5 religion news stories you might have missed

Religion News Blog — We have collected nearly 500 religion stories this week. Most of them we never post, but simple file instead to have information on hand should we need it.

But below you’ll find 5 hand-selected news stories from the past week that we think deserve a closer look. We hope to make this — 5 religion news stories you might have missed — a regular Saturday feature here at Religion News Blog.

  • Couple charged in faith healing death of teenage son pleads not guilty

    The parents of a boy who died because, police say, they relied on faith healing instead of seeking medical assistance, have pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder.

    Gregory and Garnet JaLea Swezey, from Carlton, Washington, were charged in February, nearly three years after Zachary Swezey, 17, died of a burst appendix.

    Elders of the Church of the First Born prayed with the boy a day before he died. But Zachary remained seriously ill. A police report says Greg Swezey told investigators he knew 10 to 15 minutes before his son died that he was going to die. He also told detectives that he asked his son if he wanted to go to the hospital, and Zach declined.

    There are many churches that use the phrase ‘Church of the First Born’ in their name. But one particular ‘denomination’ of sorts — the General Assemblies and Church of the First Born — is known for its extreme, unbiblical teachings regarding faith healing. It’s doctrines have led to unnecessary deaths, which have resulted in several prosecutions.

    Two other members of that group of churches are currently also facing prosecution in a faith healing case. Russel and Brandi Bellew, in Creswell, Oregon, have been charged with second-degree manslaughter in the death of their 16-year-old son.

  • Doomsday preacher is sorry for ‘sinful’ predictions; not for preaching heresy

    Radio preacher Harold Camping, who has been setting end-of-the-world dates since 1994, has finally admitted he was wrong. Well, sort of.

    In a letter posted at the website of his Family Radio stations, Camping says, “Events within the last year have proven that no man can be fully trusted. Even the most sincere and zealous of us can be mistaken.”

    Indeed he was mistaken. The rapture Camping predicted neither occurred on May 21, 2011 (scheduled for 6 pm), nor on the revised date of October 21, 2011.

    Camping’s followers spent lots of money promoting the doomsday predictions, and some even lost their life savings. Others lost more than that: A 14-year-old girl from Russia was so scared of the May 21 doomsday and rapture prediction made by Harold Camping that she committed suicide — one of several such prediction-related deaths reported in the media.

    In his ‘apology’ Camping never mentions such dire results of his foolish teachings — which he based on convoluted ideas regarding numerology.

    Instead, Camping in his letter says that because of what he calls the “May 21 campaign,” “millions, if not billions of people heard for the first time the Bible’s warning that Jesus Christ will return.”

    He then continues by saying, “Yes, we humbly acknowledge we were wrong about the timing; yet though we were wrong God is still using the May 21 warning in a very mighty way.”

    We? Sure, thousands of people believed Camping’s claims, but Camping ought to acknowledge that he was wrong.

    Camping also says, “We were even so bold as to insist that the Bible guaranteed that Christ would return on May 21 and that the true believers would be raptured. Yet this incorrect and sinful statement allowed God to get the attention of a great many people who otherwise would not have paid attention. Even as God used sinful Balaam to accomplish His purposes, so He used our sin to accomplish His purpose of making the whole world acquainted with the Bible. However, even so, that does not excuse us. We tremble before God as we humbly ask Him for forgiveness for making that sinful statement. We are so thankful that God is so loving that He will forgive even this sin.”

    So while he does appear to have understood that his teachings on the subject were “incorrect and sinful,” he does not take personal responsibility, but instead spins the fiasco by saying he believes that God has used the event to acquaint “the whole world with the Bible.”

    Incidentally, an earlier statement by Camping — What Happened on May 21? — is still posted at the Family Radio website. It says:

    “What really happened this past May 21st ? What really happened is that God accomplished exactly what He wanted to happen. That was to warn the whole world that on May 21 God’s salvation program would be finished on that day. For the next five months, except for the elect (the true believers), the whole world is under God’s final judgment. To accomplish this goal God withheld from the true believers the way in which two phrases were to be understood. Had He not done so, the world would never have been shaken in fear as it was.”

    Camping never addresses such false, unbiblical teachings in his so-called ‘apology.’ Nor does his message make any mention of his October 21 prediction.

    He does close his letter with the hint that “your steadfast involvement and support is so appreciated!”

    But can Christians now support Camping and his radio stations? Of course not!

    Camping still teaches a whole range of unbiblical ideas, including his denial of the doctrine of the Trinity, his believe that God has established Family Radio as the sole beacon of truth, and his claim that God no longer uses local churches.

    As Apologetics Index, Religion News Blog’s parent site, says, “Given Harold Camping’s unbiblical theology, along with his call for Christians to leave the church, plus his apparent attempts to portray Family Radio as the sole source of religious authority leave us no choice but to consider Camping a false prophet and a heretic — and to view Family Radio as, theologically, a cult of Christianity

  • Church of Scientology sees Holland as tax paradise; uses loopholes in fiscal rules

    News that the Church of Scientology in Amsterdam, Netherlands, was purchasing a building in an Amsterdam suburb was quickly squashed by the controversial business.

    But Amsterdam news daily Het Parool, which broke the story, explained that Scientologists were using loopholes to accept tax-deductable for a so-called ‘Ideal Org.’

    In fact, according to a follow-up story the paper, citing church documents it has seen, says the Scientology Church Amsterdam sees the Netherlands as a tax paradise and is wildly enthusiastic about it.

    In an internal letter the organization encourages Scientologists to donate money not to the church directly — since those gifts are not tax-deductible — but rather to NaBeSa (an abbreviation for ‘To a Better Society), a Scientology front group that has non-profit status.

    Tax authorities have told the newspaper that the NaBeSa foundation complies with non-profit rules, and that it will not go into deeper discussion regarding the issue.

    Which, the paper says, means that about half of the financing necessary for Scientology’s ‘Ideal Org’ will be provided by Dutch tax payers.

    That said, the church’s current building — which it rents — in downtown Amsterdam nearly always looks very empty.

    In 2010 the building’s landlord filed interim injunction procedures against the Church of Scientology for rent arrears in the amount of €78.000 ($103.000). That was the second time the company had to resort to legal pressure in order to get the church to pay up.

  • Crystal Cathedral loses its shine

    Financial trouble continues to plague the Crystal Cathedral.

    The ministry was founded by positive thinking guru Robert Schuller who, due to his unorthodox theology, has been referred to by Christians as “the evangelist without a gospel.”

    In November, 2010 the Los Angeles Times said that the Crystal Cathedral had been “battered in recent years as attendance has declined along with donations. That has brought cuts that some believe have reduced the quality of the church’s programming and productions. “At the same time, the church has been roiled by family discord…”

    In December that year Crystal Cathedral Ministries still collected $7.3 million. But, reported the LA Times earlier this week, last December that number dropped by 68% in December 2011, to $2.3 million.

    The paper says, “The fall in donations is one reason vendors are worried about whether they will be paid back. Vendors, some of whom have been waiting for years to be paid after Crystal Cathedral Ministries fell into bankruptcy, could see further delays because of a financial dispute involving the church’s founder, the Rev. Robert H. Schuller, and some family members.”

    This week three of Schuller’s family member were fired from their leadership positions in the ministry.

    And, says the LA Times, “As officials from Crystal Cathedral Ministries search for new worship space and ways to reverse a steep decline in donations, the future of “Hour of Power” — the church’s signature television program — is now up in the air. A church spokesman said Tuesday that reruns of classic episodes of “Hour of Power” will be aired over the new few weeks while the Garden Grove-based ministry makes organizational changes.”

    Last month, the church’s campus was sold to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange for $57.5 million in a bankruptcy deal. The ministry has three years to find a new home.

    Update, Sunday, March 11, 2012 – 2:02 AM CET: According to the Orange County Register, “Robert H. Schuller and his wife, Arvella, announced “with great sadness” their resignations Saturday from the Crystal Cathedral board of directors”:

    “We cannot continue to serve on the Board in what has become an adversarial and negative atmosphere, especially since it now seems that it will not be ending anytime soon,” Arvella Schuller was quoted as saying said in a news release. […]

    “They’re removing themselves from the governance of the ministry,” Carol Schuller Milner, their daughter, said in an interview Saturday. “They’re not cutting all ties.They’re still planning on worshipping in the congregation.”

    The elder Schullers have been embroiled in a legal battle with the board of directors regarding intellectual property and copyright infringement claims as well as back payment for services rendered, Schuller Milner said.

  • Siblings claim they murdered parents while under a spell from the ‘Son of God.’

    A brother and sister on trial in South Africa for the murder of their parents claim the girl’s boyfriend, Matthew Naidoo, put the two under a powerful withcraft spell.

    Last October Nicolette and Hardus Lotter told the court that the motive for the double murder was to get a share of the inheritance — as well as to allow Naidoo to continue living in their parents’ house.

    Covering the trial, the Pretoria News says:

    The tide appeared to turn for murder accused Nicolette and Hardus Lotter on Thursday when a respected psychologist said he believed they were victims of religious “programming” and “coercive persuasion”, which reached “cult-like dimensions” at times.

    Professor Lourens Schlebusch, an expert hired by the defence, backed up their version that they were on a religious mission to save the world and had killed their parents because they believed it to be God’s will.

    He added that Nicolette was a battered woman who had suffered both physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her former boyfriend, Mathew Naidoo.

    “It was a highly pathological relationship,” he said.

    The siblings have testified before Durban High Court Judge Shyam Gyanda that they committed the crimes because they were instructed to do so by Naidoo, who convinced them he was the son of God, that God spoke through him and wanted their parents dead because they were sinners.

    This version has been labelled “gobbledygook” by the State, but Schlebusch said they could not stop themselves when they killed their parents, Johan and Rickie Lotter, at their Westville home in July 2008, after being subjected to 17 months of mind-bending by Naidoo.

    “The rituals, practices and alternative religious perceptions they were exposed to at times almost assumed cult-like dimensions.”

    If you want to know more about cults and related issues, see our Cult FAQ for information.

Doomsday preacher Harold Camping apologizes

Religious broadcaster Harold Camping says he and his Family Radio network are embarrassed that the world didn’t end on Oct. 21 as he predicted, the Associated Press reports:

Camping also apologizes for saying last May that people who didn’t believe his prophecy that Christians would be taken up to heaven in the rapture on May 21 probably were not saved.

CNN says

The Christian radio broadcasting network that touted Harold Camping’s failed doomsday predictions may be getting out of the prophecy business, adopting what appears to be a vaguer vision of the end times.

“We are to live so that we are ready for the return of Christ, and even pray for it,” according to a Family Radio statement obtained by The Christian Post. “But we also rejoice in every new day, that we’ve been given another day to occupy and serve our Lord.”

CNN also says its calls to Harold Camping and Family Radio went unanswered. It then notes

When the world didn’t end last week, Camping followers who gathered for a regular Sunday fellowship meeting questioned if they had been left behind, according to Brandon Tauszik, a documentarian who began attending the meetings this year.

“Numbers were a bit down, for the first time I had ever seen, but people showed up much like they did after May 21,” said Tauszik, who attends the Oakland, California fellowship meetings out of interest and who never believed the world would end. “People were coming together, speaking outside, asking where we went wrong.”

The faith of Camping’s most ardent followers was not swayed by the recent news.

According to Fred Store, a longtime Family Radio listener, the general belief is “Judgment Day did in fact occur on May 21.”

Family Radio’s website no longer carries explanations as to why the rapture did not occur on May 21st.

Our View
The publishers of Apologetics Index, the parent site of Religion News Blog, consider Family Radio to be, theologically, a cult of Christianity.

It will be interesting to watch developments now that Mr. Camping has issued his apology. However, the lack of spiritual discernment on behalf of the station’s owner and staff continues to give cause for concern.