Religion news roundup: Scientology, religion trends, Islam, Gwen Shamblin, and more

RNB’s Religion News Roundup: a compendium of religion and religion-related items and resources. Follow the links while they’re hot…


Islam

Minister beaten after clashing with Muslims on his TV show

A Christian minister who has had heated arguments with Muslims on his TV Gospel show has been brutally attacked by three men who ripped off his cross and warned: ‘If you go back to the studio, we’ll break your legs.’

The Reverend Noble Samuel was driving to the studio when a car pulled over in front of him. A man got out and came over to ask him directions in Urdu.

Mr Samuel, based at Heston United Reformed Church, West London, said: ‘He put his hand into my window, which was half open, and grabbed my hair and opened the door.

He started slapping my face and punching my neck. He was trying to smash my head on the steering wheel.

Then he grabbed my cross and pulled it off and it fell on the floor. He was swearing. The other two men came from the car and took my laptop and Bible.’

The Metropolitan Police are treating it as a ‘faith hate’ assault and are hunting three Asian men.

In spite of the attack, Mr Samuel went ahead with his hour-long live Asian Gospel Show on the Venus satellite channel from studios in Wembley, North London. During the show the Muslim station owner Tahir Ali came on air to condemn the attack.
[...]

- Source: Jonathan Petre, Daily Mail, UK, Mar. 15, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Student’s long blasphemy term upheld in Afghanistan

KABUL: The Supreme Court in Afghanistan has upheld a 20-year prison sentence for an Afghan university student journalist accused of blasphemy. The case has alarmed news media and rights organizations in the country and abroad.

The student’s family and lawyers said Wednesday that they had learned only recently about the court decision, which was made in secret on Feb. 12, and they called the procedure illegal.

The student, Parwiz Kambakhsh, 24, from northern Afghanistan, was arrested in 2007 and sentenced to death for blasphemy after accusations that he had written and distributed an article about the role of women in Islam. Kambakhsh has denied having written the article and said he had downloaded it from the Internet. His family and lawyers say he has been denied a fair trial.

In 2008, an appeals court in Kabul commuted the death sentence to 20 years’ imprisonment, a decision that was upheld by a tribunal of the Supreme Court last month.

“Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has confirmed the 20-year prison sentence for my brother,” said Yaqoub Ibrahimi, who is Kambakhsh’s brother. “We did not expect it at all.”
[...]

Kambakhsh was originally sentenced after a trial lasting only minutes in which he was not allowed to defend himself. In the appeals court, an important student witness against him retracted his statement but was ignored.
[...]

- Source: Abdul Waheed Wafa and Carlotta Gall, International Herald Tribune, Mar. 12, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

In many Western countries Muslim extremist are clamoring for the introduction of Sharia (Islamic law). We believe the often barbaric Sharia laws have no place in civilized societies.


Televangelists

Joyce Meyer Ministries Says It’s Accredited

Seventeen months after the U.S. Senate Finance Committee launched an accounting inquiry into six television evangelists, one of those TV preachers — Fenton’s own Joyce Meyer — says she’s now financially square.

Yesterday a Virginia organization called the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) issued a statement announcing that Meyer’s ministry is fully accredited with its agency.
[...]

- Source: Chad Garrison, The Riverfront Times, Mar. 13, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Oral Roberts U, Mo. ministry get accreditation

Two evangelical Christian institutions under scrutiny for past financial practices have won accreditation from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, the group announced Thursday.

Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., and Joyce Meyer Ministries of Fenton, Mo., are now members of the council, which was founded in 1979 in an attempt to provide a sort of stamp of approval and show that evangelical institutions can police themselves.

To win accreditation, the groups must “faithfully demonstrate compliance with established standards for financial accountability, fundraising and board governance,” ECFA said.

In 2007, Oral Roberts University fell more than $50 million in the red as then-president Richard Roberts and his wife came under fire for allegedly spending school money on home remodels, lavish vacations and a stable of horses for their daughters. The Robertses have denied any wrongdoing.

Roberts resigned, and the school cut its debt to about $15.4 million as of January, thanks largely to a $70 million pledge from Oklahoma City businessman Mart Green, who took over as board of trustees chairman.

- Source: AP, Mar. 13, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Tony Alamo

Tony Alamo Switches Attorneys

Texarkana, AR – Jailed Evangelist Tony Alamo has hired a new lawyer to defend him against federal charges that he brought young girls across state lines for sex.

Alamo had been represented by Little Rock Attorney John Wesley Hall Jr. Replacing Hall will be Beverly Hills, California based lawyer Danny Davis.

Davis told the Texarkana Gazette that Alamo was concerned about the amount of trial preparation that will be needed and that he was looking for an attorney less busy than Hall.
[...]

- Source: KATV.com, Mar. 14, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Gwen Shamblin

Divisive Preacher Speaks At School Meeting

HENDERSONVILLE, Tenn. – A controversial preacher who has been accused of advocating “near-starvation” dieting was the featured speaker at a school nutrition meeting.

Gwen Shamblin, a dietician who founded the Weigh Down Workshop, took her message of prayer to curb appetite to Sumner County schools this week.

Now the superintendent admits it wasn’t a good idea.
[...]

Shamblin’s program is controversial. Critics said it is a glorified form of starvation and employs mind control.

In 2004, the death of an 8-year-old sent investigators to her office, amid accusations that her church encouraged child abuse.
[...]

- Source: Marc Stewart, WSMV, via MSNBC.com, Mar. 14, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

See also:
Cults are not the way to lose weight
• Theologically, Shamblin’s church — Remnant Fellowship — is considered a cult of Christianity.


Religion Trends

One of the ideas in a TIME magazine roundup titled, “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now”, is

The New Calvinism

Calvinism is back, and not just musically. John Calvin’s 16th century reply to medieval Catholicism’s buy-your-way-out-of-purgatory excesses is Evangelicalism‘s latest success story, complete with an utterly sovereign and micromanaging deity, sinful and puny humanity, and the combination’s logical consequence, predestination: the belief that before time’s dawn, God decided whom he would save (or not), unaffected by any subsequent human action or decision.
[...]

[N]otes Ted Olsen, a managing editor at Christianity Today, “everyone knows where the energy and the passion are in the Evangelical world” — with the pioneering new-Calvinist John Piper of Minneapolis, Seattle’s pugnacious Mark Driscoll and Albert Mohler, head of the Southern Seminary of the huge Southern Baptist Convention. The Calvinist-flavored ESV Study Bible sold out its first printing, and Reformed blogs like Between Two Worlds are among cyber-Christendom’s hottest links.

Like the Calvinists, more moderate Evangelicals are exploring cures for the movement’s doctrinal drift, but can’t offer the same blanket assurance. “A lot of young people grew up in a culture of brokenness, divorce, drugs or sexual temptation,” says Collin Hansen, author of Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists. “They have plenty of friends: what they need is a God.” Mohler says, “The moment someone begins to define God’s [being or actions] biblically, that person is drawn to conclusions that are traditionally classified as Calvinist.” Of course, that presumption of inevitability has drawn accusations of arrogance and divisiveness since Calvin’s time. Indeed, some of today’s enthusiasts imply that non-Calvinists may actually not be Christians. Skirmishes among the Southern Baptists (who have a competing non-Calvinist camp) and online “flame wars” bode badly.
[...]

- Source: TIME, David van Biema, (Undated) — Summarized by Religion News Blog

ORU project takes a look at growth of charismatics

Tulsa, long a global hub of Pentecostalism, is hosting an international study to look at what has become the fastest-growing arm of the Christian faith.

Some 640 million adherents worldwide, across many denominations, practice Pentecostal/charismatic Christianity, with its emphasis on miracles, healing and speaking in tongues.

The Commission on Holy Spirit Empowerment in the 21st Century is sponsored by Oral Roberts University.

It will culminate with a gathering of leaders and scholars from around the world April 8-10, 2010, in Tulsa.

ORU is not the only university taking a look at the explosion of charismatic/Pentecostal Christianity, which has become the dominant form of the faith in much of the world and, according to one poll, is embraced by more than one out of three Americans across denominational lines.

The University of Southern California is establishing a Pentecostal and charismatic research center in Los Angeles, birthplace of the Pentecostal movement more than 100 years ago. That program will be launched with a $6.9 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

Foundation spokesman Kimon Sargeant called the growth of global Pentecostalism “one of the most remarkable religious transformations of the last century.”

The ORU program will examine the movement from three viewpoints: a scholars track, a leadership track and the next generation track, said the Rev. Billy Wilson, chairman of the project.

- Source: Tulsa World, Bill Sherman, Mar. 15, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

See the article for related photos and graphics.


Scientology

For a ‘religion’ that prides itself on doing wonders for the mind, the Church of Scientology makes for an interesting case study on foolish behavior. Throughout its history, this controversial group — which many consider to be merely a commercial enterprise masquerading as a religious movement — has managed to draw a constant stream of well-deserved negative attention to itself.

The cult’s latest PR debacle is rooted in its efforts to curtail free speech outside its compound near the California desert town of Hemet.

This got the attention of Palm Springs TV station KESQ. The station recently broadcast a five-part series titled, “Scientology vs. Anonymous” — referring to the worldwide group of activists who, since January 2008, have worked at exposing the cult’s bad behavior.

Videos of the programs broadcast to-date (word is that there are more in the works) have also been placed on YouTube. Scientology critic Mark Bunker — himself recently arrested outside the cult’s lair — has gathered the videos here.

Included is a full, 43-minute interview with Scientology PR man Tommy Davis. While that may sound like a form of torture, the report — including the full interview — is well worth watching. Tony Ortega at the Village Voice succinctly describes it as follows: Scientology Gets Its Ass Kicked In the Desert


UFOs and Aliens

The Ancient of Days / 2009 Roswell UFO Conference will include the First Christian Symposium on Aliens.

The symposium features and impressive lineup of Christian authors and scholars – all known for their work in studying UFOs and (alleged) alien activity. They will discuss the notion that what Hollywood and UFO enthousiasts consider to be aliens are actually fallen angels already mentioned in the Bible.

This is the sixth UFO themed conference produced by Gay Malone, author of Come Sail Away : UFO Phenomenon & The Bible


Jehovah’s Witnesses

Judge rules minister ineligible for confidentiality protections

An ordained minister with the Jehovah’s Witnesses voluntarily talked to detectives investigating the bludgeoning death of a Murrieta woman making him ineligible for the confidentially protections afforded by law to clergymen and their parishioners, a judge ruled Friday.

The ruling means that Jose Cespedes must testify during Kelle Lee Jarka’s trial on charges of murder for financial gain in connection with the April death of his wife, Isabelle Jarka.

Riverside County Superior Court Judge Timothy Freer ruled Cespedes waived his rights to confidentially, in part, because he freely gave statements to investigators on four separate occasions between April and June.

The ruling comes in response to Cespedes, an ordained minister with the Spanish Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Temecula, claim that he should not be compelled to testify because Kelle Jarka’s statements were confidential communications between a clergyman and his parishioner.

- Source: Tammy J. McCoy The Press-Enterprise, California, USA, Mar. 14, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Religion Reporting

The Seattle Press-Intelligencer is one of many U.S. (and international) newspapers feeling the reality of the financial crisis — which has exarcerbated a growing problem for newspapers: even in time of economic bliss, more and more readers are getting their news from Internet sources rather than from the printed page.

The Seattle Times reports, “Owner Hearst Corp. put the money-losing paper up for sale in January, saying it would close it down unless a buyer emerged in 60 days. A sale is considered highly unlikely. But Hearst also said the P-I might re-emerge an online-only publication. And last week, with the 60-day deadline nearing, it quietly began offering a few P-I staffers jobs with a new Web venture.”

Meanwhile, Anthony B. Robinson’s Articles of Faith column, published in the Press-Intelligencer since 1996, appears to be one of the casualties. In his last column, published March 13, Robinson bids a fond farewell to his readers, inviting them to visit his website instead, where they will “find two features that are updated and fresh every week: “What’s Tony Thinking?” and “Weekly Reading.” The latter is a page reflecting on the biblical passages for the coming Sunday.”


Vampires

Italy dig unearths female ‘vampire’ in Venice

ROME — An archaeological dig near Venice has unearthed the 16th-century remains of a woman with a brick stuck between her jaws – evidence, experts say, that she was believed to be a vampire.

The unusual burial is thought to be the result of an ancient vampire-slaying ritual. It suggests the legend of the mythical bloodsucking creatures was tied to medieval ignorance of how diseases spread and what happens to bodies after death, experts said.

The well-preserved skeleton was found in 2006 on the Lazzaretto Nuovo island, north of the lagoon city, amid other corpses buried in a mass grave during an epidemic of plague that hit Venice in 1576.

“Vampires don’t exist, but studies show people at the time believed they did,” said Matteo Borrini, a forensic archaeologist and anthropologist at Florence University who studied the case over the last two years. “For the first time we have found evidence of an exorcism against a vampire.”

- Source: Associated Press via the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Mar. 13, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Books

Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America-and Found Unexpected Peace

by William Lobdell

In July 2007, respected L.A. Times religion reporter William Lobdell wrote a column titled, “He had faith in his job – A reporter’s work covering church sex scandals, religious tycoons and healers tests his beliefs — and triggers a revelation.”

It was the reporter’s swansong as far as religion reporting was concerned. Lobdell wrote,

When Times editors assigned me to the religion beat, I believed God had answered my prayers.

As a serious Christian, I had cringed at some of the coverage in the mainstream media. Faith frequently was treated like a circus, even a freak show.

I wanted to report objectively and respectfully about how belief shapes people’s lives. Along the way, I believed, my own faith would grow deeper and sturdier.

But during the eight years I covered religion, something very different happened.

- Source: He had faith in his job, William Lobdell, Los Angeles Times, July 21, 2007

Lobdell describes what, ultimately, led to his crisis of faith — and then his lack of faith altogether. I remember that some people — Christians — all too easily dismissed the gist of Lobdell’s article by tut-tutting that he shouldn’t have put his faith in his job or in people. They didn’t realize that in so doing they showed themselves to be part of the problem. Yes, people are fallible — some even purposely so — and yes, we can not blame God for their failure. But as people of faith we can and should learn valuable lessons from someone like William Lobdell: how we act as Christians can either help or hinder others on their spiritual journey.

William Lobdell’s journey of faith—and doubt—may be the most compelling spiritual memoir of our time. Lobdell became a born-again Christian in his late 20s when personal problems—including a failed marriage—drove him to his knees in prayer. As a newly minted evangelical, Lobdell—a veteran journalist—noticed that religion wasn’t covered well in the mainstream media, and he prayed for the Lord to put him on the religion beat at a major newspaper. In 1998, his prayers were answered when the Los Angeles Times asked him to write about faith.

Yet what happened over the next eight years was a roller-coaster of inspiration, confusion, doubt, and soul-searching as his reporting and experiences slowly chipped away at his faith. While reporting on hundreds of stories, he witnessed a disturbing gap between the tenets of various religions and the behaviors of the faithful and their leaders. He investigated religious institutions that acted less ethically than corrupt Wall St. firms. He found few differences between the morals of Christians and atheists. As this evidence piled up, he started to fear that God didn’t exist. He explored every doubt, every question—until, finally, his faith collapsed. After the paper agreed to reassign him, he wrote a personal essay in the summer of 2007 that became an international sensation for its honest exploration of doubt.

Losing My Religion is a book about life’s deepest questions that speaks to everyone: Lobdell understands the longings and satisfactions of the faithful, as well as the unrelenting power of doubt. How he faced that power, and wrestled with it, is must reading for people of faith and nonbelievers alike.

Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion

by Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, and Roberta Green-Ahmanson

Today understanding of religion is essential to understanding many major news stories. This book examines how the media frequently miss or misunderstand these stories because they do not take religion seriously, and how they misunderstand religion when they do take it seriously. To the extent that journalists do not grasp events’ religious dimensions, both global and local, the authors argue, they are hindered from, and sometimes incapable of, describing what is happening. However, on the national level the press is one of the most secular institutions in American society — not necessarily contemptuous of serious religion, just uncomprehending.

The essays in this book examine nine specific news stories that were inadequately or incorrectly reported by major news sources because their religious dimension was ignored, overlooked, or misrepresented. These stories range from the 2004 U.S. presidential elections to Iran, Iraq, and the papal succession. In each case the author demonstrates how the story might have been more effectively reported and concludes with specific suggestions for journalist. The authors include both scholars and experienced news analysts. Although it will be of particular interest to people of faith, the book offers all readers an interesting and balanced analysis of the news media’s uneasy relationship with religion and religious issues.

From Demons to Dracula: The Creation of the Modern Vampire Myth

by Matthew Beresford

“Aficionados of vampire culture will probably find little to surprise them in this fascinating study, but the rest of us will remain gripped throughout . . . This is a fun study but it”s also, as Beresford says, a study in our fears, and ultimately, our fear of death.”-The Herald, Glasgow (The Herald )

“The vampire of antiquity was a ghost, who became enfleshed as the revenant, the ghoul; then, particularly in eastern Europe, it turned into a blood-sucker. Under the ministrations of western novelists, he pupated into the seductive, cape-wearing aristocrat of modern myth. This process Matthew Beresford delineates with great clarity . . . fascinating.”-Independent on Sunday (Independent on Sunday )


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