Anglican Vicar and African Pastor Found Guilty in Wedding Scam involving Ukrainian Sausage Factory Worker

An interesting tale of globalization, from the Anglican church of St Peter and St Paul in St Leonards-on-Sea on the south coast of England; the Independent (among others) reports:

A jury at Lewes Crown Court decided that Vladymyr Buchak, a Ukrainian national, Michael Adelasoye, a Nigeria-born solicitor, and the Anglican vicar Alex Brown were all guilty of conspiring to breach Britain’s immigration laws by organising hundreds of bogus weddings.

In the unremarkable church, hundreds of West Africans tied the knot with impoverished local Eastern Europeans who were paid up to £3,000 to be a bride or husband for the day.

[Buchak] targeted vulnerable Eastern Europeans who were struggling to make ends meet… The West Africans entered the scam through Adelasoye, a 50-year-old immigration solicitor who lived locally and preached at the Ark of Hope evangelical church in Hastings.

…[Brown’s] parish, a predominantly white area to the west of Hastings, had suddenly become one of most cosmopolitan corners of the South East, with 90 mixed race couples marrying from one road alone.

Brown’s motives remain a mystery: was he “grasping” for cash (the Sun) and “preying” on “desperate” East Europeans (as the prosecutor claimed)? Did he feel sorry for Africans facing deportation and decide to break the law to assist their efforts to remain in the UK? Or was he, as he suggested in his own defence, simply overwhelmed by a situation he found himself in?

…”I’m not trained in immigration law. I can say that now looking in hindsight.”

Earlier, he told the court he felt pressured by the “constant train” of foreign nationals coming to him wanting to get married and would lead to him drinking up to three pints of cider an evening, but he denied touching spirits.

He said: “It was the pressure of work and the constant harassment of applicants.

“They didn’t want to wait for a marriage. They wanted it the next day or the next week.”

However, Brown made some efforts to conceal the number of weddings he was performing; according to the Daily Mail, he

…also became the only vicar in 800 years to be convicted of failing to read out the banns – asking the congregation if they knew of ‘any just cause or impediment’ why two people may not marry.

Less attention has been paid to Pastor Michael Adelasoye, although the Hastings and St Leonards Observer profiled him a few weeks ago:

Michael Adelasoye, 50… was once employed by Hastings Borough Council as a community cohesion officer as the town struggled to adapt to the influx of immigrants.

“…There were Tutsis living with Hutus, and Christians living with Muslims, which caused a lot of problems.”

As for his own background:

… He told the jury he was raised a Muslim, but converted to Christianity shortly after moving to the UK in 1978.

After getting a degree in community law, he moved to Hastings in 2001 working for a legal firm in Eastbourne before setting up the Ark of Hope Chambers…

He was involved in one high-profile case in 2007, when he assisted twin Jewish Kyrgyz refugees to remain in Birmingham.

His firm has a website here, and his associated Ark of Hope charity and Ark of Hope Christian Centre has a site here. The remains of an older site can be glimpsed on Google cache; there was a link to an “evangelistic poem” called “The Court Date”, although I couldn’t access it. According to this site, the church used to an Elim Pentecostal church, although it now seems to be independent. The church also has a Facebook page and a YouTube channel; there are other pastors involved, including a non-African. The church also has an associated “Saturday Street Evangelism” mission; according to its website “The counter to the side is ticking off the number of people who have died since you opened this. The vast majority of those people are entering Hell.” That’s typical “street-preacher” fare anywhere (see here), although the grim emphasis on hellfire is somewhat at odds with the Ark of Hope’s more upbeat image.

As for Buchak, the Independent reports that he had been “thrown out of Sweden for marijuana use and had entered the UK illegally using false identity”, and was posing as a Latvian. Various reports add the detail that he also worked in “a sausage factory in Bexhill”, and this was where he found some of the Eastern Europeans to take part in the weddings.

Karl Rove at Apocalyptic Christian Right Rally in Canada

  

Karl Rove needs no introduction; Grant Jeffrey, by contrast, will perhaps be unknown to most people who don’t consume Christian fundamentalist apocalyptic paperbacks and DVDs. Rachel Tabachnick, who discusses the above event at Talk to Action here (which brought it to my attention), notes that Jeffrey is the author of works such Shadow Government: How the Global Elite Plan to Destroy your Democracy and Freedom. According to the DVD’s blurb:

What if there were hidden forces with no ties to democracy or constitutional rights in power? What if new laws, media propaganda and Secret Societies labeled John a danger to society? And what if all this set the stage for a Biblically prophesied global government run by the Antichrist?

Leading researchers, authors and minds like Grant Jeffrey… take you through the incredible and hidden world of Surveillance, Rights and Freedoms, Global Government and Bible Prophecy.

Books by Jeffrey include The New Temple and the Second Coming: The Prophecy That Points to Christ’s Return in Your Generation (“Grant Jeffrey investigates… developments among rabbinic authorities to reveal a prophetic, Temple-related timeline that points to Jesus’ return in the current generation”), as well as The Signature of God: Astonishing Bible Codes Reveal September 11 Terror Attacks (“Remarkable new computer discoveries from the Bible Codes reveal astonishing details about the September 11 Islamic terrorist attack on America that were encoded in Hebrew text thousands of years ago”) and The Next World War: What Prophecy Reveals about Extreme Islam and the West (“How Russia and extreme Islam will launch World War III”). Walid Shoebat used to credit his conversion to Christianity to Jeffrey’s Armageddon: Appointment With Destiny, although he tends to downplay that these days.

The site for the “G-20 Summit Faith and Business Leaders” event – which had no links to the real G-20 meeting, as a tiny notice on the site makes clear – includes a blurb by Canadian Christian Right bigwig Charles McVety:

As you know the G-20 World Leaders are coming to Toronto, June 25 – 27. On Saturday evening, June 26th we are going to gather in praise and prayer to petition God to guide these leaders toward peace and freedom.

… The world is fraught with peril today. Countries such as Greece are already bankrupt and cannot pay their employees. Spain is in deep trouble financially and the United States owes over $13 Trillion. Canada is going deeper in debt every day as our government wastes billions of dollars on needless projects. Our environment deteriorates as pollution grows while the G-20 throws trillions of dollars at reducing CO2, a natural necessary part of air. War in the Middle East could break out any day with President Ahmadinejad of Iran building nuclear weapons and threatening to “wipe Israel off the map”.

With these leaders down the street in our city of Toronto we have an ideal opportunity to pray for them.

Dr. Paul Dhinakaran will lead us to the Throne of Grace for such a time as this. He has one of the largest ministries in the world and is a world leader in prayer receiving over 20,000 prayer requests per day. His prayer rallies average over 500,000 people per night. God has spoken to Dr. Paul giving him a special impartation for us in these days.

Please try to clear you busy schedule and be with us on Saturday, June 26th at 7:00pm Admission is free. This is part of a larger G-20 Summit for Faith and Business Leaders. Karl Rove will speak to us on how to effect change democratically. Dr. Grant Jeffrey will teach us history and prophecy and several other speakers will prepare us for these days. On Sunday evening we will gather for a Rally to Stop Nuclear Iran.

The swipe at “reducing CO2” is typical for apocalyptic Christian fundamentalism: while the movement as a whole manipulates uncertainties about the future (wars, diseases, earthquakes, and such) to instil fatalism, fear, and hate, wider political considerations mean that climate change has to be dismissed out of hand. McVety, as Rachel notes, is close to John Hagee and co-chairs the Canadian branch of CUFI (Christians United for Israel); she also notes this 2006 Walrus article which explains McVety’s role in the Canadian Christian Right.

Dhinakaran is an Indian Pentecostal evangelist and the son of D.G.S. Dhinakaran, from whom he inherited his “Jesus Calls” ministry. According to his ministry’s publicity materials, D.G.S. enjoyed an international reputation:

Great servants of God, like Pastor.Benny Hinn, Dr.Pat Robertson, Dr.Dave Roberson, Pastor.John Osteen honour Dr.D.G.S.Dhinakaran as the apostle of this age in India.

Dr. M.G. “Pat” Robertson, Chairman of The Christian Broadcasting Network, USA has decribed the spiritual nature of Bro. Dhinakaran very aptly in the following few lines: ” Frankly, I cannot recall any figure in the Old Testament or New Testament who has had such a profound and ongoing encounter with the Deity. ”

As for Paul’s own profile:

A man who frequently rubs shoulders with eminent leaders of the nation, Dr. Paul was appointed by the present Prime Minister of India as a Member of the National Monitoring Committee for Minority Education and as a Member of the Governing Council of “Education for all” Committee, both in the Education department of the Government of India. He had also served as a Syndicate Member of the Bharathiar University for two consecutive terms appointed by the Governor of the State of Tamilnadu.

…As a visionary, he revolutionized the “Jesus Calls” ministry in several ways. He was instrumental in establishing Jesus Calls “Prayer Towers” throughout the globe in 7 countries and all over India where Prayer Intercessors offer dedicated prayers all the 24 hours for thousands of people daily.

This link between prayer, geography, and spiritual warfare is suggestive of C. Peter Wagner’s teachings.

Karl Rove, of course, does not take any of this very seriously – in 2008 Christopher Hitchens mentioned that Rove does not consider himself to be “a person of faith”, although when a Christianity Today journalist asked Rove about it he affected to some sort of vague religiosity. But if he wants to cement his links with this crowd, perhaps he could include one of Jeffrey’s books in his new book club, once he has done with Brad Thor‘s latest potboiler. There are plenty to choose from

Various organisations are listed as suppporting the “Faith and Business Leaders” event, with their logos next to the image of Jeffrey. They are: Canada Family Action; Conservative Values of Canada; McVety’s Insitute for Canadian Values (founded in 2005 with “a gala dinner tutorial from Ralph Reed”); and – somewhat more surprisingly – the B’nai Brith Canada.

Rachel notes that B’nai Brith Canada’s executive vice-president Frank Dimant also spoke at the event. Dimant has long-standing links to McVety; in 2003 McVety joined Dimant in denouncing Jews for Jesus for “preaching Christianity under the guise of Judaism”. Dimant also teaches at McVety’s Canada Christian College, where the “Faith and Business Leaders” summit took place.

Documentary Shows Child-Witch Stigmatisation Still Occurring in UK Churches

That act from pastors pointing the fingers, pronouncing in front of the congregation that the child is a witch, we are pressing for that to be recognised as abuse. Because emotional abuse starts from that point.

That’s a quote from Romain Matondo of the Congolese Family Centre in London, speaking on tonight’s Channel 4 Dispatches documentary on “Britain’s witch-children”, and the programme gives plenty of reasons to take the suggestion seriously. The problem of children being accused of witchcraft in certain African churches in the UK has been hughlighted before, and it played a role in the notorious murder of Victoria Climbié in 2000. There was also a BBC documentary in 2006, which I blogged here. However, the new programme tells us that “the practice of branding children as witches has quietly continued”, and according to Debbie Ariyo of Africans Unite Against Child Abuse, only “the tip of the iceberg” has come to light.

The programme explores several churches where child “deliverance” takes place, using undercover footage. A young  journalist named Juliana Oladipo agreed to pose as a difficult teenager being brought to church by her mother; in each case witchcraft is diagnosed as the problem, and aggressive exorcism prescribed as the cure.

First, they go to the Tower of Refuge Ministry in Tottenham, where Pastor Godwin Obed performs deliverance; the second church featured is the Faith and Victory Church, run by a certain Pastor Mwembe Morea (not sure about spelling). Morea explains that in 2005 he met a 12-year-old girl who told him that

she’s a great queen in the kingdom of darkness. She stated that she is a witch and she had a mission to kill her step-mum.

Morea also teaches that children can become infected with witchcraft by eating poisoned food, and that they fly on sticks and umbrellas. However, Morea is also a sexual predator, and there is an interview with a young woman named Kay. Kay’s father was suffering from kidney failure, and Morea explained to her that it was because she was a witch. The cure? Sex with Morea, 21 times.

Next, we meet someone I’ve blogged about several times before now: Kenyan “Archbishop” Gilbert Deya, who astonishingly has still not been extradited to Kenya for his part in the tragic “miracle babies” scam. I noted his obsession with witches back in 2004, and his teaching on the subject:

With my experience of witches who killed my brother Wilson in 1979, I know how dangerous they are. They can destroy families and wipe out generations. Many people have suffered because their ignorance of witches and witchcraft. The witches have been destroying some Christians, destroying their marriages, jobs, peace in the family and killing people with incurable diseases.

According to Dispatches, he still has 34,000 followers, and his ministry is the fastest-growing in the UK. At Deya’s church, a woman pastor tells the congregation that witches need human blood to perform rituals. To get the blood, they

set up accidents at junctions, they set up women in hospitals.

Witches can be found “all over the place” causing misfortune, and another pastor at the church urges members to donate £700:

You can afford it, the devil has been killing your family members

 Oladipo is brought before a certain Pastor James, who explains that a person can be contaminated by witchcraft by any kind of contact, including through the phone. He asks for a donation in order to “deliver” her – he doesn’t give a fee, although suggests £1,000, and recalls that in one case £12,000 was donated just for a chat. The undercover journalists hand over £170 – this is enough for a “deliverance” session, although the pastor takes a call on his mobile phone while conducting the ceremony. The programme also shows scenes of a general deliverance session at the church, including children looking obviously frightened and upset.

The programme also details the Church of Christ in Mission, led by a certain Dieudonné Tukala. A woman named Fifi Mayingi explained that she had been abused and abandoned by her husband after Tukala told him that she and their children were witches; the husband then killed himself out of guilt. Tukala tells the woman posing as Oladipo’s mother that someone blew on her head while she was on holiday in Nigeria, and this has contaminated her with witchcraft.

The experience of her various deliverances is something of an eye-opener for Oladipo, who is dismayed that “nobody’s speaking out”. However, she also acknowledges that there is a great fear and reluctance to challenge the authority of a “man of God”.

Of course, the programme had its limitations: something could have been said about the churches and pastors who have put in place child protection measures, and it should be remembered that the manipulation of spiritual fears in order to abuse is also known in other contexts (see Roland Howard’s book Charismania for some examples).

The Independent newspaper has an article to accompany the programme, with a quote from Joe Aldred:

There are more than 4,000 African churches in Britain, serving half a million people. “At the moment you can set up a church anywhere, any time … in the same way we wouldn’t tolerate somebody setting themselves up as a lawyer or surgeon without proper training and regulation, we shouldn’t expose the souls of people to anybody who happens to think they can set up a church,” said Bishop Dr Joe Aldred, secretry of minority ethnic Christian affairs at Churches Together in England.

The problem with Aldred’s solution is that such regulation would be impossible to enforce: far better simply to firm up the law to recognise witch-accusations as abusive and as incitement to abuse – and for church leaders with standing in the African community to speak out firmly against the pastors stigmatising children as witches. In 2007, the Evangelical Alliance issued a statement:

The Evangelical Alliance unreservedly condemns all forms of child abuse, and considers any accusation of witchcraft levelled at a child to be abusive, immoral and unbiblical.

This is in line with our previous statements on this issue, and we strongly contest any suggestions that the activities of Pastor Dieudonne Tukala are associated more broadly with black African evangelical churches, or that this is part of a growing church trend.

…”The African and Caribbean Evangelical Alliance has been working with black majority churches to address the issue, and has developed model child protection policies for their use.

“Since the Climbie enquiry, we have ensured that our member churches and organisations demonstrate a clear commitment to child safety.”

ACEA is also continuing pro-active multi-agency work with organisations including Churches Together in England, the Churches Child Protection Advisory Service, African anti-child abuse organisation AFRUCA, DfES and NSPCC on this issue…

Excellent sentiments, but clearly a more proactive strategy is needed. Pastors in the UK or abroad who stigmatise children as witches need to be rebuked and rejected by their peers, and efforts should be undertaken to educate churchgoers about the subject. It would be nice not to have to still be blogging about this subject in another four years.

Clicking the logo below would be a start…

Child-Witch Stigmatisation in UK Churches to be Highlighted by Channel 4 Tonight

Channel 4 Dispatches is tonight broadcasting a documentary on child-witch accusations in churches in the UK (8pm, or 9pm on Channel 4+1). From the blurb:

Dispatches goes undercover in some African churches in the UK, where evangelical pastors perpetuate a strong belief in witchcraft. They preach that some people are possessed by evil spirits, and that these spirits bring bad luck into the lives of others.

The only way to rid the possessed from the witchcraft spell and lift their curse is to ‘deliver’ them: a kind of exorcism that can be very traumatic. Some pastors charge significant sums of money to perform these deliverances.

Often it is children who are denounced as witches by these pastors, and this labelling can lead to the physical and emotional abuse of those children at the hands of their families. In extreme cases it has led to the deaths of some children.

In parts of Africa, branding a child a witch is now outlawed, but in Britain this practise is perfectly legal, despite the fact it can have horrific consequences.

Dispatches reveals just what goes on behind closed doors in these African churches, exposing the pastors who exploit the religious beliefs of the most vulnerable.

This comes in the wake of two Dispatches documentaries on child-witch stigmatisation in Nigeria (see here and here; the first was also shown in the USA in May). However, the UK context also got some attention in a BBC documentary in 2006, which I blogged on here. That programme concentrated on churches with links to Congo.

Former Trinidad PM’s “Spiritual Advisor” Gone to Africa; Church Construction Scrutinized

A follow-up to a subject I blogged in March; the Trinidad Express Newspaper reports:

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar is questioning whether the “lifestyle” of Rev Julia Pena [var. Juliana Pena] was financed under the People’s National Movement (PNM) administration.

Speaking to supporters at a campaign meeting in Penal on Thursday night, Persad-Bissessar said, “I want to ask Dr (Keith) Rowley whether State funds were being used to finance the lifestyle of Mrs Pena.”

…Pena is the spiritual adviser to former prime minister Patrick Manning.

Persad-Bissessar also said no permission was granted by Town and Country Planning to construct Pena’s controversial $30 million Lighthouse of the Lord Jesus Christ Church at the Heights of Guanapo, Arima.

The local Guardian adds:

The “disappearance” of Manning’s spiritual adviser was also played out on the political platform as Persad-Bissessar revealed her immigration records which showed of numerous visits to Venezuela, the latest being on February 6, 2010.

While Newsday tells us that

Police sources said they have an address in Africa for Pena and are making arrangements to interview her by next week.

The police are also wanting to speak to a man named Calder Hart, the Canadian former chairman of  a construction firm called UDeCOTT, in relation to this and other matters. According to another report:

WHILE his company was at work on billion-dollar Udecott projects, Michael Zhang, managing director of Chinese firm SCG International (Trinidad and Tobago), received a private cut out of the work at the Ministry of Legal Affairs project in Port-of-Spain from Sunway Construction Caribbean Limited, the controversial Malaysian company now under police probe for alleged links to former Udecott chairman Calder Hart.

Sub-contracts from Sunway went both to SCG and to another company run by Zhang; the church was among those given to SCG, which is reportedly owned by the Chinese government. Zhang, however, has no comment, while Hart has left the country, either for Miami or the UK.

Meanwhile, the original owners of the site given to the church have returned:

Zeena and Steve Lopez, both 52, for the first time yesterday, were able to walk on the land after they were “evicted” by “policemen” dressed in black, who handed them a bag containing $50,000 and ordered them off the property.

Steve recounted that he lost thousands of dollars in plantain, dasheen, cassava, breadfruit and other vegetables he planted around his wooden home…

The construction of the church was abandoned when Manning lost the election, and the site is now prey to looters:

One man felt the looting stemmed from the view the church was linked to the PNM Government. Martin Fermin held strongly to that view.

Fermin and other members of the congregation said they were saddened at the destruction… Fermin said he was further aggrieved that members of the Christian faith were not speaking out on behalf of the church.

…His sentiments were echoed by others, including evangelist Shirlain Fermin and prophetess Cindy Blanc. Fermin said she had to warn “those evil-doers that destruction will come upon their households.” Blanc, who replaced Juliana Pena as the prophetess, said: “Since I saw what was going on there, I have been crying.”

Blanc also claims that most of the looters are “Rastamen”.

Manning’s association with Pena was criticised by Benny Hinn in 2007:

…”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 (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.”

Breitbart’s Mullah Omar Story Under Fire

Instaputz notes:

…check out today’s New York Daily News, which reports that NATO blames Mullah Omar for the mortaring of civilians this week. Last month, Omar “instructed his commanders to capture and kill any Afghan supporting or working for coalition forces.”

The fact that Omar was roaming freely in June and coordinating attacks must be an awful shock to readers of Breitbart’s Big Government.

Back in May, Instaputz reminds us, Andrew Breitbart’s site was the focus of considerable attention when it announced that Mullah Omar had been arrested in Pakistan. The source was thriller writer Brad Thor, who supposedly has contacts from Afghanistan, and there was much crowing over how the site had scooped the mainstream media. The story provoked lots of debate, and not just along liberal versus conservative lines: Jeremy Scahill at the Nation tentatively suggested that there might be something in it, while David Horowitz’s Newsrealblog was not impressed. Doubters, however, were mocked when Oliver North supposedly confirmed the story. Two and a half months on, though, no evidence has leaked out, and statements from NATO and Pakistan all suggest that the Mullah is still at large.

Thor, whom I previously blogged here, has recently provided a blurb (alongside Geert Wilders) for Pamela Geller’s new book about how Obama is a Communist; Thor makes a point of referencing Obama’s middle name in his endorsement.

And while we’re on the subject of Breitbart, here’s his famous confrontation with Max Blumenthal at CPAC (5:38 0nwards) in the wake of this article. Breitbart admonishes Max that unfairly “accusing a person of racism is the worst thing that you can do”:

(A couple of other cross-references: Blumenthal has also clashed with Geller, as I blogged here; the above video also features Hannah Giles, who is now more famous than her father, whom I used to blog about way back)

(Hat tip: Media Matters)

UPDATEThor responds, remarkably refering to this blog directly:

So, based on Bartholomew and Media Matters, who both picked up the meme from something called Instaputz, we’re to believe that Omar is not only free, but that he has done a complete 180 from eleven months ago and now doesn’t care how many Afghans get splashed?  In fact, he’s actively encouraging the Taliban to toss out last summer’s “Code of Conduct” and slaughter them?  I guess with Instaputz, Bartholomew, and Media Matters on the scene, the rest of the milblogging community can finally hang up their cleats.  The cavalry has arrived!

What’s truly laughable isn’t that these bloggers (with no apparent military, intelligence, COIN, PsyOps or I.O. knowledge) are suddenly blogging about these issues, but that the left is so desperate to smear Breitbart that they’ll now cite the same brave military they so despise and distrust as proof that they’re right.

I have said it before and I will say it here again.  Mullah Omar is in Pakistani custody.  You can take it to the bank.  Don’t believe me?  See the growing list below (which none of the three bloggers above fully cited).  Lefty journalism is only fun after all when you can selectively attack sources.  Behold the utter nihilism of the left – available at a progressive website near you.

This is bluster, although it’s nice to see my somewhat obscure blog being bracketed with Media Matters, and fun to see it cited by a best-selling author, even though I don’t care for his view of the world (that must be my “utter nihilism”, I suppose). Of course I don’t “despise” the military and I’ve never written anything which suggests I do. And I’m happy to concede that it’s possible that Omar has been captured and that the letter is a fake; I certainly don’t know anything more about Mullah Omar’s whereabouts or circumstances than any other member of the general public – and neither does Instaputz: the point is the information from NATO via the NY Daily News, not how many bloggers are commenting on it or their political perspectives.

But, as I wrote above, it’s now nearly three months since Thor’s original post, and if the story is accurate, it is extraordinary that no details have leaked out and that the only named person on record as having heard about it from a first hand source is a conservative thriller writer with links to virulent anti-Islam activists like Pamela Geller. My lack of “military, intelligence, COIN, PsyOps or I.O. knowledge” and Thor’s self-proclaimed expertise in such matters is neither here nor there.

Also, no-one is currently “desperate to smear Breitbart”: over the past week the man has destroyed his own credibility with very little assistance from critics.

Documentary on Child Witchcraft Confessions in South Africa

The Sowetan reports on a television documentary airing in South Africa about witchcraft accusations, entitled Troubled Souls and part of a strand called Special Assignment. According to the programme’s website:

Witchcraft accusations are still rife in South Africa, but something must be quite worrying when these are increasingly driven by the church.

A further blurb adds:

This week’s Special Assignment investigates two churches in Limpopo, which proudly claim that children can also be demon possessed and be used in witchcraft activities. In some instances, teenagers themselves do say that they used to fly on planes and go through windows as part of their witchcraft activities. How damaging can this be to children and are these churches a law unto themselves?

According to the Sowetan, the programme claims that certain churches are “widely distributing recorded confessions on witchcraft made by children.” In particular, the report mentions “the New Generation Church in Lenting village”, which 

…provides shelter to adults and children, many of whom are ill.

The founder and leader of the church, Pastor Bertha Mphahlele, says she wants to deliver people, including children, who are bound by evil spirits.

The church has a basic website here; although it mentions “evil spirits” and “deliverance”, the emphasis appears to be on practical assistance, and there is no mention of witches. The pastor – also known as “Pastor M.B. Mphahlele” – does not appear to have links with any other church.

Confessions of witchcraft by children are considered in the recent UNICEF report which I blogged on yesterday; in 2008 I blogged on a Presbyterian pastor in Cameroon who gets teenage girls to confess to causing disasters through witchcraft, and I noted a case from Nigeria last year.

(Hat tip: Bulldada Newsblog)

UNICEF Report Highlights African Child Witchcraft Stigmatisation

 “Pastors are important opinion leaders and have considerable influence over child witchcraft accusations.”

UNICEF has published a new report by anthropologist Aleksandra Cimpric on the problem of children being stigmatised as witches in Africa. The report is nuanced and balanced, and it surveys the reasons for the increasing number of accusations in various contexts. A range of socio-economic factors and religious factors are considered, in particular the transformation of traditional beliefs in new and often dysfunctional circumstances.

The significance of localised forms of Christianity is noted:

Churches, especially those belonging to the Pentecostal and prophetic movement (charismatic, revivalist, etc.), play an important role in the diffusion and legitimization of fears related to witchcraft, and in particular, child witches. The pastor?prophet is an important figure in the process of accusing children of witchcraft, by effectively validating the presence of a “witchcraft spirit”. Pentecostalists, for example, present their faith as a form of divine armour against witchcraft, and they participate actively in the fight against Evil that is incarnated through witchcraft.

Helen Ukpabio (who has targeted this blog, as I previously wrote about here) gets a mention:

…a number of pastor?prophets, including women, have found their calling in the anti?witch hunt, as is the case with Prophet Helen Ukpabio in Nigeria. She founded the Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries, whose primary goal has become the detection and deliverance of child witches. For these pastor?prophets, “detecting” child witches brings not only money, but also a certain social status and popularity that draws new members and “clients”, and leads to yet more income. Accusations against children therefore form part of this vicious circle of the prophets’ “business” and their status.

There is also a discussion of the efforts of Stepping Stones Nigeria and of CRARN:

SSN and CRARN’s projects have a two?pronged approach: to improve understanding of witchcraft through awareness?raising, and to protect, support and reintegrate children accused of witchcraft. Despite failing to bring down the number of accusations against children – a long?term effort – prevention efforts within families and communities, and setting up education facilities will no doubt help to reduce accusations. Aware of the harmful influence of certain churches, they also lobby to regulate the activities of certain pastors.

These organisations have come under sustained attack from Ukpabio’s followers, and she has sought to have their hostel for stigmatised children shut down.

However, the report also hightlights that pastors could be a positive force:

Negotiation and mediation consists of a dialogue between pastors, families, children accused of witchcraft and organizations defending children’s rights. Pastors are important opinion leaders and have considerable influence over child witchcraft accusations. In situations where legal and rights arguments are largely ignored, religious arguments could prove to be more effective.

Interestingly, the report also notes that traditional healers are also responsible for making accusations against children:

A number of traditional healers, or traditional doctors, called nganga in Central Africa, or inyanga or sangoma in South Africa, also claim to be able to combat the occult forces of the invisible world. In the same way as the pastors and prophets, traditional healers take advantage of the ever?present witchcraft discourse. In addition to healing “natural” illnesses with medicinal plants (hence the title, médecin traditionnel), they also offer to heal “witchcraft?related” illnesses. Moreover, they also have the gift of clairvoyance, which enables them to detect witches.

Muslim areas, by contrast, are less affected:

Certain writers believe the difference stems from the ability to translate their religious message. The translation of the Bible into the local language was a priority for early ministers and priests… In contrast with Christian practice, Islam considers Arabic to be a sacred language and has rejected any attempt at translating religious texts into local languages. “Whoever wants to praise God,” comment Christine Henry and Emmanuelle Kadya Tall, “must do it in Arabic, and submit to learning verses at a Koranic school”… In contrast, by putting sacred texts within everyone’s reach, Christianity has facilitated the successful localization of its message and led to the creation of authentic African movements and churches.

Another possible reason is the difference in the perception of Evil in each of the religions. Witchcraft is able to integrate itself so well within Christian discourse because it has been personified and associated with the Devil or Satan…. While it should be acknowledged that in Islam there is reference to a satanic force, it is not attributed to a single figure who personifies Evil.

Geert Wilders Announces New Group: Few Details, Lots of Headlines

As is being widely reported, Geert Wilders has announced his intention to create a new anti-Islamic group, since presumably there’s not enough of those around just now. A report in the Nederlands Dagblad appears to have the most backgroun detail. It’s to be called the “International Freedom Alliance” (according to some reports, the ” Geert Wilders International Freedom Alliance”) and it will promote a “Jewish- Christian- humanist” constitution. He’s going to visit five countries, “the United States, Canada , Britain , Germany and France”, and – this should make all the difference – set up a website.

Further (this is a tidied-up Google translation):

…Wilders said he would be “only one of many founders “. What other anti-Islam activists are behind the initiative, he will not say: “I hope to announce in December”.

Wilders suggested the grouping for the first time  in early 2009. A conference in Israel on this subject was subsequently canceled… “In Israel, elections were being held then. It was not practical.”

Links with “Danish politician Pia Kjaersgaard and Italian Umberto Bossi” are mentioned, although the report notes that that their countries are not included in his list of five. Although this may look like a vehicle for Wilders (assuming its anything more than just a publicity stunt), he assures us that “It is not Freedom Party International”, but a wider umbrella.

Wilders’ attempts at a “Christian-humanist” anti-Islamic front have not been entirely successful. As I blogged here at the time, back in March Wilders backed out from attending the Los Angeles premiere of a documentary about him made by the Christian Action Network, after it became impossible to downplay the fact that CAN’s director, Martin Mawyer, was an abusive homophobe (The event’s organisers, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, quickly tried to limit the damage: they cancelled the screening and purported not to have known about Mawyer’s virulent anti-gay views).

(Hat tip: Unite Against Fascism)

Controversial Preacher Seeks to Establish “Outreach Center” Near Ground Zero

A new player has stepped into the controversy over a proposed Islamic Centre close to Ground Zero in New York. Charisma reports:

A Florida evangelist is responding to efforts to build a multimillion-dollar mosque two blocks from Ground Zero with plans to open a religious center of his own.

Bill Keller (pictured), host of the evangelistic website Liveprayer.com, said his 9/11 Christian Center near Ground Zero will begin holding Sunday prayer meetings Sept. 5. The services will be held at a hotel in downtown New York until Jan. 1, when the center moves a permanent site. The facility will be open daily and will house a prayer chapel. Local ministers also will lead regular outreach ministry.

“I was in prayer and God said, ‘Listen, if the Muslims can build a temple to their false god at Ground Zero, why can’t there be a place dedicated to the true God of the Bible on that same area?'” said Keller, whose website claims 2.4 million subscribers. “Rather than a [protest] event we’re going to have an ongoing work of God right there because the Bible says you combat the darkness with the light.”

Keller has a special new website with further details:

SPECIAL MEETINGS FOR THE 9-11 CHRISTIAN CENTER WILL BE HELD THIS SATURDAY, JULY 17th IN NEW YORK CITY AND NORWALK, CT. I WILL BE FLYING INTO NEW YORK THIS WEEKEND TO HOLD SPECIAL PRAYER AND INFORMATIONAL MEETINGS FOR THE NEW 9-11 CHRISTIAN CENTER AT GROUND ZERO THIS COMING SATURDAY, JULY 17th. WE WILL MEET AT THE EMBASSY SUITES NEW YORK, 102 NORTH END AVENUE, IN THEIR WALL STREET ROOM AT 11AM. I WILL ALSO BE CONDUCTING A PRAYER AND INFORMATIONAL MEETING AT THE HOME OF DAN AND KIM GALLO… THE MEETINGS SHOULD LAST APX 1 HOUR. IF YOU ARE WITHIN A FEW HOURS OF EITHER OF THESE LOCATIONS, PLEASE PRAY ABOUT ATTENDING AND SEEING HOW THE LORD MIGHT USE YOU IN THIS INCREDIBLE OPPORTUNITY!

(Dan Gallo and Kim Gallo are associated with a missionary organisation called The Word at Work)

Keller – dubbed the “Dr Phil of Prayer”-  is an old-school fundamentalist fire-and-brimstone man, and his Liveprayer.com is wonderfully Landoveresque; here’s a peek:

Keller lists a number of reasons why Obama is an “enemy of God”, including his support for “deviant sexual choices”. But Keller has a long list of things he objects to:

Mormonism:

a vote for Mitt Romney is a vote for Satan

plus:

I could care less what [Glenn] Beck chooses to believe, but I do care that he lies to people by stating he is a Christian when a person who believes in the lies of the Mormon cult is no more a Christian than a Muslim is. Most appalling are prominent Christians who have sold out the faith to associate with Beck, more worried about what financial gain they will get from that association than helping him lead ignorant souls to hell for following his cult’s beliefs.

(That’s a rebuke to Beck’s “Pastors and Preachers” Panel of John Hagee, David Barton, Ralph Reed, and others)

Judaism:

During his 2005 trial for child molestation, instead of turning to Christ for strength, [Michael Jackson] turned to a cult I have exposed and talked about, Kaballah which was popularized by singer Madonna, signified by the “red string” bracelet he wore throughout the trial. He had during his life several high profile spiritual advisors, Orthodox Jew Rabbi Shmuley Boteach...

New Agers:

 …and New Age tool charlatan Deepak Chopra, a tool of satan I have warned you about in past Devotionals.

Bill O’Reilly:

As for Bill O’Reilly, I have commented on his warped theology numerous times over the years. Being a Catholic is not his problem. Not believing the Bible is the only Truth and that Jesus is the only way to be saved is. As I have spoken of in the past, he has bought into this lie from the pits of hell that “all good people will get to Heaven,” and that there are “many roads to God.” Hate to break this to O’Reilly but selling Factor gear and giving the money to charity isn’t going to get him to Heaven…

Etc. etc.

Directly after 9/11 itself, he expounded the same line that brought Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell into particular disrepute:

…I have shared in the past how I was very concerned that in the last 40 years we have squandered our blessing through the moral decay we have allowed this nation to undergo. The destruction of the family, abortion, compromising the Word of God, have led to the United States to be much like Israel in the Old Testament. I have warned you, and have no doubt that without dealing with these issues immediately, God will eventfully take His hand of protection and blessing off of our great nation, just like He did at times with Israel.

The Holy Spirit quickened in me this morning as I watched what happened, that “God allowed this to happen to our great nation.”

We are also exhorted to send Keller money, as a “stand against evil”.

According to WorldNetDaily,

“We are not starting a church,” Keller emphasized in an email to WND, “but this will be an evangelistic center reaching out to people who are searching, looking for hope and answers in their life.”

“The mission is simple,” Keller further explains on the center’s website. “Have a place at Ground Zero where people can come to hear the real, uncompromised Truth right from God’s Word and find the only true hope there is, faith in Jesus Christ. We will combat the lies of this world and Islam with the Truth. We will combat the hatred of this world and Islam with love. We will combat the violence of this world and Islam with peace. Finally, we will combat eternal death this world and Islam brings with life everlasting!”

For some reason, he doesn’t feel the need to make clear that “the lies of this world” include Judaism and Mormonism, among much else.

Of course, Keller is a clownish publicity-seeker, and most people will find his attempt to associate himself with Ground Zero (expressed with incredible vulgarity as “THIS INCREDIBLE OPPORTUNITY!”)  to be profoundly distasteful – after all, he must believe that most of those who died in the attack are now in Hell.

One wonders what those who have put so much energy into trying to persuade us that the proposed Islamic Centre should be banned as a place of hate will have to say…

UPDATE: “Princessxxx” notes that Keller was profiled by Rachel Maddow last year, highlighting his “birther” activism.

(Hat tip: Bulldada Newsblog. Also, several links came via Right Wing Watch)