Highest Lay Orthodox Honour for Belarus Dictator

I’m a few weeks late with this, but here it is:

June 2:

Christians from across Belarus are gathering in Minsk, the capital city of Belarus, to protest against the government detention of two Christians during a police raid on a church service.

…Pastor Bokun was accused of “organising and holding religious meetings without special approval”. He was held overnight and fined. [Jaroslaw] Lukasik was also accused of illegal involvement in the service, but he was released and now face the threat of deportation.

June 5 (link added):

President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus has received the highest award that the Russian Orthodox Church bestows on secular people – the order of St Vladimir of the First Degree.

…The presidential press service said Lukashenko received the award for considerable contribution in the development of relations between various religious denominations and between countries.

Cozy relations between Lukashenko and the increasingly-powerful Russian Orthodox Church go back some time, and Patriarch Alexis has in the past doled out Order of St Vladimir awards to some of Lukashenko’s goons. Last year I quoted a “Letter from Minsk” in Private Eye that included the following:

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

(The above cartoon is one of a number by Belarusian dissidents that have been banned)

Jamestown: The Revenge

 

Kathryn Joyce, an excellent journalist who has given this blog encouragement over the past few years, has just debuted at Newsweek, with an article on Doug Phillips (son of Howard) and his recent Jamestown Quadricentennial Celebration. Phillips believes that the official commemorations organised at the site were a travesty of a great Christian historical moment:

“At what should be a crowning moment of blessing, celebration and thanksgiving to God, America is being held hostage by savage philosophies reanimated from the grave and marching on Jamestown…It’s down on Western Christendom, up with spirit guides…If you go on the [commemoration’s] Web site, you’ll find that not the natives, but the settlers were cannibals; that they were terrorists against the environment; that there was a holocaust; that the settlers were guilty of lynchings; that a genocide took place.”

Apparently the above poster, as seen on Phillips’s website here and noted by Joyce, is part of the effort to put the historical record straight.

Phillips’s “Vision Forum” has also just announced the 2007 “George Washington Man of the Year”. And the winner is (link added)…

Ken Ham is the esteemed 2007 recipient of the George Washington Man of the Year Award because we believe him to be an individual whose vision and persevering spirit are noteworthy for giving hope to the next generation and defending the cause of Christ in our nation. Specifically, Ken’s uncompromising defense of Genesis, and his long battle to open the Creation Museum is one of the most singular contributions of our generation.

(Hat tip: The Revealer)

Turkish Court Rules on “Ecumenical” Status of Greek Patriarch

From Reuters:

A court Tuesday backed Turkey’s long-held position that the Istanbul-based Orthodox Patriarch is only the head of the city’s tiny Greek Orthodox community and not the spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians.

The decision has no influence on the status of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I [No, I’m not related – RB] outside Turkey, where he is regarded as the so-called “first among equals” of the Orthodox leaders. But it bolsters Turkey’s strong resistance to acknowledge a wider role for Bartholomew and his ancient Christian enclave.

…”The Patriarchate, which was allowed to remain on Turkish soil, is subject to Turkish laws,” the appeals court ruled. “There is no legal basis for the claims that the Patriarchate is ecumenical.”

Today’s Zaman has further details:

“There is no legal significance in the court’s comments,” said Kezban Hatemi, the lawyer defending the Patriarchate. “The court has taken a political decision. The ‘ecumenical’ status is a spiritual and honorary title that has lain with the Fener Greek Patriarchate for 17 centuries, which has no legal status by nature of being a religious institution.” She underlined that it was both theoretically and practically impossible to make a “legal” statement concerning ‘ecumenism’.

…Officials of the Greek Patriarchate, including Patriarch Bartolomeos, were facing a people’s case on charges of “barring others from worship and rituals of a religion,” launched when Konstantin Kostoff, a priest of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church here, had his title of spirituality withdrawn by the Patriarchate. The prosecutor had claimed that the decision was a violation of Kostoff’s freedom of religion.

A 2003 report explains the background to the case:

Use of Greek as a liturgical language in the Bulgarian churches in Istanbul was discontinued by a Turkish court judgment in 1997. Incumbent Board of Trustees member Bozhidar Chipov has now filed a new lawsuit against Oecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew over alleged interference into the affairs of the Bulgarian Church. According to the latest official document, dated 1945, the Bulgarian Church in Istanbul is independent and the Oecumenical Patriarch’s competence over it is limited to certain spiritual matters.

The Board also fears that the last remaining Bulgarian Exarchate properties in Istanbul may be lost. In 1934, 49 properties in Istanbul were registered as owned by the Bulgarian Church. Re-registration is due on February 6, 2003. The Bulgarian Church Community has lost 40 properties, the Board said…So far Archbishop Kostov has been successfully protecting the interests of the Bulgarian church; he has been serving and issuing church documents in the Bulgarian language regardless of the pressure on the part of Oecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew…

According to reports, Kostov also “refused to refer to the patriarch in prayers”, as is required by the liturgy, and this was why he was demoted. Kostov’s subsequent complaint was treated as a criminal matter, and the Patriarch could have faced a prison sentence. Bartholomew was acquitted, on the grounds that having appointed Kostov in the first place he had the right to dismiss him, but with the caveat about his ecumenical status.

Meanwhile, the Turkish court’s decision will doubtless be of keen interest to the Russian Orthodox Church, where voices are suggesting that Russia is the more natural location for Orthodox leadership. Interfax-Religion reported in May:

Fr. Andrew Phillips from the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia proposes a special inter-Orthodox consultative body – World Orthodox Council with the central office in Moscow or Novy Ierusalim near Moscow.

…The reviving Russian Orthodox Church, he opined, is not just ‘the only potential power able to bring to an end the steps’ towards liberalism in some Orthodox Churches, but also ‘a source of power and authority that could help to restore order and harmony in the currently chaotic ecclesiastical jurisdictions of the Orthodox diaspora.’

(Hat tip: Christianity Today Weblog)

Name variations: Konstantin Kostoff, Konstantin Kostov, Konstantin Kostof, Patriarch Bartholomew, Patriarch Bartholomeos, Patriarch Vartholomeos, Patriarch Vartholomaios

Prophecy “Expert” on Blair

With Tony Blair slated to move to Jerusalem to take up a new peace envoy job, there has been much discussion about whether he enjoys sufficient credibility among Muslims to play a useful role. However, there is also another religious group eyeing developments suspiciously: apocalyptic Christian Zionists. Over to Pastor Terry Malone of Calvary Prophecy:

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is poised to become the new Middle East peace envoy representing the Quartet and the announcement could be as early as tomorrow. Sources say that he was at first reluctant to take the job unless his authority was broadened in scope to include both economic and political powers.

…Certainly, this doesn’t make Tony Blair the antichrist but it sure puts him in the drivers seat…for now. I also felt the timing of Mr. Blair’s visit to see the pope and sudden conversion to Catholicism to be a little strange, but again, that doesn’t make him the antichrist. Many prophecy experts believe that a future pope will be the false prophet.

I believe the peace and prosperity the antichrist brings will so astound the world that he will be viewed upon globally as the greatest peacemaker of our time. In fact, the Middle East may only be the beginning of his peacemaking exploits

…Through his successes, he will easily win the election to become the first (or second) president of the European Union. It’s very possible that one of his first moves as president could be to invite Israel to join the European Union in either a full or partial status. Either way, it would place Israel under the protection of the European Union. This could actually turnout to be the seven-year peace agreement the Bible speaks of between Israel and the antichrist (Daniel 9:27).  It would also explain why Israel is one of the surviving countries following the world war of Revelation 6:7 & 8 (Fourth Seal) where one-quarter of the world’s population will perish.

Etc, etc.

Council of Europe Anti-Creationist Resolution Vote Cancelled

Reuters reports:

Europe’s main human rights body on Monday cancelled a scheduled vote on banning creationist and intelligent design views from school science classes, saying the proposed resolution was one-sided.

…Guy Lengagne, the French Socialist member of the Assembly who drew up the report, protested after the Parliamentary Assembly voted to call off the debate and vote, and to send the report back to committee for further study.

…Deputies said the motion by the Christian Democratic group of parliamentarians also won support from east European deputies, who recalled that Darwinian evolution was a favorite theory of their former communist rulers.

The proposed resolution is available on-line. It begins:

The theory of evolution is being attacked by religious fundamentalists who call for creationist theories to be taught in European schools alongside or even in place of it. From a scientific view point there is absolutely no doubt that evolution is a central theory for our understanding of the Universe and of life on Earth.

Creationism in any of its forms, such as “intelligent design”, is not based on facts, does not use any scientific reasoning and its contents are pathetically inadequate for science classes.

The Assembly calls on education authorities in member States to promote scientific knowledge and the teaching of evolution and to oppose firmly any attempts at teaching creationism as a scientific discipline.

That seems reasonable enough, although it seems to me that it would have been better to have had a general resolution making the obvious point that theories which have not found acceptance among the scientific community should not be infiltrated into science education by lobbies. Instead, the report objects to the political preferences of the Creationists:

The war on the theory of evolution and on its proponents most often originates in forms of religious extremism which are closely allied to extreme right-wing political movements. The creationist movements possess real political power. The fact of the matter, and this has been exposed on several occasions, is that the advocates of strict creationism are out to replace democracy by theocracy.

That may be so (especially in Europe), but it’s just the flipside of the argument that Communists favour Darwin. And the idea that a particular scientific theory can be established as legitimate or bogus through a political vote seems to me to be a very ill-conceived way to proceed, even if the vote goes the right way. Predictably, the pro-ID crowd have been crying “persecution”! Over to William Dembski:

The Council of Europe may justly be renamed as “The European Council for the Advancement of Atheism.” To believe in a God who acts in the world (aka theism) henceforward constitutes “religious extremism.” It will be interesting to see at what point advocacy of ID is regarded in Europe as a “hate crime” against … science? … society? … humanity?

However, Dembski, perhaps more than anyone else, has been encourging the political corruption of science, which the proposed resolution, although flawed, is a reaction against. In 2003, he boasted to Richard Dawkins that he enjoyed the support of Rick Santorum, and that this would allow him to meet President Bush, with whom he would have a “have a frank discussion with him about the future of science in the United States”.

Also opposing the resolution is Paul Belien, a right-libertarian who runs the Brussels Journal (links in original):

The European governments are asked to fight the expression of creationist opinions, such as young earth and intelligent design theories. According to the Council of Europe these theories are “undemocratic” and “a threat to human rights.”

…Though one may disagree with people who take the Book of Genesis literally…surely secularist political organizations telling people what they may or may not believe, constitute a far greater threat to human rights than religious institutions telling their faithful how to vote. In the voting booth people are free to do what they like, whilst in contemporary Europe people are no longer free to publicly voice their own, deeply felt opinions in public.

Belien attempts to link the resolution to the case of Pastor Johannes Lerle, currently in jail for Holocaust denial:

Pastor Johannes Lerle compared the killing of the unborn to the killing of the Jews in Auschwitz during the Second World War. On 14 June, a court in Erlangen ruled that, in doing so, the pastor had “incited the people” because his statement was a denial of the holocaust of the Jews in Nazi-Germany. Hence, Herr Lerle was sentenced to one year in jail. Earlier, he had already spent eight months in jail for calling abortionists “professional killers” – an allegation which the court ruled to be slanderous because, according to the court, the unborn are not humans.

Other German courts convicted pro-lifers for saying that “in abortion clinics, life unworthy of living is being killed,” because this terminology evoked Hitler’s euthanasia program, which used the same language. In 2005, a German pro-lifer, Günter Annen, was sentenced to 50 days in jail for saying “Stop unjust [rechtswidrige] abortions in [medical] practice,” because, according to the court, the expression “unjust” is understood by laymen as meaning illegal, which abortions are not.

Volksverhetzung is a crime which the Nazis often invoked against their enemies and which contemporary Germany also uses to intimidate homeschoolers. Soon, the German authorities will be able to use the same charge against people who question Darwin’s evolution theory.

Lerle’s case has been taken up by the Freepers (and by Dembski), although The Right Wing Professor’s Blog has surveyed the few German-language sources and suggests that there is more to Lerle’s case than Belien has found fit to publicise; in particular, Lerle’s website, parts of which he helpfully translates:

The confession of the camp commander Höss is considered to be proof for the gas chambers. This [confession] was produced, however, by British torturers… an American villain stole a sample of rock [that would be Fred Leuchter – RB], which did not show elevated values of Iron cyanide, and it because known the gas chambers were reconstructions.

Unfortunately, I don’t read German, but with Babelfish I can get the gist of this bit:

Warum griff Amerika in den Zweiten Weltkrieg ein? Die “jüdisch” beherrschten Propagandamedien wiesen auf die Hitlerverbrechen hin und hetzten für einen Kreuzzug an der Seite Stalins für Demokratie und für Glaubensfreiheit. Warum kämpfte Amerika nicht zusammen mit Hitler gegen Stalin?

Why did the USA decide to join Stalin against Hitler, rather than the other way around? Because “Jews” (appearing in quotation marks throughout) controlled the media.

****

Lengagne’s report also includes a very helpful round-up of Creationist activities in Europe, in particular noting the distribution of Harun Yahya’s Atlas of Creation (which I blogged here) into various countries. Some highlights:

In France:

The Interdisciplinary University of Paris (UIP): The UIP, an association set up under the Law of 1901, was established in 1995 to replace the European University of Paris, which was founded in 1989 to succeed the Popular University of Paris. Supported at the beginning by a number of prestigious companies, it has gradually been abandoned by its sponsors owing to the suspicions of neocreationism raised against it.

In Switzerland:

The European Biblical Centre: The creationists are also represented in Switzerland by the European Biblical Centre and its facilitator Daniel Mathez. The Centre is a creationist publisher that has already published around fifteen works.

…The ProGenesis group: The small Swiss creationist group ProGenesis is working for the rehabilitation of the Book of Genesis. Its aim is to assert creationism over evolutionism and to do so by means of media or play. In this connection, it has set up a project called Genesis-Land, which is a leisure park that might be constructed in northern Switzerland and would aim “to disseminate the Christian message as a counterweight to the Darwin’s omnipresent theory of evolution”.

In the UK:

In the United Kingdom, creationists hold lectures at state schools and the universities. In the summer of 2006, England hosted the largest international creationist symposium over a period of three days.

In Sweden:

…the first creationist museum was opened in Umeå in 1996.

In Germany:

In a university town in the Land of Hesse, Germany, creationist ideas seem to have already been disseminated at a number of schools. Teachers of life and earth sciences at a state-approved private upper secondary school teach their pupils that a creator is the origin of the various “main types” of animals. After being alerted about this, some of the pupils’ parents approached the Hesse Ministry of Education, which thought there had been no direct infringement of the school curricula and said it was not competent to deal with such issues. Some parents then removed their children from this school.

The report also notes political support for Creationism in Poland (Deputy Minister of Education Mirosùaw Orzechowski and Maciej Giertych, whom I blogged here), Italy (Letizia Moratti, then Italian Minister of Education), Serbia (Minister of Education, Liliana Coliã, who was forced to resign), and the Netherlands (Minister of Education Maria Van der Hoeven).

(Hat-tips: Pharyngula and this thread at Darwin Central)

Exclusive Brethren Schools in the News

The Exclusive Brethren are back in the news in the UK, over plans to sponsor a school:

An evangelical Christian sect that considers television and computers evil is in talks with the Government about sponsoring a city academy, it became clear last night.

Members of the Exclusive Brethren met Jim Knight, the schools minister, to discuss the possibility of backing one of Tony Blair’s flagship schools.

…Its educational division, the Focus Learning Trust, already runs 37 private schools – which have been highly-praised by Ofsted – even though pupils are denied access to modern technology and sex education is banned.

However:

[Education minister] Lord Adonis said that there were no “current” plans to open state schools linked to the group, but did not rule out the possibility in the future.

In fact, Adonis made this statement back in May, and he also revealed then that the Brethren “has made a number of representations to the Government”, so the Telegraph’s claim that “it became clear last night” is a bit of an over-dramatic flourish. Adonis was responding to questions from Margaret Sharp, a Liberal Democrat peer who appears to be concerned about the Focus Learning Trust.

For those outside the UK, a “city academy” is a publicly-funded but independent school, operating in the state sector. They are often former “failing” schools that have been handed over to private organisations, and children living close to such “academies” will be allocated a place there for their secondary education. Academies are allowed to depart to some extent from the national curriculum, and back in 2004 it was revealed that one school, under the control of an evangelical businessman named Peter Vardy, obliged pupils to carry Bibles around, and had installed a creationist science teacher. Parents of pupils at another school targeted by Vardy for a take-over organised protests, and were backed by Richard Dawkins.

The Brethren’s private Christian schools were profiled in the TES in 2005:

All 38 schools run by an evangelical Christian sect that considers television and computers to be evil have been backed by government inspectors.

The Office for Standards in Education [Ofsted] confirmed this week that it was satisfied that the entire stock of private schools owned by the Exclusive Brethren provided a good standard of education.

…Caroline Horn, head of the Brethren-run Copsewood secondary school, in Coventry, which has 80 pupils, this week welcomed Ofsted’s conclusions.

Neither she nor her 10 teaching staff are members of the sect, but the school has a nine-strong Brethren trust board.

The school teaches the national curriculum, with notable exceptions. There is no sex education or ICT, and fiction that includes references to sex is banned. RE is replaced with Bible studies that make no reference to other faiths and are led by member volunteers.

The Brethren’s Focus Learning Trust (based in Coventry) also has its own inspection service, called the School Inspection Service (SIS), which was approved by the Department for Education and Skills under the terms of the 2002 Education Act. According to a DfES document:

SIS will ensure that it maintains its independence from the member schools and the Focus Learning Trust, (FLT), in accordance with the terms set out in the SIS framework…SIS will inspect all registered schools in England currently affiliated to the Focus Learning Trust…SIS will agree to Ofsted monitoring of samples of SIS inspections and reports and to Ofsted reporting to DfES on a regular basis on the quality of the SIS inspections and reports, in relation to the expectations set out herein and the SIS framework as agreed with DfES…

Ofsted itself adds that:

Ofsted does not inspect those independent schools whose headteachers are in membership of one of the associations which make up the Independent Schools Council (ISC). Neither does it inspect those schools which are owned by the Focus Learning Trust. These schools are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) and the School Inspection Services (SIS) respectively, and we monitor their work to ensure quality and consistency.

Despite the Brethren’s religious objections to the internet, the SIS does have a very plain website, on which there is a 2006 report on Copsewood:

…The curriculum policy outlines the school’s primary and objective concern for the spiritual and moral development of its pupils…It outlines the teaching of science ‘so that all students at Key Stage 3 are given a grounding in physics, chemistry and biology, with the proviso that biology shall be taught sensitively, excluding any reference to evolution of species, which is regarded as false, or to human reproduction which will be taught at home by parents.’

…Analysis of the school’s curriculum at all key stages shows that pupils are provided with appropriate experience and opportunities to learn and to develop their proficiency in languages, mathematics, human and social skills, and physical education.

Some might think that that the first paragraph would appear to negate the claims in the second. A bit of googling shows that two of the three inspectors who compiled the report have also worked for Ofsted itself.

As well as the Brethren schools, there are a number of other private Christian schools in the UK following syllabuses that censor or distort science teaching; some of these have been praised by politicians.

Holy Man Beaten Up and Arrested over Failed Prophecy

Trishul Baba, the Nepalese “Trident Man” (real name Bishweshwor Chaudhari), recently posted the following (helpfully bi-lingual) prophecy on-line (now available in cache only):

SHREE GANESHAYA NAMAHA! AUM NAMAHA SHIVAYA! The discourse of Lord Almighty Shiva Baba to all earth inhabitants! Behold, June 22 and July 10 of 2007 belong to obliteration! The event will commence at 6.15 on June 22 and will conclude on July 10, Tuesday. Around 300 thousand persons will die in Nepal only. This incidence will occur all over the universe, spread throughout the cosmos. Anything can happen in the earth…It is possible that Pakistan will not exist sink forever…The person who considers this a farce and a tall story will regret and lament…Quagmires shall erupt and the earth shall rupture in many places, and then anyone caught in will be sucked in to doom…This period of destruction will continue till the dawn of the ‘Era of Truth’. The devastation will be unprecedented. This is the time of ‘Untimely Death’; it has been predetermined as the ‘Untimely Death’ for all the eartherners. This is the Revelation of God. Who lives in the universe rests on His will. Truth will live; all should strive and effort to live. Contact Tel. 2044216

The news travelled widely; one unconvinced website yesterday reported that

Lately lots of rumors have been going on about the earthquake coming in Nepal…[H]e has frightened everybody in Nepal. The strange thing is I got to hear all about this from a friend who is working in Dubai right now.

Alas:

When doomsday failed to smite Nepal early Friday morning as predicted a month before by the fake prophet, angry residents of Kathmandu beat up Trishul Baba and began demanding stringent action against him, resulting in security forces detaining him for questioning.

…When the pamphlets spread panic among the gullible, Nepal’s council of astrologers as well as the home ministry issued separate assurances, ruling out any cataclysm on Friday.

However, after the time of danger came and went without any untoward incident, enraged people thronged his house in Dhapasi in the capital and roughed him up.

Trishul Baba, speechless and looking deflated, was marched off by police to determine his reasons for making such dire predictions and creating a panic.

The report adds that:

He claimed he could cure people of their maladies by touching them with a trident, kept under a dazzling shade made of red cloth worked with gold and silver thread.

A piece from last year noted that

It is not only the remote districts where the witch doctors enjoy a roaring trade. Kantiput television channel reported how a shaman had become a legend in the capital itself.

A former construction worker turned god man, who is now known as Trishul Baba (The Trident Man), is doing brisk business in the Gaushala area, where he has his own ashram and attendants, including several women.

People wanting to consult him have to seek an appointment two days in advance, the channel reported.

The man claims to have received supernatural powers, including the ability to cure people afflicted with epilepsy, hypertension, and sexually transmitted diseases by touching them with his magic trident.

The channel showed the man moving around nonchalantly, wearing a crown over flowing locks, watching devotees as well as patients gesticulating wildly.

(Hat tip: Bulldada Newsblog)

Oil Company Stockholders on Spiritual Quest

“oil represents a very deep spiritual concept”

…I just have a scripture I’d wanted to share from Psalm 133. It’s one of Mr Brown’s favourite scriptures, I believe, and it’s one of mine as well, and I think once you hear it it’ll be yours.

How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity. It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, upon the beard of Aaron. Running down over the collar of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion, for there the Lord ordained his blessing for evermore.

Today I’m here to…ask God’s blessing upon your work.

So spoke Rev Stephen Swisher, opening the 2007 Stockholders’ Meeting of Zion Oil and Gas, in Dallas yesterday (webcast available for thirty days). Not for nothing, it seems, is Swisher a “frequent Chaplain of the Texas State Senate”. Rabbi Nasanya Zakon of the Dallas Area Torah Association continued in similar vein:

Digging, the concept of digging, the concept of oil, the concept of Israel, these are core concepts in God’s world, in humanity…In the Bible we find that the Patriarchs dug in the land of Israel. They dug, not for oil, but they dug for water. But the great kabbalists, the Jewish mystics tell us that their digging was actually alluding to developing the temples. The two temples that we had in Jerusalem, and the third one that we will have…oil represents a very deep spiritual concept. Light comes from oil, from the lighting of oil, and Israel of course represents God’s relationship with this world, and the bridge through which God and the spiritual connects with the physical world…may God bless your efforts.

This is a fascinating American reading of the Bible: digging for oil and burning it is a holy, God-ordained, activity – and digging for oil in Israel is particularly pious. It’s an exegesis we’ve seen before, when in 2004 Hal Lindsey brought Zion Oil to wide attention via his WorldNetDaily column:

Moses proclaimed blessings on Jacob’s sons just before he died. He predicted concerning Asher:

Asher is most blessed of sons; let him be favored by his brothers, and let him dip his foot in OIL.

– Deuteronomy 33:24

On the whole, this works much better in English than in Hebrew, which distinguishes shemen, the anointing oil, and naphtha, the flammable “muddy water”. Obviously, the references that so excite Swisher and Lindsey refer to the first word. However, according to a legend in 2 Maccabees naphtha preserved the sacred fire of the First Temple through the Exile, and Nehemiah used it to burn sacrifices.

Zion Oil & Gas is a company which I’ve followed on this blog for several years now; back in January I noted that it was the first new listing of 2007, and that the CEO and director had been given the honour of ringing the AMEX bell in New York on the first day of 2007 trading. The company was founded by John Brown, an oilman and Christian Zionist who believes that the Bible provides clues to finding massive oil deposits in Israel, and that his involvement was predicted in 1 Kings (8:41), which mentions “a stranger, that is not of thy people Israel, but cometh out of a far country for thy name’s sake”. Despite this unpromising background, Brown has built up a significant exploratory company, which employs serious business-people and qualified geologists (one of the ironies of the Zion Oil website are references to drilling through “Triassic” and “Permian” layers of rock – troublesome labels for a Biblical literalist). The current director, Richard Rinberg, is actually a rather dry and eloquent British-Israeli businessman.

In fact, all the company needs is to actually get some oil – a detail which so far has proven elusive. The company put out a press release a couple of days ago, concerning its first drilling:

Zion Oil & Gas, Inc. (Amex: ZN) of Dallas, Texas and Caesarea, Israel, announced today that its geological and engineering team have completed its analysis of the test results of the first of four zones in the upper Triassic which had been identified as potentially productive and selected for testing during the remedial workover and completion operations on the Company’s Ma’anit #1 well. The results of the tests indicated that the tested zone is non-productive.

The announcement comes just weeks after the final round of its first public offering. Ma’anit #2 is now on the way, and Brown referred the shareholders to 1 Kings 18, in which Elijah sends a servant to look for a raincloud

“Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked. “There is nothing there,” he said. Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”

Only on the seventh time does the rain actually come. Rinberg, however, ever-mindful of the SEC rules, kept reminding the audience that such “forward-looking” statements should not be taken as assurances that any oil will ever be found.

The Stockholder’s meeting also saw Brown express his deep gratitude to Ralph DeVore, to whom he also made a presentation gift. This was unexpected, since, as I blogged in 2005, documents on the Zion Oil website suggest that DeVore had had quite a spectacular falling-out with Brown and had resigned from the organization. DeVore had claimed that the reason Zion had failed to strike oil was because the Jewish involvement amounted to “syncretism” and that this had angered God. Brown had been deeply offended by DeVore’s comments, to judge from the correspondence – but with DeVore being a director of Hal Lindsey Ministries, and a cousin of Lindsey, the potential media exposure is doubtless just too good to turn down. We can only guess why DeVore has chosen to make up – despite the “syncretism” now including a rabbi who cites kabbalists and who tells his evangelical audience that God’s bridge with the world is actually Israel.

(Rev Swisher, by the way, works closely with John Hagee at Christian United for Israel. CUFI, which I blogged on here, links evangelicals with the Israeli right)

(Pic via Jesus’ General)

US Evangelist Leads “Prosperity for All” Crusade in Uganda

Back to Uganda, and more on the visit by US prosperity preacher Creflo Dollar, via the New Vision:

Hundreds of Christians, some from as far as Ethiopia, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Sudan, thronged the Namboole Stadium last evening for a crusade against poverty by American evangelist Dr. Creflo Dollar.

The Prosperity For All (Bonna Bagaggawale) crusade also attracted delegations from Kenya, Rwanda and the DR Congo.

Dr. Dollar and his wife Taffi arrived on Tuesday at the invitation of Pastor Robert Kayanja of Miracle Centre Cathedral. Dollar is expected to meet pastors and government leaders.

…Choirs and gospel musicians from South Africa performed at the crusade. They were joined by God’s Fire Band, which is made up of born-again UPDF soldiers.

A second piece in the same paper adds that:

A number who brandished crutches said they had received healing as Dollar and Pastor Robert Kayanja preached.

(I blogged on Kayanja here, and on his religious experience during the recent Benny Hinn visit here.) The Daily Monitor, meanwhile, gives us some quotes:

“We have been made to believe that prosperity is bad, evil; and un-Godly,” Pastor Dollar said. Quoting the book of 3John chapter 2, he said prosperity is a package which includes money, health, good relationships, peace and so much more.

…”Prosperity isn’t only about having a huge chunk of money on your bank account. You can have that money and yet be sick in the body so you would be a poor man because you lack a healthy body. Money is never a problem but the problem is who possesses it.”

Pastor Dollar revealed a different process of becoming prosperous God’s way. “You first have to be born again; the love of God in this nation is the key to prosperity,” he said, adding that one needs to renew their mind with the word of God because it is God’s gateway to an abundant life.

With reference to various scriptures in the Bible, Pastor Dollar said Jesus preached the gospel to the poor and never gave them money.

Although often characterised as simply a magical way of making money through giving “tithes” to the pastor, prosperity evangelists like Dollar do also offer their audiences some practical Micawberian financial advice:

Dollar also advised the congregation on observing intelligent debt management and said it takes time and commitment to accumulate wealth.

The Monitor also notes some of those in attendance:

The crowd consisted of people from all walks of life including…First daughter Patience Rwabogo [and] Gen. Elly Tumwine and various pastors.

Gen Tumwine is a close Museveni ally: before the last election, when opposition leader Kizza Besigye faced a conveniently-timed rape charge, Tumwine sought to have Besigye brought before a military court on terrorism charges, and he had Besigye’s defence lawyers charged with contempt of court. Tumwine and Museveni have also been accused of illegally acquiring land near oil wells.

As well as the main crusade, Dollar held some more exclusive meetings, as noted by the Monitor’s “24-seven” gossip column:

24-Seven bumped into Simba Telecom and Dembe FM proprietor, Patrick Bitature…dishing out world-renowned evangelist Creflo Dollar…invites last Sunday at Rubaga Miracle Centre Cathedral. We wondered if this businessman was at last letting his godly and humbled side to the surface and has now become a church volunteer.

24-seven has since learnt that Bitature is the man (and the money) behind the first Creflo Dollar dinner that was held last night at Serena hotel. Reliable sources reveal that as of last Sunday, 560 of the 1,185 seats had been booked at “a little fee” of $100 each seat.

The Second Creflo Dollar dinner will be at held Speke Resort Munyonyo and has been organised by the Honourable minister of Ethics and Integrity Nsaba Butoro for ministers and MPs. “For God and My Country” indeed!

For some, Bitature is a “renowned businessman” who has had a significant impact on the improvement of information and communication technology in Uganda. Others (in particular, the muckraking Radio Katwe) have called him “Museveni’s front man in the theft of Uganda”.

Nsaba Butoro (var. “Nsaba Buturo”), meanwhile, has been a strong supporter of the persecution of homosexuals. In 2004, when a radio station was fined for allowing homosexuals to take part in a talk show, he defended this as upholding “God’s moral values”, and last year, when it was announced that gay Christians were planning to open a church, he warned that “the police will be taking action”. In 2005 he predictably approved the banning of The Vagina Monologues:

[He] claimed the play’s title was part of a larger international conspiracy to corrupt the moral fabric of Uganda and other countries. He dismissed the play as indecent and tasteless and argued that the idea was to promote lesbianism and glorify the vagina – even elevating it to god-like status.

When Dollar’s crusade was announced, one sceptical African commentator suggested that

God is bringing these men to Africa to shame them because their prosperity gospel does not work there.

However, Dollar’s host, Robert Kayanja, has a get-out clause for those whose material position does not improve:

Yes, you are guaranteed prosperity at the Creflo Dollar crusade. Why? Everybody who gives his life to Jesus automatically becomes the child of God. There is no greater prosperity than that. That is prosperous in itself.

Mugabe Takes Sweets from Children

From ZWNews:

Three Zimbabwean clergymen had a weekend to forget last Sunday after they were detained and interrogated by state security agents for distributing toys and sweets to children in Masvingo town. In a bizarre case highlighting deep levels of paranoia in government, the state agents accused the three, Reverend Sonykis Chimbuya, Pastor Peter Bondai and Pastor Mugondi, of distributing opposition campaign material.

The police have been keeping an eye on Chimbuya for a while, as this 2003 report shows:

Police in Masvingo summoned and questioned the former Zimbabwe Council of Churches human rights regional chair Sonykis Chimbuya over prayers alleged to be anti-government…

Chimbuya, a preacher with the Church of Christ in Masvingo, was summoned to the Criminal Investigations Department’s Law and Order Section last week and ordered to desist from saying prayers that are political. He was released without being charged.

Chimbuya said: “I was ordered not to say prayers which are political. They even told me that I should write down my prayers for them to scrutinise. They took my curriculum vitae and warned me to be careful with my prayers.”

Meanwhile, the Zimbabwean delves into the farming interests of “His Disgrace” Nolbert Kunonga, the pro-Mugabe Anglican bishop (I’ve blogged on the pro-Mugabe clerics here and here) who has been rewarded for his toadying with appropriated some agricultural land:

St Marnock’s farm, which bishop Nolbert Kunonga has taken over, is located 15 kilometres from the stone-clad cathedral of St Mary’s in central Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, where he officiates.

A visit to St Marnock’s at the weekend revealed a classic tale of the disastrous effects the sullied agrarian reform programme. The Zimbabwean found Kunonga’s son reclining in the grabbed seven-bedroom farmhouse overlooking a dam and what were once 2,000 acres of wheat and soya bean fields, now abandoned.

This farm used to be one of the areas under the prestigious “10 ton club.” But now what remains are derelict fields with overgrown grass. Equipment is locked away and there no agriculture taking place here, despite the fact that the nation is desperately short on food.

The bishop, however, plans to use the land for development purposes.