Religion News Briefs: Scientology, Mormons, Umbanda and more

This is Religion News Blog’s roundup of news reports dealing with religion, spirituality, religious cults, and related issues.

Note: most of us at RNB are on vacation, so we’re not posting as much and as often as usual…

checkmark Mormons quit church in mass resignation ceremony

Reuters reports that a “group of about 150 Mormons quit their church in a mass resignation ceremony in Salt Lake City on Saturday in a rare display of defiance ending decades of disagreement for some over issues ranging from polygamy to gay marriage.”

The Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is known for its culture of obedience, and the mass ceremony was a seldom-seen act of collective revolt. […]


The church bills itself as the one “true” Christian faith, and its theology promises families eternal relationships among those who remain faithful, sealing those gifts through special religious rites.

Among the reasons cited by those resigning are the church’s political activism against gay marriage and doctrinal teachings that conflict with scientific findings or are perceived as racist or sexist.

Others cite inconsistencies in the Mormons’ explanation of its own history, including the practice of polygamy.

Most Christian denominations do not accept the Mormon Church as part of the Christian faith. Just like attaching a Rolls Royce emblem to a Volkswagen does make the latter a Rolls Royce, using the name ‘Jesus Christ’ does not make a church Christian. Theologically the LDS Church is considered to be a cult of Christianity.

How to have your name removed from Mormon Church records

checkmark Anti-cult activists praise Murdoch for rejecting Scientology

The Sydney Morning Herald says that when Rupert Murdoch slammed the Church of Scientology as a “weird cult,” he became a hero to anti-cult activists fighting Scientology’s status in Australia as a tax-exempt religion.

The paper quotes independent South Australia Senator Nick Xenophon, who has championed the fight against Scientology in Australia, as congratulating Murdoch and pointing out that “for every high profile Scientology bust up like Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes [which prompted Mr Murdoch’s comments on Twitter] there are hundreds of unreported cases where people’s lives are ruined because they’ve tried to break away from Scientology.”

Former cult member David Ayliffe, who is secretary of the Victorian branch of the Cult Information and Family Support group, said Australia should follow France and outlaw Scientology as a religion. The Australian High Court ruled in 1983 that Scientology was a religion and, as such, was entitled to tax exempt status.

The 2011 Census data reveals just 2163 Australians call themselves Scientologists. By contrast, there are 65,000 self-described Jedi Faith Masters.

checkmark …Scientology will continue to be considered a cult

The full title of this Daily Mail opinion article written by Rupert Myers is, “Until and unless Scientology behaves openly and transparently, it will continue to be considered a cult.”

Myers says that “The price of being accorded the status of a serious religion is that you are open to legal and critical scrutiny. As someone who relies upon the freedom of religion, I question the use of that freedom by Scientologists.”

Earlier in the article Myers — who several years ago watched a advertising DVD produced by Scientology –writes:

I have no theoretical problem with someone who wants to believe in Xenu, the hydrogen bombs, the volcanoes, and the aliens. I’m in no position to tell that person that they are not entitled to those views.

What we should be worried about is the human organisation which tries to control that faith. Any group fearful of having their innermost teachings and secrets exposed isn’t – in my view – being straightforward. The DVD they gave me contained none of the more sensational elements of Scientology. If you walk into any Christian church you will see the cross or the crucifix displayed plainly and openly. People in that church will answer your questions about any element of the Bible. Talk to a Muslim, Jew, Sikh, or person of any faith and they will tell you quite openly what it is, and what it means to them.

Maybe the reason Murdoch – a Christian – has come out against Scientology is that it is incumbent upon all of us, particularly those for whom faith and religious practices are so important, to stand up against lawbreaking, harassment and secrecy conducted in the name of religious freedom.

checkmark Followers of Brazil’s Umbanda religion worship despite discrimination

Contacting spirits is at the center of Umbanda, a uniquely Brazilian religion that blends African slave traditions and strains of spiritism with the more familiar shapes and symbols of Roman Catholicism, writes Somer Wiggins.

The religion claims more than 400,000 followers throughout Brazil and is also found in the United States and Europe. But in its native country practioners of Umbanda and of Candomble — another Afro-Brazilian religion — still face a lot of discrimination.

“They have been discriminated against since they came here because of their practices and the belief that they were cults,” said Henrique Pessoa, a police official who heads Rio’s new office investigating crimes of religious intolerance, which was established after the Copacabana robbery.

Pessoa said Umbanda and Candomble followers – victims of 97 percent of religious-intolerance crimes, he estimates – had faced discrimination since slavery times. The African slaves were forced to become Catholics and hide their religions because the Portuguese thought they were cults. Today, he said, society still requires Umbanda and Candomble followers to hide their religions, because they’re not “mainstream.” A law barring religious intolerance has been on the books since the middle of the last century, but it hasn’t been strictly enforced until recently, Pessoa said. […]

Since the inception of the police department for crimes of religious intolerance, crimes against Umbanda and Candomble followers have decreased, Pessoa said. There are now about 120 such crimes each year in Rio. Other states in Brazil now look to Rio as an example and may establish similar departments, he said.

More Items of Interest

The Mormon Lens on American History: For a century and a half, Mormonism has been something of a paradox in the history of the American West: passionately argued about by the church’s adherents and detractors, but largely ignored by professional scholars unsure of what to make of the religion Joseph Smith founded in 1830 or the communities created by what Mormon scripture itself described as a “peculiar people.” But now … books relating to Mormon history are appearing in the catalogs of top academic presses, while secular universities are adding courses, graduate fellowships and endowed chairs.

Mormons’ love-hate relationship with America: As Americans celebrate the nation’s founding, some Mormons may outdo their neighbors in fireworks, fanfare and frenzy to express their outsized patriotism. Love of America, they believe, stretches beyond appreciation and gratitude. It is theological, prescribed in holy writ. Other Mormons caution against linking political perspectives on American exceptionalism to specific theology or teachings.

Pastor Phil Pringle is target of watchdog group: Phil Pringle, the founder and senior minister of Christian City Church in Sydney, Australia, is in Singapore to support City Harvest Church (CHC) after several of its leaders were suspended from their posts by the Commissioner of Charities. But Pringle is himself the target of a self-appointed Christian watchdog group, C3 Church Watch.

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This post was last updated: May. 9, 2014    

Religion News Blog was founded by Anton Hein, and is edited by David Anderson