Religion News Briefs: a UFO cult, a killer cult, a former cult

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

checkmark Raelians still trying to rehabilitate Swastika

Raelians, the religious cult that in 2002 lied to the media by claiming to have cloned a human being, continues coming up with ways to have the media advertise its websites.

The UFO cult — which teaches that human beings came from extraterrestials — currently defends its display of a swastika over New Jersey beaches on Saturday, arguing it was trying to bring it back as a peaceful symbol rather than promote antisemitism.

According to CBS

The International Raelian Movement said a small plane dragging a banner with a swastika above Long Beach was a part of Swastika Rehabilitation Day, an attempt to “re-educate” the public about the symbol’s pre-Nazi roots. […]

The Raelians said they also flew the banner along the U.S. West Coast, Australia and handed out flyers on the streets of Tel Aviv, Israel and Karlsruhe, Germany. (In Germany, it is illegal to show the swastika in public and the group said they are sending someone to court to challenge the law.)

checkmark Lawyer tells of agonising scenes as doctors forced to let a Jehovah’s Witness who wanted to live, die

A lawyer who advised doctors that they must let a 22-year-old Jehovah’s Witness die even though he wanted to live has spoken of the agonising scenes before the young man’s death.

Robert Tobin, a partner in the London law firm Kennedy’s, was called in by an unnamed NHS Trust when the man, a Jehovah’s Witness who was critically ill with sickle cell anaemia, refused a blood transfusion which could have saved his life. […]

Mr Tobin said: “I don’t know what his mother was thinking as she sat by and watched him die. I assume either she felt powerless or she felt bound to her own religious code of conduct which says you can’t share blood with others.

Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to be Christians, but that claim is not recognized by any Christian denomination. Theologically the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, the organization that claims to represent God on earth, is considered to be a cult of Christianity because the movement’s teachings violate, ignore and/or change the essential teachings of the Christian faith.

The cult has come up with its own Bible ‘translation’ designed to support the Watchtower’s doctrines. Its teachings regarding blood has let to countless unnecessary deaths, prompting some to call the organization a ‘killer cult.’

The website of Witnesses for Jesus, which reaches out to Jehovah’s Witnesses, includes the online book, Biblical Answers To Questions Jehovah’s Witnesses Ask. Several chapters in the book address the movement’s teachings regarding blood.
Associated Jehovah’s Witnesses For Reform on Blood is operated by current Jehovah’s Witnesses who wish to see the organization change its stance on the subject.
Research resources on Jehovah’s Witnesses

checkmark Accused baby killer tied to ‘cult’

This is a bit of an odd story. APNZ reports that a “man accused of murdering his six-month-old son in a South Brisbane river had links with a New Zealand religious cult.”

According to a blog post written by his wife, David’s Fisher’s parents had been members of the Worldwide Church of God — known since 2009 as Grace Communion International.

tAs we not at our parent site, Apologetics Index, Throughout most of its history, the Worldwide Church of God – founded and led by Herbert W. Armstrong – was, theologically, a cult of Christianity. Among other things, it rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and salvation by grace through faith alone.

Sociologically, the movement had many cultic elements as well.

However, starting in the mid 1980’s under Joseph Tkach Sr, and later his son, Joseph Tkach Jr. – the church’s current leader – the Worldwide Church of God has undergone major changes in doctrine to the extend that is has rejected its heretical teachings, and instead has embraced orthodox Christianity.

The APNZ article makes much of that clear, but does not explain how what the possible connection is between the baby’s death and the fact that the father’s family had been involved with a cult of Christianity.

checkmark Granddaughter of Paul and Jan Crouch Alleges Cover-up of Rape by TBN Employee When She Was 13

A granddaughter of Paul and Jan Crouch, founders of the flock-fleecing Trinity Broadcasting Network, says the company is covering up her rape at the hands of an employee when she was 13 years old.

Carra Crouch, now 19, filed a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court on June 18 alleging that in April 2006 she was raped in an Atlanta hotel room by Stephen L. Smith, a 30-year-old TBN employee at the time.

The lawsuit alleges battery, sexual battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence, and is one of several court cases in which Trinity is mired.

Courthouse News Service has a detailed article on the case.

The Trinity Broadcasting Network is considered the world’s largest Christian TV network, but given the enormous amount of aberrant and heretical programming — as well as the behavior of its founders — some Christian refer to TBN as The Blasphemy Network.

checkmark Social workers considered sending boy to the Congo for exorcism

In England a mother who no longer had responsibility for her child

asked for him to be sent to the Democratic Republic of Congo for “deliverance”.

The boy’s family claimed this was necessary because they believed he was possessed by “kindoki” or evil spirits.

Islington social services officials then paid more than £4,000 for an expert to travel to Africa to investigate.

The expert, Richard Hoskins, an academic specialising in African religions, was alarmed by what he saw on the visit, and advised the council that the boy should not be exorcised.

After receiving his report, the council – then under Liberal Democrat control – abandoned the plan.
Dr Hoskins said that prior to his trip, some Islington council officials had been “mindful to agree to the request” for exorcism.

Speaking at a conference yesterday, he said the case demonstrated how officials in Britain were reluctant to challenge the mistreatement of children when it was committed under the guise of “religious or cultural practices”.

checkmark The doomsday cult of 9-to-5 depression

One of the enduring mysteries of the Aum Shinrikyo atrocities of the 1990s is the ease with which the cult attracted members.

The arrest this month of the last two fugitives allegedly involved in Aum’s fatal 1995 sarin gas assault on the Tokyo subway system recalls the whole ghastly episode, together with its unsolved riddles.

What would draw sane, relatively prosperous, in many cases highly intelligent people to the incoherent blend of pseudo-philosophy, pseudo-enlightenment and pseudo-mysticism that elevated robbery, murder and terrorism into acts of religious devotion? […]

Probably no definitive answer is possible, and this certainly is not an attempt at one. But the business magazine Shukan Toyo Keizai provides a clue, though without making the connection. Its June 16 edition devotes 50 pages to an issue it fears is getting out of hand: depression.

Deborah Layton, a survivor of Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple cult, has said: “Nobody joins a cult. You join a self-help group, a religious movement, a political organization. They change so gradually, by the time you realize you’re entrapped – and almost everybody does – you can’t figure a safe way back out.”

Who joins cult? And why?
The Power of Cults
Today’s Cults: You Might Not Recognize Them

More religion news:

Man seeks awareness of sexual abuse within Jehovah’s Witnesses: the cult’s misuse of an Old Testament rule leads to cover-ups, denials, and more abuse.
Former white supremacist sheds hate to help all people
Singapore pastor arrested over misuse of $18m: The founder of one of Singapore’s richest churches was arrested Tuesday on allegations of misusing at least $18 million in donations from his congregation of more than 30,000, police said. Pastor Kong Hee and four senior executives of the City Harvest Church — a Christian group registered as a charity — were arrested by the Commercial Affairs Department, a police unit set up to fight financial crime.
Civil lawsuit filed against polygamist sect cities lifts spirits of area officials: Public officials, utility entities and law enforcement officials of Colorado City and Hilldale, Utah, have been called out by the federal government for violations against individuals in those communities who aren’t members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or FLDS. The individuals whose rights are in question are those who’ve never been FLDS members, or those who’ve been excommunicated by FLDS leader Warren Jeffs and/or his followers.
Narconon Arrowhead under Fire The Scientology cult makes copious use of press release services to try and get its name in the news in a positive way (which seldom happens). But nowadays the cult’s critics also issue press releases, such as this one. Regarding Narconon: it’s best to stay away from the cult’s quackery.

Trinity Broadcasting Network denied tax break on luxury ‘parsonages’

For Pastor Bruce Allen of Orlando’s University Baptist Church, the 1,820-square-foot parsonage he calls home is more than enough for him, his wife and their three boys.

Beth Kasssab, writing for the Orlando Sentinel, says

Allen is modest, just like his home. The yellow, four-bedroom house with a small patio is nice enough, but assessed at just $84,764, it comes in below the current median price point in Orlando.

The owners of the Holy Land Experience must think Allen — and most other local ministers — are really roughing it. No pool. No fancy outdoor summer kitchen. No waterfront views or boat docks.

It turns out that Trinity Broadcasting Network, which operates the Christian theme park, prefers a more rarefied air when it comes to accommodations.

TBN attempted to have two side-by-side mansions on Windermere’s Lake Down classified as parsonages. A nifty little legality that would have saved the company about $50,000 each year in property taxes on the homes valued at $1.3 million and $1.4 million. TBN paid $1.8 million and $1.9 million for the homes in 2009.

The company already finagled a tax break on its theme park property by calling it a church, a move that Orange County Property Appraiser Bill Donegan fought and lost. Perhaps TBN thought it could win a couple of parsonage designations, too.

But Donegan said the denial was a no-brainer. Florida’s statute is pretty clear: parsonages must be the full-time homes of clergy, not second-homes or occasional accommodations for people other than clergy associated with the church, as TBN uses them.

For many churches and their clergy, the parsonage makes up for low pay, plus it allows the pastor to focus on the church’s mission.

Parsonages are not luxury quarters for a few days or weeks when you jet into town on your private plane. You know, like Jan and Paul Crouch, the husband and wife leaders of the TBN evangelical empire.

Orlando TV station WESH says

The Holy Land Experience is an attraction off Interstate 4 at Conroy Road. Its owners claim it’s a religious organization, not a theme park.
With the help of state lawmakers, it won a fight to remain tax-exempt. However, Trinity Broadcasting is seeking tax-exempt status for a 5-bedroom, 4 1/2-bath house with a boat dock that was bought for $1.9 million.

Another home, a similar size house with a spa and summer kitchen, was purchased for $1.8 million. TBN claimed the homes were used as parsonages or homes where the pastor of a church lives.
Donegan said TBN founder, Jan Crouch, claimed to live permanently in one of the homes, but records proved otherwise.

Last week The Orlando Sentinel reported that Trinity Broadcasting Network’s attempts to have an appraiser reclassify the two lakefront mansions as parsonages to avoid the county’s property tax didn’t have a prayer.

Sarah K. Clarke explains

the Property Appraiser’s Office decided “the property is being used more as a substitute for hotel accommodations rather than as a parsonage for religious purposes.” Neither home fit the definition of a parsonage, it concluded, because the people using them were administrators more than they were clergy.

According to property-appraiser records, the county denied the request for religious tax exemptions last year, though the issue came to light only recently as part of a lawsuit filed in Southern California.

A relative, by marriage, of the granddaughter of Trinity Broadcasting’s two founders has accused the network of illegal behavior and misuse of funds, including its representation of mansions as church guest homes or parsonages in such well-known locales as Miami; Nashville, Tenn.; Newport Beach, Calif.; Irving, Texas; Costa Mesa, Calif.; and Lake Arrowhead, Calif.

Beth Kassab in her report noted

The vast difference between the extravagance of the properties owned by TBN and the run-of-the-mill homes like the one where Pastor Clare Watson Chance lives is rooted in differences in theology.

The Crouches of TBN practice a “prosperity theology,” or the idea that God wants good Christians to be wealthy, and that pastors need to set that example.

Chance, of Broadway United Methodist Church, and many other ministers see the gospel much differently.

“The Bible is really clear about being balanced,” she said. “About not loving your money more than you love your brother or sister who is in need.”

“Most people in ministry that I know, they didn’t get into it for the money,” said Allen of University Baptist. “They know that their reward is in heaven so they don’t pursue that kind of thing here on earth.”

That’s another big difference from TBN. According to the group’s tax forms, Paul Crouch took a salary of $399,256 in 2010, while Jan Crouch earned $364,256.

Many Christians refer to the Trinity Broadcasting Network as The Blasphemy Channel due to the large number of heretical teachers the station hosts (not to mention the unbiblical teachings and practices promoted by Jan and Paul Crouch).

Research resources on the Trinity Broadcasting Network
Suit: Trinity Broadcasting Network board diverted millions from ‘charitable assets’

Lawsuit filed against Trinity Broadcasting Network

Trinity Broadcasting Network A man claims that the Trinity Broadcasting Network — the world’s largest Christian TV network — wrongfully sued him over inexistent contracts, to retaliate after his nephew’s wife “uncovered and reported illegal distributions and other unlawful self-dealing by Trinity Broadcasting’s directors exceeding $50 million.”

The suit includes allegations of multiple cover-ups of sexual and criminal scandals. [Read more...]

Suit: Trinity Broadcasting Network board diverted millions from ‘charitable assets’

Trinity Broadcasting Network The granddaughter of Trinity Broadcasting Network’s Paul and Jan Crouch has accused the world’s largest Christian broadcaster of unlawfully distributing charitable assets worth more than $50 million to the company’s directors.

Koper’s complaint is directed against two attorneys who handle some of TBN’s legal work. [Read more...]