Sunday, March 30, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Website pulls anti-Islam film after threats

The anti-Islam film ‘Fitna' by far-right Dutch MP Geert Wilders has been pulled from the internet after the website company which posted it received threats.

British-based Liveleak.com said it pulled down the video, which can still be seen on other websites, including youtube.com. The film was posted to the internet on Friday.

“Following threats to our staff of a very serious nature, and some ill informed reports from certain corners of the British media that could directly lead to the harm of some of our staff, Liveleak.com has been left with no other choice but to remove ‘Fitna’ from our servers,” the site said in a statement.



Fitna — Part 1/2

“This is a sad day for freedom of speech on the net but we have to place the safety and well being of our staff above all else,” the online statement said.

Wilders said it was “terrible that these threats deal a serious blow to freedom of expression,” but he told Dutch news agency ANP that he understood the decision to withdraw the short film.

“Fitna” features violent imagery of terror attacks in New York and Madrid intertwined with Koranic texts.

In an interview with AFP on Friday, Wilders rejected responsibility for any retaliation against Dutch nationals or interests abroad.

“I hope it doesn’t happen but even if it does the people who commit such acts are responsible, not me,” he said, pointing to a quiet first night in the Netherlands.

Fearing a repeat of violent clashes that followed the publication in 2005 of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in Danish newspapers, the Dutch government has distanced itself from Wilders’ film and Islamic leaders there have called for calm.



Fitna — Part 2/2.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Friday joined Muslim nations in expressing outrage over the film.

Ban called Wilders’ film offensive while Iran and Bangladesh warned it could have grave consequences and Pakistan protested to the Dutch ambassador.

“I condemn in the strongest terms the airing of Geert Wilders’ offensively anti-Islamic film,” Ban said in a statement.

“There is no justification for hate speech or incitement to violence. The right of free speech is not at stake here.”

The screening was a calculated “insult to the 1.3 billion Muslims in the world,” according to the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

“The film is a deliberate act of discrimination against Muslims, incitement for hatred and an act of defamation of religions which is solely intended to incite and provoke unrest and intolerance among people of different religious beliefs,” said OIC Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.

Morocco’s Communications Minister Khalid Naciri called Wilders “mentally retarded.”

However, an extremist Czech nationalist party said Friday it had posted “Fitna” with Czech subtitles on its website.

“We think it is important to show this film. For Christian Europe, Islam is a greater danger than Nazism. We are trying to show people what this danger is,” National Party spokesman Pavel Sedlacek told AFP.

Abdou Diouf, secretary general of the International Francophone Organisation (OIF), told reporters after meeting Ban at UN headquarters: “I have not seen this film but I am absolutely horrified by such associations” between Islam and terrorism.

“First of all, Islam is not Islamism,” said the former Senegalese president, a practicing Muslim married to a Catholic woman.

“This (film) is confusing Islam and Islamism or confusing Islam and terrorism, and it is completely inadmissible,” he said.

European Muslims were angered by a separate plan by a theatre in Potsdam, Germany to stage the world premiere of a play based on Salman Rushdie’s novel “The Satanic Verses”.

The president of the German Islamic Council, Ali Kizilkaya, told AFP that “the religious sentiments of Muslims are being treated in a provocative manner.”

Iran’s late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa — or religious decree — in 1989 calling on Muslims to kill Rushdie for perceived insults against Islam.

On Wilders, Iran said the 17-minute film showed Westerners were waging a “vendetta” against Islam, and warned of repercussions.

A Jordanian media coalition said it would take Wilders to court and launch a campaign to boycott Dutch products.

In Karachi, Pakistan, about 40 supporters of the hardline Islamist party Jamaat-i-Islami staged a protest, chanting “Death to the filmmaker.”

A poll published Friday showed that almost a third of all Dutch people had seen the film or parts of the film — although the TNS Nipo polling institute said fears over reprisals lessened after viewing.

But Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende cautioned against drawing easy conclusions.

“We are not past it yet… Sometimes it can take months before the true repercussions are felt,” he told journalists.



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Parents indicted in faith-healing case

Oregon City couple are charged with second-degree manslaughter in the death of their daughter

An Oregon City couple whose 15-month-old daughter died this month of medically treatable conditions surrendered to police Friday night hours after a Clackamas County grand jury indicted them.

They are at the heart of a case testing a state law that bars faith healing when it could endanger a child's life.

Based on the jury's findings, arrest warrants were issued for Carl Brent Worthington, 28, and Raylene Worthington, 25, on charges of second-degree manslaughter and second-degree criminal mistreatment in the March 2 death of their daughter, Ava.

At 8:30 p.m., the pair voluntarily surrendered at the Clackamas County Jail, said Detective Jim Strovink, a sheriff's office spokesman. They were held on $250,000 bail each.

Television reporters soon descended on the jail's entrance, reacting to a tip that the husband and wife would post the $25,000 apiece needed to avoid spending the weekend in jail.

Their first court appearance was set for 1:30 p.m. Monday in Clackamas County Circuit Court.

A deputy state medical examiner determined that Ava died for lack of medical care. The girl suffered from bacterial bronchial pneumonia and a blood infection -- both treatable or preventable with antibiotics.

The parents are members of Oregon City's Followers of Christ, a fundamentalist Christian church that has seen dozens of children buried since the 1950s in the parish cemetery south of Oregon City. Many of them could have been saved by medical intervention, according to a 1998 analysis by The Oregonian.

The cluster of deaths prompted the 1999 Oregon Legislature to debate the issues of religious freedom, parental rights and public responsibility to protect children, culminating in the law allowing prosecution in preventable deaths.

The Worthingtons are the first congregation members to face criminal charges for failing to seek medical treatment for a gravely ill child.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Parents attribute daughter's death to lack of faith

Madeline Kara Neumann is shown working on chalk art last summer during downtown Wausau's Chalk Fest.WESTON, Wis. — An 11-year-old girl died after her parents prayed for healing rather than seek medical help for a treatable form of diabetes, police said Tuesday.

Everest Metro Police Chief Dan Vergin said Madeline Neumann died Sunday.

"She got sicker and sicker until she was dead," he said.

Vergin said an autopsy determined the girl died from diabetic ketoacidosis, an ailment that left her with too little insulin in her body, and she had probably been ill for about 30 days, suffering symptoms like nausea, vomiting, excessive thirst, loss of appetite and weakness.

The girl's parents, Dale and Leilani Neumann, attributed the death to "apparently they didn't have enough faith," the police chief said.

They believed the key to healing "was it was better to keep praying. Call more people to help pray," he said.

The mother believes the girl could still be resurrected, the police chief said.


Telephone messages left at the Neumann home by The Associated Press were not immediately returned.

The family does not attend an organized church or participate in an organized religion, Vergin said. "They have a little Bible study of a few people."

The parents told investigators their daughter last saw a doctor when she was 3 to get some shots, Vergin said. The girl had attended public school during the first semester but didn't return for the second semester.

Officers went to the home after one of the girl's relatives in California called police to check on her, Vergin said. She was taken to a hospital where she was pronounced dead.

The relative was fearful the girl was "extremely ill, dire," Vergin said.

The girl has three siblings, ranging in age from 13 to 16, the police chief said.

"They are still in the home," he said. "There is no reason to remove them. There is no abuse or signs of abuse that we can see."

The girl's death remains under investigation and the findings will be forwarded to the district attorney to review for possible charges, the chief said.

The family operates a coffee shop in Weston, which is a suburb of Wausau, Vergin said.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor charged with forgery

Randy Baldridge is the pastor of a church in Galena, Kansas, and is charged with forging a $100,000 check.

Authorities say the name he put on the check is Nancy Sarduck. Sarduck was at one time one of Baldridge's parishioners.

He also presided over her husband's funeral in July.

Baldridge is the pastor of 6th Street Baptist Church in Galena, Kansas.

He allegedly made a check out to Assembly of God Financial Solutions for an investment program based in Springfield, Missouri.

Sarduck says she received a letter in the mail thanking her for the investment. She told the company she never wrote the check.

Court documents say the check was from a closed Commerce Bank account originally opened by Baldridge.

The sheriff's department says they do not know what the motive was behind this alleged act.

But Sarduck says she feels betrayed by the man who laid her husband to rest.

"I think that he thought I was grieving so much, that he though he would get by with it," Sarduck says. "Whether he's done someone else like this, I don't know."

Sarduck says it is disappointing to consider that Baldridge had preached to her about morals and even led a course on identity theft.

The check however was never cashed, never lost any money during this incident.

A Newton County judge pulled the sheriffs department arrest warrant and has required him to appear in court Wednesday on the charges.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Youth pastor faces charges for sex with underage girl

A youth pastor had sex with a teenage girl in his offices at the Berea Baptist Church over a span of two years, police said today.

Jeremy Workman, 32, was charged last week with unlawful sexual contact with a minor and possession of criminal tools. He is being held on $250,000 bond. Workman resigned from the church in January. The girl was 15 and in the youth group when the two began their sexual relationship. She is now 19 and pregnant with his child, police said.

Workman served as the church's youth pastor since 2000.

"This kind of evil behavior takes place frequently in secular venues, but when it occurs in a holy setting like God's House, it is especially grevious," Pastor Kenneth Spink said in a statement.

Workman also worked part time in the weight room of the Berea Recreation Center, said police Chief Mark Schultz. No work-related problems were ever reported.

Workman resigned from his job at the church in January, weeks after he learned that the girl was pregnant. He left the church because of the affair, though it appeared there had been nothing illegal, Berea police Detective Dennis Bort said.

The police investigation began in late February, when a church official brought copies of seven e-mails Workman and the teenager exchanged that included discussions about sex.

The investigation took a bit longer because authorities had to track down Workman. After he left the church, he took courses to become a truck driver. Bort was able to locate him in California, and Workman agreed to return to Ohio.

Bort said Workman and the girl stopped their relationship when teenager was 17, when she had a boyfriend and later went off to college. During a break from school, the two met again, he said.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor charged with attempted sex assault

Scott Martin Weisser, who is listed as pastor of First Baptist Church of Salt Lake on its Web site, has been charged with trying to sexually assault a woman in his Midvale home despite her repeated refusals.

Weisser reportedly resigned as pastor of the church. A message left with the church office's voice mail was not returned Friday.

Weisser, 52, is facing charges of first-degree felony attempted rape and class B misdemeanor assault in connection with the March 16 incident.

Third District Judge Royal Hansen on Friday deemed Weisser indigent, appointed a legal defender to represent him and issued a no-contact order for any victims, witnesses and/or co-defendants in the case.

The judge also asked for an evaluation from pretrial services before Weisser is released from jail. Bail has been set at $150,000.

Weisser entered a not guilty plea, and a roll call hearing was set for April 3.

Court documents state that a female was in a bedroom of the house, Weisser entered it and "began forcibly kissing her and attempting to have intercourse with her."

The woman repeatedly told him no and fought with him, the document said. While the woman was trying to get out of the room, Weisser "dragged her into the door jamb," which left slight abrasions, according to the court document.

The document said Weisser stated "that it was his intention to have sexual intercourse" with the woman.

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Monday, March 17, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

They prayed to cast Satan from my body

Here is an article that is currently in the news in Australia. I attended one of these "Mercy Houses" when I was a Christian and was told prior to talking to the girls all the rules that they had to follow. The rules were quite severe. One girl I met there was in purely because she was a lesbian -- something her parents felt warranted "counselling". I have to say that many of the girls seemed listless and unhappy. I know of a number of girls who "relapsed" soon after "graduation", most likely because all the care they had received was bullshit.
-- Korrine


THEY call themselves the Mercy Girls. And after years of searching they have found each other.

Bound by separate, damaging experiences at the hands of an American-style ministry operating in Sydney and the Sunshine Coast, these young women have clawed their way back to begin a semblance of a life again.

Desperate for help, they had turned to Mercy Ministries suffering mental illness, drug addiction and eating disorders.

Instead of the promised psychiatric treatment and support, they were placed in the care of Bible studies students, most of them under 30 and some with psychological problems of their own. Counselling consisted of prayer readings, treatment entailed exorcisms and speaking in tongues, and the house was locked down most of the time, isolating residents from the outside world and sealing them in a humidicrib of pentecostal religion.

At 21, Naomi Johnson was a young woman with a bright future, halfway through a psychology degree at Edith Cowan University, working part-time and living an independent, social life.

Yet she was plagued by anorexia.

With her family's modest means and her part-time job there was no way she could afford to admit herself into the one private clinic in Perth that specialised in adults with eating disorders.

They had no private health insurance, and there were no publicly funded services in the state. So after much research Johnson found a link to Mercy Ministries on the internet.

Months passed as she devoted herself to going through the application process, pinning all her hopes on what appeared to be a modern, welcoming facility, backed by medical, psychiatric and dietitian support.

She flew to Sydney, thousands of kilometres away from her family and friends, and entered the live-in program.

Nine months later she was expelled, a devastated, withdrawn child who could not leave her bedroom, let alone her house.

Nine months without medical treatment, nine months without any psychiatric care, nine months of being told she was not a good enough Christian to rid herself of the "demons" that were causing her anorexia and pushing her to self-harm. After being locked away from society for so long, Naomi started to believe them. "I just felt completely hopeless. I thought if Mercy did not want to help me where do I stand now?

"They say they take in the world's trash, so what happens when you are Mercy trash?"

Two months after she had been expelled from Mercy's Sydney house (her crime was to smoke a cigarette) Johnson ended up in Royal Perth Hospital's psychiatric unit. From there she started seeing a psychologist at an outpatient program two to three times a week.

"Even now, three years on, I don't socialise widely, I don't work full time, I don't study full time. Even now there is still a lot of remnants hanging around from my time at Mercy.

"The first psychologist I saw rang and spoke to Mercy. She wrote to them over a period of time, just trying to get answers. They were very evasive; they avoided her calls. Eventually she got some paperwork, some case notes, from them."

Mercy Ministries made the psychologist sign a waiver that she wouldn't take these notes to the media before they would release them. Johnson has signed no such waiver and, months ago, she posted her notes on the internet, almost as a warning to other young women considering a stint at Mercy Ministries.

Yet for so long she just wanted to go back to the Sydney house, because they had convinced her that Mercy was the only place that could help her.

"It is difficult to explain, in a logical sense. I know how very wrong the treatment, their program and their approach is, but the wounds are still quite deep, and even though I know that they were wrong, there is still a part of you that just even now wants to be accepted by Mercy."

In the northern suburbs of Perth, in a large, one-storey home bordered by a well-tended cottage garden, the Johnson family is attempting to pick up the pieces of a life almost cut short by Mercy.

With two fox terriers at her feet and doors and windows shut against the relentless Western Australian heat, Johnson - a small, delicate young woman with a razor sharp mind - unveils a sophisticated, nuanced interpretation of her time in the Sydney house.

Careful and articulate, her struggle with the horror of her descent into despair at the hands of Mercy is only evidenced by the occasional tremor in her hands and voice as she describes her experience. She was sharing the house with 15 other girls and young women, with problems ranging from teenage pregnancies, alcohol and drug abuse, self harm, depression, suicidal thoughts and eating disorders.

"There were girls who had got messed up in the adult sex industry - a real range of problems, some incorporating actual psychiatric illness, others just dealing with messy lives, and the approach to all those problems was the same format," Johnson says.

Counselling involved working through a white folder containing pre-scripted prayers.

"Most of the staff were current Bible studies or Bible college students, and that is it, if anything. You just cannot play around with mental illness when you do not know what you are doing. Even professionals will acknowledge that it is a huge responsibility working in that field, and that is people who have six years, eight years university study behind them."

And while there was nothing that was formally termed "exorcism" in the Sydney house, Naomi was forced to stand in front of two counsellors while they prayed and spoke in tongues around her. In her mind, it was an exorcism. "I felt really stupid just standing there - they weren't helping me with the things going on in my head. I would ask staff for tools on how to cope with the urges to self harm … and the response was: 'What scriptures are you standing on? Read your Bible."

Johnson had grown up in a Christian family; her belief in God was not the issue; anorexia and self harm were. "A major sticking point was when they told me I needed to receive the holy Spirit in me and speak in tongues, to raise my hands in worship songs and jump up and down on the spot in fast songs. I told them that I really didn't understand how jumping up and down to a fast song at church was going to fix the anorexia, and yet that was a big, big sticking point, because it showed I was being resistant, cynical and holding back."

Her mother, Julie Johnson, watches as she talks, anxious about the effect of her daughter's decision to tell her story, yet immensely proud of her courage.

"Naomi was very determined to find somewhere that could help her. We didn't have private health cover, so our resources were limited, so she searched the net and came across Mercy Ministries," Julie Johnson says.

"It sounded very promising … she went off to Mercy a very positive young lady who finally had some hope that she was going to come back completely free of this eating disorder."

And the family was excited, too, pleased that there was someone who could help their daughter beat anorexia. "But unfortunately it didn't work out that way. They gave her hope and told her they would never give up on her but … in the end she got quite distraught that she was never able to please them."

Johnson sent her parents a letter telling them she was not very well and that she was very confused with the kind of program Mercy Ministries was running.

"I called and spoke to her counsellor in person," Julie Johnson said. "She told me that Naomi was lying to me, that Naomi was just rebelling … she was making the wrong choices."

But instead of taking her mother's concerns on board, the staff punished Naomi for disclosing anything about her time at the Sydney home.

"They told me that what happens in Mercy stays in Mercy, that what happens between the staff and Naomi stays at Mercy. It is not let out to the family," Julie Johnson said. "We were isolated, we were not involved in her progress at Mercy, we were just excluded and yet we were a family that wanted to be behind her and they wouldn't allow us to be."

The situation came to a head when Johnson returned to the Sydney house after spending Christmas with her family in Perth. She was told she had been seen smoking at the airport and that she was being expelled from the program. Naomi phoned her mother in tears, and the staff informed her they were putting her on the next plane back to Perth.

"She was distraught; she was an absolute mess; her life was in danger. I could hear it, she was capable of anything, the anxiety was so extreme … she was just out of control," Julie Johnson said. "I said to them, 'There is no way you are going to send her

back on her own, she is suicidal. You will deliver her to me at the airport when I can get a flight over'."

Mrs Johnson flew to Sydney to collect her daughter.

"She went into that place as a young lady and came back to us as a child. She was very confused, like she was 12 or 13. She shut herself in the bedroom and thought she was nothing but evil. Her self-esteem went down. She thought, 'I may as well die."'

Johnson, now 24, and her mother, know how close the end had been.

The executive manager of programs with Mercy Ministries, Judy Watson, is proud of the organisation's achievements, and rejects the claim that there are no staff qualified in psychiatry, psychology or counselling.

It appears that there is one registered psychologist at Mercy's Sydney house, although the Herald understands that the little contact she has with the residents is around scriptures, not psychological care. She did not respond to a request for an interview.

In a written statement, Watson said: "Mercy Ministries counselling staff are required to have tertiary education and qualifications in counselling, social work or psychology. Staff also participate in externally provided supervision from psychologists."

Yet she was unable to detail what qualifications each staff member had, or how many had qualifications beyond their one registered psychologist.

On the allegations that young women are denied medical and psychiatric care, Watson had this to say: "Residents' mental and physical health concerns are taken very seriously, and appropriate treatment is made available.

"Mercy Ministries provides a range of services to young women in the program. Mercy Ministries provides services through either health professionals employed by Mercy Ministries, subcontracted to provide services to residents at Mercy Ministries, or taken to specialists at their practice."

Rhiannon Canham-Wright and Megan Smith (not her real name) are two others who have suffered at the hands of Mercy Ministries, this time in the group's Sunshine Coast house.

Smith had also been at university before she went into the Mercy Ministries house. She had been diagnosed with anxiety disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder, and thought a residential program with medical and psychiatric care would help get her illnesses under control. Yet almost from the moment she arrived she began to struggle.

Sitting in the courtyard of a cafe in a large, central Queensland town, as storm clouds gathered above, she told her story in a soft, quiet voice. Like Johnson, she is fiercely intelligent and articulate, focused and determined. She described her mental illness growing quickly out of control the longer she was subjected to the cruel, illogical treatment in the Sunshine Coast house.

"I was pulling my hair out - it's a condition called trichotillomania," said Smith, now 29. "However, it wasn't bad before Mercy. I let the staff know about it because suddenly it had got a lot worse. Instead of taking me to the doctor to where I could have got assessed and got some medication, they just told me to forget about it."

Her condition worsened without treatment, but she had no way of getting any medical care because the house was locked down most of the time.

"To take the rubbish bin out to the footpath we had to get special permission. If we stepped over the boundary we were kicked out of the program because it was treated as absconding. Even to go to the toilet or brush our teeth we had to have specific permission. It was such a sterile environment. We were not allowed to talk about our feelings, there was no family support, no friend's support, and no professional support."

Before long, Smith began to harm herself in other ways. Again she alerted the staff to her concerns. They reprimanded her for wasting their time, calling her a "fruitcake", she said.

"The [staff member] said I was attention seeking, bringing negative energy to the environment and taking her valuable time away from girls who really need her.

"With this particular staff member, I know she had issues in the past, because she used to talk about it with the girls. She was open about it because she thought that was how God qualified her for the work that she did.

"But she had mood swings and anger problems. She would go from calm and normal to aggressively angry very quickly."

Again, there was no medical treatment, just Bible studies and prayer reading, relentless cleaning and many rules that were often only revealed to residents when they broke one of them.

"I went to a residential place that said they help people with mental illness using qualified professionals, [instead] going there took away my help. Even the GP they took me to to get my prescriptions filled was their GP, who they said had been specifically chosen because they were supportive of 'the Mercy way'. I wasn't allowed to talk to the doctor by myself; they had a staff member or volunteer with us at all times."

Asked to name the most valuable thing she learned in Mercy Ministries, she said, without hesitation and with much mirth: "cleaning".

"I am no domestic goddess, so I needed all the help I could get."

In both the Sydney and the Sunshine Coast house residents were prohibited from talking about their past, what brought them to Mercy, their struggles and problems.

"We were threatened with being kicked out if we did disclose anything," Smith said. "It was a lot to do with control and manipulation, and it just shows that they did have that power over us. We could have talked and rebelled but we were so scared of them and just so desperate for help.

"I was really sucked in. That was my world; it was locked down 24/7, so anything the staff said I believed to be the truth."

By the time Smith was expelled from Mercy, three months into her six-month stay, she was a mess. She was locked in a room and told she was not worth helping, she said, then driven to the airport and left alone to wait for a flight to her central Queensland home.

A family member met her at the airport. He had been told, incorrectly, by Mercy staff that Smith had chosen to leave. He was unprepared for the state she was in when she arrived.

"She was extremely upset. She didn't want to come back at all … she was in a real mess," said the relative, who did not want to be identified. "I was extremely fearful that she was likely to commit suicide. It was an extreme shock that this ministry we all had decided was the real deal had turned out to be a worse problem … it left her in a worse state than she had ever been in before."

For two years just keeping her alive became a full-time job, he said. "Whenever she was alone for any length of time it was always a fear that she may not be alive when you got back. When you did get back there were quite a lot of times when she had a knife and she had been scratching her wrists."

Since then Smith has received effective psychological care and is no longer at risk of self-harm or suicide. After more than a year of searching the internet, she found one other woman who had been at Mercy, using the social networking site Facebook. That is Canham-Wright, 26, another former resident of the Sunshine Coast house.

Canham-Wright, now living in Darwin with her daughter, 1, and her partner, describes every day as a struggle since she was thrown out of Mercy, after living there from July 2003 until the following March.

She had gone into Mercy Ministries just after her 21st birthday following a drug overdose and suffering bipolar disorder. Soon after she was in conflict with staff over her regular medication.

Canham-Wright has asthma, and yet she was prevented from having her ventolin with her at all times, she said.

"Every time I had an asthma attack they told me to stop acting … I was punished, I had to do an assignment about why God believes that lying is wrong.

"I was told, 'You still have demons to battle with. Satan still has a huge control over your life. That is when the exorcism and the prayers over my life started."

She got to the point where she no longer knew herself or what she believed in.

"They would call me into their office, saying that I was just make-believing and trying to get attention, and they would start praying over me. They would always pray for Satan to be dismissed out of my body."

Every night there was a prayer meeting. "When someone wanted to have something prayed about in particular, we would all have to lay hands and the staff member … would perform an exorcism."

You will find a donation box and pamphlet in every Gloria Jeans store soliciting donations for Mercy Ministries. "Your spare change helps transform a life," the pamphlet reads.

Yet few who donate to Mercy understand they are giving money to fund exorcisms in a program that removes young women from proven medical therapies and places them in the hands of a house full of amateur counsellors. Its literature claims to have a 90 per cent success rate - yet nowhere does it publish any results.

The allegations by Johnson, Canham-Wright, Smith and others indicates the program cannot lay claim to such a success rate.

The internet is littered with other young women making similar allegations about the Mercy Ministries program.

One young woman wrote in January: "I have been to Mercy Ministries - I have seen so many girls hurt and abused there, it is really sickening. Many girls are also kicked out and leave there far worse off than before they went to get help."

Another replied: "Mercy Ministries operates off the grid, and therefore can abuse and harm young women who go there."

And yet Mercy continues to operate without the scrutiny of government authorities, under the radar and with impunity.

STORY LINK

Sunday, March 16, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Poll finds growing number of believers eschew church

Dennis Christner was raised in a Lutheran home so devout he was not permitted to join the secular Boy Scouts. As an adult tennis pro, he left Michigan for California and began exploring.

"I really got disenchanted with being told what to do and what to believe," the American Canyon resident said. He eventually discovered the Church of Religious Science.

He does not attend services but said he believes the teachings.

"It just felt so comfortable," said Christner, 55. "It makes sense, it fits. It's like a manual on how it is, not how you should be."

Christner belongs to one of the largest and fastest growing groups identified in a February survey of the American religious life.

This multifaceted band includes lapsed believers, nonbelievers, those who believe but don't belong to a congregation and those whose convictions don't conform to any faith.

They account for as much as one quarter of all adults in the western United States.

Most of them describe their religion as "nothing in particular," says the survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Throughout the 1980s, the group made up no more than 8 percent of the population.

"Americans are very individualistic when it comes to religion," said Alan Wolf, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Life at Boston College. "There is a big increase in the group that would call themselves spiritual but not religious and there's also a lot of mix and matching."

Carlo and Mary Busby see them every day, browsing books, nondenominational items and artifacts of other people's faiths in the couple's store, Sagrada Sacred Arts on Oakland's Telegraph Avenue.

"What we're seeing in the shop is a lot of searching, testing of different traditions than one grew up in," Carlo Busby said. "We have one customer, a Jewish fellow who went to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He has incorporated that into his devotion."

More important than religious identity is whether a spiritual path "makes you a more compassionate person," Mary Busby said.

Researcher Robert Fuller calls them unaffiliated "nones," as in, "none of the above." He says their philosophical forebears -- Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin -- helped found the nation.

"People don't like to hear that," Fuller said, Bradley University professor and author of "Spiritual but Not Religious: Understanding Unchurched America."

"I see letters to the editor all the time that talk about how our founding fathers intended this to be a Christian nation. I think, 'You've got to be kidding.'"

Church membership was below 20 percent in the time of the Pilgrims, he said.

"One of the odd things we were taught was how Pilgrims would trudge through the snow to chapel," he said. "As a matter of fact, a woman (at that time) was more likely to conceive out of wedlock than to belong to a church."

He says about 20 percent of people consider themselves spiritual or religious but don't regularly attend a house of worship.

"They do ask the questions, Why are we here? What is the meaning of life? They don't believe any one religion has a lock on those answers."

Former believers make up the bulk of the Agnostic and Atheist Student Association at UC Davis, said co-founder Jeremy Ross.

"There are a lot more Catholics than anything else," said Ross, 23, who has been culturally Jewish and religiously secular his whole life. "They have a sense of feeling betrayed or let down by religion."

Gina Turcott's devoutly Catholic mother took her to church in Maine, but the only message she heard was to fear God.

"I didn't know how to articulate it until I was an adult, but I knew it didn't make sense to me -- the hell, the damnation," the Walnut Creek woman said. "I negated religion altogether. I didn't find any kind of logic behind it."

Turcott, 39, considers herself a deeply spiritual person.

"A very spiritual person, to me, is someone who acknowledges that the only difference between themselves and other human beings is the flesh and bones body within which they live -- that, on the inside where everything is only thoughts and feelings, everybody is simply striving for the same loves, successes, pleasures and levels of joy and freedom that we are all seeking, that there is only one creator of life and that is life itself.

"Religion is not your spirituality, it is the practice of your spirituality."

Agnostic John Fletcher just read and rejected "The God Delusion," by celebrated atheist Richard Dawkins.

"To say that you don't need a God for scientific purposes doesn't mean there isn't one," said the former Lawrence Livermore computer scientist. "I prefer to say I don't know."

Fletcher began to question the Episcopal faith he held dear when he was 15.

"I realized the things I learned in school and the things I learned in Sunday school didn't fit together very well," he said.

He began to query others about the sensibility of the faith.

"I was astonished to find all I did was make people mad," Fletcher said.

It took him a long time to shake off fear of ethereal penalty he had believed in.

His wife ticks off the plusses of belonging to a congregation - community, a sense of security in a time of adversity, the beauty of ritual.

"The thing that puzzles me is, why does this have to be tied to a belief in things like the Garden of Eden?" Fletcher said.

STORY LINK

Thursday, March 13, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Grassley, Baucus Urge Four Ministries to Cooperate with Information Request

From Marina

WASHINGTON – Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Committee on Finance, and Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking member, have written to four ministries to urge cooperation with an earlier information request from Grassley. Baucus and Grassley lead the committee with exclusive Senate jurisdiction over tax policy; the ministry inquiry that Grassley launched last November is meant to gauge the effectiveness of certain tax-exempt policies.

"This ought to clear up any misunderstanding about our interest and the committee’s role," Grassley said. "We have an obligation to oversee how the tax laws are working for both tax-exempt organizations and taxpayers. Just like with reviews of other tax-exempt organizations in recent years, I look forward to the cooperation of these ministries in the weeks and months ahead."

Grassley wrote to six ministries on Nov. 5, 2007, asking a series of questions on the non-profit organizations’ expenses, treatment of donations and business practices. The questions were based on presentations of material from watchdog groups and whistleblowers and on investigative reports in local media outlets. One of the six ministries – Joyce Meyer Ministries of Fenton, Mo. – has cooperated substantially with his request and provided the requested information. Benny Hinn Ministries of Grapevine, Texas, has indicated a willingness to cooperate and provided answers to five of the 28 questions so far.

Representatives for Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International Church/Paula White Ministries, Tampa, Fla., verbally have indicated to Finance Committee staff that they will cooperate. Baucus and Grassley wrote to them on March 11 to thank them for the verbal commitment and to reiterate the committee’s role.

The remaining three ministries have not cooperated, citing privacy protections or questioning the committee’s standing to request the information. Baucus and Grassley wrote to them on March 11 to describe the committee’s jurisdiction and role in determining the effectiveness of tax policy developed by the committee, distinct from the Internal Revenue Service’s role, which is to enforce existing law.

The three ministries are: Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries, Newark, Texas; Creflo and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International/Creflo Dollar Ministries College Park, Ga.; and Eddie L. Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church/Eddie L. Long Ministries, Lithonia, Ga.

The committee’s jurisdiction includes the federal tax policy governing the billions of dollars donated to and controlled by the nation’s tax-exempt groups. The federal government forgoes the collection of billions of dollars to tax-exempt organizations every year.

The text of the March 11 follow-up letters to the four ministries follows here. The text of the Grassley Nov. 5, 2007, letters to the six ministries is available at finance.senate.gov




March 11, 2008
Kenneth and Gloria Copeland
Kenneth Copeland Ministries
14355 Morris Dido Road
Newark, TX 76071
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Copeland:

As senior members of the United States Senate and as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Committee on Finance, it is our duty under the Constitution to conduct oversight into matters related to legislation enacted by Congress. The purpose of oversight is to determine how well a particular agency of the executive branch is administering legislation enacted by Congress, if a particular law or section of the law is being administered in a manner consistent with the intent of Congress and what changes might be required to a law to improve and enhance it. Oversight through the committee system is an important way for Congress to determine if the laws of this country are sound and if they are administered according to the intent of Congress.

One of the roles of the Finance Committee under the Standing Rules of the Senate encompasses the exercise of oversight over the administration of the federal tax revenue system by the Internal Revenue Service to make sure that its rules and procedures meet the purpose and intent of the revenue code, including those rules applicable to non-profit organizations. In order to do this effectively, the Committee needs to understand clearly and specifically how non-profit organizations are structured and operate.

On November 5, 2007, Ranking Member Grassley sent a letter requesting information from your ministry related to the laws that govern tax-exempt organizations. While the inquiry is not part of an enforcement action, which would properly belong to the IRS, it is within the jurisdiction of the Committee to make these inquiries. The Committee conferred with the Senate Legal Counsel to ensure that the letter was well within the scope of the authority of the Committee and that it does not infringe upon First Amendment rights.

Prior to your organization determining whether to submit the requested information, Committee staff members met with your legal counsel to explain the purpose of the investigation and to address your specific concerns. The Committee recognizes the concerns regarding the privacy and confidentiality of certain records and has offered to work with your organization to protect any proprietary or confidential information. Unfortunately, the information submitted by your organization was incomplete. Staff members contacted your legal counsel in an attempt to secure further cooperation and once again address your concerns. To date, you and/or your legal counsel have not provided the requested information to Senator Grassley, nor offered any assurances that the information would be forthcoming.

The Committee continues to hope that mutually respectful discussions will enable the Committee to obtain the requested information without resorting to compulsory process. Therefore, as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Committee on Finance, we are affording you another opportunity to send the information requested by Senator Grassley in the letter dated November 5, 2007. Our office should receive the requested documentation no later than March 31, 2008.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter, and we look forward to your cooperation.

Sincerely,

Max Baucus Charles Grassley
Chairman Ranking Member




March 11, 2008
Creflo and Taffi Dollar
World Changers Church International
Creflo Dollar Ministries
2500 Burdett Road
College Park, GA 30349

Dear Dr. and Mrs. Dollar:

As senior members of the United States Senate and as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Committee on Finance, it is our duty under the Constitution to conduct oversight into matters related to legislation enacted by Congress. The purpose of oversight is to determine how well a particular agency of the executive branch is administering legislation enacted by Congress, if a particular law or section of the law is being administered in a manner consistent with the intent of Congress and what changes might be required to a law to improve and enhance it. Oversight through the committee system is an important way for Congress to determine if the laws of this country are sound and if they are administered according to the intent of Congress.

One of the roles of the Finance Committee under the Standing Rules of the Senate encompasses the exercise of oversight over the administration of the federal tax revenue system by the Internal Revenue Service to make sure that its rules and procedures meet the purpose and intent of the revenue code, including those rules applicable to non-profit organizations. In order to do this effectively, the Committee needs to understand clearly and specifically how non-profit organizations are structured and operate.

On November 5, 2007, Ranking Member Grassley sent a letter requesting information from your ministry related to the laws that govern tax-exempt organizations. While the inquiry is not part of an enforcement action, which would properly belong to the IRS, it is within the jurisdiction of the Committee to make these inquiries. The Committee conferred with the Senate Legal Counsel to ensure that the letter was well within the scope of the authority of the Committee and that it does not infringe upon First Amendment rights.

The Committee continues to hope that mutually respectful discussions will enable the Committee to obtain the requested information without resorting to compulsory process. Therefore, as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Committee on Finance, we are affording you another opportunity to send the information requested by Senator Grassley in the letter dated November 5, 2007. Our office should receive the requested documentation no later than March 31, 2008.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter, and we look forward to your cooperation.

Sincerely,

Max Baucus Charles Grassley
Chairman Ranking Member




March 11, 2008
Bishop Eddie L. Long

New Birth Missionary Baptist Church
Eddie L. Long Ministries
6400 Woodrow Road
Lithonia, GA 30038

Dear Bishop Long:

As senior members of the United States Senate and as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Committee on Finance, it is our duty under the Constitution to conduct oversight into matters related to legislation enacted by Congress. The purpose of oversight is to determine how well a particular agency of the executive branch is administering legislation enacted by Congress, if a particular law or section of the law is being administered in a manner consistent with the intent of Congress and what changes might be required to a law to improve and enhance it. Oversight through the committee system is an important way for Congress to determine if the laws of this country are sound and if they are administered according to the intent of Congress.

One of the roles of the Finance Committee under the Standing Rules of the Senate encompasses the exercise of oversight over the administration of the federal tax revenue system by the Internal Revenue Service to make sure that its rules and procedures meet the purpose and intent of the revenue code, including those rules applicable to non-profit organizations. In order to do this effectively, the Committee needs to understand clearly and specifically how non-profit organizations are structured and operate.

On November 5, 2007, Ranking Member Grassley sent a letter requesting information from your ministry related to the laws that govern tax-exempt organizations. While the inquiry is not part of an enforcement action, which would properly belong to the IRS, it is within the jurisdiction of the Committee to make these inquiries. The Committee conferred with the Senate Legal Counsel to ensure that the letter was well within the scope of the authority of the Committee and that it does not infringe upon First Amendment rights.

The Committee continues to hope that mutually respectful discussions will enable the Committee to obtain the requested information without resorting to compulsory process. Therefore, as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Committee on Finance, we are affording you another opportunity to send the information requested by Senator Grassley in the letter dated November 5, 2007. Our office should receive the requested documentation no later than March 31, 2008.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter, and we look forward to your cooperation.

Sincerely,

Max Baucus Charles Grassley
Chairman Ranking Member




March 11, 2008
Randy and Paula White

Without Walls International Church
Paula White Ministries
2511 North Grady Avenue
Tampa, FL 33607


Dear Randy and Paula White:

As senior members of the United States Senate and as Chairman and Ranking Member of the Committee on Finance, it is our duty under the Constitution to conduct oversight into matters related to legislation enacted by Congress. The purpose of oversight is to determine how well a particular agency of the executive branch is administering legislation enacted by Congress, if a particular law or section of the law is being administered in a manner consistent with the intent of Congress and what changes might be required to a law to improve and enhance it. Oversight through the committee system is an important way for Congress to determine if the laws of this country are sound and if they are administered according to the intent of Congress.

One of the roles of the Finance Committee under the Standing Rules of the Senate encompasses the exercise of oversight over the administration of the federal tax revenue system by the Internal Revenue Service to make sure that its rules and procedures meet the purpose and intent of the revenue code, including those rules applicable to non-profit organizations. In order to do this effectively, the Committee needs to understand clearly and specifically how non-profit organizations are structured and operate.

On November 5, 2007, Ranking Member Grassley sent a letter requesting information from your ministry related to the laws that govern tax-exempt organizations. While the inquiry is not part of an enforcement action, which would properly belong to the IRS, it is within the jurisdiction of the Committee to make these inquiries. The Committee conferred with the Senate Legal Counsel to ensure that the letter was well within the scope of the authority of the Committee and that it does not infringe upon First Amendment rights.

We write today to follow up on your representative’s recent conversations with the Finance Committee staff director and a member of Senator Grassley’s Finance Committee staff in which your representative expressed your willingness to provide the written material requested in Senator Grassley’s November 5 inquiry. We appreciate your cooperation and look forward to mutually respectful discussions that will enable the Committee to obtain the requested information without resorting to compulsory process.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter, and we look forward to your continued cooperation.

Sincerely,

Max Baucus Charles Grassley
Chairman Ranking Member

Here's the links: Here and Here

Monday, March 10, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor found guilty on 54 counts

Click Here to View Pastor Ross' Indictment.

A jury has found Pastor Onslow Ross guilty of 54 counts of bank fraud, money laundering and various other illegal transactions.

On the most serious charge, bank fraud, he could be sentenced to as much as 30 years in prison and be fined up to $1 million.

According to 13WMAZ's Yenu Wodajo, reporting from U.S. District Court in Macon, the jury returned its verdict just before 2 p.m.

She reports that members of Ross's Reaching Souls Cathedral of Praise Apostolic Church began crying, and Ross shook his head in disbelief.

Outside in the hallway, Ross told church members and his family, "I lost my dad four months ago, and I just lost my life....Unbelieveable."

Federal Judge Ashley Royal said sentencing would be held within four to six weeks and released Ross to put his affairs in order and spend time with his family.

Court officers said some members of the jury had expressed concerned about their safety after the verdict. Judge Royal gave the jurors the phone number of the U.S. Marshall service and told them to call it if there was any problem.

The jury found Ross not guilty on two of the 56 counts:

-- Count 3, in which he allegedly withdrew $49,000 from a bank account and placed it into another church-held account.

-- Count 43, in which he allegedly purchased a $3,958 check on behalf of the church.

This afternoon, the jury was also asked whether the federal government can keep more than $59,000 seized from Ross's grandmother's bank account. The government contends that the money was stolen from the bank.

But the jury ruled that the money was not related to the case and that the government can't keep it.

The jury notified court officials around 1:30 p.m. Monday that they had reached a verdict.

Due to a juror's illness, the jury had to start over Monday.

Court officials announced Monday morning that one of the jurors had become ill and could not continue. That means an alternate juror had to step in, and the 12 jurors started again.

The jury had been about nine hours into discussing a verdict on Ross, who is charged with 58 counts including bank fraud and money laundering.

Federal prosecutors say he took insurance money from his church and used it to pay for personal items.

Church members had service Sunday morning at Reaching Souls Cathedral of Praise Apostolic Church as they wait to find out if a jury will convict their pastor.

Church members and other supporters filled the courtroom all last week during the trial and church member Jeanette Davis said members filled the pews Sunday morning.

Several say their pastor is innocent.


"This man is a law-abiding citizen and a pastor,” Davis said. “He is reaching souls far and near, and the devil just don't like it."

The jury began deliberating late Thursday afternoo
n.

Pastor charged with rape

A Delaware County pastor accused of raping a 15-year-old member of his congregation on Friday was released from jail today after posting bond.

Brian L. Williams, 45, of 3159 Berlin Station Rd., is a pastor with Sunbury Grace Brethren Church. He was arrested and charged with one count of rape, a first-degree felony, in Delaware Municipal Court.

Authorities say the rape took place at the church, located on Perfect Drive in Sunbury, court records show. Williams is accused of forcing the girl to perform oral sex before removing her clothes and assaulting her.

STORY LINK

God and politics in Lynchburg Tennessee



Comments?

Sunday, March 09, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Adventures of some "True™" Christians in Russia

The cave that 35 members of a Russian doomsday sect have been holed up in since the fall of 2007 is not currently at risk from flooding, a local emergency services official said on Thursday.

The sect went underground in the central Russian Penza Region order to “save themselves during the time of the apocalypse,” which they say will come in May this year.



This video is a Nov, 2007 report by Russia Today.

They have threatened to set fire to themselves if any attempt is made to force them to come to the surface. The group includes four children.

Russian emergency services officials said at the end of February they were ready to launch an operation to rescue the sect members in the event of the cave being submerged by underground waters in the spring thaw.

“Right now we are experiencing a temporary cold spell in the region,” said Dmitry Eskin, going on to say that, “The temperature is below zero. Dangers could be posed by underground waters, but given that the temperature has fallen that is fairly unlikely.”

He confirmed, however, that there were contingency plans in place to rescue the sect members if flooding occurred. Media reports earlier speculated that police and special forces were preparing to storm the cave. A police spokesman later denied these reports.

The cave is said to have been divided into five cells, with one large ‘room’ set aside for prayers. The prayer room is also, according to the sect’s founder Pyotr Kuznetsov, to be used for the eventual burial of the sect members. Kuznetsov is currently being treated for paranoid schizophrenia in an asylum in Penza, about 600 km (370 miles) southeast of Moscow.

Religion was tightly controlled in the U.S.S.R. and the collapse of the Soviet Union saw an explosion in sects and cults, as well as interest in New Age philosophies and beliefs. The back pages of many Russian tabloid newspapers are full of advertisements for ‘healers’ and ‘magicians’ who promise to bring happiness in love, success in business, as well as a range of other services.

One of the most well-known sects in Russia has its base near the southern Siberian town of Abakan, where thousands of people, both Russian and foreign, worship a former Russian provincial traffic policeman, Sergei Torop, as the second coming of Christ.

There are currently believed to be around 500-700 such sects in Russia, containing some 600,000-800,000 people.



STORY LINK

Saturday, March 08, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor charged in Web chat with teen

A United Methodist pastor from Crawford County is in jail, charged with sending sexually explicit Web videos of himself to someone he believed was a 13-year-old girl.

Instead, the Rev. Steven Richard McGuigan was in a Yahoo! Messenger chat room with special agent David Frattare of the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Child Predator Unit.

The Rev. McGuigan, 39, was arrested Wednesday at Valley United Methodist Church in Conneautville, which he served along with nearby Hickernell United Methodist Church.

Yesterday he was still jailed on charges of unlawful contact with minors and criminal use of a communication facility, in lieu of $35,000 bail. He faces up to 28 years in prison and $60,000 in fines.

He was immediately removed from all pastoral duties pending outcome of the criminal case and a church investigation, United Methodist Bishop Thomas Bickerton said.

The Rev. McGuigan was appointed to the Conneautville churches in 2004, but was not fully ordained until 2006, according to the Western Pennsylvania Conference Journal. He is married but has no children.

According to the affidavit of probable cause, on Dec. 10, the Rev. McGuigan entered a Yahoo! Messenger's Romance site and began chatting with a purported 13-year-old named "Brianna," the first of seven increasingly explicit chats over about six weeks.

Using a court order, Agent Frattare tracked him down via Yahoo! and his Internet provider.

STORY LINK

MORE:

Tuesday, the state Attorney General’s Child Predator Unit charged the Rev. Steven Richard McGuigan, 39, with unlawful contact with a minor and criminal use of a computer.

Rev. McGuigan chatted with the officer at least once from his church, said Attorney General spokesman Nils Frederiksen. From his home, the pastor allegedly masturbated in front of his Web camera.

“This is the Internet version of the rain coat flasher,” Frederiksen said. “They’re using the safety and security of their own homes and the anonymity of the Internet to expose themselves to anyone who happens to be walking along electronically.”

Frederiksen said that besides corrupting minors, lewd Internet transmissions to children escalate into worse behavior and have been increasing in frequency over the years. The office has been cracking down.

On Friday, Dale L. McLaughlin, 44, of 22 Oak Hill Drive Ext., was accused of exposing himself to an agent through cartoon-themed underpants.

McLaughlin was arrested Friday at his workplace, Frederiksen said.

“If you keep your pants on when you’re chatting with 13-year-olds, this will never, ever happen to you,” he said.

Agents gave this account of Rev. McGuigan:

Starting Dec. 10, he logged onto a Yahoo! chatroom and asked the undercover officer personal questions.

He said he was involved in book sales and at first told her, “too bad you’re not older ...”

He didn’t contact the agent between Dec. 13 and Jan. 1.

Then, starting in early January, he asked for nude pictures of the girl and masturbated in a video he sent to her. He later masturbated a second time in front of his Web camera.

With a court order, agents tracked down Rev. McGuigan based on information provided by Yahoo! Inc. They said they charged him because of the graphic and escalating nature of his conversations and Web camera showings.

Escalation is one reason agents go after Web camera predators, Frederiksen said. “The performances often get more elaborate and more extensive, and the sexual discussion often gets more graphic.”


STORY LINK

Pastor charged with soliciting sex

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Police arrested the senior pastor at St. Luke's Lutheran church in Dilworth after a sting at Park Road Park where they say Robert Graff tried to solicit an undercover male police officer for sex.

"He's a great man, he's a wonderful man. I'm shocked,” said one church member.

The 58-year-old Graff is married and has been the pastor at St. Luke’s for the past four years. The business administrator at the church told us there would be no comment except that members were, “sorting it all out.”

Graff was charged and released with a promise to appear in court. He came to his church for a Wednesday night supper, where members closed ranks, and supported their senior pastor.

"Can you tell us what he's like as a pastor?," WCNC asked another church member arriving at St. Luke's Wednesday night.

“Great,” she answered.

STORY LINK

Wednesday, March 05, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Creationists 'peddle lies about fossil record'

A leading scientist accuses creationists of peddling the lie that there is no fossil evidence of evolution.

Some Christians claim there is a lack of "missing link" fossils, halfway between two major groups of creatures.

They say this proves Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is a fallacy and that God created each living species from nothing.

But, in an essay published in the magazine New Scientist today, geologist Donald Prothero claims that reports of "huge gaps" in the fossil records have been greatly exaggerated.

Dr Prothero, a professor of geology at Occidental College in Los Angeles, said: "Life does not progress up a hierarchical ladder from 'low' to 'high' but is a branching bush with numerous lineages splitting apart and coexisting simultaneously.

"For example, apes and humans split from a common ancestor seven million years ago and both lineages are still around.

"For this reason the concept of 'missing link' is a misleading one. A transitional form does not need to be a perfect halfway house directly linking one group of organisms to another.

"It merely needs to record aspects of evolutionary change that occurred as one lineage split from another."

When Darwin first proposed the idea of evolution by natural selection in 1859, the fossil record offered little support. He even devoted two entire chapters of the Origin of Species to the imperfection of the geological record, but predicted that it would eventually support his theories.

Dr Prothero said the creationists are ignoring a wealth of transitional fossils found since Darwin's era which provide proof of the evolutionary process.

He said: "The idea still persists that the fossil record is too patchy to provide good evidence of evolution. One reason for this is the influence of creationism.

"Foremost among their tactics is to distort or ignore the evidence for evolution; a favourite lie is 'there are no transitional fossils'.

"This is manifestly untrue. We now have abundant evidence for how all the major groups of animals are related, much of it in the form of excellent transitional fossils."

Randall Hardy, the head of the British branch of Creation Research, said last night: "Any attempt to impose evolution stories onto these fossils is just speculation. It's all because of the mindset of these people [scientists], which is pre-disposed towards evolution."

Genetics professor Steve Jones on creationism

Ceri Radford: Essential reading for creationists

STORY LINK

Was Moses high on Mount Sinai?

Study suggests Israelites may have eaten hallucinogens, but scholars scoff

JERUSALEM - When Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from Mount Sinai, he may have been high on a hallucinogenic plant, according to a new study by an Israeli psychology professor.

Writing in the British philosophy journal Time and Mind, Benny Shanon of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University said two plants in the Sinai desert contain the same psychoactive molecules as those found in plants from which the powerful Amazonian hallucinogenic brew ayahuasca is prepared.

The thunder, lightning and blaring of a trumpet which the Book of Exodus says emanated from Mount Sinai could just have been the imaginings of a people in an “altered state of awareness,” Shanon hypothesized.

“In advanced forms of ayahuasca inebriation, the seeing of light is accompanied by profound religious and spiritual feelings,” Shanon wrote.

“On such occasions, one often feels that in seeing the light, one is encountering the ground of all Being ... many identify this power as God.”

Shanon wrote that he was very familiar with the affects of the ayahuasca plant, having “partaken of the ... brew about 160 times in various locales and contexts.”

He said one of the psychoactive plants, harmal, found in the Sinai and elsewhere in the Middle East, has long been regarded by Jews in the region as having magical and curative powers.

Shanon acknowledged that he had "no direct proof of this interpretation" and said such proof cannot be expected.

Biblical scholars scoffed at Shanon's suggestion. Orthodox rabbi Yuval Sherlow told Israel Radio: “The Bible is trying to convey a very profound event. We have to fear not for the fate of the biblical Moses, but for the fate of science.”

The full article by Shanon, Biblical Entheogens: a Speculative Hypothesisis, is available in .pdf format and may be downloaded by clicking here.

STORY LINK

Monday, March 03, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor Faces Statutory Sodomy Charges

A former church pastor is accused of having sex with two teenage boys. Joseph Edmund Conger was pastor at New Life Baptist Church in Cole Camp and at Faith Baptist Church in Climax Springs.

The 44-year-old faces five counts of statutory sodomy from incidents that allegedly happened in 2003.

Conger was a pastor in Cole camp for about two years and in Climax Springs for about six years.

STORY LINK

Survey shows non-religious outnumber those of every single faith (but one)

Americans' faiths in flux as more reject their given religions

Amherst, New York (March 3, 2008)—The most detailed estimates to date of Americans' religious affiliations reports that a significant portion of U.S. citizens claim "none of the above," placing the unaffiliated second only to Roman Catholics in number. Monday's release of the 35,000-respondent U.S. Religious Landscape Survey from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life shows that 16.1 percent of Americans have no particular religion at all, while 23.9 percent identify themselves as Catholic. The next largest "belief group" is Evangelical Baptist at 10.8 percent. All other denominational groupings show in the single digits or less.

The study also shows the number of Americans who identify as atheist or agnostic has risen from 3.2 percent to 4 percent, while a "remarkably high" 44 percent have rejected the religion placed on them in childhood.

"People are finding out that what they've been handed in youth doesn't work, or isn't important enough to defend when confronted with marriage or some other life situation that forces them to examine it," said Paul Kurtz, founder of the Council for Secular Humanism. "But when the shuffling is done, this study shows that three people are dropping religion altogether for each one gaining a faith."

The study also confirms the previous 2004 Pew Forum-University of Akron study findings that those who identify as strictly secular comprise more than 10 percent of the population, only on a much larger scale.

"The breakdown is interesting, in that it distinguishes between the vaguely religious and those who fall squarely in the secular camp," Kurtz said. "But I would venture to say that there is a significant number of Americans who sympathize with secularism, but who may still be nominal members of religious organizations. It's apparent that a significant percentage of the population identifies with secularism, and I trust politicians will bear this in mind."

The Council for Secular Humanism is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational organization promoting rational inquiry, secular values and positive human development through the advancement of secular humanism. The Council, publisher of the bimonthly journal Free Inquiry, has a Web site at www.secularhumanism.org.

Saturday, March 01, 2008                                                                                       View Comments

Misinformed about evolution theory

By Jim G

It is disappointing to read opinions by misinformed individuals on the theory of evolution, or it might just be an expression of the paranoia some have for anything that they perceive threatens their little world.

First the theory is not politically based. Like all scientific theory, it is based on observation of data. It is not a Faith or Belief. These are based on an acceptance of a Truth which requires no evidence for support. All theories require empirical evidence, and most well-educated people are quite aware of the evidence and understand the validity of the theory, and, like most educated people, they also know theories are subject to adjustment as more information comes in.

And the information coming in reinforces the theory.

In evolution a random mutation results in a change that is either detrimental, useless or beneficial to the organism. If it is not beneficial, it is eliminated very quickly. If beneficial then it becomes a new starting point. Dog, horse, plant and bird breeders use the concept all the time. Mother nature is an even better master of the process.

Evolutionary theory also has nothing to do with atheism. Atheism is a fact-less statement that a supreme being does not exist. This is a belief and is divorced from theory just as a belief in a divine creator is. For those who wish to understand this further I suggest a little science education would come in handy.

I find that most people who insist that the theory has no merit almost invariably have very limited science education. (OK! They're ignorant. I said it.) Or they have personal problems with it, and that is their problem. Don't dump it on others.

For those who feel that the so-called intelligent design concept should be taught along with the theory of evolution, I suggest they remember that a free society maintains a separation of church and state. If they don't like that, I suggest a move to Saudi Arabia. They love that kind of stuff. Hmmm.

How about the theory of evolution being introduced on the pulpit as an alternative to Genesis?

Pastor sentenced for sex abuse

A former Oneida County pastor found guilty of sexually abusing a child is sentenced Friday. William Procanick will spend three years in prison followed by five years post-release supervision for sexual abuse. He was also sentenced to one year in Oneida County Jail for endangering the welfare of a child.

Procanick is the former pastor of Resurrection Assembly of God church in Clinton.

Back in January he was found guilty of touching a seven-year-old girl who slept over his house regularly with he and his wife.

In addition to time served Prochanick will also have a permanent order of protection against him.

STORY LINK
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