Come to church and donate your money: we’re buying a mall

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Religion News Briefs is a collection of links and blurbs highlighting religion news, cult stories — and anything else we think you might like. May include a dash of opinion and perhaps a touch of humor. Comes with links to the original sources plus additional research resources.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

But that is exactly what many Christians are trying to do. Case in point: Singapore’s New Creation Church, where a sermon last month “was preceded by PowerPoint and video presentations, and donations were overseen by Deloitte & Touche LLP auditors.”

Bloomberg reports

Centuries after Catholics established missions in Asia, Singaporeans are flocking to a new species of churches making appeals more in common with “Material Girl” pop-singer Madonna than the Jesuits. Wearing a white leather jacket and jeans, Senior Pastor Joseph Prince asked God to reward a crowd of about 1,200 with houses, cars, jobs, pay raises and holidays if they contributed to New Creation’s multimillion-dollar funding drive.

It is yet another blatant example of the so-called prosperity gospel — in which people are told that God wants them to be rich (and/or healthy), but He can not bless them unless they first donate money to whichever preacher promoting this scheme.

Such donations are also referred to as ‘seed-faith offerings.’ You cannot reap unless you sow, the schemers tell you, which is why New Creation has “Miracle-Seed Sundays.”

Bloomberg says

Prince’s 24,000-strong flock belongs to a flourishing breed of churches from Houston to Sydney winning followers with a focus on personal well-being. As the rise of so-called mega churches helps make Christians the fastest-growing religious group in majority-Buddhist Singapore, their fundraising prowess is also making its mark, allowing groups including New Creation and City Harvest Church to invest in some of the island’s biggest commercial properties. […]

By making their services enjoyable and embracing prosperity, groups such as New Creation, City Harvest and Hillsong in Australia are able to attract followers, said Jeaney Yip, a lecturer at the University of Sydney Business School who has studied the marketing practices of mega churches.

“Market-friendly ideologies associated with individualism and self-empowerment are often blended with selective Christian theologies to emphasize positive living and blessings, while deflecting overtly negative Christian doctrines such as suffering, judgment, sacrifice, hell or death from sin,” Yip said. “Their church services are scripted and ‘produced’ with deliberate use of contemporary music, sound and lighting.”

Note: Last June Hong Kee, the founder of City Harvest — one of Singapore’s richest churches — was charged in court for allegedly syphoning off nearly $19 million of the congregation’s money to support his wife’s singing career.

Pakistani Blasphemy Case Shifts as Cleric Is Arrested: There’s a surprise twist in the case of Rimsha Masih, the 14-year-old Pakistani girl facing charges of blasphemy after she was accused of burning pages of the Koran.

Khalid Christi, the Muslim cleric at the foreground of the campaign to prosecute her has been arrested after one of his colleagues accused him of planting the evidence. The cleric now risks facing charges of blasphemy himself.

Until his arrest, Mr. Chisti had cast himself as a holy man who was incensed at a desecration and had passionately exhorted local residents to protest and demand the harshest of punishments for the accused girl, who family members and police officials say is a developmentally disabled minor.

The demonstrations sent hundreds of Christian families fleeing the neighborhood after threats were reported.

Pakistan has been internationally denounced for its blasphemy laws, which are frequently used as a tool to persecute religious minorities. Trumped-up charges of blasphemy have even been used by Muslims against other Muslims in order to settle scores or gain access to a piece of land.

Incidentally, many Muslims have come to Rimsha’s defence. For instance, Allama Tahir Ashrafi, Chairman of the influential All Pakistan Ulema Council, has hailed the girl as “daughter of the nation,” and has also vowed to guarantee her safety if she is eventually released from prison.

Meanwhile the bail hearing for Rimsha has been delayed again– this time due to a lawyer’s strike:

Blasphemy and the Law: The antidote to blasphemy is not blunt and counterproductive law but efforts by civil society — specifically political and religious leaders cooperating across religious and ideological lines — to condemn any curtailing of religious rights or speech that incites violence.

From the Religion Beat: The popular Faith & Reason column at USA TODAY is closing down, as the paper prepares to celebrate its 30th birthday with a “massive redesign of all publishing platforms.”

Cathy Lynn Grossman says her religion stories, reports filed by other Gannett religion correspondents, and the online religion page will now be “mainstreamed into News.”

The reader-led Faith & Reason Forum — “the most successful forum at USATODAY.com by a mile” — is also closing down.

‘I was a Moonie cult leader’: Steven Hassan spent two-and-a-half years being ‘brainwashed‘ by the Rev Sun Myung Moon’s controversial Unification Church. This is his story.

Now a cult expert, Hassan has been involved in cult education and counseling since 1976.

Aum Shinrikyo cult member faces new charges: Former AUM Shinrikyo cult member Katsuya Takahashi was served with a fresh arrest warrant Sunday for abducting and murdering a Tokyo notary in 1995, police said.

Takahasi, the last Aum Shinrikyo fugitive, was arrested in June. He has since been indicted on several charges, including his involvement in the cult’s deadly 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system. He was also charged for his role in an attempted bomb attack on the Tokyo Metropolitan Government building

Reportedly he still worships Aum Shinrikyo gury Shoko Asahara, who is on death row.

Edmonton organization fights back against cult movement: The Edmonton Society Against Mind Abuse provides support for former cult members and for families who have lost a member to a group.

The organization is headed by Carla Brown, herself once a member of a religious cult.

The power of such groups to remove a person’s ability to make informed decisions is a common trait, says the University of Alberta’s Dr. Stephen Kent.

An expert in new and alternative religions, Kent has discovered cultish characteristics in self-help organizations and pseudo-medical groups.

They typically have a charismatic leader, usually someone with a personality disorder, Kent says. “The people confuse mental and personality disorders with spirituality — those groups can be quite dangerous.”

Who joins cults, and why?

RNB’s Quick Links

Former soldier jailed for hanging severed pig’s head on mosque gate: Former soldier Simon Parkes has been jailed for hanging a severed pig’s head from a Cheltenham, UK mosque and daubing the building with offensive graffiti before uploading pictures to Facebook.

In church, Mormons testify that Romney’s presidential nomination is a boon for the faith: “There has never been as much positive publicity about the church…thanks to the wonderful campaign of Mitt Romney and his family,” J.W. “Bill” Marriott, the chairman of Marriott International, said at a recent meeting at the Wolfeboro, N.H. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Marriott was the first in the congregation to take the podium to offer testimony — examples of his own life experience and how it’s affected his faith, a tradition on the first Sunday of every month in the Mormon church.

Muslims From Abroad Are Thriving in U.S. Catholic Colleges: At those schools, Muslim students, from the United States or abroad, say they prefer a place where talk of religious beliefs and adherence to a religious code are accepted and even encouraged, socially and academically. Correctly or not, many of them say they believe that they are more accepted than they would be at secular schools.


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Religion News Blog (RNB) provides an almost-daily selection of religion news — selected by religion- and cult experts.

RNB has a particular focus on issues dealing with groups and movements often referred to as ‘cults,’ ‘sects,’ or ‘abusive churches.’ We also cover related issues – including religious persecution and human rights.

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This post was last updated: May. 9, 2014