A column from the Christian Research Journal, Winter 1991, page 5. The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is Elliot Miller.
Sects Increasingly Using Media to Bolster Ranks
The highways leading to Atlantic City, New Jersey are lined with billboards advertising the city's many gambling establishments. But one billboard advertising "world peace" stands out. The way to achieve it, the billboard proclaims, is to join the Baha'i Faith.
While not many sects lease billboards alongside major highways to attract new converts, many have more subtle ways of getting the public's attention. The new religions and cults are increasingly using the media to promote their causes and bolster their ranks.
In recent months on various cable television stations -- including Ted Turner's WTBS, TNT, CNN, and Headline News -- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) has been buying commercial time for what they consider to be "straight-forward" messages, according to the July 28, 1990 issue of the weekly Church News supplement of the Mormon-owned Deseret News.
For years the Mormons have bought advertisements in publications like Reader's Digest and TV Guide to carefully cultivate a wholesome, all-American image for church members, concentrating on their apparent clean lifestyles instead of their belief system.
In one of the new Mormon commercials, an attractive female librarian is pictured saying that of all the great books written by great authors, she prefers to read about the Savior. She then explains that, besides the Bible, there's another testament of Jesus Christ -- the Book of Mormon.
Jesus is pictured in another major Mormon commercial. It portrays Christ as a baby and then continues with His life until the crucifixion. It concludes that after Christ's resurrection His ministry continued, and it didn't end with the Bible -- it ended with the Book of Mormon.
Both commercials give toll-free numbers viewers can call to receive a free copy of the Book of Mormon.
Have these commercials been successful? According to the previously mentioned Church News article, the results have been "impressive." In addition to these new commercials, the Mormon church is underwriting a film called "Legacy," according to a recent Associated Press story. The film will be shown to Salt Lake City visitors and Utahans in the Fall of 1991, and is set to focus on the history of the Mormon church.
The Christmas season is a time when the Mormon church tries to make inroads through its television Christmas specials, according to Watchman Fellowship's Rick Branch. Branch, writing in mid-1990 in the Watchman Expositor (Vol. 7), noted that the church claimed that more than 250 million people worldwide tuned in to their Christmas specials in 1987.
The Church of Scientology is another group that has stepped up its television advertising in recent months. Like the Mormons, Scientology has tapped in to Turner's powerful cable network, and became one of 12 worldwide sponsors of last year's (1990) Goodwill Games at a cost of $4 million. This allowed the church through its related corporation, Bridge Publications, to aggressively sell founder L. Ron Hubbard's books during the games' commercial breaks seen on TBS, the cable "superstation."
Scientology buys commercial time on dozens of television stations nationwide to promote Hubbard's book, Dianetics, as the answer to human problems. The church is also promoting the book through the print media -- including a full-page ad in the August 24, 1990 issue of USA Today.
Critics have charged that the Dianetics book is a "recruitment tool for [Scientology] which they contend manipulates and intimidates people and can break up families" (Gwinnett [Georgia] Daily News, August 4, 1990).
Like Mormonism, however, Scientology concentrates on promoting a positive image of itself to outsiders. Bridge Publications recently sponsored the visit of a Soviet musician to entertain patients at Children's Hospital in Seattle. And in late September, Scientology-linked organizations (The Concerned Businessmen's Association of America and The Way to Happiness Foundation) joined in a celebrity-studded gala to promote The Way to Happiness in schools and businesses around the world, according to a recent issue of the Watchman Fellowship's mini-Expositor.
And now, as many cults have done, Scientology is moving into the newspaper business. According to the October 1990 Cult Awareness Network News, Scientology has begun putting out a weekly newspaper in Clearwater, Florida, called the Clearwater Gazette. They are also a moving force behind a monthly newspaper called The Crusader that focuses on religious liberty issues.
New religious movements have long made use of the media to promote their messages and gain credibility. Herbert W. Armstrong, the founder of the Worldwide Church of God, began preaching on a small radio station in Oregon in 1934. He quickly expanded through his The World Tomorrow radio and television shows, and added magazines such as The Plain Truth. By 1985 the church's annual income exceeded $140 million, according to the February 1986 issue of Christianity Today.
Although the Christian Science Monitor is a well-respected daily newspaper that seldom promotes the Christian Science belief system, it has helped build a positive image for the church. Recently in Massachusetts, however, the church had to bolster its image by waging an expensive media campaign to defend its beliefs during the trial of David and Ginger Twitchell in Boston. The Twitchell's were convicted of manslaughter for their role in allowing their 2-year-old son to die of a bowel obstruction in 1986. (See page five in the Winter/Spring 1989 CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL.)
The Unification church utilizes "front groups" to improve its image, and has been involved in a number of "good works" projects for the same purpose, according to critics. They've also been heavily involved in publishing -- their most famous American venture being the daily newspaper, the Washington Times.
Mike Warder, a former Unification church member who was the president and publisher of the Moon-owned News World, said that the media serves four main purposes for cults. "It provides a new audience for the message; it legitimizes the cult's theological position; it reinforces the belief system of the core members; and it helps avoid the ghettoization of the cult," Warder said.
Controversy Over Witchcraft Liturgy in Methodist Church Continues
Witchcraft has become one of the most divisive issues to strike the 9.1 million-member United Methodist church.
It started last February during a "Women's Week" conference at the Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas. There, as part of a Perkins School of Theology-sponsored seminar, Linda Finnell -- a practicing witch -- conducted a ceremony in which she led 25 women and three men in a number of occult practices including a tarot card reading, building an altar to the goddess Diana, channeling energy, and attempting to communicate with a personal spirit guide.
"As I entered the crowded room," wrote Russ Wise of Probe Ministries of Dallas, "I noticed the lights were turned off and that an altar stood in the front of the class. The glow of four white candles enhanced the image of the goddess, Diana, in the center of the altar. Around the image lay several offerings to the goddess."
Wise also noted that Finnell's session lasted an hour and a half and projected "a positive affirmation of witchcraft."
At press time charges that it was promoting practices incompatible with Christianity were filed against the Perkins Seminary by the leaders of the First United Methodist Church of Ketchum, Oklahoma. They asked the denomination's University Senate to decertify the seminary and place reprimands in the files of professors who approved of the ritual.
Actually, the related issues of witchcraft, feminism, and goddess worship have been raging inside the Methodist church for some time, according to Methodist James Heidinger II, leader of the Wilmore, Kentucky-based Good News evangelical caucus. According to the August 27, 1990 National and International Religion Report, Heidinger said that some Methodist seminarians are adopting nontraditional references to God as "Mother God" or "Mother-Father God."
The Religion Report article added that "two United Methodist pastors, Susan Cady and Hal Taussig, published a book on goddess worship in 1989 that contains prayers to a deity named Sophia and liturgies for a communion service featuring fruit and milk alongside the traditional bread and wine." Some in the Methodist church have condemned the book and a leading bishop has been asked to state a position on the case.
In a related development, the traditional wording of God as "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit" may be on its way out in favor of "Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer" in the United Methodist church. According to the November 2 Methodists Make News, the church's highest court ruled on October 26 to allow participants at the 1992 General Conference to vote on permitting the alternative for the new worship book.
In yet another development, Dominican Father Matthew Fox, who in late 1989 completed his one-year term of silence ordered by the Vatican, has continued his outspoken ways -- including an endorsement of witchcraft and New Age practices. (See page 23 in the Fall 1987 CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL.) At press time, Fox was set to give a two-day workshop on November 18-19 at St. John's United Methodist Church in Hazlet, New Jersey. The workshop was endorsed by the committees on church and society of both the Northern and Southern New Jersey annual conferences, according to the September 1990 United Methodist Relay.
In late 1988 Fox was silenced by the Vatican for holding views condemned by church officials as "both dangerous and deviant."
Krishnas, Mormons, and Christian Scientists Move into the Soviet Union
In Gorky Park, Moscow, something that had been banned and illegal for years occurred for the first time in August. The first legal Krishna celebration went off without a hitch as about three dozen Hare Krishna devotees danced and sang their way through the park, according to an August 13 Associated Press story. The article stated that although about 100 listened to a message by Indra Dyvmna Swami of San Francisco, it apparently had little impact since the Soviets have already been economically compelled to practice the Krishnas' main message -- to give up meat and materialism.
"The crowd of about 100 listened closely, but there probably would have been more enthusiasm -- and a longer line -- had the [Krishnas'] cart been selling meat," reporter Larry Ryckman noted.
The Hare Krishnas have not been the only cult to move into the Soviet Union in the age of Glasnost. The Mormon church has recently announced plans for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir to conduct a thirteen-concert tour there in 1991. The Choir will also be touring throughout Eastern Europe, according to the August 1990 issue of the church's Ensign magazine. Plans are being drafted to broadcast a Mormon-sponsored show over national Soviet television.
Other media reports indicate that the Christian Scientists are trying aggressively to move into Russia by starting churches and "reading rooms."
Hard-core "Skinheads" Number About 3,000 in U.S., Jewish Group Says
The explosive growth of the neo-Nazi "Skinhead" youth movement has leveled off in the U.S. due to aggressive law enforcement, according to the just-released booklet, Neo Nazi Skinheads: A 1990 B'rith (ADL).
The booklet reports that as of mid-1990, hard-core skinheads numbered about 3,000 and were operating in 34 states.
The ADL's findings were nearly identical to the Jewish organization's 1989 report that concluded there were about 3,000 hard-core skinheads operating in 31 states. But the new report states that in the past year "there has been a light reduction in the rate and severity of their crimes, particularly in recent months."
"We believe that the crucial factor bringing about this result has been the deterrent effect of tough but fair law enforcement in combination with the dedicated efforts of alert civil rights organizations," the report states.
"We emphasize, however, that there is insufficient evidence at present to tell if these findings signal the beginning of a long-term downward trend or if they merely reflect a temporary hiatus."
October 1990 convictions of prominent skinheads and their leaders included:
The conviction of Tom Metzger and his son, John, for their part in inciting skinheads in Portland, Oregon to attack three Ethiopians with baseball bats in November, 1988. (One of the victims was clubbed to death, and three skinheads were successfully prosecuted for the attack.) The Metzgers, who head the White Aryan Resistance and have a compound in Rainbow, California, are among the most influential skinhead leaders.
The conviction of two skinheads in Reno, Nevada for the December 1988 drive-by shooting murder of a 27-year-old black man.
Prosecutors also won murder convictions against skinheads within the past year in Colorado and Pennsylvania. Previous to this, skinheads were successfully prosecuted for homicides in Florida and California.
Despite the gains in stamping out skinhead and other neo-Nazi hate groups in the U.S., various sources indicate that the skinheads (and other related neo-Nazi groups) are still growing in other parts of the world, particularly in Germany and Eastern Europe. The ADL report indicates that in "Great Britain, where they originated, they now have a following of some 8,000 to 10,000."
"They are to be found in all of western Europe, the Scandinavian countries, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and several Latin American countries," the report continues.
Most experts agree that the skinhead movement in the U.S. began in earnest in 1985 when a small group of young people from Chicago made an appearance at a gathering of hate-group activists (that included so-called Identity Christians, Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis) in Michigan. They came dressed in the standard English skinhead style -- shaved heads or closely cropped hair, jeans, suspenders, and "Doc Marten" (steel-toed) wide boots. Since then, large concentrations of skinheads have been found in Southern California (especially in Orange County), and in the Dallas and Detroit areas.
The ADL report notes that not everyone who dresses like a skinhead is a racist. The neo-Nazi type discussed in the report often listens to a handful of "white power" music groups, has animosity toward non-Aryan minority groups, is usually connected with established hate groups, and often uses violence and murder to achieve the goal of overthrowing the government (which is believed to be controlled by Jewish interests).
The report also notes that due to law enforcement pressure, many skinheads have begun to wear their hair longer to escape detection.
End of document, CRJ0089A.TXT (original CRI file name),
release A, April 30, 1994
R. Poll, CRI
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