UK Evangelist Exposed Over Kung Fu Phooey

Somehow I managed to miss this one completely; from the Guardian:

Chronicling how a convicted criminal and martial arts fighter found redemption through God, Taming the Tiger had more than 1.5m copies distributed around the world while its author, Tony Anthony, become a sought-after speaker in schools and churches.

In the book, which carries the strapline “From the Depths of Hell to the Heights of Glory”, Anthony explains how he was taken to China by his grandfather, a kung fu grand master, and trained to become a martial arts champion. He then moved to Cyprus, where he became a bodyguard to businessmen, gangsters and diplomats. “In the line of duty as a bodyguard, I killed people,” Anthony would tell church audiences. “I have broken more arms and legs than I care to remember.” Later he recounted how he found God while in prison in Nicosia after being convicted of theft.

The book was a phenomenon. It was translated into 25 languages and won the Christian Booksellers’ Convention Award in 2005.

But now, following a sustained internet campaign by a group of Christians who doubted Anthony’s claims almost from the start, it appears that little of the book is true.

Anthony’s website now carries a notice:

It needs to be stated at the outset that Taming The Tiger was intended to be the ‘story’ of my early life. It never set out to be a strict historical account of each and every event with supporting minutiae. As such, it remains a ‘true story’, descriptively told and consistent with many other similar publications in its genre.

…Since writing, I have discovered some information about my family history of which I was unaware when first working on Taming The Tiger. I now fully accept that there are a number of details that appear in the book that are no longer historically accurate. For example, as a very young boy I was raised to believe that the man in whose house I lived and who trained me in Kung Fu was my grandfather. It has since come to light that this individual was not my biological grandfather. Whilst I now recognise this is the factual truth, I cannot accept that the reporting of my memory as it appears in Taming The Tiger is ‘incorrect’…

I gave my life to Christ in Nicosia Central Prison in Cyprus through the ministry of God’s faithful servant, Michael Wright – and it has been an honour to put into practice the Great Commission – to proclaim the Gospel to all creation!…

It’s true that evangelical paperback autobiographies of exemplary Christian personalities are usually dramatised into semi-novels and shaped into formulaic narrative structures by a professional writer (such books are usually billed as being “as told to…”); in Anthony’s (real name: Andonis Andreou Athanasiou) case, though, the problems appear to go deeper and his publisher – the rather infelicitously named “Authentic Media” – has now dropped the book and other Anthony titles.

The publisher’s decision – and the Guardian article – follow an investigation that was written up by Gavin Drake on the Christian website Crosswire earlier this month. It transpires that the kung fu grandmaster grandfather was actually “a laundry worker in Cardiff who later owned a café in Streatham”, and Drake documents that Anthony “used a fraudulent date of birth when he got married” and “changed his date of birth with Companies House.”

However, one question is why it took so long for the publisher to act. A bit of googling shows that concerns were being raised years ago. A website called Bullshido (“no BS MMA and Martial Arts”) has an extensive thread going back to 2009, which picks apart aspects of his story and includes reports of interaction with the publisher. A poster named Stephen Prunetti wrote in September 2009:

last posted on here over two years ago. Good to see more and more people have seen through Mr Anthony’s ludicrous fantasies. Two years ago, I asked his publisher, Malcolm Down of Authentic Media, if Anthony had ever been held accountable for the murder he freely admits to committing on Saudi Arabian soil, within the pages of his book. Malcolm Down assured me he’d be in touch to address my concerns. Funnily enough, he never did get back in touch. So, as i have more time these days, i’ve got back in touch with Malcolm, and i am currently awaiting his reply to my two-year old question. I’ll post on here as soon as he replies.

Down replied soon after:

Dear Stephen,

Thanks for your email – i do appreciate you taking the time to write and apologise for not getting back to you initially over 2 years ago.

You will not be surprised to learn that we have had a few people raise similar questions to yourself over the years so Tony has now decided to add a ‘questions and answers’ section to his website The tab is already there and the page will be completed within a month.

Having just spoken to Tony on the phone he asks if you could check out this page when it becomes live and if you still have any unanawered questions feel free to email him via the website.

With regard to your specific question about whether we believe Tony or not, there is an assumption built into the contract that each author signs that they are telling the truth. In respect of the White Tiger incident which you mention, it can’t actually be proved one way or the other. Tony thought he saw a white Tiger so that’s what he wrote – if what he saw was not actually a white Tiger but some other animal that does not make him a liar.

With regard to your claims regarding Tony’s knowledge of Kung Fu i can only defer to the ‘experts’ in China. The book has been translated into Chinese and although there were some queries similar to those you have mentioned, Tony has answered all of these now to the publishers satisfaction – if they were in any doubt of the claims he has made i’m sure they would have brought these up already. If, however, you are convinced that there are basic errors in his Kung Fu knowledge we would encourage you to detail what you think these errors are.

We can assure you that we have always taken seriously the issues you and others have raised, in fact some issues will be addressed in the next reprint of the book.

Thanks again for contacting us.

Warm regards


Down later added that “We obtained character references from people like George Verwer, Michael Wright and Tonys pastor. The manuscript itself was read by several people prior to publication. All were satisfied as to Tonys claims.”

Verwer was described on Anthony’s website as being his “mentor”; Anthony’s apparent fabulations are likely to be particularly painful for him, as his own religious ministry has had a particular concern for Christian literature (Authentic Media was at one stage owned by STL, which has distant origins as one of Verwer’s missionary operations).

(Thanks to a reader, David M., for bringing this to my attention)

Critics Ignore Content of Book about Jesus, Attack Author for Being a Muslim

One does not expect much from Fox News at the best of times; but a recent interview with Reza Aslan has – deservedly – come under particular mockery for the interviewer’s ignorance and bad faith.

The interview was conducted by Lauren Green, who is described as being “a religion correspondent” for Fox, and it concerned Aslan’s new book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. Green appeared to no know little of the book or of scholarship in general, and the segment consists exclusively of her demanding an explanation from Aslan about why a Muslim would write a book about Jesus.

Choosing the most egregiously stupid moment is tricky – Green accuses Aslan of failing to “disclose” that he is a Muslim, despite the facts he does so on the second page of his book and that he’s one of the better-known Muslim commentators in the USA; there’s also a bizarre analogy in which she compares Aslan to a Democrat writing a book about Ronald Reagan; but the lowest point I think was this:

You’re quoting yourself as a scholar, and I’ve interviewed scholars who have written books on the Resurrection, on the real Jesus, and who are looking at the same information that you’re saying… to say that your information is somehow different from theirs is really not being honest…

We all understand (at, least, over here in the UK) that a news interviewer’s job is often to take a hostile and sceptical line, even if that line is not particularly strong, but that’s not the same thing as appearing to be clueless. Throughout the interview, Aslan attempted patiently to convey to Green the nature of academic study. He made it very clear to her that his book is located within a scholarly debate, and that the book is not based on any kind of Islamic agenda. In particular, he stated that the book calls into question the historicity of the Virgin Birth, which is an Islamic as well as a Christian belief, and that the book rejects the Islamic teaching that Jesus was not really crucified.

Green’s complaints were taken from vague polemical objections by conservative Christian apologists, primarily an ad hominem attack by a pastor named John S. Dickerson (this guy) that was published by Fox a few days ago:

Liberal media love new Jesus book ‘Zealot’, fail to mention author is Muslim

…As a sincere man, Aslan’s Muslim beliefs affect his entire life, including his conclusions about Jesus. But this is not being disclosed. “Zealot” is being presented as objective and scholarly history, not as it actually is—an educated Muslim’s opinions about Jesus and the ancient Near East.

“Zealot” is a fast-paced demolition of the core beliefs that Christianity has taught about Jesus for 2,000 years. Its conclusions are long-held Islamic claims—namely, that Jesus was a zealous prophet type who didn’t claim to be God, that Christians have misunderstood him, and that the Christian Gospels are not the actual words or life of Jesus but “myth.”

Remarkably, Dickerson manages to drone on for more than 750 words without refering to a single specific argument made by Aslan, beyond the general point that he approaches the Bible in a standard critical way:

Aslan informs us that we cannot trust the Gospel of Mark–because it was written 40 years after Jesus’ death. He then chides us to trust his new book, written almost 2,000 years later.

Judging from a quick browse of Aslan’s text on Amazon, it appears to me that Aslan’s perspective on the historicity of Mark is temperate and completely in line with mainstream scholarship and the understanding of educated Christians – which is that the text is assembles earlier traditions, and is written in a certain way in order to make a particular point. “Trust” is a complete red herring.

Aslan has scholarly credentials, but he’s not a specialist in this area (his PhD dissertation, under Mark Juergensmeyer, was on global Jihadism and transnationalism), and I’m generally sceptical when a book gets promoted ahead of others in the same field due to an author’s public profile as a commentator. However, to risk stating the obvious, Aslan’s arguments and use of evidence need to be judged against the work of other scholars. Academics who have written on the historical Jesus come from all kinds of faith backgrounds; there are no grounds for dismissing Aslan, much less for insulting him as “not being honest”, just because he happens to be a Muslim academic. His bibliography runs to ten pages, and shows a broad familiarity with standard scholarly books and articles on the subject (albeit all in English only, from what I could see); he also has around fifty pages of notes, which begin with an appreciation of John P. Meier‘s multi-volume study on Jesus, A Marginal Jew.

However, Dickerson and Green’s whining pales besides a predicably abusive screed by Pamela Geller that was published a few days ago on WorldNetDaily:

Robert Spencer is a writer without peer and a nonpareil scholar, the author of 12 books on Islam, jihad and related topics, including two New York Times bestsellers. Yet “Did Muhammad Exist?” was ignored and dismissed by the intelligentsia, the media elite and subversive academia.

…In what can only have been inspired by the Goebbels template, Reza Aslan will not only be on the Bill Maher show and “The Daily Show,” but this subversive lowlife will be speaking at universities like NYU, Ohio State and the University of Southern California, as well as at numerous public libraries and (gasp) synagogues like Temple Judea in Palm Beach, at upwards of $30,000 a pop. Despite denying basic Christian doctrines, he is speaking at several churches and even preaching the Sunday sermon at one.

[Although] “Did Muhammad Exist?” is a straightforward, dispassionate historical investigation, the media treated it as if it were the one that was designed solely to denigrate and disparage the founder of a religion. That is not true of Spencer’s book, but it is true of Aslan’s screed “Zealot.” Yet the media never comment on the derogatory title of Aslan’s book. It is just fine with the media to speak negatively about Jesus, deny his historicity, deny his importance, denigrate his teachings and more. But any true word that is spoken about Muhammad, whether it be about how he is depicted in Islamic texts or about the historical value of those texts, is viciously attacked.

The argument appears to be that because Aslan is a Muslim, we must assume that his book was written as an attack on Christianity; yet it is wrong to assume that Spencer – who makes a living polemicising against Islam – probably has a polemical intent.

I don’t know if Spencer’s well-deserved reputation means that his book was unfairly dismissed despite putting forward a serious case – although given what I know about Spencer’s shortcomings (e.g. herehere and here) I’d be surprised if it’s any good. But if Spencer was overlooked by “media elite and subversive academia”, conservative allies more than made up for it; the book’s designated website on the publisher’s page (the conservative ISI Books) carries quotes from various positive reviews from sources such as The Blaze and PJ Media.

UPDATE: Despite the widespread drubbing Fox has received over the interview, others have stepped in to continue the attacks on Aslan. At First Things, a certain Matthew J. Franck accuses him of “misrepresenting his scholarly credentials”, and seeks to prove his by point by pedantically deconstructing the wording of his formal qualifications; while Glenn Beck mocks Aslan for mentioning his qualifications at all, and for using the word “historicity”. Positively revelling in his own ignorance, Beck – who has an honorary doctorate from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University – declared:

if you don’t believe that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world, that’s fine. That’s fine. No biggie. Go your way. I’m going my way. I happen to believe it. And there is no doctorate that could ever be given to me  that would actually prove otherwise. Because you learn that through faith. You learn that through an individual testimony. I got one. You don’t have one, you should find one. You don’t want one, that’s fine. I don’t really care. Stop telling me who Jesus was.

US Anti-Gay Catholic Activist Makes Russia Links

Austin Ruse of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute (C-FAM) has apparently recovered from his ordeal of having seen a lesbian couple on a cookery programme, and has now travelled to Russia, he says,

…to thank its government for its strong position on these issues at the United Nations, and to let them know American conservatives favor the recent homosexual law.

Ruse notes evidence of a gay scene in Moscow, and concludes that

We hear many things about Russia these days:  corruption, crackdown, authoritarianism – from Human Rights Watch, ACLU, Amnesty International. And from conservative folks, too. But, I wonder if things are so clear-cut as we are led to believe. 

Claims about a Russian war on gays is false. I wonder what else is false. What I know is a religious revival is going on in Russia. And the Orthodox Church is leading it.

…Russia is rightly criticized for some of its acts, but it may also be under attack for reasons we cannot wholly see. 

While he was there, Ruse met with two high-profile and powerful lay activists within the Orthodox Church:

Russian Railways czar Vladimir Yakunin, whom I met with, recently engineered a visit to Russia of the True Cross of St Andrew [more on that here – RB].   Five-hour lines in the rain awaited anyone wanting to venerate it. Happily, Yakunin arranged for me to cut the line. 

I met also with young tech billionaire Konstantin Malofeev whose office is festooned with religious icons. He is working to bring Russian Orthodox and U.S. Christians closer together. 

Malofeev and many other Russians see themselves as a Christian nation sent to help other Christians around the world. For them, at least, that’s why they support the Assad regime; he’s better for Syria’s Orthodox Christians. 

He wonders if some sort of grand global alliance between the Orthodox and Catholics can be achieved and what effect that might have on the global culture war advanced by the sexual left. I wonder, too.

Ruse also says that he attended “a Russian sponsored conference in Rhodes last year”; this would have been Yakunin’s most recent World Public Forum event, which I blogged on here; the Forums bring together various political, academic, and religious leaders in ways that create some rather weird line-ups.

Yakunin and Malofeev both already have links with western Protestants, particularly via the World Congress of Families. Malofeev recently addressed a WCF event in Sydney:

Konstantin’s presentation entitled “A New Global Pro-Family Alliance” contrasting the situation in the West with that of the USSR in the 1980s, or as his graphic illustrated, Christians vs Communism.

…Konstantin then contrasted the situation of the 1980s with that in 2010: In the West there were attacks on religious freedom, a “war” on Christmas, atheistic education curricula, political correctness censorship, radical LGBT ideology imposed, ll countries recognized same-sex “marriage” and others are expected to follow.

Malofeev then laid out plans for 2013-14: a “Safe Internet League” (maybe David Cameron should have a word), lobbying, and:

family friendly global social networks including news, conservative TV Channels in the EU, Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States… Also aim for a conservastive “Wikipedia”, conservative “Facebook”, conservative search engine, a culture-wise family movie-guide launched globally, ratings of family-friendly businesses, a Christian content aggregation of thousands of websites ( and a political activism platform (CitizenGO).

Perhaps inevitably, though, there are also controversies around the two men’s wealth; the anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny (who was infamously sentenced to prison just last week) has recently shone a spotlight on Yakunin’s complex off-shore business portfolio and alleged lifestyle (it is claimed – shades of John Lennon – that he has a “fur coat storage room”), and Malofeev was raided by police late last year as part of a fraud investigation involving a 2007 deal.

A report by Navalny’s  Foundation For Fighting Corruption and the Russia Studies Centre at the Henry Jackson Society notes the following concerning Malofeev:

In 2007, VTB Bank and VTB Capital agreed to finance the sale of six Russian dairy farms by a company called Nutritek to a company called RAP. To that end, the bank granted RAP a loan of $225 million. RAP defaulted on the loan within a year in November  2009. A subsequent investigation revealed startling problems with the transaction. It is alleged by VTB Capital, though unproven, that both Nutritek and RAP were actually owned by the same person — Konstantin Malofeev— through separate subsidiaries of  his company, Marshall Capital Partners…It was also alleged that at the time of the sale, Nutritek had highly overinflated the value of the dairy plants. When all was said and done, the bank found itself in possession of a series of dairy facilities worth no more than $35 million though this figure is disputed. VTB has since been mired in years of unsuccessful litigation in the United Kingdom to try to get its money back. So not only had the bank extended nearly a quarter of billion dollars in credit on the basis of collateral worth less than one-fifth as much, it had allegedly financed a deal in which Malofeev had effectively sold his own company to himself, pocketing nearly $200 million in the process, based on VTB’s own calculations.

VTB alleges that it was misled throughout the process and that the civil liability rests solely in Malofeev’s hands. But it is apparent that there were many failures on the bank’s part, leading the Hon Justice Arnold of the High Court of Justice, Chancery Division in London to note in a November 2011 ruling that, “It is not clear from the evidence presently available what, if any, due diligence was carried out by or on behalf of either VTB Moscow or VTB to verify the assertions” made by the parties to the deal.

Malofeev’s business affairs and religious associations were discussed by the Russian edition of Forbes following the police raid, including his fund named for Saint Basil. The article includes the detail that he takes advice frequently from Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov, who is also very close to Putin – the monk was the subject of a long Financial Times profile in January (“according to persistent rumour, Tikhon ushered the former KGB colonel into the Orthodox faith and became his dukhovnik, or godfather”).

Ruse’s views on Russia are shared by the American anti-gay monomaniac and Christian Right activist Scott Lively; just the other day, Lively published a “Letter to the Hungarian People” (H/T Ed Brayton) stating that:

I can’t point to any country of the world today that is a model for the rest of the world, except perhaps for Russia, which has just taken the very important and frankly necessary step of criminalizing homosexual propaganda to protect the society from being “homosexualzed.” This was one of my recommendation to Russian leaders in my 50-city tour of the former Soviet Union in 2006 and 2007.

More on Lively here.

US Christian Zionist Rally Includes Calls To Attack Iran

Speakers included former commander of British forces in Afghanistan

This year’s “Christians United for Israel Washington Summit” took place earlier this week; it’s a particularly bizarre conflab, which sees politicians and some serious-minded figures share a platform with the most extravagent apocalyptic evangelists and conspiracy-mongers, led by a man – John Hagee – who has stated that Hitler was sent by God as a “hunter” to persuade European Jews to move to Israel.

The Forward has a summary:

“Mr. Kerry, restarting the peace process with the Palestinians is fiddling while Rome is burning,” Rev. John Hagee, CUFI’s founder and president cried out to the cheers of an excited audience expressing its support with lengthy applauds and the blowing of the shofar.

…”No return to the 1967 borders,” Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg of San Antonio, Texas, said in his the invocation. “No return to the Auschwitz borders.”

…The conference hosted a lineup of critics of the administration’s Middle East policy, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz who argued that the United States should take action against Iran if it gets close to reaching a nuclear weapon, congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Senator Lindsey Graham, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Graham told the audience he plans to present a bill to the Senate authorizing the use of military action against Iran’s nuclear plan.

…Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, added that the “cost of action,” when it comes to Iran, “may be great, but the cost of inaction may be much greater.”

I previously wrote about Hagee and Scheinberg here.

Think Progress (citing a paywalled CQ Roll Call item), discuses Lindsey Graham‘s contribution in more detail:

“If nothing changes in Iran, come September, October, I will present a resolution that will authorize the use of military force to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb,” Graham told a “cheering” audience at a conference put on by the right-wing group Christians United for Israel…

“The only way to convince Iran to halt their nuclear program is to make it clear that we will take it out,” Graham said, echoing comments he made last week, calling the war authorization “the last card to play in a very dangerous situation.”

However, Graham was outdone by Benyamin Netanyahu, who warned via satellite that Iran plans to use nuclear weapons to attack the USA. According to CBN:

After thanking them for their unwavering support, he also warned them that Israel isn’t the only target of Iran’s nuclear weapons.

“Those weapons aren’t prepared to launch against Israel,” Netanyahu warned. “They already have nuclear missiles. Those ICBMs are intended for you to hit the United States and that could happen very soon.”

(That first sentence gives the impression that Iran already has nuclear weapons, although Netanyahu doesn’t quite say that)

Meanwhile, RightWingWatch describes Glenn Beck‘s contribution:

During his speech, Beck boldly declared that the United States was “established for the establishment of Israel,”…. And, as proof that our Founding Fathers were well aware of this, Beck pointed out that even our dollar bill contains a Star of David, as well as representations of the cloud and fire that led the Israelites while they wandered in the desert.

It’s not true, of course, but that is what happens when you get your history from people like David Barton.

Typically with Beck, there were also theatrical flourishes; according to his Blaze website:

To illustrate his point, he brought out several historical pieces, including a handmade whip from Auschwitz, a teacher’s manual that explained how to identify Jewish students and explain away their sudden absence to others in the class, and a letter signed by Neville Chamberlain. He spent a lot of time with the Auschwitz whip, pointing out that someone had to hand make an instrument of pain and torture for another human being.

….Putting his own words into action, Glenn pledged a $100,000 to ChristiansUnited for Israel and their campus outreach program…

I wrote about Beck’s links with Hagee and with other Christian Right figures here.

Keeping the British end up was Colonel Richard Kemp CBE, who formerly commanded British troops in Afghanistan and who now provides “consultancy services for private sector companies on leadership, security, intelligence, counter-terrorism and defence”. At Frontpage, Jim Fletcher has further details:

Kemp began by revealing his own Christian faith, and invoked the name of another legend, whom he called “The greatest Christian Zionist in Britain.” He went on to say that he had, that morning, spoken to Orde Wingate. Many in the crowd smiled but were puzzled.

“I spoke to him this morning at Arlington,” Kemp said…

Kemp delivered an impassioned defense of Israel that brought many in the room to tears. He mentioned several of Israel’s major battlefield achievements, calling the 1976 Entebbe rescue, “The most breathtaking special forces operation the world has ever seen.”

Kemp also referred to the CUFI Summit as a “remarkable event,” and indeed it was.

Kemp has “shared platforms with US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Australian Prime Minister John Howard” (1).

Hagee’s worldview is perhaps best exemplified by a 2003 sermon entitled “The Final Warning, The Coming Crash, and The New World Order”. It can be seen here, and there is also a useful summary by Bruce Wilson:

At 1:38 Hagee states, “Out of European history then comes a group of people who are, who call themselves the Illuminati. They were a group of Satanists. The word Illuminati comes from the word illuminate which means to enlighten. The Bible says Satan is an angel of light. Satan is an angel of light. The Illuminati were a super secret organization of international financial power brokers in Europe, who had as their goal a worldwide economic power, and they would rule the world through economic wealth.” At 7:48 Hagee states, “Now here are the four things that have to happen before the New World Order can come to power. One, there must be the destruction of the economic system, the monetary system. It may be shocking to you but I believe that America’s economic problems are not created by market conditions, they are planned and orchestrated to devalue and to destroy the value of the dollar. It was done by an unseen government that I’ll discuss later in this message.”

At 10:22 Hagee states, “Our economic destiny is controlled by the Federal Reserve system that is now headed by Alan Greenspan. Think about this. It is not a government institution. It is controlled by a group of Class A stockholders including the Rothschilds of Europe and the David Rockefellers of America.” At 11:13 Hagee states, “So get this one thought. The value of the dollar is controlled by an agency which is not controlled by America. You don’t have to have a Ph.D. in finance to understand that. The value of your dollar is controlled by an organization, the Federal Reserve that is not controlled by America. That’s a fact.”


(1) Kemp is also a sometime associate of Patrick Mercer MP, a fellow ex-serviceman. Kemp must have been dismayed when Mercer was recently secretly recorded describing an Israeli soldier as looking like a “bloody Jew”; Mercer is now asking pro-Israel questions in Parliament by way of atonement.

Honduras Government Promotes Large-Scale US Evangelical Mission Event

Honduras Newspaper

Charisma News reports:

The government of Honduras—including the department of governments, the military, the police and judicial departments—gathered this weekend with thousands of people, leading pastors and civic leaders for the first government transformation session for national change.

The event, given the name “1Nation1Day“, was organized by, which in turn was founded by a certain Dominic Russo along with Jedidiah Thurner and Gabe Bahlhorn. However, Bahamian prosperity gospel evengelist Myles Munroe (previously discussed here) was also part of the action:

Myles Munroe was a special guest at the event Friday and delivered the powerful message “Transforming Politicians Into Leaders.” Honduras President [Porfirio] Lobo Sosa has invited Munroe to return to the country to continue his training.

We’re told that members of the military “rose to their feet” in response to his message.

Russo met Lobo Sosa ahead of the event back in March; the Christian Post reported Russo as saying that:

“We have almost 1,600 people already signed up to come with us to Honduras July 13-21. We have already shipped 10 containers of aid and we’re gathering eight more…. We’re going to be broadcast live in Honduras on the government channel. We’re going to be on every radio station in Honduras and broadcast hopefully across the world with a couple of different Christian networks.

“…I believe that President Lobo wants to see the challenges that the country faces overcome. I believe he wants to see healing, unity and peace. He wants to bridge the divide that currently exists.”

“I think he’s also a wise man and wants to open his arms to international investment. Having business leaders and students and ministry leaders all coming and focusing on his nation in one campaign, could only bring benefit to Honduras,” he added.

Lobo Sosa  – a conservative rancher – was elected in November 2009, six months after a coup removed Manuel Zelaya, who had attempted to call a referendum on allowing a Presidential re-election. Depending on who you read, Zelaya was ousted either because he had committed “an offense, in fact a wrongdoing that is tantamount to treason”, or because of “the Honduran oligarchy’s fear of what would happen if the people got a chance to write their own Constitution”.

Either way, though, there are serious concerns about human rights in the country; last month in the USA, 20 Democrat senators put their names to a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry:

Since June of 2009, international and Honduran human rights organizations have documented a pattern of violence and threats against journalists, human rights defenders, members of the clergy, union leaders, opposition figures, students, small farmers, and LGBT activists.  There are also recent reports of death squads working with police, and in some cases consisting of on- or off-duty police, to kill gang members even after they surrender. The Honduran Congress created a “Directorate for Investigation and Evaluation of the Police Career” in December 2011 to address corruption and criminality in the police force, but it has turned out to be a disappointing failure.  Only a handful of the hundreds of officers recommended for dismissal have been removed.  The Honduran judiciary routinely fails to prosecute human rights violations, and many other crimes go unpunished

The Honduran city of San Pedro Sula was recently described as the most violent city in the world; a recent NPR report noted the assessment of the country’s Minister for Justice and Human Rights, Ana Pineda:

She says the public doesn’t trust the government. Most agencies collude with organized crime or use the institutions for their own political power and wealth, a situation many say has increasingly worsened since the 2009 coup that ousted the left-of-center president.

Last year, the U.S. Congress held up funding to Honduras over concerns of alleged human rights abuses and corruption, particularly in the Honduran police force. Part of the funds are still on hold.

One looks forward to seeing the effect of further “training” from Myles Munroe.

One can’t help but recall uncritical support that was given by US evangelical leaders to Rios Montt back in the 1980s.

Vatican Decree on Plenary Indulgence For World Youth Day Mentions “Social Communication”, Prompts Silly Headlines

From the Guardian‘s Rome correspondent Tom Kington:

Vatican offers ‘time off purgatory’ to followers of Pope Francis tweets

Papal court handling pardons for sins says contrite Catholics may win ‘indulgences’ by following World Youth Day on Twitter.

…Indulgences these days are granted to those who carry out certain tasks – such as climbing the Sacred Steps, in Rome (reportedly brought from Pontius Pilate’s house after Jesus scaled them before his crucifixion), a feat that earns believers seven years off purgatory.

But attendance at events such as the Catholic World Youth Day, in Rio de Janeiro, a week-long event starting on 22 July, can also win an indulgence.

…Mindful of the faithful who cannot afford to fly to Brazil, the Vatican’s sacred apostolic penitentiary, a court which handles the forgiveness of sins, has also extended the privilege to those following the “rites and pious exercises” of the event on television, radio and through social media.

“That includes following Twitter,” said a source at the penitentiary, referring to Pope Francis’ Twitter account, which has gathered seven million followers. “But you must be following the events live. It is not as if you can get an indulgence by chatting on the internet.

In its decree, the penitentiary said that getting an indulgence would hinge on the beneficiary having previously confessed and being “truly penitent and contrite”.

One can see why journalists would be struck by the juxtaposition of 21st century technology with a theological concept that many people (and especially Guardian readers) associate with the Middle Ages, but one expects something a bit better than this sniggering, vulgarized approach to the subject from a serious newspaper.

The Guardian article is derived from a piece in Corriere della SeraThat article was entitled “Plenary Indulgence with a Tweet”, which was apparently justified by a quote from a priest who appears to have some kind of relationship with the paper:

…In the end, we turned to Fr Paolo Padrini, a respected scholar of the Church’s relations with digital communications who has earned the nickname “iPriest” from his students for his obsession with always being connected. It was Fr Padrini who coordinated the soon-to-be-launched project which will enable users of the Corriere della Sera’s website to obtain images and original contributions from Rio de Janeiro for World Youth Day. Fr Padrini says: “Imagine your computer is a well-laden table where you can find tweets from Pope Francis, videos on YouTube, clips on and Facebook postings from your friend in Brazil. That is the dinner that will nourish your spirit. Sharing, acting in unison, despite the obstacle of distance. But it will still be real participation and that is why you will obtain the indulgence. Above all because your click will have come from the heart”.

Current Catholic teaching on indulgences is to be found in Indulgentiarum Doctrina, which was issued by Pope Paul VI in 1967. It includes the following:

An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due sin.

…A partial indulgence will henceforth be designated only with the words “partial indulgence” without any determination of days or years.

This makes the Guardian’s reference to climbing the Sacred Steps to earn “seven years off” as a comparison doubly inappropriate. It should be noted that the phrase “time off purgatory” in the Guardian headline does not appear in Vatican decree or anywhere else, despite being in quotation marks.

Indulgences are also discussed in Pope John Paul II’s Incarnationis Mysterium (1998); it includes references to the “state of Purgatory” and to “temporal punishment due”, but the emphasis is on the expiation of “whatever impedes full communion with God and with one’s brothers and sisters” rather than on mechanistically seeking “time off”.

According to the Vatican decree itself concerning World Youth Day:

The faithful who are legitimately impeded, will be able to obtain the Plenary Indulgence provided that, complying with the usual spiritual, sacramental and prayerful conditions, with the intention of filial submission to the Roman Pontiff, participate spiritually in the sacred functions during the specified days, provided that they follow the same rites and pious exercises while they are taking place, through television and radio or, always with the due devotion, through the new means of social communication…

similar decree issued last year in relation the “Year of Faith” also mentions “television or radio”; the passing addition of “new means of social communication” is merely an obvious extension of the general principle, and journalistic interest is disproportionate.

The Guardian is not the only paper to have botched its reporting; the Australian Daily Telegraph has the following:

Pope Francis to forgive Twitter followers’ sins online

POPE Francis will offer pardons for sins over Twitter next week as part of World Youth Day celebrations, to be held in Rio de Janeiro.

The Vatican has issued a decree, announcing that the Pope would give ‘plenary indulgences’, which reduce the time spent in purgatory for sins committed.

This is again misleading, asking us to imagine the Pope firing off indulgences via Twitter. On Twitter itself, the story has opened a floodgate of snark, the suggestion being that “time off purgatory” is being offered to anyone who RTs a @pontifex Tweet.

One doesn’t have to believe in, or even respect, the idea of “indulgences”; but if you’re going to write seriously about the subject, at least attempt some proper understanding of what they mean to insiders.

St Andrew’s Cross Tours Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus

From the Greek Reporter:

The shrine with the Cross of St Andrew the First-Called has arrived in St Petersburg.

The relic has opened the festivities marking the 1025th anniversary of the Baptism of Rus due to take place on the territory of three states – Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

The “Baptism of Rus” refers to the moment in 988 when Grand Prince Vladimir ordered the mass baptism of the people of Kiev. As of 13 July, “65,000” people had queued to see it.

The cross has been brought to Russia by the Foundation of St. Andrew the First-Called, and the Foundation’s chair, Vladimir Yakunin (a close ally of Vladimir Putin), travelled to Patras in Greece to oversee the the relic’s transportation (pictures here). Two years ago, Yakunin arranged for a relic believed to be the Virgin Mary’s belt (or girdle) to visit Russia from Mt Athos for the first time.

St Andrew’s association with Kiev and Russia is outlined in a scholarly book on the Valaam Monastery by Kati Parppei. She writes that an association of Andrew with the east was developed in Constantinople as a counter-balance to Rome’s association with St Peter, although it only received official church support from 1204 (the year when Constantinople was attacked by Crusaders). The idea then spread to ecclesiastical circles in Syria, Georgia, and Kiev: “a worthy founder, preferably an apostle, gave [Kiev] the legacy and authority of a true Christians principality”.

Andrew was subsequently linked to Novgorod, thus linking the city to first century Christianity rather than Christianization via Constantinople, and then to Moscow, legitimizing Muscovite rule. In the sixteenth century, Andrew came to be seen as having prophesied “the Christianization of the whole Russian land”.

The cross will be Russia from 11 to 25 July, followed by three days in Kiev. A commentator to the website of the Religious Information Service of Ukraine caustically notes:

Isn’t it sad that when the Kyivan Church celebrates its 1025th anniversary, the Holy cross of its founder will spend 4 times as long in Moscow and area than in Kyiv where St. Andrew stood and prophesied. How typically Russian.

Currently, the Orthodox Church in Ukraine is divided between an independent “Kyivan Patriarchate” and churches in union with the Moscow Patriarchate. Last month, Patriarch Filaret mocked the fact that Russia was beginning celebrations with a procession of the relics of Prince Vladimir beginning in Vladivostok:

This is the twisting of history. We are celebrating an event that occurred in 988 in Kyiv. Moscow did not exist as a city, let alone the capital of a state, at the time. Even the Russian Empire celebrated the 900th anniversary of baptism in Kyiv, not in Moscow or Petersburg. So why do they begin to mark this date in Vladivostok? Because Russia cannot possibly drop the fixed idea of the so-called Russian World (they have also drawn the Russian Orthodox Church in there).

A Ukrainian government-sponsored interdenominational commemoration will take place on 27 July; Patriarch of Moscow Kirill has apparently confirmed that he will not attend if Filaret is present. Kirill recently emphasised “the countries of historical Rus, including Russia, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus” in conversation with the President of Greece.

After Kiev, the cross will move on to Minsk. According to the Belarusian Telegraph Agency, “the relic will be on display in the Apostle Andrew Church and the Church of All Saints.” Kirill enjoys a close relationship of mutual admiration with Belarus president (and “Europe’s last dictator”) Alexander Lukashenko.

Russian Groups Come Together For Anti-Gay Protests Outside Moscow Embassies

Interfax reports on plans for a protest against gay marriage outside the French embassy in Moscow, including a handy round-up of the groups involved:

Apart from Russian Mothers, the protest is expected to involve representatives of the God’s Will organization, Family and the World, the Trade Union of Russian Citizens, the Association of Orthodox Experts, the Eurasian Youth Union, the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia, the Union of Orthodox Citizens, the Orthodox Action Corporation, the Christian Solidarity Foundation, and the Coalition for Morality.

Some of the same groups recently held a protest outside the US embassy, in protest against the imposition of American values.

Russian Mothers is headed by Irina Bergset (var. “Irina Bergseth”). She was formerly married to a Norwegian, and she alleges that Norwegian authorities gave custody of her sons to her ex-husband despite her claim that he was a child sex abuser. Bergset also paints a lurid picture of Norway in general as a country that  promotes paedophilia, and her accusations include the bizarrely grotesque claim that her younger son was gang-raped while being forced wear a “Putin suit”.

Bergset further claims that social service interventions involving mixed Russian-Finnish families in Finland are due to “the ideology of feminism”, and in March, she organised a “Protect the Children” rally following the death of a Russian adoptee in the USA. An apparently critical account in English of some of  her claims appeared in the Moscow Times piece, which unfortunately is behind a subscription-only paywall; her ex-husband was interviewed in Russian media here.

God’s Will, meanwhile, came to notice in March, when it protested against evolution at a natural history museum; I discussed the group and its leader Dmitriy Enteo here.

Details of “Family and World” are scarce, although Bergset announced recently that:

…three organizations “Family and World”, “Russian Billion” and “Russian Mothers” representing parental and pro-family [groups] from 52 regions of the Russian Federation, and also a number of regional public organizations, declared the intention “to create in the nearest future active political family and parental structure”, namely fraction at Great Fatherland party.

The Trade Union of Russian Citizens (website here) famously attempted to sue Madonna for $10 million after she spoke in favour of gay rights at a concert in St Petersberg (the lawsuit was dismissed).

The Association of Orthodox Experts appeared on this blog in 2010, when it declared that the Iceland volcano eruption might be God’s wrath against gays and pagans.

The Eurasian Youth Union is headed by Alexander Dugin; according to a profile from the School of Russian and Asian Studies:

Dugin is a former member of the nationalist group Pamyat, which bills itself as a “People’s National Patriotic Orthodox Christian Movement” that sought to preserve Russian culture from a perceived Masonic/Zionist/Western threat. Dugin was also, however, one of the authors of the original political platform of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation when that party was formed as a successor to the banned Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

…the political program of the Eurasianist Youth Union… can be seen as a short, radical, and fiery expression of Dugin’s thought. The young Eurasianists would establish a new Eurasian empire wherein all cultures would be given the powers of local government to maintain their own laws and enforce their own values. To achieve this, they must fight against primarily the US, against liberals in Russia, and against a host of other enemies including “incompetent bureaucrats” and the “debased media.”

The Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia is perhaps a bit of an odd one out here, with an apparently progressive agenda; however, political divisions are not always clear-cut, and Patriarch Kirill’s eulogy to Hugo Chavez should perhaps be remembered here.

The Union of Orthodox Citizens has also appeared on this blog more than once – there is an overlap with the Association of Orthodox Experts in the person of Kirill Frolov. In 2012 it announced plans to form an Orthodox political party in collaboration with Dmitry Merkulov’s “Tsarist Russia”. According to RIA Novosti (which calls Merkulov’s group “Autocratic Russia”):

The new party will work to reinstate religious instruction in schools and emphasize traditional spiritual, moral and cultural values.

Valentin Lebedev, head of the Union of Orthodox Citizens, said the Russian Orthodox Church is currently under fierce attack because it is “the last pillar of Russian statehood, traditions and culture.”

The Orthodox Action Corporation opposed a gay Christian meeting in St Petersberg in 2011;  The Moscow News reported:

The movement to block the “sodomite meeting” was supported by Orthodox Action Corporation that includes academics and theologists from all over Russia, such as Deacon Andrei Kurayev, head of National Strategy Institute Stanislav Belkovsky and head of the Synodal Department for Church and Society Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate Vsevolo Chaplin.

The Christian Solidarity Foundation is perhaps the local branch of Christian Solidarity International, headed by Dmitry Pakhomov; in August last year he took part in a press conference on Syria, alongside figures that included “Nashi youth movement commissar Konstantin Goloskokov”, and he was a leading voice in the campaign to have members of Pussy Riot imprisoned; Gazeta reported:

The initial response of the church was restrained. However, two days after the incident in the Church of Christ the Savior, a missionary school rector at the Church of St. Thomas, Dmitry Pakhomov, and the co-chairman of Orthodox public movement “People’s Cathedral,” Oleg Kassin, both appealed to the Prosecutor General’s Office. A criminal case was then opened against Pussy Riot for “hooliganism” and the police began a search for the girls.

(I discussed Kassin here)

The Coalition for Morality (or the “Morals Coalition”, or just “For Morality”) is headed by Ivan Dyachenko; in October he led an anti-Pussy Riot protest outside the Moscow City Court while band members were appealing their prison sentences. Dyachenko explained that his fellow protestors were wearing white gowns because they wanted the defendants to be assessed by mental health professionals – a suggestion that of course has a particular resonance in Russian history. He has also complained that their sentence was too short, as “much more time is needed for the convicts to realize their mistake and show repentance”.

The group also gained attention in March, when it complained to the authorities about a newspaper article by Pavel Gusev, head of the Union of Journalists of Moscow. According to Itar-Tass, the group describes itself as “combating the violations of the rights of people and ‘the rights of our children’ and called for the protection of morality and the preservation of the Russian historical and cultural heritage.

Several of the above groups have also come together to form a “Christian Defence” group; according to Pravoslavie:

The association is currently comprised of the Association of Orthodox Experts, the international foundation “Christian Solidarity”, the charitable foundation of Protection of Family, Motherhood and Childhood, the Institute for Demographic Research, and the medical educational center, “Life”.

Catholic Support for Robert Spencer

From a book review in the National Catholic Register:

Robert Spencer, perhaps the foremost Catholic expert on Islam in our country, has written a new book entitled Not Peace But a Sword: The Great Chasm Between Christianity and Islam (Catholic Answers, 2013). Spencer has advised the highest levels of the military on the Islamic threat to the United States, and has authored several books for the general public on the topic of Islam, including Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics and Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith.

Spencer’s Catholicism was discussed in February  (he’s a deacon in a Greek Melkite diocese). He has indeed advised “the highest levels of the military”, but so have a number of other problematic individuals. I’ve found Spencer’s polemical comments on the subject of Islam to be slapdash and blustering, rather than what one might expect from “the foremost Catholic expert on Islam” in the USA. When inaccuracies are brought to his attention, he either lashes out with accusations of support for Islamic extremism, or he quietly deletes material from his website without making corrections (see here and here). He also also of course identifies completely Pamela Geller, whose anti-Obama diatribes include birtherism.

The review of Spencer’s book is by “Opus Dei Father C. J. McCloskey”, a man described by the New Republic as “priest to Washington’s conservative establishment” and by Slate as “the Catholic church’s K Street lobbyist”. According to a Beliefnet profile,

McCloskey is credited with facilitating the conversions of such luminaries as failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, “Crossfire” co-host Robert Novak, Republican Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, conservative book publisher Alfred Regnery, economist and commentator Larry Kudlow, and one-time New York gubernatorial candidate Lewis Lehrman. Abortion doctor-turned-pro-lifer Bernard Nathanson was tutored by McCloskey, as was indicted Tyco International counsel Mark Belnick.

C. John McCloskey is also close to Rick Santorum; some sites further claim that he facilitated Newt Gingrich’s conversion, although McCloskey’s name does not appear in Gingrich’s conversion narrative.

Spencer’s book comes with a designated website, where there are other endorsements: from Scott Hahn of Franciscan University of Steubenville (“shows us how to take Islam seriously without falling into alarmism, hatred, or bigotry”), Patrick Madrid (“calm, lucid, accurate, and uncompromising”), Robert R. Reilly (“his usual clarity and insight”), and William Kilpatrick (“must reading not only for Catholics but for all Christians”).

Spencer’s publisher, Catholic Answers, was founded in 1979, originally to oppose fundamentalist anti-Catholicism.

US Evangelicals Ponder the Apocalyptic Significance of Adnan Oktar

Turkish Islamic proselytizer Adnan Oktar (also known as Harun Yahya) continues to fascinate apocalyptically-minded US evangelicals; Bob Unrah writes at WND:

A Turkish television show featured prominent Muslim and Jewish leaders agreeing on the coming end times and declaring an expectation to live in “love, peace, friendship, brotherhood, good faith, kindness.”

The Muslim participants are Oktar Babuna and Adnan Oktar, both prominent Islamic personalities. The Jews are Rabbi Yeshayahu Hollander, a member of the Sanhedrin and an associate justice on the Jerusalem Court for Issues of Bnei Noah, and Rabbi Ben Abrahamson, a historian and consultant at Jerusalem’s Rabbinical Court on matters regarding Islam.

…Walid Shoebat, a former Muslim Brotherhood activist who now is a Christian researching Islam, told WND the encounter “has prophetic significance.”

“Turkey is leading Israel into making a peace treaty, which Isaiah calls ‘a covenant with death’ (Isaiah 28:15) which will happen in Egypt (Isaiah 30:1-2),” he said. “Soon Turkey is likely to confirm the Camp David Accord, which is the main concern for Israel and its neighbor Egypt and if this happens, then we need to be looking upwards, for our redemption draweth nigh…”

Evangelical “Last Days” thinking tends to have it both ways: bellicose anti-Israel rhetoric from countries such as Iran demonstrates that prophesied conflict is inevitable; but more friendly overtures are the harbingers of a “false peace” by which Israel will make an alliance with the anti-Christ before the final conflagration. More on Shoebat – who regularly speaks at churches and conservative events – here and here.

Meanwhile, Oktar has also just had a second meeting with “Glenn Beck’s End Times Prophet” Joel Richardson. Richardson has written books (endorsed by Robert Spencer, among others) claiming that the Bible’s anti-Christ will appear in the form of the Islamic Mahdi, and Richardson seems to think that Oktar may play a special role of some sort here. In a courteous exchange on Oktar’s TV programme, Oktar explained his hope for the rebuilding of the Jewish temple, and that Jews, Christians, and Muslims will make an alliance against “atheists, Darwinists, and materialists”; Richardson talked of friendship, but urged that Oktar and his followers should follow “the Jesus of the Bible as opposed to the false Jesus of the Qur’an”.

The meeting with Sanhedrin representatives took place last November, and followed a previous conversation with other Sanhedrin figures that occurred in 2009. As I noted at the time, the Sanhedrin is self-styled, and has no official standing.

Shoebat also complains:

Whoever imagined that before Jesus’ second coming that Israel must be reestablished with its religious legal institution, the Sanhedrin, the very agency that put him on trial before a Jewish Council. Recently, the Sanhedrin, still, chose someone else besides its rightful Messiah, and have even embraced the Islamic idea, that Messiah could be the Islamic Mahdi.

This negative view of the Sanhedrin contrasts with that of Hal Lindsey, who in 2005 wrote approvingly of how the “religious sages” were talking about the rebuilding of the Temple.