Conversions and Conspiracy Theories and

The controversy over the censorship of South Park has brought renewed attention to, the website on which the threat to the programme’s makers was made (more accurately, it was a sinister “warning”, but the intent is clear). As has been widely reported, the site revels in being as distasteful as possible, while just about staying within US law; most egregiously, perhaps, is a page making fun of the death of Daniel Pearl. Like al-Muhajiroun in the UK or Westboro  Baptist Church in relation to Christianity, Revolution Muslim represents a marginal perspective; the ADL calls it a “fringe” group, while CAIR suggests that

…it may be a “setup” to smear Islam.

“They say wild and irresponsible things periodically,” [Ibrahim] Hooper told “There’s a strong suspicion that they’re merely a setup to make Muslims and Islam look bad. They say such wild and crazy things that you have to wonder.”

It is also noted that the group behind the site consists of a small number of converts – and that the site’s founder (who has since moved to Morocco) was formerly an Israeli settler in the West Bank; Fox News reports:

…Formerly known as Joseph Cohen, al-Khattab is an American-born Jew who converted to Islam after attending an Orthodox Rabbinical school, which he later described as a “racist cult.”

The 39-year-old New York taxi driver launched with the mission of “preserving Islamic culture,” “calling people to the oneness of God” and asking them to “support the beloved Sheik Abdullah Faisal, who’s preaching the religion of Islam and serving as a spiritual guide”..

Some are now claiming a conspiracy; one site speculates that “the CIA” is behind it. But as with other conspiracy theories, the supposed evidence of the conspiracy actually collapses in on itself – if the CIA or Mossad wanted to use an agent provocateur, surely a former Israeli settler would be the last person to use as the front man? Of course, some people have set themselves up as fake extremists: last year we saw Glen Jenvey’s “Omar Jenvey” stunt, but there wasn’t any coherent political strategy behind his antics. And in the case of Zachary Chesser, the man who posted the South Park threat, there’s no reason not to believe that he is a genuine convert to fundamentalism. But in all these cases, whether real or fake, the key to understanding the motivation is more likely to be found in psychological dysfunction than political intrigue.

PS: Last year, the anti-Muslim blogger Paul Ray (“Lionheart”) complained that a threat against him had been published on by a certain “Bilal”, who was associated with Islam4UK, the successor outfit of al-Muhajiroun. This occured after someone had posted a fake message supposedly from Ray to the site; Ray wrote on his blog that

There is a fraud out there that is going around forums and blogs posting in the same name as I use as my nom-de-plume ‘Lionheartuk’. This person is obviously not man enough himself to put his own name to his words so is stirring things up with Moslems and using my name so that I take the flack.

(I also received a message from a pseudo-Ray around the same time; whether this was the same person or someone else is unknown). This suggests that at least one outsider has made postings to the site with a view to manipulating the discussion among readers – again, something which has been seen before.

Child-Witch-Finding Pastor Accused of Trafficking

Made children work in restaurants, took two-thirds of their earnings

In January 2009 I wrote a short blog entry about Pastor Bawa Madaki, who was reported in Leadership Nigeria (link now dead) as having rescued the city of Masaka from “demon-possessed children” – another term for child-witches. Madaki got children to confess to causing misfortune by supernatural means, and in one case a boy was made to explain that he had killed his mother by “sucking her blood”.

But what happened to those children next? The article didn’t say, but earlier this month the Daily Champion reported that the pastor has now been arrested for alleged child trafficking:

The suspected child trafficker, Madaki who claimed to be the General Overseer of Eternity Independent Baptist Church in Masaka, a suburb in Nasarawa state gets his victims mostly from Taraba, Plateau and Nasarawa states respectively.

Investigation carried out by the [National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons and other Related Matters (NAPTIP)]… revealed that Pastor Madaki sends out the children to work in restaurants where the operator of the restaurants usually pay the victims a thousand five hundred naira per week and the children remits on thousand naira to the pastor every Friday when they go to him for prayers.

But the pastor claimed that the parents of the children brought the said children whose age’s range from five to 20 to him for deliverance from witchcraft attack.

According to him, “Jesus appeared to me on June 25, 2004 and blessed me with powers to cure witchcraft attack, cancer and fibroid amongst others. The parents as a result of their individual affliction or spiritual attack have abandoned many of these children to me to cater for.

“I did not steal them for trafficking or any child labour, I was only doing the work God called me to do”, he added.

This site has further details:

The Pastor Bawa Madaki said that he had no option left, as the children are being abandoned by the parents in the church. His decision was to get them a job by which they will keep some of the money and return some to him to enable him take care of the children.

“I do not steal these children, these children are been brought for deliverance from demonic attacks and spiritual forces. The parents never came back for their children due to the fear of been possessed by demons and remember I have to take care of these children on my own so, I got them a job to do,” Pastor Madaki added

However, the Pastor was no able to provide the contact of the parents of the children; neither does he know the surname of the children. As some of the children were said to be resident of the Northern Nigeria and in no way lives in the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria.

The incident has put pressure on the Christian Association of Nigeria to regulate churches and to speak out against pastors accusing children of witchcraft; Stepping Stones Nigeria is urging people to write to Archbishop John O. Onaiyekan, the President of CAN, asking the organisation to

1. Make a statement denouncing the belief in child witches.
2. Regulate your membership, ensuring that churches are trained in child protection and child rights.
3. Report to the police all churches you become aware of who are accusing children of witchcraft or carrying out any form of child abuse.
4. Work in coalition with
Stepping Stones Nigeria and their partner organisations to Prevent the Abuse of Children Today.

It seems to me that it would also be very helpful if some big-name evangelists – both western and Nigerian – could also speak out against the belief and its tragic consequences.

I have written about Stepping Stones Nigeria before; it is a British charity, and two Channel 4 documentaries (here and here) have highlighted its work and that of its partners – in particular the  Child Rights and Rehabilitation Network, whose director Sam Itauma received an award from Amnesty last year. However, their efforts have come under sustained attack from the powerful evangelist Helen Ukpabio (recently promoted to “Apostle”) and her followers.

Ex-Muslim President of Liberty University’s Baptist Theological Seminary Under Fire over Details of Biography

The president of Liberty University’s Baptist Theological Seminary, Ergun Caner, is currently facing serious scrutiny over his biography and Muslim past. A Christian blogger named Wade Burleson lays out the charges:

Dr. Caner has publicly stated that he came to the United States at age fifteen having been trained to be a jihadist. In reality, Caner came to Ohio at age four and lived a comfortable, American life.  Dr. Caner has also publicly stated that his first language was Arabic and he was trained in a madrassa in Turkey. Several International Mission Board missionaries who speak fluent Arabic have emailed me, horrified at what they have heard Dr. Caner try to pass off as his native Arabic during his audio and video sermons at SBC churches. They confirm what others have been saying–he is speaking complete gibberish. The myth Dr. Caner has created about himself seems now to be unraveling. He never came to America “via Beirut and Cairo.” He has never been trained as a fundamentalist Muslim. He has never had been a jihadist. He has never debated top Muslim scholars, in Nebraska or anywhere else.

…My friend, Mosab Hassan Yousef, has lived the life that Ergun seems to want Christians to believe Ergun has lived. People like Yousef see right through Ergun.

(I blogged on Yousef here)

Caner’s father was Turkish and his mother was Swedish, and by his own account  he moved to the USA with his parents as a teenager at the end of the 1970s. He says that his father was a devout Muslim who sought to raise him as a Muslim, but that after his parents divorced he converted to Christianity “in high school”. Caner is now a prominent conservative evangelical polemicist against Islam; he is the author Unveiling Islam and other books on the subject.

However, not everyone is convinced. A Muslim named Mohammad Khan (mokhan247 on Youtube) has delved into the subject in some depth, with a website here, but scepticism is also being expressed by some Christians, particularly from the Reformed tradition. An addition to Burleson, these include James White of Alpha & Omega Ministries, a blogger named Debbie Kaufman, and a site called Witnesses Unto Me. Further research has been provided by a blogger named Mirele, who does not state any religious affiliation but is sympathetic to Islam.

Mirele summarises the evidence, with links:

…The problem with his statements (and you have to read the posts to get the full impact) is that Ergun Caner has been in the USA since prior to his fourth birthday. His parents bought a house together in 1974, but had separated by 1975. As part of a 1978 separation agreement, custody of Ergun and his brothers went to his mother, but his father got the boys every other weekend, on three Muslim holidays and five weeks per year. (I have reviewed this document and I do not see an order by the judge saying that the boys were to be raised Muslim.) However, Ergun’s mother didn’t like any of this and filed an appeal. The appellate decision found that the district court didn’t (and couldn’t) dictate the children’s religion, but that each parent could teach the children when they had custody or visitation.

Caner’s response has not been  impressive: apparently he posted a statement in February apologising for any “unintentional misleading statements”, but then removed it, and he recently sent out a message via Dave Eppling, “Chief of Staff to the President, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary”. This message claims that Khan is running a “pay YouTube site”, obviously meant to insinuate that he is motivated by a wish to make money – but it’s not true; Khan’s videos, like all material on YouTube, is free-to-view. He then plays the victim, in passive-aggressive style:

 I never thought I would see the day when alleged “Christians” join with Muslims to attack converts. In fact, it has gotten so bad that they procured or hired someone to go to the courthouse in Columbus, Ohio, to get copies of our parents’ separation, divorce and appeal papers. The purpose of this was to “expose” us as frauds. They wanted to prove that we were not former Muslims. They have actually posted these documents online.

What they ended up doing was proving that we were, in fact, Muslims. The court papers showed that (1) we are immigrants, (2) we were Muslims, (3) our father was so devout that he demanded that the court order that we continue to be raised Muslim, (4) they he wanted visitation on the Eids (Muslim holy days], (5) that we were Turkish citizens and would become American citizens from our Turkish papers, and (6) that our father still had property, money and furniture back in Turkey.

…Regardless of how this ended up backfiring on them, you can imagine the horror of having your entire life up online, for the joy and derision of others, especially those who should know better.

Caner has made a career out of his life story, yet for other people to investigate public documents about his past is some sort of intrusion, apparently. White’s response is scathing:

…Let me say it again: I do not believe Ergun Caner is fake ex-Muslim. I believe he is a fake ex-DEVOUT Muslim. There is a difference. There is no question that Ergun Caner’s father was a Muslim. That he was, as Caner claims, a Muslim “leader” is another issue. Clearly Caner considered himself a Muslim. But Caner’s parents divorced when he was quite young, and the real problem is Caner’s attempt to re-form his past so that his devotion to Islam could be exaggerated for the purpose of creating a more stirring testimonial.

…no one is seeking to “attack converts.” This is absurd on a level that is hard to imagine… Ergun Caner is not being “attacked” by anyone: he is being challenged to tell the truth in the face of a mountain of documentation indicating he has been untruthful while standing behind the pulpit of many a church. To call such a necessary challenge an “attack” is to do nothing more than mock honesty and integrity itself while appealing to the emotions. What is more, in this situation, may I suggest it is Ergun Caner who has “attacked” converts? How so? By mythologizing his own conversion experience, he has cast doubt upon all those true conversions to Christ from Islam.

Caner has also edited his on-line bio; Burleson comments:

The new biography of Dr. Caner is set to go up this week. The old biography, filled with deceptive statements, remains down at Caner’s  website . The new one has been directly approved by Liberty Seminary’s Chancellor, Dr. Jerry Falwell, Jr… I’m not sure it has even crossed the Chancellor’s mind how odd it is to have to rewrite, reread, and repost a biography of his President.

One of Caner’s associates is the prominent minister and Christian author John F. Ankerberg. Ankerberg has not commented on the controversy, although he has found time to complain to YouTube about some of Khan’s videos, which he claims are “copyright infringement” of his TV show.

(Thanks to a reader for making me aware of this story)

Hong Kong Evangelists Claim They “Ventured inside Wooden Compartments on Mount Ararat”

From the South China Morning Post:

New evidence, including wood specimens dating back 4,800 years, discovered by a Hong Kong-Turkish team 4,000 metres above sea level, may suggest the existence of the biblical Noah’s ark.

The team of 15, which included six Hong Kong evangelists and cameramen, said they had excavated and ventured inside seven large wooden compartments on snow-capped Mount Ararat in Turkey last October. The whole process was also videotaped for the first time.

The team, which announced the expedition in Hong Kong yesterday, brought back samples from the sites, including wooden specimens, white seedling-like particles and remains of rope, which they believe was used for keeping animals.

Yeung Wing-cheung, one of the team members, said a piece of wood 38mm long, obtained from the site, was dated as 4,800 years old by a carbon-dating method in Iran. This matches with the range of years stated in the Bible, suggesting when the vessel was built.

…One of the project participants, Dutch researcher Gerrit Aalten, said: “There is a tremendous amount of solid evidence that the structure found on Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey is the legendary ark of Noah.”

Fellow researcher, Professor Oktay Belli, an archaeologist at the University of Istanbul, ruled out the possibility of human settlement because it has never been found above 3,500 metres.

Dr Ahmet Ozbek, geologist at Kahramanmaras Sutcu Iman University in Turkey, said the low temperature and environmental condition of glacier deposits and volcanic material helped preservation at the site.

The evangelists belong to groups called Noah’s Ark Ministries International (var. Noah’s Ark Ministry International) and The Media Evangelism, both of which are based in Hong Kong; Aalten has a YouTube channel here, although he hasn’t updated it for a while. And a documentary by Yeung is advertised here:

The Ark has been buried under the ice atop the perpetually snow-covered Mount Ararat. A secret has been kept by a Kurds’ family over 4 generations in respect of the location of the suspected Arks’ remain. In 2004, the first Chinese expedition led by The Media Evangelism Ltd entered the military base and filmed the Ark’s remain in close distance. The footage of the Ark’s remain, including the supernatural experiences of the crew on the elevation of 4,200 meters of Mount Ararat will be shown to the public through this documentary film coming to the local theatres this Easter.

To unveil the myths of the Great Flood and the Ark, the production crew had traveled to the USA, Canada, Israel, Australia, Egypt, Peru, Japan, and China to interview an array of Chinese and overseas scholars and experts. The crews have also made extra research attempts to Mount Ararat and its surrounding areas and have gathered a lot of relevant information.

In March, NAMI announced that

The “We Touched Noah’s Ark: The Search for A Carpenter’s Heart” Evangelistic Campaign was launched. Worldwide press conferences, exhibitions and sharing are carried out to spread the Gospel through the Noah’s Ark discovery.

The site also tells us that in August 2008  “they received a collection of photos which were suspected to have been taken inside the ark.” The NAMI website also has screenshots of a number of recent media reports (mostly in Chinese) on the supposed discovery, including a couple of photographs showing the inside some sort of (rather cramped) dwelling. There’s even some straw lying around.

The site also carries a triumphant announcement: “Turkish government officials to apply for UNESCO World Heritage Listing”.

This is not the first time the team has publicised their discovery; a press conference was reported in 2008:

A panel of experts, comprising Turkish authorities, veteran mountaineers, archaeologists, geologists and members of Hong Kong-based Noah’s Ark Ministries International, also displayed an almost one-metre-long peice of petrified wood before the media and specially invited international experts.

The experts claimed it to be a part of a long structure they had unearthed during their February-August 2007 exploration. “It is for the first time in the history of the Ark search that an exploration team is getting a material evidence and graphic documentation. This makes it not only a the significant breakthrough in the Ark-search, but one that is supported with the most substantial evidence in recent history,” the panel said.

“The structure was discovered in the interiors of an unusual cave. The11.5m wide and 2.6m high white wooden texture was revealed after removing thick layers of volcanic ash on the cave wall,” panel members said at a press conference.

The exact location remains secret, for reasons of “preservation”.

NAMI also runs a Noah’s Ark theme park in Hong Kong, which includes a full-scale ark built to Biblical dimensions; the project was financed by Hong Kong’s “three billionaire Kwok brothers”, who own Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd. The Media Evangelism, meanwhile, is advertising some sort of exhibition entitled “Lost in the Noah’s Ark” with this bizarre poster.

US Anti-Islam Polemicists Fall Out: Andrew Bostom Accuses Robert Spencer of Plagiarism

Robert Spencer has a typical diatribe at his Jihad Watch site, denouncing the idea that anti-Semitism was imported into Islam, rather than being an essential element of the religion. Fellow polemicist Andrew Bostom, however, has a blog post of his own, linking to Spencer’s article but describing him as “A Little King Plagiarist” of his own work.

So what’s gone wrong? Just a few months ago Spencer and Bostom were making nice together at David Horowitz’s Restoration Weekend on a round table about Rifqa Bary; in 2008 Bostom was commending “My colleague and friend, the gifted and remarkably courageous independent scholar Robert Spencer”, and in September Bostom was defending Spencer in an exchange with the journalist Michael Kruse.

In February, a commentator to Bostom’s blog made an enigmatic reference to “Bostom, Diana West and Lawrence Auster” having something “in common, vis-à-vis Robert Spencer”, and that these persons “have become — for reasons we mere civilians of the anti-Islam movement may never know — personae non gratae”. That same commentator wrote on his own blog, The Hesperado:

Auster has not merely been ignored by Spencer for many months, he was publicly condemned by Spencer in the pages of Jihad Watch some time ago (I believe about two years ago) — thus breaking the Rule of the Gentlemen’s Agreement by which tensions and animosities within the anti-Islam movement are usually swept under the rug and not aired out in the sunshine of public discussion and debate. Apparently for the “Gentlemen” involved, it’s okay to publicly condemn a Charles Johnson or a Lawrence Auster (even though Auster is not guilty of the sins of Johnson), but one must hide behind closed doors when negotiating the differences — or perhaps serious ruptures — with other erstwhile colleagues, such as Bruce Bawer, Diana West, Andrew Bostom, and perhaps now also the Baron from the Gates of Vienna blog (which interestingly no longer appears on the Jihad Watch blogroll, and whose copious and valuable coverage of the Geert Wilders trial has been utterly ignored by Spencer).

(Hat tip: Bill Warner)

Franklin Graham Pentagon Disinvite Controversy

Billy Graham is has always been discrete about his prejudices: his dislike of American Jews only came to light years after he famously told Richard Nixon that they “don’t know how I really feel about what they’re doing to this country”, and when plotting an anti-Catholic attack on Kennedy in 1960 he kept very much in the shadows (a hapless Norman Vincent Peale ended up taking the flak for it). However, it would be unduly harsh to suggest that these ugly incidents somehow expose the “true” Graham – the man’s generous temperament and obvious sociability clearly transcend (or, if you’re not convinced of that, at least deflect attention from) these unhappy failings, which is one reason why he is held in general affection and regard.

His son Franklin, by contrast, lacks his father’s grace – instead, here is a man who can’t help but to wear his contempt on his sleeve. Islam, we are informed, is “a very wicked and evil religion”; recently he appeared to suggest that American Muslim men only refrain from beating their wives because US law restrains them from practising “true Islam” (although in the same breath he assured us that “I love the people of Islam”).

As is being widely reported, he has now been disinvited from a Pentagon prayer day because of his public statements on Islam. The AP reported last week:

Evangelist Franklin Graham’s invitation to speak at a Pentagon prayer service has been rescinded because his comments about Islam were inappropriate, the Army said Thursday.

…Army spokesman Col. Tom Collins said Graham’s remarks were “not appropriate.”

…The Military Religious Freedom Foundation had raised the objection to Graham’s appearance, citing his past remarks about Islam.

Collins said earlier this week that the invitation to attend the National Day of Prayer event at the Pentagon wasn’t from the military but from the Colorado-based National Day of Prayer Task Force, which works with the Pentagon chaplain’s office on the prayer event.

Critical responses have been predictable. Sarah Palin has sought to downplay Franklin’s remarks while suggesting that the disinvitation is anti-Christian prejudice:

His comments in 2001 were aimed at those who are so radical that they would kill innocent people and subjugate women in the name of religion.

 Are we really so hyper-politically correct that we can’t abide a Christian minister who expresses his views on matters of faith?

Others – such as Doug Giles (these days famous as the father of Hannah) – suggest that Franklin’s diatribes are simply “the truth” and that this is a “PC” attack on a “distinguished Christian minister and son of an American evangelical treasure”. CAIR was also opposed to Graham’s invite, so for Pam Geller this is more evidence of the Muslim conspiracy against America (classy as ever, for good measure she throws in the suggestion that CAIR is threatening “another Major Hasan Fort Hood jihad massacre”). One pundit regularly used by OneNewsNow sees the hand of Obama behind it all:

Lt. Col. Bob Maginnis (USA-Ret.) works at the Pentagon and shares the concerns of the others over the direction the Obama administration has taken in dealing with Islam. He points out that this is not the first time Muslims have complained about Franklin Graham appearing at a military prayer event.

“They complained when Franklin Graham was there [at the Pentagon] in 2003, too — but I really think what’s behind this is the change of administration,” he suggests.

“I don’t think this would have happened back during the Bush administration,” Maginnis explains. “It’s only because of President Obama’s, I suppose, desire to ingratiate himself to the Islamic world that we began to see references to Islam in our strategic documents removed.”

There have also been threats: a certain crank named Darren Naath has warned the Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s Mikey Weinstein that he will “bring you down and to ensure your organization is boycotted from any contacts with the U.S. Military”, and that he “will be making a request to appear before Congress hopefully on FoxNews to have you boycotted”; the comments section of the MRFF website has epistles such as “I have a son in special forces who would love just a few minutes with you…anyway to get in touch with personally?” (Weinstein’s activism has brought him threats and abuse previously, including a death curse from Gordon Klingenschmitt; Ed Brayton has chronicled many such communicationss).

The National Day of Prayer Task Force, meanwhile, has decided to withdraw from the event:

[John] Bornschein, executive director of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, explains that although the prayer event is sponsored by the Army chaplains, the organization would help by providing resources and speakers. But when the announcement came that Graham had been disinvited, the task force pulled out of the Pentagon event.

At Talk to Action, the MRFF’s Chris Rodda points out that the issue actually goes beyond Graham’s comments:

Even if Graham had never uttered a single disparaging word against the religion of Islam, his invitation would still have been in violation of several Department of Defense regulations. As explained in the Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s (MRFF) letter to the Secretary of Defense demanding that Graham be disinvited, the affiliation of the Pentagon’s NDP event with Shirley Dobson’s National Day of Prayer Task Force was in violation of the regulations that strictly prohibit the U.S. military from such endorsements or preferential treatment of a private organization, or “non-federal entity,” regulations which apply across the board to both religious and non-religious organizations, as well as commercial entities.

…MRFF was already working on addressing another National Day of Prayer issue when we were contacted by the members of the Muslim worship community at the Pentagon requesting our help regarding Franklin Graham. This other issue is the scheduled participation of military personnel (i.e., military color guards and military bands) in other official NDPTF events across the country. This participation is not only in violation of the same military regulations cited above regarding non-federal entities, but DoD and individual service branch regulations on uniform wear.

And, of course, there’s also that pesky constitutional issue of the military’s endorsement of a particular religion by participating in NDPTF events. The NDPTF’s message is very clear — no non-Christians need apply.

Graham’s views on Islam have also created some controversy for his Samaritan’s Purse charity, as I blogged here.

“Our England Today” Protest at Preston KFC

The Lancashire Evening Post reports from Preston:

Up to 20 members of Our England Today waved placards and St George’s Cross flags at KFC in Deepdale Shopping Park, Preston, on Friday.

The restaurant is one of around 80 outlets across the country taking part in a trial following requests to provide halal food in parts of the UK.

…The group, mainly young men, some with children, said the protest was not an English Defence League (EDL) demonstration.

However it was advertised on an EDL social networking website page and a statement on their website said: “We would like to encourage “flash demos” at these restaurants”.

We also learn that “several of the group’s members were kicked off by retail park security staff for drinking cans of lager”. I blogged on the EDL’s dismay and outrage that Bacon Boxmasters are no longer available from some KFC stores here.

Details of Our England Today are scarce; adverts on Facebook were posted by a certain “Patriot Oet”, who does not share the EDL’s wish to maintain distance from the BNP:

This is the latest group of activists, that will be activley fighting to take back our country, Our England Today welcome BNP members and  friends, we are all in the same fight, God Save Our Country, also watch out for the facebook group.


This group supports Her Majesty and our heritage, we will stand and fight for our country, will you? Our England Today will peacefully protest against immigration, Islaminationm in fact any problem that threatens to undermine this once great country, your fathers fought and if not their fathers did, will you?

There is also a link to an uninformative website, which appears to be largely locked down but run by someone calling himself “ThePatriot“. Unsurprisingly, “ThePatriot” is a fan Crusader imagery, portraying himself as a black knight of some sort. There is a notice for a leadership meeting for 23 April, at which the leadership “will meet to make some decisions on the OurEnglandToaday [sic] clothing range, and discuss future events for the group”.

(Hat tip: Islamophobia Watch)

Lou Engle’s TheCall Coming to Uganda

As is being widely reported (and as was originally noticed by Bruce Wilson back in December), Lou Engle is planning to descend on Uganda next week, as part of a “National Call of Repentence” organised by TheCall Uganda, a local off-shoot of his “The Call” organisation and coordinated by Jo Anna Watson of  TouchingHearts International. The event will focus on a number of topics, such as “the heightened political tensions and wrangles in the country”; “the sins and shortcomings that have been happening in the body of Christ” (perhaps a reference to the 2007 scandals); “the widespread corruption and misappropriation of funds” (unlikely to be blamed on Museveni, who is great patron of neo-Pentecostalism); and “the increasing level of social evils in our society”, defined specifically as encompassing “witchcraft and human sacrifice” and “Homosexuality and increased immorality”.

Murders in the name of “witchcraft” have been documented in Uganda – both ritual killings and as a means to acquire body parts for magical purposes (the BBC recently reported on this, albeit in a problematic way). However, so have “witch killings”, in which innocent individuals are identified as witches and lynched. It is very unlikely that the “TheCall Uganda” will be emphasising the futility of magical practices from a scientific perspective; rather, witchcraft will almost certainly be presented as a malign spiritual force to be combated in “spiritual warfare”, and the problem of human sacrifice conflated with traditional religion.

However, it is the stress on homosexuality which is drawing most attention. Engle regards homosexuality as the result of demons – San Francisco has avoided the wrath of God only because his son lives there and is casting out spirits – and Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) has issued a statement about his visit:

Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) condemns Lou Engle’s upcoming crusade scheduled for May 2, 2010.  The crusade could cause incalculable damage, as it is designed to label homosexuality as a “vice” in Uganda and to incite people to “fight” against this “vice” in society.  In the context of an already inflamed extremist religious movement against homosexuality in Uganda sparked off by American evangelicals, the inflammatory preaching of Lou Engle and his associates is likely to incite further violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) people in Uganda.

…This crusade could have the same kind of impact that the March 2009 anti-gay conference had in Uganda. Scott Lively, Caleb Lee Brundidge and Don Schmierer reinforced the desire of some religious leaders to persuade the government to create laws which would eliminate homosexuality from the nation. Eventually, the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was introduced in the Parliament of Uganda by MP’s David Bahati and Benson Obua.

I blogged on the bill and its religious supporters in Uganda here.

Engle is one of the more distinctive leaders on the US Christian right, with a husky voice and a continual rocking motion that looks like some sort of nervous agitation but is actually a sign of constant prayer. He came to wider attention in the Jesus Camp documentary, and he enjoys high-level political access – last year he publicly blessed Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee. His views on abortion are literally sanguinary, as he exhorts believers to worship God in the aspect of “avenger of blood”. One activist with his Bound4Life anti-abortion movement in Ohio was Rifqa Bary, and after her flight to Florida he played a role in her unfolding saga; Right Wing Watch notes a recording of a phone conversation between them:

At the beginning of the clip, Lou Engle is told by one of the other participants that “their little sister” is on the line, at which point Engle introduces Rifqa Bary to the conference call participants and asks her to share her story.  Bary, sounding like a somewhat nervous but otherwise perfectly average teenager, recounts her conversion to Christianity and her decision to flee from the home of her Muslim parents in Ohio.  Following that, Engle declared Bary to be “an Esther for such a time as this” and asks her to lead the call in prayer, which she agrees to do, at which point she becomes seemingly hysterical and rather incoherent while sobbing and praying, making it nearly impossible to understand what she is saying outside of her repeated cries to Jesus… Soon Engle is joined by various others, all of whom pray for this modern day Esther who will lead Muslims out of Islam…

I blogged Engle on Islam here.

TheCall Uganda’s website lists some endorsements:

Bishop Simon Peter Emiau – Chairman Evangelical Fellowship of Uganda; His Grace Luke Henry Orombi – Archbishop of Church of Uganda; Pastor Jotham Mutebi – Chairman Full Gospel Churches of Uganda; Pastor Titus Oundo – Chairman Diliverance Churches of Uganda; Apostle John Mulinde – World Trumpet Mission; Apostle Jackson Ssenyonga – Christian Life Ministries; Pastor Gary Skinner – Watoto (formerly Kampala Pentecostal) Church; Apostle Joseph Ssewadda – General Overseer of Born Again Federation; Peter Asiimwe – Uganda Evangelical Mission Agency; Pastor Fred Wantaate – Coordinator for Pentecostal Golden Jubilee – Full Gospel Church

In 2001, Emiau was reported to have complained of homosexuals “invading” Mbale district, so that “Our cities have become like the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah”; Orombi’s views are well-documented, including the claim that “killer gays” are after him; Mulinde (as Bruce noted) is apparently the link-man to Engle through Jo Anna Watson; Garry Skinner is known for authoritarian views on sexuality, and a December 2009 profile notes that

In 2007, Uganda’s highest court struck down a law that made adultery a crime. Religious leaders took to their pulpits the next Sunday, which was Easter, to denounce the ruling. Gary Skinner, the founder and pastor at Watoto Church, was among them.

“We condemn all inhuman practices including homosexuality, prostitution which people are pushing for their legalisation,” the Monitor, a Ugandan news outlet, reported Skinner saying.

While not alone, Watoto is at the forefront of the anti-gay movement in Uganda.

Stephen Langa, an elder at Watoto and the head of the Family Life Network, produced a March conference on homosexuality in Uganda and at least two of the sessions were held at the church. He then pressed the government “to enact stringent laws against the practice,” an article in New Vision, a Ugandan newspaper, paraphrased him saying.

According to this fundamentalist site, Joseph Ssewadda (var. Joseph Serwadda) supports the execution of homosexuals on Biblical grounds, although there’s no other source for this claim. Fred Wantaate likens homosexuality to “burglary, prostitution, murder, and other behaviors considered harmful to our society”.

Black Pastor Converts from BNP to the Christian Party

A couple of weeks ago Pastor James Gitau was campaigning on behalf of Rev Robert West and the BNP… now, according to a listing in the Croydon Guardian, he’s standing as the Christian Party Parliamentary candidate in Croydon Central. This site explains explains the Damascene moment:

Pastor James Gitau who had surprised many people by joining the BNP Party has defected to Christian Party. Pastor Gitau said that Christian Party summoned him on Saturday 17th April, 2010 and explained to him that the policies of BNP which are not good for a Christian and he changed his mind and now has joined Christian Party. He has asked for forgiveness for those whom he may have caused some embarrassment.

Doubtless the loss to one is a gain to the other, although I wouldn’t like to say which party is now better off.

The Christian Party is an “associate” of the Alliance for Democracy, which describes itself as “an Anglo-Christian Democratic Alliance of Political Parties in England, Scotland & Wales”; I blogged on this unlikely partnership here. However, according to the Alliance website, the Alliance Croydon Central candidate is Graham Dare (a “medium and spiritualist healer“), who is running on the English Democract ticket – although neither of them appear on the BBC election site, and some sites suggest Dare is standing elsewhere.

UPDATE: Stuart, who blogs here,  points to this comment from West on a discussion forum:

I do not know if Revd James Gitau has transferred, but he was with me three weeks ago and was very happy then with the British National Party. We campaigned together in open air preaching and he said that I spoke well. He is a good man but his politics are his affair. He is certainly very fervent on Christian ethics (and rightly so) and the Christian Party will have a strong attraction to him on those grounds. If he has transferred that is up to him; if he has not, I will still campaign with him at every available opportunity – in deed I will do that, even if he has transferred. We have the gospel in common and that, my friend, is to “… all nations”.

Best Wishes,

Rev +

(Hat tip to a reader)

The Wrath of God Explains Volcanoes: Russian Orthodox Edition

No big surprises here: a Russian Orthodox group called the Association of Orthodox Experts has pronounced that the Iceland volcano may be evidence of the wrath of God against gays and pagans. Interfax reports:

…They noted that Iceland “has recently become a center of European neo-paganism of Aryan occult kind, which has Nazi character” as Iceland has headquartered the Association of European Ethnic Religions that has recently worked out a draft of merger between the World Pagan Assembly and International Pagan Alliance.

The authors of the statement remind that PACE at its April session plans to discuss rights of various minorities, especially sexual, and that “major part of European deputies propose that all states of the Council of Europe should introduce a subject on peculiarities of homosexual behavior in the school curriculum.”

The “Association of Orthodox Experts” in English is scarce, is led by a certain Kirill Frolov, a long-standing activist on the Orthodox Christian Right who has featured on this blog previously; in 2008 I noted his criticisms of the Greek Orthodox church in Jerusalem (naturally, he believes the Russians should take on the leadership role). Other antics have included protesting against the Hare Krishna. Frolov also belongs to the Union of Orthodox Citizens and the Orthodox Civic Council. He’s also an enthusiast for an Orthodox militia, as was reported in 2008:

A ubiquitous feature of Soviet life was the institution of people’s druzhiny – ostensibly voluntary citizens’ neighborhood law-and-order patrols, instantly recognizable by the red armbands worn by the druzhinniki. Well, they’re back… with a faith-based twist.

…”We’ve got no small number of groupings, which today literally enslave the life of a street, a district, a small town, a village. And here, I consider, Orthodox druzhiny may establish order in their place of residence”, declared deputy head of the department of external ecclesiastical ties of the ROC, Vsevolod Chaplin. “Now alongside many church communities, parishes, there exist military-patriotic groups with good athletic training. They could manifest big civic activeness.”

…In the meantime, druzhiny are already being created, reports Kommersant. Chief of the Moscow branch of the Union of Orthodox Citizens Kirill Frolov declared to the publication that the Missionary Society of the Holy Apostle Thomas is ready for the patrolling of streets. In the words of Frolov, from 1 December, patrols are going out to a street mission. “The druzhinniki will be carrying the image of civic peaceableness and interdict manifestations of extremism”, he added.

According to this site, the Association has links with the Diocese of Ivanovo-Voznesensky, and this site mentions some other members associated with it: Dmitry Volodihin (“writer, historian, coordinator of the Association”), Vadim Bulatov (“coordinator of the Association”), and Ekaterina Orlova (“member of the Presidium Mezhsobornogo Prisutstvia of the Russian Orthodox Church, editor in chief editor of ‘Danilov evangelist’, coordinator of the Association”).