England Ho

After two-and-a-half years of living in Japan, it’s now time for me to return to the UK. I’ll be back online sometime next week.

Far-Right Christian Group Founder Suspended from Tory Party

British libertarian site LibCom has the latest on Rev Robert West and the Christian Council of Britain:

A Tory councillor has been suspended from his party after addressing a British National Party meeting and agreeing to front its campaign to promote Christian values. Robert West now faces a Conservative investigation into his role in setting up the Christian Council of Britain, which is being created as a counter to the vocal Muslim Council of Britain…

Mr West, who is a member of the Lincolnshire Council for Racial Equality, claimed that the BNP had been portrayed unfairly. ‘The image of them as racist thugs is not the reality,’ he said. ‘They want to preserve the British nation.’ Mr West, an ordained elder with the Apostolic Church, added that there should be no interracial marriage and quoted the Bible as his source for his belief: ‘God has commanded the people to separate. We are not equal.’ He said the CCB was being formed to counter attacks on free speech and to stress the importance of the family and the Ten Commandments.

Funny how an organisation “formed to counter attacks on free speech” chose to gain much of its publicity by hijacking protests against Jerry Springer: The Opera (as revealed on MediaWatchWatch), but that’s just the least of West’s dishonesty: BNP thuggery is very well attested, and several senior members have convictions for violent offences.

West laid out his views in a speech given to the BNP in Huddersfield in February, which came to the attention of Ekklesia via this blog (and I found it via a commentator at Pickled Politics, I should add) – my previous entries on West can be seen here and here. This led to repudiations of the Christian Council from mainstream churches, and a defence from the BNP (1):

Some nonsense stories have appeared in the mainstream Christian press stating that the BNP is secretly supporting the CCoB as if to give the organisation a sinister touch. Well we can be quite honest and open about the reality and that is this. There is no secret; the BNP will help any group of people who feel threatened, unrepresented and persecuted in today’s society by Marxist bigots, destroyers of tradition and the wreckers of our communities.

The banners of the CCoB debuted at protests against the Leeds trial of BNP leader Nick Griffin on incitement charges. When Jerry Springer came to Leicester, the Leicester Mercury got quotes from two of the protestors: Wayne McDermott and Susan Keats. Funnily enough, it turns out that McDermott is a BNP activist, while a Susan Keats has had a letter published in the American Daily defending the BNP. The BNP report adds:

A BNP correspondent has uncovered the clear involvement of the Labour Party in the latest attack on traditional Christians which demonstrates the utter hypocrisy of those Christian writers and spokespersons who have condemned the CCoB and its “links” with a political party. His exposé will be published on this website very shortly.

Yes, the BNP will exclusively reveal that Christians in mainstream churches have links with mainstream political parties, while Christians who rail against race-mixing prefer to link up with the far-right. The report also quotes an unnamed CCoB source (Susan Keats, perhaps?):

One of the founder members told the BNP website that she “…felt as if the church has been losing its way for the past decade…Sermons promoting multiculturalism and stepping into political rows are not want typical Christians want to hear from the pulpit. The church has also let us down badly by failing to defend the family unit as the cornerstone of British society and failing to speak out against the frightening encroachment of Islam on many aspects of British life. All in all is now time for traditional Christians to take back the Church from the gaggle of liberal-left wing who are using the Church to suit their dangerous political agenda and that is where the Christian Council has a role to play.”

The CCoB also now has a website (2), although so far it is still under development. Ekklesia notes that

the site was formally registered to ‘Steve Blake’, which is also the name of a member of the BNP’s Internet team…He manages his own IT Consultancy Company in the Stirling area.

The HTML version of the page mentions “Maypole Graphic Design – Christian web design with offices in England and Scotland”, which has no internet presence that I could find.

Meanwhile, West’s church affiliation remains mysterious. The website of the Apostolic Church of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has no mention of him, and the denomination’s leader does not wear the sort of clerical garb that West appears in. The term “Apostolic Church”, however, could refer to a number of organisations.

(Hat tip: Love @nd Rage)

UPDATE: Love @nd Rage receives an email about Rev West from the Apostolic Church:

Thank you for your email and for bringing to our attention the news item mentioning the BNP and a Mr Robert West.

First of all may I confirm that The Apostolic Church does not support the views or the activities of the British National Party. The Church has no political association whatsoever.

On the second matter I am uncertain about who is the Mr Robert West mentioned in the article. One thing is certain: he does not speak on behalf of The Apostolic Church. If this person lives in Lincolnshire he does not attend The Apostolic Church. In fact as a denomination we have no churches in Lincolnshire.

I note that he is quoted as being ‘ordained as an elder’ within the Church. If this person has had any association with The Apostolic Church in the past the only means by which he can maintain either his membership or office is by attending one of our churches. If he were an active member of the Church his views would not be accepted by the Church and disciplinary action would be undertaken by the Church which strongly distances itself from views such as these.

Love @nd Rage adds:

The Lincolnshire Racial Equality Council (LREC) have confirmed that West attended their AGM last November, and that he was a nominated representative to their organisation acting on behalf of [South Holland District Council]. They only became aware of his connections with fascist groups when they were revealed in the media. The LREC have since written to SHDC and requested a change to their nominated rep.

UPDATE 2: Looks like the Christian Council is fizzling out; see my entry here.

UPDATE 3: West has now found his spiritual home with the BNP, after complaining about the number of “women, non-white and homosexual or lesbian candidates” currently being put forward by the Tory Party. However, West’s door-to-door campaigning for his new party has not been particularly successful; one unhappy householder decided to administer an icy baptism:

The Reverend Robert West was soaked after knocking on a door in Buttery Close, North Hykeham.

…The woman, who did not wish to be named, told the Echo she had no remorse for her actions.

“He was wearing a dog collar so I asked him whether he was a real reverend,” she said.

“He refused to enter into a debate about it. I had the jug of iced water because I was preparing for friends who were visiting that day.

…”If he comes here again I will empty a whole jug over his head.”

The woman said she had consulted her local vicar because she was concerned Mr West was masquerading as a member of the church while campaigning for the BNP.

robert-west

******

Far-right sites cited, but not linked:

(1)www.bnp.org.uk/news_detail.php?newsId=836

(2)www.christiancouncil.org.uk/

Peter Waldron Update: Charges Dropped, Expelled from Uganda

From Reuters:

Uganda has dropped terrorism charges against a U.S. evangelist who police said was caught with assault rifles hidden in his bedroom just days before last month’s election, the man’s lawyer said on Saturday.

The “evangelist” was Peter Waldron of Wyoming, whom I profiled at length here. Waldron denied the charges, and claimed that the weapons had been planted in his residence in reprisal for an article he had written about recent rioting in the country. Police Inspector General Kale Kayihura had also accused Waldron of “defaming” Uganda.

“The director of public prosecutions (DPP) simply stated to us that they had lost interest in the matter and the charges were being withdrawn,” [Waldron’s lawyer] said. “We think my client might be thrown out of the country tomorrow.”

According to a website set up by Dave Racer on behalf of Waldron, he is now returning to the USA.

So, to ask the glaringly obvious questions: why on earth would the DPP simply “lose interest” in the charges? And having lost interest, on what legal basis could Waldron be expelled from the country? And what about his Congolese co-defendants? Either way, the whole incident makes Museveni’s Uganda look like a decidedly dodgy place.

UPDATE: Waldron is not the only Westerner being kicked out of Uganda for writing something displeasing to the authorities. Human Rights Watch had a report out in mid-March which I’ve only just seen; more details here.

New Satanic Panic Puffed on WND

The New Republic currently has an excellent profile (and critique) of American Catholic intellectual Richard John Neuhaus. Author Damon Linker covers a lot of ground, and includes one interesting observation:

For many Catholics, the [paedophilia] scandal raised serious questions about what it was in the institutional practices of the Church that made possible such sordid crimes. The fact that so many priests were accused of sexually molesting children and teenagers–as opposed to, say, embezzling from church coffers–seemed to point directly to a problem in the Church’s teachings and practices regarding sex.

It’s a difficult question – but one man has an answer. Step forward documentary-maker Michael Calace, whose Rape of the Soul is currently being puffed on WorldNetDaily:

Could the Roman Catholic Church’s sex abuse crisis be tied to embedded Satanic and occultic imagery in its artwork – some of it hundreds of years old?

That is the seemingly incredible thesis of a new documentary, “Rape of the Soul,” made not by anti-Catholic bigots, but by devout followers of the Church.

…The documentary explores the prevalent use of satanic, sexual, occult and anti-Catholic images in historical and contemporary religious artwork. The film also discusses the mysterious acceptance of the artwork at the highest and most trusted levels of the Catholic Church.

More cautious new sources might have thrown one or two “allegedly”s in there, but WND is quite happy just to parrot Calace’s press release, which is the source for most of the article. Calace explains:

“Artists from DaVinci to Botticelli have embedded subliminal images into their art for centuries,” said Calace. “In this case we found penises on crucifixes, anarchy symbols, swastikas, demonic faces and in modern works even the word ‘sex’ encrypted into the images. The works in question include modern artists’ work currently on the covers of missalettes and hymnals that at this very moment sit in the pews of churches throughout the U.S. and on children’s religious teaching aids.”

There was a time when you had to be a rock musician to get accused of embedding Satanic messages into works of art – but now Led Zeppelin can share the stigma with the best Renaissance artists. A short review in LA Weekly gives further details of the thesis:

Calace finds the English word S-E-X embedded in paintings from the Italian Renaissance…Hundreds of years ago, an artist pre-cognitively painted an exact portrait of Vladimir Putin; Calace suggests the devil gave him access to future visions.

To back up his claims, Calace has assembled a panel of “experts” – including WND columnist Judith Reisman.

These images, unrecognized by the untrained eye, can be a ticking time-bomb to an individual who is unaware of their presence, especially someone who is already predisposed to deviant sexual behavior,” said Reisman.

The quote on the original press release adds:

“Sexually explicit and graphic images are taken in by the subconscious mind, to the point where the person, most-often against their will, will act upon them without even knowing why they did it.”  She adds, “This film reveals the lewd and demonic images that priests have been exposed to on a daily basis in their surroundings.  I have no doubt in my mind this is a strong contributing factor to the proliferation of sexual abuse amongst Catholic priests.”

Reisman was featured on this blog in 2004, when I noted her influence in heading up the religious right’s campaign against the movie Kinsey. Her claims against Alfred Kinsey were widely endorsed by Christian sites such as Agape Press and by Ted Baehr, who makes a living watching movies and judging whether they are suitable for Christians. Reisman actually tried to sue the Kinsey Institute, but had to withdraw when her lawyer decided she was a crank and deserted her. Miss Poppy Dixon has more.

Calace also draws on Wilson Bryan Key. The movie’s press release explains:

Dr. Wilson Bryan Key, an internationally recognized embedded imagery expert with over 30 years of expertise as both a former professor at the University of Western Ontario and a wealth of first-hand experiences as a former advertising executive.  Key is a MENSA member and author of five books on the subject.

When an academic feels the need to mention their MENSA membership, something is usually amiss. A useful site by Craig M Johns – who asserts that “Wilson Bryan Key is insane” – includes the following:

Belief in subliminal messaging reached a surreal apex in 1980 with the publication of The Clam-Plate Orgy and Other Subliminals the Media use to Manipulate Your Behavior by Dr. Wilson Bryan Key. Key claimed that advertisers were using subliminal messaging of a very serious sexual nature in order to manipulate behavior. In a chapter titled “Sex is Alive and Embedded in Practically Everything”, Key says, “Sex is the most frequently embedded word in the American advertising industry”. He claims the one-word cue for lust is hidden in everything from liquor ads to Ritz crackers, the holes of which he says are arranged during baking to form several depictions of the letters S, E, X…Key claims that while carefully examining a Howard Johnson’s menu, he saw that a plate of clams pictured on the menu was actually the portrayal of a sexual orgy, which included various people and a donkey. Key suggested that this is only the tip of the iceberg of a subliminal conspiracy of major proportions. Subliminal stimuli “have been regularly used in North American media for over twenty-five years without anyone getting wise to what was going on,” he wrote.

Plus this quote:

Consider a cigarette ad that was designed to appeal to the women’s readers of Cosmopolitan…Kent is a strong masculine name, suggesting a solid distinguished WASP heritage. Simply change the vowel from E to U, however, and Kent becomes the phonetic word symbol for the female genital.”

I used to live in Kent in the UK, by the way…Calace also gets input from Stanley Monteith “the nationally syndicated talk show host of Radio Liberty” (actually a conspiracy theorist; WND also promotes one of his books) and Marc Oster, “an expert in clinical psychology and hypnosis, who now teaches at Argosy University”.

But what about Calace himself? Rape of the Soul was made by his Silver Sword International company, which sees itself as “merging media with morality™”. Calace, however, is a strangely obscure figure. According to the LA Weekly review:

he describes himself as an actor and an “inventor” who holds a patent in golf technology.

He was inspired in his efforts by a trip to church a few years ago. A 2004 press release explained:

The Oregon Catholic Press (OCP), supplier of the worship materials used in two-thirds of American Catholic parishes, has published demonic cover art featuring a 666 on their “2004 Today’s Missal Music Issue.” The missals have been distributed to U.S. Catholic churches, and are in widespread use for an apparent covert message.

… After his young children became attracted to the colorful 2004 OCP Music Issue during Mass, film producer Michael A. Calace discovered that the missal showcased a 666 along with demonic imagery, as part of a wild cartoon-like cross. This further confirmed Calace’s recent uncovering of a trend of occult laden church artwork by perpetrators within trusted Catholic organizations.

Catholic blogger Bill Cork at Built on a Rock commented on this in a somewhat sceptical vein. He received an email from SSI:

No hoax. Not in the slightest. Leave the visual arts to the experts.

We have all of the evidence, the players, the corroboration, or it would not have been announced.

Feature documentary to educate all on the techniques and the uncovering of several scandals is on its way.

Mr. Calace, a devout Catholic has already been featured on several national talk shows.

We’ll keep you on our list, as many Catholics still have the ridiculous notion that the Church is free from evildoers, when it has them, as well as “good Catholics” looking to hush up scandals instead of ridding the cancer, at all levels.

The greatest triumph of Satan, is to convince “good” that evil does not exist.

Stay tuned. You’ll never look at art, especially “Church Art” nor those responsible, the same way again.

UPDATE: Jesus’ General brings a hidden reference to Spongebob Squarepants in The Passion of the Christ to Judith Reisman’s attention.

Roberto De Mattei and the First Crusade

WorldNetDaily cites a Times article from a few days ago about a conference on the Crusades:

The conference, held at the Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University, brought together scholars from around the world who were anything but apologetic for the series of wars fought by European Christendom over 750 years ago.

Italian historian Roberto De Mattei told the attendees the Crusades were “a response to the Muslim invasion of Christian lands and the Muslim devastation of the holy places,” noting the destruction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem by Muslim forces in 1009 that preceded the First Crusade called by Pope Urban II in 1095.

Well, that’s somewhat less than groundbreaking; and scholars involved in studying the Crusades have been appreciating the greater shades of grey involved for some time. Unfortunately, neither the Times nor WND actually tell us very much about the conference, and few details are available online. However, we can get some flavour of it from this:

Crusaders, argued De Mattei, were “martyrs” who had “sacrificed their lives for the faith.”

There then follows a long triumphalist quote from Robert Spencer, who the Times incorrectly claimed had been at the conference:

…While the capture of Jerusalem is often portrayed as the beginning of Muslims’ mistrust of the West, Spencer said it would be more accurate to see it as the “start of a millennium of anti-Western grievance mongering and propaganda.”

…”Westerners should not be embarrassed by the Crusades,” Spencer concluded. “It’s time to say, ‘enough,’ and teach our children to take pride in their own heritage. They should know that they have a culture and a history of which they can and should be grateful; that they are not the children and grandchildren of oppressors and villains; and that their homes and families are worth defending against those who want to take them away, and are willing to kill to do so.”

No doubt medieval historians will be next on the list of academics needing special attention from the likes of David Horowitz and co…

Also quoted (again, following the Times) is Jonathan Riley-Smith, Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Cambridge University. Apparently he

took issue with the portrayal of the Crusaders in the recent film, “Kingdom of Heaven,” calling it “utter nonsense” and accusing director Sir Ridley Scott of fueling Islamic fundamentalism by propagating “Osama bin Laden’s version of history.”

But again, this is an old quote from 2004 making a very general (and somewhat overblown) point about a (somewhat overblown) movie. Apparently the Times hack and WND couldn’t find out anything much about the conference, so decided that recycling Spencer and Riley-Smith would do instead.

Although De Mattei is a historian based at Cassino University, he is not a medievalist; he is best known for a biography of Pius IX described in The Spectator as “unambiguously hagiographical”. Just after the death of John Paul II he was quoted in an article that appeared in Views from Rome, which describes him as a “traditional Catholic leader”:

…de Mattei respectfully called for the yet-to-be-elected Pope to re-affirm his universal authority and make full use of his power of government, in the face of what appears to be the main enemy of the Church and human society: a relativism disrupting any law and moral rule, with its ensuing cultural and moral nihilism.

“We are living in a time similar to the epoch when the Roman Empire was crumbling”, de Mattei further noted, “but from whose ruins the great, medieval Christian civilisation started to take shape”. In that stormy period, the Papacy represented the only factor of social cohesion, the only bond which kept society united, saving it from chaos. “Amid contemporary chaos”, de Mattei said, “the Vicar of Christ might be called to play the same providential role”.

De Mattei also runs the Centro Culturale Lepanto. In a 2002 essay, he explained the significance of the 1571 Battle of Lepanto – and the Crusades – for today:

[Pope Pius V] appreciated the seriousness of the danger and understood that only a preemptive war would save the West.

…Some might ask if Pius V, instead of promoting and undertaking a war, would not have done better to stretch out the hand of friendship to Islam, seeking peaceful coexistence through dialogue and toleration. For those who favor this option, Lepanto becomes an historical memory to eliminate, an episode to forget. They believe that the choice before us today is between fanaticism, which finds its expression in terrorism, and the relativism—modern and postmodern—that deceives us into thinking that we can avoid war by not speaking its name.

…In praising [the] heroism [of those who fought at Lepanto], we are not launching a holy war, only recalling that we have a right to legitimate defense.

…Today, however, an internal enemy threatens us. This enemy is first and foremost a mental attitude that surrounds us, even in Catholic circles—if not especially in Catholic circles. Radical Islam is not wrong because it professes truth; it is wrong because it professes error. If, in opposing error, we uphold relativism—a vision of the world in which there is room for every error, because the whole idea of truth is to be jettisoned—then we are committing an error even greater than that of the radical Islamicists.

This is the error of those who claim that the age of Lepanto and the Crusades is over and, with them, the spirit of Christian combat that presupposes a vision of the world based on the primacy of the absolute truth that is worth living and dying for: the truth of the Gospel. In its place, they offer a vision of the world that tells us that nothing exists that is either absolute or true, that everything is relative to the time, the place, and the circumstances.

De Mattei’s railings against “relativism” and his apocalyptic view of Europe call to mind Rocco Buttiglione, the Italian “theocon” intellectual; back in December 2004 I noted an address Buttiglione gave to the American Enterprise Institute, where he thrilled his credulous audience with his description of a virulently anti-Christian and anti-Semitic Europe in thrall to Jacques Derrida.

From a short bio in Italian on his personal website, we are told that De Mattei is also a Vice President of the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, and is a member of various international conservative groups, such as the Heritage Foundation and the Euro-sceptic European Foundation. He is also close to the conservative Catholic organisation Tradizione Famiglia Proprietà (TFP), having written a biography of its Brazilian founder, Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. This site accuses TFP and De Mattei of extremism; however, it is written in Italian and I can’t make much of it. De Mattei is also involved in politics, and he serves as an advisor on International Affairs to Italian Deputy Prime Minister (and far-righist) Gianfranco Fini. In this picture he and Fini are at the Pentagon, discussing the war on terror and Iraq with Donald Rumsfeld.

The Regina Apostolorum Pontifical University, where the Crusades conference was held, is run by the conservative (and, some say, militaristic) Legionaries of Christ. A year ago the university got some international attention when it announced a course on Satanism and exorcism; I discussed that here.

UPDATE (4 August): A reader sends me a couple of links to the conference outline. They can be seen here and here.

Two Protests Today

London:

A Rally in Trafalgar Square between 2:00pm and 4:00pm on Saturday March 25th 2006.

The strength and survival of free society and the advance of human knowledge depend on the free exchange of ideas. All ideas are capable of giving offence, and some of the most powerful ideas in human history, such as those of Galileo and Darwin, have given profound religious offence in their time. The free exchange of ideas depends on freedom of expression and this includes the right to criticise and mock. We assert and uphold the right of freedom of expression and call on our elected representatives to do the same. We abhor the fact that people throughout the world live under mortal threat simply for expressing ideas and we call on our elected representatives to protect them from attack and not to give comfort to the forces of intolerance that besiege them.

(see also my updated entry here on this.)

New York:

A demonstration of solidarity with Belarus’ opposition is planned this Saturday, 25 March, in Manhattan, NYC. All not indifferent people are welcome to come support democracy and freedom for Belarus! The rally starts at 9:00am at the building of Belarusian mission to UN, 136 East, 67th Street (between 3rd and Lex. Ave), New York, NY 10021. Please, don’t hesitate to join. Pass this information to your relatives and friends. Long live free, independent, democratic Belarus!

(see also my expanded entry on Belarus here)

Meanwhile, I’m in Japan…

Print the Cartoons!

From Send2Press Newswire a few days ago:

…In 2005, civic activists from Belarus published flash cartoons on their website (www.3dway.org). The cartoons were about life in Belarus, electoral fraud, Belarus’ isolation, and Lukashenkos notorious preoccupation with sports. The activists may face up to five years in prison for publishing the cartoons.

In addition to harassing political opponents, civic activists, and Christians, the government of Belarus and its KGB criminally persecute those “offending the honor of Lukashenko.” The Belarusian regime is tightening the grip on any form of dissent before the crucial presidential elections scheduled for March 19, 2006. The new legislation can put the dissent behind bars for any expression of alternative opinion.

Maidan International (http://maidan-int.org), a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, calls world’s print media to publish cartoons on Lukashenko, “the last dictator of Europe.” For new cartoon images, please visit http://www.svoboden.org or email info@svoboden.org.

Better late than never:

 

Moscow Patriarch Shares Lukashenko’s Concern for “Christian enlightenment and moral health”

Patriarch of Moscow Alexy II manages to keep a straight face as he pens a letter to President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko. Over to Interfax:

‘Seeing the impressive results of your previous work in this office, the multinational people of the republic have again given you a vote of confidence through supporting your candidature by a majority of votes’, the patriarchal messages says.

‘…As primate of the Russian Orthodox Church, I am very much gratified with the fact that good relations have been established between the religious and secular leaders in Belarus in the last years. These relations are called to show common concern for the restoration of shrines ruined in the past, for religious education, Christian enlightenment and moral health of society,’ the document notes.

Back in 2002, Alexy awarded Lukashenko the Order of St. Sergius of Radonezh “for strengthening unity of Slav peoples”; the year before that, the Patriarch doled out a prize from  the “International Foundation for Unity of the Orthodox Peoples”.

Alexy’s support for “Europe’s last dictator” (although let’s not forget Igor Smirnov of Transnistria) is of a piece with the Russian Orthodox Church’s involvement in the Ukraine. Lawrence Uzzell, head of International Religious Freedom Watch, gave his analysis of that to the Moscow Times last summer:

Ukraine’s Orange Revolution has been a sore point for the Russian Orthodox Church for several reasons.

“Members of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine acted as agents of secular Russian political interests” during the 2004 elections, Uzzell said. “There were many instances of members of the Moscow Patriarchate in Ukraine using their influence with their parishioners to get them to vote” for Viktor Yanukovych, the candidate favored by the Kremlin.

Political tensions between Russia and Ukraine in the wake of the Orange Revolution have also fueled Ukrainian desires for a church that is fully independent of Moscow. Currently, Ukraine’s main Orthodox church comes under the authority of the Moscow Patriarchate.

“The Moscow Patriarchate is the last surviving Soviet institution both in terms of its statist mentality and its imperialist mentality,” Uzzell said. “In a sense it is an empire-restoring institution that is used by the Russian state as a vehicle for political interference in the affairs of countries like Ukraine.”

In Belarus, meanwhile, the Russian Orthodox Church is allied with the Belarusian Orthodox church; however, there is a rival Belarusian Autocephalous Church (“Authocephalous” meaning “self-governing”). Interfax reports unfavourably on this alternative group:

Moscow, March 21, Interfax – The clergy of the Belarussian Autocephalous Church, not recognized in the Orthodox world, held a service on Tuesday morning in October Square in Minsk where supporters of the former runners for Belarussian presidency, Alexander Milinkevich and Alexander Kozulin, continue their action against the results of the elections.

…The Belarussian Autocephalous Church was established by the fascists during World War II, but not a single Belarussian bishop joined it for all the pressure from the occupants. At present, it has its headquarters in the USA, but neither there nor in Belarus there are any believers who support it, Interfax was told by a source in the Moscow Patriarchate.

In fact, the church has 4,000 or so adherents, and attempts at forming an independent church pre-dated the German invasion. The church’s leader, Bishop Petro Hushcha, was accused of indecent exposure in 1998 and imprisoned for “malicious hooliganism, committed with particular impudence and cynicism”. In 2002 a new church building belonging to the group was destroyed.

Evangelical news service ASSIST has also noted the following:

In late 2002 Belarus adopted the most repressive Religion Law in all Europe. Unregistered religious groups are illegal, and registration is severely restrictive…In December 2005 the government passed an ‘urgent’ amendment to the Criminal Code, making it illegal to ‘discredit the Republic of Belarus’. It has been at great risk that reports of systematic KGB-orchestrated religious persecution have continued to leak out of Belarus.

…On 3 March Pastor Georgi Vyazovsky of Minsk was sentenced to ten days’ imprisonment for conducting worship in his home. He is pastor of Christ’s Covenant Reformed Baptist Church, one of two Reformed Baptist churches refused registration. Pastor Vyazovsky is believed to be the first pastor in Belarus to be imprisoned for religious activity since the Soviets released religious prisoners under glasnost (openness) in the mid-1980s…Forum 18 reports that the Pentecostal Minsk regional bishop, Sergei Tsvor, who is also first vice-chairman of the Pentecostal Union and pastor of the Minsk-based Good News Church, is facing the same charges.

UPDATE: Looks like Patriarch Alexy is in good company when it comes to handing out congratulations:

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad here Tuesday expressed felicitations to newly re-elected Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko. President Ahmadinejad, in his message to his Belarussian counterpart, expressed confidence ties between Iran and Belarussia would receive a further boost during Lukashenko’s new tenure. “I believe access to development and progress, peace and tranquility and individual and collective independence of countries will be achieved in line with respect for rights and for humanity,” he said. He hoped the Belarussian president would pay a visit to Tehran in the near future.

UPDATE 2: Boing Boing brings to our attention the blog Belarus Election 2006: The Chronicle of Resistance. A couple of weeks ago it transcribed the lyrics of a pro-Lukashenko pop group:

Well-set and slim
He won’t teach you evil
Father can bridle anyone
Father is stronger than the rest

…Na-na-na-na-na-na-na
Listen to Father!
In the morning, day, and night…
Listen to Father!

UPDATE 3 (4 August): The latest issue of Private Eye gives some further details of Alexy’s links to the dictator, in an anonymous “Letter from Minsk” (paper only, issue 1164 p. 19):

A few years ago [Lukashenko] presented the Russian Orthodox Patriarch with $85,000 worth of gold, silver and jewel-encrusted banners for the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. In return, Patriarch Alexis II commended Lukashenko for resisting the “cult of force, self-destruction and lack of morals that permeate the west”, then he decorated senior Belarus KGB men (we have not bothered to make the secret police sound more customer-friendly) with the Order of Apostle Grand Duke Vladimir (no relation) for “decisive implementation of the government’s policy of spiritual development of the nation.”

Two New US Pro-Israeli Right Groups

Two new groups have joined the crowded pro-Israel US lobby scene. Last month Haaretz reported that (link added)

A new group in the United States, Christians United for Israel, will serve as an umbrella organization for Christian congregations that support Israel, and will lobby for Israel.

The usual gang was there:

It is led by evangelical leaders Dr. John C. Hagee and George Morrison; fundamentalist Baptist minister Jerry Falwell; and Gary Bauer, president of the American Values organization aimed at protecting marriage, family and faith.

…Stephen Strang, publisher of Charisma magazine and a founding member of Christians United, has said he wants the organization to be as strong as the pro-Israel lobby known as AIPAC.

And now WND brings us word of yet another group:

A number of Christian and Jewish American groups have announced the formation of an umbrella organization that will lobby against acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plan to withdraw Jewish communities from the West Bank, arguing in part any withdrawal would be against United States interests.

This new group is called the United Front for the Land of Israel (shades of Life of Brian), and it brings together a number of groups that have often co-operated in the past:

Groups now part of the United Front include Americans For A Safe Israel, the Jewish Action Alliance, Women in Green, Justice for Jews, Friends of YESHA, the Jewish Political Educational Foundation and several university-based groups.

The United Front has been set up by Susan Roth, a successful businesswoman. As everyone does these days, she chose a religious-persecution angle to make her case:

Roth charged Olmert “wants to expel the religious members of Israeli society no matter how he does it to create a secular Israel. He plans on transferring the 250,000 Jews of Judea and Samaria into the Negev to be assimilated with nonreligious Jews.”

WND‘s coverage of the new group is just the latest in its campaign against Olmert (see ConWebWatch) and his centrist Kadima party. Roth argues that the number of Palestinians living in the West Bank is far fewer than is commonly thought, and that therefore Olmert’s demographic reason for withdrawal is false (although of course, we can be sure that this does not mean that Palestinians should consequently be given citizenship of Roth’s Greater Israel). But there’s more:

Joseph Frager, chairman of the Jerusalem Reclamation Project, which joined the Front, told WorldNetDaily, “It is inconceivable that while Hamas talks of destroying Israel, Olmert talks of further concessions and appeasement. This time Judea and Samaria. How can the U.S. allow this? Would President Bush cede territory to al-Qaida?”

Just how Bush is supposed to act against Olmert’s tactical withdrawal is not explained. The Jerusalem Reclamation Project is better-known as “Ateret Kohanim”; its antics have been discussed on this blog previously.

Roth is involved with a number of schemes to publicise the claims of the Israeli religious right. One of the most dramatic is her plan for the descendents of King David to gather in Jerusalem in 2007, to mark forty years since the Israeli capture of East Jerusalem. She explained her rationale to the Jerusalem Post:

Israel is not just a state. It is a country that once was a Royal House, as King David bought the Temple Mount from from Aravna the Jebusite for 50 pieces of silver…As the Jewish descendants of King David, We have more of a right to claim royalty than any of the European royal houses. In light of what Israel is going through today, it is imperative to show that the blood of King David is alive and well in Israel today and that WE are the rightful inheritors of Israel,” Roth says.

A real Jewish-American Princess, then. Roth is also close to the Chabad movement, and she has a mystical side. A 1996 profile tells us:

…What emerged out of her writings, including what she added in Yerushalayim, was her master’s thesis of perennial philosophy through Kabbalah, one of the most unusual books you’ll ever read. Entitled, Moses in the Twentieth Century: A Universal Primer, the book was blessed by the Rebbe at different times while she was researching and writing it. When it was published, in early 1994, Susan sent the first copy of the book to the Rebbe.

…When Israel Expo ’95 was held in the New York Armory last year, Susan Roth, in addition to her own SJR booth display, sponsored the “770 Lubavitch” booth. At the Expo, besides seeing Chasidim put tefillin on men who passed by the booth, her fondest memory of that time was gazing at the Rebbe’s painting that seemed to dominate and affect the whole Expo.

So far, the United Front has no website. The extent to which it will stress mysticism and sacred blood as the keys to peace in the Middle East is yet to be seen.

Williams Comments on pro-Mugabe Bishop Trial Scandal

The Guardian‘s new interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury includes the following detail:

He described the position in central Africa, where Archbishop Bernard Malango has just absolved without trial Bishop Norbert Kunonga of Harare, accused by his parishioners of incitement to murder, as “dismal and deeply problematic”.

Bishop Kunonga – widely known in Zimbabwe as “His Disgrace” – was featured on this blog last month. In the run-up to 2002 election Kunonga had gushed that Robert Mugabe was “more merciful than God himself”, in return for which he was awarded two farms, and a militia with which to send the rightful owners on their way. But that was just one of many complaints against the notorious toady; the Daily Telegraph laid out some of the others in August:

The first of 11 charges against Bishop Kunonga is that he sought the assistance of Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation and militant “war veterans” to “incite or seek to incite” the murder of 10 prominent Anglicans, including priests and church wardens.

…Other charges faced by Bishop Kunonga are that he tore up the infrastructure of the Harare diocese by sacking 19 priests or church officials, dismissed heads of most of the church’s institutions and banned the choir from singing in Harare’s Anglican cathedral.

He is also accused of banning a predecessor, Bishop Peter Hatendi, from participating in services; of abusing the use of church property including vehicles and funds; falsifying minutes of church meetings; and of having removed and “disposed of memorabilia, plaques, tablets from the cathedral”, some of historical interest.

…He also preached “racial hatred” according to a group of parishioners, mostly black, who have gathered in Harare to give evidence against him.

The charges were increased to 38 in number, but the trial collapsed in December when Archbishop Malango dismissed prosecutor Jeremy Lewis. The Church Times gave some context:

Bishop Kunonga is reported to have returned from a recent visit to Archbishop Malango in Malawi with the boast that the Archbishop was “a good friend” of his and would never say anything against him. He told the congregation at a confirmation that he was now free to do what he liked in Harare and to “baptise children in the Zanu-PF way”.

Archbishop Malango’s action is being linked with Bishop Kunonga’s licensing on 16 December of the acting Vice-President of Zimbabwe, Joseph Msika, as a deacon, “after realising the sterling work he had done for both the Church and the country”. Mr Msika is on record as saying: “Whites are not human beings.”

Despite there being 40 non-white complainants against Kunonga, diocesan secretary Morris Gwedegwe claimed that the prosecution had been an attempt by white racists “to lynch” the bishop.

Back in 2004 Archbishop Malango cut ties between the Anglican Church in Central Africa and the Diocese of New Hampshire over the consecration of Gene Robinson as bishop. Apparently the Archbishop can tolerate a gangster as a bishop, but not a gay man.