Jamaica PM Puts Pastors on State Boards

The new Prime Minister of Jamaica has a plan to end corruption in the country; the Jamaica Observer reports:

“I intend on Monday, at my first Cabinet meeting, to instruct my ministers that every board, when they are creating them, must have a pastor as chairman, or as a member of the board, to ensure probity,” [Portia] Simpson Miller promised a large congregation who attended her first church service since her elevation to the job as leader of the country, at the Kencot Seventh-day Adventist Church in Kingston.

…At the end of her address, the elders of the church gathered around Simpson Miller for the laying on of hands by pastor of the church, Merrick Walker and a special prayer of blessings by Evangelist Fitz [Henry].

Unsurprisingly, such an approach has provoked criticism:

“I think it was designed to curry the favour of the Christian community rather than a practical proposal for effective government,” said [Opposition leader Bruce] Golding…”There is nothing wrong with putting pastors on boards and we would encourage that, but we are uncomfortable with it being made a policy.”

However, there is also support from some Jamaican commentators. Here’s Christopher Burns:

In fairness to Portia, her desire to place men of the cloth on state boards, in and of itself, is not a very bad idea, if they are qualified and not selected on the strict basis of religion.

It is not a bad idea because sometimes effective leadership does not necessarily reside with the technically qualified, but with those who possess the soft side of management and who understand human needs and suffering. We all knew, before Portia won the presidency of the [People’s National Party], of her plans to lead a just government, and that a just government in her estimation recognises God as its head.

While Ian Boyne adds:

What we should fear is if we had any indication that she was elevating as public policy the sectarian views of any group or even imposing peculiarly Christian dogmas on the society. We have absolutely no indication that.

…The church is the major institution in what can be called the moral sector. Because of the pressing need to emphasise enabling values and attitudes, the Prime Minister is by the symbolic action of having pastors on boards saying that ethical issues must form part of the decision-making process, just as technical and economic issues are critical.

People ask what technical or board-specific skills the Pastors would have to warrant their being on those boards. They bring a moral sensitivity and an ethical grounding to the discussion of public policy…The view that issues should only be discussed from a technical, economic and narrowly operational way is itself reflecting of a philosophical stance and is not ideologically-neutral. It masquerades as commonsensical, but the truth is, as the postmodernist philosophers insist there is no “view from nowhere”, no Archimedean point. As Foucault says, we must unmask this power game disguised as unquestionable truth.

An unhappy choice of academic citation, perhaps, given Foucault’s support for the Ayatollahs. Boyne also wrote an essay a few weeks ago on Simpson Miller’s appeal, noting her “emotional intelligence” and her role as “a metaphor for the hopes and aspirations of poor, marginalised, despised, oppressed black people, particularly black women”.

Simpson Miller followed up her announcement with a reflection on her own position:

Simpson Miller sparked debate last week after declaring in church that she was appointed by God to run the country, and so expected the support of Jamaicans.

However, Livingstone Thompson provides a bit of context for this sort of thing:

The self-understanding of Jamaica, as a nation under God, is indicated by words of the National Anthem, ‘Eternal Father bless of land’, and the National Pledge, ‘Before God and all mankind.’ It is also true to say that our political leaders have had no reason to apologise for the references they make to God when they address the nation. Both the GG and the former PM ended their speech last Thursday with reference to God. So, in a sense PM Simpson Miller is not breaking new ground.

Thompson does, though, warn against how this could be distorted, “with so-called prophets claiming to have predicted the rise of Madam Portia to power”. One of these is Pastor Phillip Phinn, recently profiled by Mark Dawes (a Jamaica Gleaner journalist who has featured on this blog before):

The Rev. Dr. Phillip Phinn, senior pastor at the Word of Life Ministries International, which meets at 20 Hagley Park Plaza in St. Andrew, in an interview published in Mind&Spirit on April 30, 2005, declared that he and others had received divine revelation that Portia Simpson Miller would be the next Prime Minister of Jamaica [see here]…The Rev. Dr. Phinn, who is one of the leaders of the local Charismatic/Renewal movement, and chaplain to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade and the Office of the Prime Minister, has hosted annually since 1987 a prophetic conference where Christians can learn more about the office of the prophet as recorded in the Bible. He disclosed that Minister Simpson Miller had been attending these conferences for the past six years where she was told by himself and other prophets that she would become the next Prime Minister.

Pat Robertson must be green with envy…Phinn continues:

“…We have lied to the people. The absence of the prophetic ministry has helped to promote the rise of witchcraft, the rise in the occult, the new age movement and so on…If Christians had exercised this ministry, a lot of the flourishing obeah men [shamans], new agers – there would be no need for them. But I don’t think it is too late.”

(Some links via Christianity Today Weblog)

Abuse of “Child Witches” in Congo Highlighted

Staying with Human Rights Watch, the organisation has a new report out on Congolese street-children. As I blogged a couple of months ago, many of these children have been thrown out of their homes following accusations of witchcraft, a new trend which is being fed by certain churches (footnotes excluded):

Individuals who work with children in Kinshasa estimate that as many as 70 percent of street children had been accused of sorcery in their homes before coming to live on the streets. One activist who advocates for assistance and protection of street children told us that there is no bigger factor in pushing children on to the streets today than accusations of sorcery.

…In tandem with the increasing number of children accused of sorcery has been the creation of churches that specialize in the exorcism of evil spirits from the “possessed.” These églises de réveil or churches of revival combine prayers, fasting and abuse in “deliverance” ceremonies to rid children of “possession.” Approximately 2,000 churches perform “deliverance” ceremonies in Mbuji-Mayi and an even larger number operate in Kinshasa Some of these churches and their leaders have attracted large followings and have become lucrative businesses. Although the deliverance ceremonies are reportedly performed for free, in reality, parents or guardians are strongly “encouraged” to make a financial donation or give a gift to the church in exchange for deliverance of a child. In addition, deliverance ceremonies are a way to attract new church members who may become regular contributors at Sunday services.

…The ceremonies that pastors perform range from simple prayers and singing to holding the children for several days at the churches, denying them food and water, and whipping or beating confessions out of them. Save the Children/UK has been active in attempting to change the behavior of the worst of these pastors. According to a Save the Children/UK project manager in Mbuji-Mayi, the most abusive pastors withhold food and water from children, whip or burn them to coerce their confessions, or pour salt water in their anuses or down their throats to purge the “evil” from their bodies. An organized group of pastors in Kinshasa which, through peer outreach, tries to change the behavior of abusive pastors confirmed these accusations. They additionally reported that sometimes children are tied up during their confinement at the churches and that in a few cases boys and girls have been sexually assaulted by members affiliated with the churches while in confinement.

In particular, child sorcery is seen as a source of AIDS:

…When questioned about HIV/AIDS, a prophet in Mbuji-Mayi told us, “Child sorcerers have the power to transmit any disease, including AIDS, to their family members. AIDS is a mysterious disease that is used as a weapon by those who practice witchcraft.”

Meanwhile, BBC television just last week broadcasted a documentary on the subject, Witch Child, which followed the efforts of British anthropologist Richard Hoskins as he sought to find a British-Congolese boy who had been sent to Kinshasa for deliverance. The boy’s mother had been advised to send him by her pastor at a London-based Congolese church; this was only a few months after a girl had been tortured and nearly murdered in the city following the same diagnosis. Hoskins interviewed several London pastors who unconvincingly denied that they had ever preached on the subject of witchcraft (or “kindoki”), but he also noted the efforts of some better-educated Congolese pastors to stop the abuse. He also conducted a couple of sad interviews with street children in Kinshasa, and met a pastor who specialises in cutting open children’s stomachs and plunging his hand in (all in filthy conditions, of course).

Alas, the documentary went out at 11.20pm on a weekday, but it got some notice. Christian Today reports:

Britain’s leading Black Church leaders have released a joint statement rebuking a BBC documentary, saying that the programme portrayed inaccurate stereotypical attitudes towards children among black Christians.

…Bishop Dr Joe Aldred, Secretary of MECA (Minority Ethnic Christian Affairs, a part of the ecumenical organization Churches Together in England) and Chair of the Council of Black-led Churches in Birmingham said, ‘We are aware that some cases of child abuse have come to light in the UK, which the police are investigating with our full cooperation. But to imply, as this broadcast seemed to do, that abuse of children is widespread amongst black Christians in the UK is misleading and very unhelpful. The failure of the documentary to make the distinction between legitimate and acceptable practices of faith within the Church as opposed to occult and harmful cultural practices means the Church was again misrepresented.’

I think Aldred is off-base here: Hoskins made it very clear that he was looking at a particular problem which has developed in the specific context of modern-day Congo. It’s sad to see Aldred reacting in such a knee-jerk way, but it should be remembered that he has had to respond to a number of sensationalist reports on the same subject that have appeared in British newspapers. A statement opposing child abuse follows, and is signed by a number of Christian groups.

However, one question that I asked in my previous entry on the subject remains open: to what extent have western neo-Pentecostal ideas about demons and deliverance influenced the situation in Congo? As I noted then, “The Apostolic Council of Prophetic Elders”, which includes US Pentecostal luminaries such as Peter Wagner and Tommy Tenney, also has a certain Gwen Shaw among its members. Shaw has worked in Congo with one church that was highlighted by Hoskins, and she has praised its efforts at delivering people from witchcraft.

Peter Waldron and Journalists in Uganda

This is a month late, but it passed me by at the time. Human Rights Watch has a significant report from Uganda:

The Ugandan government’s expulsion of a foreign journalist is the latest example of a crackdown on independent media that predates recent elections, Human Rights Watch said. At least three local journalists also face serious criminal charges on account of their work.

The journalist was Blake Lambert, a Canadian freelance reporter (whose articles as it happens include contributions to Killing the Buddha):

The government said Lambert posed a security threat, but did not explain how or cite any of his articles as posing a danger.

…In mid 2005, the government formed a new body, the Media Centre, which vetted foreign journalists, including those already accredited by the official Media Council. Local media groups complained that the government had created the new body to filter out journalists whose reporting it did not like. In addition to refusing to renew Lambert’s credentials, the new Media Centre reduced to four months the year-long accreditation held by Will Ross of the BBC.

This is of interest to us as it provides a bit of extra context to the recent abortive arrest and expulsion Peter Waldron, the evangelist and businessman who has been a subject of this blog several times in the last few weeks. Curiously, Waldron didn’t get a mention in the HRW report; however, pressures on local journalists are usefully rounded-up:

On December 13, 2005, after the start of the election campaign, the state brought criminal charges of promoting sectarianism against editor James Tumusiime and reporter Semujju Ibrahim Nganda of the privately owned Weekly Observer. They face up to five years in prison. The paper had reported accusations from the opposition party Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) that the president and top military officials were persecuting its presidential candidate, Kizza Besigye, on ethnic grounds.

On February 1, the Ugandan army raided the Unity FM radio station in Lira, northern Uganda, and arrested station manager Jimmy Onapa Uhuru, journalist Paul Odonga and two others after the station reported that the government was busing people into the region to boost numbers at a rally for President Museveni…

HRW also provides a number of other examples. Waldron maintains that his arrest had been due to his reporting on riots in Uganda; one of the charges laid against him (besides having illegal guns which he says were planted by police) was that he had “defamed” Uganda.

Orthodox Right vs Neo-Pentecostalism in Ukraine

Orthodox Christian organisations in the Ukraine are unhappy with the new mayor of Kiev. Interfax-Religion reports:

Yuri Yegorov of the Orthodox Choice association…believes the victory of Leonid Chernovetsky, leader of the Liberal Christian Democratic Party who is involved in the God’s Embassy, in the mayoral elections in Kiev is ‘a natural outcome of the values that have begun to prevail in Ukraine’.

“God’s Embassy” is a large neo-Pentecostal church that I profiled last year. The pastor, Nigerian Sunday Adelaja, claims to have baptised a million Ukrainians. He is also a close ally of Ted Haggard, the influential Colorado-based neo-Pentecostal leader I have blogged about on several occasions. Adelaja’s Orthodox critics, however, have a dramatic accusation:

The activity of sects in Ukraine, especially in Kiev, jeopardizes national security, stated Valentin Lukiyanik, Union of Orthodox Brotherhoods leader.

‘We can see (in the activity of sects – IF) a threat to national security’, he said at a press-conference.

According to him, in Kiev ‘adepts of a new world order with an extremist, or more precisely, fascist ideology realized a planned scenario for taking over’.

He also urged to look into the activity of the religious organization called Embassy of the Blessed Kingdom of God to All Nations led by a Nigerian preacher by name of Sandey Adelaja [sic].

These days Ukraine is indeed quite a centre for new religious movements – a year ago I heard a Ukrainian sociologist of religion describe the Crimea as “Ukraine’s California”, and note the role of religious groups in the “Orange Revolution”. For the likes of Lukiyanik, the failure of the Orthodox right to call the shots must be the result of some awful conspiracy. Radio Liberty noted back in 2004:

In demonstrations in Kyiv in November, the Union of Orthodox Brotherhoods of Ukraine warned of “the expansion of Catholics and sects in Ukraine” should the West-leaning Yushchenko win the presidency. Leaflets distributed in Orthodox parishes called Yushchenko a “partisan of the schismatics and an enemy of Orthodoxy,” according to media reports. And opposition leaders and human rights groups allege that some clergy in heavily Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine told parishioners to vote for “God’s candidate,” the pro-Moscow Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, or be denied the sacraments.

…Prior to the election, the Union of Orthodox Brotherhoods of Ukraine…warned that if the opposition leader won, it could spell the beginnings of “persecutions against Orthodoxy.” The group also harshly criticized pro-Yushchenko demonstrators after the disputed second round of the election.

After the election, Lukivanik complained that

“Forces working against Orthodox civilization have united around Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. You could see this on (Kyiv’s Independence) Square during the Orange Revolution when a cardinal, a Baptist, a rabbi, (Patriarch) Filaret (head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate [a rival to the pro-Moscow Orthodox branch]), all the members of sects, were there,” said Lukianyk.

The Union of Orthodox Brotherhoods is a lay movement dating from the post-Soviet period; its targets also include Roman Catholicism.

Interfax-Religion also cites a third commentator, in similar vein:

As Valery Chabanenko, a Dialogue center researcher of neo-cults, noted in his turn, the God’s Embassy is engaged in the propaganda of the ‘extremist religious’ doctrine of the ‘New World Order’ (its author is preacher Alexey Ledyaev, Latvia – IF). He also said that nearly 500 adepts of the New World Order ran for deputies of all levels in March.

‘We believe Ukraine is on the doorstep to an extremist ideology which begins to be introduced on the highest level’, the expert remarked.

Ledyaev founded the New Generation Church in Riga in 1989; he now has a branch in Springfield, Massachusetts. He also indeed talks in NWO terms:

The fulfillment of the Great Commission is nothing else but foundation for Christian Geopolitical Space, in which God will establish the New World Order.

In a 2005 sermon included on Adelaja’s website, Ledyaev explains that

…The Gospel is the governmental book that has a direct approach to the building of statehood…Today the church takes back its positions in the government and so we prevent it from destruction and degradation. We are the salt of the earth. We want to live in a country with a Christian government…Our interests will not be protected either by communists or socialists, by Muslims, or Buddhists. They have their own interests. We should present our people into the highest legislative level. The time is coming when the Saints will take positions in the kingdom of Earth. Any power is from God and must know Him.

A postscript adds:

After the sermon of Aleksey Ledyaev, Pastor Sunday added: “This word is now coming true. It is a very precise word so that we could know where to go. God has already found Christians from different denominations and joined them in one political party – Just Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, it’s currently unclear just how long the new mayor of Kiev will be in the job. The Ukraine Government Portal carries a brief news report:

On April 3 the Kyiv Prosecutor Office instituted criminal proceedings against Chernovetsky in “suppressing realization of the election right” during the Kyiv Mayor elections. The story is about grafting voters with food rations. Chernovetsky denied any accusations.

(Name variation: Valentyn Lukianyk)

Scottish Executive Backs Satanic Abuse Claims

One of the joys of being back in the UK is that I can now get my fortnightly dose of Private Eye magazine, which keeps most of its news content off-line. The latest issue (1155) contains a letter about Satanic Ritual Abuse, from Dr Joan Coleman of RAINS (Ritual Abuse Information Network and Support):

…I have no doubt whatsoever that Satanist abuse is a reality. I believe it to be far more prevalent than I thought 20 years ago, when I first encountered it. Since then, I have talked to more than 600 professionals who have worked with victims/survivors. I have also spoken with over 200 of them. Although they do not know each other, they all describe very similar activities. In addition, I regularly receive threatening letters, phone calls and text messages from self-declared Satanists, telling me to back off…

In 2002, Damian Thompson wrote an article for the Telegraph that quotes Coleman as blaming “Masonic connections” for the success of the Satanists. Coleman’s letter responds to a couple of sceptical articles on the subject that recently appeared in the Eye. Fortunately, blog Cabinet of Wonders has placed these on-line, along with some letters that have appeared in the magazine. Back in mid-January, the Eye warned that

…that there is still a network of believers across the UK among professionals and assorted therapists who work with children and adult “survivors” who reinforce each other’s convictions that what they now term “ritual abuse” exists, through literature, websites, conferences and training courses.

…Groups run by [Laurie] Matthew, all based at 1 Victoria Road, Dundee, include Ritual Abuse Network Scotland (RANS), which has a website offering “support for survivors” and a resource for counsellors, parents and concerned friends, packed with ghoulish detail about “the reality” of ritual abuse, including allegations of babies being bred for sacrifice and children being sexually abused and mutilated and a checklist of signs and symptoms to look for…

…Matthew is now helping to influence policy-making in Scotland via her presence on the Scottish parliament’s cross-party group on Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse, which produced a national strategy for adult survivors in September 2005. Her group 18 and Under is a member of the group.

The Scottish Executive has produced a booklet that endorses Matthew’s work; the Eye suggested that the booklet’s co-author, Dr Sarah Nelson, was perhaps the harbinger of a new Satanic panic. Nelson replied in bullish mood:

…The sweeping “Satanic Panic ” which wildly enthused professionals is a fabrication, invented by abusers and spread by their apologists. No one who confronted evidence of unspeakable sadistic abuse believed its reality with anything but the most profound reluctance.

…The Satanic Abuse Witch-Hunt is the only witchhunt in history where those supposedly leading it were its victims, and found their careers destroyed.

A person unfairly accused of Satanism as recently as 2003 found this hard to take:

Judith Jones (Dawson), a social worker in the Nottingham Satanic case, is now listed as an expert witness and living and working in London. She was part of the review team who wrongly labelled Christopher Lillie and Dawn Reed as ritual abusers in the Shieldfield Nursery Nurses case.

Also on this review team was Jacqui Saradjian, who has written of satanic cults. She still works as an independent clinical psychologist.

Coleman’s contribution to the discussion comes after a second article about Nelson’s booklet, which is titled A Can of Worms — Working with Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse:

…A group of eminent psychologists and psychiatrists has written a devastating critique of :he booklet and called for it to be withdrawn, or substantially rewritten.

In a scathing seven-page letter to the Lothian Health Board, the distributors, copied to ministers and officials from the Scottish Executive and UK Department of Health, the critics question the authors’ apparent lack of knowledge of the academic literature…”There is almost no condition that the authors do not consider a sign of past abuse,” they wrote.

The booklet’s recommended reading list includes a library of discredited “self help” books which suggest the reader should try to recover supposedly repressed memories of abuse. These include a much pilloried American book, The Courage to Heal, which encourages readers to believe they were sexually abused, if they think they were, or have “body memories”, even if they can’t actually remember it.

In a 1996 paper Nelson

confidently estimated more than 1,650 people in Edinburgh had been involved in satanic ritual abuse.

The new booklet has been released at a somewhat inauspicious moment: as I noted just recently, a central figure in the 1980s Californian McMartin Preschool case is now admitting that he had been coaxed into lying by adults, while those whose lives were blighted in Rochdale are making new demands for compensation.