15 Nov 2010

Child sacrifice: a review of the documentary All God's Children - the ultimate sacrifice

Chain The Dogma    December 22, 2009

by Perry Bulwer


Child sacrifice. The phrase may evoke images of Old Testament or New World rituals, or perhaps more modern images of misguided believers in 'faith healing' allowing children to die without even basic medical intervention that could have saved their lives. Those are examples of literal child sacrifice, where children are purposely killed or allowed to die because of superstitious belief that it will please a god. But the notion of 'child sacrifice' is also used metaphorically by some religious zealots indoctrinated to believe that parental duties are less important than their godly duties.

The documentary, All God's Children: the ultimate sacrifice, which examines abuses perpetrated against missionary kids isolated in a boarding school in Mamou, Guinea operated by the Christian and Missionary Alliance, opens with a discussion of the metaphor of a father sacrificing, or giving up, his son to save the world. It is such a powerful metaphor that it formed the foundation for three 'great' Abrahamic religions, and continues to compel mothers and fathers to break their natural parental bonds and abandon their children, to 'sacrifice' their kids in order to further their perceived, or more accurately, their misperceived spiritual mission. As one adult survivor of the horrendous abuses at the boarding school featured in the documentary asked his father: "How many African souls were worth my soul?" That was not a rhetorical question. The effect of religion related abuse on many survivors is a devasting loss of faith.

The sad tales of extreme emotional, psychological, physical, sexual, and spiritual child abuse recounted in the documentary are all too familiar to survivors of religion related child abuse, as well as to the health professionals who assist their recovery and the advocates who assist their search for justice and accountability. Those abuses all have similar characteristics, regardless of the particular religion, denomination, or sect, and survivors use similar words and phrases to describe that abuse, such as "mind control", "soul control" and "mental rape", each of which is heard in the documentary. The descriptions of corporal punishment, furthermore, clearly describe extreme physical abuse that was tantamount to torture and was intended to coerce, intimidate and humiliate, and could just as easily be describing abuse by Catholics, Baptists, the Hare Krishna, the Twelve Tribes, or the Children of God/The Family International. Regarding that latter group, they have an historical connection to the Christian and Missionary Alliance, but more on that later.

Just as vile as the physical and sexual abuses, perhaps even more so for some, are the accounts of psychological and spiritual abuses, or "soul control" as one interviewee put it. Children as young as 6, abandoned to the care of uncaring strangers, and experiencing separation shock were told to just get over any natural feelings and emotions. Siblings were prevented from comforting and supporting each other. The Alliance, and the boarding school they were virtual prisoners in, was the children's entire world, their 'family', which they were taught was the 'Body of Christ. They referred to all adults as aunts and uncles, who in the children's minds stood in place of God. As one survivor put it, when she was being violently raped by a staff member, it was the "face of God" that was causing her pain. In that totalitarian environment, where their guardians were their abusers, children could not turn to their teachers or dorm 'parents' for help or comfort. They were physically and spiritually threatened into silence, a silence that lasted long into their adult lives.

That long-term effect of child abuse is another way in which these survivor stories are so similar to those of other survivors. Many buried their shame, fear and anger for years, unable to express or process the abuse suffered during what must have been a terribly confusing childhood. After all, the children were experiencing the exact opposite of the gospel of love their parents were busy preaching to others. One survivor recounts that years later, back in the U.S., he laughed out loud when conversing with someone who said they had a happy childhood. The notion of a happy childhood was so oxymoronic to him that he actually thought the person was joking, as he had no idea it was possible to be a happy child. How sad is that? This same survivor also exhibits signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a common diagnosis for abuse survivors, when recounting with teary eyes and quivering voice how he struggled with suicidal thoughts, and how traumatic triggers, such as evangelical church hymns, immediately remind him of the "mental rape" he endured.

The documentary also reveals a similar pattern of recovery and advocacy that has occurred with other survivor groups. Emotions and psychological pain can only be bottled up for so long, and eventually some survivors begin connecting with each other, comparing stories, identifying abusers and organizing. For some, it was not until this process started that they began to recognize their childhood mistreatment for what it was, severe child abuse. However, any relief this initial recovery process may have brought them was tempered by the Alliance's response to their complaints, which was typical of most religious institutions confronted by allegations of systemic child abuse. For ten years a small group of survivors presented their complaints and allegations to the Alliance leadership, and for ten years they were ignored. A handful of survivors are shown protesting outside a general meeting of 4000 Alliance members. Except for one woman who stood with the protesters because her son had been sexually assaulted in one of the 12 boarding schools the Alliance operated, the survivors were completely ignored by Alliance members. For the survivors, this was simply adding insult to injury.

It was only after the survivors began a campaign to shame the Alliance in the media that any effort was made to address their complaints. The Alliance finally agreed to set up an internal Independent Commission of Inquiry. The survivor group, knowing how difficult it is for many to speak about their abuse, had hoped for at least 20 victims willing to testify, so were surprised when 80 agreed to do so. The Inquiry found that for several decades there had been consistent, systemic child abuse, and that it was not a result of just a few bad apples, which is a common excuse many abusive religious institutions give. So far, so good. The Alliance even agreed to set-up a weekend retreat for survivors of the Mamou school to help with their recovery, but that is as far as the Alliance has moved toward effectively addressing and correcting the specific issues raised by those survivors.

An Alliance leader, Peter Nanfelt, did offer an official apology at the time of that weekend retreat in which he expressed remorse and regret. However, as with similar apologies made on behalf of abusive religious groups, some survivors appearing in the documentary found the apology unsatisfying and self-serving. One referred to it as a "political" gesture by a "good politician", since Nanfelt had done everything he could, from 1987 onward, to stonewall any investigation into the abuse and keep it out of the media. The apology only came after the Alliance was forced into a corner. Some survivors saw it for what it was, an attempt to get forgiveness from them in order to let the Alliance off the hook and absolve them from any blame, without having to substantially address the issues that forced the apology. On the other hand, at the time of the apology some saw it as a significant step forward and a hopeful sign that healing and recovery was possible. However, other than the weekend retreat, the Alliance did nothing for the survivors.

Survivors took the next step in recovery and set up an advocacy website, Missionary Kids Safety Net (MKSN). In 2005 they met with the Alliance leadership and presented suggestions for changes in the organization that would protect the kids of missionaries. As of 2008, when the documentary was made, those advocates were still waiting for meaningful results from the Alliance. On the MKSN website they have posted documents that shed more light on the Alliance's inadequate resonse to this abuse scandal. For example, the Alliance issued another official apology in January 2009, which they posted on their website. If their first apology was so appropriate and effective, why would they need to issue another one? MKSN's response to this latest apology details some common faults in such institutional apologies. For example, here are just some of the criticisms:


"anger that the apology was not more specific"

"a sense of evasion of responsibility"

"continues to try to essentially coerce forgiveness from a situation where it is the last step in a process – not the first, or even an intermediate, step"

"apology was not signed by any individual Alliance official"

"nor did it go out as a personal message to individual survivors who are known to the Alliance"

"extremely limited scope of its distribution. The Alliance evidently thinks that a carefully worded apology in its in-house publications, in some way neutralizes the issue"

"the chosen manner of distribution for the apology means it will not reach a large percentage of abuse survivors"

"I expect that the Alliance now will assert it has done enough with regard to MK abuse issues. As we’ve said before, unless and until the C&MA reaches out comprehensively to all former students, submits allegations to a truly independent investigative process, and meaningfully engages a broader spectrum of the survivor community, gestures such as this will not have the impact you intend."

Sadly, this issuing of multiple, self-serving apologies for the same offences is nothing new. The Alliance seems to have copied this tactic from the leaders of the cult Children of God, now known as The Family International, who have issued numerous apologies for similar child abuses as those documented in All God's Children. One survivor of that cult abuse critiques those apologies and her criticisms are very similar to those above by the MKSN advocates.

I purposely make a connection here between the Christian and Missionary Alliance and the Children of God, now The Family International, because the founder of that cult, David Berg, had been a minister with the Alliance for a few years in the late 1940s and early 50s. He wrote that his mother's evangelical faith healing ministry began with her own healing from a back injury after her husband was handed a tract written by A.B. Simpson, the founder of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. Years later, after working in his mom's ministry, Berg became a minister with the Alliance and was placed at Valley Farms, Arizona. He was eventually expelled from the Alliance over doctrinal disputes and sexual misconduct with a teen employee of the church. A little more than ten years later, on the beaches of California, Berg began attracting followers to his extremist brand of evangelism from amongst the hippies and unaffiliated Jesus freaks and an abusive cult was born, one might say, from a 'seed' planted by the Christian and Missionary Alliance.

Berg's cult quickly became known for its manipulative, abusive tactics, and accusations of 'brain-washing' were frequently made against it, what survivors featured in the documentary might call "mental rape" or "soul control". However, it wasn't until children began being born and raised in totalitarian environments that the worst of the abuses began occurring. It is not surprising that the systemic child abuses detailed in All God's Children are in many respects the same as those within the Children of God/The Family International. Christian dogma, such as 'sacrificing' or giving up your children in order to do God's work, adhered to by both groups, is directly responsible for many of the systemic abuses committed within them.

And one final note on this connection. On the front page of the Christian and Missionary Alliance website, they offer this description of their organization: "The Alliance is a unique missionary denomination—a maverick movement..." That language is eerily similar to language used by the current leaders of The Family International to describe Berg's extreme doctrines. In a press release they describe the group's desire, not to distance themselves from abusive doctrines, but instead to preserve the group's "... uniqueness and unconventional doctrines". Too bad that the abuses these bad religions cause are not unique as well, instead of being all too common.

For more information on All God's Children: the ultimate sacrifice, a documentary by Scott Solary & Luci Westphal, visit their website at: http://www.allgodschildrenthefilm.com/

6 comments:

  1. Hi,

    I would like to correct the link that is given for Mk Safety Net. The correct address is: http://www.mksafetynet.net

    Thanks,
    Joel C.
    MkSafetyNet Board Member

    ReplyDelete
  2. Mounties investigate abuse allegations at Three Hills Bible college

    By Deborah Tetley And Jeremy Klaszus, Calgary Herald November 19, 2011

    RCMP are investigating allegations of abuse dating back several decades at a central Alberta Bible college. Mounties in Three Hills began looking into the allegations this week after administrators at Prairie Bible Institute directed the RCMP to rumours swirling on the Internet and after a complaint was filed.

    ...

    It's a difficult time at the Christian college, said Linda Brinks, a member of the board. "Nobody wants to hear that maybe hurtful things happened to anybody at any time and there's a sense of grief that there's people out there maybe carrying pain around and have for a long time," said Brinks, who has been appointed by the board as a contact person for the public and other potential abuse victims. Brinks would not speak to the number of possible victims, although one website dedicated to discussing the allegations says there are dozens of cases of abuse, including physical, emotional and sexual.

    "Our desire is to be as open and transparent as possible and we're not desiring to cover anything up, but so far, they are just allegations," she said Friday. Brinks said school officials are confident in the investigation. "The RCMP are the right people right to now investigate," she said. "We trust that anyone who is still hurting will get some closure in their life, whether through pressing criminal charges or through dialogue with the school. We hope the investigation will provide answers to questions about who was abused and who was guilty of it."

    President Mark Maxwell posted a letter on the institute's website stating the alleged incidents date back several decades. "The individuals purportedly involved are no longer at Prairie," reads the letter, dated Nov. 15. "Nevertheless, we feel it is appropriate to respond and to emphasize our commitment to seeking truth and transparency."

    Maxwell said in an interview that he's not aware of any criminal activity in the school's history, but he believes the online allegations seem "real enough" to warrant concern about the school's past. "I want to know the truth," said Maxwell, who has been the school's president for about a year and a half. "I want to know who's been injured. I want to know who did it, and help bring that to resolution."

    Catherine Darnell, 56, started the Facebook group in September for alumni of the college, located northeast of Calgary. Darnell says that as a child, she suffered sexual, physical and emotional abuse from staff at the nondenominational Protestant school, which for many years was known for its strictness and insularity. "[I started the group] to open up dialogue regarding abuse and hopefully to get people to come forward if they've been impacted," said Darnell, who now lives outside Fergus, Ont. She says her abusers are now dead.

    Linda Fossen, a Prairie alumnus who has written about being abused by her father - who also was a student at the school - says she has heard from more than 80 victims, mostly staff kids who were sexually abused. Earlier this week, Fossen, who lives in Florida, filed a complaint about the abuse with Three Hills RCMP. In addition to the Facebook page, Fossen keeps a website in which she has posted all her correspondence with school officials.

    In one dated Nov. 11 she told Maxwell she was going to make the allegations public. "Like Penn State University has found, there is a day of reckoning," she wrote. "The day for Prairie Bible Institute survivors has come." ...

    read the full article at:

    http://www.calgaryherald.com/news/calgary/Mounties+investigate+abuse+allegations+Three+Hills+Bible+college/5738167/story.html

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  3. The Survivor Fund Project – Prairie Bible Institute speaks for RCMP and independent third party. Again.


    by www.benedictionblogson.com

    Despite a mixed promise by Prairie Bible Institute for appropriate third-party help for abuse survivors who came forward last year, it appears PBI is confused about 3rd party responsibility. The latest confusion comes an announcement of a PBI initiated project The announcement was posted on two PBI alumni Facebook pages last night. One Facebook page, Friends of PBI, which is populated by PBI staff and alumni has been closed to abuse survivors and the other, Prairie Bible College Alumni and Current Students, is an open group for alumni and students. This is the announcement:

    [...]

    Abuse survivors who had been asking for Prairie to hire an independent 3rd party investigative group out of the US (G.R.A.C.E) were not notified by PBI and Jim Crites.
    Why not? This failure to communicate has become a sorry habit.

    The Survivor Fund Project announcement was not posted at the third-party (Centre Street Church in Calgary) website, twitter feed, or Facebook page, there is no pr from Prairie Bible Institute, nor is this announcement posted at their main website or secondary Facebook pages.

    One one hand Prairie Bible Institute is doing exactly what the administration has publicly telegraphed they were going to do since the first day the institution went public about allegations of abuse at the 90-year-old school in Three Hills Alberta. With the first announcement in November, PBI announced that administrators had reported allegations of abuse to the RCMP Three Hills detachment. The RCMP also publicly corrected PBI administration on the use of the term ‘reported’, since PBI merely photocopied Facebook pages from We Were Prairie School kids, the central group of abuse survivors who have been asking for help from PBI for some time. The story that former staff kids and students who were physically, sexually, emotionally, spiritually and mentally abused while in Three Hills was picked up by media globally. PBI made it clear that requests by abuse survivors would not be met. (ie: a clear policy statement and the hiring of G.R.A.C.E.)

    Now RCMP have had to communicate again, after the muddled message the Prairie Bible Institute Survivor Fund Project put out last night. Constable Mark McDonald RCMP Calgary General Investigations Section:

    [...]

    Did Jim Crites and PBI administration intend to convey that any abuse survivor seeking financial assistance would have to go through a three-step process where ‘sharing their stories’ involves among other things, a substantial risk of ongoing abuse by alumni loyal to PBI? Obviously the RCMP weren’t informed they were assumed to be working with the Survivor Fund Project.

    Was PBI expecting the RCMP to tell any abuse survivor who has the courage to report that PBI will only disburse funds if the Project criteria are met? That is how the announcement reads whether that was the intent of Jim Crites and PBI or not.

    This muddled and incomplete announcement begs the question about the second group named; Centre Street Church and team leader Dr. Mollering. Were church staff consulted about the process abuse survivors are being requested to go through in this Survivor Fund Project? I honestly don’t think any professional would or could ethically condone the conditions Crites and PBI demand. I think last nights announcement publicly shows a lack of respect for the chosen 3rd party by PBI.

    [...]

    read the full article at:

    http://www.benedictionblogson.com/2012/01/11/the-survivor-fund-project-prairie-bible-institute-speaks-for-rcmp-and-independent-third-party-again/

    ReplyDelete
  4. Arrests made following three human sacrifices carried out by followers of Saint Death cult

    The Associated Press HERMOSILLO, Mexico March 30, 2012

    Warning: This story contains graphic details

    Eight people have been arrested for allegedly killing two 10-year-old boys and a 55-year-old woman in ritual sacrifices by the cult of La Santa Muerte, or Saint Death, prosecutors in northern Mexico said Friday.

    Jose Larrinaga, spokesman for Sonora state prosecutors, said the victims' blood was poured around an altar to the saint, which is depicted as a skeleton holding a scythe and clothed in flowing robes.

    The grisly slayings recalled the notorious “narco-satanicos” killings of the 1980s, when 15 bodies, many of them with signs of ritual sacrifice, were unearthed at a ranch outside the border city of Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas.

    While Saint Death has become the focus of a cult among drug traffickers and criminals in Mexico in recent years, there have been no confirmed cases of human sacrifices in Mexico to the scary-looking saint, which is not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. Worshippers usually offer candy, cigarettes and incense to the skeleton-statue.

    Mr. Larrinaga said the first of the three victims was apparently killed in 2009, the second in 2010 and the latest earlier this month. Investigations show signs of brutal ritual sacrifice.

    “The ritual was held at nighttime, they lit candles,” Mr. Larrinaga said. “They sliced open the victims' veins and, while they were still alive, they waited for them to bleed to death and collected the blood in a container.”

    Authorities began investigating after the last victim, 10-year-old Jesus Octavio Martinez Yanez, was reported missing March 6 by his stepfather.

    Investigations led authorities to the altar site in the Sonora city of Nacozari, about 110 km south of Douglas, Arizona.

    Larrinaga said the arrests were made after tests by forensic experts on Thursday found blood traces spread over 30 square meters around the altar.

    Those arrested included Silvia Meraz, who Mr. Larrinaga said spread the blood around the altar, and her son Ramon Palacios, who allegedly killed the victims. The spokesman identified them as the leaders of the cult.

    Mr. Larrinaga initially gave The Associated Press the wrong name for the suspected male leader, saying it was Martin Barron Lopez. The spokesman later corrected the suspect to Palacios and said the name he wrongly gave out was that of the last victim's stepfather.

    Ms. Meraz answered questions to reporters when she was shown to news media Friday.

    “We all agreed to do it. Supposedly she was a witch or something,” she said, referring to the women victim. She did not respond to questions about the boys' killings.

    The other suspects, many of them relatives, included people ranging from a 15-year-old girl to a 44-year-old woman.

    The “narco-satanicos” killings of the 1980s were committed by a cult of drug traffickers who believed that ritual sacrifices would shield them from police. Victims of the cult, many of whose members are still in prison, included Mark Kilroy, a 21-year-old University of Texas pre-med student.

    The narco-satanicos have no connection to the Saint Death cult, which gained widespread popularity around the 2000, although the two share some similarities. Followers of Saint Death believe they gain protection by worshipping “Death.”

    http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/arrests-made-following-three-human-sacrifices-carried-out-by-followers-of-saint-death-cult/article2387972/

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  5. Mexico's Own Satanic Panic

    By JOSEPH LAYCOCK, Religion Dispatches April 10, 2012

    In 1969, the murders committed by Charles Manson and his “family” convinced many that just under the surface of the hippie counterculture lurked a network of criminal Satanism. Every flower child in the country became a potential Manson, ready to commit an act of ritualistic violence in the name of a deviant spirituality—and Manson's legacy persisted through the Satanic Panic of the 80s, his name invoked as a reminder of the threat of devil-inspired crime.

    Mexico may have experienced its own “Manson moment” last month when eight devotees of “Santa Muerte” were arrested for the murder of three people, allegedly as human sacrifices. While the media has been fairly restrained in covering this event, these murders will likely have lasting consequences for alternative religion in North America. Like the Manson murders, the Santa Muerte murders present a concrete instance of violence that can be used to support much broader claims about the dangers of the religious and cultural Other.

    In Mexican folk tradition, Santa Muerte or “Saint Death” is portrayed as a skeletal woman, often wearing a white cloak or a wedding dress. She claims devotees among all walks of life, but her help is especially sought by the very poor as well as narcos or drug cartels.

    Spanish records suggest prayers were offered to Santa Muerte as early as the eighteenth century, but in the last ten years, devotion to Saint Death has grown exponentially, fueled in part by the fear and anxiety created by Mexico’s escalating drug wars. Gifts of flowers, candy, alcohol, and tobacco are often left at shrines to Santa Muerte. There have been rumors of human sacrifice only in the last few years and these have (until now) been unsubstantiated.

    On March 6, Jesus Octavio Martinez Yanez, 10, was reported missing from the town of Nacozari, Mexico, near the Arizona border. Investigators discovered an altar to Santa Muerte and forensics revealed traces of blood spread over thirty square meters around the altar.

    On March 28, authorities searched the home of Silvia Meraz, whose house had already been under surveillance for suspected prostitution. Inside, they found the body of the missing child buried under the floorboards in the bedroom of one of Meraz’s daughters. Members of Meraz’s family then led authorities to two more graves. Here, they discovered the remains of Martin Rios, 10, who had been missing since July 2010, as well as Cleotilde Romero, 55, missing since 2009.

    All three victims were allegedly killed as offerings to Santa Muerte in exchange for supernatural aid and protection. The family has no apparent ties to drug cartels and it is unclear if anyone acted as the leader in organizing the murders.

    Catholic Church authorities have condemned devotion to Santa Muerte as diabolic. The Mexican government has destroyed shrines to Saint Death in an attempt to suppress narco culture. In the United States, “occult crime experts” have implied that Santa Muerte is linked to ritualistic violence. Awareness of Santa Muerte has also fused with anti-immigration sentiments, giving rise to fears of “criminal gangs motivated by bloodlust and kinky spiritualism.”

    Last month’s grisly discovery would seem to validate claims that Santa Muerte represents a dangerous criminal movement. But are the tragic deaths in Nacozari an index of future religious violence? Is everyone who wears Nike’s Santa Muerte sneakers a potential murderer?

    continued in next comment...

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  6. continued from previous comment:

    In sociology, “convergence” refers to the linking of two disparate things, creating an unwarranted parallel between them. An isolated but critical event (like a murder) gets linked in the public mind to a widespread phenomenon (like an outsider religious movement). The result is moral panic.

    We're seeing evidence of this exact link in English-language news coverage of these murders.

    In court, Meraz claimed she had only been a follower of Santa Muerte for about two years; the beliefs of her group were not rooted in a larger tradition of devotion to Santa Muerte. Furthermore, everyone implicated in the murders is a member of the same family (one suspect is only 15).

    But the group has consistently been described as a “cult,” implying an organized religious movement. State police took this a step further by referring to Santa Muerte as a “Satanic sect.” (Devotees of Santa Muerte are not Satanists and many consider themselves to be Catholic.)

    Finally, an Associated Press article has compared these murders to those committed by Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo, a cartel leader who practiced a variety of esoteric traditions. In 1989 a number of bodies were discovered at Constanzo’s ranch in Matamoros, Mexico, some of whom had apparently been killed as sacrifices. The Matamoros murders were themselves connected to Charles Manson by conspiracy theorists attempting to prove the existence of a vast network of criminal Satanism.

    The effect of all these connections is to mold specific incidents into a monolithic danger that spans across decades, national borders, and religious traditions.

    It goes without saying these murders are unconscionable, and a tragedy. But attempting to find a grand pattern, or a reason, in a connection to so-called ritualistic violence brings authorities no closer to preventing such crimes—while greatly increasing the likelihood that innocent people will be persecuted.

    It is almost a certainty that at some point in the future the events that have unfolded in Nacozari will be presented as “proof” that Santa Muerte is an inherently violent tradition. As Saint Death’s popularity spreads and the Latino American population continues to grow, this is not a theory we can afford to entertain.

    If we can accept that not all Beatles fans are Charles Manson, we must also have faith that not all who pray to Santa Muerte are Silvia Meraz.

    http://www.religiondispatches.org/archive/culture/5868/mexico's_own_satanic_panic/

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