National Church Controversy in Ukraine

Interfax-Religion brings news from Ukraine:

Ukrainian MP Leonid Grach accused President Victor Yuschenko of arranging a ‘fifth column’ – the Movement for Local (ecclesiastically independent – IF) Ukraine aiming at a union between the canonical Orthodox Church with the schismatics.

‘It is obvious that Ukrainian president as a politician who follows the Euro-Atlantic plan aimed at destroying our single Russian-Ukrainian national entity, feels anxious about the influence that the Moscow Patriarchate has in Ukraine. All Russia’s enemies are anxious about that too,’ the MP said in his statement published on Friday.

The Communist Grach is keen for the Russian Orthodox Church to maintain influence in the country. Lawrence Uzzell, head of International Religious Freedom Watch, explained how the ROC operates in the country to the Moscow Times in summer 2005:

“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.”

President Yuschenko, unsurprisingly, favours a rival national church. ForUm reported a couple of weeks ago:

Victor Yushchenko has met with Metropolitan Mefodiy, head of the Ukrainian Autonomous Orthodox Church, President’s press office informs.

…Although the President believes “the unification of Ukraine’s Orthodox churches will contribute to the nation’s spiritual unity,” he said the government should not interfere with this process. He expressed hopes the country’s religious leaders would compromise without any “preliminary demands.”

Although “the government” is supposedly not directing the drive for unity, it just so happens that Yuschenko’s brother is the person taking the initiative:

Ukrainian National Deputy Petro Yushchenko, brother of President Viktor Yushchenko, will head the civic organization A National Church for Ukraine, created on 3 March 2007. The goal of the group is to contribute to the development of the unification process of Ukrainian Orthodoxy and the creation of a single national church.

Grach’s complaints about all this follow complaints from pro-ROC groups, including the Union of Orthodox Citizens:

Valery Kaurov, leader of the Union of Orthodox Citizens in Ukraine, believes the idea of Ukraine’s joining NATO has been actively used by Ukrainian nationalist groups who would like to propagate their Russophobic ideology through the bloc.

‘The ideologists of Ukraine’s membership in NATO have thrown in the slogan ‘Independent Church to independent Ukraine!’ They intend to make the Ukrainian Orthodox Church a national church fully separated from the Russian Orthodox Church…’

Kaurov discusses his organisation in more depth here, where he tells us that:

…The main tasks of the organizations headed by Kaurov include the struggle against “schismatics” (the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyivan Patriarchate and Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church), “Catholic-Uniate proselytism” (the Ukrainian Greek and Roman Catholic churches), and the “Orange regime that fights against God.” They believe they are following the directions of the church fathers, who taught to struggle against the enemies of the faith and church. In Kaurov’s opinion, “only traditional denominations should operate within the territory of Ukraine and a law restricting the activity of totalitarian sects should be passed.”

…The leader of the UOCU considers all the other denominations to be “religious formations brought to the country from abroad by order of the Washington Regional Committee [“Obkom,” which traditionally in the USSR was understood as being part of the Communist Party]. According to Kaurov, the objective of non-traditional denominations is “destruction of the spirituality and historic memory of the people of our country, elimination of Orthodoxy and separation from the Russian Orthodox Church.”

The Union is an offshoot of a Russian body which I blogged on a few days ago in relation to a nationalist take-over of the sociology department at Moscow State University.

Grach, meanwhile, goes on to make an odd complaint for a Communist:

‘The president who uses TV to actively pose himself a believer and likes being filmed near Orthodox icons, in practice follows the worst antireligious traditions,’ the deputy added.

Grach is a rather contradictory character, and a recent article on human rights in Ukraine gives a bit of background:

…We will leave Mr Grach’s political views as between him and his maker (-?). However as Head of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on HUMAN RIGHTS, one would hardly expect to hear that “the State should protect people from such evil as homosexuality, lesbianism and suchlike”.

…Mr Grach’s comments have been coming thick and fast over the last few months (cf [here] for about as much detail as can be stomached in one sitting).

Grach also rails against the Tatar minority of his native Crimea, accusing them (falsely) of harbouring wahabis, Chechen terrorists, and “CIA-supported insurgents” (1).

However, Yuschenko’s supporters are not shy at bringing in religion to back their man; Interfax recently showed the following remarkable picture, painted by a Greek-Catholic priest:

Apparently, it depicts

…Ukrainian President Victor Yuschenko sitting on clouds, with the Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir and Princess Olga standing on his right and left.

Also:

…a little lower on the same icon-like canvas there is another image of Yuschenko sitting now on a throne and holding a club in one hand and a vessel with a poison in the other, believed to be used to poison him during his presidential election campaign.

Spread above the throne is the revolutionary ‘orange’ Maidan square, picturing in the forefront the self-proclaimed Patriarch of Kiev, Philaret Denisenko, together with leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholics Lyubomir Husar, as well as Yulia Timoshenko, Anatoly Kinakh, Alexander Moroz and other Ukrainian politicians.

One is inevitably reminded of this:

****

(1) See Arno Tanner, The Forgotten Minorities of Eastern Europe: The History and Today of Selected Ethnic Groups in Five Countries, p. 50.

Christian Zionists “Repent” for Church Anti-Semitism

Ultra-Nationalist MKs accept “Letter of Repentance”

Evangelist: “African Christians…would love to kiss the feet of a Jew”

From the Jerusalem Post:

In a highly symbolic move, dozens of evangelical Christian leaders will present the Knesset with a “letter of repentance” on Wednesday for crimes committed by Christians against the Jewish people over the centuries.

In fact, the letter hardly breaks any new ground; the history of Christian anti-Semitism has been readily acknowledged for decades, and Christian Zionists have for just as long used it as a justification for support for Israeli expansionism. The “presentation” is just another chance for some extra publicity, and for Christian Zionist leaders to come together for yet another conflab:

The letter,…which is being sponsored by a large number of evangelical groups and is the brainchild of the Texas-based Covenant Alliances, will be presented to the Knesset’s Christian Allies Caucus in a special session expected to be attended by a few hundred Christian Zionist leaders from around the world.

…The gala event, which will be coupled with the presentation of a “love letter to Israel” declaring their unequivocal support for the State of Israel, will be preceded by a conference on Tuesday dubbed “the Jerusalem Assembly” at a hotel in the capital that will include speeches mixed with prayer sessions.

The subsequent event itself was reported on was reported on Y-Net (links added):

Pastor Pitts Evans of Virginia read the letter out before a Knesset hall packed with Evangelicals…

Pastor Seymour Kook, of South Carolina, read out a “love letters to the God of Israel,” in which Evangelical signatories said they were “deeply grateful for the root of God’s olive tree (and) for every Jewish father of the faith… we stand in faith in our branch, without arrogance, with humility toward your God and the fathers of Israel, who took us in when we could not deserve him and could not find him.”

Speaking to Ynetnews, Apostle Zilly Aggfey [should be “Zilly Aggrey” – RB], a Christian leader from Nigeria, said millions of African Christians were keen to “serve Israel.”

Poor Zilly seems to have got rather overwrought:

“African Christians would love to kiss the ground in Israel. They would love to kiss the feet of a Jew,” he said…

Haaretz notes one MK’s involvement:

David Rotem, a Yisrael Beiteinu MK, spoke out against various plans for peace with the Palestinians. “There is a Saudi proposal, an American proposal, a European Union proposal and a Palestinian proposal which are going to endanger the state of Israel,” Rotem said and the visitors responded with “Amen.”

Rotem is the replacement for Yuri Stern, the MK close to Christian Zionists who died a few months ago. Rotem is an attorney for the Yesha Council of Settlements, and in the past (according to Ian S Lustick) he was also a lawyer for the Gush Emunim Underground, an extremist terrorist group.

The Covenant Alliances, meanwhile, is run by Jodie Anderson, who also heads the Battalion of Deborah at the same P.O. Box. The Battalion of Deborah has a particularly annoying website; whenever you click on anything the ears are assaulted by a clip of Pat Robertson pontificating on “Judea and Samaria”. The Covenant Alliances website is uninformative (but mercifully quieter), consisting of a few blog entries from 2005 and 2006. At the head of the page is the “Jerusalem Accord”, which was put together by US Christian Zionists and right-wing Israeli MKs in September 2005; the “Accord” calls for the US Embassy to be moved to Jerusalem, for Palestinian terrorists to be disarmed, and for Palestinian refugees to be resettled in “the lands of their Arab kinsmen” (given that Christian Zionists see the West Bank and Gaza as part of Israel, this would mean the expulsion of Palestinian refugees living in those areas, although understandably this point is not spelt out). As with the “Letter of Repentance”, the “Accord” was mainly a publicity stunt.

The Battalion of Deborah is particularly militant, and supports the building of the “Third Temple” in Jerusalem – a cause which is also dear to the Israeli far-right (such as the new “Sanhedrin“, which recently announced plans to kill a sheep on the Temple Mount). The Israeli branch of “Covenant Alliances” is run by Pastor David Decker (the Post slightly confuses the issue), who is the author of Revival From Zion:

This book uses 50 compelling arguments from the Bible to challenge Christians to take a supportive attitude toward this next major prophetic event. God is NOT finished with Israel! The coming third Temple is especially for the Jewish people. The literal Temple, once rebuilt, will be used to point many to Jesus, the Lamb of God who is the Ultimate “Once and for All” Sacrifice. This book directly tackles the subject of animal sacrifices and shows why reinstituting the full Temple service will be an exciting God-ordained event, not only for Israel, but also for the Church and the whole world.

Decker has led evangelisation work in Israel – an activity which some Israeli MKs now want to ban.

Farrakhan Rails Against “Illuminati”; Praised by Venezuelan Consul

Final Call, an official website of the Nation of Islam, reports on a recent address by Louis Farrakhan in Detroit. Farrakhan touched on various points, including the following:

…One of the methods Satan uses in casting first is by reproducing himself or herself, through the creation of “dumb devils,” whom Satan hides behind and uses to carry out wicked deeds. At this point is where the group of wise persons, known as The Illuminati, was mentioned.

The Illuminati, the Minister explained, is a secret society that was established in the late 18th Century in Europe, which is comprised largely today of the richest people in the world—international bankers who control mainstream media, the work force, educational systems, companies, banks, energy supplies and governments.

Farrakhan mentioned “the Rockefellers, Rothschilds, DuPonts, and Astors”, but he also dropped a heavy hint about whom he really had in mind:

He also delved into the significance of the year 1913, when the Defamation League [sic] of B’nai B’rith and the FBI were formed, as well as Congress’ passing of the Federal Reserve Act which legalized international bankers to print money.

The report tells us about who turned up to the event:

Numerous ministers from across the Nation of Islam traveled to Chicago, and among the other dignitaries present to show their support were, Women of the Millions More Movement committee member, Julie Santos, a community activist based in Chicago; Bishop Ki Hoon Kim of the Unification Church under Rev. Sun Myung Moon; Mikhael Ben Yehuda of the Hebrew Israelite Nation; Martin E. Sanchez, Consul General of Venezuela in Chicago; and Jamaican reggae artists Luciano, Mikey General and Anthony Gadd.

The links between Farrakhan and the Unification Church are long-standing; Frederick Clarkson wrote a piece on the subject for Salon back in 2000.

The Venezuelan consul, meanwhile, was particularly impressed:

“I was very pleased to see Min. Farrakhan come back with renewed force. I think his speech reflects the desperation that’s among us to want to see a better world, and I was particularly impressed by his mentioning of how the international institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, are used to going into poor countries—the countries they define as “third world countries”—and impose their will in order to give these countries loans for development projects. This is one of the ways that the international capital and the international bourgeois have tools to oppress the people in the developing world. So, I was very pleased to hear this.”

There has been some controversy in the past as to whether Venezuelan statements about international capital are suggestive of anti-Semitism; Sanchez’s enthusiasm for Farrakhan does seem to show that his “desperation” for “a better world” is indeed leading the Venezuelan regime to flirt with the anti-imperialism of fools (incidentally, the JTA ran an article on Jewish fears in Venezuela just a few days ago. I blogged on Hezbollah’s presence in the country back in September).

Of course, not all conspiracy-mongers who go on about the “Illuminati” have got a thing against Jews; just a few days ago I noted that Christian Zionist leader John Hagee also believes in the existence of the organisation and its global malignant power.

(Hat tip: Cult News Network)

Christian Zionist Ditches Knesset Christian Allies Caucus

Describes Israel’s attitude: “We’ll take your aid, your support and your tourist dollars, but we won’t take your Jesus”

From OneNewsNow:

Christian radio talk-show host Janet Parshall, a high-profile American evangelical known for her strong support of Israel, has dropped out of a Jerusalem conference sponsored by a Christian caucus of the Israeli Parliament. Parshall says she decided not to speak at the conference after she learned that the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus “condemns” and does not associate with groups that share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I first blogged on the KCAC here. Parshall also complains about the efforts of Shas to have evangelization banned (a development we blogged a few days ago):

…Also, Parshall points out, there is the added problem of censoring Christian evangelism, i.e., that “as Israel begins to move deeper and deeper in that direction, they start to replicate their Islamic neighbors.”

It seems the wheels have started slowly to turn in Parshall’s mind:

Unfortunately, Parshall observes, this condemnation of evangelization by the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus may mark the beginning of a new era in which Israel tells evangelical believers, “We’ll take your aid, your support and your tourist dollars, but we won’t take your Jesus.” Christians should not have to “choose between the cross or Israel,” the American evangelical says.

This follows on from a weird story I blogged a year ago, when the Jerusalem Post reported that Jerry Falwell had announced that Jews no longer needed to be converted to Christianity. Falwell complained the story was untrue, and a retraction was issued. At the time, the executive director of Jews for Jesus stated that

…the incident illustrates an “ongoing agenda” among certain Jewish leaders who he says want to “undermine Christian evangelism by trying to shape Christian theology.”

Meanwhile, Parshall’s support for Israel can be seen in this transcript of her remarks at the 2002 Israel Solidarity Rally.

The conference that she has backed out of is on the subject of women’s rights from a Judeo-Christian perspective (see cached version here). This was organised by the women’s association of KCAC, which was founded by US apocalyptic Bible teacher Kay Arthur. Back in 2005 Arthur told the National Religious Broadcaters’ Convention that

“I love America…But if it came to a choice between Israel and America, I would stand with Israel.”

Students Battle Nationalist Dean at Moscow State University

A few days ago the New York Times reported on dissatisfaction among sociology students at Moscow State University:

…The students said, for example, that extremist views had become institutionalized and that conspiracy theories had infiltrated the teaching.

“The dean’s office has distributed a brochure to all students that approvingly quotes the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion,’ blames Freemasons and Zionists for the world wars, and claims that they control U.S. and British policy and the global financial system,” the students wrote in one of their public appeals. “Studying conditions at the department are unbearable.”

The dean, Vladimir Dobrenkov, denies this. The students have formed an organisation, named the OD-Group, and its website has further complaints. Among them:

In recent years, fifteen recognized scholars have been forced out of the university, including Professor Vladimir Nikolayev, one of the few Russian experts on the Chicago School and translator of Robert Park, Everett Hughes, Alfred Schütz, Harold Garfinkel and Erving Goffman; Professor Elena Kukushkina, a well-known expert on pre-revolutionary Russian sociology; Professors Y.N. Tolstova and O.V. Ivanov, experts in the mathematical modeling of social processes; Professor V.V. Shtcherbina, a leading theorist of organization sociology and consultant to a number of large Russian companies; Professor Andrew Degtyarev, a well-known Russian expert in political sociology and member of the International Sociological Association’s research committees on Political Sociology and Urban and Regional Development; and Professor Helen Shestopal, a well-known social and political psychologist and vice-president of both the International and Russian Political Science Associations.

…To quote a student: “Every lecture starts from scratch: we start with a definition of what sociology is about and stop at the third page of the textbook. At every lecture, we ask ourselves: ‘Is this really what the social sciences are all about???'” In some cases, faculty members refuse to teach a class because they find it unacceptable simply to read out chapters from a textbook as they are told to.

Dean Dobrenkov is a conservative nationalist, who rails against globalisation and against the “liberalism” which was responsible for the end of the USSR and the rise of the oligarchs. A paper which he gave at the 37th World Congress of the International Institute of Sociology in Stockholm in 2005 gives further insights into his thinking:

Let us note the most important negative consequences of liberal globalization…liberal globalization, creating a unified culture without religion, being precise, a global surrogate of culture, tries to destroy religious traditions and national cultures as well…One of the most catastrophic results of liberal reforms of 1990-s was the collapse of the USSR.

…Our country does not need liberal freedom “without boundaries”, which is identical to the right to rob, to kill, to corrupt people’s souls with impunity…In reality freedom should only exist as being limited by frames of the law and by standards of moral.

…In order to revive Russia, we need a strong government, which would be an active subject in economic life, regulate economic processes and social relations…Aggressive circles in Washington are actually waging the Third World War with subordinating the hole world to the USA as an aim. The USA have performed aggression against Yugoslavia and Iraq, and are ready to declare war with Iran, North Korea, Syria. That is why Russia needs strong armed forces.

Also:

…It is necessary to exert maximum efforts for spiritual and moral revival of Russia. Russia will never become a strong and prosperous power without a detailed system of moral upbringing of the population in the way of humanism values (real, not liberal one), collectivism, and patriotism. A complex of measures on spiritual and moral recovery supposes the total change of policy of mass media (and, most of all, television), which should exclude demonstration of scenes of violence, sex, amorality, and absence of spirituality. It requires creation of public control councils and introduction of moral censorship in all mass media. It is also necessary to correct the education plans in secondary and higher school towards spiritualism and patriotism. Orthodox Christianity and other traditional religions of Russia should play an important role in reviving the moral.

The paper, it should be noted, is not overburdened with academic references or footnotes.

Dobrenkov has links with the right-wing “Rodina” political bloc (a grouping which, as I blogged here, has some anti-Semitic associations). In December 2004 he spoke at the Rodina Congress:

The Rodina congress discussed President Vladimir Putin’s proposals for strengthening the state, an economic program for young people, and the mooted creation of a Public Chamber…Moscow State University Sociology Faculty Dean Vladimir Dobrenkov called for a push to “do everything to get liberals out of the present power structure and prevent revenge on their part, otherwise they won’t be quiet for years.”

Meanwhile, Interfax reports that Dobrenkov is getting backing from the nationalist Union of Orthodox Citizens:

…The ideology of the OD-Group, the Union states, ‘is unequivocally hostile to the Orthodox Church’ and has as its aim ‘to squeeze out the Orthodox nation-oriented ideology from MSU, to undermine the emerging scientific relations between the university and major theological colleges in Russia and to spread the aggressive-secular liberal thinking under the guise of scientific secularism and objectivism’.

‘The orange revolution’ carried out before our very eyes by the OD-Group ideologies at the Department of Sociology threatens both the prospects for the intellectual cooperation between secular scholarship and theology and the consolidation of practical relations between Moscow State University and the Russian Orthodox Church’, the statement reads.

As ever, the UOC finds particularly upsetting that

…As an alternative to Orthodox conservatism and relations with the Orthodox Church the opposition have proposed a pro-active support for sexual minorities.

An essay on this site has more about the UOC, and its support for “dictatorship [which] must develop into a full fledged autocracy”.

Interestingly, Marxism.org has a letter which Erich Fromm sent to Dobrenkov in 1969, with the following introduction:

The following letter Erich Fromm wrote in 1969 to the Russian philosopher Vladimir Dobrenkov is a most impressive document of how deeply he was interested in getting contact with socialist thinkers and to discuss with them his reception of Marx and his understanding of socialism. Dobrenkov intended to write a book on Fromm and therefore started a correspondence with Fromm. Fromm tried to clarify many topics Dobrenkov misunderstood by presenting Fromm’s ideas. But actually one cannot say that Fromm’s clarifications showed much effect on Dobrenkov’s book Neo-Freudians in Search of Truth, published in many languages in the seventies (Moskau: Progress Publishers)…

It seems that Dobrenkov is a Vicar of Bray character: Marxist ideologue under Communism, right-wing Orthodox nationalist under Putin.

Theocratic Surge in Israeli Courts

From Haaretz:

Fifteen judges were appointed to rabbinic courts Monday by a committee headed by Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann.

…The identities of the judges was determined before the committee met, in a deal between the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox Shas party and the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox, committee members told Haaretz. Twelve of the 15 judges are considered ultra-Orthodox.

…For the past four years, the eight-member selection committee was split equally among representatives of the ultra-Orthodox camp and representatives of the religious Zionist camp and the Israel Bar Association. But when the current government took office, MK Yitzhak Vaknin of Shas was appointed to the committee, giving the ultra-Orthodox a majority.

This is a big deal because rabbinic courts in Israel are part of the state apparatus, dealing with civil matters for Jewish Israelis such as marriage and divorce. An article on a Reform Judaism website from last December gives further details:

Under Israeli law, an individual may only be married in accordance with the procedures of his religious community. Thus, Jews may only be married through the Orthodox rabbinate. Since the rabbinate implements religious law – Halacha – Jews may not marry non-Jews and a kohen may not marry a divorcee.

With several hundred thousand halachically non-Jewish Russian immigrants in Israel (who are nonetheless entitled to rights under the Law of Return), the number of couples who wish to wed in Israel, but may not, is increasing.

Even more problematic are the pesulei hitun – “non-marriables” – the child born to a Jewish mother conceived from an adulterous union or even to a Jewish mother who was divorced (abroad) in a civil proceeding but never received a get. Such a child is a mamzer and essentially may never marry at all.

The only relief available to those wishing to contract religiously unlawful marriages and to the “non-marriables” is to be married in a civil ceremony outside of Israel, which is recognized by Israel under its private international law commitments, but not recognized by Halacha.

It’s also bad news for women seeking a divorce from non-compliant husbands, as Haaretz notes:

Women’s rights organizations said Monday was a black day in the struggle for women’s rights in the rabbinic courts. Many view the rabbinic courts as favoring men in divorce cases and as failing to do enough to minimize the problem of women whose husbands refuse to divorce them.

And, as noted above, there’s the small matter of hundreds of thousands of Israeli immigrants whose Jewish status is under dispute – which is a bit of an embarrassment for a country which constantly claims that any accommodation of Palestinian refugees would undermine the Jewish character of the state, and that therefore anyone who dares to suggest such a thing must be anti-Semitic.

Haaretz believes that this will all prove to be too much:

The religious establishment must understand that all of society, religious and secular, refuses to knuckle under to discrimination and injustice. However, all the signs – especially the political wheeling-dealing power balance – indicate that this process will not take place spontaneously.

Therefore the public had better draw clear conclusions from the last appointments, demand pluralism and free choice in religious services and do without the religious establishment, thus pushing it into its appropriate place. The time is fast approaching for the silent majority in Israel, both religious and secular, to demand, by public and political pressure, to break up the ultra-Orthodox monopoly and cancel its affiliation with the state.

Apparently, the new judges are followers of the elderly Torah-sage Yosef Shalom Elyashiv.

U.S. to Fund “Faith and Economics” Peace Plan for Israel-Palestine

News from the JTA:

The U.S. government will fund a new initiative that will examine bringing peace to the Middle East through faith and economics.

The plan was initiated by Rep Frank Wolf, who clearly has his finger on the pulse:

“If you’re Jewish, you have the Western Wall. If you’re Christian, you have the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. If you’re Muslim, you have the Dome of the Rock,” he said. “We cannot work toward peace in the Middle East without taking into account the religious roots of its people. The U.S. government doesn’t have the capacity to deal with this reality in the lives of those who live in that region. That is why I have put together an initiative that includes the faith component.”

Ambassador Tony Hall will deal with the faith, while Dennis Ross will take care of the economics. And

…The program will be run under the auspices of a think tank, the Center for the Study of the Presidency.

USAID has apparently offered the Center a $1 million grant, with the backing of Condoleezza Rice.

But what will the programme do? Wolf’s website has some further details:

Dr. Bob Cooley, president emeritus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, recently provided me some insightful observations about the faith dynamics in the Middle East. He has worked with Palestinian Muslims, Palestinian Christians, and Israelis during his 48 years of pursuing Hebrew Studies and Syro-Palestinian Archeology. He points out that the three major religious groups in the land are “all Sons of Abraham, who share a common understood relationship that serves as a basis for living together in harmony today.”

It is largely the past 50 years of failed politics that have undermined communal harmony in the region and modified the relationships between these groups. A complete copy of Dr. Cooley’s remarks about the relationships between these groups is attached to my statement.

(“Modified the relationships”?!)

Cooley’s remarks include the following deep insights:

It is true that religion can divide a society. This is no more true than in the Holy Land and the Middle East. Religious differences are sharp and deep.

…The veneration of holy sites and places is fundamental to identities, and they are multiple. The only solution is an open and free society that must be the goal of peace.

Tony Hall also explains his role:

…Our service is to support and encourage the people of faith who bear influence in the region. We are connecting with people of faith because as leaders of these communities they can either encourage the way of compassion, sacrifice and grace in this process – which is necessary to support a political outcome, or they can incite their people in the hopeless path of the status quo…The Abrahamic faiths have been in conflict for so long, that most of us have forgotten that at the core of them lies that universal commandment to “Love your neighbor.”

As well as explaining to faith leaders what the “core” of their religious traditions is, the Center for the Study of the Presidency will look at “medical and public health” issues. Also (link added)

…CSP will examine the possibility of using the Internet, interactive gaming (such as the recently released educational videogame on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict entitled Peacemaker), and the development of telehealth projects to further the Middle East peace process.

The overall aim, says Hall, is to

…construct some good will that we hope may support a political settlement.

I can’t help feeling that this is all rather vague and platitudinous, and while a recognition of truly religious motivations is welcome, the message that the conflict is about “holy sites” and “religious identities” rather than military occupation and Palestinian dispossession makes one sceptical.

Wolf’s views on the role of religion in US foreign policy were laid out in an interview he gave last September to the PCR Project:

When asked how American policymakers use and understand religion in international relations, Wolf responded: “I think the government fears religion.” That fear makes American diplomats avoid thinking and talking about people’s religious motivations. Wolf believes that this avoidance of key issues prevents us from engaging strategically in conflict-prone settings. “If it’s true that these guys are blowing themselves up because of their faith, you have to deal with it.”

The Congressman said that addressing issues of faith does not mean proselytizing, but rather working on a faith-based level in order to build trust and open dialogue.

…”What we need within the government is a real faith dialogue.” Wolf spoke of the National Prayer Breakfast, and noted that a Moroccan leader who attended a recent Breakfast raved about the experience. He also praised friends and leaders who speak openly about their faiths and the faiths of others.

Wolf is known as an advocate of religious freedom, and in 1997 he pushed for the creation of an “Office of Religious Persecution Monitoring”, which eventually evolved into the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998. This 2001 article takes a sceptical view of Wolf’s political motivations:

In 1999, he delivered a number of harsh speeches accusing President Clinton of neglecting the Commission by delaying his appointments to it and by failing to include funds in his budget proposal (even though the latter had been prepared before IRFA was enacted).

But when the Bush administration let nine months pass without appointing an Ambassador-at-Large, Wolf remained silent. Nor did he react when the president was tardy in appointing Commission members. Nor did he or others complain, as they had during the Clinton administration, when the State Department failed to designate its “countries of particular concern” in a timely way.

However strongly Wolf and the religious right felt about religious freedom as a moral issue, one cannot help but observe their interest in exploiting it as a partisan wedge issue as long as they had a political opponent in the White House.

P&G Wins Satanic Panic Payout

I’m slightly late with this:

Procter & Gamble Co. has won a jury award of $19.25 million in a civil lawsuit filed against four former Amway distributors accused of spreading false rumors linking the company to Satanism to advance their own business.

…Rumors had begun circulating as early as 1981 that the company’s logo — a bearded, crescent man-in-moon looking over a field of 13 stars — was a symbol of Satanism.

…The former Amway distributors thought they’d be exonerated and were shocked by the jury’s verdict late Friday, said Randy L. Haugen, one of the defendants.

…The company alleged that Amway Corp. distributors revived those rumors in 1995, using a voice mail system to tell thousands of customers that part of Procter & Gamble profits went to satanic cults.

…P&G spokesman Terry Loftus said Monday that the corporation brought a handful of cases against various individuals — not just Amway distributors — through the 1980s, with the last one prior to this case filed in 1990.

This particular case has been rumbling along for a long time; back in 1999, P&G had the whole of Amway in its sights, and was after much more:

Procter & Gamble claimed that Amway “fomented the satanic rumors” since the early 70’s , including the assertion that the Procter & Gamble trademark incorporates satanic symbols. Dating back to the 1850’s the trademark shows a bearded “man in the moon” looking over 13 stars, representing the 13 original colonies. Although the company has kept the trademark as part of its corporate identity, it did remove it from more than 300 of its products in 1985.

Seeking $595 million in damages, Procter & Gamble’s suit centered around a 1995 voice mail from a prominent Amway distributor to other distributors, claiming that Procter & Gamble’s president, while appearing on a national talk show, said that a portion of P & G’s profits went to the “Church of Satan”. The Amway distributor, who admitted sending the message, testified that he thought it was true. Although he issued two retractions the week following the voice mail, Procter & Gamble claimed its hotline was flooded with calls from angry consumers. Amway attorneys said the company did not encourage the rumor, and in fact tried to help Procter & Gamble stop it.

The Reuters story notes that in their opening arguments, Amway attorneys accused Procter & Gamble of filing the suit “because of concerns that Amway was eating into its sales in Asia.”

The claim was dismissed, and an appeal by P&G failed in 2003:

An appeals court has ruled that a federal judge in Utah was correct in dismissing a lawsuit by Procter & Gamble accusing Amway Corp. of spreading rumors linking P&G with the Church of Satan and devil worship.

The unanimous decision Jan. 6 by a three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver upheld a 2001 ruling by U.S. District Judge Dale A. Kimball, who held that the rumors were not defamatory and that Procter & Gamble had not made a case for specific damages.

In its 25-page opinion upholding Kimball’s decision, the 10th Circuit panel concluded that throughout its “protracted and duplicative litigation, P&G has tried to evade the law of the case doctrine, and has squandered scarce judicial resources.”

P&G then went after Haugen and some other individuals. Some of the earlier court documents explain the origin of the saga. One, from 1998, claims that

In April of 1995, [Roger] Patton, living in Woodlands, passed the rumor to [Jeffrey] Musgrove, living in Katy, who allegedly passed the message to Randall Walker in Houston, who in turn, passed the message to Randy Haugen in Ogden, Utah. Haugen and his immediate upline sponsor, Don Wilson, live in Ogden and conduct their Amway businesses there.

Meanwhile, here we read that

Defendant Randy L. Haugen is a citizen of the State of Utah and a “Diamond” level distributor of Amway consumer products  in the distribution chain of The Amway Corporation. Defendant Haugen is a past co-chairman of the Business Operation Committee of the Amway Distributors Association Council  (hereinafter “ADAC”) Thirty Amway ditributors serve on the ADAC. Fifteen of the thirty distributors on the ADAC are appointed by The Amway Corporation. The “mission” of the  ADAC is to “advise and consult” with The Amway Corporation “on all aspects of the business and to take an active role in shaping Amway’s future.”…As announced in The Amway Corporation’s May 1995 AMAGRAM publication…Defendant Haugen is presently and at the time of the actions giving rise to this Complaint a member of the Executive Committee of the ADAC. The Executive Committee establishes goals and objectives for the Business Operations and the Legal and Ethics Committees of the ADAC. Defendant Haugen also conducts business as Freedom Associates, Inc. and Freedom Tools Incorporated, both of which are Utah corporations involving or related to the distribution of Amway products.

A transcript of Haugen’s Amvox message can be seen here; a blog that supports Haugen claims that he “accidentally disseminated” the story (actually, the blog says “accidentally decimated”, but we get what was meant).

Amway is now known as Quixtar, and this site claims that the lawsuit against Haugen brought other issues into the public domain, leading to the name-change.

Meanwhile, one wonders how the millions awarded to P&G compare with compensation given to those whose lives have been blighted by false allegations of Satanic activity. And let’s not forget the reason why the story about P&G was able to gain currency in the first place: because of popular Christian paperbacks that pushed lurid Satanic conspiracy theories. I’ve discussed some of those responsible before.

Spanish Organisation Calls for Prosecution over Anti-Religious Photographs

MediaWatchWatch draws attention to lawsuit in Spain over a book of anti-religious photographs

…depicting Christian religious figures in various states of undress and arousal (scroll down for more NSFW images). The photos include a masturbating Jesus, a depiction of the Annunciation with a naked Mary being approached by a visibly-excited Angel Gabriel, and, bizarrely, a turd hovering above a chalice.

The Centro Jurídico Tomás Moro (CJTM) sees the book as an attack on constitutionally-protected religious feelings, and so it has turned to the courts. Its president, Javier Perez-Roldán, apparently complained that

Those responsible for these books demonstrate an intolerance which we all hoped had disappeared and which led Europe, between the years 1939-1945, to the worst atrocities in memory.

But will Perez-Roldán get satisfaction? A year ago his target was comedian Leo Bassi and his show “Revelation”. The Catholic News Agency reported that

The intention of the theatrical production, according to Bassi himself, is to offend anyone who holds religious beliefs, which is forbidden under Spanish law. The [Thomas More Legal] Center is calling for the show to be immediately suspended.

A spokesman for the Catholic legal association, Javier Perez-Roldan, denounced artists who “are bent on gratuitously offending the deepest sentiments of the vast majority of the public.”

For those who can read Spanish, Perez-Roldán explained his rationale in an interview for Minuto Digital – actually, he wanted Bassi imprisoned rather than just banned. However, he does not appear to have been successful.

In 2004, the CJTM opposed an anti-religious play entitled Me cago en Dios. A report from the time notes that

El Centro Jurídico Tomás Moro (CJTM) es una asociación civil sin ánimo de lucro que agrupa a juristas de toda España y de todas las ramas del Derecho. Entidad asociada a la plataforma HazteOir.org.

In order words, “The Thomas More Legal Centre (CJTM) is a non-profit organization which brings together lawyers from all over Spain and from all branches of the law” (thanks to Fragano Ledgister for the correct translation), and is associated with the HazteOir website. HazteOir was founded by Ignacio Arsuaga on American lines. As he told Religious and Ethics Newsweekly last summer:

They [Americans] have a very clear view about how to influence politics, and also they know how to use the media. I think it is very good that groups like the Christian Coalition, that here in Spain or in Europe would represent many million people, would have also a voice in public life.

This website offers a critical perspective.

In 2004, the CJTM and HazteOir worked together against the broadcaster Canal+, over the broadcast of an old 1978 programme which apparently showed how to cook a Christ for two people. Once again, the CJTM demanded a criminal penalty.

Despite the name and similarity of purpose, I couldn’t find any links between the CJTM and pizza tycoon Thomas Monaghan’s US-based Thomas More Law Center.

UPDATE: A similar story in Russia:

Society should give an appropriate legal and moral assessment to the actions of those who have organized and taken part in the Forbidden Art-2006 exhibition at the Sakharov Museum in Moscow, a spokesman of the Russian Orthodox Church has stated.

[Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin] also noted that, judging by mass media reports on this exhibition, the exhibits presented insult religious feelings and at the least fall under Article 26 of the Russian Federation Administrative Violations Code envisaging penalty for outrage against citizens’ religious feelings or objects, symbols and emblems they venerate.

‘That is to say, it is a legal offence that must be stopped. Incitement of religious discord is also a possible charge’, Father Vsevolod stressed, ‘I will not be surprised if Orthodox believers will send in appropriate applications to the prosecutor’s office’.

I looked at an earlier controversy concerning the Sakharov Museum back in 2004.

Some Have Faith in Mugabe

Numerous news sources have noted the role of church leaders and religious events in the current protests against Robert Mugabe; however, it’s also worth remembering that he does enjoy some religious support. A week ago the Zim Daily reported that

President Robert Mugabe has at last handsomely rewarded ZANU PF apologist self-proclaimed Reverend and founder of Destiny for Africa Network (Danet), Obadiah Msindo for the role he played in the controversial 2005 Parliamentary Elections.

Msindo, accused of raping his maid on five different occasions in July 2004 and has presided over several state functions at the Heroes Acre is now the proud owner of an S600 Mercedes Benz and a Lexus which he got from President Mugabe as ‘a token of appreciation’ for the role he played in the elections.

Msindo’s organisation has been lavished with funds and equipment, and a helpful police chief is blocking the rape investigation (which I blogged here). This is all pay-back for his notorious 2004 sermon in which he declared that

“Leadership comes from God and we must recognise that His Excellency is a black political, economic and cultural Moses. The President is fighting to break the dominance of the demons of neo-colonialism and imperialism.”

As I noted at the time, Msindo has also promised that Mugube would “raise millionaires and billionaires”, and he has proffered the opinion that George Bush is the “earthly representative of the Anti-Christ and the devil on earth”.

Meanwhile, Mugube’s Anglican stooge Rev Norbert Kunonga of Harare is coming under pressure. The Living Church Foundation noted a few days ago that

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the Primate of Central Africa, the Most Rev. Bernard Malango, have pressed the Bishop of Harare to distance himself from the regime of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe.

…Thirty Harare priests, representing at least half of the active clergy and all of the white members of the clericus, have been forced to leave the country since 2003. Bishop Kunonga has replaced them by ordaining officials of President Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party, including the country’s vice president and two cabinet ministers, none of whom have theological training.

As I’ve blogged previously, Kunonga is universally known as “His Disgrace”, and in 2002 he declared that Mugabe was “more merciful than God Himself”, which won him a farm from the aged tyrant. The fact that Malango has turned against him may be of some significance; when Kunonga was facing an ecclesiastical trial for corruption last year, Malango dismissed the prosecutor, causing the trial to collapse. Kunonga boasted that Archbishop Malango was his good friend and that he was now free to “baptise children in the Zanu-PF way” (Malango took a tougher line against Gene Robinson, cutting links with New Hampshire).

Mugabe is also enjoying the support of Pentecostal Bishop Trevor Manhanga. The Zimbabwe Independent reports:

Those who suspected Bishop Trevor Manhanga was closer to the regime than was healthy for a Pentecostal minister will have had those suspicions confirmed by a letter in the Johannesburg Sunday Times last weekend… Using arguments that the Office of the President would applaud, Manhanga says that while “we have made grave errors in the manner in which we have managed our affairs, we must not underplay the role played by powerful outside forces whose interests were threatened by events around the land redistribution exercise”.

So a brutal and lawless assault on law-abiding farmers and their workers by thugs directed by a regime avenging electoral losses can be justified in terms of “outside forces”? And this from a church minister!

He warns South Africans that Zimbabwe’s land-grab was a Sunday school picnic compared to what will transpire in their country.

…Let’s hope the US embassy notes the contents of Manhanga’s letter. For some reason he is held in high regard there. Here is a bishop who watches while his own people are crushed but wants South Africans to know that Zimbabwe can solve its own problems without their help. Whose agenda is this? And how would South Africa have managed without external help?

Mugabe’s manipulation of Manhanga and some other figures was noted by the Daily Telegraph last June.