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Archived News & OP EDs

Friday, August 31, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor teaches daughters how to have sex

A south Australian fundamentalist church pastor had sex with two of his teenage daughters to educate them on how to be good wives, a South Australian court has heard.

The 54-year-old man, who cannot be named, was sentenced in the South Australian District Court to eight and a half years jail after pleading guilty to seven counts each of incest and unlawful sexual intercourse.

The court heard that the man had sex with his daughters for nearly a decade from 1991 when they were aged 13 and 15 at the family property.

The sex took place at various locations including in a shearer's shed, a paddock, on the back of a ute and, on one occasion, at the girls' grandparents house.

The man told the court the sex was not about fulfilling his desires but about teaching his daughters how to behave for their husbands when they eventually married, as dictated in scripture.

In sentencing, Judge David Lovell said the misrepresentation of scripture used to justify the abuse of the girls "defied belief", and that he had "hypocritically betrayed" his religion and principles.

"You said the acts were about learning about sex rather than engaging in the acts of sex," Judge Lovell said.

"I do not accept that.

"You treated your daughters as your property ... using them to satisfy and gratify your sexual urges."

Judge Lovell gave full credit for the man's guilty pleas, saying he was genuinely remorseful and had a good chance of rehabilitation as his wife and the church remained supportive.

The man will be eligible for parole in four years.

Story Link

Tuesday, August 28, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Get a job, Ted...

Disgraced minister Ted Haggard is asking that donations to support him and his family be sent to a Monument group run by a twice-convicted sex offender.

Haggard, who has moved with his family to Phoenix, could not be reached for comment today.

The head of a four-member panel of ministers overseeing the fallen preacher's spiritual restoration said he will fly to Arizona Tuesday to meet with Haggard for a face-to-face explanation.

"I'm just now discovering some of that information," Mike Ware, a senior pastor at Westminster's Victory Church, said of allegations that Haggard was urging supporters to make tax-deductible donations through Families with a Mission, based in Monument.

"I can't really make any comment on that until after I've investigated ... and talked with the other overseers," Ware said.

He called Haggard's fund-raising solicitation without the overseers' approval "premature."

The revelation is the latest in the bizarre saga of Haggard, 50, who last year quit as president of the National Association of Evangelicals and was fired as pastor of a Colorado Springs megachurch after he admitted to purchasing drugs and unspecified "sexual immorality" involving a male prostitute.

Haggard was dismissed from New Life Church last November after a former Denver gay escort publicly alleged that the powerful preacher had paid him for sex over a three-year period and sometimes took methamphetamine during the encounters.

Haggard admitted paying Mike Jones for a massage and for meth but denied having sex with Jones or taking the drug.

In February, one of Haggard's spiritual advisers said the ousted founder of New Life Church emerged from three weeks of intensive counseling convinced "he is completely heterosexual" and committed to his marriage.

Haggard's new troubles surfaced after he emailed KRDO-TV reporter Tak Landrock in Colorado Springs last week seeking support while he and his family live in the Phoenix Dream Center, a halfway house for the homeless, recovering addicts, prostitutes, ex-cons and other "broken people."

"I identify," Haggard wrote of the center's troubled clientele, whom he and his wife, Gayle, will minister.

In the fundraising pitch, Haggard told KRDO "we are looking for people who will help us monthly for two years" while he and his wife study for counseling degrees at the University of Phoenix.

Haggard wrote that supporters could mail checks to him in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"If any supporters need a tax deduction for their gift, they can mail it to Families With a Mission at P.O. Box 63125, Colorado Springs, CO 80962," Haggard added.

Haggard didn't note in the solicitation that he was paid one year's salary of $138,000 in a severance package by New Life's board and still owns a Colorado Springs home valued at $715,000, according to the El Paso County Assessor's Office.

On Friday, a Seattle alternative newspaper, The Stranger, reported online that Families with a Mission was registered by Paul Gerard Huberty as a nonprofit corporation with the Colorado Secretary of State's Office.

Huberty, who originally incorporated the nonprofit in Hawaii in 2001, was listed as president of Families with a Mission in Colorado incorporation papers.

Huberty was convicted of attempted sexual assault in Hawaii in January 2004 and sentenced to 12 months in jail with six months suspended.

He also received five years of probation and is registered in Hawaii as sex offender who has committed crimes against a minor.

The Hawaiian state sex offender registry lists Huberty's Monument home address — which also is the mailing address for Families with a Mission. There is no indication that Huberty has registered as a sex offender in Colorado, as required by state law.

Calls to Huberty's home — where the voice mail has a man named "Paul" saying to leave a message and "God bless you" — were not returned today.

His Hawaiian probation requires him to undergo lie-detector tests and other exams to see if he is sexually aroused by deviant material, according to the Hawaii state court database.

He is ordered to stay off the grounds of Kona Christian Academy, Makia Lani High School and the University of Nations, Kona campus. He was also barred from being a foster parent or guardian of a minor.

While serving with the U.S. Army in Germany in 1996, then-Lt. Col. Paul G. Huberty was convicted of sodomy, indecent acts, and adultery involving a 17-year girl who accompanied Huberty to Europe as his "legal ward," according to federal court records. Huberty was a married father of three at the time.

In the same trial, the 18-year Army veteran was also convicted of "dishonorably fondling his genitals" during an incident involving two Dutch women at a public swimming pool in the Netherlands.

Story LINK

Friday, August 24, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Preacher charged with child molestation

A Webb City preacher has been charged with three counts of child molestation, according to documents filed in Jasper County Circuit Court.

Roy Curtis Huling, 58, a preacher at United Pentecostal Church in Webb City was charged Tuesday by Jasper County prosecutor Dean Dankelson.

According to a probable cause statement, Huling had multiple encounters of sexual contact with a female who was under the age of 12 at his house in Duquesne, between August of 2003 and February of 2006.

Huling was arrested Tuesday by Duquesne police. He was released on $10,000 bond Wednesday.

Story Link

Preacher Wife Attacked By Preacher Husband

Television Evangelist Juanita Bynum, the hair stylist turned preacher, known for her inspiring and candid sermons about sexuality and marital responsibility, is recovering after allegedly being attacked by her estranged husband.

Atlanta Police say Bishop Thomas Weeks III, founder of Global Destiny churches, will be charged with aggravated assault and terroristic threats, WXIA-TV in Atlanta reports.

Around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, the couple got together for dinner at Concorde Grill in the Renaissance Concourse Hotel in Atlanta to talk about making their marriage work, Bynum's sister, Tina Culpepper told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

But that conversation,which led into the early morning hours, turned into a heated argument, and things got ugly, an eye witness told police.

"They were talking about a reconciliation. They got into an argument. In the process of the argument, her husband walked out to the parking lot area, turned back around and started to choke Miss Bynum," Atlanta Police Officer Robert Campbell said.

"As he choked her, he pushed her down to the ground and started to kick her and also stomp on her," he said, adding that a hotel bellman had to pull Weeks off Bynum.

At the end of it all, Bynum,48, was the one “bruised up and battered” and “had purple bruising around her neck and torso,” The Associated Press reports.

Weeks, 54, who allegedly threatened to kill Bynum, left the scene before police arrived. Bynum met with authorities Thursday evening to press charges, according to AP.

Bynum wrote on her MySpace.com page, "I am currently recovering from my injuries and resting well. There are so many great things happening for me in my future, and so much to look forward to concerning my destiny, this too shall pass."

Bynum and Weeks made headlines with their 2002 wedding that, according to Ebony, had an 80-person wedding party, 1,000 guests, an orchestra and a 7.76 carat diamond ring to top it off.

The million-dollar nuptials, which Bynum called a “once-in-a-lifetime wedding,” were televised.

Bynum’s hard-knock life included a failed marriage, a battle with anorexia and being on welfare, according to answers.com.

LINK

Tuesday, August 21, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor praised for abusing teen

SAN ANTONIO, Texas -- The San Antonio pastor charged with assaulting a teenage girl at a Christian boot camp returned to his church Monday.

The story captured national headlines after Pastor Charles Flowers and an employee were charged with dragging a 15-year-old girl behind a van.

Flowers and his wife, however, told his congregation that they would get through the difficult time with faith -- but no fear.

The church was filled to standing-room-only capacity by supporters rallying behind Flowers and camp trainer Stephanie Bassitt.

Flowers' attorneys said they would build a strong case around Flowers' honorable reputation, showing that they're representing a man who is known for helping the community.

They also explained how problems are bound to develop for a pastor who faces lots of resistance from troubled teens at camp.

"They're difficult people to deal with, they're on a path to destruction," Jimmy Parks, an attorney representing Flowers, said. "They're going to end up in prison, you give them one last chance, you ask this man to save your child's life -- you're going to have some children that resist him the way they resist their parents."

Both Flowers and Bassitt were indicted on one count of aggravated assault. They were freed on a $100,000 bond.


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Christians Condemn Time Warner Film starring Nicole Kidman

WM comment: Christians are all in an uproar over a new movie that is coming out in December.



(From LifeSiteNews.com) - The best selling novels of atheist author Philip Pullman which were written specifically to indoctrinate children with anti-Christian values, have sparked the creation of a controversial new fantasy film to be released this December 7 by New Line Cinema - a Time Warner Company.

Starring Nicole Kidman, "The Golden Compass," is based on Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy, which includes "Northern Lights" (re-titled "The Golden Spyglass" in the United States), "The Subtle Knife" and "The Amber Spyglass." Pullman wrote these books with the intention of indoctrinating children with atheistic values. While the full interpretation and presentation of the movie has not yet been seen, the books' underlying message promotes antagonism towards Christianity.

According to UK's Daily Mail, Pullman has repeatedly stated his belief that God is dead, and the author incorporates this theme into the second book when God dies. In 2000 Pullman also stated before an Oxford literary conference, "We're used to the Kingdom of Heaven; but you can tell from the general thrust of the book that I'm of the devil's party, like Milton. And I think it's time we thought about a republic of Heaven instead of the Kingdom of Heaven. The King is dead. That's to say I believe the King is dead."

He continued, "I'm an atheist. But we need Heaven nonetheless, we need all the things that Heaven meant, we need joy, we need a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives, we need a connection with the universe, we need all the things the Kingdom of Heaven used to promise us but failed to deliver."

Pullman and fellow children's author Michael Rosen produced a course on atheism for schools called 'Why Atheism?' that is designed for children 11-years and older. Pullman told the Independent, "What I fear and deplore in the faith school camp is their desire to close argument down and put some things beyond question or debate. It's vital to get clear in young minds what is a faith position and what is not-so that, for instance, they won't be taken in by religious people claiming that science is a faith position no different in kind from Christianity."

(Read the March 2006 Independent article "Why Philip Pullman Wants to Teach Kids Atheism": http://education.independent.co.uk/schools/article348592.ece ).

The trilogy consistently gives a negative portrayal of the Catholic Church. Priests-one of whom is an assassin-are evil and violent while one positive character is an ex-nun who has lost her faith. There is even a pair of "sexually ambiguous" angels. The main problem, however, as one Amazon reviewer noted, is that "The evil in this story is God". The reviewer stated, "I realized part way through the second book, that the characters Lyra had been fighting against, and I had been rooting against were God, His Angels, and His followers."

According to the Brisbane Times, the Kidman denied that the film is anti-Catholic, stating that her Catholic faith affected her consideration for the film script. She claimed, "I was raised Catholic, the Catholic Church is part of my essence."

She continued, "I wouldn't be able to do this film if I thought it were at all anti-Catholic." According to Entertainment Weekly, the religious elements have been removed from the movie, as Kidman claimed, "It has been watered down a little." Nevertheless, the movie trailer introduces a world that is "dominated by the Magisterium, which seeks to control all humanity, and whose greatest threat, is the curiosity of a child."

In context of the anti-religious books, the movie is making an obvious negative parallel with the Catholic Church. The dark and evil organization called "the Magisterium" in the film has the same name as the body that makes up the Catholic Church's teaching authority - the bishops in union with the Pope. The Magesterium in the film kidnaps children in order to take out their souls, CathNews reports.

Towards the end of the trailer, the voice-over states, "The magisterium seeks to control every world, every universe. Nothing will stop them from trying to take over."

LINK

Pastor arrested for embezzlement

The senior pastor at a Round Rock church who resigned amid a criminal investigation is now in police custody.

Click here to view the news video.

Officals say Donald Roger "Roddy" Clyde, 48, the former pastor of the Fellowship at Forest Creek Church, was in the process of being booked into the Williamson County Jail Wednesday night on embezzlement charges. He is accused of taking money from the Fellowship at Forest Creek Church.

According to the church, their accounting department found questionable activity in their books, which they described as a possible misuse of church funds by the pastor. Deeming it suspicious, they turned that information over to the Round Rock Police Department.

Clyde resigned from his position as Senior Pastor on Monday. He is cooperating with police in their investigation.

Long-time church member Denise Rucker says the congregation learned about the allegations from church leaders. "Maybe he wasn't practicing everything he was preaching, but his message was good, his message was clear, it came from the Bible and it applied to our everyday lives," said Rucker.

According to the church, Clyde had been a pastor of their congregation since 1992.

Church hires preaching pedophile, on purpose

A southwest suburban Southern Baptist congregation allowed a convicted child sex offender to preach for the last few years -- despite his past, and a warning from his previous church that he might still be dangerous, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

In 1996, Jeff Hannah was sentenced to nine years in prison for having sexual relations with four underage girls -- ages 15 to 17 -- while a married youth minister at Crossroads Church in Libertyville.

Hannah was paroled in 2001 and joined the First Baptist Church of Romeoville, where his new wife was a member. Soon after, the pastor moved on, and church members -- aware of Hannah's crimes -- asked him to step into the pulpit until a replacement was hired, according to church members, Hannah and others.

Hannah served in that role for three years and ever since has been a fill-in preacher, teacher and music minister at the church.

'We believe in forgiveness'

Authorities say there's no evidence that Hannah has re-offended -- and Hannah insists he has not -- but he abruptly resigned his membership in the congregation when a reporter started inquiring about him last week.

"In our church, we believe in forgiveness," said Del Kirkpatrick, one of the deacons who hired Hannah.

In talking to the Sun-Times last week, Hannah, 42, was unapologetic about his crimes, saying his first marriage had been troubled and he'd had "urges."

"I honestly believe that had I been a college pastor, I'd slept with college girls," he said. "But I was a youth pastor. It was less about age and more about who I spent all my time with."

The Rev. Steve Farish, pastor of Crossroads Church, which has relocated to Grayslake, said he considered Hannah so dangerous that he warned the Romeoville church and a regional Southern Baptist official.

'The husband of one wife'

"We thought he could still potentially be a danger to women and children," Farish said. "He was never repentant and never told the truth."

Randie Bruno, the prosecutor in Hannah's case said, "He has the charisma to fool everybody."

But Hannah led the Romeoville church until February 2006, when the Rev. Charles Hamby, a 54-year-old divorced pastor with financial troubles, was hired. When Hamby remarried a few months later, several church members left, including Kirkpatrick.

"A pastor should be the husband of one wife," Kirkpatrick said.

Hamby, who also knew of Hannah's past, allowed him to continue as a preacher and gave him even greater leadership roles. "The man ... paid his debt to society," Hamby said.

Some in the congregation were upset by Hannah's role, but Hamby's remarriage was a bigger controversy, according to church officials. The feud bubbled over last week, when Hamby and Hannah abruptly resigned.

"I just want to live my life," Hannah said.

Activist outraged

The future of the congregation remains uncertain. Sunday worship was canceled.

With more than 16 million members, the Southern Baptist Convention is the nation's largest Protestant denomination. Each congregation is autonomous. Under pressure from victims' groups, the SBC in June pledged to examine the possibility of creating a national database of clergy predators.

Christa Brown, founder of StopBaptistPredators.org, was outraged that Hannah went from prison to the pulpit.

"When Southern Baptists put perpetrators into positions of spiritual trust again, it sends the message that this denomination doesn't care about victims," Brown said.

LINK

Sunday, August 19, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Comedienne Julia Sweeney Talks About Giving Up On Religion

Whether or not God exists is perhaps the most perplexing of life's cosmic questions. It is a debate each of us has probably grappled with at one time or another.

For former "Saturday Night Live" star Julia Sweeney, giving up on religion was anything but easy.

"I had spent so much time thinking about what God meant, I hadn't really spent any time thinking what Not-God meant," said Sweeny. "There was this teeny-weeny voice whispering inside my head, I'm not sure how long it had been there but it suddenly got just one decibel louder and it whispered 'There is no God.' I tried to ignore it but it got a little louder. 'There is no God, there is no God.' Oh God, there is no God! It was terrifying. You know, it was a terrifying moment to let go of that idea."

Sweeney's most famous "SNL" character was Pat, the gender-confused character who later starred in her own movie.

Even more confusing for Sweeney personally was religion. She comes from a large Irish-Catholic family. But in her 30s, Sweeney says she began a spiritual quest. It led her away from any notion of God — a conversion she turned into a monologue, soon to be released as a film called "Letting Go of God."

But of course, many people would disagree with Sweeney, especially her mother, Geri. She said it was a great shock that her daughter decided that there wasn't enough evidence for her to believe in God.

"I just couldn't believe that she had gotten to that place. I'm Catholic. I intend to continue to be Catholic," Geri Sweeney said. "I think the Catholic Church is a wonderful place."

As a result of her decision about God and religion, Julia fell out of touch with her parents.

"They both said they weren't going to speak to me anymore," she said. "My dad said, 'I don't think you should even come to my funeral.' After I hung up I thought, 'Just try and stop me.'"

Julia Sweeney is clearly in the minority in this country. From the classroom with the "Pledge of Allegiance" where students declare that the United States is "one nation under God;" to the world of politics where candidates constantly reference religion; even in the movies like "Evan Almighty," God is everywhere.

In a recent CBS News poll, 82 per cent of Americans said they believe in god -- 9 percent in a universal spirit. Just 8 percent say they don't believe in either. They are a small minority, but lately, it seems, an increasingly vocal one.

A new crop of books, written by atheists, is on the best seller list. For example, "God Is Not Great" by journalist Christopher Hitchens. He believes that nothing is sacred. He aggressively attacks organized religion.

"There are unethical things that people do because of religion they wouldn't do without it," he said. "Mutilating the genitals of their children, blowing themselves up in the attempt to murder other people, Banning books, burning each other's churches — things that an atheist wouldn't do."

Atheism, Hitchens says, is the view that there is simply not enough evidence to show that God exists.

"Thus those who claim to know of, by definition, are mistaken," he said. "Well, because those who are religious claim not only that there is a God, which they cannot know, but they claim to know his mind and his instructions, which is much more than any human being can claim to know."

Hitchens believes religion, no matter which faith, no matter where in the world, can bring out the worst in us. Take, he says, his birth-place Northern Ireland.

"Where the Christians kill each other happily and re — reduced the whole level of society to one of practically underdevelopment," he said.

Also consider the Middle East — the cradle of Christianity, Judaism and Islam. Hitchens has traveled widely in the region.

"To be a foreign correspondent and to go to countries that could and should be civilized and to see them torn to shreds and their culture reduced to beggary and — misery, by religion is, is a very — is an education I wish everyone could have," Hitchens said.

But Stephen Prothero, who chairs the religious studies department at Boston University, says that atheists miss the fact that religion, while being a source of some terrible evil, is also the greatest force for good.

"And so, if you're gonna criticize -- you know, religious people for the inquisition, then you need to praise them for the Civil Rights Movement," he said. "You need to praise them for getting rid of slavery in the United States, which they did. You can't sort of have it both ways. And similarly, if you're going to praise atheists for these things, you need to criticize the Stalinists, I mean some of the most murderous regimes that we've had in the 20th century were atheistic regimes."

In his recent book "Religious Literacy," Prothero argues Americans, though religious, actually know little about any faith, let alone their own. And he says while religion has always been a dominant force in American society, lately, it's become much more confrontational.

"We used to have a sort of gentlemen's agreement that religion was private," he said. "And so, if you were against religion, you wouldn't trash the religion of your neighbors. That's sort of — you know, un-American and sort of intolerant. But once religion moved into the public arena, anti-abortion or things like that, then it's almost the duty of atheists who are opposed to the religious right and step in and say, 'you know, religion is idiotic. You know, God doesn't exist.' You know, 'Why are we talking about the Bible? It's a pack of lies.'"

It's possible no atheist was more outspoken than the late Madalyn Murray O'Hair. In the 1960s, O'Hair argued all the way to the Supreme Court that forcing her children to pray and read the bible in their public school was unconstitutional. She won.

O'Hair was vilified by many. Ellen Johnson, head of the organization that O'Hair founded, American Atheists, says the stigma persists.

"Atheists are everywhere," Johnson said. "Atheists are your police officers. They are your physicians. They are your teachers. They are your children. We know who the atheists are; unfortunately they're in the closet. But to the people who don't know that, atheists are just your unpatriotic, un-American immoral person."

A Gallup poll not long ago found 44 percent of Americans view atheists harshly and 53 percent said they would never elect an atheist president. The number of people who say they belong to no organized religion, while still small, has been growing. And about 3/4 of us confess to not going to church every week and that's the easy stuff, we haven't even gotten to obeying-following the Ten Commandments. To some, that suggests religion is little more than a habit — a comfortable place to be.

Julia Sweeney says she simply cannot believe in God because of a lack of evidence, but Prothero says that is where faith comes in.

"I have no trouble saying that, you know, we can't prove the existence of God," he said. "I think most Americans feel the same way."

Julia's mother Geri says she was taught in second grade that there was no proof that God exists.

"It doesn't matter a bit to me," she said. "I have a very personal relationship with my God and I don't need any proof. I'm not searching for proof — and she is."

On the plus side, Julia and her family are talking again. They've simply agreed to disagree about religion. But Geri confesses that she still holds out hope.

"I think she will come back," she said.

"I can't say what the future will hold," Julia said, "But I'd be very surprised."

Click here for books by Julia Sweeney.

LINK

Saturday, August 18, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor caught in Internet sex sting



DENTON
-- An Arlington pastor was arrested on Thursday afternoon during a sex sting operation where a Denton police detective posed as a 15-year-old girl arranging to meet the man for sex.

Leroy Cruz faces charges of soliciting a minor and sending explicit images to a minor over the internet.

According to reports, Cruz first contacted the 'teenager' at roughly 11:30 a.m. Thursday morning. He arranged to meet who he thought was a 15-year-old girl at South Lakes Park in Denton. According to the detective, during an online chat, Cruz allegedly offered the 'teenager' $50 for oral sex and turned on a webcam to expose himself.

Jim Bryan of the Denton Police Department explained, "The pastor came here to South Lakes Park yesterday afternoon at 2 p.m. hoping to meet a 15-year-old girl here for sex. Instead, he was actually met by several Denton police officers who took him into custody."

The 50-year-old was formerly the pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Arlington. The church moved out of its building about two months ago.

"As he was approaching to the meet location, one of the investigators got out and said, 'Come here a minute.' As soon as he figured out it was the police, he ducked his head and knew he'd been caught," Bryan said.

According to the detective, the online chat lasted about one hour. Authorities had not had contact with Cruz before this time.

"He has stated to the investigators that he has never done this before. While he has had urges to do so, he has never set up a meet or had this kind of conversation," Bryan said.

However, on the arrest warrant affadavit, during the online chat, Cruz used explicit language talking about sex acts with another high school girl.

Cruz remains in the Denton County Jail on a $20,000 bond.

In the 20 months of this on-going sting, police in Denton have arrested 41 men.

Monday, August 13, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Sceptics beat God in bestseller battle

Reposted from: The Guardian

David Smith
Sunday August 12, 2007
The Observer

Struggling authors should keep the faith -- literally. Sales of books that explore religion or spirituality have grown by more than 50 per cent in the past three years, according to online retailer Amazon.

The boom surpasses the rise in sales of books in categories such as history, which have grown by 38 per cent, and politics, up by 30 per cent, confirming that religion has become a pivotal topic in the early 21st century.

But the statistics may not make uplifting reading for believers. The most popular 'religious' book, says Amazon, is The God Delusion, an anti-faith polemic by Richard Dawkins, the academic who has been dubbed 'Darwin's rottweiler'. Second is God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, another broadside at holy citadels, by the journalist Christopher Hitchens.

Amazon said that the third most popular book in the category was Jesus of Nazareth by the Pope, followed by a perennial favourite among readers seeking spiritual fulfilment, Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist: A Fable about Following your Dream and a riposte to Dawkins entitled The Dawkins Delusion? Atheist Fundamentalism and the Denial of the Divine by Alister and Joanna McGrath.

But it is The God Delusion that has driven the growth of the category. Between April and June it was the fourth-bestselling book of all, beaten only by the two editions (children and adult) of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay's latest offering. However, the publication of The God Delusion last year also prompted a 120 per cent increase in sales of the Bible.

Amy Worth, books manager at Amazon, said: 'The God Delusion has been one of the bestselling books of the past year. People are interested in the debate it has sparked. There are 524 readers' comments on our site. The comments are both pro and against and it's clear that religious people are buying it. The Dawkins Delusion has also been successful, although when we had a customer-vote on The Dawkins Delusion versus The God Delusion, the winner was The God Delusion.'

Other books challenging religion have included Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell and AC Grayling's Against All Gods. Grayling, professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, said they had found an audience following the terrorist attacks of 11 September, 2001. 'I think 9/11 has changed the nature of the debate tremendously,' he said. 'A decade ago people wouldn't say "I'm a Christian" at a dinner party. You would no more speak about your religious belief than you would your sex life.

'But after 9/11 we no longer think people should be treated differently or given exemption from certain laws because they believe something. Secularists are now saying, "OK, believe in what you like, believe in fairies at the bottom of the garden if you want to, but don't force your beliefs on us or our children, and don't expect preferential treatment." To allow religious organisations more privileges and influence than a political party or trade union, for example, is to distort public debate. People are waking up to the fact it is anomalous.'

Sunday, August 12, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor sentenced to prison

TACOMA -- A pastor has been sentenced to spend 4 1/2 years in prison for filing fake visa applications.

Dong Wan Park, 53, of Tacoma was found guilty last summer of filing false religious worker visa applications for two Korean nationals in exchange for tens of thousand in cash.

On bond after being convicted in 2006, Park sold his Hope Korean Church for $448,595, wired $290,000 to a bank in South Korea and fled to Mexico with his wife, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Once there, authorities said, he told the Mexican police he had lost his travel documents and with the false police report went to the Korean consulate in Mexico City and applied for temporary Korean travel documents.

According to court records, by June 23, 2006, Park went to Canada, then Korea where he was arrested and convicted for passport fraud. Because Park is a U.S. citizen, he was deported to the U.S.

In April, he pleaded guilty to one count of failure to appear and one count of transportation of stolen property. Park had created a false document showing his church board approved the sale of the church real estate. According to follow-up investigation, the church did not have a board at the time.

In addition to the prison sentence, U.S. Court District Judge Ronald Leighton ordered Park to pay $290,000 in restitution and a $250,000 fine.

LINK

Friday, August 10, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor arrested for assault

A San Antonio pastor and an employee of his Christian boot camp were arrested today on aggravated assault charges, accusing them of dragging a girl behind a van after failing to keep up with others during a running exercise.

Investigators with the Nueces County Sheriff's Office arrested Charles E. Flowers shortly before noon at the Faith Outreach Center in northwest San Antonio, said Brad E. Bailey, a spokesman for the Schertz Police Department.

The department assisted Nueces County authorities in the arrests because some of the camp's training exercises occur in Schertz.

Bailey said boot camp trainer Stephanie Bassitt was arrested later in Kirby.

Authorities said both boot camp officials restrained a girl June 12, tying her to the back of the truck before dragging her on her stomach at the Love Demonstrated Ministries boot camp in Banquete, about 10 miles west of Corpus Christi.

The 15-year-old girl's mother complained to authorities about the incident after taking her daughter to get treated for scrapes and bruises.

Flowers is the self-proclaimed "commandant" of the boot camp, which he operates with his wife, Janice.

He declined to comment on the allegations Friday, evading reporters outside the offices of the Faith Outreach Center.

Other officials at the Faith Outreach Center couldn’t immediately be reached for comment this afternoon.

LINK

Thursday, August 09, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Priest arrested for jogging naked

Provided by Monk:

FREDERICK, Colo.—A Catholic priest faces an indecent exposure charge after police said he went jogging in the nude about an hour before sunrise.

The Rev. Robert Whipkey told officers he had been running naked at a high school track and didn't think anyone would be around at that time of day, a police report said.

He told officers he sweats profusely if he wears clothing while jogging. "I know what I did was wrong," he said in the report.

Whipkey did not return phone messages. His attorney, Doug Tisdale, told the Longmont Times-Call that Whipkey had no comment.

Whipkey, 53, was arrested June 22 in this small town about 20 miles north of Denver. An officer said he saw a naked man walking down the street at 4:35 a.m. The U.S. Naval Observatory Web site said sunrise that day in Frederick was 5:31 a.m.

The officer said when he shined his flashlight at the man, he covered himself with a piece of clothing he was carrying.

The Archdiocese of Denver said it takes the incident seriously but is awaiting the outcome of the case. Whipkey, who also officiates at parishes in the nearby towns of Mead and Erie, remains an active priest.

If convicted of indecent exposure, a misdemeanor, he would have to register as a sex offender, prosecutors said.

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Military Leadership Ethics Breach in Christian Video

Sent in by JoeB, from the Washington Post

The Defense Department's inspector general has found that four generals and three other military officers improperly participated in a fundraising video for an evangelical Christian group, inappropriately offering support for the religious organization while appearing to operate within the scope of their official government duties, according to a 47-page investigative report.

Investigators concluded that the officers should not have participated in the filming in 2005 of a 10-minute video for Christian Embassy, a nonprofit religious group, which ultimately used the video as a fundraising tool. While Christian Embassy has hosted prayer meetings at the Pentagon for years, the inspector general concluded that the officers' endorsement of its activities -- while in uniform, showing their rank and in the halls of the Pentagon -- violated ethical rules.

"The overall circumstances of the interviews emphasized the speakers' military status and affiliation and implied they were acting within the scope of their official positions as DoD spokespersons," the report concluded.

The military's connection to religious expression has come under scrutiny in recent years, highlighted by complaints of religious intolerance at the Air Force Academy in 2004 and 2005, when officers were promoting evangelical Christian views. In 2003, Army Lt. Gen. William G. "Jerry" Boykin was faulted for criticizing Muslims while appearing in uniform before church groups, actions that the inspector general did not consider violations of ethics rules. Last year, a Navy chaplain was court-martialed for appearing in uniform at a political protest in front of the White House, though he maintained that all he did was lead a prayer.

The inspector general last week recommended that Air Force and Army leaders take unspecified "corrective action" against the seven military officers who took part in the Christian Embassy video.

Air Force Maj. Gens. Peter U. Sutton and Jack J. Catton Jr., and Army Brig. Gens. Vincent K. Brooks and Robert L. Caslen Jr. were singled out for failing to seek appropriate approval to participate in the video and for violating ethical rules by appearing in uniform while praising the religious group. Retired Army Col. Ralph G. Benson, a former Pentagon chaplain, was also criticized for allowing Christian Embassy unescorted access to the building to film the video and for misrepresenting the purpose of the effort as a promotion of the Pentagon chaplain's office.

The other two officers were not named.

Sutton, now retired, who was chief of the Office of Defense Cooperation in Turkey, and Caslen, commandant of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, both wrote in letters to investigators that they "accepted full responsibility for their actions and committed to be more alert to ethical issues in the future," according to the report. Brooks, deputy commanding general of the 1st Cavalry Division and former top spokesman for the Army, and Catton, director of requirements for the Air Combat Command, both wrote that they believed they met ethical standards and had thought they were taking part in an approved video.

The report, published last week, cleared Army Secretary Pete Geren and another civilian of wrongdoing for participating in the same Christian Embassy video, finding that they appeared in a way that obscured their government jobs and had no link to the Pentagon itself. Geren spoke of how important Christian Embassy had been to his life, calling it "a rock" that helped him in his "walk with Christ."

Christian Embassy was founded nearly 30 years ago by the late Bill Bright, who also founded Campus Crusade for Christ. It evangelizes among military leaders, politicians and diplomats in Washington. Christian Embassy officials did not return calls yesterday.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a watchdog group led by retired Air Force lawyer Michael L. Weinstein, requested an investigation of the video last year. In a statement yesterday, Weinstein said he now wants Congress to hold oversight hearings.

The report "confirms the intentional dismantling of the Constitutionally mandated wall separating church and state by some of the highest ranking officials in the Bush Administration and the U.S. military," Weinstein wrote.

LINK

Wednesday, August 08, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor charged with insurance fraud and theft

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers today announced the conclusion of a months-long investigation into the financial dealings of the Rev. Acen Phillips.

Phillips has been charged with 12 felonies in Arapahoe County District Court; there are seven counts of theft and five counts of forgery related to insurance fraud. The counts list five people whose names allegedly were used by Phillips for fraudulent policies, but Suthers said there were others who said they were duped by the reverend. Phillips is accused of stealing or attempting to steal more than $575,000 between July 2005 and May 2006. He faces up to 81 years in prison and $5 million in fines.

State authorities had said they were looking into one life insurance policy that a woman had taken out through a group called American Church United, which listed Phillips as its chief executive officer. Officials said the life-insurance sales program operated by Phillips made his religious organizations beneficiaries when the faithful died. His life-insurance program offered people coverage for $70 a month through their churches. Upon death, 80 percent of the insurance payout would supposedly go to the deceased's family, 10 percent goes to their church and 10 percent go to Phillips' organization.

Officials said the life-insurance sales program operated by Phillips actually made his religious organizations the beneficiaries when the faithful died and policies were backdated to look authentic.

"In other cases, these were not members of the church," Suthers said. "Rev. Phillips dreamed them up after they died."

Phillips, 71, a popular Denver pastor, most recently ministered at New Birth Temple of Praise Community Baptist Church. But the doors of the church east of downtown Denver were locked Tuesday, and his name taken off the marquee.

"We lift him up in prayer, he and his family," said Bonita Brown, facilities director at Mount Gilead.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor held for theft

The former pastor of the Chickaree Union Church in Jackson Township will stand trial in Cambria County Court on charges that he stole thousands of dollars in church funds.

The Rev. Randy L. Rugh of New Alexandria, Westmoreland County, was charged with theft and receiving stolen property after he allegedly cashed a CD worth $23,540 without authorization.

The church along Route 22 on Chickaree Mountain is known as the “Jesus Saves” church because a sign proclaiming that message is posted on the building.

Members of the small congregation who have been fighting to get back what they say is church money were relieved when District Judge Mary Ann Zanghi ordered Rugh to stand trial on two charges.

“I’m very pleased,” said Terry Fletcher of Jackson Township.

“That money was given to the church and not to Randy Rugh.

“The money should stay with the church.”

Fletcher and his brother, Joseph, who filed the criminal charges against Rugh, were among 25 people who crowded into Zang-hi’s court to hear the testimony.

Several wore black T-shirts emblazoned with the message, “I pray. Do you pray?” on the front and the church’s name and likeness on the back.

The Fletchers said their grandfather, Lewis Ford, was one of three men who built the small church.

Marlin B. Teeter, former church treasurer, said the congregation began as a “cottage prayer meeting” in the 1930s. The church was built and dedicated in 1945.

Greensburg attorney Brian Bronson asked that the charges be dismissed because the issue is a civil dispute revolving around when the church was incorporated and Rugh’s authority to withdraw the funds.

A second church with the same name apparently was incorporated by Rugh in the Blairsville area.

Bronson also contended there was no way to show that the person who signed the withdrawal slip was Rugh.

Regardless of the incorporation issue, Assistant District Attorney Eric Hochfeld said Rugh had no authorization to withdraw that money.

Teeter still was church trea-surer when the certificate of deposit was opened with $22,301 in September 2001.

The money grew to $23,530 before the CD was cashed June 27, 2005, by Rugh, according to the testimony.

When the CD was cashed, the bank made out a check for that amount payable to “Chickaree Union Church Inc.” and it was cashed by Rugh, according to bank records.

But the small Jackson Township church never was incorporated, and it did not have a deposit for that amount of money, members said.

Another set of charges alleging that Rugh cashed a second CD belonging to the church was dropped because that money apparently did go into a church account.

Still pending in county court is a civil suit filed by 19 members of the congregation, who are suing Rugh for at least $25,000 for reportedly depleting church accounts without authorization.

LINK

Sunday, August 05, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Sex abuse suit against youth pastor

Baptist church leader faces sex abuse suit

LAPORTE -- A lawsuit alleges church youth leader Mark Comford spent two years gaining the trust of a boy, buying him expensive gifts then molesting him, even at the church.

The lawsuit also contends the suspect's grandfather, Jack Cox, the pastor at Faith Baptist Church in LaPorte, turned a deaf ear.

The allegations are contained in a civil lawsuit filed Thursday in LaPorte Circuit Court against Comford, the church and its pastor.

At least $30 million in damages are sought in the lawsuit filed by Michigan City attorney Doug Bernacchi on behalf of one of Comford's alleged victims.

Cox said he had no comment about the lawsuit Friday.

The legal action was taken a week after Comford, 23, a janitor at Purdue North Central, was arrested on seven counts of child molesting and two counts of criminal deviant conduct.

Four boys, ages 9 to 13, were listed as victims in the charging information outlined in all of the counts.

According to the lawsuit, Comford in 2003 as a youth leader at Faith Baptist started hosting sleepovers in the church basement.

Over the next two years, Comford lured the boy with expensive gifts then on several occasions forcibly began fondling him and engaged in other sex acts against the child's will, according to the lawsuit.

More gifts like a $100 pair of shoes and $400 motorized bike followed to pressure the boy to engage in more sexual activity and prevent him from telling.

The lawsuit also states Cox was made aware of the inappropriate contact and heavy attention paid to the child by Comford but failed to act, allowing his grandson to continue as church youth leader.

In 2006, Cox also was notified of the suspected predatory behavior by Child Protective Services, which made their concerns known on several other occasions.

As a result, the lawsuit alleges "substantially more" molestations followed, including some at the church and functions away from the church, according to the lawsuit.

Friday, August 03, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Come out, you filthy demon!

LOUISVILLE -- A bizarre story ends with the arrest of a southern Indiana man studying to be a minister. He is accused of battering a boy during an exorcism.

Detectives tell us in his hometown, 22-year-old Eddie Useyugi was known as a star athlete and 2003 class valedictorian. He was a student at Indiana University and also studying at a Bloomington area church to be a minister. Church officials tell investigators what he's accused of is not a part of their teaching.

Monroe County sheriff's detective Brad Swain says, "I've never encountered something like this before."

Swain says Useyugi promised a 14-year-old's family he could cure him of autism using an exorcism to cast out demons. The boy was in a group home, but Swain says Useyugi told the family, "He could be home for good. He just wouldn't have to have home visits."

Useyugi was a minister in training at Cherry Hill Christian Church and the boy's mother -- thinking the exorcism was part of church teaching -- agreed to let him try inside the family home in Monroe County.

According to Swain, "It immediately began into some physical battery of the boy. This lasted several hours."

In fact, Detective Swain says from one in the afternoon until midnight, the teen was held down and punched while, according to court papers, Useyugi commanded "Come out, you filthy demon!"

Swain also says Useyugi was, "Sticking fingers into the boys mouth while he was restrained on the bed, causing him to vomit," which he says Useyugi told the family would purge the demons.

Swain says the boy was scared, tried to run because, "He knew he didn't have demons in him. Why he was being abused and being told for demons to come out?"

When his mother tried to end it and call church authorities, Swain says, "He told her no, you stay in here."

In the end, it was the pastor of the church who called Child Protective Services.

Those who saw the teen say his injuries were so bad, his face was swollen and bruised and he couldn't swallow. The church asked Useyugi to leave after they learned of what happened.

Detectives say while the Cherry Hill Christian Church teaches exorcism through prayer, there is no mention of any physical contact and it appears Useyugi freelanced.

Eddie Useyugi turned himself in to police Wednesday afternoon on misdemeanor battery and felony confinement charges.

LINK