Paul Play to Provoke Prosecution?

The UK National Theatre’s artistic director Nicholas Hynter warns in the Daily Telegraph that the new Incitement to Religious Hatred law might prevent the theatre from putting on a new play:

In the autumn, the National Theatre will mount a production of a major new play by Howard Brenton about St Paul. Or at least, we will if people who haven’t read it, but think they might be offended by it, do not succeed in persuading the Government that it falls foul of the new Bill on religious hatred…I will be very proud to put it on – but I am not sure I am prepared to do seven years inside for it…

Brenton first came to prominence in 1980 with The Romans in Britain, a play which commented (perhaps unsubtly) on the nature of colonialism with an explicit homosexual rape scene. The director, Michael Bogdanov, subsequently had to endure a private prosecution brought by Mary Whitehouse for “procuring an act of gross indecency”, although the case failed (this story, which was not without some farcical moments, was recently dramatized for Radio 4 by Mark Lawson in a play called The Third Soldier Holds His Thighs; the organisation founded by Whitehouse was not impressed)

Hytner’s current fearfulness is in contrast to a report in the same paper from back in February:

The National Theatre said yesterday that it would defy all attempts by religious pressure groups to censor its dramas as it unveiled a hard-hitting slate of plays for the next 12 months.

…Hytner refused yesterday to disclose any details of the new play. He admitted, however: “There may be Christians who don’t want to see the faith of St Paul examined by Howard Brenton. It does not conform to the absolute truth that fundamentalist Christians believe.”

Details about the play are still rather thin on the ground. However, Gore Vidal’s Live from Golgotha is still available from British bookshops, so whatever the problems of the new legislation I don’t think Hytner needs to worry too much in this particular case…

(Link from MediaWatchWatch)

Vice Versa

From the Jewish Telegraphic Agency:

A Palestinian youth who converted to Judaism reportedly enlisted in the Israeli military.

Amnon Yitzhak-Shachar, who was born Ayman Abu-Zubuch in the Gaza Strip town of Khan Younis, reported to Israel’s main draft office last week and was mobilized, Ma’ariv said Sunday. According to the newspaper, Yitzhak-Shachar would not mind serving in a combat unit and fight his former compatriots in Gaza.

Meanwhile, the AFP reports from Hebron:

With his tattoo of the Star of David hidden from view, Mohammed Al Mahadi prays to Allah in his new West Bank home near the radical Jewish settlement where he spent much of the last decade.

…The man then known as Mikhail Shirovsky moved to Israel soon after the Soviet authorities allowed Jews to emigrate in the 1980s…But an unlikely friendship with a Palestinian garage owner led him to first question his values, then to convert to Islam before marrying a Muslim wife from his native land.

BBC Profiles Sunday Adelaja


“My whole mission in the Ukraine is to impose God on the whole society.”

BBC Radio 4’s ongoing Crossing Continents documentary series looks this week at a pair of religion stories; the second segment of the programme introduces us to Pastor Sunday Adelaja of Kiev:

Pastor Sunday Adelaja arrived in the Ukraine from Nigeria on a Soviet student scholarship in 1993.

Twelve years later he is the head of the “GodEmbassy” [or “Embassy of God”], the largest evangelical church in Europe, with flock of 25,000 Ukrainians in Kiev, and churches in 32 countries around the world, all originating from Ukraine.

Adelaja (now 38 years old) claims that his church has baptised a million Ukrainians, and the segment begins with a baptismal service in the river Dnieper, where Prince Vladimir mass-baptised his citizens a thousand years ago. Adelaja has 700 Ukrainian pastors under him, with rehab centres and orphanages across the country. His congregation includes high-profile politicians, and he claims to receive a thousand new members a month. Plans are now underway for new a $10-20m building that would be like a “sports palace”.

Presenter Julian Pettifer also encounters a couple of critics: a disaffected ex-member named only as “Edgar”, and a grumpy Orthodox priest called “Father Alexander”. Edgar suggests (with the help of some leading questions) that Adelaja is appealing to an authoritarian nostalgia left over from Communist days, and claims that he lives in luxury; Father Alexander dismisses the GodEmbassy as “nothing more than showbusiness”. He also charges Adelaja with misusing religious freedom “to actually take away people’s freedom”, and notes the church’s emphasis on tithing 10% of income.

Pettifer puts these accusations to Adelaja, who heartily laughs them off. His church members are not “zombies”, he tells us, and he lives on modest means. He sees his teaching on money as being about empowerment, and he rejects the Prosperity teaching found in some US churches; indeed, he says he has even preached against it in Nigeria. He took the “showbusiness” complaint as a compliment.

Obviously, such a short introduction can only scratch the surface. Although Edgar complains that members are encouraged to vote in a particular way, the political dimension is more or less completely absent. This is a shame; as I blogged just recently, the officially recognised Pentecostal head in Russia has warned of “outsiders” encouraging politicisation, while Ted Haggard boasted to Jeff Sharlet at Harpers that evangelicals connected with his Colorado New Life church had been foremost participants in the recent “Orange Revolution”. Haggard and Adelaja actually collaborated on a CD for Americn Christians on the subject, which was published by Focus on the Family, and Haggard wrote in Ministries Today that:

Mr. Yushchenko is in favor of democratic reform in Ukraine and had recently contacted [Pastor] Sunday requesting input on how to structure the relationship between the evangelical church and his would-be administration. He recognized it is evangelicals who most ardently embrace, promote and protect the core ideas of freedom and personal responsibility.

…Acutely aware that an entire generation of Ukrainian adults knows only atheism, totalitarian government control and state-planned economics, Mr. Yushchenko has been deliberate to connect with those in his country who embrace freedom and have a platform to persuade others. The significance of Mr. Yushchenko’s overture to the Ukrainian evangelical community cannot be overstated. The fact that this reformer is turning to the church for counsel bespeaks the influence God’s people are wielding in Ukraine.

ASSIST Ministries noted in May that the new president’s Personal Adviser, Leonid Chernovetskiy, is a member of the Embassy of God.

The Embassy of God’s website can be seen here; on one page Adelaja can be seen hobnobbing with a couple of other friends of Haggard: Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu. Further details about Adelaja are available from this site.

UPDATE: Always nice to get a bit of inside perspective: missionary David Tinney, who knows Adelaja, has left a comment.

Christian Zionist “Worried” about Palestinian Christians

From Agape Press (links added):

A religious liberty advocate is worried because the influence of Christians in some parts of the Middle East is on the decline. According to William Murray of the Washington, DC-based Religious Freedom Coalition, this fact makes for a difficult situation for born-again believers and subjects their children to especially bad conditions.

…Recently, the RFC chairman has expressed concern over the fact that the power and presence of Christians in the Middle East is waning. His organization has noted that Christians are fleeing oppression in Bethlehem and the rest of the West Bank in ever-increasing numbers, while those that remain behind under the hostile regime face intimidation, religious repression, and the ongoing threat of violence.

Murray feels the city of Bethlehem is a perfect example of the Church’s diminishing influence in the region. “The birthplace of Jesus Christ is fast becoming a Christian theme park operated by Muslim businessmen,” he says. “Once 85 percent populated by Christians, Bethlehem is now less than 20 percent. There are only 30,000 Christians left in all of Palestinian-controlled areas.”

Murray is hardly the first person to notice this problem (there was a report in the New York Times just last December). Christian Zionists like Murray and other conservatives usually place the blame on Islamist harassment in collusion with the Palestinian Authority; but although intimidation and worse have been documented (albeit in dubiously polemical sources that have been challenged), and there is real concern over the rise of Hamas in Bethlehem, the Palestinian Christian exodus has been going on since 1948, and most Palestinian Christians themselves see the underlying problem in rather different terms.

Back in April, Bethlehem Media Net ran a piece on local Lutheran pastor Mitri Raheb:

Raheb, 43, who has lived his entire life in Bethlehem, says the 130,000 residents of his hometown and surrounding area, five miles south of Jerusalem, have suffered greatly from the Israeli occupation that began after the 1967 Six-Day War.

Although Bethlehem came under Palestinian Authority control in 1995, today virtually 87 percent of Bethlehem County is under military rule by the Israelis, Raheb said. There are 78 physical barriers including concrete roadblocks and 10 Israeli military checkpoints currently around Bethlehem.

And the new barrier going up, which he says is “higher, longer and uglier than the Berlin Wall,” is making Bethlehem a walled fortress, cut off from Jerusalem and the northern areas of the West Bank.

“Once it is completed, there will be only three gates and the keys will be controlled by the Israeli military,” he said. “Our little town of Bethlehem is being transformed into a big prison.”

Raheb told several stories of the hardships of living under Israeli domination, including the fact that Israelis control 80 percent of the water system ‹ the lifeblood of the region ‹ around Bethlehem. And the Israelis control a majority of the tourism sites, which is significant because 75 percent of the economy of Bethlehem depends on tourism.

Bishara Awad, the dean of Bethlehem’s Bible College, addressed Muslim-Christian relations in 2003:

“We, Muslims and Christians alike, have been on the receiving end of oppression since 1967. The occupation is the root cause of economic deterioration. Some people can’t live under constant pressure for a long time; so they emigrate when they are no longer able or willing to withstand oppression.”

Awad denies Israeli allegations that many Christians leave because of harassment by Muslims.

“I haven’t seen any attack on our churches or institutions. We’re like brothers here. We share and attend each other’s social occasions. We’re one people.”

That’s not to say there are no anxieties about Islamism. In 1999 Graham Usher wrote an interesting piece for al-Ahram:

Issam Nasser, a professor in History at Al-Quds University and associate director of the Institute of Jerusalem Studies…agrees…that the PA has a “vested diplomatic interest in preserving the image of Palestine as a holy-land open to all religions.” But, “on the ground,” he is disturbed by what he sees as growing Islamisation of Palestinian national culture. He cites the Palestinian national curriculum currently being prepared for PA schools in the West Bank and Gaza.

“The textbooks basically equate the history of Palestine with the history of the Islamic conquest of Palestine,” he says. “The Christian history of Palestine — as occurred, say, during the Byzantine period — is not celebrated in the same way. The result is that many Palestinians taking the curriculum will grow up believing that Palestine is historically Muslim with the only ‘Christian’ references being the Crusades and Napoleon. “I really don’t see how this equips Palestinian Muslims to view their Christian compatriots as equals.”

But somehow one doubts that Murray will be particularly interested in the actual Palestinian Christian perspective. Last month he boasted on his website that:

This morning I was among 20 evangelical Christian leaders who met with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in Washington, DC. Among those in attendance were Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Dr. Pat Robertson, Dr. John Hagee and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer.

…After the public portion of the meeting I pressed the Prime Minister privately to be more specific about the future of Ariel which is the base of the Religious Freedom Coalitions operations in Israel. I specifically asked him if the city would be inside the fence and be a future part of Israel. He smiled and responded, “They don’t have to worry.” I asked him directly if I could tell that to leaders of the city and he responded by saying “Tell them.” I believe this is the most direct answer the Prime Minister has given about the fate of Ariel which is the very heart of Samaria.

In other words, Murray’s “Religious Freedom Coalition” operates out of an illegal settlement in the heart of the occupied West Bank – in an office located on stolen land, built as part of a military strategy to cement the very occupation that Palestinian Christians blame for their woes. To claim to be offering Palestinian Christians support while in such a morally compromised position is, surely, beyond nauseous.

Tyranny of the Normal

WorldNetDaily reports on an anti-gay-rights rally in Poland:

Touting red-and-white Polish flags, thousands of members of a Polish youth organization opposed to special rights for homosexuals marched through Warsaw today in a so-called “Normal Parade” in answer to a recent “gay pride” event in the city.

Speaking to the marchers, League of Polish Families leader and member of parliament Roman Geirtych said that as a predominantly Catholic country Poland could not build its future on “pederasts” but rather on the family.

Just the sort of thing to warm the hearts of anti-gay activists in the USA and elsewhere. It’s a pity, though, that WND doesn’t want to tell us more about the League of Polish Families or Roman Giertych (sic – WND spelt his name wrong). An article by Tomek Kitlinski from early last year gives a bit more background (includes one non-work-safe image):

A few months after it was founded, in October 2001, the League won 38 seats in the 460-member Polish parliament and 7.8 percent of the vote. The strong showing was largely thanks to the enthusiastic support of Radio Maryja, Poland’s hugely popular, nationalist Catholic broadcasting network, which claims 5 million regular listeners in a country of almost 39 million. The League did even better in the October 2002 local elections. The party now boasts a strong national organization and its own media.

The Stephen Roth Institute at Tel-Aviv University adds:

The League of Polish Families (Liga Polskich Rodzin – LPR),…whose members have frequently expressed antisemitic sentiments, more than doubled their share of the vote in the june 2004 European Parliament election, from 7 per cent in the 2001 national election, to 15 per cent.

The LPR won nine seats in the European Parliament…Among newly elected LPR MEPs is Wojciech Wierzejski, until recently a leader of the resurrected All-Polish Youth (Mlodziez Wszechpolska – MW).

Kitlinski describes the All-Polish Youth as the League’s “attack-dog militia”. Back to the Stephen Roth Institute:

The MW continues the tradition of the violent antisemitic youth organization of the same name, which was active in the 1920s and 1930s. Today it is composed largely of skinheads and tends to use violence against political opponents, notably gay and feminist groups. (For example, on 8 May 2004 football hooligans and activists of the MW and LPR violently attacked a peaceful gay rights march in Krakow.)

…It is worth mentioning that the radical antisemite Jedrzej Giertych, who wrote from the 1930s on, continues to have a profound influence on the ideology of today’s LPR and MW, a fact officially acknowledged by party leaders on numerous occasions. The LPR’s presidential candidate Professor Maciej Giertych is Jedrzej Giertych’s son, while the main spokesman of the LPR, Roman Giertych, is his grandson.

A summary of Jedrzej Giertych’s views can be seen here:

For Giertych Jews are a superpower, the foundation of influential connections encompassing the entire world, while its tool – money and indirect political stimuli. The solution of the Jewish problem is essential for Polish internal security; Poles are not in control of their own country and this is why honest Poles, according to Giertych, should follow the example of Germany. The Jewish problem can be solved by a “total emigration”, for example to the French colony Madagascar. Giertych obviously rejects Hitler’s concept of race and blood. Jews are a foreign body for him not because of their blood but because of their “Jewish sprit, alien to Polishness”…For him there existed “a wheel of historical Jewishness”. Jews, masons and secret associations were responsible for the fall of the first Republic, the partitions and the defeated uprisings.

On the other hand, the League was happy to receive a certain “conversion therapist” from the USA named Richard Cohen. A second article by Tomek Kitlinski (dating from the end of last year) gives details of Cohen’s presentation to the Polish parliament:

“The reason I ask for ten million dollars is because we need to create social organizations to help homosexuals to change. If you want to push legislation, somebody introduce a bill for the healing of homosexuality. That should really screw up homosexual activists.” Richard Cohen called Polish Parliament to reject the bill legalizing same-sex unions. In a country of twenty per cent unemployment and new poverty, Cohen pleaded for ten million dollars to fight homosexuality.

“The Promotion of Homosexuality in Social Life and Its Effects for the Human Person, Family and Culture” was the title of Cohen’s presentation in Polish Parliament where he was invited by the League of Polish Families that promotes heterosexism and xenophobia. The leader of the League of Polish Families, Roman Giertych (b. 1971) wants to change the penal code. He introduced a bill to the speaker of parliament to penalize (fine or even imprisonment) those who publically [sic] promote the change of the traditional definition of marriage as union between man and woman.

So, the right even of free speech can be counted among what WorldNetDaily calls “special rights for homosexuals”.

When it comes to European criticism of Israel, WorldNetDaily is usually happy to paint the continent as rife with anti-Semitism. But when real European neo-fascists turn against homosexuals, it seems the editorial line to go easy on thugs who support “normal” family values.


This man is normal.

Romanian Exorcism Cures by Killing

As the UK ponders abusive exorcism practices, grim news from Romania, via the AFP:

TANACU, Romania — A Romanian Orthodox priest, facing charges for ordering the crucifixion of a young nun because she was “possessed by the devil,” was unrepentant Saturday as he celebrated a funeral ceremony for his alleged victim.

“God has performed a miracle for her, finally Irina is delivered from evil,” Father Daniel, 29, the superior of the Holy Trinity monastery in north-eastern Romania, told an AFP reporter before celebrating a short liturgy “for the soul of the deceased”, in the presence of 13 nuns who showed no visible emotion.

He insisted that from the religious point of view the crucifixion of Maricica Irina Cornici, 23, was “entirely justified,” but admitted he faced excommunication as well as prosecution, and was seeking a “good lawyer.”

Cornici had been raised in a Romanian orphanage, and worked as a nanny in Germany before entering the monastery just three months ago; there are contested claims that she was mentally ill. Inside the monastery, “Father Daniel” and four nuns gagged her and chained her to a cross, in which position she was found dead on Wednesday. The Bucharest Daily has further details:

The nun, Maricica Irina Cornici from the “Sfanta Treime” Monastery [in the village of Tanacu in Vaslui] died on Wednesday evening after being imprisoned in a room by a priest, Petru Corogeanu, and four other nuns, Nicoleta Arcaleanu, 32, Adina Ciopraga, 20, Elena Otelea, 23, and Simona Bardanas, 21. Initially, the nun’s limbs were tied with rope but, on June 13, as a result of her violent reactions, she was chained to a wooden cross and a towel was placed in her mouth as a gag. She was held on the cross in a shed for three days without food and died on the evening of June 15.

“Father Daniel” is Corogeanu’s religious name. According to the AFP report, one parishioner reported that Cornici had argued with Corogeanu in church a few days before, and the crucifixion was a punishment. Corogeanu interpreted a thunderchap during the funeral as a sign of God’s approval, and told reporters that he didn’t “understand why journalists are making such a fuss”.

Although the AFP reports that Corogeanu faces excommunication, other clerics quoted seem somewhat less than agitated:

Vitalie Danciu, the superior of a nearby monastery at Golia, called the crucifixion “inexcusable,” but a spokesman for the Orthodox patriarchate in Bucharest refused to condemn it.

“I don’t know what this young woman did,” Bogdan Teleanu said.

The Bucharest Daily adds:

“What happened is regrettable,” declared Father Costel Stoica, spokesman for the Romanian Patriarchy.

Exorcism was illegal in Romania until the 1989 revolution; a short 1997 CNN report on Romanian exorcisms can be seen here. Just recently an exorcism was performed inside a government building after a spate of accidents.

Further reports can be seen here (in Hungarian) and here (in Romanian). The BBC has a picture of Corogeanu.

Hate Crimes Report Out

In Belfast, Northern Ireland, young men attack a family of Bangladeshi origin, breaking their windows, smashing their front door, and ultimately setting their home on fire. In Moscow, Russian skinheads follow a rabbi from a Jewish community center into a subway underpass to attack him, breaking his bones. In Noeud-les-Mines, France, teenagers repeatedly harass a gay man with homophobic epithets, until one day they douse him with gasoline and set him on fire. In Roisel, France, young men with shaved heads assault two workers of North African origin with baseball bats and iron bars.

That’s from the foreword to a new report, Everyday Fears: A Survey of Violent Hate Crimes in Europe and North America, produced by Michael McClintock of Human Rights First. A short summary can be seen here.

The report was published to coincide with the OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism and on Other Forms of Intolerance, which took place last week in Cordoba. At one point the conference got bogged down with arguments over how much emphasis should be put on anti-Semitism in relation to other forms of bigotry, but it ended with this document being adopted. The AP, however, seems to be underwhelmed:

The statement said educating people about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism is needed to prevent intolerance, but it did not suggest any specific measures on how to do this.

And it alluded to the fact that the OSCE has not come up with an official definition of what anti-Semitism is. “This is a work in progress,” said the US ambassador to the Vienna-based body, Stephan Minikes. 

Haggard in Charismatic Cold War?

An interesting piece in the Moscow News:

Bishop Sergei Ryakhovsky, the head of Russia’s Pentecostalists, believes that the infringement of Protestants’ rights, about which they complain in a number of Russian regions, could be being stoked up from outside in order to achieve some kind of political aim, Interfax reported Tuesday.

“Somebody is deliberately stoking passions in order to set Protestantism against Orthodoxy, in order to make Protestants a ‘fifth column’, an instrument of ‘orange’ revolution,” Bishop Ryakhovsky said in an interview.

The bishop recalled that during the heat of the “orange” revolution in Ukraine he admonished believers who had allowed themselves to get involved in political activities.

Ryakhovsky believes that today certain forces are striving with political aims in mind to deal a blow to the standing of the leadership in Russia and Moscow and are trying to make this standing fall both in the eyes of Russians and the Western public.

As with so much Russian on-line media in English (in my experience, at least), the report tantalises with a lack of detail, leaving us to guess the context. But it seems to me not unlikely that Ryakhovsky is, indirectly, warning the likes of Ted Haggard to butt out. Over to Jeff Sharlet‘s famous piece from May’s Harpers:

[Haggard’s] favorite [example of influence spreading out from his New Life Church in Colorado] was the Ukraine, where, he claimed, a sister church to New Life had led the protests that helped sweep the pro-Western candidate into power. Kiev is, in fact, home to Europe’s largest evangelical church, and over the last dozen years the Ukrainian evangelical population has grown more than tenfold, from 250,000 to 3 million. According to Ted, it was this army of Christian capitalists that took to the streets. “They’re pro-free markets, they’re pro-private property,” he said. “That’s what evangelical stands for.” (1)

So, why would Ryakhovsky prefer Putin over his American co-religionists? Here’s his take:

Russian Protestants are patriots of their country; they are people who have a high respect for Russian authority

That’s maybe fair enough (although the sight of the Russian Chief Rabbis acquiescing to the persecution of Jehovah’s Witnesses and ISKCON last year in the name of patriotism was less than edifying, and did them no favours). However, “Russian authority” has also been good to Ryakhovsky. A 2002 report from the Keston Institute notes that in 1997 Russia passed a law on religion linking legal status with centralisation. This was easy for the Orthodox,

…But for the many Protestant congregations founded as a result of the new freedoms in the early 1990s, there was only one way to retain legal status – to join one of the centralised Protestant church unions. The leaderships of these structures understandably welcomed this development. Interviewed by Russian religious affairs newspaper “Religioznoye Obozreniye” last February [2001], the head of one of the country’s main Pentecostal unions, Sergei Ryakhovsky, described the formation of the huge Protestant associations (his own contains approximately 1,200 congregations) as a “necessary” step towards building new relations with the structures of a new state.

However, speaking recently to Protestant representatives at provincial level in Tatarstan and Mari-El, two republics of the Russian Federation on the Volga River east of Moscow, Keston News Service found considerable resentment at what one interviewee described as “enforced membership of unions due to a discriminatory law”.

Some more details on Ryakhovsky (also spelt as “Sergei Riakhovsky”) can be seen here, and there is an interview here.

(Tipped from Cult News Network)


(1) Actually, I met some Ukrainian scholars of religion when I was recently in Tokyo, and they told me that all sorts of religious groups had been involved in the revolution, including Buddhists. Ukraine is currently home to many religious movements, and the Crimea is becoming “the California of the Ukraine”.

Radio Series on New Age

The BBC World Service has a new series on the New Age movement, presented by Religious Affairs correspondent Jane Little.

The first episode covers the kind of stuff you would expect, kicking off with an interview with Paul Heelas, the UK’s foremost scholar of the subject. The New Age appears in opposition to organised religion: there’s input from an ex-Charismatic Christian who disliked the fact that her church cared more about doctrine than relationships; New Age writer Timothy Freke informs us that we are undergoing a “Gnostic renaissance” of spiritual awareness; and the inevitable Deepak Chopra contrasts organised religion (=fundamentalism) with New Age spirituality.

Little politely raises some criticisms of the New Age with Chopra – the psychobabble and the quick-fix “health and wealth” promises – but these are not discussed in any length.

Tenjoji Temple

Japanese and Chinese Buddhas at the Tenjoji Temple, Kobe: