Scientology vs. Google * Pastor bilks woman * Christian Pagans?

A fresh, Friday edition of Religion News Briefs:

bullet David Vernon DeFor, pastor at the Austin Church of Christ faces five felony charges after allegedly bilking an 82-year-old woman with dementia out of more than $40,000.

If convicted of all charges, DeFor faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

bullet A woman who was sexually assaulted during a counseling session with Brian L. Williams while he was a pastor at Sunbury Grace Brethren Church in Ohio has won a $3.6 million jury verdict.

The jury found that the church was negligent in supervising Williams, who in August 2008 was sentenced to 8 years in prison.

bullet No faith is immune to bad apples: Devout pagan David Novakovic King stole £22,000 ($33,500; €25,600) from his girlfriend’s father before decapitating him and burying his body in woodland.

bullet Many Christians Are “Pagan” claims Philadelphia Archbishop:

A new evangelization must start with the sober knowledge that much of the once-Christian developed world, and even many self-described Christians, are in fact pagan. Christian faith is not a habit. It’s not a useful moral code. It’s not an exercise in nostalgia. It’s a restlessness, a consuming fire in the heart to experience the love of Jesus Christ and then share it with others — or it’s nothing at all.
– Archbishop Charles Chaput, addressing the Junipero Serra International Convention in Mallorca, Spain, June 22, 2013

As the excellent article points out, to many it is the term “pagan” that stands out.

Before you react, make sure you read the quote in context.

bullet Time for a trip to Fantasyland: Scientologists have met with Google’s top honcho Sergey Brin to ask him whether Google would filter out bad press about the cult, er, ‘church.’

Do they have any idea how much computer power that would take? Almost all press about Scientology is bad news for the gang — except, of course, for the barrage of ‘press releases’ the church is spamming all over the place in the hope of getting a positive word in edgewise.

Say Google, how about filtering out that crud?

Listen to former top level Scientologist turned whistleblower, Geir Isene explain Scientology’s history of trying to manipulate the internet:

Does that sound like the bridge Scientologists are trying to sell leads anywhere?

bullet Call for papers: The International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) will conduct its 2014 Annual International Conference jointly with Info-Secte/Info-Cult of Montreal in Washington, D.C., July 3-5. The theme is Governments, Human Rights and the Cult Phenomenon.

ICSA is the primary network of lay and professional cult experts.

Incidentally, this year’s ICSA International Conference takes place in Trieste, Italy, July 4-6. One of the tracks will examine various aspects of the question “Are there cultic aberrations in the Catholic Church?

bullet Speaking of cults, here is an excellent series of articles about the House of Judah in rural Allegan County, Michigan.

We’re talking 30 years ago, but John Agar, of the Grand Rapids Press, writes

Survivors and authorities alike say the nightmare of that place still haunts the living.

What started out as a communal group of “black Israelites” living under the leadership of a self-proclaimed prophet devolved into a place of despair, where punishment for minor transgressions was meted out in the form of public beatings and disfiguring burns, survivors and investigators say.

It was a place where armed guards roamed the perimeter, and children were padlocked into a collection of trailers at night.

Former U.S. Attorney John Smietanka, now a private attorney, said the House of Judah differed from a Nazi concentration camp in Poland only in its scale.

bullet A Pakistan court has acquitted a pastor accused of insulting Islam because the pastor’s accuser has told the court he was mistaken.

That’s an unusual occurrence in a country widely criticized for its blasphemy laws, which are often used to persecute religious minorities.

bullet Monsignor Nunzio Scarano, a senior accountant in the Vatican’s financial administration, has been arrested as part of a corruption investigation into the Vatican Bank.

He is suspected of trying to help rich friends bring millions of euros into Italy illegally.

Just last Wednesday Pope Francis set up a special commission of inquiry on Wednesday to reform the Vatican Bank.

bullet Quick: What is the formal name of the Vatican Bank?

If you answered the Institute for the Works of Religion, give yourself ten points — fifteen is you knew the Italian name: Istituto per le Opere di Religione

bullet Mormon bishop Julius Blackwelder has been sentenced to 46 months in prison after he pleaded guilty, last February, to money laundering and wire fraud.

Blackwelder ran a Ponzi Scheme, accepting money from church members and associates which he invested in commodities and a mansion he was building. He paid back some early investors with money from later ones, but eventually lost everything — more than $1.5 million.

Many Ponzi Schemers target fellow church members, colleagues or club members in what is known as ‘affinity fraud.’

bullet In an op-ed guest column in the New York Times, T. M. Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford, writes:

In 2005, Time magazine called C. S. Lewis the “hottest theologian” of the year — 42 years after his death. That same year, a cover story in Christianity Today hailed him as a “superstar.” To this day Lewis, who published the first of his children’s books about “Narnia” in 1950, remains deeply compelling for many evangelicals, more so than for Catholics and mainline Protestants. Why?

If you’re not familiar with the writings of C.S. Lewis you’re missing out. His Chronicles of Narnia form a good introduction.

Or you may wish to delve into Mere Christianity — home for Lewis’ famous trilemma: Was Jesus a lunatic, a liar, or Lord?

His satirical Screwtape Letters, a dialogue between a senior devil and his junior apprentice are enjoyed even by those who don’t shares Lewis’ faith.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Friday June 28, 2013.
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