28 Feb 2009

Recruiting God's Army

The Stranger - Seattle February 27, 2009

Marysville Church Seeks Converts at Public Schools

by Dominic Holden

A church in Marysville has crossed the line from volunteering at local public schools to recruiting kids into a "cult," says the mother of one of the students. The Turning Point Church sends roughly a dozen adult "youth leaders" to six schools in northwestern Washington once a week, where they hang out during lunch hours, chat with students, and join in sports games.

"We can be someone in their life to say everything is going to be okay and God is still good," says Emily Masten, one of the youth staff leaders and a receptionist for the church.

Doug Honig, a spokesman for the state American Civil Liberties Union, says that although the Washington State constitution "has strong provisions about separation of religion and government, including schools," what's allowed under the constitution has been determined on a case-by-case basis.

In Marysville, problems arose earlier this week when a church delegate attempted to entice a Totem Middle School student into an evening church meeting with promises of rides, games, and espresso. The church maintains a youth group called 180 and another group called 628 (for kids from sixth to eighth grades).

Rianne Olver was alarmed when she saw a MySpace message sent from an adult female youth leader to her 11-year-old daughter, inviting her to the church meeting:

Hey, 628 tonight!
6 o clock, free espresso for visitors. Super rad games and activities.
Hang out with cool people. Plus you are really cool so it would just make it that much cooler.
Are you going to be there? If you need a ride, I can hook it up :)

"She even offered to come to my house and pick up my daughter without me knowing about it," Olver says. "I wonder how many other kids got this message and were so excited that an older person thinks they're cool and wants to buy them espresso."

The nondenominational church is unusual in other ways, too. In one sermon, Pastor Mike Villamor advocates that "Christians should be sex-perts." He goes on: "Ladies, here's the answer to 90 percent of your troubles: sex and sleep."

Several people have posted aggressively on a web page where they allege the Turning Point Church is cultish.

But Masten dismisses the cult claims. "[The church] is just different because people are actually caring," she says. "If people don't understand something, there are two reactions: You make fun of it or you get scared of it."

Masten confirms that youth leaders discuss the church and God with students on school property, but says they do so only when asked. Their purpose is "just to be there and to love them and hang out with them," she says. However, she acknowledges that if students want to provide contact information, youth leaders contact them about the evening services.

"Most youth leaders will do bulk texting to students they have met once or twice," says Masten. "It's just like, 'Hey do you want to come over and hang out at my house?'" says Masten. (Basically, adults directly soliciting social engagements from 11-year-old children.) Youth leaders may neglect to contact parents because it is "something that they are not really mindful of yet," she says.

It's something they will become mindful of soon.

After hearing Olver's complaints yesterday afternoon, the Marysville School District called Turning Point Church to tell them they must cease lunchtime visits to Totem Middle School. The group will continue renting space for sermons at the school on Sundays. Gail Miller, assistant superintendent of the Marysville School District, says, "They can't proselytize and they cannot solicit individual student's contact information."

Other groups, including retirees and Tulalip Tribe members, have been volunteering at the school this year to reverse what Miller describes as chronic "classroom disruptions." Last year, Totem Middle School students walked out to protest discipline problems. The youth leaders from Turning Point Church were allowed on campus to "increase adult presence at lunch time," Miller says.

But, she adds, "We are doing an investigation because, if [Olver] is correct in that this is what is happening, that is inappropriate. If students ask them questions, they can answer matter-of-factly, but they cannot seek them out." Although the church has been barred from lunches at the middle school, youth workers are still allowed at Marysville Pilchuck High School.

News intern Aaron Pickus contributed research to this story.

This article was found at:


27 Feb 2009

'Cult' orders faith before family

Sunshine Coast Daily - Australia February 28, 2009

By Anne-Louise Brown

Teenage members of a Sunshine Coast church have been ordered to put the church’s teachings before family or risk excommunication.
Young adults aged 17 to 25 have been warned if they do not sign a commitment form at tomorrow’s meeting of the Sunshine Coast Christian Fellowship, they could be cut off.
Helen Pomery of Maleny, a former member of the fellowship who was excommunicated in 2002, said contacts in the church had expressed their concerns to her. Many feared they would “lose their children”.
“There is so much pressure on these kids to sign the commitment form. If they don’t, they will be kicked out. People are very scared,” Ms Pomery said.
“This has put strain on a lot of parents too because if they express their concerns, they are labelled ‘evil’ and the elders will try to turn their children against them. The fellowship is not a church.
"It is a cult and it thrives on fear.”
The Daily obtained copies of the commitment forms and “doctrine” written by church elders, which outlines some of the fellowship’s extreme teachings.
Most controversial are documents placing the importance of the church above family, including statements like: “Come and commit to being the Lord’s disciple first, and that will provide the opportunity for Christ to come to your family”.
Last year the fellowship, which is based in Brisbane, made national headlines after the ABC’s Four Corners ran an expose of its teachings and doctrine. Ms Pomery told her story on the program and in a book by Morag Zwartz, Apostles of Fear: A Cult Church Exposed.
According to Ms Pomery, church elders believe they are “God personified”.
“Members are taught that God actually speaks through the elders. This creates an air of fear because members are told if they disobey the teachings of the elders, they will be damned for eternity.
“The fellowship isolates people. Members can’t socialise with people outside the church and young people can’t date people that aren’t in the church. Arranged marriages are common.
“Basically people become trapped in the fellowship because if they leave, they have nothing. I lost my family to the fellowship so speaking out against them isn’t hard because I have nothing left to lose.”
Dean of the Catholic church on the Sunshine Coast, Father John Dobson, said he did not know much about the fellowship but thought it displayed “cult-like traits”.
“The Catholic church has strong authority, some of the strongest of any church, but is never interferes with personal conscience.
“An individual’s conscience is not to be meddled with, even by those in authority, and if members of a congregation feel like this is happening, they should assess the situation.
“Scriptures teach God’s greatest gift to humans is the ability to love and this in turn leads people to be free. Love is certainly not domination and I’m concerned that elders in this church would present their word as the word of God. I would also be concerned about anyone who believes that.”
Ms Pomery has set up a support group for people affected by cults, and said people still in the fellowship were in regular contact with her.
“They want to know how they can get out without losing their families. All of then have seen how the fellowship works and have seen families torn apart. They are scared and are very careful about how they get in contact. If the church found out they would be immediately excommunicated.
“After being married for 30 years my husband, who was a doctor, left me a letter telling me to be out of the house in a week. I didn’t know what to do.
“I have three kids who are 35, 33 and 28. Two of them – the oldest and the youngest – are still heavily involved with the church and haven’t spoken to me since I left. My eldest child has three kids of her own. I’ve never met my grandchildren.”
Yesterday the Daily contacted Sunshine Coast Christian Fellowship elders David Black and Paul Fox.
Mr Black declined to comment and Mr Fox said the commitment form and associated doctrine spoke for itself.
“It speaks to our young people and it speaks for itself so I don’t need to comment,” he said.
This article was found at:


Sunshine Coast woman calls for cult inquiry

Christian Fellowship Pastor charged with molesting 6 young girls



Ex-cult members speak out over abuse

Church in Wales launches major child protection review

Ekklesia - U.K. February 27, 2009

By agency reporter

The Church in Wales has launched a major review into past allegations of child abuse in a bid to protect the young people in its midst into the future, and ensure appropriate action.

Bishops in the Church commissioned the review to look specifically at past allegations or suspicions of child abuse which predate the Church’s Child Protection Policy.

The Church has also set up a confidential telephone helpline with the help of children's charity NSPCC for people who feel they may have been affected or have information to share regarding instances of child abuse within the Church.

The review, expected to last a year, will be carried out by an independent social worker from the office of the Children's Commissioner who will examine the files of serving and retired priests as well as lay office holders.

The Church said suspected cases of abuse would be forwarded to an internal safeguarding panel for consideration.

The launch of the review follows the case of Richard Hart, the Vicar of Beguildy, near Knighton in Powys, who was jailed last year for possessing 57,000 indecent images of children

The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said: "We want to make sure the Church in Wales is a safe place for our children to grow up in and to be nourished in the Christian faith. Caring for them and protecting them is of paramount importance to us – whether they come to us through worship, Sunday schools, choirs or clubs.

“It’s a difficult area to address - and we sincerely hope little will emerge - but our approach will be professional and thorough, underlining our commitment and ensuring we have done everything we possibly can to keep our children safe.”

Keith Towler, the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, added his support. He said, “Every organisation working with children and young people has a duty to establish and regularly review its child protection procedures.

“I welcome the Church in Wales’ pledge to prioritise a review of its child protection policy and also its obvious commitment to safeguarding all children and young people involved in the Church community.”

The free NSPCC helpline will operate between 10am and 6pm from Monday to Friday, running alongside the existing NSPCC Cymru/Wales service which provides help to anyone concerned about the welfare of a child.

Head of NSPCC Helpline, John Cameron, said, "We're very pleased to be able to offer our support to the review in this way.

“We will be working to ensure that any information we receive that is relevant to the enquiry will be shared with the necessary other statutory agencies who will be working closely with the independent reviewing social worker.

“This will ensure that any outstanding concerns for the welfare of children are assessed and appropriate action taken."


The NSPCC Helpline number is 0800 7317466

This article was found at:


26 Feb 2009

Senator Boxer Seeks to Ratify U.N. Treaty That May Erode U.S. Rights

Fox News - February 25, 2009

Sen. Barbara Boxer is pushing the Obama administration to move forward with ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, a controversial treaty that has never gained much support in the U.S.

Sen. Barbara Boxer is urging the U.S. to ratify a United Nations measure meant to expand the rights of children, a move critics are calling a gross assault on parental rights that could rob the U.S. of sovereignty.

The California Democrat is pushing the Obama administration to review the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, a nearly 20-year-old international agreement that has been foundering on
American shores since it was signed by the Clinton administration in 1995 but never ratified.

Critics say the treaty, which creates "the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion" and outlaws the "arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy," intrudes on the family and strips parents of the power to raise their children without government interference.

Nearly every country in the world is party to it -- only the U.S. and Somalia are not -- but the convention has gained little support in the U.S. and never been sent to the Senate for ratification.

That could change soon.

Boxer has made clear her intent to revive the ratification process under the Obama administration, which may be amenable to the move. During a Senate confirmation hearing last month, Boxer said she considers it "a humiliation" that the U.S. is "standing with Somalia" in refusing to become party to the agreement, while 193 other nations have led the way.

The U.S. is already party to two optional pieces of the treaty regarding child soldiers and child prostitution and pornography, but has refused to sign on to the full agreement, something which has rankled members of Congress, including Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

"Children deserve basic human rights ... and the convention protects children's rights by setting some standards here so that the most vulnerable people of society will be protected," Boxer said.

The convention has established a Committee on the Rights of the Child, an 18-member panel in Geneva composed of "persons of high moral character" who review the rights of children in nations that are party to the convention.

But legal experts say the convention does nothing to protect human rights abroad -- and that acceding to the convention would erode U.S. sovereignty.

Because of the Supremacy Clause in Article VI of the Constitution, all treaties are rendered "the supreme law of the land," superseding preexisting state and federal statutes. Any rights or laws established by the U.N. convention could then be argued to hold sway in the United States.

"To the extent that an outside body, a group of unaccountable so-called experts in Switzerland have a say over how children in America should be raised, educated and disciplined -- that is an erosion of American sovereignty," said Steven Groves, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.

Parental rights groups are similarly stirred; they see in the U.N. convention a threat that the government will meddle with even the simplest freedoms to raise their children as they see fit.

"Whether you ground your kids for smoking marijuana, whether you take them to church, whether you let them go to junior prom, all of those things . . . will be the government's decision," said Michael Farris, president of ParentalRights.org. "It will affect every parent who's told their children to do the dishes."

Groves said that erosion has already begun, as the Supreme Court has referred to the wide acceptance of the child-rights law in conferring legal protections on minors in the U.S.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the majority opinion in the 2005 decision banning the death penalty for minors, noted that "every country in the world has ratified [the convention] save for the United States and Somalia."

Proponents of the convention in the U.S. stress that it will help secure human rights abroad.

"Now, all you have to do is look around the world and see these girls that are having acid thrown in their face," Boxer said in January, implying that the U.S. refusal to come aboard has led to abuses elsewhere.

But when acceding to the convention, countries are able to sign so-called RUDs -- reservations, understandings and declarations -- that can hinder or negate responsibilities they would otherwise be bound to follow.

Most majority Muslim nations express reservations on all provisions of the convention that are incompatible with Islamic Sharia law, which takes much of the teeth out of the treaty. Acid attacks on girls continue in Afghanistan, which is already party to the convention.

The U.N. itself admits that there is no way for it to enforce its own laws and protect children.

"When it comes to signatories who violate the convention and/or its optional protocols -- there is no means to oblige states to fulfill their legal obligations," said Giorgia Passarelli, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commission on Human Rights, which oversees the child-rights body.

Passarelli said that the committee has kept a constant spotlight on rights violators and fed into decisions made by the Security Council, especially involving child soldiers. But even then, she added, such pressure does not always prevail.

Despite these obstacles, Boxer has made clear that she intends to ramp up pressure to get the treaty ratified, a passion that may be shared by the Obama administration.

During the Oct. 22, 2008, presidential youth debate, Obama promised to "review this and other treaties to ensure the United States resumes its global leadership in human rights."

During U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice's January confirmation hearing, Rice called the convention "a very important treaty and a noble cause," and said it was "a shame" for the U.S. to be in company with Somalia, which has no real government.

Rice told Boxer that "there can be no doubt that [President Obama] and Secretary Clinton and I share a commitment to the objectives of this treaty and will take it up as an early question," promising to review the treaty "to ensure that the United States is playing and resumes its global leadership role in human rights."

Boxer, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pushed for a 60-day timetable to review the convention and report back to the Senate -- which would have left the Obama administration a March 23 deadline to move toward ratification.

Rice politely sidestepped and refused to agree to the timeline.

"This is a complicated treaty, in many respects more than some others, given our system of federalism, and so we need to take a close look at how we manage the challenges of domestic implementation and what reservations and understandings might be appropriate in the context of ratification," she said.

Boxer's office, which ignored repeated calls and e-mails seeking comment, has not spelled out what if any reservations the senator would like to assert in ratifying the treaty. The State Department also refused to comment on timetables.

This article was found at:

Accused polygamist looking for legal aid from B.C

The Vancouver Sun - February 26, 2009

Winston Blackmore is also trying to get his passport back

by Daphne Bramham

Winston Blackmore has yet to enter his plea to the criminal charge of practising polygamy, but he's already on his third lawyer, has filed for legal aid and asked Utah's attorney-general for help in having his bail conditions amended.

Gone from Blackmore's legal team is former Liberal MLA Blair Suffredine, even though he attended Blackmore's two court appearances in Creston, including one last week.

Suffredine was outspoken in his condemnation of same-sex marriages -- even though two of Blackmore's 19 "wives" listed on the indictment are married to each other -- suggesting basically that we've gone so far down the road to destroying marriage that we might as well have polygamy, too.

Also gone is Glenn Orris, who Suffredine said would be leading the team.

Blackmore's new lawyer is Joe Arvay, a well-known human rights and constitutional lawyer, whose firm successfully argued before the Supreme Court of Canada that the Constitution protects gays and lesbians from discrimination.

Dealing with how he gets paid may be one of Arvay's first tasks.

Up until recently, 52-year-old Blackmore was one of the wealthiest men in the Creston Valley. He had a farm, a large ranch and several forestry companies including a post-and-pole mill, a trucking operation and logging firm with lucrative contracts with Tembec.

But Blackmore -- spiritual leader to about half of the 1,000 people in Bountiful -- has fallen on hard times. It's not just the downturn in the forestry industry. Blackmore lost a large portion of his workforce when he was excommunicated from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Many -- including men from his own family -- stuck with the FLDS, went to work for companies run by other FLDS members and pledged their loyalty to the new bishop, James Oler, and the prophet, Warren Jeffs.

Oler is also charged with one count of practising polygamy. But there's so much bad blood between the two men that at their next court appearance on April 22 in Cranbrook, Blackmore and/or Oler may ask that their cases be severed.

There is also a valid legal reason. Although both believe that taking multiple wives is a religious imperative, the number of wives each is alleged to have and the time period of the violations are different.

Blackmore has indicated that for economic reasons he needs his bail conditions changed. Both Oler and Blackmore had to forfeit their passports and agree not to travel outside the country. Blackmore even asked Utah Attorney-General Mark Shurtleff for help in getting his passport back. Shurtleff wisely declined.

Not only does Blackmore have business there, he has family including three American "wives," who were deported in 2006.

But special prosecutor Terry Robertson says he will oppose any alterations to the bail conditions. Both men are considered flight risks. It hasn't helped them that FLDS prophet Jeffs was a fugitive for nearly two years and ended up on the FBI's Most Wanted List.

The Legal Services Society won't comment on Blackmore's application for legal aid. However, he's unlikely to qualify since eligibility for taxpayer-funded help in paying lawyers' bills is based on a household income, which includes "all money or benefits earned or received by adult family members who are living together."

Of the wives listed in the indictment alone, two are midwives and several others are licensed practical nurses.

But the father of 118 children can deduct child-care expenses and what he receives in B.C. family bonus and child tax benefits is exempt.

If he is denied legal aid, Robertson expects Blackmore will ask for court-ordered counsel as Willie Pickton and the accused in the Air India case did.

One of the criteria for requiring the province to pay a defendant's legal expenses is that the case is so complex. And there's no doubt the polygamy case is complicated. Everyone expects it will be the Supreme Court of Canada justices who finally determine whether the constitutional guarantee of religious freedom includes the practice of polygamy.

But in exchange for legal funding that could run to more than $1 million, Blackmore and/or Oler will have to disclose detailed financial records, providing insights not only into how one man supports 26 wives and 118 children, but how communal property is used and how much taxpayers spend each year to support the reclusive community.

This article was found at:


Fiji Cult Leader: "I’m not a killer. I’m a healer”

Fiji Daily Post - February 26, 2009

A PROMINENT member of the One World Church in Cunningham, Suva rubbished media reports labelling his religious group a “cult”.

Naitasiri chief Ratu Loco Kalokalodrau Qiolevu yesterday said they were “healers not killers”.

This week a newspaper had highlighted that Sivocosi Semanakadavu, 17, allegedly died while under the care of Ratu Loco’s church group.

The newspaper also labelled his church group as a “cult”.

Ratu Loco said people should respect his religion because he gave his land to people from different races and religions to use.

“I’ve allowed everyone to live on my land and I’m not a killer. I’m a healer,” he said.

Referring to himself as the number one, “the boss of the church”, Ratu Loco made it clear to the media that no one was to talk to anyone within the church without consulting him first.

When asked on whether he or members of his church have been in contact with the parents of the dead teenager he said: “The parents brought the boy to this church and they applied everything.”

“We prayed for this kid and the parents know that we are not a hospital. The hospital was right there, but they brought the kid to us on their own free will,” Ratu Loco said.

“We never asked them to bring their son here, but we gave all our best and spent our money on the boy.”

He added that his sect healed all sorts of sickness through prayer. “Our main medicine is prayer,” he said.

Meanwhile, Senior Methodist Church pastor, Reverend Viliame Daunabuna, in a radio interview said people should be aware of the kinds of teaching and healing organised by some church denominations.

Rev Daunabuna said there were two forms of healings which people should be careful of when dealing with some church groups.

He urged people to go to the hospital if they are sick. He alleged that four people from his community in Colo-i-Suva were told by the same church group not to go to hospital, but drink coconut oil prepared by the church healer and spiritual guru known as the Marama Vada.

The Marama Vada, when asked why they never took the teenager to hospital said they believed divine intervention would be the best cure.

Ratu Loco, who is also a claimant of the Qaranivalu title, said they were not doing anything wrong.

This article was found at:


25 Feb 2009

Sect silent over teen's death

Fiji Times - February 24, 2009


POLICE are investigating the death of a 17-year old boy in the premises of the One World Church at Tacirua.

Police spokeswoman Ema Mua said they believe the boy was suffering from epilepsy but was not taken to hospital when he was under attack from the ailment.

Ms Mua said the matter was reported to the Valelevu Police Station yesterday after the boy died at the church.

She said police were treating the case as serious because they had received information that the members of the church had been against their members being taken to the hospital if they were sick.

"We are trying to talk to the other members who were at the church on the day of the boy's death and investigations are continuing," said Ms Mua.

One of the sect's belief is that members with a sickness are not allowed to go to the hospital but instead, rely on help from above to recover or be cured from the sickness.

They say they would rather die with a sickness or ailment rather than go against their sect's belief.

Meanwhile, yesterday none of the members of the church were willing to give any information pertaining to the boy's death or the whereabouts of the boy's parents.

The leader of the One World Church, Safaira Kua, was not available for any comment yesterday afternoon.

This article was found at:


Church of Lies [book]

Church of Lies: How Flora Jessop Escaped the Slavery and Sexual Abuse of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints and Dedicated Her Life to the Continuing Rescue and Successful Liberation of Women and Children from this Notorious Sect

by Flora Jessop, Paul T. Brown
ISBN: 978-0-7879-9462-4
Hardcover 320 pages
January 2009, Jossey-Bass

From the Preface:

"My name is Flora Jessop. I've been called apostate, vigilante, and crazy bitch, and maybe I am. But some people call me a hero, and I'd like to think they're right too. If I am a hero, maybe it's because every time I can play a part in saving a child or a woman from a life of servitude and degradation, I'm saving a little piece of me, too.

I was one of twenty-eight children born to my dad and his three wives. Indoctrinated to believe that the outside world was evil, and that I resided among the righteous, I was destined to marry a man chosen for me by the Prophet. I would then live in harmony with my sister-wives, bear many children, and obey and serve my future husband in this life and throughout eternity. But my innocence didn't last long. While still a child, I understood that the church of the righteous was nothing but a church of lies.

When I was eight years old my father sexually molested me for the first time, raping me when I was twelve. I tried to kill myself. Beaten, molested, taunted, and abused by family members alleging they only wanted to save my soul became a daily routine, I ran from this abuse more than once in my early teens--even attempting to cross the desert on foot. My family hunted me down. I thought government agencies would provide me safety if I reported my father. Instead, police and social services colluded with the FLDS to return me to my family and I ended up back inside polygamy, right where I started."

Flora goes on from there to tell the dramatic true story of how she ultimately escaped and has been fighting against frustrating obstacles with hard fought successes in rescuing women and children from the FLDS. It's a story you can't put down.

This article was found at:


God's Batterers: When Religion Subordinates Women, Violence Follows

The Washington Post | On Faith blog

by Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite

"Wives should submit to their husbands in everything," writes Paul to the Ephesians about how they should order their domestic lives. Mary Slessor, 19th century Scottish missionary and early feminist wrote in her Bible next to this text, "Nay, nay, Paul laddie. This will na do." Mary Slessor was right. Religious women need to challenge such religious justifications of domestic violence. Their lives can depend on it.
The primary connection between religion and domestic violence is religiously sanctioned subordination of women. Submission itself is institutionalized violence--a structure of unequal power that puts women in a vulnerable position in the home. The front door of such a "religious" home becomes a doorway to violence.
Mary Potter Engel, a Christian theologian and novelist, has called this the "Just Battering" tradition. She models her analysis of the Christian justification of violence against wives on the Just War tradition. Just War principles start with "Right Authority." In the "Christian home," ideologies of "submission" mean that only the husband has authority. This makes physical abuse of women "just" in the same way that political authorities can claim a war is "just" if it is authorized by them.
(See Kay Marshall Strom, In the Name of Submission: A Painful Look at Wife Battering)

Evangelical Christian ministries such as those run by Rev. Rick Warren at his Saddleback Church or James Dobson of Focus on the Family all stress "submission" as the Christian family role for wives. At the same time, these Christian Evangelical ministries staunchly deny that submission is a cause of violence against wives.
Some Evangelicals strongly disagree and have explicitly charged that it is submission that is responsible for wife battering in the "Christian" home. James and Phyllis Alsdurf, in Battered Into Submission: The Tragedy of Wife Abuse in the Christian Home, have noted that conservative Christian women can't even get help because of this religious ideology of submission. "When she [the battered wife] musters up the courage to go public with 'her' problem (very likely to her pastor or a church member), what little human dignity she has retained can soon be 'trampled underfoot' with comments like: 'What have you done to provoke him?' 'Well, you've got to understand that your husband is under a lot of pressure right now,' or 'How would Jesus want you to act: just submit and it won't happen again.'"
In fact, Jesus gets invoked a lot to justify wife battering, especially as a model for suffering. In an article Time Magazine did when Mel Gibson's film The Passion of the Christ was first released, I noted the direct connection between an overemphasis on suffering as "saving" people and what women have told me for years about how their priests or ministers advise them to stay in a violent home. "Countless women have told me that their priest or minister had advised them, as 'good Christian women' to accept beatings by their husbands as 'Christ accepted the cross.' An overemphasis on the suffering of Jesus to the exclusion of his teaching has tended to be used to support violence." (April 12, 2004)
As the Chicago Tribune recently reported, there is an epidemic of teen "date battering". I have counseled young women involved in date-battering relationships. In one case, members of a conservative "Christian" youth group to which she belonged were encouraging this teenage girl to stay with the battering boyfriend in order to "convert him to Christ" by her model of "perfect submission and love." It took a lot of support and a very different religious interpretation to help her make better life choices.
Christian sanction for domestic violence is deeply rooted in our religious tradition. A tremendous amount of work has been done in recent years to question these perspectives. We must continue to offer biblical and theological critiques of the "Just Battering" tradition, the idolatry of suffering and other such views. And we must continue to provide alternatives. A lot more remains to be done, not only in Christianity but also across the religious spectrum, including Islam and Judaism as well as Buddhism and Hinduism and others. Indeed, I know of no religious traditions that are entirely free of ideologies that support women's inferiority and justify their subordination.
This is a sad commentary on the role religion sometimes plays in human life. It does not have to be this way. We have put up with violence in the "religious" home for far too long. The truth is, "batterers" aren't serving God, they are serving themselves and it's sin, plain and simple.

Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is professor of theology at Chicago Theological Seminary and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. She was president of CTS from 1998-2008.

This article was found at:


Church policy aims to show way in safeguarding child from abuse

The Irish Times - February 25, 2009

OPINION: Drawing on awful lessons learned from its laxness in reacting to reports of child abuse, the Catholic Church now focuses its powers of nurture in protecting children, AIDAN CANAVAN 

OVER RECENT years, we have become accustomed to church leaders issuing apologies for the terrible pain caused by the clerical abuse of children and young people, which is both a crime and a sin. Important though apologies are, they are not enough. Apologies may express heartfelt sorrow and compassion, but they do not, in themselves, protect a single child into the future.

It was in the realisation of the need to move beyond apologies, no matter how sincere or important, that the Catholic Church leadership in Ireland set up the National Board for Child Protection, as it was then called, in 2006, as part of the programme set out in Our Children, Our Church , which had been published at the end of 2005.

The desire of the church leadership was to transform child safeguarding within the Catholic Church, with the intention that it not only improve, but ultimately become an exemplar for child safeguarding, nationally and internationally.

The church leadership realised that if it wished to transform child safeguarding, dioceses, religious congregations and missionary societies could not risk having separate approaches to child safeguarding – abusers can exploit the gaps between organisations. The church needed a one- church policy – that is, a policy which encompasses not just dioceses or religious congregations or missionary societies, but all three. As part of this programme, a single board was required.

The National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Catholic Church, as it is now called, is, of course, part of a much wider structure for the safeguarding of children. The board does not act in splendid isolation, as the real work of safeguarding of children takes place in parishes, religious communities and church organisations the length and breadth of the country.

A huge debt of gratitude is owed to the countless volunteers who work at parish level and in religious communities to ensure that where children take part in church activities, they do so in an environment which is not only safe but nurturing. Training in the safeguarding of children, vetting and the implementation of policies all take place in dioceses and religious congregations, with this being expanded throughout the country.

The National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Catholic Church was initially chaired by Mr Justice Anthony Hederman, retired Supreme Court judge, who led the board in its set-up period. Under his chairmanship, the board began to tackle the complexity and breadth of the issues which it had to face.

The board itself is made up of volunteers, coming from a wide variety of professional backgrounds and expertise, not only with the obvious skills associated with child safeguarding, but also psychotherapy, law (both civil and canon/church) and law enforcement.

The board has two essential functions:

To provide advice in child safeguarding to the Catholic Church in Ireland; and

To monitor and report on child safeguarding.

Those two functions put it at the heart of restoring the credibility of a church severely damaged not only by scandalous abuse perpetrated by clergy and religious but by its failure to properly address the issue. Yet the strength of the board, as demonstrated in the past year, lies in its independence. Through that rigorous independence, the board can – and I believe ultimately will – move the church beyond apology for past failures into a position of leadership on the issue of child protection. Although we can expect, this year, to hear of grim historic stories emerging from the inquiry into the Dublin archdiocese, the reality is that the church is now not only better-equipped to safeguard children but to be a model of best practice for society at large.

The independent board has been given the task – and the freedom – to critically examine past practice and ensure that lessons so painfully learned will result in new policies and practice. This will empower society as a whole to embrace a culture where no abuse of a child – sexual, physical or mental – will be tolerated.

Despite the gross breaches of trust in the past, the church has – with a multitude of dedicated clerics, religious and particularly thousands of volunteers working at parish level – an opportunity not only to restore confidence in its own credibility but to extend its new child safeguarding standards and practices to every part of the community.

The board has a wide variety of expertise available and willing to provide advice and assistance in the achievement of a child safeguarding culture of which we can be proud. With the support of a staff with unrivalled experience in child safeguarding in the national office, the board has now in place the foundations of a safeguarding structure the church and society can be proud of.

Today, we will launch our Standards and Guidance document which has been developed following the widest of consultation.

The focus of our strategy is, of course, the child, setting out a clear road map that leaves no room for confusion as to how any suspicion of child abuse is to be handled.

In the past, the church has produced advice and guidance but serious difficulties of interpretation and practice clearly sometimes resulted in unsatisfactory practice.

Our publication is designed to be easily understood and actioned by lay and cleric alike – the proper interface with the statutory authorities is not open to any misinterpretation.

These standards will require that the church adheres to practices that far exceed what is expected of any other section of society. And this will raise the standards elsewhere in the country.

Aidan Canavan is chairman of the National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Catholic Church. He is a solicitor and member of the Council of the Law Society for Northern Ireland for 12 years

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24 Feb 2009

University of Illinois student shunned by 'cult' for sake of education

The Daily Illini - Champaign, Illinois February 24, 2009

Jennifer Hanson, senior in AHS, was raised as a member of a fundamentalist sect called "The Truth." She broke away from the group to attend Illinois and was subsequently ostracized and harassed. She is breaking her silence to help others who are struggling with oppression.

by Aaron Geiger

Jennifer Hanson's life has been difficult, and, at times, downright heartbreaking.

She will graduate this semester with a degree in Human Communications Science, and although her diploma will be a huge personal victory, it will also serve as a bittersweet reminder of how far she has come - a permanent, tangible reminder of her decision to break away from a religious sect that many have declared a cult, including Hanson's own sister and many disenfranchised members who use Internet forums to share their discontent with their former religion.

Because Hanson chose an education and personal fulfillment over her faith, she has been ostracized and shunned by her immediate family and the people she had grown up with. Her choice has been traumatic, ultimately leading to a formal diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

For the first time in her life, Hanson has decided to come forward with her story, with the hope of inspiring other students - particularly women - to find their own voices and pursue their educational and personal aspirations. Until this point, Hanson has lived in fear of retribution and harassment to the point that she has voluntarily had her personal information suppressed by the University. To anyone looking for her, she simply didn't exist.

"My dad was trying to track me down, and he was saying crazy things and was trying to find out where I lived," Hanson said. "Former members were trying to find out where I lived so they could come talk to me, so I decided to utilize U of I as a safe place."

Hanson said she had read "horrible stories" of other young members who tried to leave what outsiders have labeled "The Truth," and was afraid for her own safety. University counselors were a crucial element in protecting her identity, and they provided counseling resources that helped Hanson adapt to her new life.

"(With abuse), women are more apt to try to be strong and to remain quiet," said Hanson. "Until you realize that you are facing abuse, then you are suppressing your own potential."

In Hanson's former religion, women are expected to wear reserved female clothing and marry within their own sect. Because there are so few members in the surrounding population, statewide events are organized to connect teenagers with their future lifelong mates. Having a relationship outside of the sect is strictly forbidden.

That is what got Hanson in trouble. When she was in high school, she had a secret liaison with a boy outside of the group, which caused her a great deal of stress. She decided to attend college, setting off a chain of events that caused her to completely redefine her life.

Hanson had to put herself through college completely on her own, work multiple jobs and apply for loans and independent financial aid status to make her dream of higher education come true. She had to receive letters from a lawyer, psychologist and high school counselor to corroborate that she was living entirely on her own.

Hanson belonged to a sect that claims to have no name, even though it has been called "The Truth" by others. They are also reclusive and secretive; none of the University professors of religion contacted had heard of Hanson's former group. Although primarily known as "The Truth," the group has also been called the "Two by Twos," the "Church with no name," the "Cooneyites," "The Secret Sect" and the "Black Stockings," among many others.

The sect may be mysterious, but it is very real. Hanson estimates that there are around 2,000 members in Illinois alone, and there are members spread around the United States. Unlike other close-knit religious communities that keep strict records of their members, Hanson's former religious affiliation has very little public information about their membership.

"They are also called the 'Two by Twos' because of the 'workers' who go out in pairs to teach interpersonally with families that they stay with," said Hanson. "They live with the members of the sect, and travel in pairs of men or women."

"Workers," or ministers of their faith, are labeled as homeless, chaste missionaries who travel from family to family, living in the different homes, ensuring that members follow the religion's strict tenets and rules, and preaching the Bible, using only the King James version.

Clothing for all members is very modest and, for women, somewhat resembles a cross between Mennonite and Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints. Hanson had to keep her hair long and her legs covered with a skirt - no pants or jeans. She was not allowed to wear jewelry or makeup. Men must be clean-shaven with short haircuts. Access to television and the Internet is closely monitored, and in some cases, forbidden. Hanson resorted to shoving magazines under her mattress, and noticed that some families would hide their televisions whenever a pair of workers would stop by for a visit.

"Radios were even discouraged, and workers don't even read the newspaper and things like that," Hanson said.

According to the Ontario Religious Consultants on Religious Tolerance, "The Truth forbids smoking, drinking, dancing, attending movies and watching television."

In spite of the strict guidelines, the ultimate price for disregarding the rules of "The Truth" is shunning - or banishment from the home and family. Hanson's price for freedom was extremely high.

Robert McKim, head of the Department of Religion at the University, said that although he doesn't have any expertise in Hanson's case, he believes that the public has an entitlement to make up their own mind on matters of religious significance and finds a fault in this particular sect.

"There is something deeply wrong with religious groups of any sort that make it difficult for people to exit them," said McKim.

The Ontario Religious Consultants also note that "The Truth" was officially founded by William Irvine in 1901 in either Scotland or Ireland, although present-day members vehemently claim that it is as old as the Bible. There are current Web sites that have the exclusive purpose of reaching out to current members of "The Truth" to show them historical documents arguing that "The Truth" is only about 100 years old, and founded by a man with strict ideologies extracted from the Bible.

Members are reluctant to speak of their faith. Out of several families contacted, only one couple, Eric and Jennifer Spencer of Champaign, spoke of their religion and in a limited capacity.

"We regard ourselves as a fellowship and not an organization," Eric Spencer said. "We don't really study any other (religious) material other than the Bible."

Spencer declined to answer most questions, instead referring them to be answered by a worker, or minister. As of press time, no minister had returned any press inquiries.

"The Bible refers to those who follow truth as believers. That's probably where 'The Truth' comes from," Spencer said.

Part of the reason why "The Truth" is not a well-known organization is primarily because they do not proselytize - or openly attempt to convert other people's opinions to their own.

"The Truth members believe that they are God's chosen ones, so they won't go out and try to convert anyone," said Hanson. "They believe that if people are meant to know 'The Truth,' then people will come to them."

Spencer also pointed out that on occasion workers hold public gospel meetings to pray and share God's word from the Bible.

"The gospel meetings aren't widely publicized, and they're more like a sign above a door," Hanson said.

Although by many accounts members practice good will and familial fellowship, and while there are many industrious and well-meaning members of the organization, there is a dark side, exemplified by the personal tragedy of Hanson's experience.

"I think 'The Truth' overall can provide something to someone," said Hanson. "It can provide peace to someone, it can provide security to someone, but it can also take away a lot of things."

Hanson believes that because the boundaries of "The Truth" aren't explored, the atmosphere can create a volatile and stunting effect on younger members, particularly girls.

"They take a lot of power and equity away from women, and that overall hurts the society within 'The Truth,' but no one wants to openly recognize that, especially women," Hanson said.

For instance, some female members do go to college, but only for professions domestically associated with women, such as nursing. Men are allowed to maintain positions of power and individuality, and they pursue lofty educations, including studies in the fields of engineering and journalism.

Jonathan Ebel, assistant professor of religion at the University, who was also unaware of the presence of "The Truth" before hearing of Hanson's story, noted that if the history of the sect's age is accurate, then it follows a historical pattern common throughout the era.

"I'd say about a hundred years ago, our country was right in the middle of Protestant birth of fringe religious movements," Ebel said. "From what I recently read, in a limited capacity, I'm amazed how closely 'The Truth,' as other people call them, have held on to their original beliefs."

Ebel also noted that others should look at "The Truth" from the perspective of the members.

"From their point of view, it can be tough to lose a member of their organization," said Ebel. "Essentially they are watching someone, a family member perhaps, lose their only chance for salvation, and a soul is lost."

Ebel expressed caution on labeling The Truth as a cult.

"The term is complicated and gets used in lots of ways, a lot of them not especially constructive," said Ebel. "A cult is a stand-alone group or sub-group characterized by intense devotion to a figure, idea, or deity, well-established and often ecstatic patterns of worship, and a well-developed sense of their difference from those outside their group."

Regardless of any moniker applied to "The Truth," one fact remains: Jennifer Hanson escaped from the bonds of her personal enslavement to pursue an education at the University. And she wants other women to know that self-empowerment can be a hard road - religion notwithstanding. There are many cases in which young adults are restricted from choosing a path in life that they feel a calling for, and Hanson has a piece of advice for anyone in a position of personal or mental enslavement:

"I was outspoken, and that scared them," she said.



The Cult With No Name

23 Feb 2009

Archdiocese of Boston places Plymouth priest on administrative leave following allegations he sexually abused 10-year-old girl

The Boston Globe - February 23, 2009

By John C. Drake | Globe Staff

The Archdiocese of Boston has placed a Plymouth priest on administrative leave following allegations that he sexually abused a 10-year-old girl more than 25 years ago.

The allegations against the Rev. Kenneth A. LeBlanc, pastor of St. Peter's Church in Plymouth, are described on a website in which the accuser alleges that the priest abused her as a child in his car and in his home.

In a statement yesterday, Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley expressed sadness over this most recent allegation of clergy sexual abuse, and officials for the archdiocese said it had launched a preliminary investigation into the allegation. A spokeswoman for the archdiocese said the action was taken after the Middlesex district attorney's office informed the archdiocese of the allegation.

Word of the website's allegations had begun to circulate among parishioners starting late last week, and archdiocesan officials confirmed in Masses during the weekend that LeBlanc had been placed on leave.

"Everybody's quite shocked," said Elizabeth Adey, a member of the parish council.

Adey said a bishop led the weekend Masses, and at the end of each Mass asked parents to escort children out before informing members of the allegations and the archdiocese's action.

LeBlanc, 60, has been pastor of St. Peter's Church in Plymouth since 2005.

The allegation coincides with the period he was assigned to Most Blessed Sacrament in Wakefield from 1976 until 1982, according to a timeline of his appointments provided by the archdiocese.

He also has served in parishes in Hudson, Waltham, Needham, Medway, and Newton, a number of assignments that is not unusual for a priest with a 30-year career, said archdiocese spokeswoman Kelly Lynch.

This was the first allegation of sexual abuse the archdiocese has received against LeBlanc, Lynch said, adding that archdiocesan officials have been in touch with the accuser.

"Through its Office of Pastoral Support and Outreach, the Archdiocese has offered to provide support services to this person and her family members," Lynch said in an e-mailed response to questions.

Lynch said the archdiocesan investigation is confidential and that she cannot say how LeBlanc has responded to the allegations. She also would not say when the archdiocese was informed of the allegations.

Messages left with the Middlesex district attorney's office were not returned.

Neither LeBlanc nor the accuser, who does not have a listed phone number, could be reached for comment.

The website includes the accuser's name and her accusations that LeBlanc abused her and other girls while he was serving in Wakefield.

The website also includes what the site's author says is an e-mailed response from LeBlanc to her accusations, in which the priest asks forgiveness and expresses regret for what he "might have done or not done," but does not explicitly acknowledge abuse. Lynch said she could not confirm whether the words were LeBlanc's, citing the ongoing investigation.

Anne Barrett Doyle of bishopaccountability.org, which tracks allegations of abuse nationally, could not identify any other case in which an accuser used a website to name her alleged perpetrator for the first time. She called the accuser's courage "extraordinary."

The Globe is withholding the woman's name because she is an alleged victim of sexual abuse.

Adey said that LeBlanc led Mass as recently as last week, but that he has been ill for much of his three years as church pastor.

"They've been happy with him," Adey said of parishioners. "He's been as active as he can be. When he's healthy and able, he's been in the parish.'

She described the parish as "well-established," and said she anticipated members would remain active.

"The people who have been working hard in different functions and different capacities are still going to work hard," she said. "It will still function as a close-knit parish."

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Woman who left polygamous sect offers refuge to those who want out

The News Tribune - Tacoma, WA February 22, 2009

by Bill Morlin | The Spokesman-Review

When she was just 17, Mary Mackert was forced to marry a man who was 50.

She’d been taught there was nothing else she could do.

So the teenager dropped out of high school and became the sixth of Wilford Alvin Draper’s seven wives — carrying out the polygamous doctrine of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

At the time of her arranged marriage in Utah in 1969, Mackert was younger than some of her husband’s children. By the time she was 30, she had given birth to five of Draper’s 35 children.

She left the polygamous sect in 1984 after she was threatened with a "blood atonement" — having her throat slit — for being a disobedient wife.

But instead of completely distancing herself from the estimated 10,000 members of the FLDS, the 57-year-old woman is now living in their midst in North Idaho.

Mackert leads a quiet, one-woman, nonprofit crusade — hoping to coax FLDS followers away from their polygamist religious beliefs. Not a day goes by, she says, that she doesn’t think of her former religion, which preaches a man must live with multiple wives for any of them to get to heaven.

She raises goats — guarded by her two Great Pyrenees dogs — on a modest 20-acre ranch just north of Bonners Ferry, not far from the U.S.-Canadian border. Just across that border, an estimated 1,000 FLDS followers live in a community called Bountiful.

The group’s Canadian leaders, Winston Blackmore and James Oler, face felony charges accusing them of violating that country’s polygamy laws by having conjugal relations with multiple women. The accused leaders aren’t talking, while their attorneys say the case will be a challenge of Canada’s religious freedoms.

Already, there are indicators that the case is jarring the 60-year-old FLDS legacy in the southeastern corner of British Columbia and the more-recent migration of followers to adjoining Boundary County, Idaho.

The group’s North Idaho leader, general contractor Shem Johnson, of Bonners Ferry, has declined interview requests.

Mackert, now a born-again Christian, hopes the polygamy case in Canada rips open the secrecy shrouding the group, in which teenage girls just beyond puberty are forced to marry and have sex with men old enough to be their grandfathers.

She lived that life.

"I’ve just got such a heavy burden for these people who think they have to live polygamy to get to heaven," she said on a recent snowy day.

Growing up in polygamy

Mackert didn’t have a choice about growing up in a polygamous family. She was born into one.

Her mother, Myra Kunz, and Kunz’s sister, Donna, were two of three "celestial wives" given to Clyde Mackert.

Mary Mackert was born in February 1952 in Short Creek, the landmark polygamous community on the Arizona-Utah border that became the stronghold of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

The modern-day Mormon church denounces polygamy and FLDS followers, who call themselves "fundamentalist Mormons."

After a time in Short Creek in the 1950s, Mackert’s father moved one of his wives and their children to Moab, Utah, and Myra and her sister to Grand Junction, Colo., where their children attended public school. Her father split his time among his three families.

In public school, Mackert said, she "had to lie" to teachers and other students, saying that Donna, her aunt, was her mother and that Donna’s sons were her brothers.

"The neighbors weren’t to know that my mother worked outside the home and Donna was the stay-at-home ’mom,’ " she recalled.

As a child, she found the adult relationships in the FLDS community confusing.

"You were scared to talk to anybody for fear you’d say the wrong thing," she said. "I kind of withdrew into my shell. The worry was that if I said the wrong thing, then Daddy would go to jail."

By the fifth grade, Mackert and her two mothers and their children had moved to Salt Lake City, while Clyde Mackert’s third wife remained in Moab. Her father would show up about one weekend a month to spend time with his wives Myra and Donna. "We were lucky if we even saw him — the absentee father," Mackert said.

By high school, her large family had moved to Kearns, Utah, not far from Salt Lake City, where they and other FLDS followers held church meetings.

"We lived secretly," she said. "We weren’t openly polygamists to our neighbors and stuff. We had a rehearsed story to explain why our dad wasn’t home all the time, where he was and what he did for a living."

One of seven wives

The FLDS church had a "law of placing" — a doctrine that prescribed how and when a teenage girl would become a plural wife. Her father got those directions from Leroy Johnson, who at the time was the church’s "prophet" — said to be a direct link to God.

"When I submitted to the prophet, he placed me with Bill Draper," Mackert said. "I went and submitted to this arranged marriage.

"I was 17 and he was 50.

"I had his first child when I was 20 and four more by the time I was 30," Mackert said.

Draper had 30 other children and six other wives, mostly living under the same roof or in an adjoining residence. She called the other women "sister wives," who were supposed to be her friends and support system. But it didn’t always work that way.

"Every day of my life was a competition for his resources," she said. "There was a lot of back-stabbing and scratching and clawing — emotionally and verbally, not physically.

"There was a lot of competition for his time, his affection and his money."

Their house in downtown Salt Lake was remodeled with bedrooms in the attic and basement, "and we had bathrooms all over the place."

All the children were instructed to call their biological father Uncle Bill "so they wouldn’t slip in public and call him ’Dad,’ " she said. Her husband didn’t want outsiders to know he had multiple wives and almost three dozen children.

"I understood it because I grew up with it," she said. "I thought it was normal for everybody to have more than one mom. It wasn’t strange to me at all.

"I thought it odd that those strange kids out in the world only had one mom."

When she turned 30, Mackert learned her mother was leaving her husband because he had sexually abused one of their daughters — Mary’s younger sister.

Her father was "brought before the priesthood brethren council," and the church elders ordered him to tell his wives, but he didn’t do that, Mackert said.

Neither the church leaders nor the victim reported the molestation to police in Utah.

"It would give polygamy a bad name," she said. "These are supposed to be religious people who don’t do things like that, so they kept it a secret."

The ongoing sexual abuse also was kept secret from her mother until her daughter — the victim — told her about it. The outcome, Mackert said, is her sister was banished from the family for making the allegations about her father.

Mackert, meanwhile, remained in her own polygamous marriage, content to be the sixth of seven wives.

Her husband followed a general plan for dividing his time.

"He rotated on nights where he slept," Mackert said, explaining that Friday night "was my night. The other nights I could count on him not being there."

’Blood atonement’ for disobedience

By 1984, Mackert said, she’d had enough.

"I went to him and told him that I wanted a home of my own, that I didn’t want to live with the rest of the family anymore."

When her husband rejected the idea, citing religious grounds, Mackert responded: "You don’t understand. I’m not talking about a ’want.’ This is what I need to survive."

After he again refused, Mackert said she walked out the door "to go get a home of my own for me and my children."

But her husband followed and abducted her, she said. "He locked me in my room for a day and threatened a blood atonement" after falsely accusing her of infidelity.

Blood atonement centers on the fundamentalist Mormon belief that "some sins are so great that even the blood of Jesus Christ cannot cover your sin debt," she said. "The only way to be redeemed is to submit to your own demise. ... It’s considered a loving act."

Such sinners, according to FLDS doctrine, are supposed to willingly submit to blood-atonement carried out by their "priestly head" — their father, husband or brother.

"They slit your throat from ear-to-ear and disembowel you," Mackert said, "and that’s the only way you’re redeemed." Because she wouldn’t admit to infidelity and submit to blood atonement, her husband believed the act would be futile, so he turned to FLDS prophet Rulon Jeffs for guidance.

At the meeting with Jeffs in Sandy, Utah, Mackert said she only got partway through her answer before her husband interrupted and finished answering. "I sat there and thought, ’Women have no voice here. He doesn’t want to hear what I have to say.’ "

After the meeting, Mackert got in her husband’s car for the return trip to Salt Lake. "I started shaking so bad I couldn’t hold anything in my hands. I was just trembling."

"I said, ’You let me out of this car or I’m going to jump,’ " she recalled. "I didn’t want to be called ’Sister Draper’ anymore."

He stopped the car and she got out with only a $20 bill she’d hidden in her shoe.

"It was Sept. 2, 1984," she said. "That was the day I left."

Life after polygamy

With a case of documented depression, Mackert spent the winter with a friend. She found a Salt Lake City attorney who agreed to represent her without charge in a 1985 court fight to gain custody of her five boys. She eventually won that fight.

Mackert and the children’s father were never legally married with a state-issued marriage license, but the court recognized them as the biological parents. Her ex-husband died a few years later. Alone with her children for the first time, Mackert went to school, got her high school equivalency degree, landed a secretarial job and enrolled at Salt Lake Community College. With help from food stamps and a displaced-homemaker program, she went on to get a business management degree from the University of Utah in 1991.

There weren’t a lot of job openings for a 40-year-old single mother with a college degree but no experience, she said. So she worked as a secretary in Salt Lake before being hired by a company that installed phone systems.

Her search for new religious roots, meanwhile, led her to the Baptist church.

She raised her five boys until they moved out on their own. Her oldest remains in the FLDS ranks. "I made him a soldier in the army, and I regret it to this day," she said.

In her spare time, Mackert began writing "The Sixth of Seven Wives: Escape from Modern Day Polygamy," a self-published book that came out in 2000. She sold hundreds of copies.

The undertaking was not only therapeutic, she said, but it also led to invitations to speak to church groups throughout the West. In the summer of 2003, she was invited to speak to a Baptist congregation in Creston, B.C., where church leaders embarked on a plan to use education to counter the growing FLDS presence in that community.

"No one talks about these kids who grow up in these communities, like I did, and have no choice," she said.

On her way back to Utah, Mackert said, she got a telephone call warning her that there were men at a restaurant in Creston, driving vehicles with Utah plates, overheard making death threats toward her.

"I kept praying and asking God to send someone" to offer a ministry countering the views of the FLDS, she said. "At that point, my children were raised, and I felt God said to me, ’What about you?’ "

Mackert said she wasn’t deterred by the threats and loved the beauty of rural Boundary County. She had begun caring for her single, elderly mother before the two decided to move from Utah to North Idaho in September 2004, knowing they’d be in the middle of another FLDS community.

Mackert formed a nonprofit ministry and sought modest financial support from individual churches. "I went out to raise financial support because I was without a job, and I got churches to back me. They donate money every month so I can be here, doing what I’m doing."

She befriends FLDS members living in Boundary County and nearby British Columbia, offering to be a refuge for anyone who wants to leave what she now considers a "religious cult."

She talked briefly about her relationship with one young plural wife who already has several children and appears to be struggling with the lifestyle and belief system she was raised in. The woman has done things to defy her husband and the church’s strict dogma, but she remains locked in the FLDS community.

Mackert reached out to pet Gideon, one of her Great Pyrenees guard dogs, and said, "I just want to be here for her and any other women who think the time has come to break away."

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Nonprofit group formed to help polygamists makes its debut

Deseret News - Utah February 22, 2009

by Ben Winslow

WEST JORDAN — It was detente over a chicken dinner.
Polygamists, ex-polygamists, activists, lawyers and government officials were all in the same room Saturday night, supporting the newest organization to reach out to offer help to people in Utah's cloistered polygamous communities. A fundraiser gala at Gardner Village drew nearly 200 people for the debut of Holding Out HELP (Helping, Encouraging and Loving Polygamists).
"People from all walks of life are here," said executive director Tonia Tewell, as she stood in a crowded room where a debate for or against polygamy would be conspicuously absent from the evening's festivities.
Tewell launched the group after sheltering a couple of women and four children who were leaving a bad situation in polygamy. Speaking to the crowd, one of those women (who asked her name not be used) said everyone's situation is different.
"In the midst of my own crisis, my own heart went out to those from other polygamous communities who are struggling," she said. "Maybe they just need a listening ear or a nonjudgmental heart. Maybe they wish to leave but can't for a variety of reasons. As I see the faces of the people I left behind in my polygamous community, I have no desire to hurt them. I just wish that I am able to help them in any way I am able to. I don't resent them."

Holding Out HELP is unique in its mission to offer help and support services for people who want to leave as well as those who want to stay.
"We aren't getting in the debate of for or against polygamy," Tewell said. "We're coming alongside them where they are at and loving them where they are at."
It is a mission supported by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who embraced the group as part of his much-touted Safety Net Committee, a coalition of activists, polygamists, government officials and social service agencies working to combat abuse and neglect in isolated polygamous communities.
Many polygamists are wary of Shurtleff, despite his assurances that he doesn't have the resources to prosecute polygamy alone — but will instead focus on crimes like abuse and underage marriages.
"We're going to keep fighting crime in certain groups," he told the crowd Saturday. "But we realize that (victims) have to fear me less than their abuser if they're ever going to seek help."
Since starting up, Holding Out HELP has already been contacted by a couple of families seeking assistance. Tewell said she's actively searching for people willing to open their homes and wallets to her cause.
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21 Feb 2009

Access to kids being denied, Winnipeg 'white pride' mother claims

CBC News - Canada February 20, 2009

A Winnipeg mother whose children were seized after one of them went to school with a swastika drawn on her arm says child welfare officials have revoked her visitation rights.

“It's completely destroyed me. I’ve got nothing,” said the woman, who can’t be identified to protect her children. "The only thing holding me steady is the thought that I might get my kids back."

Until recently, she and her former partner had supervised visits with the children. But she said that those visits have since been removed.

"It makes me so angry to think that a government official has the right to say when and where we can see the kids and if we can see them," she said.

She does admit the whole process has strengthened her political beliefs.

"They've made me more dedicated, more aware of the political oppression that we suffer in the country just trying to fight for freedom of speech for anyone."

The children were seized by social workers last March after the woman's then seven-year-old daughter went to school two days in a row with a swastika drawn on her arm. Days before, she and her partner had attended a White Pride rally in Calgary, organized by a group called the Aryan Guard.

The woman says she is not a white supremacist or neo-Nazi but instead a white nationalist — someone proud of her European heritage.

The Aryan Guard is planning another rally in Calgary next month. The mother said she will take the opportunity to raise money for her legal defence.

Helmut-Harry Loewen, who teaches sociology at the University of Winnipeg and is an anti-racism activist, said the organization of these various groups is in a bit of a tatters and they need this kind of case to mobilize.

"Clearly, leaders of the movement have identified her as potentially useful for their ultimate aims and she’s playing along with it,” he said.

But the mother rejected that idea.

“It’s not about sacrificing my kids, it’s about fighting for what’s right and what’s right is my freedom as a mother to be a mother. They’re making it more about politics than I am. They’re trying to make examples, not only of me, but they’re trying to make examples of my kids and I don’t appreciate that.”

Child welfare officials can't comment on the case under provincial law. But their lawyers want a ban on media coverage of the upcoming custody hearing.

In court documents, they say all this attention is harming the children.

The CBC and other media outlets are fighting the ban application.

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Polygamy trial: A many-ringed circus

The Toronto Star - February 21, 2009

Winston Blackmore admits to having a few wives, and since polygamy is illegal you'd think the B.C. man's coming day in court would be brief. But the case is loaded with passion on all sides and a dowry of technicalities and legal and philosophical fine points – and the big idea of freedom of religion


Feminists and civil libertarians might cringe at the comparison, but Winston Blackmore, the man with many wives, may have much in common with Dr. Henry Morgentaler.

Blackmore, the former leader of a fundamentalist Mormon colony in Bountiful, B.C., made an initial appearance in court this week, along with a lawyer for co-accused James Oler, the current bishop, in what promises to be a contentious battle over freedom of religion.

But in the end, the case against the polygamists, like Morgentaler's fight to make abortion a woman's choice, may hinge on poorly drafted legislation.

More than 20 years ago, in Morgentaler's case, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Criminal Code prohibitions on abortion in part because the rules governing hospital therapeutic abortion committees were so deficient they violated principles of fundamental justice.

In the Bountiful case, it would be no stretch for a court to find fundamental justice similarly lacking in the loosely-constructed ban on polygamy, captured in sec. 293 of the Criminal Code, said Bruce Ryder, a professor at Osgoode Hall Law School.

The legislation is broadly drafted to apply to anyone who enters into "any kind of conjugal union" with more than one person simultaneously, whether or not it's a recognized marriage. Proof of sexual intercourse is unnecessary.

"It's impossible to read the text of sec. 293 and not laugh, because we'll all be worried about friends and loved onesvulnerable to prosecution," he said. "Of course, that's not going to happen in practical terms, but the issue becomes, from a Charter perspective, is that (wording) okay?"

Even if the law withstands a Charter challenge on grounds of religious freedom – it's expected the main legal battleground will be religion – Ryder believes there's virtually no chance it would survive an attack on its vague language, which potentially makes criminals out of a wide swath of Canadians.

"It's ludicrously broad," he said.

While the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in a 1937 case the provision does not apply to adultery, what constitutes a "conjugal relationship" under the law today is quite vague, and it shouldn't be left to prosecutors and judges to define a "polygamous" union, Ryder contends.

Especially, he argues, when the punishment is imprisonment up to five years, as was ever thus.

A ban on polygamy has been part of the Criminal Code since it was created in 1892.

Back then, the provision was sandwiched between prohibitions on abducting an heiress and having "intoxicating liquor" aboard Her Majesty's ships.

Besides making it illegal to enter into any conjugal union with more than one person at the same time, the section specifically banned "what among persons commonly called Mormons is known as spiritual or plural marriage." Mormons aren't mentioned in today's text.

Long before being targeted by the Criminal Code, however, polygamy bedeviled common law countries. In England in 1866, Lord Penzance, a British judge, had to consider whether to recognize a polygamous marriage performed under the then-polygamy-friendly laws of Utah for the purposes of granting the husband, who had returned to his native England, a divorce.

In deciding against it, he declared marriage "the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman," which became the definition of marriage throughout the common law world, including Canada (where it has since been superseded by changes to the Civil Marriage Act, which defines it as the "lawful union of two persons").

Polygamy's latest legal chapter is also part of Canada's long-running struggle over accommodating religious minorities.

That struggle began, arguably, with the 1867 Constitutional compromise that gave Catholic and Protestant minorities the right to separate school systems in Ontario and Quebec. In later decades, it included issues of discrimination against Jehovah's Witnesses, Sunday shopping, kirpans in schools, turbans versus hardhats and whether teachers trained at evangelical colleges can work in public schools.

In 1985, the Supreme Court ruled the freedom to hold, worship and practise religious beliefs was protected under the Charter. By then, courts could strike down unconstitutional laws and did so with the Lord's Day Act, which prevented Sunday shopping.

Five years ago, the court took things even further by ruling that anyone asserting a freedom of religion claim need only show their beliefs are sincerely held. They are not required to offer proof that a particular belief or practice is required by their religion. Given that low legal threshold now in place, many experts believe Blackmore's case for claiming the anti-polygamy provisions violate his freedom of religion is a slam dunk.

The federal government can argue the ban is justified on other grounds, but it's going to be in the unenviable position of defending a law originally designed – at least in part – to target Mormons, and that will be hard to sell, some legal experts contend.

But judges of the Supreme Court have also spoken quite powerfully about how freedom of religion doesn't encompass the right to inflict harm on others, said Lorraine Weinrib, a University of Toronto law professor.

The court was dealing with the case of parents, both Jehovah's Witnesses, who objected to a blood transfusion for their daughter, known as Sheena B., on religious grounds. Several judges said freedom of religion does not include the right to impose practices that threaten the safety or well-being of a child. The majority said temporary wardship, which allowed the girl to receive a transfusion, was justified.

Weinrib believes the anti-polygamy provisions could be quite easily defended on the basis of harm caused not only to women and children, but also to boys in such a community.

"The polygamous marriage is not only an arranged marriage, it's usually a marriage of a very young woman to a much older man. And there's all sorts of evidence as to how there can't be equality between a man and woman when there are multiple women," she said.

With most young women already matched to a husband, teenage boys are also known to be expelled from polygamous colonies to fend on their own, without much formal education, before they reach marriagable age, Weinrib says.

"This (polygamy) is not just harmful to women. I think it's harmful in a modern, liberal democratic sense to everyone in the community," she said. "Young men are not treated in a way individuals in a modern society are supposed to be treated, and it restrains people in a religious community in a way that they will not have full lives."

But Queen's University law professor Beverley Baines said monogamy can be harmful to women too. "Crimes involving abuse, kidnapping and spousal abuse have all been enacted in a monogamous regime.

"We don't do a very good job saving women in monogamous relationships, so why are we so fixated on saving women in polygamous ones?" she asked.

Evidence of harm is far from conclusive, Baines added. A 2005 federal report by McGill University law professor Angela Campbell found it hard to draw conclusions about whether polygamy is bad for women; while some studies report intolerable jealousy among wives, others suggest women thrive.

Criminalizing a marital state "makes no sense," particularly when many new Canadians come from countries where polygamy is accepted, said Baines, who worked on a research paper about polygamy in 2005 for Status of Women Canada.

"If Canada wants to claim to be a multi-cultural country, we have to reassess laws that have no other justification except Christian morality."

But repealing Canada's polygamy law would run counter to "clear trend," said Baines' colleague Nicholas Bala, a Queen's law professor who, with three colleagues, also wrote a paper for the federal agency.

Over the past century, more countries have moved to enact laws banning polygamy, based on concerns about harm. Polygamous marriages are now criminal or invalid in at least nine European, nine Asian and seven African countries, their paper said. Many have predominantly Muslim populations.

Courts in the U.S., India, Mauritius and the European Human Rights Court have also rejected freedom of religion arguments, many raised by Muslims challenging polygamy bans, said Bala and colleagues in their paper.

"The decriminalization or legalization of polygamy" in Canada, they wrote, "would send a very disappointing signal to human rights activists around the world who have been struggling to end the unequal treatment of women."

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20 Feb 2009

Johannesburg High Court saves Jehovah's Witness girl's life

The Star - South Africa February 20, 2009

By Kanina Foss

A 12-year-old Jehovah's Witness girl has received a life-saving blood transfusion that she did not want after a Johannesburg High Court order gave doctors the go-ahead.

The girl, who suffers from leukaemia, was admitted to Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital on Tuesday. Despite being told that a blood transfusion was needed to save her life, the girl and her parents refused to consent to the procedure.

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that it's against God's will to take other people's blood, or one's own blood that has been stored, into one's body.

The official website of Watchtower, a Jehovah's Witness organisation to which The Star was referred by the Jehovah's Witnesses of South Africa, says: "True Christians will not accept a blood transfusion. They want to live, but they will not try to save their life by breaking God's laws."

The Gauteng Department of Health said doctors consulted the girl's parents and church elders to explain the need for the transfusion. When their explanations were rejected, they brought an urgent application before the High Court on Wednesday.

The court order was issued on the same day, and the girl was given a transfusion immediately.

According to Department of Health spokesperson Phumelele Kaunda, the parents respected the court's decision.

The girl is doing well.

SA Human Rights Commission chairperson Jody Kollapen said that in such cases, the right to life took precedence over the right to religion.

He said adults were regarded as fit to make informed decisions about their own bodies, but in the case of a child, state intervention was sometimes necessary.

Jehovah's Witnesses argue that there are often alternatives to a blood transfusion, and they want to be allowed to consider other options.

They base their beliefs on biblical text such as Acts 21, verse 25: "As for the believers from among the nations, we have sent out, rendering our decision that they should keep themselves from what is sacrificed to idols as well as from blood and what is strangled and from fornication."

In November, the Pietermaritzburg High Court granted an urgent order authorising a blood transfusion for a four-day-old baby boy who was born 15 weeks premature. His Jehovah's Witness parents had refused to give their consent, despite a prognosis from the doctor involved.
This article was originally published on page 2 of The Star on February 20, 2009

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