Helen Ukpabio: Spiritual Lawfare

From the British Humanist Association:

The British Humanist Association (BHA) and Witchcraft and Human Rights Information Network (WHRIN) are being sued by the wealthy evangelical preacher and ‘witch hunter’ Helen Ukpabio who has dubbed herself a ‘Lady Apostle’. Mrs Ukpabio claims to have expertise in identifying children and adults who are possessed with witchcraft spirits and in how they can be ‘delivered’ from those spirits. Her lawyers have informed the BHA and WHRIN that she is launching a legal case against them due to their criticism of her teachings and methods.

…Her legal case against the BHA is based on Mrs Ukpabio’s stating that she wrote that a child ‘under the age of two’ who is ‘possessed with black, red and vampire witchcraft spirits’ can be identified by features such as s/he ‘screams at night, cries, is always feverish, suddenly deteriorates in health, puts up an attitude of fear, and may not feed very well.’ Her teachings are to the effect that babies under the age of two who exhibit signs of illness or standard, entirely normal childhood behaviour (such as crying, not feeding well, screaming at night, having a fever) may be possessed by vampire witchcraft spirits. She also teaches that children who stamp their feet may be ‘trying to make signs… to communicate with gnomes, the witchcraft spirit in charge of the earth.’ Ukpabio claims that the BHA misrepresented her by saying that she ascribed these symptoms to Satanic possession and hence has damaged her reputation and livelihood to the sum of half a billion pounds.

…Gary Foxcroft, Executive Director of WHRIN, commented, ‘This court case is the latest in a long line of unsuccessful legal actions that Helen Ukpabio has pursued against me and other human rights activists. Previous cases were thrown out of court in Nigeria but this time she is looking to take action in a UK court. I have no doubt that a judge in the UK will reach the same conclusion as those in Nigeria.’

(Actually, Ukpabio doesn’t just “dub herself” an apostle; she was consecrated in a special ceremony in 2010, which I wrote about here).

I discussed Ukpabio’s previous court cases here and here; her targets have included the actress Sophie Okonedo, because she narrated the Channel 4 documentary about child-witch accusations in Nigeria that brought Ukpabio to wide international attention in 2008.

As far as I am aware, the largest libel payout in British legal history remains the £1.5 million that was awarded to Lord Aldington in 1989 – and that was in an age before measures were taken to prevent excessive awards. Ukpabio’s claim is more than 300 times that amount, and if successful would be most sensational libel award in British (and perhaps world) legal history. So, which distinguished libel specialist is Ukpabio using? Carter-Ruck, perhaps? Or Schillings, maybe?

The Independent has the details:

In a letter sent to the BHA’s lawyers last Thursday, solicitors acting for the controversial preacher accused the charity of causing “members of the public to regard our client as an evil woman” with the damage to her reputation resulting in a “huge loss of incomes to her churches”. The letter, from London-based Graceland Solicitors, claims Mrs Ukpadio is “a Christian leader of international repute known and respected in many countries of the world”.

Graceland has an office above a beauty salon in Woolwich, and also shop-front premises in Lewisham – an image of the Lewisham chambers can be seen here. According to the company’s website, it was founded in 2006 and specialises in “Immigration Matters, Housing, Employments [sic], Family / Divorce, Crime, Traffic Offences”. The site does not name the actual solicitors at the offices, although other sites indicate that the proprietor is a certain Adolph Okoro.

Putin Confidant Vladimir Yakunin and Helga Zepp-LaRouche Attend “Cultural Roundtable” In China

Vladimir Yakunin, who runs Russia’s railways, is currently banned from many countries in the west due to his membership of Putin’s inner circle. No such trouble in China, though:

On the morning of 24th August, “One belt one road” cultural roundtable conference hosted by China Song Ching Ling Foundation and Lanzhou University opened. Nearly a hundred of experts and scholars from 21 countries including Russia, the United States, Japan, India, Thailand, Iran, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Austria, Norway, Australia attended. They expressed their views on the way to mobilize the local organizations and colleges and universities in order to promote the exchange and cooperation among countries along the silk roads and reached common ideas towards a peaceful development, exchange, mutual learning, cooperation and win-win situation among the related countries. 

…Experts and professors at home and abroad delivered keynote speeches after the opening ceremony. … ‘Economic Belt Across the Eurasian’ by Yakunin, the president of JSC Russian Railways, chairman and founder of public forum of World Civilization…

Yakunin’s “World Public Forum Dialogue of Civilizations” has featured on this blog a number of times;  it has made links with an extraordinary array of top-tier academics, religious leaders, and emeritus politicians (along with some rather more eccentric figures), and it devotes its energies to “dialogue” and promoting a “multi-polar world”. For some reason, the views and analysis it promotes always seems to coincide with Russian interests.

Yakunin’s presence in China appears to be part of an ongoing association; a WPF event in Rhodes in 2012 included a delegation of Chinese academics, again organized through the Soong Ching Ling Foundation.

Among those present at Lanzhou, curiously, was Helga Zepp-LaRouche, wife of Lyndon LaRouche. According to LaRouchePac:

Helga Zepp-LaRouche, the founder and head of the Schiller Institute in Germany, was a significant participant in an international conference on the New Silk Road that was held Aug. 25 and 26 at Lanzhou University in Gansu province in northwest China, on the subject of the New Silk Road.

…Mrs. Zepp-LaRouche addressed the conference on the subject of “The Silk Road in the 21st century is the cornerstone of peace and order.”

Zepp-LaRouche’s presence may have been facilitated by Yakunin; she has spoken at World Public Forum events, and in 2009 LaRouchePac claimed that Yakunin had endorsed and promoted Lyndon LaRouche’s economic views:

Vladimir Yakunin, the CEO of Russian Railways and a long-time associate of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, said in an October 16 interview with the Baltic Information Agency (BaltInfo), that American economist Lyndon LaRouche’s warnings of a systemic global crisis prepared him and his company for what has happened during the past three years.

…In February of this year, Yakunin took the same message to a conference at the London School of Economics, where he again named LaRouche as the “very rare” economist who predicted the collapse of the world financial bubble.

… LaRouche and his wife, Schiller Institute founder Helga Zepp-LaRouche, were speakers at the 7th annual Rhodes Forum, held last week.

FBI Files On Paul Crouch Prompt Sensationalised Reports

Muckrock has posted FBI files relating to the late televangelist Paul Crouch:

Requested by long-time MuckRock user RobbyD, the file reveals the laundry list of Crouch’s activities the FBI was monitoring or even investigating. Though the file is heavily redacted, it’s intact enough to describe the FBI’s investigations into some of his exploits, whose findings are mostly based on a host of phone calls to and from Trinity Broadcasting Network with some pretty sketchy players.

The files show that in 1997 the Italian Revenue Service (the GDF) was investigating Teletevere, TBN’s Italian operation, over “possible violation of the Italian Mammi Law which prohibits majority foreign ownership of Italian broadcasting companies” and “the legality of religious broadcasts promoting healing powers followed by the solicitation of donations from viewers”. The FBI provided the GDF with various background details, including the claim that an apparent subsidiary, called CHLC, had allegedly made false financial statements in the early 1980s relating to “pre-billing” (Muckrock incorrectly suggests this was revealed as part of the GDF’s investigation).

Further, however:

The file mentions phone contact between TBN and the Sons of Italy Lodge in the Bronx, NY. You might be thinking that this is pretty shaky evidence to suggest Crouch was in contact with the mob, but considering the fact that the phone record was included in a subsection of the infamous Bronx mobster Vincent “Chin” Gigante’s FBI file, it’s pretty clear that the FBI was drawing some kind of connection.

MuckRock links this rather obscure and tenuous connection to Gigante with TBN’s business affairs in Italy, although there’s nothing in the original documents to justify doing so. But that’s just the start of it:

Numerous sections of the document mention TBN’s phone communications with an unnamed agent who was “recruited by the East German Intelligence Service.” The file later describes that the man believed to have been recruited by East Germany was a New York attorney who called TBN repeatedly between April and September of 1986… Other sketchy phone calls that went in and out of TBN over the years were from a Hungarian computer programmer whom TBN sponsored for U.S. citizenship, and phone calls from a number in Omaha to the TBN line which were documented in a separate FBI narcotics transfer investigation. 

We don’t know who made or took these calls at TBN, or what they were about. The New York attorney’s day job would have brought him into innocent contact with hundreds of individuals and businesses – does that mean they were all involved with “East German spying”?

One document provided to Italian authorities for background notes a number of subjects, and includes the following:

199H-LA-3499: Paul Crouch is the subject of this case which is an IT-PLO investigation. [REDACTED] was was initiated 8/11/87 based on reporting that Paul Crouch, along with Reverend Earl Paulk, [REDACTED] and Oral Roberts, were anti-Semitic and white supremacists. Crouch and the others were supposedly receiving funds from the PLO to “run guns.” The closing serial for this case is serial 6 and is dated 10/8/87.

A handwritten note under this adds: “NOT UPLOADED! NO NEW LEADS”! The second page of the document adds that

TBS [sic] was also the subscriber of a number provided in response to a Balitmore airtel dated 12/16/85, captioned ISLAMIC EDUCATION CENTER (IEC); IT-IRAN.

This particular detail seems to have been mentioned because the IEC was of interest to the FBI in 1985 for some other reason (apparently to do with Iran); the Muckrock article links this to the alleged “gun running”, although again the source itself doesn’t do so.

But the whole story lacks credibility. How exactly would TBN “run guns”? And the “anti-Semitic and white supremacist” accusation is completely off-base; I expect the anonymous accuser was inspired by an outdated and stereotypical view of white fundamentalist preachers derived from the likes of Gerald L.K. Smith. It’s unsustainable in all three cases, and Crouch in particular was an ardent Christian Zionist who strongly supported Israel.

It’s frequently intriguing and informative to see private files that reveal how the authorities gathered intelligence on a public figure; but the temptation to get carried away and sensationalise ought to be resisted. MuckRock‘s piece has also been picked up by Raw Story, under the headline “FBI Files Link Christian TV’s Paul Crouch to Italian Mob, Palestinian Gun Trafficking.”

WND Finds Another Gaza “Miracle” Claim

From WND again:

ISRAELI SOLDIER TESTIFIES TO MIRACLE IN GAZA

One of the many Israeli soldiers who have been dispatched to Gaza over the years to eliminate rocket-launching equipment and lower the threat of destruction to Israeli citizens has testified to the miracles he witnessed.

Such as a day of firefights, explosions and terror, with the only resulting injury a scratch that was handled with a baby wipe.

The testimony comes from Ariel Siegelman, who was with an Israel campaign a few years ago.

The same issue, arose, however, in recent weeks in a conflict between Israel and Gaza that erupted when Hamas fighters in Gaza began a rocket attack on next-door Israel.

WND reported then that an operator of Israel’s Iron Dome missile-defense system said he personally witnessed the “hand of God” diverting an incoming rocket.

I discussed some background to that earlier report here: the “operator” was unnamed, his supposed quote was second-hand, and it’s not even clear that the second-hand source was authentic. The story came on the heels of a claim that Hamas had supposedly admitted that “the God of the Jews” is diverting its missiles (discussed here).

Siegelman’s “testimony”, which has been available online for several years, is of a rather more modest sort. He does not claim to have seen any kind of interruption of the natural order; rather, the “miracle” is his subjective interpretation of why it was that his unit was able to get in and out of Gaza without experiencing death or serious injury, and of why a “double rainbow” appeared as they were on their way out.

Siegelman also wrote about his experiences in a 2009 article for Colloquium, a journal published by the US Army/US Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center, in which he contrasted Israel’s failure in Lebanon with success in Gaza:

It is not good training, technology, or strategy that makes bullets miss their targets or causes your eye to notice a trip-wire. For those experiences, I have to thank the Big Guy upstairs. He and I became very close during those cold nights… The successes that we saw in Gaza resulted from a combination of an appropriate response to the new kind of enemy, a healthy Israeli attitude that fiercely guarded its men and its right to stop intolerable attacks against its people, and protection from the Almighty, which some people call “luck”.

Rick Joyner Warns of Global Pandemic: Advises Buying Water Filter that also Protects from Cancer

From Right Wing Watch:

On today’s “Prophetic Perspective on Current Events” broadcast, Rick Joyner warned his viewers that the rise of some sort of global pandemic (maybe Ebola or possibly bird flu) in the near future was inevitable and so they should be stockpiling food, water, and supplies… In particular, Joyner recommended that people stock up on water filters  – which they can buy through his website, of course – especially ones that can help users reduce the pH level in their bodies, which he says will make them immune to cancer.

Right Wing Watch notes that the medical claim about cancer is nonsense.

The broadcast is billed as being “about some of the world’s most pressing issues, including the Ebola epidemic and how to prepare for the days to come”. This is vintage Joyner; although he claims to receive special words of prophecy from God, his fearmongering warnings tend to follow the curve: after the Fukushima disaster, his dubious grasp of plate tectonics led him – and Jim Bakkerto warn that a similar disaster would very soon hit the west coast of the USA.

Water filters are listed on Joyner’s MorningStar Disaster Response page; he’s not selling them himself, but there’s a click-through to a company called Zeb Gear. Joyner’s site adds:

Zeb Gear is an excellent resource for any other high quality disaster preparedness items that your household might need… Should you choose to purchase any items from the Zeb Gear website, please use the code MSTAR when checking out.

However, the Zeb Gear website is down, and its social media presence appears to have fallen into disuse. An archived version of the website, though, shows that it sold a range of products ahead of “Economic Apocalypse” (“The amount of the U.S. dollar in circulation is skyrocketing. What does it mean for you?”) and “The Next Pandemic: Disaster without Boundaries”.  The owners – Brian and Laura Kunzie – have appeared in a National Geographic documentary series on Doomsday Preppers, and they have a particular concern over bird flu. There’s no indication that they themselves have ever claimed that the filters can provide protection from cancer.

Joyner’s website shows that the company also had, or has, a presence at the Heritage Grand Hotel in Fort Mill – this property is owned by Joyner’s ministry, and was restored from the ruins of Bakker’s doomed Heritage USA project. As Joyner notes in his broadcast, Bakker also has a sideline in survival products.

WND Ponders “The Mystery of the Shemitah”

New silliness from WND:

SHOCKER! ECONOMIC CRASHES LINKED TO BIBLE PATTERN
‘Harbinger’ author’s new book unlocks ‘The Mystery of the Shemitah’

The Harbinger is by Jonathan Cahn, and the book  interprets 9/11 through the lens of how the Hebrew Bible treats ancient Israelite history. Cahn is a Messianic Rabbi, meaning that he and his congregation are believers in Jesus of Jewish heritage and culture, and for many years he has claimed that his background gives him special insight into esoteric “Hebrew Mysteries” in the Bible and such.

Cahn’s subject may seem obscure, but the Harbinger has been heavily promoted in evangelical and conservative circles (here’s John Boehner posing with a copy): the notion that America is under divine judgement appeals to conservatives who dislike current trends in American society, while the idea that American history can be interpreted by applying a template from ancient Israel is confirmation that the USA is “special”.

The Mystery of the Shemitah is selling the same product as his earlier works:

The eight greatest postwar economic crashes are all mysteriously connected to a biblical Sabbath year pattern known in Hebrew as “the Shemitah,” reveals a book about to be released by the author of “The Harbinger,” the bestselling Christian book of the last three years.

…Among the stunning findings of the author who found jaw-dropping links between the 9/11 terrorist attack and an otherwise obscure biblical passage, Isaiah 9:10, is that 100 percent of the worst U.S. economic calamities since World War II are all lined to the “Shemitah,” the biblical Sabbath year, its wake or the biblical month of Tishri in which the “Shemitah” falls.

Here’s an example of his method:

In 1931, a solar eclipse took place on Sept. 12 – the end of a “Shemitah” year. Eight days later, England abandoned the gold standard, setting off market crashes and bank failures around the world. It also ushered in the greatest monthlong stock market percentage crash in Wall Street history.

This shows that he’s simply looking for anything that might fit in the years he thinks are special. Thus the UK abandoning the gold standard is a sign of “economic crashes linked to Bible pattern”, yet for some reason we don’t have to take account of the Wall Street Crash of 1929. The fact that Wall Street’s nadir was actually in July 1932 isn’t a problem either – he simply finds an event in September 1931 that might plausibly be connected, and decides arbitrarily that this the origin of the chain of events (1)

In other words: Confirmation Bias 101.

Incidentally, the solar eclipse which the article also mentions was a partial eclipse that was visible in Alaska and Russia. It’s not clear what this has to do with anything, but the next “Shemitah” year is 2015, and  WND is also promoting a complementary theory about the apocalyptic and Biblical significance of “blood moons”:

Is Cahn predicting doom and gloom on Sept. 13, 2015? He’s careful to avoid a prediction, saying, “In the past, this ushered in the worst collapses in Wall Street history. What will it bring this time? Again, as before, the phenomenon does not have to manifest at the next convergence. But, at the same time, and again, it is wise to take note.”

…Cahn also notes the fact that 2014 and 2015 are marked by a series of blood moons – a pattern that began on Passover 2014 and will conclude on the Feast of Tabernacles in 2015, as discovered by Pastor Mark Biltz, author of “Blood Moons” and the inspiration for a documentary of the same name.

Blitz’s theory has also been promoted by John Hagee, and I discussed it here.

The Mystery of the Shemitah will be published by Frontline, an imprint of Stephen Strang’s Charisma House. Strang also published the Harbinger, and in 2012 Strang and Cahn appeared together on Jim Bakker’s television show to explain that the book itself is the result of divine provenance. Meanwhile, WND produced a tie-in DVD, called The Isaiah 9:10 Judgment, and a number of other WND religious products are branded as “By the Creators of the No. 1 Faith Film The Isaiah 9:10 Judgment”.

And this autumn, Cahn and Bakker will be taking part in a tour of the Holy Land with WND editor Joseph Farah.

Note

(1) However, it’s not actually at all clear that the events are connected in this way: I’ve taken a quick look at a few economic history books, and there’s no sign that the UK leaving the gold standard in 1931 should be understood in catastrophic terms – quite the opposite, in fact. The gold standard is, though, something of a fetish for certain US conservatives.

David Oyedepo Reportedly Banned from UK

From This Is Africa:

The UK Home Office has barred multi-millionaire Nigerian preacher David Oyedepo from entering the United Kingdom, according to sources.

The source is someone “at the Muritala Mohammed International Airport”, who appears to have provided a photograph of a Home Office “Airline Alert” issued by the British Deputy High Commission in Lagos. The text of the image is blurred, but seems that airlines have been warned that they face a fine of £2,000 if they transport Oyedepo to the UK, despite the fact that he holds a “Category C” ten-year visa.

There has been some speculation over whether the document is genuine; however, Oyedepo was known to have been due to travel to his son’s franchise church in Dartford over this weekend, and there is no sign of him on the church’s Twitter feed, @WINNERSLONDON. There are, though, photos of and Tweets about his wife, Faith Oyedepo, who has come to Dartford.

The apparent banning of Oyedepo is something of a surprise: he’s made regular visits to the UK without attracting controversy or adverse attention (indeed, a few years ago I saw his face advertised on the side of a taxi in central London). However, in 2012 he was the subject of a negative profile in the Daily Mail, entitled “Laughing on his private jet – the £93m pastor accused of exploiting British worshippers“. As well as dwelling on the controversy of the “prosperity gospel”, the article noted:

The Mail on Sunday has seen video footage of Mr Oyedepo striking a woman across the face and condemning her to hell after she said she was a ‘witch for Jesus’. He attacked her in a Winners’ Chapel superchurch, believed to be in Nigeria, in front of worshippers. A separate video shows him saying: ‘I slapped a witch here last year!’

I wrote about the incident here. Oyedepo’s ministry is not focused on looking for supposed “witches” in the same way that Helen Ukpabio is obsessed with the subject, but it was nonetheless troubling and indicated that he’s a part of the problem of harmful “witchcraft” accusations.

If the This is Africa report is accurate, I expect Oyedepo is being kept out under a catch-all “not conductive to the public good” provision. The Canadian faith healer Todd Bentley was similarly kept out of the UK in 2012.

Laurie Penny Describes Photo Intrusion Threat From Blogger

Laurie Penny‘s new book Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution (Bloomsbury) includes an account of an unpleasant encounter at a conference, where she says she was approached by “a bored-looking man in an overstuffed Marks and Spencer’s suit, one of the jaundiced breed of lifelong political wonks who begin to look middle-aged at around twenty-two”:

The wonk tells me that a gossip site has pictures of me, and unless I’m nice to him, unless I ‘handle the situation’, he’s going to use them. Pictures of me at college with my boobs out, kissing another girl… I’d better watch out, because there are a lot of people who think I ought to be taken down a peg.

…The man who sent this message is the sort of scum that rises to the surface of the cybersphere…. He is the blogger the government fears, the one with dirt on everyone…

Much has been written over the past couple of years – particularly in Britain – about how trolling has made social media an intimidatory and unpleasant environment for individuals – particularly women – who want to add their voice to matters of public interest. Often the “troll” is simply a bully acting out a fantasy of empowerment through abuse and hurtful comments, although “trolling” can also be deployed as a rational – albeit dishonourable – strategy to suppress particular perspectives and information.

The threat to engage in personal intrusion for no legitimate reason is a similar phenomenon where twisted and debased human instincts work in tandem with a corrupt ideological motivation: the person with the “dirt” feels empowered, in control, and superior; but he or she is also wants to discredit and silence certain voices. Social media trolling is something new, but the threat of intrusion to humiliate and discredit is an old malaise in British media that has carried over onto the internet.

In particular, I’m reminded of Peter Jukes’ experience, as described in his own new book Beyond Contempt: The Inside Story of the Phone Hacking Trial. Shortly before the book was published, Peter was approached by the Daily Mail and  by “Media Guido” of the Guido Fawkes blog with the suggestion he had lied about having a mortgage in order to get crowdfunding through “false pretenses”. The Mail journalist told him that “he’d been handed an anonymised email with personal financial details and a separate piece of paper with my email address and mobile phone number.”

Peter dealt with the non-story easily enough (“I explained to him calmly that there was no mortgage on my property because I had sold it two weeks previously. I could easily prove I had quite a sizeable mortgage until then”), and he observed (links added):

My minor brush with press “investigation” has made me more attuned to the acute and systematic intrusions into personal privacy by News of the World. The threat to me was minor and nothing was published. But thousands of people were targeted by [Glenn] Mulcaire’s hacking, and hundreds of relationships, friendships, marriages, badly damaged by the cruel publication of private secrets. As Nick Davies pointed out in Hack Attack, this has nothing to do with a free press or exposing public interest scandals. It’s a display of power and bullying designed to intimidate.

The threat of intrusion can certainly be found within the domain of the inadequate “basement troll”, in stalking mode; but it’s also the method and practice of, as Laurie Penny puts it, “the sort of scum that rises to the surface of the cybersphere”. Anyone who stands up to it – or t he politicians who collude with it – risks being foully smeared or “investigated”.

And to return to the subject of private photographs of Penny, someone who apparently has some is Harry Cole (whom I previously wrote about here), also of the Guido Fawkes blog. As he wrote on Twitter in 2012:

Rick Warren Announces “All Africa Purpose Driven Church Continental Congress” For Rwanda

At the Washington Post, Joann Weiner asks “Does Rwanda’s economic prosperity justify president Kagame’s political repression?“:

In June this year, the United States expressed its deep concern about the arrest and disappearance of dozens of Rwandan civilians in Rwanda over the past two months… A month earlier, Human Rights Watch had identified 14 people who have been “forcibly disappeared” or missing in Rubavu, with state agents involved in at least eight of the cases. The New York Times ran a profile of Kagame a year ago titled “The Conscience of a Strongman” that noted Rwandan dissidents who call him a tyrant and accuse him of using questionable means to silence his critics.

However, Weiner notes that a survey of Rwandans last month found “trade, agriculture, and jobs, were far bigger concerns than corruption”. Also:

The American government, also, doesn’t seem too concerned about these issues. At the conclusion of the U.S.-Africa summit, Obama included Rwanda as one of six African countries in a new peacekeeping partnership with the United States… U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power recently said that civilians in war-torn areas trust Rwandan peacekeepers to protect them…

Someone else who’s apparently not “too concerned” is Rick Warren; Larry Ross Communications reports:

Warren is currently in Rwanda with leaders from more than 35 nations, including 31 African countries, Russia, China, India and the U.S. training Rwandan pastors on the principles of being a Purpose Driven Church and The PEACE Plan.

The training is preparing for an All Africa Purpose Driven Church Continental Congress to be held August 6-10, 2015 in Rwanda, which will bring together pastors and church leaders from all 54 African nations in conjunction with Rwanda Shima Imana, a Day of Thanksgiving to celebrate reconciliation and gratitude on the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide…

Warren emphasized that both the leadership training this week and the Congress in 2015 will emphasize reconciliation, with Rwandan leaders sharing their stories of forgiveness and healing following the 1994 genocide, which took the lives of 1 million Rwandans and left 1 million children orphaned over the course of 100 days.

“I believe the secret to Middle East peace is in Rwanda” Warren said during a press conference in Kigali on August 11. “World leaders should be studying Rwanda. This should be the model.”

The Christian Post has further details:

…The 12 pastors who serve on the Rwanda PEACE Plan Board of Directors joined Warren for today’s press conference along with eight of more than 25 leaders that serve as Master Trainers for PEACE.

“These men, whether you realize it or not, are world leaders,” Warren said. “What they are doing with churches in Rwanda is being watched by churches all around the world.”

The PEACE Plan works worldwide to Promote reconciliation, Equip servant leaders, Assist the poor, Care for the sick and Educate the next generation, through a massive effort to mobilize millions of Christians to combat the five global evil giants of spiritual emptiness, self-centered leadership, extreme poverty, pandemic disease and illiteracy/education, according to church officials. Since its founding, Saddleback has sent over 23,000 members to implement The PEACE Plan in all 197 nations of the world.

In the past, I’ve wondered if Warren might ever have to put a bit of critical distance between himself and President Paul Kagame, who first invited him into the country; it doesn’t look like it.

Four Ukrainian Pentecostals Killed By Pro-Russian Separatists

Story misreported by Voice of Russia to blame Ukraine

From the website of the evangelical Far East Broadcasting Company:

Many of you have prayed for the four young men who were recently captured by the pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine. We are deeply saddened to tell you that they were brutally beaten to death, simply for being Christians. These men volunteered for FEBC with zeal, passionately helping to spread the Gospel throughout Ukraine.

An accompanying video adds that “two were brothers”, and “one, a father of eight”; the video also says they had worked for FEBC “over the years”, suggesting that their association with FEBC may not have been current.

It appears that the story in fact refers to an incident that occurred in June, but which did not come to light until mid-July. A Ukrainian Christian media site called Baznica.com has some details (translated into English via Russia Religion News), under the headline “Ukrainian Pentecostal leaders martyred by Orthodox rebels”:

“It has been learned from our brothers from Donbass that two deacons of the Transfiguration of the Lord Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith (KhVE) of the city of Slaviansk died at the hand of separatists, as well as another two sons of the church’s pastor, Alexander Pavenko,” the senior bishops of the Church of Christians of Evangelical Faith of Ukraine, Mikhail Panochko, reported.

 On 8 June, after worship services, the so-called “militamen of the Donets People’s Republic” (DPR) broke into the premises of the Transfiguration of the Lord Church and declared that they were arresting deacons Vladimir Velichko and Viktor Bradarskii, as well as two adult sons of the senior pastor, Ruvim and Albert Pavenko. Obviously their goal was to seize Alexander Pavenko himself also, who fortunately at the moment was not in the premises. He managed to exit from the city along with young children.

The terrorists accused the Christians of crime against DPR, specifically, support of the Ukrainian army.

The bodies were found some time later; this site has a quote from Anton Geraschenko, an advisor to Ukraine’s Internal Affairs Minister:

“The Minister asked me to tell you about the burial we exhumed. There were bodies of two priests from Slavyansk and two sons of one of them. They were tortured and killed just for helping our soldiers and feeding them. So you, the whole country and the whole world will know about the terrorists’ monstrous savagery”.

These bodies belong to Ruvim and Albert –  two sons of the priest of Evangelic church “Metamorphosis” [sic – obviously “Transfiguration” is meant – RB] Alexander Pavlenko – and to two deacon of aforementioned church, Victor Brodarsky and Vladimir Velichko.

The site that provides this quote (including an embedded video of Geraschenko speaking) is called Stop Fake, and it complains that the Voice of Russia distorted Geraschenko’s words to make it falsely appear that the victims had been killed by “Ukrainian nationalists”; the site also thanks a blog run by a lawyer named Maxim Vasin for uncovering the Russian deception. Shamelessly, the Voice of Russia ran the story on 15 July as “Two Priests from Slavyansk Killed for Assisting Self-Defense Forces“.

A site called Religious Freedom Blog has some details of the funeral:

Yesterday, Pastor Peter Dudnyk wrote as follows on his page:

“Our brothers have been murdered… The funeral service is today. All the Evangelical churches of the city came together at the funeral service, canceling their regular worship services. They shot the brothers for believing in the Lord Jesus Christ. Lord, teach us to forgive those who cause us harm and to pray for those who hate us!”

There is also a Ukrainian article from the country’s Institute for Religious Freedom; both sites include photos from the service.

Clearly, there was some political context to the murders, and the four men were not killed for simply “being Christians.” However, the Russian Orthodox Church is the “official” religion of the self-styled “Donetsk People’s Republic”, and there are religious persecutions. In June, Human Rights Without Frontiers published an account of “Protestant and Greek Catholics persecuted by separatists in East Ukraine“, and there was an article on the subject by David Blair in the Daily TelegraphBlair noted a number of cases, such as that of Father Tikhon Kulbaka, a Greek-Catholic:

…Since the “People’s Republic” took over Donetsk, he has received a stream of threats.

His phone number and the address of his chapel have appeared on pro-Russian websites. He duly received two text messages reading: “Shut up you fat bitch. If you bark any more you will be found with a slit belly.”

Fr Kulbaka, 43, also favours a united Ukraine, but he believes “beyond any doubt” that his faith explains the threats…