from the Christian Research Newsletter, Volume 3: Number 1, 1990.
The Editor of the Christian Research Newsletter is Ron Rhodes.
Mormons Make Effective Use of Media.
The December 6, 1989 issue of The Salt Lake Tribune reports that effective media use and advertising has contributed to an upsurge in Mormon converts and missionary effectiveness. Mormon elder Russell M. Ballard is quoted as saying that "the Mormon church will step up its use of advertising as well as radio and television productions and community service programs throughout the United States as well as communist countries in the next decade." Ballard commented that "media activities have been instrumental in the growth experienced by the church's missionary program...Each year, the number of people reached by the media increases."
More specifically, Ballard reports that baptisms by Mormon missionaries have increased by 7 percent in the United States and missionary productivity by 16 percent through radio and television. Moreover, "an estimated total audience of 357.4 million will be reached in 1990 through public service [media] programs, Book of Mormon efforts 101.1 million, LDS visitors' centers 5.9 million, and pageants 420,000."
Ballard also emphasized that "culturally appropriate media programs are essential as 'mighty towers' because of research that show one third of the U.S. population knows nothing at all about the Utah-based church."
Worldwide Church of God Income Estimated at $201 Million.
According to the December 1989 Ambassador Report, a recent audit by the prestigious accounting firm of Arthur Anderson & Company reveals that "the [Worldwide Church of God] and its affiliated organizations garnered $201.3 million in support and revenue in 1988, up 4.6% over the 1987 figure, which means church income just about kept up with inflation." However, "church income had been growing at 8.8% compounded annually since 1983, so the 4.6% increase for 1988 may be indicative of a slowing trend in the church's income. Another barometer of a slowdown in church growth may be the fact that postage and shipping for church publications rose only 3.3%, indicating that requests for church publications are relatively flat."
The Ambassador Report also informs us that membership in the Worldwide Church of God reached 92,000 baptized members by the end of 1988, which represents an annual increase of 4.1% per year over the past five years.
For those interested in learning more about this sect, CRI is offering Walter Martin's pamphlet, Herbert W. Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of God, for $2.95 (catalog number P-10).
Reverend Moon Says Daughter-in-law's Performance in Leningrad Will Help Improve His Relations with the Soviets.
Julia Hoon Sook Moon, daughter-in-law of Rev. Sun Myung Moon, is scheduled to appear with the famed Kirov Ballet company, and Rev. Moon is using the occasion to further his interests. According to the December 21, 1989 Los Angeles Times, "the performance may represent the most visible effort to date by the Rev. Moon and his Unification Church to use the international dance community to extend his religious and political influence." Rev. Moon (an avowed anti-communist) referred to the event as "an 'important moment' in his personal quest to improve relations with the Soviet Union."
To announce Julia Moon's debut, a full-page ad was run in the December 3 New York Times featuring a picture of Rev. Moon and a recent question-answer interview he gave to a Soviet journalist. Moon said, "I want to assure the people of the Soviet Union that Rev. Moon is your friend...My movement in 130 countries is your friend as well."
Alamo Sues Jewish Federation Council.
The December 21, 1989 Los Angeles Times reports that "an ongoing dispute between the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles and followers of fugitive preacher and clothing designer Tony Alamo moved to the courts this week, as the Alamo faithful filed suit against the federation, which has launched a successful campaign to stop the sale of Alamo jackets."
The sequined, airbrushed jackets have been good sellers in Southern California boutiques. But sales have dropped off drastically ever since the Jewish Federation's Commission on Cults and Missionaries began urging retailers to stop selling the product, "charging that money from jacket sales finances cult activities."
Federation officials said they have been trying to educate retailers about the criminal charges facing Tony Alamo, who -- along with three others -- was charged with felony child abuse after the alleged beating (to the point of bloodshed) of an 11-year-old boy. Alamo and his cohorts have evaded arrest since October, 1988.
Alamo Designs has responded to the Jewish Federation's efforts with a lawsuit, seeking $250 million in damages for libel and slander.
The Battle Over Homosexual Clergy Escalates.
According to a November 13, 1989 article in Time Magazine, a bitterly fought battle is now being waged over the acceptance of homosexual ministers in both the Roman Catholic Church and mainline Protestant groups. The latest skirmish took place in San Francisco when parishioners of St. Francis Lutheran Church voted 46 to 5 to call a lesbian couple as assistant pastors. According to the article, "Bishop Lyle Miller refuses to approve them as ministers because they will not commit themselves to sexual abstinence. The congregation, half gay, will have to ordain the women on its own, defying both the ordination rules of the 5.3 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and its policy against 'homosexual erotic activity' among ministers."
The most emotional debates on this issue are taking place within the Roman Catholic Church. Time reports that Father Andrew Greeley, well-known for his novels, complained that "regard for priestly celibacy is being undermined by a 'national network' of actively homosexual clergy. 'In some dioceses, certain rectories have become lavender houses,' he grumbled." Indeed, Richard McBrien -- theologian at the University of Notre Dame -- contends that homosexuality is so widespread that "heterosexual males are deciding in ever increasing numbers not even to consider the priesthood."
Churchgoers are Increasingly Turning to Ritualism.
According to the January 15 U.S. News & World Report, more and more people from a wide spectrum of religious traditions -- from mainline Presbyterianism to Reform Judaism -- are discarding the informal worship that has come to characterize religious practice in the twentieth century. In its place, they are turning to more ritualistic forms of worship which they believe have both historical and theological significance.
Why is this happening? U.S. News reports: "Some see the current revival as a natural response to the rationalism and materialism that dominate Western culture. 'Rituals, whether religious or secular, provide a feeling of belonging to a larger group,' says David Kertzer, professor of anthropology at Bowdoin College and author of the book Ritual, Politics and Power. 'In a society as atomized as ours, they become important in establishing identity.'"
U.S. News notes, however, that "those in the mainstream of evangelicalism continue to view traditional, informal worship as best suited for encouraging spontaneous expressions of faith. And some theologians warn that the new evangelical liturgists may be mistakenly assuming that religious ceremony is an automatic entry into spiritual vitality."
Reverend Moon's Church Produces Worst Film Ever Made.
According to the January 7 issue of Parade Magazine, "the biggest loser at the box office in America was Inchon, produced by the Rev. Sung Myung Moon's Unification Church and starring the late Laurence Olivier, who didn't know what the film was all about except that he was being paid $1 million to play Gen. Douglas MacArthur." Inchon lost about $44 million and stimulated such criticisms as: "The worst move ever made...a turkey the size of Godzilla" (Jack Kroll, Newsweek); "Quite possibly the worst film ever made...stupefyingly incompetent" (Peter Rainier, Los Angeles Herald Examiner); "As military spectacles go, one of the sorriest in military history" (Richard Schickel, Time).
Church Universal and Triumphant Says the End is Upon Us
The December 5, 1989 issue of The Wall Street Journal reports that as we near the year 2000 and the turn of the millennium, a growing number of religious leaders are claiming the end is near. The article notes that "one religious sect or another has been predicting imminent doom -- or a glorious apocalypse -- since the Pharaohs ruled Egypt. But the approach of the year 2000 and the next millennium has put the fear of God into a good many people."
Elizabeth Clare Prophet, head of the Church Universal and Triumphant (CUT), is one of the premier heralds of doomsday, according to The Wall Street Journal (and many other publications). Prophet, who has been the center of much media attention recently, claims to receive her information of impending doom from "Ascended Masters," an alleged group of exalted beings who help guide the spiritual evolution of mankind. These Ascended Masters are said to include Jesus, Buddha, and King Arthur.
The Ascended Masters, Prophet claims, have been quite specific in their predictions about the end of the world. In one case two years ago, Ascended Master El Morya warned that "the U.S. risked war with the Soviet Union, possibly as early as Oct. 2, 1989." The Wall Street Journal reports that when the day came and went, "El Morya told Mrs. Prophet that 'the timetable for war had been set back.'" (The revised date became December 31.)
To prepare for the invasion, CUT members have been building a large underground bomb shelter the size of two football fields. The shelter reportedly can house 756 cult members. According to the January 1 Orange County Register, the bomb shelter is affiliated with a church-sponsored development called Glastonbury, "an Armageddon-oriented subdivision where members of Prophet's inner circle sell to more well-heeled adherents 20-acre plots plus reservations for church-supplied bomb shelter space." Glastonbury presently has about 300 residents.
The cult has recently found itself in deep legal trouble. The November 9, 1989 New York Times reports that several high officials in CUT have been arrested on weapons charges. One high-ranking official, Vernon Hamilton, was arrested by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on July 7. The Bureau seized $100,000 worth of assault rifles and 120,000 rounds of ammunition. "Seven of the rifles were .50-caliber Barretts, which take 6-inch cartridges and are capable of piercing armor," the New York Times reports. Moreover, Edward Francis, husband of church leader Elizabeth Clare Prophet and vice-president of the church, "pleaded guilty to a charge that he conspired to illegally buy semiautomatic assault rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition."
The December 27, 1989 Los Angeles Times reports that Hamilton was sentenced on December 1 to three years probation and was fined $100. Francis was sentenced on December 15 to a month in prison and three months' home detention.
Since this time, CUT's troubles have only continued to mount. Elizabeth Clare Prophet has recently come under fire by former cult members, including one of her own daughters who left CUT last summer. The Los Angeles Times reports that "Moira Lewis, 21, accused her mother of using her sway over members to live a lavish life style while many close followers turned over their personal belongings to her, and said [her mother] had not been honest with local residents about the church's plans." Prophet quickly lashed back, saying that "the accusations are the vindictive lies of a rebellious daughter with a long history of sexual promiscuity and drug and alcohol abuse."
Acts of Faith: The 1989 Outreach to Spiritists
In the midst of the darkness, an act of faith.
In the heavy, smoke-filled air, a young evangelist named Marquette began witnessing to an older man. It wasn't long before the man said, "I'll only talk to you inside my daughter's terreiro" -- an unsettling invitation that few would be quick to accept.
With that, Marquette followed the man across the dirty sand and through the restless crowds until they reached the terreiro -- one of hundreds of ritual areas set up by spiritists along the beach -- where the mediums' ceremonies were underway. The man let him pass through the cord that served as an improvised barrier at the terreiro's edge. The dancing, chanting, and drumming stopped. Marquette walked past the candles and idols to enter the circle as wondering eyes were fixed on the strange intruder. And he took them by surprise. He preached the Gospel of salvation, letting them know that their choice was clear: it was either Christ, or the sea goddess Iemanja...but not both.
When he was through, he distributed New Testaments to as many as would take them.
It was a night for holy boldness. As teams of intercessors prayed, other Christians handed out thousands of special evangelistic tracts and other literature among the spiritists swarming along the Sao Paulo coast to worship Iemanja. Some of these worshippers have been dedicated to her for life through a grueling series of rituals, many of them secret. They are warned that once they become a consecrated "son" or "daughter" of hers, there is no escape.
But this was a night of changed appointments. Many who had traveled for hours to kneel before the image of Iemanja found themselves kneeling at the foot of the Cross instead. Over 210 of them responded to the Gospel message. Counselors then spoke with them, prayed with them, and gave them New Testaments.
It was a night of surprises. A couple from the University of Sao Paulo was observing the rituals when they spotted an oddity amidst the dark faces -- a white man in distinctive West African clothing. The man was Paulo Romeiro, Director of CRI Brazil. A conversation began, and he carefully cast light on Afro-Brazilian spiritism from the Bible. When he was through, the couple felt compelled to comment on two things: First, that no one had ever explained such things to them before; second, that they felt a great peace as he spoke. They asked him to recommend a church.
By all accounts, CRI Brazil's fifth annual outreach to spiritists, held December 9-10, was a success. More than 200 Christians from the state of Sao Paulo labored from dusk to dawn -- some as evangelists, some as counselors, and some as intercessors.
But it wasn't easy. Opposition and intimidation began immediately. The moment Paulo Romeiro and the other workers arrived, the local police gave them an order forbidding them to evangelize. When Paulo insisted on their constitutional rights, the police took their intimidation a step further; they sent for a colonel. But Paulo stood his ground. And when the colonel arrived, he was persuaded that there was nothing illegal in moving freely across the beach and conversing with willing individuals. The local police relented. The work went on.
Although the outreach itself has ended, important work continues. The names and addresses of contacts made on the beach have to be gathered, sorted, and forwarded to the pastors of local churches for follow-up.
*CRI Brazil sends its heartfelt thanks to all who interceded on their behalf before and during the outreach.
Japanese Cult Plans Major Center
Sao Paulo is not only the world's second-largest city (with an estimated population of 18 million), it also has the world's largest concentration of Japanese outside of Japan. In recent decades, a half-dozen of Japan's newer religions have flourished in Sao Paulo, including Seicho-no-Ie, Nichiren Shoshu, Perfect Liberty, and Mahikari.
Another well-known example of these Japanese Religions is the Church of World Messianity, or Sekai Kyusei Kyo. Its prosperity is such that in December it announced its intention to build a major commercial and entertainment complex in Sao Paulo, at a cost of close to $160 million. According to Rio's Jornal do Brasil newspaper, the "New World Center" will feature a 40-story five-star hotel, a 120-store shopping center, and a theater with a stage large enough to hold the entire company of the Bolshoi ballet -- one of the world's largest ballets. The complex should be in full operation by 1994.
The cult was founded in Japan by Mokichi Okada, who claimed to receive a special revelation from God in 1926. As his 150,000 Brazilian followers await the dawning of the "Daylight Age," they practice johrei, the "sacred act of channeling the Divine Light to the spiritual body" through the palm of the hand. This is done to dispel clouds of karma, "throw off toxins," and "develop greater spiritual awareness."
Mormon Article Draws Swift Response
In November, the major magazine Manchete (similar to Life in the U.S.) published a six-page profile of the Mormon Church in Brazil. Although the article concentrated heavily on the cult's genealogical work, it painted an appealing portrait of the church that amounted to a public-relations coup.
CRI's reaction was swift. In a letter to the magazine's editor that was published shortly thereafter, Paulo Romeiro reminded readers of the cult's racist teachings and practices. He also noted a few of the many Mormon doctrines that Mormon missionaries deliberately avoid mentioning to prospective converts, including the blasphemous notion that our Heavenly Father is a man who had physical relations with Mary to produce Jesus.
End of document, CRN0019A.TXT (original CRI file name),
"Research Notes" and "Project Brazil"
release A, June 30, 1994
R. Poll, CRI
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