Christians Get Grafted with Jewish Products

Some years back, when I was living in Jerusalem, I knew a very amiable Christian fundamentalist from Texas who had a bit of an obsession about not being Jewish. He attended a Messianic Jewish congregation, and had volunteered to serve in the Israeli army to show his support for the Jewish state. Eventually, by poring over his family tree, he found an ancestor who he decided had been Jewish, and that therefore he himself was also Jewish. I was told that later on he converted to Orthodox Judaism with a view to becoming a Messianic Israeli, which I suppose would be OK as long as he didn’t die during the period he didn’t believe in Jesus. At this point, he was shipped out of the country diagnosed with “Jerusalem Syndrome”.

At the time, I just thought of him as an eccentric, but actually there’s a whole subculture of American Christians for whom Judeo-philia goes far beyond simple Christian Zionism. Case in point: New Day Christian Distributors, which has a page-sized industry advert in the latest Christian Retailing magazine (p. 48):

Are You “Grafted In”?

What Does that Really Mean?

…Romans tells us how we as Christians have been grafted into the Jewish faith. We Christians, in reality, recognize the root from which we have sprung, knowing in the words of our Jewish Lord, “Salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22)

Though historical Christendom has chosen to define itself as “not Jewish”, the truth is that the earliest Christianity was Judaism. Jesus was a Jew and He never changed His religion. Despite attempts to sever its Jewish connection, the Church has ever worshiped the God of the Jews, in a faith that is anchored in a Jewish book, and built on the foundation of a Jewish Messiah.

Whether your customers are Messianic Jews, part of the Charismatic movement or just want to be more in touch with their Jewish heritage by searching for their roots, you can better help them in this area by letting New Day help you!

This means selling items associated with Jewish culture to Christians: shofars, mezuzahs, menorahs (engraved with a Star of David merged with a Christian “ichthus” sign), Kiddush cups, tambourines (“mentioned in Psalms”) and, in particular, Tallit prayer shawls:

Worn in symbolic remembrance to Him and his commandments, used in prayer and worship (very popular with John Hagee, Juanita Bynum, Benny Hinn and Judy Jacobs Ministries)

The company’s website explains the shawl in more detail:

Wearing a prayer shawl establishes a special connection to God. A tallits is more than a prayer shawl. It is filled with profound meaning and religious significance. Just as Jesus (who was also a Jew) told us to take communion in remembrance of him, Christians today are wearing the shawls as a symbolic remembrance of Him. They are using it for worship, prayer and as a symbolic act of the covering that Christ gave us when he shed his blood, as a “covering” of our sins.

Of course, in some respects this isn’t all bad, given the unhappy history of Christian anti-Semitism (still in evidence: the head of the Coptic church recently complained about Vatican apologies for past anti-Semitism since the New Testament shows that Jews are Christ-killers), and Messianic Jews need their religious artefacts. However, one also wonders about the wholesale appropriation of the Jewish heritage by non-Jews; it wasn’t just “historical Christendom” that decided to “define itself as ‘not Jewish’” – Judaism also decided that Christianity was not Jewish. This reminds me of the way some New Agers have appropriated Native American customs and objects, leading to controversy.

Philo-semitism has a long history in America and elsewhere, and a desire to assert some sort of connection or identity with the “Chosen People” has been a perennial urge. However, some recent manifestations have tipped over into the morbid; recently we saw a Nigerian Christian leader tell the Jerusalem Post that “African Christians…would love to kiss the feet of a Jew”.

Benny Hinn Controversies in Uganda and Trinidad

Row over alleged casting out of demons from Ugandan evangelist

Trinidad PM called “foolish” over prophetess

Further reports are coming in about Benny Hinn’s recent crusade (blogged by me here) in Uganda. The Kampala New Vision gives an interesting account:

RENOWNED pastors including Robert Kayanja were hit by a spiritual force which threw them down flat on the ground during international evangelist Pastor Benny Hinn’s crusade on Saturday.

…Kayanja fell twice in his seat as Hinn approached the row where the pastors were seated. Hinn called him forward and Kayanja approached him swaying, with a stunned look on his face, before falling flat on his back. Hinn instructed his aides to pick up Kayanja, but every time he was lifted he fell until he was left on the ground for some time.

…When Hinn asked him to pray for Uganda, Kayanja, in a shaky, uncharacteristically husky voice said: “When he told us to join our hands, I saw Jesus over our heads.” Kayanja then broke down and cried and said” “Our past has been erased in the mighty name of Jesus. I can hardly stand in this place.”

Other pastors go get the treatment were “Imelda Namutebi, Isaac Kiwewesi, John Michael Mugerwa and a pastor from West Africa”. In the case of Namutebi, Hinn pronounced that:

“God is giving you power over demons. He is giving you power over Satan, when you walk in, Satan will walk out,”

However, according to the Sunday Monitor it seems that Kayanja was not completely satisfied with his religious experience:

Much as our own Pastor Robert Kayanja occupied a front seat at Benny Hinn’s Namboole crusades, sources close to his aides say he left a disappointed man.

Reports say that what disturbed Kayanja (below) most was Hinn’s power to make him fall on the ground unconsciously.

This is said to have embarrassed Kayanja before his followers who thought he was at the same level with Benny Hinn in terms of spiritual prowess. Now his critics are moving around telling people such action by Hinn to Kayanja was to drive demons away from him.

Others are saying these demons must have been the reason why he gave a false prophecy that a presidential candidate in last year’s elections would die before polling day [I blogged on this here]. Kayanja is reportedly wondering what he would tell his followers whom he rid of demons.

One supporter, though, has denied reports that Kayanja had been exorcised (link added):

I was very disappointed to read in the Daily Monitor of May 21 an article on the Benny Hinn crusade, in which you claimed that Pastor Robert Kayanja had demons cast out of him, and that he was cleansed. I attended the crusade on the said day, and at no one time did Pastor Hinn talk of casting demons either out of Pastor Kayanja, Pastor Imelda Kula Namutebi or Pastor Kiwewesi.

…He also said that he could see power around Pastor Namutebi, and prophesied an anointing for chasing demons and breaking witchcraft over her life. He also spoke of a powerful anointing upon Pastor Kiwewesi. At no time did he chase any demons from them and I am still amazed at where your reporter got that story.

Meanwhile, Hinn is also the focus of controversy in Trinidad and Tobago, over an incident involving the Prime Minister. The Trinidad Express reports:

American televangelist Benny Hinn has told millions of TV viewers that he thought Prime Minister Patrick Manning to be a “foolish man”, after an incident which occurred during his last visit here.

This is a bit different from Hinn’s normal modus operandi; in Uganda he lavished praise on the Museveni regime. Hinn made the statement on his TBN programme:

…”Years ago I was in Trinidad…this man was sitting on the platform and I said… you will be the next Prime Minister and he is till now. I was in his (Manning) office a few months ago… he brought with him a very foolish woman who called herself a prophetess.

“He came to the room with this woman and said “I have a gift for you”. So he looked at me, said this is the woman, she has a word for you… I was not happy and when I am not happy people will know it.

“He (Manning) said I want her to pray for you and give her the word, I take her with me everywhere he said (Manning).

“God speaks to me through her. She has been a great blessing to the Government. I’m thinking you foolish man.

“This woman reaches out to touch me and I grab her hand in mid air, ‘don’t touch me’ I said. Shaken, I said Mr Prime Minister, I honour you but I don’t know who this woman is…nobody will lay hands on me and I walked out of the room. Whether it is the Prime Minister or President, nobody lays hands on me. I don’t know what spirit is in her. Don’t let people touch you.”

The mysterious woman is profiled in the local Newsday:

Her identity and address must not be made public. The woman, who is mixed with Chinese and Spanish, spoke for a few minutes outside the gates of her home before inviting me upstairs, into her “counselling room.”

…She spoke with the PM on the telephone when he contacted her and also met with him in person. She did not want to say anymore about the Prime Minister, or the visit to American tele-evangelist Benny Hinn at Crowne Plaza Hotel in Port-of-Spain last May.

Instead she spoke about her conversion from Roman Catholicism to the Full Gospel (Christian) religion in 1982.

…Asked again if she had given Manning any spiritual guidance, the woman replied, “I met with him on five occasions, I told him certain things but he was not obedient, that is why things are the way it is now in the country.”

At this point she cut short the interview, and said to this reporter, “I understand that you have your work to do but if you write any report for the papers the judgement of God shall fall upon you.”

Further:

…Pastor Winston Cuffie of Miracle Ministries, who was a member of the planning committee for Hinn’s visit, sought to clear the air…

…”The whole issue was completely taken out of context, Hinn meant ‘foolish’ in a joking manner because first of all his tone did not come across with anger or vengeance.

“Hinn I know has a high respect for Prime Minister Patrick Manning as the head of the country and I know that he meant no disrespect or offence and if Manning should take offence I know that Hinn would humbly apologise,” Cuffie said. He said Hinn was using the example of the woman to explain the seriousness of the act of the “laying of hands.”

A Hindu writer in the Trinidad Guardian, though, is unimpressed:

The people of T&T have again been shamed by Benny Hinn, the Evangelical pastor from the US. After his first visit he declared that Trinidad was “a voodoo-land” where he cast out “devils.”

…In his last visit to T&T, Pastor Hinn offered to “heal” persons at a mass crusade in the Queen’s Park Savannah. Subsequently, one such person died at the San Fernando General Hospital.

Reports from Hinn’s Uganda visit also contain accounts of the miraculous. Returning to the New Vision:

An emaciated woman was brought in on her death bed but she got up and danced, hugging Hinn and promptly got saved. A crippled boy from Lango called Moses walked and his sister could not contain her excitement.

A woman who was due for an operation for tumours in her abdomen, produced a medical report on the second day of the crusade, showing that her tumors had disappeared. Hundreds came forward to say they were healed and immediately got saved.

The Sunday Monitor, meanwhile, has decided to have a bit of fun:

Angry demons are demanding a commission of inquiry to establish how the pastors “pretended to be possessed” at the event. Demon Temeluchus (the Chief Angel of Torment) known for his calmness was the first to break the silence when the protestors eventually gathered at the town hall in Hell City.

“I must say I was in Gaza and the West Bank the whole time. Anyone who accuses me of being in Uganda is lying. Just turn on the TV and see how much work I have done with these Palestinians and Israelis. I should win an Oscar for that, not some miserable crusade in the middle of nowhere,” he shouted. “And who is Benny Hinn anyway? he added to a round of “hear hear” from the demons.

Dembski Accuses Religion Prof of “Fudging” CV

SCANDAL: William Dembski shockingly reveals that Hector Avalos, in a blog comment, cited a publication he had had in a popular science journal. Does this mean that Avalos gained promotion through fraud? Or does it mean that Dembski is the Ed Wood of smearers?

William Dembski has a scholar of religion in his sights:

The tenure denial of Guillermo Gonzalez by Iowa State University has been much discussed on this blog of late. The tenure of Hector Avalos, religious studies professor and militant atheist at Iowa State University, however, has yet to be broached here. So let’s do it.

Dembski and the Discovery Institute argue that Gonzalez was denied tenure because of his support for Intelligent Design. They note that Avalos has been one of Gonzalez’s critics, and therefore that Avalos’s continued employment by the university must be evidence of persecution against Christians. The Discovery Institute website is particularly incensed by Avalos’s book Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence, which looks at the sanctioning of genocide in certain Biblical texts. Provocatively, Avalos makes a few comparisons with Mein Kampf, and the DI quote-mines Avalos’s book in order to suggest that he is an anti-Semite as well as a persecutor of the religious. Their “exposé” ends with the sarcastic observation that:

Iowa taxpayers can be relieved to know that ISU is making sure their tax dollars will be spent on worthy scholars like Prof. Avalos rather than disreputable astronomers like Dr. Gonzalez.

An odd ending – I thought that Gonzalez had been denied tenure, not fired.

Avalos responded to the controversy at Pharyngula, where he also addressed the complaint that as a non-scientist he was unqualified to critique ID:

I may not be an astronomer, but my article, “Heavenly Conflicts: The Bible and Astronomy,” passed the editorial review of Mercury: The Journal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 27 no. 2 (March/April, 1998), pages 20-24. There, I critiqued fine-tuning arguments before I even heard of Gonzalez.

The Astronomical Society of the Pacific is the SAME organization that has published, via a sister publication (Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific), some of the work of Guillermo Gonzalez.

So the irony is that it is the scholar of religion whose work passed the editorial review of a legitimate astronomical organization, and it is the astronomer who has not published a refereed article on ID in an astronomical journal.

Dembski pounces:

A couple of points about Avalos’s article. First, he misstates the name of the journal. It is actually called “Mercury Magazine,” and is not the ASP’s academic journal. It is its membership magazine. In fact, ASP does not list as an academic journal but under the category of magazine: www.astrosociety.org/pubs.html. That’s why Avalos says it passed editorial muster but not peer-review muster. This way he can fudge on the article’s status but have plausible deniability. This is also evident by his placing in the magazine’s subtitle “The Journal of…” even though it is not there in the actual publication.

…Has Avalos puts this on his CV as a peer-reviewed article? Did this help him get tenure or promotion at ISU?… if Avalos has fudged on the status of this article—and has done so in a very public way—his CV may loaded with this type of fluff. Perhaps it’s time to start hunting for the real witch.

So, the fact that Avalos says that he passed “editorial review” for a scientific publication rather than “peer review” is proof that he wants to us to think his paper was peer reviewed and that, therefore, his entire academic standing is suspect. Avalos has responded, leading to a suitably ridiculous argument in the comments section:

Avalos: Amateur researcher that Dembski is, he probably only looked for the journal on-line. The actual hard-copy I have has “The Journal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific” right underneath the title “Mercury” on the cover of the issue (volume 27, no. 2) March/April 1998 in which I wrote my article.

Mung: Apparently Avalos only researched the cover of the magazine to determine the “actual publication.” Would anyone with an actual hardcopy of the magazine care to share what is inside the magazine wrt to the “actual publication.”

Avalos: Since Dr. Dembski has botched thoroughly this attempt at witch-hunting Avalos, let’s see now how honest he is in admitting his mistakes. Concerning the citation of the article I wrote in Mercury, Dr. Dembski said that the subtitle (Journal of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific) “is not there in the actual publication.” I can prove it is on the issue in which I wrote my article in 1998. It is on the cover. It also is on the masthead inside the cover. So, Dr. Debmski, of the “Newton-of-information-theory” fame, let’s see you issue a plain and honest correction to the MIS-information you have put forth. Will you or will you not issue a public correction for putting forth this misinformation?

Dembski: To Hector Avalos: I’m happy to concede whatever other designations the periodical MERCURY may have. The larger issue is that it is a popular periodical and you cite your piece in it as though it had some leverage against Guillermo Gonzalez and his scholarship. This is patently absurd. Gonzalez is a professional in astrophysics as well as in its larger metaphysical implications. You are an amateur in both. Moreover, the question of just what it took for you to gain tenure at ISU remains. Was your MERCURY piece one of the things you cited as evidence that you should receive tenure? Please answer the question (the timing is right since you were an assistant professor when the piece came out). Was it in fact counted in your favor? If so, why shouldn’t Gonzalez’s PRIVILEGED PLANET count likewise in favor of his tenure? Or do you know in advance (on what grounds? scientific? ideological? philosophical? …) that he’s full of it and you’re not.

Mercury’s style guide includes advice for writers to “keep most sentences short and simple”; another commentator (“Jehu”, who names himself after a particularly sanguinary Israelite king, by the way) hilariously quote-mines this:

So short simple sentences with short paragraphs and lots of active verbs are what you need to get past editorial review at Mercury. Very impressive.

Dembski’s acolytes have also pored over Avalos’s list of publications, and noted some other devestating issues:

“The Ancient Near in Modern Science Fiction: Zechariah Sitchin’s Twelfth Planet as Case Study”

There appears to be a noun missing. Should this be: “The Ancient Near East”?

Another points out that

According to Avalos’s web page, he has not published a journal article since 2003. And he only has 14 listed in his entire career.

This studiously avoids mentioning the eight books and eleven book-chapters on the list (and the fact that ten of the journal articles were published from 1995 onwards). And the Mercury publication, which Dembski uses to suggest that Avalos is dishonest, appears – crucially –  in an extra grouping of “other/invited publications” of a popular nature.

Elsewhere in the comments, Dembski tells us that

…A hundred years from now Gonzalez’s ideas about our place in the cosmos being designed to facilitate scientific discovery will be remembered. Avalos, on the other hand, will be seen as a crank flailing to find justifications for why the evidence of design in the universe is nothing of the sort. A key point to bear in mind: If Avalos is getting promoted for undercutting ID (in popular venues at that), and if ISU denies Gonzalez tenure because of his support of ID, then ISU has not only made up its mind about ID but also undercut academic freedom on this topic.

****

Gonzalez is not the only tenure-track controversy going on in the USA just now. Mike S Adams is currently suing the Univeristy of North Carolina over the failure to get a promotion – his complaint tells us that he was rated as “excellent” for his research , but his actual publications are not listed. And meanwhile, De Paul University is under pressure to deny tenure to Norman Finkelstein, a scholar who is particularly critical of Israel (incidentally, Finkelstein’s work is defended in this very interesting new interview with Holocaust scholar Raul Hilberg in Logos).

Indian Ambassadors Praise Rev Moon’s Peace Org in House of Lords

Lord Hameed Becomes “Ambassador for Peace”

From the website of Rev Moon’s Universal Peace Federation:

At the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, people from the world’s largest democracy challenged the United Kingdom to consider ways in which religion can join with civil society in partnership with governments and the UN for the sake of peace. “Religion is kept at arm’s length by the UN and national governments,” India’s former ambassador to Nepal, K.V. Rajan, stated. “Isn’t this good for our world when we consider the contribution religion can make to resolving, or at least diminishing conflict, through applying universally recognized values such as sacrifice and service to others?”

…”The Universal Peace Federation is the forum to address these issues” said Dr. L.M. Singhvi, former High Commissioner of India to the UK…”Peace is too important to be left to diplomats and soldiers alone. Peace will not come unless civil society is at the forefront and pushing interfaith dialogue.”

Singhvi has previously praised Moon as “the steadfast warrior of peace”, and he claims that Indian President AJP Abdul Kalam is also an admirer. Participants all agreed that religion should play a role in public life, and that interfaith dialogue was crucial. Dr. Thomas G. Walsh, secretary general of the UPF, was also present, and

At the conclusion of the session, Lord Khaled Hameed was awarded a certificate as Ambassador for Peace.

The “Ambassador for Peace” status is a crucial part of Rev Moon’s strategy for gaining respectability, and an impressive number of people have been brought on board (according to the Peace Federation website, there are 11,000 “ambassadors”).

Of course, Rev Moon’s perspective on inter-faith dialogue is rather unusual. He has encouraged Christian ministers to throw out the cross, and he has urged Jews to “repent” for killing Jesus, the “King of Israel”. Further, at meetings in the USA Moon recently explained that

In Jerusalem, in 2003, on the foundation of the victory attained through such blood, sweat and tears, I had Jesus proclaimed as the king of kings before heaven and earth with the acknowledgement of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Following this, in 2004, I was acknowledged as the King of Peace both in a United States Senate Office Building [see here] and at the Korean National Assembly. Subsequently, in June 2006, we held the Coronation Ceremony of the True Parents as the King and Queen of Peace in Heaven and Earth.

I looked at some of the other prominent individuals who have become associated with Moon here.

(Hat tips to a reader, and to Dispatches from the Culture Wars for the above Moon quote)

Israel Chief Rabbinate Rejects Christian Zionists

UPDATE 

DAVID DUKE AND TED PIKE ARE
HATEMONGERING CRANKS

For the benefit of those who are visiting this page as a result of following a link from the sites of either David Duke or Ted Pike (via an article by Pike’s niece), please be aware that I hold both of these individuals in utter contempt. Their inciting of hatred against Jews is an attack on civilised values, and their many lies reveal them to be the enemies of anyone who cares about truth or who believes in human progress through rational discussion. Further, their attempts to hijack the Palestinian cause for their own racist purposes should be rejected utterly by anyone who cares about Palestinian rights. Those who are unaware of what Duke stands for should start educating themselves by reading this.

ORIGINAL BLOG ENTRY

Further signs of tension between Christian Zionists and Israel’s religious establishment:

The Chief Rabbinate upheld a ban Thursday on Jewish participation in a Christian women’s conference in Jerusalem next week that was organized by the Knesset’s Christian Allies Caucus, due to concern that some of the organizations involved are active in missionary work, Rabbinate officials said.

…The decision by a committee of rabbis, which represents a heavy blow to the three-year-old parliamentary lobby, which works with Christian supporters of Israel, follows a long campaign by Jerusalem city councilwoman Mina Fenton (National Religious Party).

Fenton is a prominent anti-missionary activist who has long tried to have the Christian Allies Caucus dismantled.

Fenton’s complaint concerns two of the best-known Christian Zionist outfits in Israel:

[She] insists that she has both direct and indirect evidence of missionary activity by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem and Bridges for Peace…

[Christian Embassy Spokesman David] Parsons said that the Christian Embassy is now consulting with lawyers and Jewish religious officials on how best to combat what could become a serious setback to growing cooperation between the Evangelical Christian world and the Jewish state.

I’m rather sceptical of Fenton’s claims. While conservative Christian Zionists mostly believe that unconverted Jews will go to hell along with everyone else (although they tend not to put it so bluntly), many also take the view that Jesus will be returning soon anyway, and that many of the Jews will be converted then by supernatural means. In fact, the Christian Allies Caucus is very keen to stress that missionizing is not acceptable – so much so, in fact, that one Christian Zionist speaker backed out of the conference, complaining that Israel was developing an attitude of “We’ll take your aid, your support and your tourist dollars, but we won’t take your Jesus,” and that it had started to “replicate their Islamic neighbors”.

However, one can also see why the rabbinate might be suspicious of the conference’s content:

A special Rabbinate committee, headed by Rabbi Simcha Kook of Rechovot, ruled on Thursday that concentration on “Judeo-Christian values” and the study of “the Jewish foundations of Christianity” are forbidden. The rabbis ruled that these efforts are actually part of a long-running campaign to bring Israeli-Jews to believe in Jesus

Promotional literature for the Woman to Woman conference, to take place in Jerusalem from May 16-19, describes it as “Jewish and Christian women together, studying the Word  [italics added] and working together to build bonds of friendship and bring comfort to the people of Israel.” Each Conference day will begin with “praise and worship… in preparation for an exciting series of visits and speakers, focusing on the roles, experiences, and opportunities for Women in Israel.”

Also on the committee was Beersheba Chief Rabbi Yehuda Deri:

“…They want to help and support us, but they have the same goals as the Messianics. They make tremendous efforts and support us all over, and are even more right-wing than we are in some ways, and they help us with Bush, etc. – this is all true, but in the end, they have one goal, and that is Jesus. We are not on the level of early great Rabbis who were able to take the good and spit out the bad…”

Deri, it should be recalled, took part in anti-Messianic protests in Beersheba in 2005, during which Messianic Jews were assaulted.

The conference itself seems to have been a bit thin:

…The conference, which is expected to be attended by a few hundred Christian women, aims to improve the status of women worldwide on the basis of Judeo-Christian values, and to serve as a bridge between Jewish and Christian supporters of Israel.

An outline of the programme can be seen here. As expected, it seems to have concentrated on problems of women’s rights in the Islamic world, but without offering any kind of feminist critique. The only man slated to speak at the conference was Benny Elon, who is the Christian Allies Caucus chair. Elon was Ariel Sharon’s notorious far-right minister of tourism, and he favours the “transfer” (a euphemism for ethnic cleansing) of Palestinians from the West Bank.

Defrocked Priest Slams Georgian Orthodox “Pseudo-Science” and “Pseudo-Miracles”

A former Orthodox archpriest in the country of Georgia complains about the state of his national church:

“The Georgian Orthodox Church represents serious obstacles to the democratic development of Georgia in every direction including theologically, socially, politically and culturally,” declares [Basil] Kobakhidze.

He says he would add to this list the scientific sphere as well, because the Georgian Orthodox Church “fosters the development of pseudo-science which is not based on rational research”.

For example, he says it’s common for priests to tell their parishioners not to use the internet or watch TV or read Harry Potter books [and]…church teaching is based on Russian pamphlets that only speak about the apocalypse and pseudo-miracles.

Kobakhidze also tells us that the church is “under the thumb” of the Russian Orthodox Church, and that the Patriarch’s University is a “centre of extremism”. What’s more, sexual improprieties are hushed up, and he

…criticizes the Patriarch for buying houses in Israel worth millions of dollars, while thousands of Georgians struggle to survive.

Kobakhidze has been attacking the Georgian religious establishment for some time; he has also accused Orthodox priests of involvement with a violent group that has attacked Jehovah’s Witnesses; described the new Trinity Cathedral in Tbilisi as a “pyramid built for the glory of some people and not for the glory of God”; and charged that the church has withdrawn from ecumenical activities because of “fanatics and fundamentalists and in order to avoid an internal schism”. A 2003 interview was particularly explicit:

The scale of corruption in churches is wide. Clergymen respect rich people and thieves; the profanation of values is evident at all levels of the hierarchy…It is our Georgian “Christian casuistry” to say, “That money was stolen from that man, but his money will reach God.”

There are no qualifications or criteria defined for clergymen…That’s why some clergymen have an extremely negative impact on our society.

Let me quote the answer of a priest, which was published in a newspaper under the heading, “What can you tell us, Father?”

Question: “What can you tell us, Father, about the fact that our priests have expensive cars?”

Answer: “Those who ask this question have never sought God. Is it not better that your priest have a good car? If he did not have one, he would spend time repairing it.”

In the same article the same priest says that dinosaurs never existed.

Once the Church was given some tax concessions, lots of organizations were established for making money…There is a candle business and a church plate business. Church plate comes from Russia for free to be sold later here in Georgia, but only certain organizations get these privileges…

The Patriarchate denounced Kobakhidze and all his works in a statement:

All these claims are groundless and baseless…As for the accusations brought by Archpriest Basil Kobakhidze against different clergymen and superiors of the Georgian Orthodox Church as if they serve to various intelligence services of different countries are malicious calumny and big sin before the God. Archpriest Basil Kobakhidze himself is in difficulties. Despite the repeated warnings he has been acting without blessing by the Catholicos Patriarch of All Georgia. He has participated in various meetings and forums without permission, he insults and mocks at the Church and the priests that is rather inadmissible action for any priest. Due to such actions he makes himself out of the Church.

In particular, the Patriarchate affirms that it enjoys friendly relations with other confessions, and that its withdrawal from the World Council of Churches in the 1990s was not a rejection of dialogue.

In 2006, Kobakhidze was arrested in Belarus for taking part (alongside a Georgian Baptist leader) in a protest against Alexander Lukashenko; he is also very supportive of the independent Kiev Patriarchate in Ukraine – the existence of which is a source of continual annoyance to the Russian church – and the Ukrainian patriarch Filaret helped with the creation of a Georgian parish in Kiev, which was denounced by the Georgian hierarchy.

Kobakhidze is based at the Georgian State University’s department of journalism, where he “analyses up to 40 newspapers and magazines published by the Georgian Orthodox Church.” He is also associated with the Center for the Study of Religious Issues, which last year made a complaint to Moscow patriarch Alexy over the treatment of Georgians in Russia:

Unfortunately the Russian Orthodox Church not only does not protest an anti-Georgian hysteria but silently observes the ethnic harassment in Russia and thus supports the strengthening of racism and xenophobia in its flock. Moreover, various official representatives of the Russian Patriarchate even justify the anti-Georgian policy of Russian State authorities. No surprising that no one of Russian clergymen participated in the demonstration “I am a Georgian” held in Moscow. The Russian Orthodox Church appears to be an obedient servant of the Russian State even in the 21st century.

Kobakhidze enclosed a special item:

…Your Holiness, You personally awarded one of us, Archpriest Basil Kobakhidze of the Georgian Orthodox Church, with the Order of the St. Prince Daniel of Moscow. Archpriest Bazil is returning this Order to You as a sign of his protest.

Name variations: Vasyl Kobakhidze; Vasily Kobakhidze; Vasili Kobakhidze; Vasil Kobakhidze; Basil Kobakhidze; Basili Kobakhidze; Bazil Kobakhidze

Porn from the Papal Knight

From the Christian Post (links added):

Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., has responded to a number of charges against its founding pastor, Purpose Driven Life author Rick Warren, for not disciplining global media executive Rupert Murdoch over his alleged ownership and expansion of pornographic channels in Europe.

Chris Rosebrough, head of the Calif.-based Christian Accountability Network, was one of a number of Christians who earlier this month said that Warren should “call Murdoch to repentance and/or put him out of the church.”

…According to London-based magazine The Business, Murdoch has been secretly building a stable of wholly-owned pornographic channels for his BSkyB subsidiary. The British publication claims that BSkyB now owns and operates its own pornographic channels – the 18+ Movies selection – after years of hosting third-party content only.

(The report in The Business actually appeared a year ago)

According to Rosebrough, Warren has declined to criticise Murdoch because Murdoch’s News Corp owns Zondervan, the evangelical imprint that publishes Warren’s The Purpose-Driven Life. Warren, however, now says that Murdoch has no links with his church – which is a bit embarrassing for him since he had previously boasted of being the Dirty Digger’s pastor. Joseph Farah, who hates Warren for his support for causes such as action on global warming and dialogue with Syria, has seized the opening:

The only person I know who ever made the claim to be Murdoch’s pastor is Rick Warren, who has done so at least twice publicly in reports he has never repudiated. In fact, his church has reprinted those reports appearing in the Orange County Register and the New Yorker.

In the New Yorker interview published in September 2005, Warren is quoted as saying: “I had dinner with Jack Welch (former chief executive officer of GE) last Sunday night. He came to church, and we had dinner. I’ve been kind of mentoring him on his spiritual journey. And he said to me, ‘Rick, you the biggest thinker I have ever met in my life. The only other person I know who thinks globally like you is Rupert Murdoch.’ And I said, ‘That’s interesting. I’m Rupert’s pastor! Rupert published my book!'”

In the Nov. 12, 2006, Orange County Register story, Warren was asked about pastoring a man who publishes tabloids featuring topless women. He responded: “I don’t have to agree with 100 percent of what another person does in order to work with them on the 20 percent that we do agree on.” The article also points out Murdoch was among the first patrons to support Warren’s PEACE plan, contributing $2 million.

But while aiming at Warren, Rosebrough and Farah have missed an even bigger target: the Vatican. As the Independent reported in 1998:

The Roman Catholic church is receiving complaints from worshippers following news that Rupert Murdoch has been awarded a papal knighthood from Pope John Paul II.

Senior Catholics are said to have been “mystified and astonished” when they heard that the purveyor of newspaper sex, scandal and nudity was made a Knight Commander of St Gregory at a ceremony in Los Angeles last month.

News of the award was kept out of Mr Murdoch’s British titles – the Sun, the Times, the Sunday Times and the News of the World – at his request, although it is provoking outrage in the religious media and in Ireland, where many Catholics have reacted with anger that Mr Murdoch, who is not a Catholic, appears to have been honoured purely for donating large sums of money to the church.

(Murdoch showed his gratitude for the honour by announcing the appointment of Pope Benedict XVI with the UK Sun headline “From Hitler Youth to Papa Ratzi“)

But the bigger story here is what it means for someone like Murdoch to have control of a religious publishing empire. I’ve already blogged some previous disputes: in 2005 there were Christian complaints about Zondervan’s use of Chinese labour to print Bibles, and in the early 1980s Murdoch’s take-over of the British Christian publishing house of Collins led to the departure, in disgust, of editor Robin Baird-Smith, who had been asked to produce a sensationalist book concerning a serial-killer. Of course, the picture is more complicated than that: both imprints also publish good deal of thoughtful material by authors such as Philip Yancey, and (as I noted here) Zondervan is now much more up-market than it was in days when it was churning out crap by the likes of Hal Lindsey. Defenders of Zondervan have also pointed out that, as a businessman, Murdoch is hardly going to risk de-valuing the imprint by interfering with it. However, ownership by Murdoch is always a problem for credibility – and the Rosebrough-Warren spat shows that any association is now suspect.

Kabbalist for Christ?

Staying with Israel, a report on WorldNetDaily:

A controversy is raging in Israel, in evangelical circles in the U.S. and on kabbalah web forums worldwide following the posthumous release of what a revered Sephardic rabbi claimed to be the name of the Messiah.

The rabbi was Yitzchak Kaduri, kabbalist and ideologue of the Israeli religious right (Kaduri favoured a monarchical rule in Israel, and complained that Sharon’s compromises amounted to the country being run by a “fascist regime”). He died last year, around the age of 108, leaving an enigma behind him:

Before Kaduri died, he reportedly wrote the name of the Messiah on a small note, requesting it remained sealed for one year after his death. The note revealed the name of the Messiah as “Yehoshua” or “Yeshua” – or the Hebrew name Jesus.

The note – in which the name is spelt out in an acrostic – was actually released in February. Kaduri’s son believes it to be a forgery. Others, however, have different explanations: that Kaduri was a secret Christian all along, or that he was deceived by Satan:

Kaduri was also quoted as saying the imminent arrival of the Messiah will “save Jerusalem from Islam and Christianity that wish to take Jerusalem from the Jewish Nation – but they will not succeed, and they will fight each other.”

Statements like that have some Christians wondering if Kaduri might be talking about another Yeshua – perhaps even a miracle-performing “false Christ” many evangelicals believe will precede the return of Jesus.

This, of course, accords with the late Jerry Falwell’s claim that the anti-Christ is alive and Jewish; apparently, while criticizing Israel is anti-Semitic, suggesting that Jews will manifest and be seduced into venerating the embodiment of Satanic evil is just fine.

WND adds:

A few months before his death, Kaduri gave a Yom Kippur address in which he gave clues as to how to recognize the Messiah. He told those gathered for the Day of Atonement in his synagogue the Messiah would not come until former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dies.

That’s a bit different from earlier reports on the supposed “prophecy”. According Arutz Sheva around the time:

Rabbi Kaduri has told his students that the current government will be the last one of the “old era.” He is on record as saying that Sharon will be the last prime minister in Israel, and that the new government will already have leadership of the Messianic era.

(I blogged on this here) For some reason, though, the idea that Ehud Olmert might be the messiah hasn’t caught on, and it looks as though the mystic prediction has been revised.

So, if Kaduri wasn’t a Christian, just whom did he have in mind for the Messiah role? Kaduri claimed to have met the person concerned, and that the nation would call on him to lead them. Possibly he had in mind Yosef Dayan, an Israeli far-rightist who claims to be the legitimate King of Israel. But perhaps he was thinking of the man who was most likely to succeed Sharon at the time?

Channel 4 Explores Jerusalem Conflict

Jewish settler leader: “I’m a racist”

Palestinian archaeologist: There was a Jewish temple, but I can’t admit it

Greek Orthodox Patriarch: Conflict with laity to be resolved in less than a year

On Saturday there was a very interesting documentary on the UK’s Channel 4, entitled Battle for the Holy Land: Jerusalem and presented by British politician Paddy Ashdown. Ashdown spent several months talking with Jewish and Palestinian groups and officials, and the programme explored the reasons for some of the strife in the city.

Ashdown had some criticisms of current Israeli policies, and the reaction has been predictable. Carol Gould, a Frontpager and former ITV Drama Executive, has written one particularly hysterical response:

Once again a British television programme has taken the complex and tragic story of Israel and turned it into a polemic about the endlessly victimised Palestinians and those brutal, hate-filled, despicable Jews…[P]rogramming bordering on the criminal because the extreme bias against Israel and Jews could very easily incite young Muslims to attack Jewish targets after watching two hours of ‘bad Jews, racist Jews, violent Jews’ and their relentless campaign of pillage against helpless Palestinians.

Ashdown’s perspective was indeed critical of Israel – but, as he also showed, he didn’t say anything that’s unheard of in Israel itself: former Jerusalem city councillor Meir Margalit complained of “racism in the municipal policy”, while Gershom Gorenberg spoke of the need to pursue peace rather than territory.

One of Ashdown’s interviewees was Aryeh King, who runs one of the most aggressive organisations that seeks to squeeze Palestinians out of East Jerusalem through Jewish settlement (I’ve discussed him on this blog before – Aaron Klein of WorldNetDaily has given him sympathetic coverage, ignoring his links to the Israeli far-right). King explained to Ashdown that

…I’m a racist. I must be a racist in order to protect my future.

Apparently, if such a statement reflects poorly on Israel this is somehow Ashdown’s fault for reporting it, rather than King’s for uttering it

Also providing a bit of poor PR for Israel was Gabi Barkai, an archaeologist from Bar Ilan University. One of Barkai’s jobs is sifting through the rubble created by the Islamic waqf’s disastrous excavation at the Temple Mount in 1999, which – either through design or recklessness – ruined an archaeological site containing artefacts from the First and Second Temple periods (and much else besides). Ashdown was sympathetic, but he also raised the question of how Israeli excavations near the Mugrabi Gate had been conducted. Barkai’s response:

I don’t like your attitude and I don’t like this conversation at all, I’m sorry to say.

Ashdown also met the leading Palestinian archaeologist at the waqf (His name was something like “Yousef Nachey”, but it didn’t appear on-screen). A rather unimpressive figure, when asked about evidence for the ancient Israelite and Jewish Temples, he would only admit to a “complicated architectural development” on the site in pre-Islamic times, prompting Ashdown to observe that

I think you’re saying as an archaeologist, a temple was here, but as a Palestinian within the politics of Jerusalem I can’t admit that.

His response was:

Maybe, yeah.

Of course, such “temple denial” does nothing to help “Palestinian politics” since a) it’s cranky pseudo-history that debases the discourse and even Islamic theology (why does the story have Muhammad ascending to heaven from that spot in the first place?) and b) it implicitly accepts the argument that the existence of the ancient Jewish Temple bolsters Israeli claims for hegemony.

Ashdown also explored the dispute within the Greek Orthodox church between the Palestinian laity and the Greek hierarchy, which perhaps reached its nadir in 2005 when a prime site in East Jerusalem was sold off to an Israeli settler group (as blogged by me here). Ashdown met the new Orthodox Patriarch, Theophilos III, and asked him about Palestinian demands for a greater presence within the clergy and decision-making processes. Theophilos denied there was a problem, but at the same time that he was working to improve matters:

I don’t think that this is the problem, we are working on this. We’ve already started…it’s very soon.

…Within a year or so, you think?

Less than that.

That’s one to keep an eye on.

Benny Hinn’s Crusade for Uganda

Faith-Healing Evangelist Invited by President’s Wife

Benny Hinn has just visited Uganda. The New Vision reports on his “glorious presence”:

RENOWNED international evangelist, Pastor Benny Hinn yesterday arrived in the country to a massive crusade at Nelson Mandela Stadium, Namboole.

Hinn in the country at the invitation of the First Lady, Janet Museveni, arrived at Namboole at around 6:40pm in a chopper.

…When the thousands of believers who filled the stadium to capacity noticed his glorious presence, he garnered a deafening applause. Prolonged screaming, chants of praise and clapping reverberated in the stadium.

Elsewhere, the New Vision tells us that “Uganda…rejoices to finally have him”, and the Sunday Vision continues in similar hard-hitting investigative vein:

THE lame walked, the blind had their eyes opened, the deaf heard and the sick recovered…

Mrs Museveni, meanwhile, got what she wanted out of the invitation:

The pastor on the first day of his two-day crusade implored God to bless president Yoweri Museveni, his family and staff.

“Make this nation become your nation,” he cried out to God.

This endorsement echoes that of Morris Cerullo, which we saw in February:

Cerullo thanked the President for the impressive performance of his government in the last 20 years. He was particularly impressed by the freedom of worship that has resulted in a great number of born-again Christians.

“You are the right man in the right country at the right time and God has blessed your leadership,” Cerullo told Museveni.

Hinn’s blessing comes at quite a useful time – the Musevenis are currently embroiled in a scandal involving the misappropriation of the “Gavi” child immunisation funds for political campaigning.

According to reports, Hinn’s visit cost $2.5million, and was broadcast live by God TV, which I blogged on here. Apparently,

To illuminate the place enough for the television cameras, the same lighting system that was used on the 2004 Oscar winning Hollywood film The Constant Gardener, which was shot in Nairobi’s Kibero slum, was brought.

Sharing the stage with Hinn was (as ever) Pastor Robert Kayanja, another strong supporter of the Musevenis, and whom I blogged on here. Kenyans and Rwandans were among those who travelled to the crusade in search of miraculous healing of illnesses such as AIDS:

Pastor Joseph Serwadda, of Victory Christian Centre in Ndeeba, says Benny Hinn’s visit is a blessing to Uganda because he has come at a time when Ugandans need spiritual intervention and revival.

…”Many people are suffering from HIV/AIDS and other diseases yet Benny Hinn is known for his healing ministry. I have no reservation whatsoever that he will bless and quench the spiritual thirst of this country.”

Meanwhile, Mrs Museveni has been accused of undermining her husband’s successful “ABC” approach to AIDS prevention (Abstain, Be Faithful, or use a Condom) in favour of a stricter stance against condoms.