RNB Religion Roundup: Ted Haggard, Billy Graham, Scientology, UFOs and a haunted hospital…

RNB Religion Shorts: a compendium of blurbs and links to, for the most part, religion-related stories you may have missed.

Ted Haggard

The Ted Haggard Dilemma: Can a fallen pastor ever redeem himself?

Two years have gone by with little more than occasional peeps from Haggard, and now he’s back in The Trials of Ted Haggard, an HBO film directed by Alexandra Pelosi, a sort of sequel to her Friends of God, that documents Haggard’s dreary life in exile—no job, no home, no friends, no ministry.

AP reports on the Ted Haggard documentary

Earlier this week, when CNN’s Anderson Cooper interviewed Pelosi, he tried to open with a question about the fallen minister’s “spiritual restoration.” Pelosi interrupted Cooper before he could finish the question, saying she couldn’t speak to Haggard’s mental or spiritual condition. Fair enough. But Cooper’s question is the right one—for journalists, for Haggard, for his former church, and for countless other congregations that have suffered similar betrayals.

I was Haggard’s writer and editor for eight years. When he called me the weekend he was exposed, he sounded like a broken man. He was grateful for a chance to come clean and stop his downward spiral. In those early days, those of us who knew Haggard figured we would come to know the depth of his duplicity—that he’d fess up completely now that he had nothing to lose. In a confession letter, he promised us that he’d be guided “through a program with the goal of healing and restoration for my life, my marriage, and my family.”

But Haggard never really came clean.

And now Haggard is back, telling Oprah Winfrey and Larry King that he’s confused about his sexuality and accusing his former church of telling him to “go to hell.” In his interviews, Haggard has ranged from humility and self-deprecation to wondering aloud how Christians can be so mean and claiming that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, mother of Trials of Ted Haggard director Alexandra, sent him words of encouragement during his time in exile. (Pelosi’s office denied that claim.)

Haggard has complained to some of his old friends, including me, that if he had been a CEO instead of the senior pastor of a church, he would have been back at work in one month.

The problem for people like Ted Haggard … is that he was in a position of public trust. Once fully lost, that trust can never be fully restored. Robert Downey Jr. can become an A-list actor, ruin himself with drugs, sober up, and become an A-list actor all over again. A businessman, a scholar, or a parent can do something similar. Why can’t Haggard? Because his very public career was based on the antithesis of his failures. Downey wants only to be a damn fine actor, and he can be that no matter the content of his character. Haggard wanted to be a minister, a position that makes claims on his behavior—claims that Haggard professed to be equal to.

– Source: The Ted Haggard Dilemma: Can a fallen pastor ever redeem himself?, Patton Dodd, Slate, Jan. 29, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

See Also
Lessons learned from lying leaders (article)
When a Leader Falls: What Happens to Everyone Else? (book)
When a Leader Falls: Work through the process of redemption and restoration. (articles)


Are Christians Stingy? When believers don’t believe in giving.

[I]n the recently released Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money, sociologists Christian Smith, Michael O. Emerson, and Patricia Snell argue that too many American Christians—”the most affluent single group of Christians in two thousand years of church history”—are guilty of Scrooge-like stinginess. At least one in five American Christians, they write, gives no money at all to charities. In some churches, the miserliness rate is even higher. More than 28 percent of Catholics, for example, don’t donate to charity.

Most of the money gathered in churches on Sunday is spent inside those same churches on operating expenses likes staff salaries and facility maintenance. The authors of Passing the Plate write that “the vast majority of the money that American Christians do give to religion is spent in and for their own local communities of faith—little is spent on missions, development and poverty relief outside of local congregations.”

– Source: Are Christians Stingy? When believers don’t believe in giving., Andrew Santella, Slate, Dec. 24, 2008 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

The Church Around The Corner

Believers of a different flock altogether…

Haunted hospital calls in exorcist

Spooked staff at Derby’s new Royal Hospital claimed a black-clad figure wearing a cloak was stalking wards and corridors.

Now chiefs at the £334million NHS site are to summon a local priest to see off the “spirit”.

Experts said the spirit could be the ghost of a Roman soldier killed on the spot where the original hospital was built in the 1920s. Developers ignored protests and covered over part of one of Ancient Britain’s main Roman roads.

– Source: Haunted hospital calls in exorcist, The Sun (UK), Jan. 30, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

RAF ‘ordered to shoot down UFOs’

A former member of staff at the Ministry of Defence says alien craft have been fired at by the British military.

Pilots have apparently fired upon the unidentified objects without success since the 1980s, according to Nick Pope, who used to run the Ministry of Defence’s UFO project.

– Source: RAF ‘ordered to shoot down UFOs’, Telegraph (UK), Jan. 28, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog


The Church of Scientology really belongs in the previous topic. Then again, its insidious nature warrants a separate section.

Scientology: Death by Devotion

It’s funny how people will take lies as gospel and give power to people who have the worst of intentions.

I saw this personally, when I worked for a lady named Yvonne Jentzsch, the founder of the Scientology Celebrity Centre in Los Angeles. Yvonne was a former kindergarten teacher from Australia who reminded me of the fairy godmother in Walt Disney’s Cinderella. It was because of her that I came to Los Angeles and ended up working for $5 a week and room and board, touting the supposedly spectacular effects of “the world’s fastest-growing religion.” I studied “policies” written by L. Ron Hubbard with sentiments like “always attack, never defend.” Working as a treasurer, I learned to lie to creditors and to yell at people and accuse them of crimes. I was told that non-Scientologists were stupid “wogs” (a derogatory term Hubbard lifted from the British, like he borrowed most of his “great ideas”). Meanwhile, Scientologists were told that we were the natural aristocracy of the spiritual universe, in so many words. Thus, when Hubbard insisted that the survival of the planet depended on Scientology taking over, we fell for it.

Hubbard sacked her as head of the Celebrity Centre she had founded, even though the organization literally put Scientology on the map with the Hollywood community. She’d gotten people like John Travolta involved, and John adored her. The problem was, Yvonne had lived for years on two to three hours sleep a night and had developed a brain tumor. Hubbard probably didn’t want to foot the medical bills. He announced he was “promoting” her to create and run the “Public Relations Organization” which would promote Scientology all over the world. What he didn’t announce was that he didn’t fund her, and Yvonne was put in the embarrassing position of literally begging for donations to survive.

When she died, Hubbard issued an edict that Yvonne was still a member of the “Sea Organization” (people who signed billion-year contracts in dedication to Hubbard) and that in her next life when she reached age 21 she should report in for duty.

Travolta and other celebrities never knew the real story about Yvonne; it was kept from them, as other horrors of Scientology are kept from its celebrities today. Few knew that when Hubbard died he was screaming at unseen demons and on the psychiatric drug, Vistaril. Ironic, because Hubbard blamed all the world’s problems on psychiatry, the profession he wanted Scientology to supplant. Every aspiring despot summons up a boogeyman, if you haven’t noticed.

– Source: Scientology: Death by Devotion, Skip Press, Big Hollywood/Breitbart.com, Jan. 28, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Man who filmed petroleum jelly-covered Scientology protester’s rampage arrested as accessory

The man who videotaped a petroleum jelly-covered protester on a rampage inside a Scientology center in Manhattan was arrested Tuesday for helping with the crime, police said.

Jacob Speregen, 21, of Brooklyn, was charged with two hate crimes including aggravated harassment and criminal mischief for helping Mahoud Samed Almahadin, aka Matt Connor, during the Jan. 14 incident.

Speregen’s mother questioned whether her son’s right to freedom of speech was being violated.

Noble said her son met Almahadin the day of the prank and never broke the law.

“It is ridiculous,” she said. “He was behind the barricade.”


The good people at the National Religious Campaign Against Torture write:


We continue to feel a deep sense of gratitude for President Obama’s swift action to halt the use of torture. NRCAT encourages faith communities across the country (and around the globe) to join us in offering prayers of praise and thanksgiving to mark the President’s Executive Order. Click here to access a page with resources for use in worship services and other settings, including a bulletin insert with a prayer of thanksgiving on one side and next steps in our campaign listed on the other side.

We express gratitude to President Obama, key members of his Administration who helped draft the Executive Order, and the diverse and influential groups who joined with us in this campaign – human rights organizations, retired military and intelligence officers, lawyers representing detainees, legal scholars, and medical professionals – and especially to all the people in local congregations who have signed statements, made phone calls, asked religious organizations and individual people of faith to join us, written letters, witnessed publicly, hung banners or met with Members of Congress to encourage them to end U.S.-sponsored torture.

Our work to secure an end to U.S.sponsored torture is not over. Executive Orders are not permanent, and Congress still needs to pass additional legislation to make the provisions of President Obama’s Executive Order on torture permanent law. NRCAT is also asking Congress to provide for an independent commission with subpoena power to investigate our past use of torture.

– Source: Email, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Jan. 29, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog


Attack on women at a bar in India raises fears of ‘Hindu Taliban’

The attack by Hindu extremists who say they are protecting traditional Indian culture shows a disconnect as some classes rapidly Westernize. But some observers see a political ploy as elections near.

Girls assaulted in Mangalore pub by Sri Ram Sena and Bajrang Dal activists

While the Mangalore attack, captured by TV crews, has been condemned by police, civic groups and the central government, it follows several other recent actions by conservative Hindus who believe women should not dress in Western clothes, drink alcohol or have an independent lifestyle.

It also underscores the growing gap, social observers say, between an India that has rushed headlong into the 21st century — as seen in the shiny world of call centers and slick urban skylines — and a more traditional world that, while also changing, still has a good deal in common with the 19th century world of ox carts, closeted village women and deep-rooted patriarchal values. “You have Muslim Taliban and this Hindu Taliban,” said Kuldip Nayar, a New Delhi-based journalist and political analyst. “Tradition has not been jettisoned as quickly as people in the West think. This class of people going to pubs, dancing, is still very small.”

The group that took responsibility for the attack on the 20-something women, Shri Ram Sena, is a radical wing of the Hindu nationalist movement whose most mainstream element is the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP.

– Source: Attack on women at a bar in India raises fears of ‘Hindu Taliban’, Los Angeles Times, Jan. 29, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Jewish-Muslim Relationships

Israel’s Holocaust museum reaches out to Muslims

RAMLE, Israel — An exhibition on Albanian Muslims who sheltered Jews during World War II opened in this mixed Jewish-Arab town on Tuesday to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day, but the event was overshadowed by tensions from Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip.

It was the first time that Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, has hosted a standing exhibition in Hebrew and Arabic. Holding the event in Ramle, a working-class town where thousands of Arabs live alongside Jews, underscored the organizers’ goal of improving relations.

– Source: Israel’s Holocaust museum reaches out to Muslims, Diaa Hadid, AP via the Washington Post, Jan. 27, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Billy Graham

The Upper Reaches: The Remarkable 50-Year White House Ministry of Billy Graham

Barack Obama may be the first American president since Franklin Roosevelt whom evangelist Billy Graham never meets or counsels.

Billy Graham, 1949

America’s most famous preacher turned 90 last November 7, and although Obama tried to visit him during the campaign, the evangelist’s health precluded it.

But in a meeting with Obama earlier last year, son Franklin, who has succeeded to his father’s ministry, made known the Grahams’ disagreement with Obama over abortion and same-sex unions.

Still mentally alert though frail, Billy Graham is perhaps the most influential clergyman in US history.

He has been a celebrity since 1949, when his surging Los Angeles crusade persuaded the Hearst press to “puff” him nationally, and across seven decades, he has preached in 185 countries to over 200 million people.

– Source: The Upper Reaches: The Remarkable 50-Year White House Ministry of Billy Graham, Mark Tooley, Touchstone, Jan/Feb. 2009 issue — Summarized by Religion News Blog


Preacher Sues Bill Maher over inclusion in ‘Religulous’

Rev. Jeremiah Cummings, founder of the Worldwide International Campaign for Christ Television Network in Orlando, Florida, has filed a $50 million lawsuit against Bill Maher and producer Lionsgate for using him in their documentary Religulous.

– Source: Preacher Sues Maher, Radar, Jan. 28, 2009– Summarized by Religion News Blog


God may not care who wins, but players in Super Bowl care a lot about God

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Arizona running back Tim Hightower had just finished a thoughtful explanation of his religious beliefs when one of the media types who found their way into the Super Bowl stadium Tuesday decided he needed more proof.

“Can you pray right now?” he asked.

“I can pray that whatever is going on in your life right now that you find God,” Hightower said.

Hightower handled the question with the same ease he handled would-be tacklers to score the winning touchdown that got his team into the Super Bowl, which by itself was somewhat surprising since he is a rookie on the biggest stage of his young life.

Even more surprising at this Super Bowl, though, is how so many players on both teams aren’t hesitating to invoke the name of God as they prepare to play a violent game where there will be no mercy shown on either side.

Usually that has writers setting down their pens and cameramen hitting the pause button until talk returns to the game itself.

But the depth of convictions from evangelical Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner to the Steelers who will do their best to plant him face-first into the ground on Sunday has put religion squarely in play this week. All of a sudden the G-word is in vogue.

– Source: God may not care who wins, but players in Super Bowl care a lot about God, AP via the Chicago Tribune, Jan. 28, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

About RNB’s Religion News Roundup

RNB Religion Shorts: a compendium of blurbs and links to, for the most part, religion-related stories you may have missed.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday January 30, 2009.
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