare students to become citizens, he apparently does not see good science as equally important. As noted here last year, a private educational organisation run by a millionaire Creationist has been given control of several state schools in the UK, most famously Emmanuel College in Gateshead. Science at Emmanuel is taught by Steven Layfield, a young-earth Creationist who stated in a lecture that Christian science teachers should

Note every occasion when an evolutionary/old-earth paradigm (millions or billions of years) is explicitly mentioned or implied by a text-book, examination question or visitor and courteously point out the fallibility of the statement. Wherever possible, we must give the alternative (always better) Biblical explanation of the same data.

This does not bother Bell, as the Guardian reported back in 2002:

David Bell, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Schools, said today that OFSTED would not be following up its inquiry into the teaching of science at Emmanuel College, Gateshead.

In a letter to Sir Peter Vardy, the chairman of Emmanuel College governors, David Bell said he was satisfied with the school’s response to OFSTED’s request for information about the way the school meets the requirements of the science curriculum as they apply to technology colleges.

…In his letter David Bell dated May 7 [sic], he said: “I appreciate the trouble you have taken to explain the philosophy and policies of the college as they apply to controversial issues and freedom of debate. I do not feel that I need to pursue this matter further with the college.”

UPDATE: Most of the media ignored this follow-up:

Evangelical Christian schools have a worse record at teaching tolerance than the Muslim schools criticised by the head of Ofsted this week, it emerged today.

Inspectors found 42.5% of independent evangelical Christian schools were failing to help pupils learn to respect other cultures and promote “tolerance and harmony”.

But figures from Ofsted showed that 36% of independent Muslim schools were judged to be failing in this duty, the Times Educational Supplement reported.

Colson Affiliate Loses Faith-Based Funding

The AP reports that a “faith-based” charity mentoring prisoners’ children must go without government funding after a judge ruled it was promoting religion:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services cut off funds to MentorKids USA in December after evidence showed the group used public money to directly support activities such as worship or religious instruction.

U.S. District Judge John Shabaz’s ruling Tuesday prohibits the agency from funding MentorKids in the future.

MentorKids USA, based in Phoenix, received a three-year grant in 2003 to mentor the children of prisoners. The program hired only Christians to work as mentors and required them to adhere to a Christian statement of faith and code of conduct.

Mentors were also encouraged to share their faith with the children they worked with, introduce them to Scripture and provide monthly reports on whether the kids had discussed God, participated in Bible study or attended church.

The Wisconsin State Journal gives a more specific account:

In an 11-page ruling issued Tuesday, Shabaz cited materials that MentorKids USA gave its volunteers, including the pledge that mentors must sign stating that the Bible is “without error.” They also received a fact sheet instructing them to “introduce children to the gospel of Jesus Christ” and file monthly reports on how their charges are “progressing in their relationship with God.”

The finding was disputed by Daryl Reese, MentorKids’ executive director. However, one only has to look at MentorKid’s website to see an evangelistic purpose. Under “Our Objectives” we read:

—we provide every opportunity for kids to know Jesus Christ as Savior and to develop a disciplined walk with God.

MinistryWatch gives some background on the organisation:

MentorKids USA, formerly known as MatchPoint of Arizona, is an independently incorporated affiliate ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries (PFM)…Creation of MatchPoint materials was overseen by Dave Van Patten at Dare Mighty Things, a consultant in the field of high risk youth and a former National Director of PFM, and in conjunction with several other consultants including Dr. Karen Strong from PFM.

Prison Fellowship Ministries is, of course, Charles Colson‘s outfit. Dare Mighty Things has been around for a while, and is a big player in faith-based largesse. According to its website, one of its projects is:

Compassion Capital Fund, part of President George W. Bush’s faith-based initiative to increase the scale and effectiveness of faith-based and community organizations. DMT was selected to run the National Resource Center, a provider of training and information to equip the intermediary organizations funded under the Compassion Capital Fund. (View Press Release)

The Fund is part of the US Department of Health & Human Services – the same department which, according to the AP, is “reviewing whether it can resume the grant should MentorKids USA show it can separate its religious and secular work.” But back to the MinistryWatch profile of MentorKids:

…Phoenix MatchPoint arose out of the inspiration of Orv Krieger (a retired owner of a hotel broking company) and from the encouragement of Chuck Colson at Prison Fellowship. After organizing the ministry, registering it as a tax exempt public charity with the IRS, and setting up the board, Orv recruited Bill Brittain to serve as the Executive Director. Bill had previously been a children & family therapist and youth pastor in Phoenix, and had served as a Juvenile Probation Officer in Fort Worth, TX. Bill brings with him a desire to empower Christians to make a difference in the lives of hurting children.

In their assessment (which seems a bit out of date):

With the addition of fiscal year 2000 financial data, the ministry’s overall rating improves from 2 to 3 stars [out of 5]. A lower fundraising cost ratio and the allocation of more resources to programs compared to the year before contribute positively to the ministry’s rating, while large surpluses lead to below average performance in the asset utilization area. Based on 1999 financial data, the ministry scored 2 out of 5 stars in its MinistryWatch financial efficiency rating. Performance was affected by relatively high fundraising costs and a relatively low allocation of resources to programs. Despite its below average overall rating, Phoenix MatchPoint did better, relatively speaking, compared to its peers in the Community Development sector, ranking 8 out of 17 in overall financial efficiency, 10 out of 17 in fund acquisition, 8 out of 17 in the resource allocation, and 8 out of 17 in asset utilization.

The chairman is Jerry Wilger, who is also program manager at the InnerChange Freedom Initiative, another Colson outreach. (IFI has been discussed positively by WorldNetDaily, and critiqued by Slate).

The AP report includes a quote from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, but does not make clear that the FFRF was responsible for bringing the court case. Another complaint by the FFRF, concerning Emory University, was rejected.

UPDATE: Commentator Deana adds:

A friend of mine had volunteered to work with MentorKids, but he was asked to sign a doctrinal statement that he considered un-Catholic. Specifically, he had to endorse creationism.

Thanks for that, Deana. The claim was also made on the O’Reilly Factor back in December:

HEADLINE: Follow-Up: Interview With Freedom From Religion Foundation Co- President Annie Laurie Gaylor, Alliance Defense Fund Senior Legal Counsel Kevin Theriot…

GAYLOR: MentorKids is not only Christian. It excludes Catholics. It excludes anybody who does not believe in creationism. Mentors…

THERIOT: That’s not true.

GAYLOR: …are given a statement. That is true. Mentors are given a statement that they must believe that the Bible is literally true and inerrant and that the creation story is inerrant. And we got an e-mail yesterday from somebody in Mesa who was recruited through a Catholic Church to join MentorKids, and he could not in good conscience sign up because he said even the pope recognizes evolution. He felt unwelcome. It’s…

O’REILLY: All right. Well, let the counselor answer that.

GAYLOR: …Chuck Colson’s brand of fundamentalism.

O’REILLY: Now is that — is that true that the — you have to recognize creationism to be a mentor in this group?

THERIOT: Well, what’s true is that they provide mentoring to kids no matter what their denomination is and it’s also true…

Felafel then cuts back in and the topic of Creationism is not discussed again (although those wanting O’Reilly’s own deep thoughts on the subject should go here.)

Caldwell

caldwell

Why are scientists refusing to take seriously a lawyer who wants his “non-religious” objections to evolutionary theory included in school science classes? What makes them think they know more about science than he does? WorldNetDaily has the story, while a teacher involved in the dispute gives his account here.

UPDATE: Pharyngula (third item) links to the Discovery Institute’s pdf of Caldwell’s complaint. Caldwell has enlisted Phil Skell, a Chemistry professor who recently sent lengthly emails to Pharyngula in which he proudly displayed his stupidity. See here and here.

Fundies? What Fundies?

Fundamentalism is on the way out, according to the NY Times (link from The Revealer):

The world’s fastest growing religion is not any type of fundamentalism, but the Pentecostal wing of Christianity. While Christian fundamentalists are focused on doctrine and the inerrancy of Scripture, what is most important for Pentecostals is what they call “spirit-filled” worship, including speaking in tongues and miracle healing. Brazil, where American missionaries planted Pentecostalism in the early 20th century, now has a congregation with its owns TV station, soccer team and political party…In the United States today, most of the Protestants who make up what some call the Christian right are not fundamentalists, who are more prone to create separatist enclaves, but evangelicals, who engage the culture and share their faith…The word “fundamentalist” itself has fallen out of favor among conservative Christians in the United States, not least because it has come to be associated with extremism and violence overseas.

The shortcomings of fundamentalist trends within other religions are also noted. But this analysis (drawn from such luminaries as Martin Marty, R Scott Appleby, and Philip Jenkins) implicitly argues that while one can find fundamentalist Muslims or fundamentalist Hindus, fundamentalism in Christianity is completely distinct from the Pentecostal and Evangelical traditions, and confined to the separatist, Bob Jones tendency. So we can call the Taliban “fundamentalist”, even though “fundamentalist” is a Christian term, but we can’t call Pat Robertson a “fundamentalist” because he is a Pentecostal.

The problem (which others have noted before – I find Martyn Percy’s work particularly useful) is what is meant by “fundamentalist”. Clearly, in its general meaning it applies to both the Taliban and Pat Robertson, even if Robertson is not a “classical” fundamentalist. The term might also be applied to a compartment within someone’s thinking, without necessarily reflecting their whole personality. It is true, as the NY Times argues, that Evangelicals and Pentecostals are not focused exclusively on Scriptural inerrancy, but it is sometimes a focus. When Evangelicals and Pentecostals embrace Creationism and reject Biblical scholarship out-of-hand, they are being fundamentalistic, even if their tradition is more nuanced than this and they do not share other fundamentalist attitudes.

Where Christians live in contexts in which these questions have not been raised, simple faith in the Bible as a literal narrative cannot be classed as fundamentalism (it would be a blunder to call the Amish “fundamentalist”, for example). But identifying these inappropriate contexts is not always straightforward. As I noted on this blog a while ago, last year’s Nigerian Muslim opposition to polio vaccines was driven by certain individuals misrepresenting science for their own ends. This then, can be seen as a manifestation of Islamic fundamentalism, and if there can be African Muslim fundamentalism there can also be African Christian fundamentalism. But in Africa, where that fundamentalism appears, it is likely to be garbed in Pentecostalism.

But perhaps a better way forward is to ditch the concept altogether as too confusing and polemical…