Funding Proselytism in Haiti, and other Pagan News of Note

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  January 21, 2011 — 38 Comments

Top Story: The Awl investigates allegations that millions of dollars in United States government funding to Christian NGOs, specifically Samaritan’s Purse, is being used to directly fund aggressive and shameful missions to “evangelize to and convert the trapped, weak and suffering.”

“…our research into the hush-hush tag team efforts of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association and Samaritan’s Purse found millions of USAID dollars going to Samaritan’s Purse aid stations in Haiti. Their mission: a coordinated effort by BGEA chaplains to evangelize to and convert the trapped, weak and suffering.”

Reporter Abe Sauer notes that Franklin Graham (president of Samaritan’s Purse), son of Christian evangelist Billy Graham, is especially fixated and obsessed with eliminating Vodou in Haiti.

“…in the case of Samaritan’s Purse, whose Haiti work is being heavily funded by the taxpayer-funded USAID, it could be to “take back their country from voodoo, despair, and sin,” one of the charity’s stated goals for the “Festival of Hope.” As Graham said of Haiti in his address at the Festival, “…the biggest need is the spiritual need.” (Graham and his crew are especially obsessed with the elimination of voodoo, as it comes up again and again in Purse literature. A recent personal update on work in Haiti from Franklin Graham himself reads, “Through our partnership, the three original churches have been able to establish 28 more—including one in a village that was infamous for voodoo….”) Video of the heavily promoted fundraising event has been erased from the Samaritan’s Purse website as a result of our questions to USAID.”

They note that Samaritan’s Purse, working hand-in-hand with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA), is able to benefit from government funds by skirting along on paper-thin technicalities, confirmed by USAID officials, but who seem to lack the political will to do anything about it. This is a stark confirmation of several isolated reports and allegations regarding the activity of missionaries in Haiti. It’s bad enough that some Christian groups are taking advantage of the chaos in Haiti in order to win souls, but now it seems we’re paying for it as well.

No Pagan Drivers for Lowery: Former Democratic state Representative John Lowery is being taken to court by Eugene Keeler after he was allegedly fired from Premier Well Services (owned by Lowery) for being a Pagan only hours after being hired. Keeler has the backing of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and is being heard by a judge who’s dealt with Lowery before.

The EEOC case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, which could be interesting. When Wright ruled that a winter solstice display could be put up on the state capitol grounds — along with the traditional nativity scene — Lowery led the Arkansas Legislative Council denouncement of her decision, saying, “When this is allowed to happen in high places by people in authority societies become chaotic, economies collapse and nations are taken over by other nations.”

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette interviewed Selena Fox of Lady Liberty League about the case, though the article is behind a paywall if you want to read it. It should be interesting to see what happens in this case, hopefully it will be reported more widely, and more accessibly, than it has so far.

Do Religious Symbols Count Even If You’re a Racist? The Jewish Chronicle notes that a jailed racist, convicted of inciting racial hatred in the UK, had his Thor’s hammer pendant confiscated because it had “fascist meaning and neo-Nazi overtones.” After a complaint, it seems that Michael Heaton, an Odinist, had the pendant returned. The piece closes with a quote from a CST (Community Security Trust) spokesperson that seems to imply that, in their opinion, Odinism doesn’t meet the “relevant criteria” for equal treatment as a religion.

A CST spokesman said: “Norse and Odinist symbolism features extensively in Nazi and Pagan circles. Legislation on religious rights can make questions such as this a complex matter. But you might well question if this kind of symbolism should meet the relevant criteria.”

While I personally believe that Heaton is a vile, foul, sad, criminal, his odious beliefs don’t wipe away his rights under the law. To call into question whether genuine religious symbols appropriated by racists are still valid is to glide down a slippery slope that would eventually ban all religious symbols. Also, for an organization like the CST, who are watchdogs against antisemitism, to conflate Nazism and Paganism in such a casual way is troubling, to say the least.

The Boundaries of Civil Religion: Former Wild Hunt guest contributor Lee Gilmore, author of “Theater in a Crowded Fire: Ritual and Spirituality at Burning Man”, writes an essay for the USC blog The Scoop about the recent memorial for the victims of the Tucson shooting, and reactions (or non-reaction in some cases) sparked by the opening invocation of Dr. Carlos Gonzales.

The media response–or rather the general lack thereof–was telling. Those motivated to comment publicly on the blessing were mainly conservatives troubled by its implications. For example, Brit Hume of Fox News was baffled, saying, “By the time it was over with, he had blessed the reptiles of the sea, and he had prayed to the four doors of the building, and while I’m sure that all has an honorable tradition with his people, it was most peculiar.”  TheWashington Examiner went much further and called it a “a stark statement of  pantheistic paganism” and “a blatant violation of church and state.”

Glossing over the apparent hypocrisy–the biblical references in Obama’s eulogy did not seem to touch off a similar nerve–perhaps Gonzales’ invocation can be read as a vague nod to a loose, politically correct “spirituality” appealing to the so-called “liberal elite.” Yet the left wing of the blogosphere also had little to say about Gonzales’ invocation. (There was some insightful discussion from this vantage point taking place on a popular and intelligent Pagan blog called the Wildhunt.)

Gilmore notes that many American aren’t used to being taken outside “a generic and lightweight form of ceremonial deism,” as was done by Gonzales’ Native blessing. A transgression that may have sparked the absurd over-reaction is some quarters. She also touches on the “othering” of religious minorities in the United States, such as was done in this case, and that mainstream journalism has done a poor job in enlightening the public to their worldviews. The whole essay is worth a read, and you should check it out.

Seeing the Future in Russia: The AFP reports on the popularity of doing fortune telling in Russia between Christmas and Epiphany, and why that tradition endures to this day.

Psychologist Svetlana Fyodorova puts the faith in fortune-telling down to Russians’ close links to their pagan past. “Russians love fortune-telling because it frees their subconscious,” she told AFP. “As compared to Europe, in Russia Christianity is young and the traces of a pagan traditions can still be felt here,” she said.

Something that no doubt worries the Russian Orthodox Church, who are increasingly testing the waters of social control now that they are ascendant once more. With signs of a crack-down against religious minorities intensifying, those who look for signs in the wax, or throw shoes out the window, should be careful.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    Thanks for finding that Awl article Jason! This is the kind of thing that can easily be lost in the noise. The article itself contains one outrage after another after another.

  • Robin Artisson

    May the powers of the Underworld drag Franklin Graham and all who support him away, swiftly, and cast them at the feet of Nemesis. May Haiti defend herself and all of her suffering people from these predators and their wickedness.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    On religious symbols and racism: The religion of choice for the far-right and racists generally has always been Christianity. By far the largest and most important racist group in the UK is the British National Party which proudly claims to fight on behalf of "Christian values" and "British Christianity."

  • caraschulz

    You must have the story about Former Democratic state Representative John Lowery wrong. He has to be a Republican. Democrats are our friends and are ready to champion our rights at every turn.

    • Bookhousegal

      It's beyond me how that's supposed to make the Right better than it is in any way.

      • caraschulz

        *I've* never claimed that one political party is better than the other – in so far as it relates to being more willing to protect our rights rather than just pay faint and occasional lip service.

    • Cheryl Taylor

      Nice to see you don't have any issues or anything about it

      • caraschulz

        Issues? No.
        Sense of humor coupled with a realistic view of politicians? Yes

  • Dennis Nock

    i too would love to see pagan communities . that is one of my pipe dreams , if my ship ever comes in , i'm currently . like many others trying just to keep my dingy afloat. but like i said i'd like to create a purly pagan community w/ homes and bussinesses to cater to it , making it self suffeciant . maybe some day , the whole place of course would be green and carbon nuetral as possible . small very effecient homes and a pub , of course. and also including religous community space and a community garden . a pagan eden so to speak twould be nice Kilm

  • http://www.facebook.com/stenobauer Cathryn Bauer

    Jason, re: Heaton, I have an entirely different take on the matter. I do not see religious discrimination as the primary motivation in confiscating the pendant, though it may have been a factor or a matter of discussion among the governors. I believe they were more concerned about safety, chiefly his. If he walks around wearing a symbol that other inmates regard as insulting to their culture and belief, he could be beaten or killed, literally bludgeoned or stabbed to death by these inmates. Prison is a very closed, tense, often violent world of its own. In that compressed and repressive atmosphere, actions that we might see as annoying are taken with great seriousness, and vengeance to be the right of the person or persons offended. In some cases, this might be as simple as a dirty look (known as "mad-dogging" in California prisonspeak, BTW) or brushing against someone. Recently a deputy told me about a certain prisoner who remains segregated after he received threats from other inmates. It seems he consistently overran his allotted shower time, meaning other inmates' time was shorter. I do believe that while Heaton's civil rights were protected here, his continuing to wear the pendant endangers his safety and even his life. And I think that was the motivation that led to the confiscation in the first place.

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

      Cathryn, the prison officials themselves explicitly stated that they took away the pendant because, according to them, "Norse and Odinist symbolism" is associated with "Nazi and Pagan circles." They further reinforced the religious issue by also explicitly stating that concerns about "religious rights" do not apply in this case because Odinism, as a religion, does not meet "relevant criteria". This is what the prison officials themselves said in their own words. Obviously "safety" had nothing to do with it.

      • http://www.facebook.com/stenobauer Cathryn Bauer

        I was unaware of that statement. Well, ugh; it certainly is not prison officials' business or right to decide what is and isn't a relevant religion. I do believe, however, that safety might be a valid or at least defensible reason for such an action and see reason to believe that Heaton, like the prisoner I referenced, will make life even more difficult for himself than it has to be while he is incarcerated.

        • http://www.facebook.com/stenobauer Cathryn Bauer

          Correction: I did see the statement in Jason's article. However, I did not accept it at face value and still believe there might be more to the decision than is quoted there.

          • Tearlach

            Having worked on occassion with HMPS, it's unlikely to be down to Heaton's own proptection. While the UK's prisons are unpleasant places they do not have the level of intercommunal violence that are found in parts of the US prison system. What is more likely is that one of the HMPS oficers on Heaton's wing had probably only come into contact with Odinist symbols in conjunction with XRW material and got a little bit over-excited.

            HMPS has a Pagan Prison Chaplaincy run by the Pagan Federation (from memory). In general here in the UK you are more likely to be mocked for being a Pagan than attacked. This goes for being overtly religious in any way, including Christian.

          • http://www.facebook.com/stenobauer Cathryn Bauer

            "While the UK's prisons are unpleasant places they do not have the level of intercommunal violence that are found in parts of the US prison system." Glad to learn this, and it sounds as if you ought to know. Like so much else, the correctional system is in crisis here in a big way (shudder). I suspect we can and should learn from you in this regard.

  • Michael Lloyd

    Personally, I don't think anyone in prison should be permitted to have jewelry of any type. But if the prison systems are required to be even-handed, then Thor's Hammer is only equivalent to Fascism in the same way that the crucifix is to the KKK. So if they ban the one, then they should be required to ban the other.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    The politics of the Samaritan's Purse story are perverse. It ought to be of interest to somebody interested in waste, fraud and abuse — somebody important enough to affect the system when s/he's upset. But that's not a red-button priority on the left; and on the right, which does care about such things, evangelism on the government's dime doesn't look like waste, fraud or abuse.

  • Tea

    I just read the Awl article and I really think I have to go throw up now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001353268347 David Carron

    Hurmph. Well, at least they eventually did the right thing. Eventually.

    Every one in a while the Southern Poverty Law Center also creeps up on throwing Heathens into the racist box. But they do back up once they are corrected.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    "More and more I see the need to form physical communities."

    I've long regretted the lack of anything like Pagan neighborhoods. I'd love to show the world a Pagan school board, a Pagan police precinct, a Pagan shopping center.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    There's stuff they left out, too. I don't mean that as a criticism at all: it's a very thorough article. It's just that there is so much dirt, especially when it comes to USAID. Their Administrator during the first term of George W. Bush (Andrew Natsios) was a former employee of both World Vision and Samaritan's Purse. The guy who replaced him (Randall Tobias) resigned in 2007 when he was linked to the "DC Madam" prostitution scandal ….

  • Cheryl Taylor

    I took an aspirin but my head still hurts. How anyone can think this is all right is beyond me. Monsanto and Graham are just evil.

  • http://www.facebook.com/msrlapin Matthew Hooper

    I have a hard time working up much hatred for Billy Graham proselytizing in Haiti. Voudoun as it is practiced in Haiti does the country no favors; it's often been one of Baby Doc Duvalier's tools of oppression. It's not pleasant to admit it, but if Billy Graham converted the bulk of the country Haiti would probably benefit. I'm very hesitant to acquaint Haitian voudoun with wicca (or even New Orleans voodoo). Just because it's not Christian doesn't mean it's on our side, let alone "good".

  • http://norsealchemist.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

    Devil worshipers and racists, seems like we get this all the time. I by no means agree with nor thing that racism is okay, but I do think that even the worst racist still has a right to his belief and his religion (at least until such time as he tries to kill me, then he loses both and his life). The fact that this above mentioned man doesn't like the Jews is no reason to deny him his religion. I do, however, wish that he would truly study that religion and its ways and behave in an honorable manner that reflected better upon it.

    I personally am a "Folkish" asatruar. We sometimes get crap as being "Racist," but we are not. One can take pride in one's people without denigrating others. I would that this above mentioned man would learn that. If the racists of this world stop hating others and started loving themselves and their people, they would do far more to aid those they claim to fight for.

    Graham really needs to go, and his ilk with them. They too spread hate. They have the right to their views, but they have gone too far.

    One of the things I have thought about lately since the whole brother and sister in Christ thing and Graham's works in Haiti with his fellows is that it would be much nicer if we as Pagans and Heathens could go out as they do to help, only we would work to preserve the Pagan ways of those we help, rather than convert them. Still, I realize that as we are we cannot do this, because we do not have the support needed. In order to gain this support, we must come together. More and more I see the need to form physical communities. Communities that could then come together and help each other.

    It may be my folkish ways seeking to build kith and kin, but I say it's time we started setting aside our differences and coming together.

  • http://magickfortherealworld.wordpress.com MFTRW

    "One of the things I have thought about lately since the whole brother and sister in Christ thing and Graham's works in Haiti with his fellows is that it would be much nicer if we as Pagans and Heathens could go out as they do to help, only we would work to preserve the Pagan ways of those we help, rather than convert them."

    It's simply a numbers issue IMO. Take the percentage of America that's Pagan (2% maybe?), then take the percentage that would actually join something like the Peace Corp (I'd guess at around .5% of that) and you've got a handful of people spread around the US. It just seems like an unlikely possibility due to lack of numbers. It would be an amazing thing to do, but there's just not enough people to actually get something like that together even if Pagans could come together.

  • Bookhousegal

    Me, too. Especially as there's more hostility out there, we really need to be able to rely on each other for more of what others might well decide to deny or discriminate over.

    If we come together with viable economic models and whatever degree of cooperative sharing fits the circumstances, we've got real and breathing community, though. Frankly, I've feeling that we rely too much on an Internet (Even just Facebook in particular) that's likely to go the same way as the corporate media and need to do more of our networking on a RL basis.

    I dunno about 'Pagan police precincts' but it'd be good at least if situations were such if there were obvious call for community liasons.
    Could give a whole new meaning to 'tin star' though. You bet it'd freak out a lot of those-who-don't-like-separation-of-church-and-state, though. :)

    There are, of course, an awful lot of towns and neighborhoods out there that aren't exactly filled, thanks to the various problems that brought the country to where we're at. I think such places are going to start looking a lot more attractive to people as this whole rootless-and-scattered lifestyle keeps showing itself rather less viable.

    I bet a lot of us are already in pretty good spots, and as a community, we've got a lot of things going for us in terms of making a go of it. Could be the prime danger is *overthinking it,* which is pretty easy to do from behind a keyboard. :)

  • Cheryl Taylor

    That would be neat, to see what was different and what was the same compared to a more regular community. My first guesses are that recycling would be more popular, and the library would get used more. And gardens might have more herbs and different plants along with the usual vegetables.

  • Pagan Puff Pieces

    What if you added all the eclectics and noncommittal types?

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    When I talk about Pagan police precincts I'm imaging what a police precinct would be like if the local population were Pagan, nothing more. No change in the basics of police work but some differences in atmospherics and nuances. There already are Pagan cops; suppose they were a majority in the house.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Eclectics are included in the part of America that's Pagan. I'm not sure what you mean by noncommitals.

    Two percent of the US population is about 6 million people. The most optimistic estimate I've seen for US Pagans is 2 million. Taking MFTRW's estimate of half a percent willing to do Peace Corps stuff, that's 10,000 — enough to make a difference if they all went to the same place (eg, Haiti) under the same organizational aegis so they all have their signals straight. The latter might prove a problem.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    When I was a youth I thought the Republicans helped keep the Democrats honest and vice versa. I know better now, and note that prostitution scandals are what's keeping fat-cats honest these days.

  • jaundicedi

    Years ago I read about a community in N.Y. that printed their own scrip that was accepted by nearby towns. Are they still around?

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    IIRC there's an Orthodox Jewish town in upstate NY.

  • Serelune
  • http://norsealchemist.blogspot.com Norse Alchemist

    Two Million people, With Ten thousand willing and able to do volunteer work, That is a powerful force. We wouldn't even need to send all Ten Thousand to the same place. Properly trained and motivated, building within the communities themselves, a mere 500 would be enough to tip the balance in a place like Haiti. Send a full 1000, again with the proper training and motivation, Imagine what we could do. That would still leave 9000 for work here in the states.

    And that's assuming we'd only get about 10,000 to volunteer. We'd probably get more. And with 2 million people, that's enough to make entire towns, if not a couple of cities as well, all across America. Start factoring in all the Secret Pagans, give them a place to find refuge and community, and we'd likely triple that number. And once we had that, more and more would come to join, curious about our ways.

    Imagine what all we could do.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    A public library in a Pagan community. Now there's something to think about…

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com/ Apuleius

    I suggest you consider the Roman Catholic religion. The Catholic Church helped to bring down Duvalier (because he abrogated the 1860 Concordat). You would probably feel very much at home there.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    Matthew, whatever tarnish there is on the Vodun escutcheon, Pagans cannot give Christianity a free pass to crush another indigenous religion, if only because of the precedent.