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Tuesday, February 27, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Jesus tomb found?!

Jesus had a son named Judah and was buried alongside Mary Magdalene, according to a new documentary by Hollywood film director James Cameron. The film examines a tomb found near Jerusalem in 1980 which producers say belonged to Jesus and his family.

Speaking in New York, the Oscar-winning Titanic director said statistical tests and DNA analysis backed this view.

But Mr Cameron's claim has been attacked by archaeologists and theologians as unfounded.

Archaeologists said that the burial cave was probably that of a Jewish family with similar names to that of Jesus.

But Mr Cameron said the combination of names found on the tombs convinced him of their heritage.

Samples tested

Israeli construction workers building an apartment complex in Jerusalem's East Talpiot district first uncovered 10 of the 2,000-year-old ossuaries - or limestone coffins - in a tomb in March 1980.

According to the Israel Antiquities Authority, six of those coffins were marked with the names Mary; Matthew; Jesua son of Joseph; Mary; Jofa (Joseph, Jesus' brother); and Judah son of Jesua.

Another grave said by producers to be of Mary Magdalene convinced researchers of the truth of their find, Mr Cameron said at a New York news conference.

Unveiling his documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus, Mr Cameron said the chances of finding that combination of names together was like finding a grave marked Ringo next to others marked John, Paul and George.

"Mariamene is Mary Magdalene - that's the Ringo, that's what sets this whole film in motion," he said.

Christian contradiction?

The documentary asserts that tests on samples from two of the coffins show Jesus and Mary Magdalene were likely to have been buried in them and were a couple.

The film-makers used this finding to claim that the coffin marked "Judah son of Jesua" contains the son of Jesus and Mary.

But they said the discovery of the tomb does not undermine the key Christian belief that Jesus was resurrected three days after his death.

Academic Stephen Pfann, a scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem, said he did not expect Christians to accept the film's findings.

"I don't think that Christians are going to buy into this," said Mr Pfann, who was interviewed by the film-makers.

"But sceptics, in general, would like to see something that pokes holes into the story that so many people hold dear."

Findings refuted

Israeli archaeologist Amos Kloner, who was among the first to examine the tomb when it was first discovered, said the names marked on the coffins were very common at the time.

"I don't accept the news that it was used by Jesus or his family," he told the BBC News website.
"The documentary filmmakers are using it to sell their film."

Mr Cameron showed two of the coffins at the news conference.

"It doesn't get bigger than this," he said in an earlier press release.

"We've done our homework; we've made the case; and now it's time for the debate to begin."

Local residents told the BBC News website they were pleased with the attention the tomb has drawn.

"It will mean our house prices will go up because Christians will want to live here," one woman said.


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Thursday, February 22, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor arrested for online soliciting of 14-year-old girl

Neighbors and friends of Camden pastor Kevin Ogle, who is charged with sending pornographic messages and pictures via the Internet to a police officer posing as a teenage girl, said they were shocked by the arrest of a “very loving, kind, caring individual.”

“You could’ve taken a gun and shot me in the heart, and it would’ve had the same effect,” said Mike Clifton, chairman of the deacon committee at Northgate Colonial Baptist Church.

“He is just like a brother. He loves his church, and he loves his family.”

The 42-year-old pastor waived his rights Wednesday to stay in Kershaw County and will be transferred to Walton County, Ga. Sheriff Steve McCaskill said Ogle will be sent either today or Friday to Loganville, Ga., where he will have a bail hearing.

Ogle was arrested Tuesday and charged with 11 counts of sexual exploitation of children. Authorities say he chatted with and transmitted pornographic depictions of himself online to a person he thought was a 14-year-old girl.

According to authorities, Ogle was actually communicating with an undercover officer from the Loganville Police Department’s On-Line Predator Unit, which has been investigating Ogle for three months.

Ogle is being held at the county’s detention center.

The pastor grew up in Lugoff, graduated from Lugoff-Elgin High School and attended Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute in Hendersonville, N.C., Clifton said.

Ogle, who is married with two sons, adores his wife, Clifton said.

And he is a good father, said neighbor Pam Barker, tears in her eyes.

“He’s very involved with his children — he’s always playing football outside with his boys,” she said. “He’s a great neighbor and is always willing to help.”

Barker said if Ogle is found guilty, she will not condone his actions, but will forgive him.

“He loves his family,” she said. “He and his family are hurting bad, and we need to support them.”

After an emergency meeting Tuesday night, Ogle’s church resolved to unify its members and not let the situation destroy the 106-member congregation, Clifton said.

“This congregation has an opportunity to become a stronger congregation and come together and really seek God’s help for healing if they can forgive the pastor if he is guilty,” said Otis Scott Jr., pastor at Camden First United Methodist Church. “This can split the congregation.”

Ogle’s situation is a personal, human tragedy, said Bill Drees, director of missions for the Kershaw Baptist Association.

Drees had lunch with Ogle last week and visited him at the detention center Wednesday.

“This is why this is such a total shock to everyone — he grew up around this community, and it’s something no one expected,” Drees said.

“Northgate is a good church, and those are good folks in that church.

“We’re a small town, and this is just not the norm.”


Haggard's dark side appears darker

Ted Haggard’s “dark side” apparently spread farther than anybody thought.

“Numerous individuals” — some of them later described as young male staffers — have outlined what church leaders call a pattern of improper and even “sordid” behavior by the founder and former chief pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Haggard’s former flock learned of the findings Sunday during two morning services, when the overseers of the church read a letter to filled auditoriums.

“We have verified the reality of (Haggard’s) struggle through numerous individuals who reported to us firsthand knowledge of everything from sordid conversation to overt suggestions to improper activities to improper relationships,” the Rev. Larry Stockstill told the congregation.

The presentation, by the head of the church’s board of overseers, was the first comprehensive update since Haggard admitted last November to methamphetamine purchases and “sexual impropriety” involving a male prostitute, Mike Jones.

Among the findings:

  • The letter implied it was fortunate that Haggard was caught when he was. After reviewing the confidential details, church leaders believe that removing Haggard “was not only warranted, but also merciful to him and to the church.”
  • The church’s board of trustees has “fairly and compassionately” decided to financially support the Haggard family through 2007.

It was previously announced that Haggard and his wife Gayle will relocate to another state to continue therapy and pursue psychology degrees.

“Ted will need years of accountability to demonstrate his victory over both actions and tendencies,” the letter said.

During the inquiry, young men working for the church came forward to describe what overseer Mike Ware, pastor of Victory Church in Westminster, Colo., characterized as “loose language, coarse jesting and inappropriate jokes that Ted made.”

While staff members found the behavior odd, no one put the pieces of the puzzle together.

“If (the conduct) had been overt,” Ware said, “we would have been addressing this long before Mike Jones.”

Another overseer, the Rev. Tim Ralph of New Covenant Fellowship in Larkspur, Colo., said he was “misquoted” recently as saying Haggard was “completely heterosexual.” He said he meant to say that therapy “gave Ted the tools to help to embrace his heterosexual side.”

Church members interviewed accepted the letter’s call for compassion. When it comes to understanding Haggard, said John Simmonds, “There are lots of empty spaces, but I’m not trying to fill them in. Honor Pastor Ted as a man and leave it at that.”


'America's Most Wanted' pastor

A former Herndon pastor convicted of sodomy and statutory rape has made the list of the "America's Most Wanted" television show.

Jack E. Clark, former assistant pastor of a Pentecostal Church that once owned property at the intersection of Park and Monroe streets in Herndon, was listed as a "Fugitive From Justice" on the Feb. 17 airing of the TV program, according to the show's Web site.

On April 16, 1996, Herndon Police charged Clark with forcible sodomy and statutory rape of a 12-year-old girl whom he knew from his congregation.

Lt. Jerry Keys of the Herndon Police Department remembers the case, and Clark himself, well. Keys said that Clark grew up in Herndon and that Keys came in contact with him occasionally.

"He seemed very gung-ho, very religious," Keys said. Keys was working as part of the Criminal Investigative Section when Clark was originally arrested.

Sgt. Dennis Royal of the Herndon Police headed that investigation. Royal said the victim originally contacted an aunt who contacted police.

"It was an ongoing investigation," Royal said. "It wasn't a one-time event."

Clark was later convicted on both charges. But, according to court records, Clark's attorney filed for an appeal in June 1997 based on the fact that Clark had been formally denied a motion calling for an independent medical examination of the victim.

In a 1999 opinion by the Court of Appeals of Virginia, the convictions were reversed and Clark was granted a rehearing.

According to court records, during the rehearing, "the judgment of the trial court was affirmed without opinion by an evenly divided court, and the opinion previously rendered by the panel was withdrawn."

The case eventually made its way to the Virginia Supreme Court, where, in 2001, it was ruled that Clark's original convictions would stand.

But, by that time, Clark's whereabouts were unknown. His father, also a pastor, owned the church property and sold it to post his son's bond of $125,000, according to "America's Most Wanted."

"Clark's conviction pretty much killed that congregation," Royal said.

A bench warrant was issued for Clark, who was believed to have fled Virginia. He was not seen again for nearly two years when, in 2003, according to "America's Most Wanted," Clark was spotted "sleeping in a Chevy Astro van in Los Angeles, Calif."

While authorities were attempting to identify him, Clark escaped and led police on a high-speed chase that resulted in his escape. Royal said there have been sporadic reports that Clark is now back in Virginia.

Clark is described as a white male with blue eyes and brown hair, 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighing about 240 pounds.

John Walsh, founder and host of "America's Most Wanted," spoke to children at McNair Elementary School in Herndon last spring to warn them of the dangers of predators like Clark.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

The Jesus Tree

"If you have faith, you see it."

CRYSTAL CITY — Consuelo Sanchez guided her 63-year-old mother, Olga, across the street, pointing to a tree near a fence line.

"That's the arm," she said, pointing to a branch yielding to the right. "That's the other arm.

"See where it's cut right there, that's his head."

The elder Sanchez nodded in agreement.

The pair was the latest to make the trip to Avenue D here Thursday afternoon to examine a pruned backyard tree that many believe resembles a crucified Jesus.

"They say something like this doesn't happen just anywhere," the 38-year-old daughter said. "To me, it's a sign."

The Sanchezes stood under the tree for several minutes, studying both the tree and the handful of pictures and notes that have been left behind the past few days after the image of Jesus was first spotted in the gnarled limbs by Betty Jo Hernandez.

Hernandez, 31, took a photo of the tree and shared it with co-workers at an elementary school where she works. Many agreed they could see the image of Jesus on the cross, and from there, it spread across town and beyond, fueled over the past two days by news media reports.

Hundreds have since visited the site, leaving behind mementos and flowers, mostly roses. A row of candles sits on the ground.

But not everyone can see it.

"If you have faith, you see it," said 44-year-old Lupe Granados, who traveled from nearby Big Wells to see the tree. "If you don't, you don't."

The owners of the property where the tree stands did not answer a knock at the door and neighbors said they are trying to keep a low profile.

Thursday night, the faithful continued to come, sometimes in droves, lining the short residential street with vehicles.

Many came with their camera-equipped cell phones in hand, ready to snap a picture.

"It's weird, right?" Granados asked. "It has been here forever and not until now has someone seen it."


Sunday, February 18, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Outspoken atheists hope to stem the influence of Christianity

The polls repeatedly show that the United States is a religious country, with 90 percent of Americans saying they believe in God or a supreme being and more than 40 percent saying they attend religious services each week.

But there is another group, much smaller and less-often heard from: unbelievers. In recent months, in books and on a sold-out off-Broadway stage, these religious skeptics have been raising their voices.

In the one-woman off-Broadway show Letting Go of God, for example, Julia Sweeney, the former Saturday Night Live star, tells the audience: "This Old Testament God makes the grizzliest test to people's loyalty. Like when he asks Abraham to murder his son Isaac -- as a kid we were taught to admire it. I caught my breath reading it.

"What kind of sadistic test of loyalty is that, to ask someone to kill his or her own child -- and isn't the proper answer, 'No'?"

She is just as hard on the New Testament.

"It was really hard to stay on Jesus' side when he started saying really aggressive, just hateful things," she said. "In Matthew he says, 'I come not to bring peace but a sword.'"

Equally harsh on religion is evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, whose book The God Delusion currently occupies the No. 1 spot on Publishers Weekly's bestseller list for religion titles. Dawkins argues that there is no evidence for a creator and is among the best known -- and surely also among the most strident -- of modern atheists.

"The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction," Dawkins said at recent book signing in Washington. "A petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak. A vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser. A misogynistic, homophobic, racist, malevolent bully."

He was a little kinder to the late Pope John Paul II.

"He suffered an assassination attempt in Rome and attributed his survival to the intervention of Our Lady of Fatima," Dawkins told the audience. "A maternal hand guided the bullet. One cannot help wondering why she didn't guide it to miss him altogether."

While much of the renewed militant atheism comes as a reaction to the strident rhetoric of the religious right, theologian Harvey Cox of the Harvard Divinity School said he thinks Dawkins is behaving just like those he criticizes.

"I think of Richard Dawkins as the kind of Jerry Falwell of the atheists," Cox told the PBS program Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly. "He takes the most narrow and the most legalistic side of religion and makes that religion -- and then he's against it."

Another religious skeptic, neuroscientist Sam Harris, has written two books emphasizing what he sees as the lack of evidence supporting religion: The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation.

"The usefulness of religion, the fact that it gives life meaning, that it makes people feel good, is not an argument for the truth of any religious doctrine," Harris said.

"Faith," he added in a recent speech, "is really the license that reasonable people give one another to keep believing when reasons fail."

Cox, however, thinks the scientists miss the point, arguing that unlike the material world, God is unprovable.

"It's when they step over and scientists say, 'There isn't any God because, look, we can't prove him.' Well, the canons of proof are not applicable to that question, and it's not something that can be proved or disproved."

The religious skeptics say that religion is not the only source for morality and ethics.

"If religion were the only durable foundation for morality, you would suspect atheists to be really badly behaved," Harris said. "You would go to a group like the National Academy of Sciences. These are the most elite scientists, 93 percent of whom reject the idea of God. You would expect these guys to be raping and killing and stealing with abandon."

Paul Kurtz, one of the nation's leading secular humanists and head of the Center for Inquiry, puts the emphasis differently.

"Secular humanists are defined not by what they are against -- we are not naysayers -- but what we are for. And we are for a humanistic world in which some of the basic human values and principles have an opportunity to be realized," he said.

The center has opened a Washington, D.C., office to counter what it sees as faith-driven public policy, especially the federal ban on funding embryonic stem cell research and the ongoing attacks on the teaching of evolution.

"We are concerned with the fundamentalist religion everywhere," Kurtz told a recent news conference in Washington, "and their alliance with political ideological movements to block science."

Cox said that, on balance, he welcomes the challenge from the current crop of atheists.

Atheism "always makes a comeback, I think, when religious people get too arrogant," he said. "When they begin to look as though or speak as though they know it all. When they begin to impose themselves in ways that are unwelcome to other people in society. Then atheism is kind of, for me, a welcomed critique of this arrogance."


Thursday, February 15, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Intelligent Design voted off school curriculum in Kansas

The battle for the hearts and minds of American school children took another turn this week. The infamous Kansas school board that voted to banish Darwin from the science curriculum has welcomed him back with open arms, spurning instead the language of intelligent design.

The school board has voted, 6-4, to remove the language of intelligent design from the curriculum: science teachers will no longer have to say that the central ideas of evolution are controversial in scientific circles.

The explanation of the "nature of science" has also been reworded. It is now described as the pursuit of rational explanations for things that happen in the Universe.

"Today the Kansas Board of Education returned its curriculum standards to mainstream science," said board chairman, Dr Bill Wagnon. "This assures that Kansas children are appropriately educated for the 21st century."

But while the change should be seen as significant, it is the fourth shift in policy in Kansas in the last eight years, and is unlikely to be the last. The ID camp is very well organized: a day after the new standards were announced, the Intelligent Design Network presented the school board with a petition protesting the changes. It contained the signatures of almost 4,000 parents.

For anyone new to this long-running debate, here's a re-cap.

In 1987 the supreme court in the US ruled that teaching creationism in science classes was unconstitutional. Since then, creationists have given their backing to an idea called intelligent design (ID). This takes God out of the equation, at least explicitly. Instead of insisting on a six-days-to-make-the-world story, it argues that life is too complex to have evolved without the input of some intelligent designer.

The implication is that this designer is God, although there are those who would argue that it could be very clever aliens, too. We'll not dwell on that, except to direct your attention to the web page of a man called Rael, and his "Raelien" followers. Drawing conclusions is left as an exercise for the reader.

The proponents of the ID "theory" have argued very strongly, and with some successes, that ID should be taught as a counter to the theory of evolution in science classes. The most notable win for the ID camp was in Kansas, while Pennsylvania has been the scene of a hard won victory for the scientists.

California, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Nevada, and South Carolina have all also seen either high profile debates or legal wrangling over evolution's place in schools.

School board member Sue Gamble said the changes were important for Kansas if it was "to have an educated populace". But ID supporters say the changes undermine families who reject the morality of materialism.

The new guidelines in Kansas supersede the old ones with immediate effect, and the poor school kids of Kansas will have to adjust to a new set of rules ahead of tests in the next school year. You can read the old and new science standards here.

Opponents are accusing the Board of promoting atheism. 4000 Kansas residents signed their name to a petition opposing the new standards.

Insulting to atheists

I would like to respond to Matt Cowan's bizarre and insulting letter "Christianity doesn't need column to incite reaction," in which he relates Christianity and atheism to two bars of metal.

In Cowan's misguided argument, he claims the atheistic bar looks shiny on the outside, but only because it is a piece of lead covered in gold paint. "It looks appealing on the surface but is ugly underneath," he said. He then says, "the ugly Christian bar is revealed to be made of pure gold. The more it is cleaned and explored, the purer it is revealed to be."

Apart from being one of the most ridiculous analogies for religion I have ever heard, the argument is completely without substance. At no point does he offer any insight to why atheism is ugly or worse than Christianity — only that it is made of lead. Christianity, on the other hand, is a beautiful piece of gold. Why? Because the more it is explored, the purer it is revealed to be. That's it. That's his argument.

Cowan cannot honestly believe he does not provoke others after calling atheism "ugly."

Atheists comprise the last minority group in this country that remains open to unfettered ostracism and denigration. There exists no social taboo that protects them from unbridled ridicule and belittlement (case in point, Ann Coulter's latest book "Godless").

No one "explores" atheism with any intention other than the theory that God may not exist. There is nothing secretly buried underneath that isn't there at first sight — which is, as he puts it, "aesthetically pleasing."

The reason these discussions continue is because like many previous letters in The State News, Cowan's argument has no merit. Christianity is just better because it is. Just like "You gotta have faith," or "It's better to be safe than sorry."

Mark Adler
advertising senior

Church youth leader charged with molesting girl, 13

A youth group coordinator for a Mill Creek church was charged Tuesday with having repeated sexual contact with a 13-year-old girl on church grounds.

A judge Tuesday signed a $100,000 arrest warrant for Joshua Tanner Beals, 22. He's charged with two counts of second-degree child molestation in Snohomish County Superior Court.

Deputy prosecutor Mark Roe said in court papers that he sought the arrest warrant because "it appears that a number of adults connected with either the church or the defendant do indeed blame" the girl for the sexual activity.

He also said church authorities have been "evasive" with Snohomish County sheriff's detectives.

Roe declined to identify the church.

The girl told authorities the two had sexual intercourse at least three times, all at Beals' residence on the church property.

"They even memorialized some of the sexual contact by taking pictures" of the couple kissing, Roe said. He wrote that Beals told the girl not to disclose the photos to anyone "because he could get in trouble."

The girl told investigators that she told the pastor what was happening and the pastor said it would be a "horrible mess" if she told anyone else, charging papers said.

The pastor also said that the girl could keep the illicit contact quiet and Beals could move away quietly, documents said.

At one point, the defendant's mother heard about the situation and asked the girl to destroy the photos, Roe wrote.

The case remains under investigation, Roe said.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

CSER Launches new Jesus Project

By Nathan Bupp

"What if the most influential man in human history never existed?" Without any assumptions or conclusions in view, that is the daunting task of the new Jesus Project, announced on January 28th at the University of California at Davis before an audience of Biblical and Koranic experts.

The Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion (CSER), a project of the Center for Inquiry/Transnational, announced the new project at conclusion of its January 25-28 “Scripture and Skepticism” conference at the University of California at Davis. Articles featuring the new endeavor have already appeared in the Ottawa Citizen (January 10) and the Buffalo News (January 29).

The Jesus Project will be devoted to examining the case for the historical existence of Jesus, based on a rigorous application of the historical critical method to the gospels and related literature.

Unlike the “Jesus Seminar,” founded in 1985 by the late University of Montana Professor Robert Funk, the new Project regards the claim that Jesus of Nazareth was an historical figure as a “testable hypothesis.” R. Joseph Hoffmann, chair of the Committee since 2003 and former lecturer at Oxford University, said that the project has been called for by a number of scholars who felt that the first Jesus Seminar may have been—for political reasons—too reluctant to follow where the evidence led. “When you have pared the sayings of Jesus down to fewer than twenty, one begins to wonder about the survivors,” Hoffmann said.

According to Hoffmann, the goal is not to "disprove" Jesus or to sensationalize the question of his existence, but to acknowledge the question and examine it impartially—without theological or apologetic constraints. "The Jesus Project is an attempt to evaluate every scrap of evidence for the historical Jesus, but it is also an attempt to evaluate the quality of the evidence itself—something that earlier projects did not do explicitly. This new project will be more inclusive and rigorous in its approach. It will include scholars from a variety of areas outside biblical and religious studies, including archaeologists, social historians, classicists and people in historical linguistics," said Hoffmann.

The Jesus Project will be limited to 50 members; scholars plan to meet twice a year, with geographical venues changing each year. The meetings and discussions will also be open to the public. The work of the seminar will consist of the writing of unanimous opinions, and where that is not possible, majority and minority opinions, written as articles, which will be gathered and published once a year under the CSER imprint with Prometheus Books. The work of the Project is limited to five years; at which point a final report will be issued by the committee members.

The work of the Project is being financed through sponsors and donors. Patrons of the committee receive certain benefits; members in the associate category receive free admission to the open sessions of the Jesus Project. Information on becoming a patron, sponsor, or associate of the Jesus Project is available by writing to the project administrator, Gwyneth MacRae, at

CSER was founded in 1983 and is a research committee in the Religion and Science division of the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, New York. CSER encourages the use of the historical and applied sciences in the study of religion and provides educational programs for the public as part of its religious-literacy initiatives.

Nathan Bupp is director of communications for the Council for Secular Humanism and an associate editor of FREE INQUIRY magazine

Sunday, February 11, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Pastor arraigned for having sex with minor

A pastor of a Stanton church accused of having sex with a 16-year-old female parishioner appeared in court this week during his arraignment, which was continued until Feb. 23.

Ronald Hernandez Tovar, 56, of Placentia was charged on suspicion of three counts of having unlawful sexual intercourse and one count of oral copulation of a minor, prosecutors said.

Bail was set at $100,000. If convicted, Tovar faces up to five years in state prison.

Tovar, who is married, reportedly had sex with the teen from Aug. 1 to Dec. 31, prosecutors said.

Tovar, a pastor at the Shadow of the Almighty Church in Stanton, is accused of having unlawful sex with the girl on multiple occasions and locations, including his church office in Anaheim Hills, prosecutors said.

Anyone with additional information can call Supervising District Attorney Investigator Craig Kelsey at 714-347-8794.


Friday, February 09, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Youth pastor receives prison sentence

Youth pastor Aaron Rediger stood in Van Wert County Court of Common Pleas Wednesday morning and offered an acknowledgment of his guilt. Flanked by his lawyers and choking back tears, he admitted, "I know that after all this, I've been wrong."

Rediger, a former youth pastor of Liberty Baptist Church, was sentenced to two terms of two years in prison to be served concurrently with no time off for good behavior. He will also be placed on five years of post-release control. In a plea agreement, Rediger pleaded guilty to two counts of sexual battery, a third-degree felony.

Appearing before Judge Charles Steele, the 28-year-old Ohio City man was classified as a sexually-oriented offender. After his release from prison, he will be required to register with the sheriff of his county of residence, employment, and schooling as an offender and not to live within 1,000 feet of a school.

This classification was influenced by psychological reports which concluded that Rediger "is in the low-risk level to sexually reoffend at this time."

The charges stem from a sexual relationship between Rediger and a teenage female in his youth group, who stood in the crowded courtroom yesterday and emotionally addressed Rediger about the damage the affair caused in her life.

"I thank the court for considering in the sentencing the pain that Aaron Rediger has caused, not only in myself but in my family and my church family as well," she said. "As a result of this, I have lost not only my virginity, but also I've lost friends I never thought I would lose."

The young woman also talked about the pain she carries with her. "One of the biggest issues I struggle with currently and probably always will, is that of trust," she said.

After the relationship became known to the leadership of Liberty Baptist Church more than five months ago, Rediger was immediately fired and his ministerial credentials were revoked. The church also promised full cooperation in the investigation of the case.

In a prepared statement, Pastor Jim C. Burns, Sr. said, "This is a very sad day for all of us at Liberty Baptist Church. As Christians, we believe that God has guided Judge Steele and others in positions of authority in the decisions they have made in this case, and we support those decisions."

In arguing for a more lenient sentence, attorney William Kluge noted that Rediger had been raised and schooled in a very strict environment and Kluge said this had impacted him greatly. "Many of the cases that you see and we deal with on a regular basis are really the culmination of human nature and human weaknesses and things that affect all of us and sometimes we really can't control," Kluge asserted.

"It's easy to understand how these types of things can occur," he continued. "It doesn't justify it. And I know that Aaron realizes how this has destroyed his life.

In his statement, Burns said, "We ask for the community's prayers on behalf of the young woman, Mr. Rediger's family and the families who have been affected by these crimes."


Monday, February 05, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Ted Haggard leaving Colorado

Ted Haggard, founder and former senior pastor of New Life Church, plans to leave Colorado Springs and move to Iowa or Missouri to return to college, according to a message he e-mailed Sunday to some church members.

Haggard’s family has been “offered two places” in the Midwestern states, Haggard wrote. He and his wife, Gayle, will go back to school together, but Haggard didn’t specify what college or university they would attend.

“We are both planning on getting our masters in Psychology so we can work together serving others the rest of our lives,” Haggard wrote.

The nationally known minister was dismissed
from the pulpit in the wake of a sex and drug scandal that rocked the evangelical movement.

On Nov. 1, Denver escort Mike Jones said he and Haggard had a three-year tryst and that he watched Haggard take methamphetamine.

Haggard initially denied the allegations, but he resigned as president of the National Association of Evangel- icals on Nov. 2. Church officials then confirmed some of the allegations were true.

Haggard told members of the media that he purchased meth from Jones but never used it.

Rob Brendle, associate pastor at the 14,000-member New Life Church, said Sunday night that Haggard and the Board of Overseers — a fourmember board of outside pastors that dismissed Haggard from the pulpit — had discussed Haggard’s future for several weeks.

Brendle was unsure whether the e-mail was sent at Haggard’s initiative or was suggested by the overseers.

“I’m grateful for an arrangement that will enable Ted to focus on his spiritual and emotional restoration, and one that enables New Life Church to focus on this season of transition,” Brendle said. “It seems like a win-win.”

In his e-mail, Haggard said he had undergone three weeks of intense psychological counseling in Phoenix.

“We all wanted to know why I developed such incongruity in my life,” he wrote. “Thankfully, with the tools we gained there, along with the powerful way God has been illuminating His Word and the Holy Spirit has been convicting and healing me, we now have growing understanding which is giving me some hope for a future.”

Haggard said he hasn’t communicated with church members lately because he’s been “paralyzed by shame.”

“But as God and people like you forgive me, the sun is starting to rise in my life,” Haggard wrote. “I look forward to communicating with greater ease.”

Ted Haggard email to New Life Church

Here is the text of the e-mail Ted Haggard sent to some members of New Life Church:

Jesus is starting to put me back together. I have spent so much time in repentance, brokenness, hurt and sorrow for the things I’ve done and the negative impact my actions have had on others. That sadness continues as my family and I, along with so many others, go through the painful consequences of my actions. Jesus and his followers, though, have saved my life. As part of New Life’s efforts to help me, they sent Gayle and me to Phoenix for a three-week psychological intensive that gave us three years worth of analysis and treatment. We all wanted to know why I developed such incongruity in my life. Thankfully, with the tools we gained there, along with the powerful way God has been illuminating His Word and the Holy Spirit has been convicting and healing me, we now have growing understanding which is giving me some hope for a future.

Gayle and I have decided to move from Colorado Springs to go back to school. We love Colorado Springs so much, and will always regard the believers at New Life Church as family, but we have to go in order to let the church determine its own course and for us to retrain. We haven't decided where we are moving but so far have been offered two places, one in Iowa and one in Missouri. We are both planning on getting our masters in Psychology so we can work together serving others the rest of our lives. Since we are taking our classes on-line, we can live anywhere that’s affordable. Then we’ll travel to location for short in-class requirements.

Thank you so much for your love and prayers during this horrific time of transition in our lives. For the last three months, I’ve not been communicative because I’ve been paralyzed by shame. But as God and people like you forgive me, the sun is starting to rise in my life. I look forward to communicating with greater ease.

God bless,

Ted Haggard

“We are Easter People.”

Sunday, February 04, 2007                                                                                       View Comments

Murder? NP. Beer and cigarettes? Henious!

Nearly a year after preacher Matthew Winkler was murdered inside his home in Selmer, the wife accused of shooting him in the back is still front-page fodder.

Now, cell phone pictures first obtained by Action News Five, are the talk of this quiet town.

People who took the photos say Mary Winkler spent New Year's Eve in a McMinnville bar drinking and smoking.

We gave the ladies at a Selmer hair salon a closer look. "Well, I'm a pastor's daughter and I can't imagine my mother doing that--it's shocking," said Claire Plunk.

Seeing Mary Winkler seated at a bar, cigarette in hand, beer bottle in front of her, does not sit well with some.

"I definitely don't think she's a poor, innocent victim," said another lady in the salon.

At a different salon, we found another opinion.

"Because she confesses to be a Christian--so she ain't got no business being in there whether she killed her husband or not," said June Wood.

While we had some luck getting folks to talk inside these beauty salons, not everyone on the streets of Selmer was willing to talk about the photos.

One man ducked inside when the pictures came out, saying, "leave me out of this."

People like Kay Cox did not mind talking. "This seems to be a little, I don't know, maybe out of line." Cox says she has to consider the nature of the crime and the Winkler children.

"I don't know really what to say--I don't think that's what she was supposed to be doing," she said.

"I wouldn't condemn her if she stayed drunk all the time--going through a psychological thing like shooting your husband," said Selmer resident Tom Howell.

Tom Howell says he knew Mathew Winkler well. This was his first look at the pictures. "She certainly doesn't look drunk--I can say that," he said.

He says he has no problem with Winkler's behavior, as long as it does not violate the terms of her pre-trial supervision.

Investigators are looking into that.

No one from the Church of Christ in Selmer where Mathew Winkler preached wanted to speak with us on camera.

My calls to two women who have spoken on Mary Winkler's behalf before did not return my calls.

The District Attorney General prosecuting this case says the TBI is aware of our story.

If there is evidence Winkler violated her bond, the DA says he will push for it's revocation.


Previous article: Wife Confesses in Pastor's Slaying

Youth pastor convicted of slaying pregnant girlfriend

A Bexar County, Texas, jury this morning convicted a former youth minister of capital murder in the deaths of his 17-year-old pregnant girlfriend and their unborn child.

Jurors in the 226th District Court took about an hour and 15 minutes to find Adrian Estrada, 24, guilty of capital murder in the Dec. 12, 2005, choking and stabbing death of Stephanie Sanchez.

Estrada, a former youth pastor at El Sendero Assembly of God church, showed no emotion when the verdict was read.

He faces either the death penalty or life in prison without parole. The punishment phase of his trial is set to begin Tuesday.

Sanchez's body was found on the kitchen floor of her family's West Side home. She was about three months pregnant at the time of her death, and DNA evidence showed Estrada was the father. Estrada was arrested the following day after he admitted to stabbing the teen.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys this morning presented their closing arguments.

In her closing statements, prosecutor Kirsta Melton told jurors that immediately after the slayings, the defendant went to exercise at a local gym and then went to Wal-Mart. "The man was picking out clothes while his girlfriend and his child bled to death on the kitchen floor," Melton said.

"Two lives, two futures, destroyed by one man -- Adrian Estrada," Melton said.

The prosecution asked that jurors find him guilty of capital murder for both deaths. The defense asked that jurors consider lesser charges of murder in Sanchez' death and manslaughter in the death of the fetus.

Defense attorney Suzanne Kramer argued there was no evidence that Estrada went to the home with the intent to kill anyone or that he had a weapon when he arrived at the house.

Kramer said there is evidence, however, that an altercation occurred inside the home, and it's possible that Sanchez came at him with a knife until Estrada took it away.

"We will not argue (the killing) was in self-defense," Kramer told jurors. "I think it will insult your intelligence. I think it's obvious whatever happened was emotions gone awry."