May 24, 2017

Columns Leave the Men of Gold Alone!

Michael Chishala
May 24, 2017
Lusaka Times

The Folly of Regulating Religion

We have reached an interesting situation in Zambia where we apparently need the government to “protect” us from crooked preachers. From Nigerian Prophet Andrew Egimadu (aka Seer 1), Malawian Prophet Shepherd Bushiri to Zimbabwean Prophet Eubert Madzanire (aka Uebert Angel) who was apparently denied entry into the country, the list of Men of God…, er sorry, Men of Gold that are being either thrown out of Zambia or blocked from entering is growing (Interesting how they are all “prophets”).

We are told that these characters are charlatans and we need to protect our “values” as Zambians by stopping them from preying on gullible unsuspecting citizens. I totally agree that most of these so-called “Men of God” are fake and often prey on the people they preach to. I however take issue with the way they are being dealt with because it is leading us down a very slippery slope towards a huge ditch.

Let us start with the essential question of who is the absolute judge to decide for us who is a fake or genuine preacher and what are the correct Zambian “values”. What objective standard is used to pass judgment on preachers? How different are the fake foreign preachers from some of our local Pentecostal and Charismatic preachers right here in Zambia who also peddle teachings about God rewarding you and making you prosperous when you tithe and give offerings?

If indeed we need protection from fake preachers who are conning us out of money, then we should immediately ban Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) and Radio Christian Voice (RCV) in Zambia since they regularly broadcast teachings from the same kinds of questionable preachers. We should not only ban TBN, but also TB Joshua’s Emmanuel TV and also block all channels on satellite TV that host these Men and Women of Gold since thanks to VISA and MasterCard, I can send my “love offering” to any TBN preacher from my living room after being promised an abundance of prosperity and healing from all my illnesses. I need protection from this scam!

Some American prosperity preachers who feature prominently on TBN such as Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer and others have been investigated in America over the lavish lifestyles they lead (funded by donations often based on promises of healing and prosperity) without paying any taxes.

Atheists and people of other faiths such as Buddhism, Judaism and Islam can probably make a strong argument that the entire system of Christianity that is based on promises of going to heaven is also just another big scam. Churches receive donations in form of tithes and offerings which they then use for their sustenance as they keep teaching every week that there is an afterlife in heaven.

Non-believers will argue that Christian churches are no different in principle from the Men and Women of Gold. The Men of Gold promise miracles, healing and wealth while churches for 2,000 years have been promising going to heaven and living in mansions there. Churches present themselves as being called by God himself to teach you the way to get to heaven by believing in and obeying the teachings of Jesus Christ. All churches get your money (based on promises) the same way the Men of Gold get your money (also based on promises).

Going a step further, what about churches that teach questionable doctrines? Should they be banned? Should the Mormons be banned since they teach that an angel called Moroni appeared to some guy called Joseph Smith and revealed some new hidden teachings, leading to the Book of Mormon being produced in 1830 that is treated on par with the Christian Bible?

What about the Seventh Day Adventists whom many in Christianity consider to be a cult, or the Jehovah’s Witnesses who do not believe in blood transfusions? Is the government okay with a person being prevented from getting a blood transfusion because their church forbids it and they end up dying in hospital? Isn’t this more consequential than people being swindled out of money by Men of Gold?

What has happened to all the laws on fraud and obtaining money under false pretences? If indeed the idea is to weed out the fake swindler preachers, why not plant undercover police officers in their churches and do a sting operation and then take the preachers to court for obtaining money under false pretences? Why not launch an education campaign against the scams?

Since we need Government protection from such confidence scams, let there be issued a Statutory Instrument (SI) to ban all adverts in the local newspapers and magazines by witch doctors, spirit mediums, Psychics and traditional healers that promise all manner of great outcomes such as passing exams, recovering stolen property, reclaiming adulterous wayward husbands, communicating with dead loved ones, getting a job or enlarging body parts. Surely the same logic must apply here.

As is evident by now, the stance taken against the Men and Women of Gold is patently absurd and untenable. Although not always, an absurdity is usually a sign of something not quite above board. We are now hearing whispers from Kachepa Kachepa suggesting that Uebert Angel is rumoured to have donated money to the opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) which is allegedly why he was blocked from getting into Zambia.

This story was reported by Bulawayo 24 News in an article entitled “Zambia intelligence agency accuses Uebert Angel of ‘pumping’ millions into opposition” on 5th May 2017. The story was vehemently denied by the spokesperson of Angel’s church, Rikki Doolan. To quote from the article:

“Intelligence operatives of the Zambian Government have accused Uebert Angel of pouring millions into the opposition political party. Multimillionaire prophet and leader of the Good News Church, Uebert Angel was sucked into a political scuffle as the Zambian government accused him of funding the opposition party lead by Hakainde Hichilema.”

“Sources close to Prophet Angel say he was issued with a visa, however, the government operatives who met him at the airport listed a number of unreasonable conditions for him to follow should he opt to go into the country. But Uebert Angel refused to comply and he chose not to go into Zambia. However, a source in the prophet’s camp vehemently says it’s fiction.”

“‘Angel doesn’t know anything about the opposing leader in fact he has never met or seen Hichilema,’ said our source. Speaking to Onward Christian Radio, Rikki Doolan the spokesperson … said, ‘Prophet Uebert Angel is an apolitical leader, he is a Christian leader not aligned to any political party but God’.”

In yet another possible twist to this whole saga, Hjoe Moono suggested in his article “The Economics of Religion in Zambia: The Fight of the ‘Prophets‘” published in Lusaka Times on 18th May 2017 that all this might be just a sinister ploy to kill competition from foreign preachers for tithes and offerings after a lobbying campaign from local preachers. Who knows.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs and National Guidance has powers to register or de-register churches and religious organizations and apparently, they can get the Immigration Department to throw out any foreign person they deem to be a fake preacher. What happens one day in the future when the Minister at the time decides to de-register the Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ), the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ) or the Zambia Episcopal Conference (ZEC) because they are judged to be getting too political?

What happens if some preachers in Zambia begin criticizing the government more strongly and their churches get shut down for “meddling” into politics instead of sticking to religion? It is of great concern that so much power can be vested in a single office to make such decisions. At the rate we are going, someone one day may take the government to court over religious freedoms which are enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the constitution.

When the United States of America was founded in 1789, they were very strong on an important principle; Separation of Church and State. This was in large part due to many immigrants in America running away from state sanctioned religious persecution in Europe. The American founding fathers in their wisdom could see that when religion gets too much into politics, you end up with all sorts of nasty problems.

In conclusion, I contend that there is no person with the knowledge, skill or wisdom to make any definitive judgments on matters of religion on behalf of Zambians. It is not the role of government to protect people from their own stupidity as if they are little children.


Graduation day is a milestone for the students and a polygamous town

The Salt Lake Tribune
May 22, 2017

Hildale • The graduates wore gowns, and they wrote and drew on the tops of their mortarboard caps just like teenagers anywhere.

"Pomp and Circumstance" played over the loudspeakers as the graduates marched into the gymnasium, just like at a high school anywhere.

Yet the commencement ceremony Monday at Water Canyon High School was a little different than most others. There was more emphasis on the students' accomplishments than the average high school graduation.

That's because the average graduate at Water Canyon has been through a lot. Many of the students are former members of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Dale Jeffs said even though the graduates didn't necessarily grow up together — the FLDS have spread out across the West in the past 15 years — the class members have had a lot of experiences to which they can relate.

Jeffs didn't enter public school until the 11th grade. When he enrolled, he didn't think he would graduate. Monday, he and his half-sister Melissa were among the graduates in caps and gowns. Jeffs plans to go to Dixie State University and study business.

"We made it this far after coming out [out of the church]," Jeffs said, "and it's been surprising."

FLDS President Warren Jeffs ordered parents to remove their children from the public schools in 2004. While a public school remained open in adjoining Colorado City, Ariz., there was none in Hildale until Water Canyon, which also has an elementary and junior high school, opened in Hildale in 2014.

There was one graduate the first year and six last year, said Principal Darin Thomas. Twenty-five students graduated Monday.

Thomas choked up when he addressed the audience and recalled the school's start and how he has gotten to know the students.

"I want you to remember who you are," Thomas told the grads. "I want you to remember what you've learned here these last few years."

Applause and big smiles came from the audience for every mention of a college scholarship or other accomplishment won by a graduate.

The commencement speaker, Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, warned the students they will face adversity in their lives, but encouraged them not to give up. He also recalled visiting Hildale in September 2015 after a flash flood here killed 13 people.

The town remains divided among former and current FLDS members, but Cox recalled how everyone worked together to find the bodies of the flood victims.

"As much as that memory stings today for everybody that lived through that," Cox said, "I saw the best of humanity that day."

Politicians from Washington County sat with Cox. So, too, did Hildale Mayor Philip Barlow. He smiled, laughed and clapped for the graduates.

Barlow, assumed by locals to be a member of the FLDS, was absent when the school debuted. Water Canyon used to be an FLDS storehouse. The church lost the building as part of a lawsuit, and the Washington County School District subsequently bought it. Church members have largely stayed away.

Water Canyon had about 520 students in kindergarten through 12th grade this school year.

Danielle Barlow hugged friends and family and cried after the ceremony. She said she did not grow up in the FLDS, but she is the 13th of 16 children and the first among them to graduate from high school.

She said hers is not an uncommon story among her classmates.

"It's a lot of excitement, tears of joy," she said.

'Breatharians' Believe You Can Survive on Air Alone

Layla Haidrani
Broadly Vice
May 23, 2017

For Ana-Maria Stefania, discovering breatharianism was "love at first sight. The less solid food I consume, the better and more present I feel." The Cyprus-based health coach and hypnotherapist found what she describes as her "calling" three years ago. Now, she's one of thousands of breatharians worldwide.

Breatharianism is the belief that it is possible to survive on energy from sunlight and air (otherwise known as prana)—and almost entirely without food or water. Devotees are told to gradual transition from vegetarian, vegan, and raw foods and fruit, before surviving on a purely liquid diet.

Although intermittent fasting features in many religions—including Islam, Christianity, and Jainism—breatharianism is one seemingly endless fast. Self-styled breatharian leader Jas Jasmuheen and author of Living on Light: The Source of Nourishment for the New Millennium claims that she has spent over four decades finding different ways to nourish her body without food and has said she can "go for months and months without having anything at all other than a cup of tea."

Medical experts, of course, say that this is not a long-term lifestyle. "Anyone advocating that we can live largely without food or fluids is giving dangerous advice," Professor David Oliver, the clinical vice president of the Royal College of Physicians, says. "Living on air and sunshine will provide no caloric or fluid intake. Anyone who claims to be maintaining a steady body weight on such a diet is unlikely to be telling the truth.'

Unsurprisingly, high-profile breatharians have a history of getting caught with food. In 1999, one was discovered leaving a 7-Eleven with a box of Twinkies, a hot dog, and a Slurpee after claiming he had lived on air for 30 years. Jasmuheen was once spotted by a journalist ordering a meal on a plane, and was unable to continue more than four days into a televised fast at a retreat. (Jasmuheen did not respond to our request for comment.)

This hasn't stopped wannabe breatharians avidly using online forums to share tips about the best breathing techniques and advice on the best way to navigate the transition from solid food. But in an age when food delivery is only a click away, why would anyone willingly choose to live on air?

"Food is not something I function best on—my fuel is best in the form of light," Stefania tells me. "It's pure bliss, like staying in a cocoon and not wanting to get out. One is accepting, loving, grateful, at peace and tranquil."

Despite having undertaken both 10 and 21-day fasts, Stefania claims that transitioning isn't about counting the number of days without food or water. Being a breatharian, she says, is a powerful tool that "puts my mind at silence. I feel lighter and find it easier to feel, sense and evolve at a spiritual level."

Thirty-three-year-old Nina Valentine explored veganism and vegetarianism, and says that breatharianism seemed the next logical step. "I've been very conscious of what I consume for most of my life and how it affects my health," she says.

According to the Vienna-based hypnotherapist, food is inextricably linked to our emotions. She believes that breatharianism allows people to heal. "In our society where anxiety, depression and obesity is common, we rarely eat purely out of hunger anymore, we eat to suppress our emotions. We eat comfort food that makes us feel good temporarily without dealing what is really going on underneath."

For the last two years, Valentine has embarked on monthly dry fasts. "After three or four days, my thinking is clear, I don't get tired and when I wake up in the morning, I am full of energy that lasts all day long. It's a state of self-love and acceptance."

While Stefania and Valentine are adamant that their lives have been enriched, Rick Miller, a clinical and sports dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, isn't so convinced.

While Miller says routine fasting is not problematic for healthy people, long-term abstaining from food can lead to a massive drop in blood pressure and internal temperature. This can make you feel nauseous and eventually result in being confined to bed. "Your body is able to drawn on stored fuels, such as body fat to conserve energy for some time but in the short term, internal monitoring systems (such as blood glucose levels) recognize the persistent lack of food and start to shut down any non-essential processes to conserve energy for vital organ function.

"This leads to the drop in heart rate, blood pressure, and temperature, as well as little movement from the person due to excess fatigue from no 'fuel,'" he explains. "If you could prolong that further despite the incredible hunger, you would likely start to feel confused and could hallucinate, slip into unconsciousness, and there's a real risk of eventually passing away."

The belief that it is possible to survive on air alone can have deadly consequences. In 1999, a Scottish woman starved to death after her diary mentioned Jasmuheen's teachings, while Australian follower Lani Morris reportedly coughed up black liquid and passed away after going seven days without food and water. It was part of her 21-day initiation into breatharianism.

It's not hard to see why the restrictive diet has drawn comparisons to eating disorders—and it is not uncommon to hear of breatharian followers who use it to mask their pre-existing medical condition.

I ask Dr. Stacey Rosenfeld, a clinical psychologist who specializes in eating disorders, whether breatharianism qualifies as an eating disorder. "What typically defines an eating disorder is a fear of weight gain, an overvaluation on weight/shape, and a disturbance in body image," Rosenfeld replies. "Someone could be restricting food for other reasons—for example, a hunger strike for political reasons—but if the above criteria aren't met, we wouldn't classify it as anorexia, unless it seemed that the particular intake/plan was being used in the service of weight-related food restriction."

Dietitian Rick Miller, however, notes that while breatharianism doesn't qualify as an eating disorder, "the eating behaviour is clearly disordered."

This is all too familiar for Brynn Byrne, a 31-year-old yoga teacher from Texas who admits that "flirting" with breatharianism at 23 was a manifestation of her binge eating disorder. "Becoming a breatharian almost seemed like an easy solution. I fluctuated from feeling out of control with binge eating towards never wanting to touch, look at, taste, or smell food again," she said. "The idea of cutting out my main source of pain and internal conflict seemed very attractive to me."

Byrne says that she was aware being a breatharian would never work. At the time, however, it seemed "easy and less painful than the daily hell of trying to reign in my eating patterns." But the extreme demands of the diet proved too restrictive; the closest she came was adhering to a high reduced calorie intake for a few days.

While it may be easy to assume that simply eating after a stretch of starvation will be fine, Miller warns that breatharians can also be at risk of refeeding syndrome: "When people don't eat for a period of time and eat food, the depletion of certain electrolytes (such as magnesium, potassium and phosphate) in conjunction with a sudden increase in insulin levels from eating again can lead to cellular dysfunction, resulting in cardiac arrhythmia, convulsions, coma, and often needs immediate hospitalization. So not only is it dangerous to not eat, food should be reintroduced gradually and slowly."

For many, the pursuit of breatharianism continues to be a life-long ambition. But for Brynn, who has now overcome her eating disorder, the experience of eating is now sacred. As she puts it, there is nothing like the "simple and profound pleasure of enjoying food."

Jehovah’s Witnesses turn to Council of Europe over Russia’s refusal to execute ECHR ruling

May 22, 2017

MOSCOW, May 22 (RAPSI) – The Jehovah's Witnesses organization banned in Russia as extremist has filed a complaint with the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe over Moscow's refusal to implement a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

A copy of the application has been published on the website of the Council of Europe.

In March 2004, the Golovinsky District Court has granted prosecutors motion seeking to liquidate Jehovah's Witnesses in Moscow (Moscow LRO). Following that, the religious organization lodged a complaint with ECHR. In June 2010, ECHR ruled in favor of applicants and ordered Russia to pay them € 20,000 in compensation and €50,000 in respect of costs and expense.

The Russian government has refused "to implement the above-mentioned judgment," according to the application filed with the Council of Europe.

"The situation is now critical. On April 20, 2017, the Supreme Court of Russia granted the application of the Ministry of Justice of Russia and banned Jehovah's Witnesses nationwide and ordered the liquidation of their national legal entity, the Administrative Centre of Jehovah's Witnesses in Russia (Administrative Centre), and 395 local religious organizations (LROs) of Jehovah's Witnesses, including the Moscow LRO. This is now the second time the applicant organization has been liquidated", the complaint signed by lawyer John M. Burns reads.

The Supreme Court of Russia banned Jehovah's Witnesses as extremist organization in April 2017.

The Justice Ministry said that violations of the law "On Combatting Extremism" had been revealed during inspection conducted in the organization. The Prosecutor General's Office's notice concerning inadmissibility of carrying out extremist activities by Jehovah's Witnesses has taken effect, the Ministry said.

Jehovah's Witnesses religious organization has had many legal problems in Russia. Since 2009, 95 materials distributed by the organization in the country have been declared extremist and 8 Jehovah's Witnesses' branches have been liquidated.

Jehovah's Witnesses is an international religious organization based in Brooklyn, New York. Since 2004 several branches and chapters of the organization were banned and shut down in various regions of Russia.

'Neo-Nazi' in Florida National Guard arrested after explosives found at Tampa Palms murder scene

Tony Marrero and John Martin
Tampa Bay Times
May 22, 2017

TAMPA — A man accused of shooting his two roommates Friday in a Tampa Palms apartment told police he shared neo-Nazi beliefs with the men until he converted to Islam then killed them because they showed disrespect for his faith.

Officers found a garage stocked with bomb materials as they arrived to investigate the double homicide, leading to federal explosive charges against Brandon Russell — a Florida National Guardsman and admitted neo-Nazi who kept a framed photo of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh on his dresser.

Russell, 21, was the man Tampa police officers found crying outside his door Friday evening when murder suspect Devon Arthurs led them back to the apartment that the four had shared in an affluent suburb north of the University of South Florida. Russell, wearing camouflage, had just returned from National Guard duties.

Police went to the apartment in the Hamptons at Tampa Palms after Arthurs, 18, told them he fatally shot his roommates Jeremy Himmelman, 22, and Andrew Oneschuk, 18, according to a Tampa police report.

While searching the garage, investigators found a cooler full of a white, cake-like explosive material known as HMTD, or hexamethylene tiperoxide diamine, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court. Nearby, they found explosive precursors — chemicals that can be mixed to create explosives — including potassium chlorate, potassium nitrate, nitro methane and more than a pound of ammonium nitrate in a package addressed to Russell.

Investigators also found electric matches and empty 5.56-caliber ammunition casings with fuses that could be used to detonate destructive devices once HMTD was added to the casings. The materials could be used to make a bomb, according to the complaint.

In addition, pagers carried by bomb technicians alerted them to the presence of two radiation sources. The complaint does not say whether they were connected to the explosive materials.

In Russell's bedroom, investigators discovered Nazi and white supremacist propaganda including the photo of McVeigh, who was convicted and executed for detonating an ammonium nitrate and nitromethane fertilizer truck bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. The death toll from the blast was 168.

According to the complaint, Russell admitted to being a national socialist, manufacturing the HTMD and owning the precursors. He also admitted he is a member of a white supremacy group called the Atomwaffen, German for "atomic weapons."

Questioned about why he had the explosives, Russell said he was in a USF engineering club in 2013 and used the HMTD, in part, to boost homemade rockets and to send balloons into the atmosphere.

"Based on my training and experience, HMTD is too energetic and volatile for these types of uses," FBI Special Agent Timothy A. Swanson wrote in the complaint.

Arthurs told investigators that all four roommates shared neo-Nazi beliefs until he converted to Islam, according to the complaint.

"Arthurs stated that for some time before the murders, he had been privy to Russell participating in online neo-Nazi internet chat rooms where he threatened to kill people and bomb infrastructure."

Russell was arrested on a FBI warrant Sunday in Key Largo and charged with possessing an unregistered destructive device and unlawful storage of explosive material. It was unclear Monday what he had been doing since Friday, but the FBI said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times that Key Largo "is part of the active investigation and will not be commented on at this time."

It was also unclear whether the Florida National Guard will conduct its own investigation into Russell's actions or await the results of the FBI's, said Maj. Caitlin Brown, a guard spokeswoman in Jacksonville.

The Atomwaffen Division is a small, loose group of neo-Nazis that formed in the last couple of years, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Considered a hate group by the league and the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Atomwaffen Division circulates white supremacist fliers urging students to join local Nazis on college campuses around the country. Universities targeted include the University of Central Florida and State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota.

USF police said there is no evidence that any white supremacist group has recruited on campus for the last several years.

Members of Atomwaffen congregate on a website that describes them as a "Global Fascist Fraternity" and urges "race war now!"

As news of the slayings began to spread, a chat thread emerged in which members mourned Himmelman and Oneschuk as "fallen Aryan brothers" and used racist epithets to describe Arthurs as a Muslim traitor.

In an interview Sunday, Himmelman's sister Lyssa said she was aware that Arthurs and Russell were part of a white supremacist group but said her brother and Oneschuk were not involved and did not agree with Arthurs' extreme views.

She said Arthurs had invited them to move in but that her brother and Oneschuk had planned to move out Monday "because of how extreme Devon was being." She described Jeremy as a "sweet, funny, amazing loving brother who would never hurt a fly."

Reached Monday, Lyssa Himmelman called Arthurs' claims that all the roommates were neo-Nazis "lies" and declined further comment.

Russell's arrest is the latest twist in a case that began unfolding Friday when Arthurs briefly took hostages at the Green Planet Smoke Shop down the street from his apartment. A Tampa police report obtained by the Times on Monday provides new details about the hostage-taking and killings.

Arthurs entered the smoke shop at 15325 Amberly Drive about 5:30 p.m. and pulled a semiautomatic pistol from his waistband.

"Do me a favor and get the f--- on the ground!" he yelled to a female employee and male customer, the report states. Arthurs asked the customer, "Why shouldn't I kill you?"

A few minutes later, another customer entered the store and Arthurs ordered him to get down. He told all three people in the store that he had already killed someone.

"He further informed all three victims that he was upset due to America bombing his Muslim countries," according to the report, by police Detective Kenneth Nightlinger.

Two Tampa police officers arrived about five minutes after the second customer entered the store. One hostage ran out of the store and the officers were able to persuade Arthurs to let the other two leave. After several more minutes of negotiating, Arthurs surrendered and allowed the officers to place him in handcuffs.

Arthurs made references to "Allah Mohammed" as officers walked him to a patrol car.

"I had to do it," he said, according to the report. "This wouldn't have had to happen if your country didn't bomb my country."

Jail records show Arthurs was born in Florida.

Asked if anyone else was hurt, he told police: "The people in the apartment, but they aren't hurt, they're dead."

Arthurs directed police to unit No. 3723 in the Hamptons. There, police found Russell in his National Guard camouflage, standing just outside the door, "crying and visibly upset." Arthurs saw Russell and told police, "That's my roommate. He doesn't know what's going on and just found them like you guys did."

Officers entered the apartment and found Himmelman and Oneschuk inside. They'd been shot in the head and upper body, the report states.

In an interview with investigators, Arthurs provided details about the shooting, including the rifle he used, the order in which he killed the men and which part of their bodies he targeted.

Arthurs said that, before the killings, "he had been privy to neo-Nazi internet sites threatening to kill people, and he had developed a thinking that he should take some of the neo-Nazis with him."

Arthurs told police he had become angry about the world's anti-Muslim sentiment and "wanted to bring attention to his cause.

Arthurs faces two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated assault and three counts of armed kidnapping. He remained in the Hillsborough County jail without bail on Monday.

He is scheduled to appear in court at 10 a.m. Wednesday before Hillsborough County Judge Margaret Taylor.

Staff writers Dan Sullivan, Anastasia Dawson, Howard Altman and Colleen Wright contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

Preachers of Prosperity—Faith as Business

Pastor Chris Oyakhilome of Nigeria
Pastor Chris Oyakhilome of Nigeria
Aarni Kuoppamäki
Deutsche Welle (Bonn)
22 MAY 2017

Five centuries ago, Martin Luther reformed the Christian church to prevent the marketing of religion. But in Africa, the debate over blending God and money is a very timely one.

Every miracle grows from a seed - at least that's the main tenet of the "prosperity gospel" as preached in an online video by Pastor Chris Oyakhilome of Nigeria. According to the pastor, a believer seeking God's help should first consider which seed is the most likely to produce his hoped-for crop. Someone who is in financial dire straits or is praying for a miraculous recovery from a disease must sow this "precious" seed. But Pastor Chris, as he calls himself, is actually talking about money.

"All giving is a demonstration of our faith in God and his word," he says. To the believers who give generously, the preachers of the prosperity gospel promise wealth, health and good luck. Those who sow a lot will reap even more later, they say.

Pastor Chris is the founder of one of many African churches that celebrate wealth. His "Christ Embassy" is one of the most successful, with two million followers on the social media platform Facebook. Three satellite TV-channels broadcast his sermons, miracle cures and exorcisms to Nigeria, South Africa ad Great Britain. And the pastor's acolytes are pretty generous. In 2011, Forbes Magazine estimated his wealth to be between 30 and 50 million USD (26 - 44 million euro). Wealthy preachers often live in luxury, as proof of the power of their prayers. But heavenly intervention is not responsible for this kind of success - all of the money comes out of the pockets of the faithful.

Blessed are the rich

Using faith as a money-maker is an age-old tradition. 500 years ago, the Catholic Church allowed sinners to redeem themselves by buying so-called "indulgences". The money was then channeled to the Pope in Rome. Martin Luther criticized the practice and started the Reformation of 1517, spliting Christianity into two and leading to the founding of Protestantism. The division persists to this day, although indulgences were abolished in 1562.

The prosperity gospel took over the practice of selling the blessing of the church. Critics say that this is tantamount to modern indulgences. Zambian pastor Conrad Mbewe, a 55-year-old Baptist who has a blog on Christian faith, sees an increase of people who go to the church hoping only for wealth, instead of building their relationship with God. "Rather it's that attraction that if they do so, they will get the money. It's superstition that is moving them," Mbewe told DW.

In Luther's time it was difficult to check whether an indulgence was really saving souls from purgatory, Mbewe pointed out. But today anyone can see that the faithful who trust prosperity preachers are not getting rich. "A lot of people are embittered because they have parted with the little money that they had and it has not multiplied. Consequently, the name of God is getting a lot of bad publicity from these bitter individuals."

A global movement

The prosperity theology propagated mostly by Pentecostal churches is not a purely African phenomenon. In Latin and North America, as well as in Asia and Europe, there are self-appointed prophets and apostles who trade salvation for cash. Often this brand of Christianity has elements of spiritualism and shamanism, which attribute supernatural powers to the priests and pastors. According to Mbewe, the promises made by the churches' propaganda are similar to the ones made by traditional witch doctors.

Both market themselves as all-purpose weapons against disease, poverty, unemployment and childlessness. Often they are sought out by the poor who are looking for an explanation for their place in the world through the prosperity gospel and hope for a miracle to escape poverty.

Criticism of the prosperity gospel is also growing outside the churches. In 2015, Ghanaian artist Wanlov the Kubolor published a satirical song in which he prophesized the deaths of two famous TV-preachers. For Pastor Chris Wanlov he predicted death by an overdose of skin bleach. The artist was imitating the preachers who terrorized people with their prophecies only to sell them their personal prayers as a form of salvation. His song tried to turn the tables on the preachers.

"It's a game of numbers. They just try to keep increasing their congregation and membership size," Wanlov told DW, because this increases the chance that someone has a stroke of luck. Then the preacher can tell it happened as a result of their prayers "and people will show them their gratitude financially," Wanlov said.

Indulgence selling as a modern business

"It was the same in Luther's day," Conrad Mbewe told DW. "There were no indulgences in the Bible for anybody to refer to. It is the same today. There is nowhere in the Bible where they can go and point at a verse that says if you give your money to a preacher, God will multiply it." And as was the case in those far-off times, the people selling salvation are very powerful, Mbewe added.

According to the Baptist pastor, the preachers of the prosperity gospel increasingly occupy leading positions in church circles and are enhancing their political influence. Most clerics dare to complain only behind closed doors. Mbewe says he can afford to criticize the prosperity preachers publicly because he leads his own "Kabwate Baptost Church" [sic]. Others would risk their jobs. But Mbewe hopes that more spiritual leaders will grow the courage to preach against the "modern business of indulgences", as happened once upon a time in the Protestant Reformation. "Individuals like Martin Luther spent their time teaching the word of God publicly in such a way that it clearly showed the error of those who ere abusing the people," Mbewe said.

May 23, 2017

Inside West Africa's vanishing voodoo rituals

Anisha Shah
Anisha Shah, Contributor
Business Insider
May 15, 2017

West Africa is fast gaining recognition for its wildly beautiful barren beaches, hypnotic African beats, vibrant fashions and strong cultures, which have reshaped the face of mankind.

Yet, Voodoo remains the world's most secretive and misunderstood religion, veiled in mystery. Predating many religions by tens of thousands of years, Voodoo is a way of life in its country of origin, Benin.

Battle of Benin

I've arrived in the tiny nation to unearth the final frontier of unexplored Africa and to expose the Battle of Benin, a turf war threatening to banish the religion to history books. For the intrepid and inquisitive traveller, an extraordinary realm of ancient rituals, trances and fetishes awaits discovery. And it doesn't take long to become immersed in this otherworld.

In a scene straight out of Star Wars, Benin is deep in the throes of a deadly conflict between good vs evil - Voodoo vs Witchcraft.
Voodoo Vs. Witchcraft

Voodoo may conjure images of scrawny witches, pins-in-dolls, and steaming cauldrons, but as I quickly learn, that's not entirely myth - it's an extreme offshoot of the peaceful spirit religion that is Voodoo.

"Many witches live in this town," I'm told matter-of-factly by my guide Paul Akakpo, as we bump along red sandy dust-tracks of coastal Ouidah. "They practice in a closed secret sect so they are unidentifiable. Some admit, on their deathbed, the murders they've caused," continues Mr Akakpo. His uncle, the late Voodoo Pope Sossa Guedehoungue, famously met Pope John Paul II and was key in initiating annual National Voodoo Day (10th January) in Benin.
Centuries-endured slave trade outpost

Ouidah, voodoo capital and nucleus of a centuries-endured slave trade, bears the sobering UNESCO-backed 3-mile 'Route des Esclaves' or Slave Route. Lined by museums, monuments and shrines, the solemn stretch opens to the 'Gate of No Return' on a wide windswept Atlantic shore.

Feral, untamed and bordered by lofty palms, this is the desolate and dreamy coastline bequeathed much of West Africa. Dotted only by tiny fishing villages and coconut-sellers, the beguiling beauty belies a chilling history.

These West African shores were the final footsteps of millions of shackled slaves forced to depart their homeland forever, boarding gigantic slave ships. They were exported to the New World, as the Americas are known here, defining today's cultural constitution of the American continents and Caribbean. Voodoo still thrives across Haiti, Brazil and New Orleans.

"Witches are abundant in Benin but they cast only evil spells and kill people, which is the antithesis to voodoo's healing and helping. Sorcery is Benin's biggest war," explains Mr Akakpo.
Voodoo's identity crisis

Voodoo has a major image problem. This growing malpractice by witches is driving genuine worshippers underground. Even witches "cloak themselves in Christianity at Church by day," warns Mr Akakpo. Nearly half of Benin's population practices voodoo officially, and two-thirds unofficially. As Voodoo draws on nature, philosophy, spirituality, and tolerance of all faiths, the closet devotees are a growing norm. If the trend continues, this primordial religion could be vulnerable in its birthplace.

Early European invaders to Benin implanted today's global stereotype. Whilst enforcing Christianity, they demonized Voodoo by spreading tales of black magic and sorcery. Today's thriving witchcraft makes matters worse. Voodoo wrongly endures the hangover.

Voodoo priests protect people from the evil eye, as prevention and cure, using inherited knowledge of nature. As village doctors, they're often the first point of contact, presiding over rituals at shrines and temples. These are as abundant in Benin as cafes in France, the former colonial guardian bestowing the French language. At the heart of Voodoo are rituals and sacrifice, as I soon find out.
1. Voodoo priests and fetishes
Voodoo oracle reading

Sitting on a cold hard floor deep within a village, a tiny corner window illuminates Benin's most renowned Voodoo priest. He is performing an oracle reading - mine. He holds strings of cowry shells, water in a glass and miniature statuettes to the light to determine my fate. Calmly, he communicates with Voodoo divinities, who transmit ancestral spirit messages to the living. My guide translates.

Voodoo is founded on pleasing the spirits of passed ancestors, to bless the living, merging the melodies of life and afterlife. His first two remarks leave me bewildered, striking a personal chord. Fortunately, he sees no evil spirits around me, swerving the need for a purification ceremony. These would involve being bathed naked in the sea or placing a concoction of white linen-clad herbs at a crossroads to divert evil.
Voodoo Animism fetish market

A darker experience emerges at the world's largest Voodoo Fetish market, considered a traditional pharmacy, in neighbouring Togo. Face-to-face with severed heads of monkeys, dogs, crocodiles, chameleons, and cobras rotting on wooden displays in searing 42C heat, the breeze is bittersweet. Each fetish is believed to cure a woe, from lacklustre libido to the darkest curse.

Behind-the-scenes, the Voodoo Fetish Priest, Thomas Zonnontin, communicates with Voodoo gods to heal visitors, by grinding animal skulls with herbs and rubbing into incisions made on their back. He gives me his business card. I politely decline the offer to 'perform in bed like a buffalo' settling instead for travel protection. For locals, these are go-to remedies.
2. Trances and dances with the dead
Egungun funeral trance

Voodoo's most volatile dance is the Egungun funeral rites trance, in which spirits of the dead possess the living.

My guide gets a tip-off. Musicians are pounding drums, whipping a secret sect of fully-cloaked statuesque Yoruba dancers into frenzy. A hundred-strong crowd of locals fills a dusty village compound, many peering from behind trees. Top-to-toe shrouded dancers twirl and whirl like dervishes in flame red, emerald green and sapphire blue velvet shrouds. The faces of this cult of initiates are veiled in a smokescreen of cowry shells. Being touched by them is the ultimate curse.

As Capoeira-style music impassions, one dancer slips into a frenzied trance. "He is possessed and not aware of his actions now," exclaims Mr Akakpo above the wild din. Guised by the spirit of the dead, the entranced dancer chases crowds; a mass exodus ensues like a sandstorm into the dusty distance.

That's when the hulking giant flits attentions towards me, the obvious outsider. He flies over, grabbing the stick of our 'security guard,' threatening to strike us. Mr Akakpo bows, throwing cash his way, influencing his retreat. His mask represents a Voodoo God and his cape bears the name of the departed. As pandemonium progresses, feverish dancers cut themselves to bleed using metal, and can whip the public. Before this, I'm handheld to safety to reclaim heart from my mouth.

Voodoo rituals are ongoing in Benin. Travellers can readily encounter religious ceremonies, "We want to show visitors our ancient spirit religion, so they can understand it and shatter false stigmas."
'Night hunter magic festival'

The following day, we're told about an impromptu festival of the Zangbeto Night Hunters. This closed secret sect maintains community safety by arresting outsiders and burying them alive inside their iconic conical-thatched hut, where they're enshrined as Voodoo divinities. This festival is rare.

In front of a mysterious Voodoo Temple of Cults, life-sized thatched-huts twirl into view. It is a surreal suspend-your-disbelief sight. Moving mounds of thatched straw twirl incessantly in hypnotic motion to crazed beats, whipping impassioned crowds to fever pitch.

The Voodoo priest sprinkles magic powder on a hut, before revealing the interior. A small chicken clucks inside. Of everything I witness, this invisible act is most incredulous. I grab a series of candid photographs before we must leave.
3. Rituals and temples
Dankoli sacrifice shrine

Animal sacrifice is central to appeasing spirits and Voodoo gods.

The most powerful shrine in Benin is Dankoli fetish shrine. Here, I participate in a voodoo ceremony, where animal sacrifice is standard exchange for personal favors from the spirits. Inconspicuous white flags mark the rural outdoor spot. On closer inspection, the revered shrine is a piled-high mecca of putrefying blood, guts and feathers. The gut-wrenching odor saturates the surrounds.

I walk across ground coated in sludgy tar-like remains to take instruction from the Voodoo fetish priest: hammer a wooden peg into the mound and pour red palm oil. The next step defies my instinct, as I sheepishly swig a mouthful of Akbateshie, home-brewed gin, which tastes like fire, and spray it across the shrine. A female onlooker giggles at my pathetic dribble. Opting out, I watch the priest sacrifice two chickens, whose blood is poured over the shrine, whilst reciting prayers and blessings.

And then our car breaks down. So I spend an extra couple of hours ensconced in the broiling stench, wondering what happened to the blessings.
Unveiling voodoo in Benin

To understand West Africa is to truly understand Africa. Voodoo is a deeply-rooted yet severely misunderstood religion, and the chance to explore it feels a true travel privilege. As a pivotal platform of history, culture, and natural beauty, unique in the world, travellers who appreciate the continent are invited to unearth Benin and t last slice of authentic and unexplored Africa.

How to Identify a Dangerous Cult

Jonestown and Peoples Temple
Stephen Johnson
May 23, 2017

It starts innocently: Maybe the new guy at work asks you to play bass in his indie rock band. A friend-of-a-friend invites you to a free vegan brunch. Your mother-in-law wants to share a life-changing home business opportunity with you. Accept the wrong offer, though, and you could find yourself dead-eyed, be-robed, and dancing around a burning pentagram to usher in the Seventh Age of Blood Atonement.

No one wants that kind of life for you.

When people think of cults, they tend to picture bizarre religious sects and apocalyptic scenarios—the Branch Davidians burning up in their compound in Texas, or the corpses on the ground at Jonestown—but cults needn’t be religious, and are anything but exotic. If you want to get literal about it, any group of like-minded people could be considered a cult.

“The Democratic and Republican parties are cults,” explained cult expert Paul Morantz. “I’m in a cult where everyone wears the same color and we meet for rituals every Saturday. It’s called the USC Alumni Association.”

Morantz is an expert in distinguishing between innocent book clubs and apocalyptic death cults. He’s been battling fringe groups like EST, Synanon, and The People’s Temple in court since the 1970s, and he says that while cults can be seductive, the dangerous ones can be identified and avoided if you know what to look for.

“If a guy went to a bible study group that’s a front for a dangerous cult, and he’s been educated about how you can be done in by the group,” Morantz said, “I think he could be OK.”

Look at Who’s in Charge

Cults are formed around strong leaders, so take a serious look at the motives and personality of the person in charge. According to Morantz and other cult experts, control-freak cult leaders are nearly interchangeable.

  • Narcissistic personality—Dangerous cult leaders usually hold grandiose notions of their place in the world.
  • Ability to read others— “A guy like Charles Manson had the ability to spot who, at a party, that he thought he could control. It just seems to be in his personality,” Morantz said. Cult leaders “have the ability to size you up, and realize your weaknesses and get to your buttons.”
  • Claims of special powers: If a leader claims he’s smarter, holier, and more pure than everyone else, think twice about signing up.
  • Charisma meets anger: Dangerous cult leaders can be extremely loving, charming and affectionate, but often turn angry and abusive with no warning. This mercurial presentation keeps members off balance.

Put on your tin-foil hat, cover your webcam with a piece of tape, and wait for the imminent arrival …

Look for Signs of “Brainwashing”

While the details of thought reform methods vary from cult to cult, the broad strokes have been around forever. So if you notice your righteous new friends using any of the techniques below, you might want to sneak out of the compound and call your dad:

  • Isolation: Separating group members from family and friends forces them to rely on fellow cultists for all emotional needs. This is why many cults are based around communal living. (And why cult members are so boring.)
  • Peer Pressure: It’s nearly impossible to overstate the power of social norms on behavior—the only reason you’re wearing pants right now is because that’s what they expect you to do—but when you manipulated peer pressure consciously, you can make people give away their life savings, marry a stranger, or listen to the horrible rock opera you wrote.
  • Confession: Dangerous cults are notorious for making members confess to past sins, often publicly, then using those confessions against them. Some groups keep elaborate files of their members’ pasts for blackmail.
  • Control: Cults often tell members when to eat, whom to sleep with, and what to do every second of every day. This induces dependency, and leaves little free time to question what the hell you’re doing handing out Bible tracts in Sausalito when you have a BFA in English.
  • Sleep Deprivation: Simply keeping people from sleep or rest is amazingly effective at controlling their thoughts. As Chuck Dederich, the leader of the Synanon rehab cult, described it: “If you keep people awake long enough, you can make them believe anything.”
  • Language Control: To enforce isolation, many groups replace common words with special jargon, or create new words to describe complicated abstractions. This makes conversations with outsiders tedious: It’s just exhausting to explain the 17th Expositional Commandment of The Gospel of Norbert to your sister.
  • Threats of Expulsion: Totalitarian groups often use the threat of expulsion to keep members in line. Once you’ve successfully defined the outside world as evil or deadly, it’s easy to maintain discipline by threatening to throw someone out.
  • Ask Questions (Cults Hate That)

Maybe the easiest hallmark of a dangerous authoritative group is visible through its absence: Skepticism. Dangerous cults rarely, if ever, allow members to raise questions about the group or the group’s beliefs. So the easiest way to suss out a dangerous cult may be to ask probing questions and note how they’re answered. Even if you’re just asking yourself.

“Back in the 60s, I was getting a lot peer pressure to take acid,” Morantz said. “So I went to see Timothy Leary speak, expecting a scientific explanation of what LSD does.... Instead it was a bunch of slogans and everyone screaming and clapping.”

“I wanted to stick my hand up and say, ‘Can you stop the propaganda and just tell us what LSD is or does?’ but I knew that if I did that, the mob would have attacked me. So I quietly exited, thinking I’d just seen the most dangerous man alive.”

I’ll leave Morantz with the last word, his personal failsafe method for determining whether a group is dangerous cult: “Count how many Hollywood stars are there,” Morantz said. “If you get past five, get the fuck out.”

May 22, 2017

The curious case of the prophets

Prophet Bushiri
Prophet Bushiri
Mwansa Besa
Lusaka Times
May 22, 2017

Prophet Bushiri prayed for all African nations and their leaders ‘to ensure that peace prevails on the continent’.

The last few decades have seen a massive mushrooming of churches and people claiming to be prophets sent by God. It is a common sight these days to see men of the collar doing miracles or lack thereof. Every other day there seems to be a new prophet on the block ready to perform mind-blowing miracles, like turning water into oil, or making women without wombs give birth. It seems like the more miracles one is able to perform the more one is revered by his followers. A friend of mine once told me a story of an acquaintance who was a seasoned illusionist from childhood, who is now swimming in riches, thanks to having reinvented himself as a “man of God” or “man of gold” depending on which side of the fence you are sitting on.

Just the other week the Minister of National Guidance and Religious Affairs Godfridah Sumaili exercised her powers and deported Prophet Uebert Angel, a man known for stunning miracles like enabling unearned monies to be supernaturally credited to people`s bank accounts by angels. In defending her decision, she said, “Only men of God, be it pastors, missionaries and prophets preaching the true gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ will be allowed in the country. My ministry wants to see sanity in the body of Christ. It is taking people for granted, especially those desperate for spiritual attention. Is the gospel for the rich people only? What about the poor Zambians? Some prophets just want to come and extort money and go back, which my ministry will not allow.” She was prompted into action after she heard that the Zimbabwean prophet was charging K2,000 for a “Millionaire Academy” meeting he was scheduled to conduct in Zambia.

Her decision attracted a backlash from his followers resulting in her being bombarded with a lot of unprintables. Prominent among the people who reacted angrily to the ministers decision was Malawian prophet Shepherd Bushiri who even went as far as threatening to personally sort out the minister, it remains to be seen if he will carry out his threats. Bushiri has carved out a niche for himself as a leading miracles man, chief among his recent miracles was walking on thin air, which perhaps explains his reaction.

I have friends and relatives who have tithed and given their all to their already rich pastors and are still wallowing in poverty 10 years after the tithing and the so-called planting the seed, while their prophets and pastors continues living it large. When they ask their pastors why their seed didn’t germinate they are accused of lacking faith.

Prophets with larger than life lifestyles have become popular these days. It is a common sight to see modern charismatic preachers and prophets leaving their big mansions while putting on their million dollar suits as they drive their super expensive cars on their way to the bank, to deposit money contributed by their mostly poor church members.

Godfridah Sumaili surely has a good case in her quest to protect the miracles seeking gullible masses who keep on flocking into churches run by Pastorpreneurs (entrepreneurs who sets up churches as a business venture), apparently spurned on by unemployment, poverty and diseases. But this raises a question; how easy is it to tell who is and who is not a false prophet? Please somebody tell me where the standard she used to arrive at her decision, before I become another victim of a money hungry conman using the bible to get rich. It seems like the hunt to perform the best miracle is the new gold rush. Did I hear somebody say, “go deeper papa?” I can maybe go deeper if you equally dig deeper in your pocket. When you pay it will show!

Polygamy chief to men: Stop being cowards, marry more wives

Polygamy Kenya President Raphael Magero
Polygamy Kenya President Raphael Magero
Robert Amalemba
Standard Digital
May 22, 2017

Following rampant cases of mpango wa kando (secret lovers) and parallel families menace among local men, Polygamy Kenya (PK) President Raphael Magero has called upon men to give polygamy a try.

Taking a swipe at those demonising the concept and citing high cost of living as an impediment, Magero is appealing to Kenyan men to stop being cowards and venture into the age-old practice for peace in homes.

The president regretted that even after the Marriage Act 2014 sailed through parliament, few men have ventured in the now legal-but-socially-shunned venture.

He says they instead prefer to engage in the ever-risky mpango wa kando and prostitution but can never gather courage to officially bring home a woman as second, third or fourth wife.

“Men must stop being cowards. They should be like the Biblical Solomon who married many wives openly,” he said. While at it, the polygamy chief noted that women have increasingly become jealous, but urged men to be diplomatic about it.

“Well, it’s never that easy, when I was trying to get my second wife, for instance, my first wife protested bitterly. She threw tantrums of all manners and even issued threats of leaving. But she eventually gave in after I put up a solid case,” he said.

Magero — whose father, Fredrick Dindi, is a successful polygamy veteran based in Busia County and brags of five wives — is offering automatic membership to his association to Members of Parliament who passed the bill, President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto, who recently confessed to having sired a child out of wedlock.

“The association was formed so as to curb prostitution, deadly diseases and mpango wa Kando menace. We now want to create a movement to take the agenda further and help in reducing street children and make parents more responsible,” said the father of six children, who is keen in taking the tally to 12.

See also: Kisumu man jailed for life after he killed woman in lodging
“With big shots like DP Ruto, who recently admitted he soared wild oats, coming on board, proper logistics and country-wide civic education on the legality of the practice, it will be a success,” he added.

The Marriage Act 2014, allows polygamy but does not provide an official limit on the number of wives a man can have.

Following the warm polygamy remarks by the National Committee for Implementation of Citizen Participation in Security (CPS) chair who is also a champion of Nyumba Kumi neighbourhood watch Joseph Kaguthi last week, Magero has extended an olive branch to him, urging him to join him in preaching the polygamy gospel.

During a peace and security meeting in Naivasha, Kaguthi mentioned in passing that polygamy can help reduce wrangles in homes, especially in Central Kenya where the practice is totally frowned upon by women. Kaguthi called upon closet polygamists in Central Kenya to come out and introduce their secret lovers to wives as second or third wives to avoid fights that come up after they are busted cheating.

“This movement being led by married women in the Central Kenya that polygamy is illegal should stop if we have to increase on our population. The President of Kenya is a product of a polygamous family. I come from that set of a union and there is nothing wrong in it being re-introduced in Central,” the former Kisumu PC said, adding that it’s sad that the region leads in number of women living as single mothers.

News that clerics also backed the Nyumba Kumi champion excited the president of polygamy, prompting him to invite them to join hands and spread the message.

“Fact that Bishop (Rtd) Peter Njenga of the Anglican Church was quoted urging those present at the meeting to give African practices such as polygamy a try makes me a happy man. I feel I am in great company,” said a giggly Magero.

Magero said he will be more than pleased to meet Kaguthi so that he could help, using his might as the Nyumba Kumi champion, to push the polygamy agenda.

“The former PC looks like he can make a great ambassador of this concept of responsibly having more than one wife across the nation to stop these rampant cases of wives and husbands fighting after it’s discovered that the man has a secret family,” he said.

“We have a small fee of Sh500 that our members (practicing polygamists) usually pay to register, but that can be waived, seeing how zealous the former PC was in pushing the agenda. He is a good brand to our organisation already and we can use him as an ambassador to help other East and Central Africa countries adopt the polygamy culture like Kenya,” he said.

May 21, 2017

Scientology retail plan is rare, as few churches back non-religious businesses

Tracey McManus, Times Staff Writer
Tampa Bay Times
March 18, 2017

CLEARWATER — Scientology has long set its practices apart from other tax-exempt religions by charging members for auditing sessions and courses required to advance through the faith.

But the church's proposal to develop retail and entertainment in downtown Clearwater makes it more of an outlier.

The IRS permits tax-exempt churches to have for-profit business ventures unrelated to their religious missions, but it is rare in the United States.

Of the country' 1.5 million nonprofits, only 34,181, including 16,416 churches and charities, reported having income from unrelated businesses in 2013, according to the most recent data from the IRS.

The most notable example is a $1.5 billion mixed use development in Salt Lake City, backed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

While it's impossible to know all of a private organization's holdings, most of the real estate portfolios and other business investments churches have are related to their missions, like schools, hospitals and even bookstores or cafes for congregations, said Notre Dame Law School professor Lloyd Mayer.

When churches invest in business outside of their spiritual purposes, profits other than investment income are taxed at the same rate as corporations. But because churches are not required to file tax returns with the IRS, Mayer said questions can arise around whom those proceeds are benefiting and whether the non-faith related businesses make up a disproportionate amount of the church's activities.

"There's nothing illegal about a charity, including a church, taking its assets and investing them in a productive way, including a for-profit business," Mayer said. "The thing you worry about is, is it paying taxes like it should and is it benefiting the insiders of the church? The question is do these business deals in some way help the Church of Scientology leaders personally make money?"

Scientology spokesman Ben Shaw did not respond to a request for comment.

In addition to the $260 million in real estate Scientology owns under its name in Clearwater, 75 percent of which is tax exempt for religious uses, the church also bought more than $26 million of downtown property over the past two months through shell companies.

In individual meetings Tuesday that were closed to the public, Scientology leader David Miscagive briefed City Council members on his retail plan that includes the church recruiting businesses to Cleveland Street and building an entertainment complex involving actor and noted Scientologist Tom Cruise on Myrtle Avenue.

Washington D.C. tax attorney Charles Watkins said rental income from a retail business leasing space in a church-owned building would be tax exempt because it's viewed as investment income, even though the church would pay property taxes for the non-religious use of the building.

But if the church owns the building through shell companies, it's more complicated.

"If a church owns a gas station and sells gas and services in the same way as the ExxonMobil on the corner, it would be taxed on those profits, but if it invests in a corporation that owns a business, the corporation would be taxed but the dividends to the church would not," Watkins said.

Churches also participate in businesses by running them as separate for-profit entities where the church is the sole owner.

The largest scale retail development known to be backed by a religious organization in the U.S. is the City Creek Center built in downtown Salt Lake City in 2012.

The development of 104 stores, seven restaurants, and 536 condos and apartments was financed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The development is owned by the church's for-profit real estate arm, City Creek Reserve, and managed by Taubman Inc., so there is no ecclesiastical oversight.

City Creek Reserve spokesman Dale Bills declined to answer specific questions, providing only a 14-year-old statement where former LDS President Gordon Hinckley said "tithing funds have not and will not be used to acquire this property. Nor will they be used in developing it for commercial purposes."

The project is credited with turning around the struggling downtown that was reeling from the recession and lingering disruption from a massive 2002 freeway construction project.

Its opening in 2012 prompted about $3 billion in additional private development in the city, according to Salt Lake Chamber CEO Lane Beattie.

"It wasn't even questioned here," Beattie said of the public's reception of a church backing a commercial enterprise. "The word religion didn't enter into it. It was the fact that any organization was doing it."

Natalie Gochnour, Associate Dean of the David Eccles School of Business at University of Utah, said part of the success has to do with the Mormon church's collaboration with the general public and city officials in the planning and design.

Salt Lake City is about 50 percent Mormon with the religion's global headquarters based downtown.

Gochnour said the church's massive Temple Square District operates harmoniously near the Utah Jazz's arena, the Utah Symphony, and the state's arts, culture and culinary nucleus where more than 100,000 people commute in every day to work.

"I think now people think of City Creek Center as just an incredible destination, and they don't associate it with the church," Gochnour said. "They didn't cut corners, they didn't go with their own plans, but they listened to the public."

'Everybody was kicking me': Alleged beating by Canadian man at D.C. protest leads to condemnation of Jewish Defence League

Stewart Bell
National Post
April 10, 2017

TORONTO — Videos showing men in Jewish Defence League shirts beating a Palestinian-American college instructor in Washington, D.C., have led to renewed criticism of the controversial group and its links to violence.

“Everybody was kicking me and punching me,” said Kamal Nayfeh, 55, who required 18 stitches around his eye following the March 26 assault. Among those arrested was a Toronto man affiliated with the JDL’s Canadian branch.

Police have filed an assault charge against Yosef Steynovitz, whom JDL leader Meir Weinstein described as “a gentleman who comes to a variety of JDL activities.” The police report called it a suspected hate crime motivated by anti-Arab bias.

The incident, which took place outside a conference on American-Israeli relations, comes amid concerns about the Toronto-based JDL Canada’s associations with an increasingly vocal anti-Muslim alliance.

In recent months, JDL members have provided security to Sandra Solomon, the national spokeswoman for Rise Canada, which describes Muslims on its Twitter account as “rotten from the time they drop from the womb” and supports their mass deportation.

Photos taken in Toronto at a demonstration against a Liberal MP’s anti-Islamophobia motion, M-103, show a man in a JDL Canada jacket with his arm around someone wearing a jacket bearing the logo of the Soldiers of Odin group, which calls Islam a “totalitarian ideology” on its Facebook page.

Also, last month at a meeting of groups opposed to Muslim prayers in the Toronto-area Peel District School Board, Rise Canada adviser Ron Banarjee said the groups “have allegiances, we have contacts with different groups like the Jewish Defence League of Canada.”

The beating of Nayfeh, who described the incident in an interview as an unprovoked hate crime, has brought renewed condemnation of the JDL, which formed almost 50 years ago to patrol Jewish neighbourhoods in New York City during a period of racial tensions.

“The JDL began in the ’60s with all good intentions of wanting to protect Jews,” said Bernie Farber, former head of the Canadian Jewish Congress and now executive director of the Mosaic Institute, a charity that promotes diversity.

“They’ve turned a dark corner over the last five years to a point where they have now made common cause with racists and bigots and they themselves appear to have embraced racism and bigotry.”

In an April 2 statement, Weinstein, the international director of the JDL, responded to what he called the defamation of the group since the attack on Nayfeh and said “selectively spliced videos” on the Internet didn’t tell the whole story.

Weinstein said he regretted that violence had occurred but claimed the attack was sparked when Nayfeh came “to assault” Rise Canada’s Solomon, who was demonstrating with the JDL crowd outside the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference.

Nayfeh, who teaches networking technology at a North Carolina community college, told the National Post the suggestion he was to blame was laughable. He said he was dropping off his daughter, a law student, at the event when he decided to make sure it was safe for her.

He said he approached Solomon because she was saying there was no such thing as Palestine and he wanted to correct her because he was himself a Palestinian. But when he neared her, the JDL group began to push and hit him, he said.

“A lot of punches, a lot of hitting and then I fell down to the ground,” he said. Videos show men in JDL shirts kicking him while he was down and a man jabbing him with a flagpole bearing the American flag.

Police officers moved in quickly to break it up but Nayfeh’s face was cut and bloodied and he said his back was hurt. “They were there to make trouble,” Nayfeh said of the JDL. The day before the attack, he added, he had visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The JDL has been both a victim and perpetrator of violence for many years. In 1990, its founder, Rabbi Meir Kahane, was assassinated by an Egyptian-born extremist. Four years later, a JDL member murdered 29 Palestinians at a Hebron mosque.

The chairman of the JDL, Montreal-born Irv Rubin, was arrested in 2001 for allegedly plotting to bomb a mosque in Culver City, Calif., as well as the office of an Arab-American congressman. He committed suicide in prison.

The Southern Poverty Law Center calls the JDL “a radical organization that preaches a violent form of anti-Arab, Jewish nationalism” and is responsible for “countless terrorist attacks” as well as “intense harassment” of Muslims, Jewish scholars and community leaders.

The group currently has branches in Canada, Eastern Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa and Russia, the SPLC says. In a Passover message on Sunday, Weinstein said that in the past month the JDL had “made a positive difference” in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Montreal, New York City, Washington, Chicago, Poland and France.

The JDL was looking to expand into other centres, he said in his April 2 statement. “We want the JDL back, and people want the JDL back,” he wrote. “It’s time to not let Jews be intimidated any longer or assaulted any longer. This should be the challenge for us now, to turn a corner.”

The JDL Canada website argues that Jews today are in a war of survival worse than during the Nazi era and laments a Jewish leadership too blinded to see it. Recently, the JDL called an emergency meeting over videos filmed at mosques in Toronto and Montreal, in which violence against Jews was preached from the pulpit.

A March 16 JDL email about “disturbing reports of radical Islam entering the pubic school system” included a link to the Freedom Report, which has been condemned for offering a reward to a student who films “Islamic hate speech” inside a Peel school. The school board has called the reward “hate-filled showmanship.”

A photo of a car with a “JDL Patrol” logo on the door was distributed by the group on March 21. “Anti-Semitic attacks against Jewish communities have increased dramatically, and therefore JDL security patrols have begun,” it said.

Asked about the JDL’s recent activities, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs spokesman Martin Sampson said the community rejected violence. “The approach adopted by the JDL is not reflective of the mainstream Canadian Jewish community.”

The National Council of Canadian Muslims said it expected police to maintain the peace. “Should any individual or group promote hate or violence, we expect the authorities to bring them to justice,” spokeswoman Amira Elghawaby said.

In an interview, Weinstein said he opposed violence and complained that those who raised their voices against the threat of Islamist extremism were automatically branded fascist and white supremacist.

He said Solomon had asked the JDL to provide security for her at the event in Toronto because of death threats she had received. He said he wasn’t completely familiar with the Soldiers of Odin but said “the ones I’ve spoken to, they made it very clear to me that they’re not racist.”

As for the assault at the AIPAC conference two weeks ago, he said he and a JDL contingent had gone there “to have a counter-protest against the anti-Israel protests that seem to have been a tradition there.”

He said anti-Israeli protesters had been committing assaults throughout the day because police failed to keep the sides apart. Weinstein said he himself was assaulted. “We didn’t go there with any pre-meditated thinking to do any violence,” he said. “But violence broke out and the person whose picture is going around who was the victim, he’s not so innocent, that’ll come out.”

But Nayfeh said he believed he walked into a trap that day and that what he suffered was a hate crime. “Absolutely, there is no other reason, you know, why would they attack me. I haven’t spoken a word to them other than saying to the woman ‘I am Palestinian,’ or ‘I am Palestine’ and then the other word that I said was ‘Don’t touch me.’ And then I deserved to be beaten like that maliciously with a flag pole into my eye?”

• Email: | Twitter: @StewartBellNP

Former 'students' claim core focus of Australian drug rehabilitation centre is converting addicts to Scientologists

A Current Affair
May 19, 2017

A former staff member at a controversial drug rehabilitation program claims the core focus of the treatment is Scientology conversion.

A Current Affair has spoken to many ex-Narconon students and their families - who are too frightened to appear on camera - that claim they were mistreated within the facility.

Students at the facility in Warburton, east of Melbourne, are expected to consume huge amounts of vitamins, yell at inanimate objects and spend hours in saunas.

The practise has been linked to deaths at Narconon centres in the US.

No doctors or psychologists are on-site to help addicts and it's kilometres away from a hospital or police station.

But despite this, desperate families regularly pay $30,000 to get treatment for their drug-addicted loved ones.

Alan - who has asked for his surname to be withheld - worked at the facility as a chef for several years.

He says students were often violent and there was nowhere near enough security.

A private security company is currently suing the Scientology-backed rehabilitation centre over more than $150,000 in unpaid bills for round-the-clock sniffer and guard dogs.

Students at the facility work on a course based on the teachings of Scientology founder L Ron Hubbard.

Alan says management expected staff to do the course, but he refused.

The former Narconon chef is an ashmatic and once suffered an attack while working.

"I Actually had an asthma attack there one day and they did one of their things, which they do, which is called a Body Com and they'll put their hands on you and they'll go, 'can you feel my hands?' And you'll say, 'yes,' and they'll thank you. They'll put their hands around your body and say, 'can you feel my hands?' 'Yes, thank you.' 'Can you feel my hands?' 'Yes, thank you,'" Alan said.

Despite being asthmatic, Alan claims management refused to allow him to use Ventolin.

"I used to keep my Ventolin hidden. They knew I was an asthmatic, but I'd keep it well hidden so no one saw it. They never saw me take it. I'd just go to the back of the kitchen if I had to," he said.

Australian Therapeutic Communities Association executive officer Dr Lynn Magor-Blatch is highly sceptical of the controversial treatment methods.

"If you are coming in to treatment or your family member is coming in to treatment, you obviously want to know what you're getting is based on the best practise and also evidence, so that also includes qualified staff to actually run the place and give the person the best treatment that they need," Dr Magor-Blatch said.

"In terms of actually helping them to work through their drug and alcohol problem, to work through the underlying issues, there's no evidence to say that (Narconon) is actually good practise."

Independent Senator Nick Xenophon wants Narconon shut down and has slammed the Victorian Government for leasing public land to the Scientology-backed company.

"What's happening at Narconon highlights the fact that there is inadequate regulation or no regulation when it comes to treating people with substance abuse," Senator Xenaphon said.

"If any government is giving a leg up to Narconon, they should demand accountability for the fact that they're effectively getting taxpayer help to operate. They should demand transparency in their books, they should demand accountability in their treatment programs."

"When you have people so vulnerable, so desperate for help, to be roped in to something that appear to be a front for Scientology is just not on."

Blood ailment fatal to cult leader Tony Alamo

Septicemia among infirmities noted in cult leader’s death

Bill Bowden
Arkansas Online
May 20, 2017 .

Evangelist and cult leader Tony Alamo died May 2 of blood poisoning, according to a document from the federal Bureau of Prisons.

Alamo, 82, died of septicemia secondary to a urinary tract infection, according to a "clinical encounter ... death note" the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette received after a request under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Septicemia also is known as blood poisoning.

Alamo also suffered from sepsis, chronic kidney disease and diabetes, according to the document. He died at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, N.C.

No autopsy was performed, according to the document.

Alamo, whose real name was Bernie Lazar Hoffman, was sentenced to 175 years in prison in 2009 for transporting girls across state lines to have sex. At his trial, several women testified they had been sexually abused by Alamo, and some said they were forced to become his "wives."

Former Alamo followers claimed in federal court filings that they had been brainwashed, imprisoned, routinely beaten, starved as punishment for perceived wrongdoing, and forced to work long hours without pay.

In 1966, after serving jail time on a weapons charge, Hoffman married Edith Opal Horn of Alma and they changed their names to Tony and Susan Alamo.

They started a street ministry in Los Angeles in the late 1960s and moved it to western Arkansas in the mid-1970s. The group purchased land just north of Dyer and built a compound there.

After Susan Alamo died of cancer in 1982, Tony Alamo kept her embalmed body in their mansion, telling his followers that she would rise from the dead. After about six months, he was finally persuaded to entomb her body in a mausoleum near the mansion's heart-shaped swimming pool.

In 1991, just before federal agents seized the property, the front of the mausoleum was smashed and Susan Alamo's body disappeared. Seven years later, the coffin was dropped off outside a Van Buren funeral home. Susan Alamo's remains are now in a crypt in Memorial Park Cemetery in Tulsa.

After serving a tax-evasion sentence, Tony Alamo was released in 1998 and set up a smaller Tony Alamo Ministries in Fouke in Miller County, with branches in Fort Smith and Los Angeles.

On Sept. 20, 2008, state and federal officials raided the Fouke compound as part of a two-year investigation into allegations of child abuse and child pornography.

Alamo was arrested in Flagstaff, Ariz., five days later.

The next year, he was found guilty on 10 counts of taking underage girls across state lines for sex.

Metro on 05/20/2017

May 20, 2017

Indian woman cuts off genitals of rapist Hindu holy man

There have been other recent incidents of sexual assault involving religious men in India
May 20, 2017

The woman, 23, says the 54-year-old Hindu religious teacher raped her for years and cut off his genitals in defence.

An Indian woman cut off a Hindu religious teacher's genitals after he allegedly tried to rape her at her house in the southern state of Kerala, police said on Saturday.

The 23-year-old law student was at her residence in the state capital Thiruvananthapuram late Friday when she says she was attacked by the 54-year-old man.

District police chief G Sparjan Kumar told AFP news agency by phone that the suspect repeatedly visited the victim's house to perform rituals for her father's health.

The woman claimed the man had been assaulting her for several years, according to Kumar, who said police had registered a case against Swami for sexual offences against a minor and rape.

"She used a knife in her defence and cut off his penis," Kumar said.

The woman called the police herself following the incident.

She is now under police protection and receiving trauma counselling, the police chief added.

Area Deputy Commissioner of Police Arul B Krishna told The Times of India that the woman's father had been bed-ridden for years.

Her mother became acquainted with the alleged suspect as she appointed him to conduct regular prayers at the house to "remove all the problems faced by the family".

The woman told the police that she had told her mother she was being sexually abused by the "religious guru".

"We may also register a case against her mother for abetting the crime," Krishna told the newspaper.

"The man, Hari Swami, was rushed to the nearby government hospital in a serious state," Kumar added.

The local media reported that Swami was in a stable condition after undergoing emergency medical procedures at the local hospital.

There have been other recent incidents of sexual assault involving religious men in the southern Indian state.

Two nuns and a priest, accused of covering up the birth of a baby born to a teenage girl who was allegedly raped by another priest, were arrested in Kerala last month.

Last year, a priest was sentenced to 40 years in prison by a Kerala court for raping a 12-year-old girl in 2014.

May 19, 2017

Access to ICSA e-books

Free Info Survey

Complete this one-minute survey, help ICSA help others, join ICSA's mailing list, and gain access to free e-books and other resources:

  1. Coping with Cult Involvement: A Handbook for Families and Friends, Bardin, Livia
  2. Starting Out in Mainstream America, Bardin, Livia
  3. Recovery from Abusive Groups, Wendy Ford
  4. Family Interventions for Cult-Affected Loved Ones, Carol Giambalvo
  5. Video: Cult Recovery, Paul R. Martin, Ph.D.
  6. Herbert Rosedale Memorial Collection (articles on social and legal implications of cults)
  7. Cults on Campus, Marcia Rudin
  8. Margaret  Singers Memorial Collection (articles on psychological and treatment aspect of cults)

Man, 70, accuses Miami Gardens pastor of taking his dream home

Edward Fuller searched for attorney to fight pastor Eric Readon in court

Jeff Weinsier - Investigative Reporter
Local 10
May 18, 2017


MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - Edward Fuller is one of several people who contacted Local 10 News after an investigation aired about the business practices of Miami Gardens pastor Eric Readon.

He claims the pastor has taken him for over $500,000 and tricked him into signing over his dream house.

All claimed they were not repaid.

Fuller said he took  his case to Miami-Dade police but was told that, because he willfully signed papers and was not forced to, it was a civil matter.

He has yet to find an attorney to take his case.

Fuller, 70, has plans, the permits and the pictures from the home.

"I can walk through this house blindfolded and tell you exactly where everything is," he said.

Fuller doesn't have his dream house and claims he was blindsided by Readon.

"He sold my house," Fuller said. "He sold the house Feb.13. He sold that house for $380,000."

How much did Fuller get from that?

"I got not one red cent," he said.

The home is located in the 10900 block of Northwest 19th Avenue.

Fuller bought the property more than 30 years ago and had a plan. After a 35-year career with the U.S. Postal Service, his retirement project was to build a dream house for his family.

"This was like my gift to my daughters once I was gone," Fuller said. "It's just that simple."

After retirement, the walls and the roof went up.

Fuller admits he ran out of money to finish.

Then, he claims, one day Readon appeared.

The pair had never met before.

"Somehow, he got the information that I was having a problem getting it completed," Fuller said.

Fuller claims Readon took him to a hard money lender for a loan.

Project Youth Outreach Unlimited, a nonprofit corporation, was made the contractor on the $125,000 construction loan.

Readon is the president of that nonprofit.

But there was a catch. To get the loan, Fuller had to sign 50 percent of his property over to Readon.

Since conventional lenders had turned him down, Fuller agreed and work on the house began again.

Fuller let Readon have full control over the $125,000 loan.

When the money ran out, the house was still not finished.

Fuller claims in order to get more funds using his good credit, the pastor persuaded him to  sign over the other 50 percent of the house, so Fuller's credit would be free and clear.

That meant Project Youth Outreach Unlimited and Readon now owned the entire house.

"'I promise you, man, you're going to get your house back,' This is what he told me," Fuller said. '"You're going to get your house back.'"

But it never happened.

Fuller only learned Readon sold the house for $380,000 when he did a property records search.

"I said, 'Eric, you sold my house,'" Fuller said. "He said, 'I got my own personal money tied up in this house,' and he said, 'I can't lose my money.'"

Readon canceled plans to speak to Local 10 News.

As Local 10 reported last month, others have said they gave Readon cash deposits to rent homes and buy cars and loaned him cash.

Blackrain Captial, LLC lawsuit

Some did get money back, but only after Local 10 began to ask questions.

The legal trouble against this pastor is  mounting. According to court records, Blackrain Capital has filed suit against Readon and his church for fraud, negligence and theft.

The suit claims Blackrain entered into a joint venture to buy houses with the pastor. Blackrain fronted Readon money to buy houses and trusted him because he was "a man of God."

Another complaint was filed by Coastal Group Consultants.

An attorney for Blackrain said Readon never repaid or split proceeds from the sale of properties and Blackrain is out more than $100,000.

Court records also show Readon was ordered to take an anger management class after sending harassing and inappropriate emails in which he threatened an attorney and his staff over a custody issue concerning his son.

Custody sanctions

Court records show one of those e-mails contained a picture of a dead body.

Readon is known for showing up at tragic events around South Florida to preach about doing the right thing.

He has called the Local 10 newsroom and reporter Jeff Weinsier's cellphone several times.

The invitation to sit down with him and ask about his business practices still stands.